What Mr. Diamond Met on the Shore

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.

DreamMassachuesets Shore.png

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.

Graveyard The Sea Statue.png

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.

Statue On THe Shore 1.png

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.

Statue On THe Shore 3.png

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.

Nothing moved.

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.

Nothing moved.

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.

nightmare-tadpoles.png

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.

Veil Peirced.png

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.

THe House of Diamond.png

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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Marble Heads and Marblehead

This Week’s Prompt: 81. Marblehead—dream—burying hill—evening—unreality.

The Resulting Story: FORTHCOMING

Here we begin another study of contrasts—the art of statuary, stable and enduring, mixed with the emergence of dreams, malleable and fleeting. The two have come together more than once—when we discuss the folklore of statues, and my own thoughts on their horror potential, we’ll find that the muse of mountains loves coming in dreams. Before delving too far into that, however, we should at least mention that there is a Lovecraft story dealing with similar notions: Polaris, Dream Quest for Unknown Kadath, and Beyond the Wall of Sleep all deal with dreams, and didn’t quite work naturally into the rest of our discussion.

That said, the art of capturing human likeness in stone is as old as—well, as possible. The specification of marble for the statue does call to mind classical works. Ancient Greek and Roman statues which in Lovecraft’s day were believed to be pure and milky marble. We of course now know better—it is highly likely that the statues were painted, often in bright colors. But those ancient cultures do give us a few starting points before moving onward.

First is Galatea. Galatea was a statue carved by the sculptor king Pygmalion. Pygmalion had no interest with mortal women—and in fact thus opts to stay single and focus his talents on sculpture. However, his sculpted woman arouses in Pygmalion desire and adoration. Such is his lust that he embraces the inert statue, kissing and caressing it. He even dresses her, and lays her on a pillow to rest.

Galtea.png

When Aphrodite’s festival comes around, Pygmalion prays that the his wife be made flesh and blood—that she in her beauty can return his affections. Aphrodite grants the prayer, and that night their embrace results in the child Paphos—who in time founds a city that is named the same.

Then there are the Statues of Daedalus. Daedalus rendered some statutes capable of moving if not tied down. These statues are only obliquely referenced—Socrates’s discussion with Meno on knowledge introduces them.

And lastly a story calling upon Greek images, if not Greek itself: the Disinterment of Venus. This story tells of some hapless monks who unearth…a statue of Venus from nearby. The statue seems to move when not viewed and ‘magically’ fills the nearby monks with impure thoughts. The result of this story is rather grisly, and I’ll allow you to discover it on your own.

venus1.png

Of course, the ancient Greeks are far from the only ones to suggest worked materials can channel higher powers. Moving a bit farther down the timeline of Europe, we find the Catholic and Orthodox icons. These images and icons often have fantastic properties—reports of the icon moving, bleeding, or giving breast milk are common. In at least one case, beholding the icon without permit resulted in a man’s death, and the mere presence of an icon could exorcise demons from those who came into the church.

Better still, these icons often were connected to dream messages and inspirations—sometimes in dreams the location of icons would be revealed, while in others instructions on their construction would be given. The icons dreams could also give visions and prompt, in many stories, conversions from these encounters.

Icons

On the left, Luke painting the image of the Theotokos. On the Right, the Theotokos of Vladimir.

An icon is in many ways the embodied form of the saint—it allows the saint’s grace to be refracted and reflected out onto the world. The creation of duplicates of a miraculous icon—either by print or photography—often carried with it the power of the icon as well. And these icons often played rather significant roles outside politics—reports suggest had that the Czar brought icons of known potency to the front in the first world war, it would have gone differently.

The icons were not without rivals, however—we can consider the work of theurgy, where in magicians claimed to bind demons and spirits into statues in order to compel them to move and speak. This practice sometimes included ghosts as well, who were thus imprisoned with iron chains and prevented from harassing the community. Both practices were, of course, condemned by the Church.

Artemis of Ephessus.png

We can also come back to Greece and even to

The idea of binding the supernatural with a statue may seem strange, but it’s practice is documented by the Maya in the Yucatan peninsula after the arrival of Catholicism. Here saints are, like in Europe, sometimes found in the wilderness. However, unlike in Spain where said icons are left alone, the statues in the Yucatan are forcefully returned and restrained to their new homes. For instance, there is a story of when the first Chimaltecos found Santiago in the mountains, in a place where even today no one lives because it has no water. After building the church that still stands at the center of town, these ancestral Chimaltecos fetched Santiago to his new home. The next morn- ing he was gone. Searchers eventually found him back where they had first encountered him and once more returned him to the church. Again he fled to his old place but this time, when they tried to carry him back to town, Santiago made himself so heavy that no one could lift him. Exasperated, the ancestors beat him with whips to get him into the church, leaving gouges on his back that can still be seen today. Beyond that accounts often end with villagers punishing the saint to make it “behave” properly. In Zinacantan, town elders pour hot water over San Lorenzo to silence him because they dislike “talking saints” in Amatenango, they throw their evil image of San Pedro out of the church and then behead him for his witchcraft.

Caanite Teraphim

These teraphim are Canaanite, not Jewish, but give a good impression.

Pre-Christian references to statues as divinities are not limited of course to Greece. We have the teraphim of the Old Testament. These statues are small, and often translated as household gods. They appear to contain some power and blessing. They might be comparable to the Lares of the Trojans in the Aenied or to the brazen head constructs of later occultists (which we discuss in our Patreon research here). These served as protectors of household power, and continuations of a house—for there to be a new Troy (as Aeneas founds), they must have the Trojan gods. They further speak in Aeneas’s dreams, in Book 3 of the Aenied, telling Aeneas to seek out the lands that have been prepared for him and not to dally in the Greek shores much longer.

All this talk of saints, and I nearly forgot to mention a peculiar story I found while doing research for this topic: the Porcelain god. The story resembles Galatea in some ways—it is about a superb artist striving to make a living thing out of inert material. However, unlike Galatea—who is granted life by the act of a goddess—the porcelain here is given life by mortal hands. Specifically, after years laboring away at making the life like porcelain, the poor man asks the god of the forge how he might succeed. The forge chastises him for thinking that with mere bellows he might make a soul, and the man realizes he can impart life to his creation—by sacrificing himself. Leaping into the fires, he infuses the porcelain with the potency of life, and is enshrined by the Emperor as a god of porcelain.

The danger of statues is also well recorded. The instance of the Disinterment of Venus is but one example. A tale from India tells us of a Brahmin and his elaborate collection of idols—and his disgruntlement with determining the best of the idols. He asks a local smith for advice, and the smith suggests seeing which idol with stands the blows of a club best. After testing the idols this way, the Brahmin finds only one idol able to stand the blow. He worships the idol faithful, doing nothing else but meditating on the idol, offering it food, and tending to it. That the idol appears to eat—the food left in front of it vanishes, after all—is seen by the Brahmin as proof of his divinity.

One day, the Brahmin opens his eyes however—and sees that in fact a rat had been stealing the food. This causes him to despair and perhaps go a bit mad, as he concludes that the rat is the true master of the universe for being able to trick him. His reverence for the Rat continues, until a cat eats the rat. He then reveres the cat, until his wife grows worried about their livelihood and—in spite of her fear of her husband—removes the cat. The Brahmin concludes from this his wife to be the most powerful force in the world, and seats her as his object of worship. Being an object of worship, however, is not compatible with being a living person. His wifes adjustments infuriate the focusing Brahmin, who strikes her and renders her unconscious. As before, he concludes him self to be the thing worth revering and achieves release.

I find that particular story…strange. But these dangers of images aren’t uncommon. Fear that images would achieve worship instead of true divinity is a regular fear in Europe, where iconclastic waves often destroy images and statuary in a fervor. We can consider a comparable story of Abraham, who as a youth in folklore lived with his father an idol maker. One day, Abraham smashed all the idols, and placed the stick in the hand of the largest. When his father returned home, he escaped blame by pointing to the largest statue.

To tie more directly to dreams, we can consider the writings of Pausanias who claims to have seen a pair of statues—one to Hypnos one to Oenieros—luring a lion to sleep:

From here is a way to a sanctuary of Asclepius. On passing into the enclosure you see on the left a building with two rooms. In the outer room lies a figure of Sleep, of which nothing remains now except the head. The inner room is given over to the Carnean Apollo; into it none may enter except the priests. In the portico lies a huge bone of a sea-monster, and after it an image of the Dream-god and Sleep, surnamed Epidotes Bountiful, lulling to sleep a lion. Within the sanctuary on either side of the entrance is an image, on the one hand Pan seated, on the other Artemis standing.”

Dream interpretation is a common trait among holy men as well. We can consider the obvious dream interpreter, Daniel of the Old Testament. His interpretations served as excellent prophecy for those who spoke with him. We can also remember Joseph, who understood dreams as holding the future and thus advised the Pharoah for a time. In Heferodshire, there is a story of St. Dubricius, who settled his monastery after an angel of the Lord instructed him to do so—with a herd of swine taken as well. The place was hence known as Hogplace or Mochros.

Hypnos.png

These two are the old Greek gods of slumber, and in some cases survive later as saints. Hypnos further endures in Lovecrafts work—in particular, one of the stories I believe came from this prompt. The story bares Hypnos’s own name. The story also follows a marble sculptor, who with his lone friend, begin to explore places beyond human conception and experience. They go further and further, until the narrator reaches a barrier that he cannot cross. But his friend can and…well, what happens next is best read on your own.

Lovecraft’s notion of sculpture and dreams are of course common. We can consider also, in the vein of marble, the Tree. This story follows two sculptors making an image of fate in competition. The result of this competition for the prize of a Syracuse tyrant is eventually a marble crypt and great tree that is extremely human like in appearance. I’ll allow you to enjoy that particular tale. And we cannot forget that a statue and a dream are at the center of the Call of Cthulhu—the statue of Cthulhu being the center of his cult. The power of images is to in a way be life like, and inspiring. It gives a being prescence in the world, spatial reality that a mere painting might not.

MarbleHead.png

So the above article is still important for my writing—it is where I went with research and I stand by it. However, as I was editing, I learned that Marblehead is actually a town in Massachusetts—not as I thougt, a head of marble. The coastal town served, as many New England towns have over the years, as inspiration for Mr. Lovecrafts own writing. In particular, the town of Kingsport was retroactively based on Marblehead in years past. Kingsport is of course the site of many dream stories for Lovecraft. Randolph Carter has encounters there, as does the terrible old man, and in the Dream Quest for Unknown Kadath, Nyrlanhotep himself expresses admiration for the town. So what tales from Marblehead?

Among the most famous you will find is that of the Screeching Woman. A heavy Spanish galleon was overtaken by pirates. Each member of the crew was butchered—except an English noblewoman, who was brutally murdered on the coast. The fishermen being away, and the women and children of the town being terrified, no one answered her screams for help. Her body was buried on the spot, and on the anniversary of her death, her screams still come out of the spot.

The prompt more directly seems to refer to a man named Old Dimond. Old Dimond was a man of prestigious power in the black arts. These included divination and power over fortune—he was known to go to the burying hill and beat about the graves, making demands for the fates of his own vessels. He was also known as a good friend to have—a widow asked for the location of a lost bit of wood, and he charmed the thief into returning it. In another instance, he was able to locate stolen treasure for an elderly couple. Old Dimond it seems was not only a wizard but a defender of the ill fated.

Old Dimond I think gives a direct line to the story. We are dealing with manipulations of dreams, and of fates there for. The reference to a burying hill point to that sort of necromancy connection. We then have the story of a wizard, of dreams, and of a certain unreality or magical uncertainty. From Old Dimond’s tales, it might be fitting to do a thief story—akin to the Terrible Old Man. Alternatively, we could present a somewhat more nefarious dream of a statue still—as I discuss in the patreon research, the ability to gain insight into the future and the cosmos is often connected with mystical statues and machines. Certainly, necromancers have had uses for strange and enchanting statues before. And I do confess, I would like to employ my earlier work into this even as they…misaligned with Lovecraft’s intent.

What stories will you weave about the coastal town of Marblehead? What statues inspire you in the real world? What strange dreams have you had?

Bibliography

Freedberg, David. The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response. University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Hearn, Lafcadio. Some Chinese Ghosts. Project Gutenberg, 2015.

Leather, Ella Mary, et al. The Folk-Lore of Herefordshire: Collected from Oral and Printed Sources. Logaston Press, 1912.

Mukharij, Ram Sayta. Indian Folklore. Sanyal and Company, 1904.

Roads, Samuel. History and Traditions of Marblehead. Osgood and Company, 1880.

Watanabe, John M. “From Saints to Shibboleths: Image, Structure, and Identity in Maya Religious Syncretism.” American Ethnologist, vol. 17, no. 1, 1990, pp. 131–150. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/645256.

“JewishEncyclopedia.com.” JewishEncyclopedia.com, http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14331-teraphim.


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The Shifting Temple

This Week’s Prompt: 80. Shapeless living thing forming nucleus of ancient building.

The Prior Research: There Is Nought But Chaos

The valley of Olim sits along the bubbling river Syper. The river runs down from a mountain, littered with cracked stones, and across a number of misty hills, before arriving through the path of it’s ancestor—the glacier Euroni, who’s ponderous mass filled the valley—and reaching out into the sea of the dead. The river in truth carries through many more places, but those are not of important to this story. The valley of Olim is nurtured by the river, and like many such valleys and rivers, a number of people have come to live on its shores.

As a young man, I traveled to Olim when it’s walls were still covered in ever thickening layers of ivory. I had come to study architecture—the carvings and burrows of the people where fascinating to me, their carefully made stone work wrapping around the great trees and rising from the marshy banks. In part, I wanted to understand how they had built such stable lives on unsure footing. More accurately, I wished to understand the great temple that sat at the center of the city, astride the river.

The temple was a bulbous shape, a great dome atop with a blossoming flower of many colored jades and metals. The temple without is remarkable, yes. Its walls resemble tree trunks, with roots and branches for soaring rafters and buttresses. Along the roof is a great garden, surrounding the dome in a halo of life. Pumps run river water around it, four waterfalls careening back off the temple top into the sea.

Formless Temple 1.png

To the architectural mind, the most frustrating matter was the interior. The great temple is a single wheel shaped structure, with an interior column running up the middle. This column contains a stair well—and if one enters the stair well, it leads upwards, without branching or changing. Yes, I’m sure your amazed that the most simple functions of a stair way still operate. Nonetheless, the reverse is not true—go down the stairwell and you will find yourself in another room from where you started.

This fact was reported to me before I came to Olim. I considered it at first to be a clever trick of the column. Surely, it rotated or shifted the stairs around while the visitors were not looking. This would explain how the priests and attendants knew how to move about the tower—there was some clockwork gears and contraptions moving the stairs. It might shift the walls slightly, so that their length hid the illusion.

I decided, on my first day—well, second. My first day I spent recovering in the house of my host, as something disagreeable had come into the water I had. Regardless, my first real day I went to the temple. I saw the great murals, the offerings left behind. Straightening my cuffs, I tried my best to avoid attention. The smoke that rose out of the altars helped.

It was an unpleasant experience. The air was thick with mist and incense, and even in the relatively cool and isolated stair case, it felt like a sauna. I wondered if this was a part of the illusion of the temple. To get visitors in such a confused state that its operations would go entirely unnoticed. I went up the stairs as best I could—the walls were decorated here with total abstractions. Pyramids seemed to gradually come into view, and fractal squares and circles continued to blossom all the way up the corkscrew—until I arrived at the top. I stood and stared over the winding river and forests. The wind was a relief as I stared sat in the sacred gardens. I breathed deep, to clear my mind.

And then set back down again—counting my steps, and carefully watching the walls for shifts both subtle and vulgar. And I walked down, feeling each step, until at last I stopped—before an eyeless statue of Joni, the Watcher of Paradises Gate. I frowned, and turned about. There were little statues lining the hall. There were priests intoning prayers drawn from a bowl. It was certainly a shrine. I turned to the door—the stairs lead down again, but none went back up to the roof. I continued down, and found another shrine—to Delia the Traveler—and then another, and after the fourth I reached the bottom again.

Wall 1 Temple.png

After withdrawing to consider all the events, I concluded that the first room had occluded my vision. I would need a more definite way of navigating next time. So I examined my cartographic and measuring supplies, and removed a set of nodes—small pyramids, with compass orienting tips. I had about three dozen to leave carefully on the stairs. Then I’d use a compass to navigate back. That should help against any tricks of the temple priests.

The priests did grin when I returned and asked if I needed anything—my face must have given away my determination, if not my frustration. I waved them off for now, and set up to the gardens. Every ten steps, I let one of the pyramids fall—pushed against the wall, to prevent them from being noticed and taken. I consulted my compass as I walked up, to see what might have changed behind me—and the compass shifted somewhat as I went. But it went in a spiral, like the stairs. So that was expected. At last I emerged onto the beauty of the garden from the heated tunnel below.

I breathed, stretched, and immediately went back down into the depths. Like clockwork, I found the first pyramid. My compass lead me to the second—and then the twelfth. I frowned and examined the small pyramid again. Perhaps, I reckoned, I had missed the early ones. Heading back up, my eyes caught a waver in the air as the stones shimmered. I found the fourth, the fifth, the third…and so on. I paced up and down the stairs, finding my pyramids now at the entrances of shrines I did not know or alcoves and libraries unfamiliar. It took the better part of an hour, by my count, to locate all thirty and arrive back at the bottom.

Perhaps…perhaps what happened next was rash. Honestly, it was a dire mood that came over me. It wasn’t the sort of rash frustration that one fumes about and is free of—it was a driving force that possessed my best faculties. I turned and left, wordless as I examined my own notes. There was something amiss, I reasoned, with a stairway like that. The core of this building—no, it was built in correctly. It was built wrong and if I could understand how it was built so wrong, I could improve on it.

I couldn’t hope to do it during the light of day. The priests knew many strange prayers, but an architects tools were likely to draw attention. And surely, surely, they would refuse to allow their ruse to be undone. More importantly, my work was likely to involve a more destructive habit then they were used to. I had to tear through that column, see their clockwork mechanisms. I had to see how they did this. What arcane secrets powered this nonsense miracle. And that might be objected to.

So it was that in the dark of the night, in a heavy jacket and with a sledgehammer I slunk in. I looked the part of a lone iconoclast. But my goal was not the statues, the paintings, the other trappings and decorations. The jewels of the temple I did not take aim at. No, with chisel and hammer, I went for its holy heart.

When a priest asked my purpose—the poor neophyte, new to his orders, but perhaps guessing my goal—I told him I was here to carve a new shrine into the alcove. Hence my tools. Yes, it was an unusual request, but the god in question could only be honored in the night. The sunlight would ruin my tools, I explained. It would make them no longer capable of working with the sacred. And so I went up the stairs without further objection.

Once I was sure I was out of earshot, I struck hard and fast at the central stone. I struck that cured fractal eye—exactly in it’s pulsing blue pupil. It cracked. I heard a commoiton down the stairs—the neophyte had reported the strange sculptor no doubt. None the less, I needed to know what was at work here. What diabolical sorcery had they employed.

The cracks formed quickly—the stone was thinner than I expected. Another whack and another. On the tenth, the stone chipped. I had made, with careful precision, a triangle in the wall. And now, as I hear steps rushing up to stop me, I pull it out. Crowbar in hand, I gazed in.

Into a shimmer skin, a membrane that is all the colors of the rainbow. It appears like a tree’s bark one second, a cows hide the next. I see the glimmering eyes of a spider, then a drifting flock of birds. I see the steps whirling in other parts of it—space itself digested and shaped by a vast pulsing thing. I saw worlds and shapes floating in it’s jetsam. For a moment, I saw all the million shapes of life.

Wall 2 Temple.png

I saw and I could not understand.

And in the next moment, it stopped. Petrified, bubbling stone was all that was left. Gas sighed out, and screams broke out. There walls cracked as stairs collapsed from unseen room. I saw shrines buried in it’s skin trapped forever. As the priests laid hands on me, I understood that the temple had died that day. And that something was lost.

A dozen or so parishioners died that night. Or we assume they are dead—the rooms they were in are no longer accessible. A hundred or more shrines are stuck, unable to be found anymore. Others are being excavated as best they can from the interior. I have been banished from the valley—and from three other towns, once my reputation found its way out of my wine stained lips. The ivy does not grow in Olim. The woods have begun to recede. Every year, they say, the river grows more gray.

 


This story was fun to write, if a bit short. I drew more from the Taoist texts then the great beast stories–I found the story of Hundun espeically interesting to approach. All in all, while I could have stretched this story some, I think I’ve captured the main thrust here. Did you have a different approach to the prompt?

Next week, come and gaze into dreaming stones and inspiring muses! …not as bad as last time I promise, these muses are kinder.

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There Is Nought But Chaos

This Week’s Prompt: 80. Shapeless living thing forming nucleus of ancient building.

The Resulting Story: The Shifting Temple

This week we are given a topic that we have, in the past, covered with some detail. The notion of a living core of an ancient structure bares a resemblance to notions of shapeless forces we discussed regarding Azathoth—we will be re-discussing some of those here, with greater detail and focus, as well as some other forms of living structures.

There are two parts to this prompt, each worth review in equal part—the shapeless and the center. That is, there are creatures and stories of things who’s shape cannot be known, and of things that support buildings and worlds. Both will be discussed—particularly when they overlap at the end.

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First we will discuss the most fantastic—the shapes at sea that support entire camps, and resemble islands from afar. This is actually the origin of the Kraken, a creature recorded in biology texts from the eighteenth century. There is another such creature in Norse tales, the hafgufa. Recorded as a giant whale, the hafgufa resembles an island from afar—in some tales, its nose is so massive that it suffices for an island!–and it is noted both for its taste in ships and men, and its peculiar means of attracting prey. The hafgufa is a species of two in some texts—and both are infertile, otherwise the ocean would be over run by false islands. In some texts, the hafgufa is also called the Kraken—albeit a whale not a squid. You can find more of it here.

Medieval Bestiaries produce another whale like creature—or sometimes turtle—who is so big, it’s back ridge has trees growing on it and valleys form around it. The aspidochelone is sometimes more sinister however—its appearance of false life and safety are an allegory in one text for the Devil and demons, who seduce the desperate.

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In Ireland, the stories of Saint Brendan the Navigator tell of a strange beast that appeared as an island and breached his boat. The Saint here is safe—the whale sinks after a fire is lit on it’s skin, much to the shock of the crew but little harm.

In Chile, there are stories of a similar creature—although it is more commonly in lakes, the Cuero is a danger to sailors who draw near it’s lure. Sometimes the shape is like a cow hide, sometimes an octopus, sometimes a stingray. Here is a more in depth article on not only the legend, but histories of it’s recordings

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Then there are those supports that are much wider and vaster then a mere ship. The World Turtle, for instance, carries…well, the world on its back. Sometimes this is a literal and direct holding. Kurma, for instance, supports the world directly in Hindu stories. Other stories, such as when Nuwa repaired the sky, have the turtle shell as a form of architecture somewhat removed. Turtle Island refers to this imagery as well—the notion that the Americas are on the back of a great mythological turtle. Other stories—the most obvious being Discworld—suggest the world is on the back of four great elephants, and then on the back of a turtle.

Bahamut is another supporter of the world, albeit a fish with a great bull on its back. Found in Arabic sources, Bahamut is more terrifying then others. The bull on its back has a hundred legs and horns, and Bahamut itself is so vast all the worlds oceans would fit into its nostrils like a mustard seed. It is also the farthest removed of all the great beasts—on its back, the bull; on the bulls back, a ruby; on the rubys back, an angel; on the angel’s shoulder, the world.

arabic world map

The map of the world here is rotated on it’s side–Bahamut is the fish

Of course, there are also non-sentient living supports. The World Tree can be found in cultures around the world. The famous Norse Tree Yggdrasil holds the nine worlds in it’s branches—and is echoed in the Volsung saga, were the house of the Volsung’s has a great tree holding up its roof–the tree is called Barnstokkr. There Odin—well, a stranger who resembles him greatly—places a legendary sword, that begins their undoing. Further south, we can find the world tree in Zorastrian stories. The Gaokerna is one of many great trees—its fruit is immortality, and will be key to the recreation of the universe. Beside it grows the Tree of Many Seeds, where all plants have their origin.

Not far away from the Zorastrian myth, we have the world tree of Kabbalah—a tree that, I have heard at least, is often depicted upside down. The Tree of Life here holds many worlds, as the light of divinity is refined downward from the undivided Ein Soif into this world. Kabbalah as a tradition is rich in symbolism and complexity, and should have more of an article at some point. The interesting point to me, however, is the suggestion of a reverse tree–a Tree of Death, that runs counter to the virtues of the Tree of Life and is made of the shattered remains of an earlier world. 

pakal tomb

The top portion of the World Tree found on Pakal the Great’s tomb.

Maya world trees are commonly depicted in artwork—the tree runs from the underworld into the heavens. Like the tortoise shell of Nuwa, the tree was constructed after a flood—the destruction of Seven Macaw and the end of the wood people—and like stories of Ymir and others, it is fed by the blood of gods. Some link it’s form to the visible Milky Way in the sky

All of this brings us slowly round to the most literal form of the shapeless center—Chaos, Khaos. Beginning with the most literal, the Greek conception of Chaos is the source eventually of all things. The form or force that precedes all the rest of existence, Chaos is gloomy and far away—and not terribly relevant to most stories. Chaos is the origin directly of Night and Darkness, and sometimes the foundation of reality itself.

Chaos is not the only strange and shapeless originator in Greece are concerned. There was the strange shape in Demophon’s casket, which was the first topic we discussed discussed (and which was rewritten on our Patreon here). Chaos in other cases contains all elements. When Milton depicted King Chaos in Paradise Lost, he maintained this for the realm of Limbo, where elements fly about.

Biblical starts of Genesis refer to an abyss of water from which the world was made—using the terminology that neighbors used for Tiamat, a vast sea monster that was also eventually the root of all things and truly varied in shape. What this abyss was is a topic of much debate, especially in esoteric circles.

Chaos can be joined by Hundun. Hundun is a Chinese character, a faceless wanderer that is the originating chaos of the world. I recall best a story of Hundun from the Taoist, Chuang Tzu: The Emperor of the North Sea and the Emperor of the South Sea once met with Hundun. Grateful for his generosity as a host, they offered to repay him by giving him the seven holes all men have (eyes, nose, ears, mouth). Each day the bore another hole in Hundun’s face.

On the last day Hundun died.

Hundun has other comparable descriptions, often like a lump of clay and making a sound like thunder. It is malleable, sudden, and terrible perhaps. Or just hard to see, touch, or discern except by its overwhelming presence.

Taoist notions of a shapeless root of the world are common in Chuang Tzu’s writing. We can consider the story of the Shaman and Hu Tzu. Hu Tzu, a sage, changes his complexion and diagnosis at every meeting, culminating in this one:

The next day the two came to see Hu Tzu again, but before the shaman had even come to a halt before Hu Tzu, his wits left him and he fled.

“Run after him!” said Hu Tzu, but though Lieh Tzu ran after him, he could not catch up. Returning, he reported to Hu Tzu, “He’s vanished! He’s disappeared! I couldn’t catch up with him.”

Hu Tzu said, “Just now I appeared to him as Not Yet Emerged from My Source. I came at him empty, wriggling and turning, not knowing anything about `who’ or `what,’ now dipping and bending, now flowing in waves – that’s why he ran away.”

That the ultimate origin of reality is shapeless and indeed perhaps unable to be shaped is not unique to these presentations: Ein Sof, the infinite roots of the Tree of Life, is beyond definition as a being. The Prima Materia is less sentient, but the raw potential of creation that can—in theory—be shaped into just about anything that’s desired. These forces of chaos are also vitality—they are shapeless and thus support all shaped things. They are the raw stuff at the very core of life in the world.

michael_maier_atalanta_fugiens_emblem_36

I couldn’t figure out how to cut this properly, so enjoy the image of the Prima Materia or alchemical mercury–the cubes are the mercury.

This I think could be the source of our horror story—instead of merely discovering a shapeless core at the center of the world, we could present a story where that shapelessness is vital to the world and its movements. And if that shapelessness collapses—if like Hundun, it dies on contact with the five senses—then there is a tragedy at play too. By discovering the truth of the world, something about the world’s vitality is lost. I could go on about how defining something restrains it, and so on and so on, but I’ll leave that for the musings of the story.

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Samson And Delilah

This Week’s Prompt: 79. Horrible secret in crypt of ancient castle–discovered by dweller.

The Prior Research: A Dreadful Day For A Wedding

The marriage was the biggest spectacle Delilah had ever seen. Her wandering fiance Samson  had brought in far away wine, musicians from eastern lands where dreams made up the desert sands, fire breathers and jugglers from the circus, food and fowl from northern mist clad counties. Her mother was so proud to see her in a wedding white. Her husband had been strangely silent in his suit, smiling without ever showing any teeth. Delilah drank another glass.

BluebeardWedding.png

 

It was probably nerves about the wedding night. She had them too—her mother had tried to explain to her what could happen on wedding nights. Of course she’d already known—she had married friends who, when a bit tipsy or tired or angry, confided about the bedroom. And their husbands were far less fine then hers.

The night carried on for a time, and at last the guests began to leave. Delilah hugged her mother close—her mother wept on her shoulder. She was so proud. Delilah never heard her weep that her daughter was gone from her forever. Never heard the silent curses as the house, small as it was, grew all the quieter.

Delilah and her husband walked home, across the old white stone roads the Romans laid. They came up a hill to his house—a house she’d seen often as a child, though always in an abandoned state. She had assumed for years that no-one lived there. But three months ago, it was as wondrous as the prince’s palace—its walls clean and shining green, with roofs of bright purple and gold. Servants were mulling about, its gardens full of blossoming flowers. When she asked a friend who lived nearby, she was told that the great house had a new heir. It’s base was set like a wide disc, with a tower rising from the center.

BluebeardHouse.png

And that Samson now took her by the arm and up to the gate. He smiled dat her, his proper smile now. Teeth glittering white in the moonlight, reaching from his lips to his green eyes. They walked threw the evening mist and dew to the great oak door. Its leonine knokcer gently thudded as a footman opened the door—into the candlelit hall, with its great fountain at the center. Suits of restored ancestral armor, with there ceremonial armor and jeweled swords, stood guard at the stair case. And above, on the ceiling, was painted a whole host of angels.

 

“Well, that was certainly an affair.” He said as we walked up the steps.

“Was it? I thought it rather lovely.” Delilah said smiling and carefully minding my steps.

“Even with the stories?”

“Well, Anne couldn’t let me get married without making sure everyone knew what I was like at three years.” Delilah said, giggling a little. “I’m sure yours would have done the same.”

BluebeardBackUp.png

“Well then I count myself lucky they had business away.” He said, laughing. Delilah felt a pang of guilt—she knew little of Samson’s family, but they rarely saw him and seemed to care little of him. She hoped that such distance wasn’t normal among such wealthy personages—Lord in Heaven, she wouldn’t be so distant with her own children.

Up the stairs they went—Samson’s servants opening the doors ahead. Pale ivory doors parted like moonlight deeper and deeper in. At last, behind a well wrought door of silver, was the bed chamber. Four lion heads held up the top of the bed, grinning faces of gold looking down. Delilah had often heard of wedding nights.

*

The next day, the two parted. Samson entrusted Delilah with a set of keys—golden, each with a glittering gem at the top. Every door in the house had a key, Samson said, marked with the inlaid gem. It was all hers to see and take in.

“I don’t want you getting bored or complacent—so entertain yourself with each room, and you will find delights that never end.” Samson said, as he put on his coat and hat. “But please, do not go into the room marked with two gems—cat’s eye and the other one..”

He held out the key, who’s stones looked like eyes of glass and was carved with a lion and a wolf. He shook it almost in front of Delilah’s face.

“Not this one. It goes to my own chambers, the only place of privacy in my entire house—when I am there, do not bother me but be patient on my return. Do not worry too much when or how I come there either—it is a place of mine. The rest, however, are ours.” And with that, and a kiss on the cheek, he left.

DelilahReading.png

Delilah considered the keys. She set about through the rooms—each with it’s gemstone. In the red coral room, there were wondrous arms and armors—the heads of great beasts from the hunts, armor shimmering with decorations, hilts with eagle wings of bronze. The heads of great beasts were stuffed along it’s walls, from bears to deer to great wild cattle. He was a brave warrior and hunter, her husband. Or, Delilah thought, perhaps his family was. There were fine silks as well, and chests overflowing with treasures. Plunder and spoils it seemed.

The room with the diamond was more her suiting however. Here were portraits lining the wall—eyes all fixed on the center. There a column of women stood, carved of marble. Delilah gripped her shoulders as she paced the incompete pillar—for there were still portions unworked around the edge. The statues were painted ever so slightly. A small blush, the tiny glimmer of jeweled eyes, a faint bruise on the skin, a thin scratch. The artistry was in the dress though. Delilah found it unnerving to see the clothes…she could not tell without touching whether they were exquisite stone carvings or the women’s own dress. There were desks, with many mirrors arrayed around them. If she pulled the curtains close behind her, the eyes of the portraits and statues didn’t glimmer back at her as she examined the jewelry. Another place to explore, she decided when she had more time.

The next room had a great pearl on it’s top—and within she found many treasures indeed! She found works of poetry and a number of paintings—these of luschious landscapes and forests, instead of persons, full of animals in the hunt or watching with curiosity at the painter. Several were still finished, including one of her—or she assumed of her. The seat was there, and she settled into the pose she imagined Samson would remember her in. She wondered if she would be carved into the pillar as well—and now frowned. Where those past wives of his, or the women of his family. They had seemed all rather young.

She considered but moved along to the emerald door. Here she found shelves upon shelves of scrolls and books—how well read Samson seemed! She barely knew her letters, her family never had the money for education. But she could learn to love these treasures as well. There were some held open to illustrations of holy men or of teachings she remembered from priests in town or tales her parents told. Btu not many so clear.

Beside it was the room with a yellow gem. The lock took some working this time—and inside Delilah understood why. Like the emerald room, this was a room full of shelves—but on each was a crown, carefully wrought of gold. A small image was above it, recounting no doubt the lineage of Samson’s family. And at the center was a display—a great golden mace, with gems along it. Behind it was a flowing robe and cape of heavy wool, gold woven with the cloth. There were gems along as buttons—shining diamonds and amethysts. Purple and gold, a royal coat in deed. But hidden away—Delilah was under no illusion that her husband might be heir one day to some royal family. Not anymore anyway.

Still, perhaps one day there would be an inheritance to the crown. They were strange crowns, admittedly—most had ivory spikes rising from their heads, and all of them were rather old fashioned. They looked like the crowns on fallen statues in the woods, not kingly images the tax collectors carried or that were stamped on the occasional gold coin she had seen.

Some older place then, or some far away land. Still. A noble king and scholar, a warrior and perhaps a poet.

And then there was the door with it’s two gems—a red stone and a yellow one that glimmered like a cat’s eye. The red stone was in the right hand of a man, the yellow in the left—his own eyes stared back out with glimmering opals. It was an enticing door, with his pearlescent smile and glimmering eyes. But Delilah ignored it, and pushed on to the room with the sapphire—embedded in a skull, yes, but still it had been granted to her.

And in that room she found copious bones, gilded and held in metal boxes. Each had pictures atop it, and Delilah recognized the lives of a hundred saints in this gallery. Saints from as far as mist covered marshes of Wales to the distant east where their own saints left rainbows in their wake. Holy tools from a hundred places the world over. Some were petrified eyes, some where finger bones, some were nails. And at the center, enshrined with images of four beasts at each corner, was a carefully suspended spearhead. It was stained blood red on one side, the other was washed clean and stainless. A curious relic. Not one she was familiar with. She would ask about it in time.

*

And so Delilah continued along the spiraling house of Samson. He did return, tired but lively, a few days hence. She heard the sound of footsteps in the halls, and managed to catch him closing his study door. She pestered him with questions—about his auspicious lance, which he explained as a relic of a very distant ancestor, that had been blessed by holy blood. He agreed to teach her some letters.

“And until then I can of course read you the stories and romances, and some of the poems.” Samson said nodding. “Or have a servant do so when I am away.”

“Ah, only some? Why only some of the poems?” Delilah asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Because a man has the right to bury his shames, and many of those poems record my shames.” He said. She laughed at that.

“Oh my, did my husband leave his heart on the page? How awful.”

“To write one’s passions is not shameful—but perhaps to articulate them as a youth would leaves something to be desired.” He said, joining her in laughter.

Well, she reckoned she could find a servant who would tell her of those youthful poems.

After a time, Delilah tired of the house. With Samson’s permit, she sent a carriage back to town—to learn what had become of her friends in her absence, and how affairs were ordered. Only Anne was willing to visit her, although Delilah never learned why. She delighted in showing the rooms to Anne, and enjoying tea.

The subject of the married life and the house came up again and again during their conversations over tea. Delilah even gave Anne a wonderful broach from one of the rooms, to mend the many struggles between them. Anne’s curiosity was mostly sated, until she asked about the two-jeweled door. To Delilah’s surprise, Anne’s face fell at the explanation of the door. She shook her head, and placed the cup down on the table.

Anne and Delilah.png

“Oh, poor Delilah. Poor girl, what will your mother say when she learns what you’ve married?” Anne said, shaking her head.

“A scholar and a prince? What’s to be ashamed of that?” Delilah said, folding her arms.

“Do you believe it? No, truly, you and your mother have been tricked by a sorcerer. Go into the two faced door—there I wager he keeps his arts and secret magic to raise the building and enthrall you. You must go in at once, when he is far away. You’ll find proof no doubt, that all this is but a game for him.”

Delilah considered it, even as they moved on to other topics of gossip—the affairs and arguments of old flames, rumors of scandal, and more. When she eventually returned home, she found a note from her husband—he had left for business for several days, as his erstwhile family needed him. She was free to herself again.

She paced from each of the rooms, taking in all their delights. But still the twin gems haunted her. Day and night she stared at the door. Its grin taunted her with secrets—surely it was only a matter of time before she would learn its contents from her husband. Surely it was only a matter of waiting—surely, that room held nothing more viscous then rumors.

She crept quietly—she was unsure the servants would be forgiving. The door opened easily, the lock clicked silently as she stepped into a darkened room, candle in her shaking hand.

The room was bare stone. A window marked with claws let the sunlight into the forbidden room. And with its help, Delilah saw a dreadful site—her husband’s empty skin was on the wall. Below, bloodstained table. Beside an iron cauldron lined with grease. A drop of blood fell on Delilah’s face. She did not look up at the hundred empty eyes. She did not look up. She closed the door, silent as a cat.

But the lock would not click shut. To Delilah’s horror, the lock would not shut. She strained with the key—if her husband came home, and found it open, Lord only knows what he would do. She tried and tried and tried to click the lock shut. The smiling door mocked her efforts until at last she forced the key free.

At once, Delilah called for a servant to fetch her a carriage—she wanted to see her mother, she said. She managed anyway. Her face was as pale as a corpse, her eyes full of terror. The servant, perhaps wise to what had happened, shook his head—there was but one carriage befitting a lady. And her husband had taken that to his relations.

Before she could ask for more, Delilah heard a clatter from the halls. She turned to the noise—poor girl, she turned to see her husband. His eyes glittered like gems. And now she saw how his skin seemed ill fit. It hung loose around his neck. He had put it on in a rush. His wrist seemed wrinkled, as it bent a saber.

BluebeardfinalImage.png

“Ah, Delilah dearest—did you enjoy your day?” He asked, smiling like the moon. Delilah opened her mouth to speak. The words caught in her throat as Samson reached into his coat—and produced a single shard of worn gold.

“Delilah, dearest, I made one request. I found this, stuck in my study door—the tooth of my keys.” He said, shaking his head. “I made but one request.”

Before Delilah could speak, there was a flash of steel. Her body fell to the ground, as Samson held her head by her hair.

“And she was so lovely—I’ll have to hang this one well.” He said. With a wave of her sword, the blood was stopped and the floor was cleaned. “Her mother…is she passed already?”

The footmen, taking Delilah’s body in his arms, nodded.

“Well, that is for the best I suppose. Had she any friends? I would rather not leave so soon.” Samson asked, tilting his head.

“The lady was visited by one Anne from town, sir. She seemed wiser.” The footman replied.

“That settles it—Send for her soon. I would hope to have a wife last longer.” Samson said, shaking his head. “A few months is hard to savor. Light the iron as well—My hunt went well, and now I want to eat away my sorrow.”

And so Anne and Samson lived happily ever after.

***

This week’s story is a bit long, but was fun to write. I don’t have much insightful commentary–I’m pretty sure sticking close to the origin was a good decision here, and didn’t find much to improve on the original format. I hope it was enjoyable! Next week, more lively foundations!

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A Dreadful Day For A Wedding

This Week’s Prompt: 79. Horrible secret in crypt of ancient castle—discovered by dweller.

The Resulting Story:Samson and Delilah

This week’s topic brings us to a common Gothic horror theme—the buried and forgotten secret. Especially in an ancient castle, who’s revelation undoes their very identity. Whether ghosts and bodies buried in the deep, or more recent atrocities, the dangers of things forgotten and buried is great. We discussed—in one of our most popular articles—the burial of persons beneath foundations. This sort of secret will take us to many other places. Mostly France though.

There are a few stories that relate to crypts bearing terrible secrets. One worth considering is the story of Lancelot and Dolorous Guard. Here a secret is discovered on a literal crypt—the tomb that Lancelot must be interred in after he dies. The majority of the revelation was joyous, however, as it revealed the knight’s heritage and true name. And that this castle was his. All well and good.

Lovecraft has his own story about the discovery of ancestry—the Rats in the Walls, where in our narrator learns of his heritage. His version, of course, is much more horrific. Without spoiling that story, I’ll leave a link hereThe origins of the Gothic Genre include underground churches and revelations of idenity in the Castle Ortanto—again, the revelation there is less of a horrible secret than the justification of the protagonist.

More pressing stories include those of monsters locked within castles. Here we go to France again, but later in time—the Age of Charlemagne. Here, we find Rinaldo who quests to forget his heart break over a lady love. He finds a land, where he sees a castle in a great pit. An old woman tells him a beast in the castle is kept from terrorizing the countryside, by regular sacrifices of flesh. Rinaldo agrees to venture forth and slay the beast—and attempts to do so. However, he fails at first. It is only when his love returns, and assists—over his loud protests—that the reptilian creature dies (it may be a dragon, but the description in Bulfinch does not specify. All the better I suppose.)

In Scotland, there is a similar story around Glamis Castle. There a secret chamber was used, according to tales dating back to 1840, a deformed and possibly vampiric child. Some accounts call the child a “human toad”, others as simply a strange shadow. The creature’s nature may never be known—at least one guest, the Earl of Crawford, suspected that the family invented the stories as they went along.

There is a creature that resembles this in Lovecraft as well—Byatis, a creature of Campbell’s creation that lives in the Severn Valley sealed in a stone vault beneath a great tower. The toad is a terrible creature, and knows many truths of the world that are worth keeping secret of course. The Edgar Allen Poe story, the Fall of the House of Usher, relates to a dragon as the obstacle of owning a shield and castle as well.

A more common revelation however, is not a monster locked away but a monster about. The folktales of Bluebeard in particular. The story of Bluebeard is a common one through out the world. A young woman marries a powerful and rich noble. He must leave for business shortly after their wedding, and forbids she enter one room. When she ignores him, she finds the many bodies of his prior wives. Bluebeard then either kills her, or she escapes and her family avenges herself on him.

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I mean he looks just lovely. Okay the eyes look maybe a bit crazy.

Variants of this story can be found the world over. In India, there is a version that features a tiger instead of a man or giant. The tiger fools the local brahmin, and marries his daughter. He abuses her at the home, threatening to reveal his true shape and devour her if she does not prepare meals based on what he hunts. And of course, being a tiger he hunts men and women in his woods. After a time, and a child is born—also a tiger—she sends a letter to her mother via crow, telling of this injustice. Her three brothers set out, and after some mishaps, rescue their sister and murder her child—and later her husband, when he tries to steal her back.

Among the people of Northern Canada, there is a similar story of a cannibal husband. Here the husband does more than demand food—he insists on feeding his wives salmon and nothing else to make them too fat to move. His latest wife, Mianna, outsmarts him however by eating ice and eventually making a dummy of ice to distract him. In time, she and her brothers kill Ímarasugssuaq, ending his rain of terror.

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Here old Bluebeard looks a bit creepy but less crazy.

In England, the story of Mr. Fox has a similar ogre of a man—who’s wife to be catches him kidnapping her replacement at the end and lopping off her hand! She sees this the day before their wedding breakfast, and is horrified at each step of the way. At breakfast, she reveals the grizzly reminder of the other bride, and her brothers slaughter Mr. Fox.

And there are so many forms of this story to go through! I’ve linked a collection of these folk tales here, for further investigation. The origins of the French version are debated—there is for instance, a common assumption that they relate to the serial killer Gilles de Rais. Gilles de Rais famously served with Joan of Arc in the Hundred Years War. Afterwards, he went a bit…strange. A rampant child murderer and accused occultist, Gilles lost much of his fortune perusing contact with a demon called Barron and alchemy. He eventually, after kidnapping a cleric, attracted the attention of the local Bishop. After his crimes came to light, he was executed.

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Gilles De Rais needs more urban fantasy about his terrible alchemical experiments.

The other possible inspiration is Conomor the Accursed. Conomor is a Welsh or Breton king, known for his wanton cruelty. His own story begins after murdering three prior wives—and moving to his fourth, Trephine. Trephine refuses at first, due to Conomor’s reputation. However, the king threatens to invade her fathers lands and ransack them if she does not marry him. As Conomor is away on business, she uncovers the secret room containing relics of the dead wives. After praying for their souls, she learns that Conomor will kill her if he finds her pregnant—a story has warned him that his own son will kill him.

When he returns and makes the attempt, Trephine is saved by the three wives. They rescue her, and she gives birth to her child in secret—hiding him before Conomor finds and kills her.While St. Glidas does retore her to life—and her child becomes St. Tremorous—Conomor sometimes kills his son anyway. Other versions have St. Glidas and an array of thirty bishops march on the Accursed and anathemize him. Conomor then falls ill and his soul is swept up in a river of blood. In some variations he is so wicked, neither heaven nor purgatory nor hell will have him, and so he still wanders the earth.

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There are more stories that resemble it. The story of Three Crowns, for instance, has a forbidden room and a set of keys given to the daughter of a king by an Ogress. However, in this case, the revelation is not wicked, and in fact is what gets the daughter returned to her family. The story of Agib in Arabian Nights also features a forbidden door in his travels—this time by comely women, not an ogrish brute. The door hides something strange as well. But unlike Bluebeard, it is a wonder that punishes a lack of self control—not a pile of bodies from the owner.

The message of Bluebeard stories is often debated. The most overt is a condemnation of female curiosity, in the vein of Pandora’s Box. That woman who are asking to many question get killed. However, these stories are sometimes taken in a different light. Rather than warnings against curiosity, they are warnings of the danger of husbands. In this way, they might be similar to Beauty and the Beast stories but with a much darker ending. Certainly, the horror of the story—that a fortunate marriage, which a family is in someway dependent on, turns out to be to a monstrous—is not one that has faded with time.

And then there are the similar stories of monstrous and secretive husbands that are reversed. We can talk for instance about the woman who married a crab or a dragon or a toad or even a Dog—these stories feature a similar prohibition, usually related to seeing the host. In Greece for instance we have the story of Eros and Pysche.

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Pysche is told that she will marry a horrible monster if left on a certain cliff. The winds carry here to a wondrous palace, where an invisible set of servants and invisible husband await She is told never to look at him—but comes to enjoy his visits, his singing, and his presence. In time she becomes pregnant. Her sisters eventually worry about not hearing from their own, and go to meet her. Having heard from Pysche the arrangement, they persuade her to look upon her husband at night with a wax candle—however, upon finding her husband to be the beautiful god Eros, Pysche lets wax drop on his skin waking him. Eros flys off in a rage. Aphrodite, his mother, then gives Pysche a set of tasks to complete before she can regain her husband.

Another instance of this sort of story the story of the Tibetan Woman who married a dog. A single mother with three daughters receives tsampa from a dog—the dog asks they not eat it. The four of them eat it after three years, however, and the dog returns the next day. He asks for one of the daughters as a wife in compensation—which the mother relents to. The first two daughters who marry him hate him and are sent back. The third and youngest however is polite. After having two puppies by the dog, she passes a palace and wishes she lived there. The dog goes to the palace to beg and is “killed”–after his skin is stripped, he reveals himself as the king of the palace and the two puppies become children. A happy ending to the tail.

From Italy there is the story of the Dark King—which fuses Eros and Bluebeard. A young girl wanders into a cave, and finds it full of luxuries. Invisible hands serve her food, bath her, and dress her—it is so relaxing and wonderful that she forgets the entrance of the cave has vanished. After three months she meets the Moor king of the place, who gives her keys to all the rooms save one. After another three months, she has seen all the wonders of the place, and asks to go see her relations. She is allowed, on the condition that she return.

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Yeah, there’s a weird trend in illustrations to make Bluebeard vaguely Middle Eastern? Like that’s clearly his hair, but it’s also totally meant to be a turban right?

Appeasing her relatives and friends with gold, she enjoys herself and comes back. Three months later, she leaves again—this time, however, she boasts of the wealth in the palace. Her friends are eager to see. They suggest, when she explains that her husband won’t allow it, to kill her husband instead. They suggest sneaking in at night—and doing so, she finds him unsightly. When she goes to kill him, however, hot wax falls off her candle. He wakes and is saddened. As he dies, he offers her three hairs. When burned, he will save her from whatever danger she is in.

She, after an incident of cross dressing, mistaken identity, seduction by a queen, and imprisonment by a king, does burn the hairs. These bring about an army to save her from execution and even restore the Dark King to save her. The two are then married—and the Dark King becomes a beautiful prince, who’s kingdom was enchanted until he was wed with consent.

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Seriously, there’s some gruesome images on the Wiki commons–I didn’t feel like sharing them here.

…I’m personally going to assume he stayed dark skinned, because that makes the ‘twist’ ending more palatable.

From Turkey, there is the story of a Padishah, who marries his daughter off to a horse—as she is the only one that the horse allows to feed her. Unlike other stories, the husband immediately reveals himself as an amazing hero—when the daughter’s sisters mock her for her lack of a husband in a tournament, he appears and triumphs. He only asks that she not reveal who he is. Like the Dark King, he gives her three wisps of hair to burn when she needs him—and on the third day, she reveals his secret.

Her husband is taken away—his hag mother plans to kill her daughter-in-law as well. The daughter finds their dwelling at the end of the earth, on a great mountain. The mother is tricked into accepting her without murder—but still tries, with impossible and confusing household tasks to kill her. With her husbands help, the daughter triumphs each time.

Eventually the two flee, and are pursued by his mother and aunt, both witches (although with her snake whip, the aunt resembles a Fury). With some guile and magic, they escape and return home to live happily ever after.

These we might consider similar—they suggest that what at first appears monstrous is not as frightening as it seems. Indeed, the difference between a Beast and Bluebeard is the presence of genuine danger—Bluebeard is here to kill you. The beast isn’t.

We also can talk of the reverse, although it is less a horror story. That of men who take immortal wives, and defy their rules. Selkies and swan maidens are chief among these, but fairy brides are almost as troublesome.

The tabletop game, Bluebeard’s Bride highlights how effecting such a story can still be. And I think in this case, the tale needs little modification—this is the rare form of horrific knowledge that is genuine in its monstrous form. A hidden child or lost ancestry is less easily disturbing. But discovering one shares a home with a serial killer? That still has power. That has visceral fear.

So, we’ve talked a lot about one of the most horrific forms of folklore—finding a monster in your old home. What will we make of it? Well, come back next week to see!

Bibliography

Buck, Rachel Harriette. Roman Legends: A Collection of Fables and Folklore of Rome. Estes and Lauriat, Boston 1877

Chopel, Norbu. Folktales of Tibet. Ltwa, 2006.

Kunos, Ignacz (Tr. Bain Nishbet). Turkish Fairy Tales and Folk Tales. A.H. Bullen, London 1901

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The Court

This Week’s Prompt: :78. Wandering thro’ labyrinth of narrow slum streets—come on distant light—unheard-of rites of swarming beggars—like Court of Miracles in Notre Dame de Paris.

The Prior Research:The Court of Miracles

Dear Mariam

It is a happy lie to presume that the current state of affairs will continue, uninterrupted, forever. In Berlin, I was introduced to the notion among some brahmins of India, that the world was always cycling and shifting. Some suggested that every moment was distinct and novel, others that the world was a great wheel among a multitude of other wheels. I find such notions endearing. They suggest, ultimately, that this state of being we enjoy will in time come again and again.

I was in Paris last week—a city with wonders and bohemians alike. A city that has seen its changes and reversions, its miracles and blasphemies. Are there a people as resentful of good governance as the French? We will see—the future holds many secrets. It was a long night when I decided to retire home, coffee and wine having mixed in my head a bit strongly. I was aware, despite myself, I was critically aware of all my senses as I walked towards my home for the visit.

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I was keenly aware of the stones that felt through my shoes, of the lights on the streets, I could read them all very well. Despite this, my mind was drunk as a sailor. All the senses in the world are nought if the mind is gone—and so I found myself now moving through back roads, convinced that I had found some short cut or another to home. Yes, your dear brother still has not learned to hold his liquor. And Paris, lacking as it is in pea soup, is still a city designed by madmen for rats more than for the intellectual and rational mind of an inebriated university student. Some Cretan must have felt quite clever building up it’s walls and streets haphazardly and in rounds.

I reached that edge of the city, the halo of darkness that marks the seemly from the misbegotten. The penumbra of the city of lights I suppose, where even in my disreputable state I was aware danger was about. The bark of a stray dog alerted me, and I turned to see two men slumped on the side of the wall—talking and pointing off in my direction. The alley over had a mangey hound, low to the ground and bigger than me by a good amount. One of the men shouted something at the dog, who barked again at me. My heart in my neck, I turned and headed away, along the outer roads.

The light was scarcer here—the buildings in disrepair. Notre Dome still towered in the distance, but her bells resounded on empty streets. My own foot falls were most of my company, and the faint outline of my long shadow among street lights. The night was oppressive, and the haze of wine was wearing thin. I grew more aware of my danger, so far from where I was—in fact, I barely knew the names of these avenues. And yet, as my mind returned to its fullness, my senses receded away. My eye began to fail me, and I saw strange shapes shifting—I heard noises from nowhere, and caught whiffs of the party long past.

So there I was, fumbling in a darkened street—certain it was empty, but hearing movement just out of my sight. The occasional meow of a cat or warning bark of a street dog kept my on edge as I started back—I would head towards places I knew, but find the streets and alleys turned me around again. In these valleys of darkness I felt condemned to wander until dawn—at last I saw a light, strange and ferocious in the distance.

My sister, you must think your poor brother a fool for approaching a strange light in the middle of the night, far from home and in places of danger. And you may be correct— but in my defense there is I think some human instinct to seeking out things to see, and that instinct over came my good sense. I do not regret it. If it was foolishness, then I have become one of God’s own fools now.

The source of the dancing lights was apparently shortly after I started after it—a fire. Open, on an autumn night. That alone was not surprising, I reckoned. No, what was shocking about the flames were their size. It was a bonfire, surrounded by all sides so that the buildings hid it from authorities. It wasn’t until later, when I recounted to my friend the shape of the place, that I learned I had been at the most infamous court in France—where bandits and beggars commingled. And I saw them, I did. Around the fire, speaking and dancing, planning and training in the method of their profession.

Cours De MiraclesThe Voice.png

The moment my eyes fell upon the crowd, I made towards the edges. Do not fret, sister, I was not immediately spotted as a man of means who might be extorted. The benefit of the lifestyle of a student is that I am used to appearing impoverished. So I made my way, carefully and slowly, around the crowd.

For the land of miracles, little wonders failed to happen. I heard children laugh, yes, but also weep. Babes cried out, and comforted by mothers. Bellies rumbled hungry . Men shouted, cursed, talked of God and damnation. Some spoke of great cons on the local priests—how they might get more meals yet from this or that source. But slowly, I heard one by one the topic turn to ‘the nightly business’.

It was as I was on the edge, that they appeared—the nocturnal crew. A group of three or four, with one shorter man at the head. At the center of the fire, a dull drum beat began that silenced the crowd. I turned and listened, as a figure began to speak, in a voice as low as thunder and rumbling like flame. He spoke at a length, and I cannot repeat it here. Not only for concern of my sister’s sensibillities, but because the whole of the speaker’s tongue was lost on me—at times, French, yes, but at times in Spainish and German or even languages in the East. The finery of his words were thus lost on me—as was the outbursts and shouts from his fellows. But the thrust, that I understood.

There is an old Jewish story I heard once, about four men who saw the face of God. One went mad, one died, one became a heretic, and one became holy. I found it an amusing understanding of the truth, but little more. Now I cannot say which I am. I sit writing this letter, having heard a man—and still, I am uncertain if he were a man, woman, or angel—recount the suffering of the world. I have seen his hand point towards me, however incidentally, and recited the crimes of the world.

He talked of starving children, of thieves and murders in palaces of bone, of the blood watered sugar canes, of the shots that rang out in town squares. He talked of lives that never could be, of villages and peoples trampled undnereath, of the four horsemen unleashed—how following conquest had come the ills of war, famine, and plague. And how now, now at the turning of the years, it would finally end.

Judgement Day.png

I fled at once, away and no longer caring that I drew attention to myself. I found my way, stumbling, wheezing—yes, your dear brother has yet to learn proper exercise—to an officer of the law. To a street that, I realized, was well lit. To a place, a place where I could find my way home.

 

That was a week ago. Yet the fire, the fire still burns on my skin. It holds some space in my head, it murmurs in my ear. That Judgement Day may come at the hands of man and not God is a terrible thing. That it might seize me, at any moment—surely this has driven men mad.

A man cannot bear that great weight—I expect the cracks to form soon. It is coming soon, it is winding down the wheel of fate soon. When judgment comes, will it be our last? Paris, my sister, Paris is kindling. Perhaps it won’t come soon—I pray I do not see it soon. For the righteous are against us, and I see no recourse or escape. The sea will not take me, and even in Berlin I know those words will haunt the streets.

I wonder now, when I have the patience and mind, if this tribulation has happened before? Has the wheel of fate turned past, or is the end of all ends coming for us? On that day, will my name be called? Will the dull thud of the razor resume, the old heart of Paris restored? Will they cheer when my head rolls free? Or worse, will I be swallowed up—nameless in the flood?


 

I’m not fond of this story. I think it came out unfinished, and that it was both too politically overt, and too vague in it’s horror. It feels like perhaps the pay off to a larger build up or  a story where the ‘threat’ is so clearly the hero, that it’s hard to be scared with the main character. Aw well.

Next week! Secrets beneath the castle walls! What is waiting in the forbidden room?

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