Yonster Over Yonder

This Week’s Prompt:93. A place one has been—a beautiful view of a village or farm-dotted valley in the sunset—which one cannot find again or locate in memory.

The Prior Research: Off the Map

I have never been to Yonster, but I know every road by now. Last night I woke up, and could tell you that the library of Yonster is situated on Main Street and Elephant—Elephant has it’s unusual name from a zoo at the end of street and a foolish twentieth century attempt at advertising through civic infrastructure. There have been movements to change the street name but none have managed to get past the current Mayoral family, the Straubs, who find it quaint. And like many things in Yonster, quaint seems to hold it together.

The dreams about Yonster have been going on for a few weeks now. Just bursts of facts and trivia. I know that Ms. Madeline Alba, who is recently widowed, makes her pie with an dash of vanilla with the raspberries to enhance taste. She learned that the local Starbucks did something similar with their hot chocolate, and thought it was a great idea. She has green eyes.

I keep notes on it, figuring it’ll make a great book someday. Yonster seems like a nice place to visit, but a quick search on Google Maps and nothing. I mean I got a few Youngsters and the like, but yeah. No city, no small town with a population of 2000.

I’m not even sure where it would be—the people there speak English I think, but I can’t read in dreams. I’m not even sure what the dreams are. Sometimes, I’ve got this nice little house that’s a far cry from my cramped apartment. It’s been in my family for generations. I work in town, although on what I’m never sure. It requires a suit, but things are old fashioned in Yonster, so that could be anything.

Small Town Maine yonster

Yonster’s architecture is, outside of the city square, fairly old fashioned. I’d call it Parisian, but I’ve never been to Paris. The buildings are all family homes, and a number of them have tile roofs. The streets aren’t built for cars, although a few people have one. I myself prefer to walk, and enjoy the roadways.

The dreams have gotten more common as I’ve been handling my dad’s work. He’s selling his house—which I won’t lie, stings a bit. But with Mom gone…I can’t blame him for wanting to get out. We brought in some people to clean it, and I’ve started going through the stuff to sell. He can’t stand doing it himself. My therapist thinks the dreams are an escape. I can’t really disagree—seems like it, easy to slip somewhere were things never change when your dig through your parents old stuff.

It was while digging through that cardboard maze that I found it though. A old note book, in my dad’s nightstand. Time stood still as I read the first page.

Small Scottish TownGreen.png

“There’s this place called Yonster…”

I was thinking, when I read, that maybe he’d read me stories about it when I was little. But he’d kept dates—small, at the top of the page where I could miss them at first. First one was when he was nineteen. The whole book was filled with details. Bits and pieces, talking about people and places. I didn’t know Alba’ s mother-in-law didn’t trust their marriage. And given what my father said about George, I didn’t blame her. Marriage and father hood really shaped him up. And the bar down third, where the boys played—that had been a church once, but they’d moved into a new building.

There’s only so much coincidental detail that one man can believe is circumstances. I could believe remembering stories of Yonster—I could even believe maybe imaginging some changes. But the swerves were so…mundane. So normal, so bland. No one shipped off to join the army, no one ran for office and was mirred by scandal, no one had any affairs at all. I had no relations either. There were no long lost grandparents who left me an elaborate mansion. If this was the fancies of childhood—where were the fancies?

My father lives on his own, mostly, but he still manages to keep odd hours. It wasn’t until late in the afternoon, after I’d poured over every detail of the books. Coffee made me jittery and sickly as it faded. It burned at my stomach and made my hands shake. It made my neck feel soft and my head heavy, slumping a bit. But it kept me awake, and I didn’t really want to sleep right now. Something seemed sinister about my inherited dreams.

“Yonster…that’s…hm. Was that were Mary ran off to with Ronald? The one who was an architect.” My father said, stopping with two mugs in hand.

“No, no that was Yonkers.”

“Right, Yonkers, Yonkers. No, don’t think I wrote much about Yonkers.” He said, holding one out.

“No, right. I mean, do you remember visting Yonster? Nice place, had a few hills. You might have known the—there was a statue in town. A big one, of three guys on a horse?” I said, scratching my head. It was a monument to some local heroes during the Civil War—I’m not sure what Civil War, but they had horses and sabers, and they were local heroes. Everyone was related or married into their families. I think that limits the time of the Civil War, maybe two centuries ago? Three? Maybe longer—horses and sabers are as old as steel at least.

“Well, three? Like, three on three horses?” He sipped and frowned. “There’s a lot of those down in London. That what your thinking of?”

“No, no, it was one statue—one place thing. With three men on one horse.” I said, breathing deep. “Does any of that sound familiar?”

“…Are you alright, Justin? You seem worked up about this.”

“I’m fine, I just. I just found some writing about it in your place, and was wondering about it. It seemed, you know, familiar.” I said.

My father didn’t know anything else. And the sixth cup of coffee looped back around on me. I felt my bones weaken, and only with force of will got home. I fell onto the couch, and slept. And dreamed.

Small Town Scotland 2Green.png

The sun over Yonster is clearer than anywhere else I’ve seen. The cicadas buzz with the spring’s arrival, and the river runs clear. It’s thinned lately, but winter snow was arriving. It was swelling, and green was growing again. A good time of year, as the rains came in, for drinking tea outside and slipping in doors. The rains are always calming in Yonster.

I figured I had…something, between my memories and my father’s forgotten ones, to place Yonster on a map. Somewhat. The terrain, the style of the saber, the way the buildings looked. The problem wasn’t ‘were’ such a place could be—it was that those places had maps. Yonster looked like it had rolled out of an English Romantic pastoral, but with electric lights.

And England was mapped.

England was mapped. Ireland was mapped. Maine was mapped. And it wasn’t like Yonster was small. I had known a friend in college, who claimed all over the south were unmapped and unmarked farms and villages waiting to take up guns against the federal government. I still think that’s a load of crap, but even those imaginary secret armies were small. But Yonster was…probably a few hundred people.

I narrowed it down over a few day. It was probably an abbreviation—chester became just ‘ster’ over the years, putting it somewhere in the Isles. I even worked out the etymology, although no one in Yonster was impressed—that fortress, or fortress over yonder.

I must have looked bizarre on the train from London. I told people I was hiking out in Scotland for a few days, map in hand and note books in my pack. The landscape looked right for Yonster, and Alba was a Celtic name—shared with a Latin one.

The Scottish countryside feels like a place you could hide things, as you move farther and farther into the highlands. It was a good place to start—even if it wasn’t as known for horses, I don’t think, as Yonster was.

I spent six months walking towards Yonster. I knew that I was getting close, even as I circled back and came around. Even as I started running low on cash, as the leaves changed. I told anyone who asked that I was going back to visit some friends out in Yonster—no one asked much after that, although I had plenty to tell them. I don’t know how I got back every day, every night rain or shine I was there. It was always Spring in Yonster, and the people always patient and kind. It kept me warm on days full of cold, and full when I slept hungry. For six months, I chased the phantom through hills and dales, in valleys and near cliffs.

Small Town Maine yonster

And then I found it—the old road to Yonster. It was smaller than I remembered, but what did that even mean really. The road was dirt, overgrown mostly. The buildings were small and few. There was maybe a dozen old houses, empty houses—no not quiet empty. But no one lived there. It was nothing like I imagined, but it was Yonster. I could feel it in my bones.



This story took some work to come up with an ending for—I wasn’t satisfied with leaving it as utter delusion, or having it really be some paridisal home. So I opted for something in between. On a revisit, I think expanding some of the search would be warranted—or perhaps changing Yonster from a sort of small town idealism to a more fantastic setting like the folklore had.

Next week, we leave the invisible and soar into the heavens! Behold, the Sun!

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

Something Gnawing Inside

This Week’s Prompt: 92. Man’s body dies—but corpse retains life. Stalks about—tries to conceal odour of decay—detained somewhere—hideous climax.

The Prior Research:Bloodsucking Bodies from the Balkans

Ever since the man in uniform brought Leslie Edgarton news from the front lines—maybe ever since Thomas’s name had shown up in the obituaries—she had made a point of going on morning walks. Abigail, her oldest, found it a bit disconcerting. Leslie would go and walk, and at times it didn’t seem clear she knew where she was going. She usually walked in the park, meandering for an hour or so.

Today, however, she lingered a little longer. She found the grass and trees soothing. Cars and sirens rarely came around to the park, especially in the morning on a Monday. She breathed in, trying to let that peace of mind in. It was then that she saw him.

The man was feeding the ducks some bread out of his pocket—he was wearing a long jacket and heavy shades, his hair a buzz cut. Leslie frowned as he approached. He looked a bit pale, unshaven, but—but something about him seemed familiar. He looked just like Thomas—not just like, maybe after losing some weight, maybe after a bad few months. But he couldn’t be—she’d discussed this with Dr. Reddington. They’d been over this. They’d…but he was right there. Smiling as he fed the ducks along the path.

As Leslie got close, the wind carried the smell of alcohol ahead of the man. He didn’t seem to notice her, stopping and leaning to look in the lake. But it was Tom. It was definitely Thomas, right there. She stopped dead ten feet away and stared. Something held her back, something was unsure. Something in her said this was dangerous.

The man got up, turned, saw her—and left with nothing more than a small smile. She wanted to say something, she wanted to ask if it was him, where had he been, why he had taken so long to come back, was it really him. A hundred questions stuck in her throat, as he continued along the road, and behind the hill. Out of sight.

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Leslie struggled not to tell her children about the man. She had considered calling the police, but…well, he was probably just a homeless man who happened to look like Thomas. There were seven billion people in the world. And Dr. Reddington said her pattern recognition might be on the fritz. It wasn’t anything for a few days, it was a thing that nagged her.

And then, that Monday, she got a call from Jesse’s school. A very worried and hushed call.

Hello, Mrs. Edgarton?” the voice said, quietly.

Speaking—is something wrong?” She said, quietly closing her office door.

I’m afraid there is. There was a small incident with Jesse.” the voice continued.

He’s alright, and everything seems fine but—well, Mrs. Edgarton–”

Don’t tell me he lashed out again?” Leslie said, rubbing her temples.

Not exactly. Mrs. Edgarton, Jesse—well, he says he saw his father.”

Excuse me?” Leslie looked straight ahead.

He saw his own father. Ma’am, if you could come down here, we’re…well, we’re obviously all worried. Some of his friends saw a man near the school fence, and Jesse ran towards him. When the teachers got there, the man was gone.”

And Jesse says…”

It was his father, yes.” The voice said, hesitating a moment. “I know this is hard, Mrs. Edgarton, but you have to understand how worrying this sort of behavior is.”

Right, I’ll be there right away.”

VampireDad1.png

Leslie felt her heart in her throat. It had been hard enough the first time, explaining what had gone wrong, what had gone terribly wrong. She felt like maybe she should have laid the groundwork—maybe if they had known where Tom was, maybe if the understood his job. Lauren took it best. She was older, she knew a bit better. She resented it more, but still. Jesse had…hadn’t understood for a while. It made sense, in a way, that he’d start seeing things too.

Jesse had been insistent that it was his dad—wearing sunglasses and a heavy coat and gardening gloves, but Leslie…Leslie couldn’t get him to believe it was someone else. Worse, he mentioned seeing him around school for a couple of days. She called the cops—she didn’t want to, if it really was just a homeless guy.

They hadn’t found any trace of him, but someone else had seem him near the high school—near Lauren, Leslie thought. The guy had some sort of cloth over his mouth, but school security chased him off.

Jesse said he smelled like alcohol and eggs, and that he’d been waiting near the playground for a while. Which—the playground butted against an old orchard. It wasn’t unbelievable he’d gotten back there. It was just…she couldn’t understand why Jesse had gotten close. They went over stranger danger a hundred times, but of course…of course…

He wasn’t a stranger! It was dad!” Jesse said. Leslie held back tears.

It was for the best they stayed home anyway. Jesse had been lethargic since—stress no doubt, plus spring allergies were coming in. He stayed in bed a lot, watching TV. It probably wasn’t healthy, but Leslie didn’t know what else to do.

A week after Jesse saw him, Leslie went a walk again. She made sure Lauren was safe and at school. She even managed to get Jesse to go on the walk with her—she hoped fresh air would help with whatever was going wrong. Fresh air was a cure for everything—and it would stop Jesse from developing cabin fever at least.

There was a lake in the park that they walked to. There were ducks they could feed, but Jesse just liked watching them and walking along the shore. Sometimes things drifted—usually just broken reeds and grass, but sometimes toy boats or bottles. Pencils, pens, lost letters. Not often, but five years walking in the park as a family, looking, you found the strange litter.

Leslie breathed easy for a moment, as the birds sang and flew. Spring was on it’s way—warmth was coming back. Even as the rains and thunder rolled, live was finding away. She watched as Jesse looked through the reeds for a treasure.

Mom! Mom, you’ve got to see this!” Jesse shouted from the shore. Leslie blinked awake and walked over, smiling—and then she saw what Jesse was holding.

VampireDad No Hat

It was small, as he held up in the sun. It shone in her eyes, a small coin with red and blue on the back. Thomas had shown it off, before his last deployment, it was one he’d won in France. Leslie felt her hairs stick on end as Jesse got closer. She looked up, and saw—across the lake, walking measuredly—a man in a long coat and gloves. He had a beanie on, his mouth was covered by a full bandan, and he had sunglasses on. Still. He was the same height, the same shape.

Jesse we’re leaving.” Leslie said, standing up, staring as he walked—his legs seemed to bend to far, bending and shaking at the joints. She could—the pants where bending, like his legs were breaking.

Mom–” Jesse started.

No, now.” She said, grabbing the hand and coin. They walked fast—not too fast, not running, walking quickly and certainly—toward the car. Jesse complained, but Leslie kept going. When they drove off—she saw him. Standing there in the parking lot. Was he looking at her—he stood and stopped at the end of the path. Slowly…he stepped off onto the asphalt as they drove away.

Leslie didn’t explain much to Jesse when she got home. Just to pack his things. Leslie had noticed he was lethargic again, slumping a bit, yawning, complaining about aches or grumbling and groaning. Contact with the coin wasn’t healthy—or maybe it was just seeing that…that thing. That man.

She had already called her sister—they were across town, but she couldn’t stay in the house tonight. If it was Tom…if it was Tom–which she had to now consider, she had to whether she wanted or not—he’d try and come home next. He knew they’d be home, and she couldn’t risk it. Her sister had moved recently—Tom wouldn’t know where she was.

No Mask Vampire Dad.png

Doris understood, mostly, and the kids treated it like a sleep over. They put on Toy Story to settle in a bit better—it was Jesse’s favorite. Lauren could tolerate it—she’d pick the next movie, that Jesse would probably sleep through. He was barely awake as it was.

Leslie tried to ask about if she’d been followed by anyone, if she’d seen anyone. Anything at all. Lauren wouldn’t answer—but Leslie saw the old luck charm Tom had. She sighed. After tonight, they could talk. They would talk, after a night over.

They were almost done—at the scene with the weird baby spider that somehow didn’t give Jesse nightmares—when Leslie’s phone rang. She glanced down and her blood ran cold.

Mrs. Edgarton? This is Office Randal. We received a call about a break in at your house, and wanted to make sure you were out of the building.” The voice on the other side buzzed.

Yes,I’m at my sister’s at the moment. Should—should I stay here longer?”

There was a pause.

Ma’am, I don’t think that will be necessary. We…we believe we have apprehended the suspect. I would recommend coming home tomorrow afternoon, the clean up will take some time.”

Leslie was quiet for a moment.

Can I see him?”

Ma’am, I’m not sure that’s–”

Just for a second, if it’s safe.”

There was chatter on the other side, talking and sighing and what she imagined was shrugging.

Ma’am, I can’t stop you but I strongly suggest against it.”

She parked the car on the sidewalk nearby, leaving the driveway open. Stepping out, she saw the smashed window. There was a red stain on the door, blood and cloth on the broken window. There was alcohol and blood and rot rising from the window—the officers nearby saw her and beckoned her closer.

On the other side of the smahsed window, splayed on the couch, was Tom. Or what was left of Tom. His shir twas stained, and looked ten sizes too big. A rib poked through. His coat had nearly slumped off. One of his gloves was gone—fallen on the floor a few feet away. Outstretched was a withered limb, bones poking through in a few places. And then there was his face.

FinalVampireDad

His shades had fallen off, revealing empty holes for eyes.The beanie had sunken down, pushing down bits of hair and skin. His nose was gone, and his bandanna had fallen away. His mouth—the lips were pulled back, making his yellowed teeth look long and sharp. His tongue dropped out and was blackened with decay. Leslie couldn’t help but stare as Tom’s body buzzed with flies, rattling one more time before collapsing.



For this story, I knew I wanted to do something with the idea of loss coming back home. I don’t think I handled the analogy entirely well or to my satisfaction–this week was busier then expected. Still, I think this is as good as some of the earlier “horror laced into reality” stories I managed.

Next week, we talk about villages and towns lost to memory! Come and see!

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

A Long Night

This Week’s Prompt: 91. Lost winter day—slept over—20 yrs. later. Sleep in chair on summer night—false dawn—old scenery and sensations—cold—old persons now dead—horror—frozen?

The Prior Research:A Deep, Cold Sleep

The buzz of cicadas near the rivershore will always be the sound of summer to me. Even if I’ve never seen one, the near constant buzzing in the trees keeps the season clear—just like up north, the drifting of fall leaves announces autumn and the dreary blanket of snow makes winter all the clearer.

C’mon, I got a jar and everything!” Jordan says, holding up a glass jar with some very tiny holes poked in it.

There floating over the water, a little light show. With a sigh, I let myself by pulled down—against a dark sky, we chase the stars. Its a hokey little memory, I think. The kind I’ll write about when Jordan’s older. The kind that’s bleeding innocence. The kind that a Pixar movie would use for the good old days, before adult hood made everything complicated. Its nice, is what I’m saying.

River Forest.png

How often do you get fireflies down here?” Leslie asks, as we pace down the riverside. Jordan’s running a head, waving his jar around and trying to catch them on the sand.

Every now and then, but we only come down to the river like once a year.” I said, a fire fly landing in my hair—and for a moment I worry Jordan’s gonna bash me on the head with a jar to catch it. It flies off before that becomes a problem.

We caught a dozen—although half figured out where the hole was and slipped out of the jar. Neither of us had done this before, and I’d been too lazy to google how.

Think they’ll glow all night?” Jordan said, holding up the small collection. On cue, firefly number seven slipped out the top of the jar.

Maybe—we might need to get more tomorrow.” I said as we walked back to the cabin. “But a few might. If you get up early, you could probably still see them.”

Hmmm…” Jordan weighs the notion of waking up early—with the understanding of going to sleep now—against running around more.

I’ll make pancakes.” I promise.

Fireflies

I got the batter ready in advance after Jordan went to sleep. It was my mom’s old recipe, which she said she got from her grandfather—but honestly, I’m eighty percent sure I’ve seen it on the back of a box of mix.

You’ve got to know the fireflies will be gone by the time he gets up.” Leslie said, sitting at the counter.

Well, sure. But that’s fine, we’ve got another night up here and he’ll catch more. Besides,” I held up a mixing spoon. “There’s no misery that pancakes can’t cure.”

So, hows he doing in school?” Leslie asked, getting up and starting a pot of coffee behind me.

Fine, fine really. He likes math, which is a godsend I think. Math and science and in a few years, he’ll be off to the races in college.”

I mean, in ten years maybe.” Leslie said, rolling her eyes.

Ten years, a few years, eh.” I waved it off as I mixed. “Point is, I think he’s got a scientests brain. Maybe biology, what with how much he loves running around in the woods. He could make some good money that way.”

Sure, I mean…that’s pretty far away though.” Leslie said shrugging. “He might change his mind.”

Yeah, kids do that, but I really think he’s onto something.” I said, placing the batter in the fridge. “And, I mean, I’m working on his junior high already—thats where stuff can really get out of hand. But I’ll work something out for him.”

Leslie shrugged again and looked back outside. A small flash of a shooting star went by, and she sighed. She always thought it was weird for me to talk so much about how great Jordan was going to be, but it never came to much.

River ForestComet.png

Its funny. My grandparents had a cabin like this—I mean, not exactly like this. Prescott doesn’t have a river, just some creaks. But…places like this always feel nice.” She said, watching the stars between the trees. “I blame Diseny—there’s something about cabins that makes the whole world seem to stand still.”

The coffee pot beeped to break the silence.

Which cup?” I asked, opening the cabinet.

Leslie grabbed a blanket as we went out onto the patio.

Oh c’mon its July! It’s nowhere near that cold.” I said, rolling my eyes.

Speak for yourself, I’m freezing.” She grumbled as she leaned into the armrest.

Its getting warmer every year…” I said, sipping my coffee. “It’s going to be sweltering soon. God, can you imagine the mosquitoes?”

They’ll be the size of airplanes.” Leslie said with a laugh. “And the fireflies are gonna be bigger than Jordan.”

Oh, God, he’d try and ride one away.” I said, laughing and nearly spilling the coffee on the floor.

…hows he doing. In school.” Leaslie asked, looking up at the yellow’d harvest moon.

I mean, he likes it, his grades are good, like I said he loves math–”

Yeah, but you know. What about hobbies? What’s he do when he’s not catching fireflies?”

I stopped a bit and shrugged.

I mean, he does puzzles and stuff.” I said, frowning. “I’m thinking he’ll do debate in a few years, he’s got the mind for data and that’s important. Or robotics and coding.”

What about now though?” Leslie said. I shrugged.

I think he hangs out with a kid named Jeff?” I said, frowning. “Doesn’t come over much, but they had snacks and played games once.”

We talked a bit after that, about travel and college. I went to bed, feeling a bit chilly—not that I’d say anything. A bit of a wet wind had come off the river, that was all.

I stirred a little in my sleep. Something cold and freezing went over me, and lights danced outside. An aurora rising in the window, a cool and strange light. For a moment, the woods loomed large. I was half awake, half dreaming as I saw them. Half formed shapes of fur and tusk, lumbering nameless about the house. The river was bubbling, many colored gas rising out and off of it. I sighed a bit, and lay back down, breathing slowly to sink back to sleep. I didn’t think much of it—I thought it was a strange dream, half remembered. The sun didn’t rise that early, I thought—and the woods were too thick, too thick to be real.

I jolted awake later, a drop of water hitting my head—and as I stretched, my limbs felt exhausted. I saw the sun high in the sky, and a moment of panic struck. I’d forgotten to make breakfast! I got up and—and as I stretched, I felt a sudden chill. Looking outside again, I saw…white snow. Snow running up the window, all the way down to the shore.

The hell?”

It had snowed before in summer. I think. I mean, we weren’t far enough north for that to be normal, but freak weather wasn’t out of the question. But still, it was—well, I guess no fireflies would be caught.

Jordan! Jordan!” I shouted. He was going to love this. But the entire house was silent as I walked into the living room—a thin layer of frozen dew over the window. Looking out onto the patio, the wind rocked the chair back and forth.

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Someone was in the chair. Leslie! She must have slept in. When I pulled the screen door, there was a horrible sound. The edges were pretty rusty—I’d have to call the maitence guy about this. I mean, he might write it off as a freak blizzard but—and then I paused again, looking out from the patio. The frost on the window had obscured it but there were more trees then before. Not many, but saplings that had crept up from the shore. Not just saplings, no. The undergrowth was thicker, rising from the snow. Bushes and rotting brown moss growing on dead wood.

How long had I slept?

I turned slowly at the chair and caught a glimpse. A glimps of skin tight on bones, a face full of terror, a blanket full of holes and worn down. I slammed the door shut and ran back inside. I couldn’t look at it. I couldn’t look at that face, hair frozen where it was. How long had I slept? How…

Jordan. Oh no. Oh no.

 



I’m…not fond of this story. I really couldn’t get the twist ending into a cohesive narrative in my head, and when I had something I had little time to finish it. This might be one that, in a few years, I might rewrite for the patreon (linked below). Next week, we come back to a common staple of horror, and delve deep into a regional variant that started this entire blog! Come and see, when the dead walk!

 

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

The Body of Veled

This Week’s Prompt:90. Anencephalous or brainless monster who survives and attains prodigious size.

The Prior Research:Lose your Head!

Bodies lay strewn like scattered grains across Peridun’s field. The men who had thus far survived the fighting, the rebellious folk of the mountains and the riders of the Thunder King, waited on bated breath. The rebel, Veled, dressed in fine cotton clothes and with a serpent headed spear, dons his horse hair helm. Across, the King of Thunder, his meteor charms heavy on his head. A crown of thunderbolts crackled in the air. The King of Thunder holds his blade, that crackles as it cuts the air with each blow.

The two rush forward, and the melee is fierce. The blade slides off the clothes of Veled, the spear can find no hole in the meteor born metal. Rebel and loyalist watch, each holding breath as sparks and strikes fly. Later men tell of how the earth shook and the wind roared. And then the first crack—the spear of Veled, rent in two. In the pause, the blade found a gap—and off went Veled’s head, his horse haired helm clattering on the ground.

The King of Thunder told this tale many times as he returned, Veled’s head in his banner. Peridun’s people were scattered by the hurricane of steel—those that did not flee, watered the fields in blood. And all was silent on those fields for a time, as feasting and murals were made.

HeadlessSword

Until Veled’s body stirred, abandoned and naked on the field of war. It was a lumberjack wandering the roads that saw the body first—hunched over and crawling. At first he thought, in it’s scarred and awful shape, that some strange tiger was feeding on the bodies of the dead. Yet as he drew close, he saw the furs were mere clothes—the hands not clawed, but with the long finger nails of a corpse. The body made no sign that it saw or heard him as he approached—but the horrid look of it’s neck stump caused the man to shriek in panic and flee.

It was from this fleeing woodsmen that the body of Veled acquired its first tool. The bodies that lay in Peridun still bare the marks of its first depradations—hunks of flesh and bone rent by tireless nails and arms. But axe in hand, the ghastly corpse began to butcher it’s fellows bodies. It would drop the chunks of meat down its throat. The lands around Peridun are sparsely inhabited, and such sights were deemed the work of a local exorcist or priest, unworthy of national concern for sometime. Its grim dances atop the boides, laughing madly with chortling hoots and screams from fractured vocal chords, were unnerving and unwholesome. But in such a land that resisted rightful law, it was of no note or surprise.

After some time, however, the sight grew tiresome—and indeed an exorcist was called to deal with the ghosts of rebellion. A woman of some skill, who knew many of the arts of casting back spirits and was attended always by the smell of divine incense, the exorists went out with her retinue in the night. She came with a wooden sword and carved silver bell, that would sing sweetly. Many dark creatures she had banished from the night, who at the sound of her bell fled the authority of the heavens.

HeadlessMan.png

So she descended into the plains, where the beast held its dances. Oh how terrible the body of Veled was! It stood now eight fall tall, the woodsman’s great ax and a broken platform of shields trampled under foot. The exorcist’s retinue stood back with horror. But she presisted forward, sending them to their stations, with their implements. Here a brazen thunderbolt. There a lit candle. Pure water. The beast feels the heat and motions of the wind, the unsettled body of Veled turns and paws about—its dancing has stopped, for its throat tastes something living in the air. And then the exorcist drew her sword, and spoke her prayers.

She recounted not just the Thunder King’s triumph, but his fathers, and fathers fathers. She recounted the divisons of heaven and earth, that had assigned to her the authority over spirits. She, with the fire of a holy preacher, recounted the torment of the rebellious, and promised a swift and merciful dismissal if the body returned to the grave.

The body made no reply—as it lacked any sense of hearing, as a thing that stood outside the law. The exorcist then made to strike the body, her sword digging deep into it’s swollen stomach. The ministers of the depths sent a missive to summon the body down, as they had a hundred rebel spirits and ghosts before. This missive, however, was ignored—for the senseless corpse could not hear it. Instead, it felt the pain of the sword, and in a rage, slew the exorcist and her retinue.

The terror of this report was sent to the Thunder King and his authorities—as well as reports of a swollen, mishappen corpse marching towards his mountain castle. The body of Veled was now ten feet tall, and proofed immune to swords, spears, and slings. Worse still, the beast’s hunger continued—it consumed and devoured men and women without hesitation. Arrows and axe heads had been stuck in it’s sinew, but the flesh of it’s victims renewed it every year. Such outrages moved the Thunder King—he assembled his companions.

“This beast is unlike others we have seen—it defies sense and death, and will not yield to the demands of gods and men. We must overcome it’s strength, and hold it still. Then, we will affix a head to it, carefully made. Once it has regained a head and sense, the ministers below will lay their hands on him, and take this twice dead Veled down below.”

And his companions agreed with his wisidom, the ten of them armed with bolas and net, with tridents and harpoons. These, they believed, would fix themselves into it’s wounds. Even as the beast healed, the chains would wrap and bind its bones and muscle. The weight of imperial iron would hold it fast, with effort.

So they rode out, the eleven riders to meet with the great terror. Now it stood twenty feet tall—towering over hills as it crawled up the mountains. The body dimmly felt it’s old head, still hung from the banner of the Thunder King. It hurled stones as the riders appraoched, battering their path with boulders the size of men and horse sized clods of dirt. One struck a companions chest, smashing bones asunder. Another hit a companion’s steed, stumbling the horse over and killing both. Yet the nine remaining pursued the monster, who continued it’s howls of broken voices and danced as it had on a hundred fields of corpses.

They cut at the body. They drove nets of steel around its flesh. Whirling bolas wound around and around its limbs. The peakless mountain came tumbling down, limbs flayed and woven together. Yet still it pulled forward. It’s dance done, its hands climb the ground, its axe a great lever to heave it’s form. A companion drew close with a lance, but the hands of Veled caught it’s tip and pulled him screaming into his gapping maw. The remaining eight riders withdrew for a moment, content in having slowed the creature.

“We must move swiftly,” said Thun, wisest of the Thunder King’s riders. “I fear the nets are not as firm as it’s spirit. Mountain the head on a spear and drive it onto the neck—impose thought on the creature, before it turns its cage into armor.”

Head Hunting.png

So the Thunder King and his companions each took a spear. And each removed it’s tip, and replaced it instead with the head of a great statue, the stump facing forward. They made off without their horses—who were tired from the fighting and afraid of the great beast. So slowly, the four men and four women descended, each drawing closer to the clawing body of Veled.

Assaulting such a creature, who could not see or here, was difficult with. But ambushing them was remarkably easy. The first spear, by Thun, struck between the limbs and hit the throat. But it was too small! The idol’s head was swallowed whole, and Thun gave away his presence with the spear tip. So there was only seven companions as the body slunk up towards the Thunder Kings halls. Each in turn made their assault—but the heads of gods were ill fitting something so lawless. Some too small, some too big, some swallowed and some ignored. At last, only the Thunder King remained—and to him came a novel idea.

He discarded the head of stone he had brought, hurling it with great force. It came down on the back of Veled, startling it. The Thunder King fetched Veled’s old head, with it’s long hair and embalmed flesh. He wove the hair around the spear tip—making something like a mace as he approached. He swung it slowly, letting it whirl in the air. The body had grown vast—it was fifteen feet tall now. The head had shrunk with rot.

Still, he bounded forward, and brought flesh to flesh—the body knew the head. And as they became one, the chorus of summons from the underworld. They laid there hands on the life of Veled’s body, and pulled it down. And so the terror was ended, and so execution by beheading prohibited in the land of Peridun.



 

This story is back to the more mythic structure–I’ll figure out one day how to write a story that moves between more grounded and more fantastic, but for this prompt the mythical seemed more accurate and fitting.

Next week, in the heat of summer, we venture to the forgotten and dread time of winter–of frozen bodies and trapped times. Come and see what’s stuck under all that ice.

 

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Settling Down, Setting Free

This Week’s Prompt: 89. Lone lagoons and swamps of Louisiana—death daemon—ancient house and gardens—moss-grown trees—festoons of Spanish moss.

The Prior Research:Swamp Men and French Werewolves

There was an old rotting property at the end of Leeman Lane, that had it not been for one particularly pick lawyer, would have been demolished years ago. The house belonged to my great uncle’s family—a family I had only vaguely visited once or twice. Hated it, honestly. There was a nice backyard, and a cool patio I think, and a chest of old toys. But well, it was on the edge of the swamp.

I guess I remember Uncle Todd dying. No, I probably just remember a funeral sort of. I was like eight, and the house at the end of Leeman Lane vanishing beneath a bulldozer wouldn’t have made my family news. We weren’t close.

But then, a lawyer calls me up. Says I’m the next of kin—not of Uncle Todd, but my second cousin (or is it cousin once removed?) Jerry. Jerry died with the house in his name, passed it on, and well no one wanted it.

I didn’t want it.

It was cheap and far away from the folks and who knows, putting something back together might be healthy. Left over student loan money would be able to get me started, rebuilding it anyway. I closed the car door at the end of the road, the creaking and condemned buidling looming over me. Home sweet home.

My first visit of the old house was dire. There was water dripping from a whole in the roof down to the basement, where it made a mosquito infested pit., most of the furniture was already gone. The porch was covered in mold, it’d have to all be replaced. The wallpaper had all been pealed back. There was no way I was sleeping there for at least a months of work.

House Louisiana.png

The motel was cheap and didn’t look that bad, all things considered.

A whole month?” the old woman behind the counter said with a raised eyebrow. “What, you shooting a documentary or something?”

People do that often out here?” I asked, handing over the card for her to scan. Reception wasn’t great out here, things took a bit.

Course they do! Nature stuff in the swamp, people looking for moss men, that sort of thing. Not your lane though?” she said, handing it back. “Well, you might see something out by the old Leeman house. Room 2b, ice machine’s down the hall.”

I lugged my pair of suitcases up and got to studying. I had…a vauge idea of what I was doing, but not really? Not in practice. I mean, demolishing the whole thing and starting from scratch seemed expensive and a bit…pointless, really. Wasteful, I guess?

So that meant figuring out how to replace waterlogged, moldy walls. How to saftely take down walls, how to tell their load bearing. What sort of tools to get, which were rip offs, which were for professionals, what you could get by with;what materials, what kinds of plasters, where to buy them, that sort of thing.

Looking it over, there was no way this was a one man job.

Hey Frank.” It took a couple calls to get through. “You still need a job? Still got that old truck?”

Truck Louisiana.png

Frank’s a big guy, a nice guy. He’s done some construction work, but even he was surprised at the size of the damage.

Man, this whole wall’s gotta go. Like, are these…there are mushrooms growing out of this.” He said, reaching out and flicking the sprouting shrooms. I nodded, and tapped it with an axe.

The whole thing? Edges seem pretty good.” I said, drumming the wet but not moldy corner. Frank leaned over to look and frowned.

They might be fine, we’ll see when we get the rest out of the way. Their might be mold inside.” He said, heading over to the back. “And—okay, yeah, you were right. House first, backyard second. I can’t tell if that’s a pool or a lake.”

Tree looks nice though.”

Yeah, I guess. Spanish moss kinda looks like a curtain.” He said, shrugging as he walked around to the front.

The rest of the tour goes as better—there’s a lot of work to be done, but its not impossible. Just intense and expensive. I wave my hand at that, money’s not a real issue at the moment.

Really?” Frank says looking around the stairs—some would need to be replaced, but the structure was mostly fine. “I mean, I know–”

We both stood stock still. Rustling, and another splash. Frank held up a hand, and slowly walked over to the hole in floor, peering over. He frowned and shrugged, gesturing for me to come over. There was something floating in the water—holding a cellphone light over the hole, a small bit of wood came into view. For a moment I sighed with relief. Maybe it was just a bit of the roof that fell. But the light caught on something with color—a bit of red and blue. I leanded over a bit, careful not to fall in.

It’s carved.” I said slowly. “Some sort of…doll?”

Maybe something left on the roof?” Frank said, looking up. “Though…seems strange for the wind to catch.”

Yeah…maybe a rat or something?”

Do rats play with dolls?” Frank said, frowning more.

Well, no, but…maybe a crow dropped it? It looks kinda shiny, nest material?” I said, standing up and looking around.

Yeah, maybe. We should take a look, just in case.” Frank said. “This place gives me the creeps, and I’d rather not get a heart attack from a stray cat jumping at me from its home.”

The basement wasn’t…exactly safe to get into. The stairs creaked, and I felt one breaking as I went down with Frank. It was a big basement—shelves still against the wall, with cans that might still have some good food in them. No furniture, but some piled up lumber and a rusting heater.

The walls had some holes. And there were, of course, insects buzzing around the small still water pool. Mosquitoes loved it. I wish I had worn gloves, they bit my arms like crazy.

No rat holes…not that I can see.” Frank said, shining his phone light around on bare concrecte and wood.

Might have gotten out?” I said, peaking behind the lumber.

Sure, sure. Oddly tidy down here.” He said, shining his cellphone light about.

Well, must not have had much use for–” I stopped and grabbed Frank’s shoulder. A shadow covered the water. My eyes rose to the floor above. No one. In the silence I listened for another breath. The roofed creaked, as the shadow grew—and then shifted back again.

Thank god you live in a hotel.” Frank said as he breathed again.

The hell was that?” I said, slowly walking over to the pool. Picking up the wood carving, I looked up—and the hole in the roof a bit bigger than before.

I don’t know, but let’s not find out. Could be…I don’t know a bear or something.” Frank said, gesturing to leave.

Are there swamp bears?” I asked. Frank didn’t answer as we left.

I looked back as we got in Frank’s car—there were some broken branches around the roof.

Hotel Louisiana.png

At the hotel, I did try and you know, find an answer. It couldn’t have been a person. I mean, I don’t think so. The branches were broken, and I think we would have heard someone taking that high of a fall. I don’t think someone could have crawled up the walls, and there wasn’t a ladder or rope.

There was a black bear. It could have been an extra-ordinarily friendly one, who thought the house was his. Or I guess, I don’t know. An escaped zoo animal—no that would have made the news. Sighing, I considered that it could have been…an exceptionally big bird or crow. Whatever it was, me and Frank had agreed: we’d see this through.

I mean, yeah, if we had the cash we’d hire some folks but honestly I think you’re right to try it on your own for now.” Frank said nodding. “Raw materials will eat up a lot of it, but you’d be amazed what the internet can teach you these days.”

We’d keep an eye out for…whatever that thing was. That, Frank admitted, was not something we should handle with a Youtube tutorial. Thinking on it, I couldn’t help but laugh a bit.

What’s so funny?”

Oh, nothing. The hotel lady, she mentioned—people shoot big foot documentaries out here. Maybe this is where he’s been hiding.” I said laughing.

Your family’s the bigfoot protection program. Of course, you look just like him.” Frank said, chuckling a bit as we pulled up to the hotel.

Swamp1 Louisiana

We didn’t see it again when fixing the walls—God that was costly and exhausting. We patched that hole up, as soon as we were sure that the wall wasn’t going to break and send the whole thing falling down. Clearing out the moss was unpleasant work, and it took a week to get all of it off. Another week to replace most of the rotten wood, patching the few holes.

It was about three weeks in, when we went outside, that things were strange again. Frank had finished asking me about what sort of crazy stuff I had gotten into during my brief college experience. I made some shit up about getting drunk at parties and smoking weed, heading out back to avoid further questions.

That’s when I saw the new hole. It was smashed in, and there was bits of black fur stuck on the edges. Inside, a rusted metal lock box—and digging. Something had either dug up…or been trying to bury this box. Picking up the fur, I felt a chill down my spine. It felt…lacquered. Greasy, like it was stuck in a shower drain oil was poured down. I flicked it off and took the box in.

Hey, Frank…you got a screwdriver or hammer or something.” I said, holding it up.

The box wasn’t actually that hard to force open—the lock was easy enough to knock open with a screwdrive and hammer. I didn’t ask where Frank learned that trick—probably googled it, honestly. Anyway, inside was a small set of diagrams that I took out and folded open on our little workbench—we hadn’t quite gotten the new furniture in yet.

I started sorting through the stuff, placing the contents of the box out. There was a floorplan of the house, with X’s drawn on some of the wall spaces.

Buried treasure?” I asked, handing it to Frank as I unloaded the rest.

No…no, I think…Lemme check something.” Frank looked around the room for a bit and passed off, tapping part of the wall and then moving to the next room. There were some scraps of paper and painted leaves, and then…photos.

Old photos, of the backyard. Flicking through the nights recorded in the little windows, there was a growing pattern. It was in the corner of shots, on the edge of the light. A black furred limb—sometimes an arm, sometimes a paw, sometimes something bent and strange. Little eyes, red eyes, stared out from some of them. They were perfect pinpricks, they followed as I turned the picture under a light.

Frank…You need to see this.” I said, laying them out on the table.

Gimme a sec, just one more room to check!” Frank shouted.

There was a dull rumble from the living room, and as I turned it sharpened into a cracking sound. The wood bent upward, the old hole opening up again. And then it cracked apart, black claws flickering out of sight. I ran up to the hole, and stared down at a pair of fierce red eyes.

***

The next thing I knew, Frank was talking to someone on the phone about how “and he just like, he just passed out. I don’t know I think he had a stroke? Is there an age limit on strokes?”

Frank?” I said, getting up slowly. Frank looked at me.

And um. He…he got up. Yeah, yeah okay. Hey man, what’s your name?” Frank said, still on the phone.

Daniel Jordan.” I said, sitting up a bit.

Hey, take it easy. Alright, Dan, what day is it?”

Tuesday..” I said rubbing my head. “Why, what’s going on?”

You took a bit of a fall. Now, where are we?” Frank asked seriously.

The house at the end of Leeman street…the old mossy one Uncle Todd owned.” I said slowly, starting to stand.

Alright.” Frank went back to the phone. “He…he seems fine. Uh, I’ll bring him in.”

Bring me where?” I sad, standing—good my legs hurt. “Frank, we’re not going to a hospital.”

Thanks again.” Frank hung up on his cellphone. “Dude, you were out for like twenty minutes. You need to see a doctor.”

I’m not going to a hospital for a concussion—that’s gonna eat up what I’ve got left, man.” I said, shaking my head. “We can get to a minute clinic or something. There’s gotta be something like that around here right?”

Frank frowned and started to say something before I held a hand up to cut him off.

Dropping out didn’t void my student loans, and the last thing I need ontop of working those off and rebuilding this house is a hospital’s worth of lawyers chasing me for using their emergency room, alright?”

I grabbed some of the loose stuff in the box, and head for the truck.

Swamp2 Louisiana.png

Frank was uneasy the whole ride, but I kept myself busy reading through the journal. He didn’t believe me about the red eyes, not until I showed him the pictures and the guy at the minute clinic confirmed I was fine. I mean, of course I was fine. It cost a hundred bucks I kinda had, but I was fine. He got real quiet then.

Its messed up man, like. This is stuff we call a priest over.” Frank said, shaking his head. “You know, this is ghost stuff or something. Call the local news.”

I don’t think so.” I said, thumbing through the book.

I mean. Maybe that’s what the map was about?” Frank said, as we turned a corner. “The X’s, they were marking spots were there was mold before. And there was mold around the hole you found…”

Yeah, it doesn’t like the house, that’s clear. But Todd and Jerry lived here, so it wasn’t here forever. Or they figured out how to deal with it.” I said, thumbing a bit farther along. “God knows I don’t need a free loading room mate who knocks me out when I look at him.”

Very funny,” Frank said with a grimace.

Thanks.”

And then I found it. It was over a few pages, but there it was. Answers.

The house hadn’t been doing well—business at Jerry’s shop was declining, and travelers were down. Story of the century, small family business failing as everyone moves to the big city. Except, I guess, Jerry had a screw loose or something. He’d found out there was something living in the swamp—it had some Spanish or French name, I don’t know—something that was big and scary. And he figured, it might be handy to bind this terrible spirit of the swamp to the family. That way, he could rot out and devalue local property to buy up, maybe have it steal stuff or find things lost in the swamp. It was all a bit panicked excitement, really.

So your telling me ‘run off half sure of yourself, and try a dumbass thing’ isn’t just you?” Frank said, as I read along. “It’s like, genetic?”

When have I–”

You’re currently trying to rebuild a swamp house to get away from your family, and the fact that there’s a monster in the house didn’t get you to run immediately.” Frank said, waving. “But please, carry on.”

Right, first of all, harsh. But yeah, so…he tried to cobble together some sort of spell to catch the thing. As you do.”

As you do.”

And well…it kinda worked?” I said, frowning. “I mean. It caught the thing.”

But…”

Well, it caught a wild animal, it didn’t like. Control it.” I said, sighing. “So its a wild animal, stuck in the house, trying to get out.”

Why didn’t he just…let it out?” Frank asked, as we pulled up to the motel.

You luck a dog up in a cage, and it starts biting at you and shaking the cage—you let it out and it might run away. Or it might go for your throat.” I said, shrugging. “But…I think Jerry got it wrong.”

…You think it’s smarter then that.”

It dug up the book, and dropped the doll thing.” I said, nodding. Frank put it in park. “We should head back tomorrow and…”

Please do not tell me your going back down there, and gonna muddle with stuff we don’t know about and hope it goes okay.”

…and yeah, muddle with stuff we don’t understand to free a thing we can’t really see and hope it just leaves.” I said, sighing. “Like you said, this is specialist work, but we don’t have the budget.”

We went over the plan the next day. There were two rings we needed to get rid of—one was in the basement, beneath the lumber pile. Jerry apparently thought that would stop that thing, and was convinced it’d eventually calm down. The other one was out by the pond thing—where he caught it.

You take the basement.” I siad, point to the diagram. “Just. Just go to town on the circle. I’ll go to the pool—I’m not gonna be able to move the lumber very well. If the thing shows up, don’t look at it. Jerry says it’s eyes are messed up, and you know, I think he was right about that.”

The one by the pool?”

I’ll handle that. It’s some stones, I can just…knock them over.” I said, shrugging.

Frank insisted on bringing a gun. I told him not to bother, that it’d be dangerous. But whatever, his deal not mine.

I started walking out the back door. The grass was fresh. We hadn’t worked out the backyard yet, not even close to the pool. The moss was still hanging like a curtain, from the branches around the pond. The wind rustled as I got closer.

I’d noticed the stones, but really I’d thought they were just some kids dicking around. Circles in stones, wrapped around and around. Like a labyrinth not. Jerry worked really hard on it—I wonder if that’s really why he didn’t break it. There were little wooden dolls around it, facing towards the center where a crude bit of drift wood was.

BackyardLouisiana.png

Something was in the air—it felt like I was walking silk, sticking to my hairs and pulling them on end as I got closer. I felt little legs crawling down my arms, like spider legs with baby fingers. Soft, but unwelcome.

I picked up the first of the stones, and tossed them—and the web vibrated, the air twisted around. It rippled as it fell into the pond. I felt the snares, pulling at me slightly with each stone I through around. It hurt, I don’t know why it hurt to tear it apart, but it hurt. My chest ached, my limbs felt tired, my eyes burned.

When I was done, I slumped against a tree. Moss hung down to my shoulders, and I saw a glimpse of it. It was tall, dark, and had bright red eyes. It looked like something—like a crocodile, I guess, or like a person with a thrown out back. Stood up right, and I closed my eyes and sighed. It left whistling on the wind, and I haven’t seen it since.




This story was one I knew from the start had an obvious metaphor, like last time. Repairing an old house seemed like an obvious direction to take it. And the idea of repairing your life, metaphorically repersented by repairing a house—with a monster and a dark past mixed together to create an external version of internal struggles seemed also basic. The writing isn’t quite as tight as I would like, and the ending is a bit rushed I think—I ran out of time again, and space frankly. This is already a very long piece, and I didn’t want to push my luck to far.

I tried again to stay grounded for this one, as next time we will be dealing with another fantastic and strange monster. Come and see these!

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After the Funeral

This Week’s Prompt: 88. Lonely philosopher fond of cat. Hypnotises it—as it were—by repeatedly talking to it and looking at it. After his death the cat evinces signs of possessing his personality. N.B. He has trained cat, and leaves it to a friend, with instructions as to fitting a pen to its right fore paw by means of a harness. Later writes with deceased’s own handwriting.

The Prior Research:A Witch’s Best Friend

Dani’s house was a small and sorry thing, light blue turned grey and overgrown grass. I had already gotten half the boxes into the car when her orange-black friend started mewling at me, sitting in his bed atop some plastic boxes. I sighed and gave him an ear scratch. I don’t know how to explain to a pet that their mom’s not coming home.

If it wasn’t for Tigger, I probably wouldn’t be here. Not because there’s a lot of stuff. For someone who rarely left home, Dani kept very few things. It was a mostly spare building, and after she was diagnosed three years ago, it had started getting emptier and emptier. It was like she gave away another ten percent of what she owned whenever she went to the hospital.

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It was visit number three that she got Tigger. He was an angry little cat, but Dani swore she saw love in his eyes. She had a few scratches, and broken glasses to prove he was an ass even as Tigger purred innocently in my lap.

But he’s calmed down a lot. Especially when he plays with the light.” She said, pulling out a little laser pointer. Tigger’s eyes immediately followed the light that flickered back and forth on the floor—his tail brushed against my arms as I felt him prepare to pounce. He stared for a time, head moving back and forth, back and forth.

Most cats start lunging really quick, but Tigger takes a moment—he waits for it to–” The red light stopped on the floor. I groaned as the cat left off with full force, clawing at the red menance. “Stop.”

She laughed a bit as Tigger looked around confused and frustrated that his prey is gone. I reached over and gave him a little ear scratch in compensation.

Bit mean.” I said, as Tigger purred and nuzzled my arm.

I guess. Good for playing though. Besides, he knows it’s not real.”

***

The last ten percent of Dani’s things was a back breaking amount of books and unfinished papers, and small box of stuff for Tigger. Some toys, a bed—which I put in the front seat—and a small pen box. Tigger himself moved between the seats with familiarity—I wonder if Dani took him on drives? People did that with dogs, maybe cats liked it to. I’d have to keep that in mind.

There really wasn’t anyone else for the cat. I mean, I guess there was a foster house but…Even if Dani hadn’t left him to me in her will, I would have picked him up. He didn’t have any grandparents to go to, Dani never married, and while her neighbor and the local barista knew of her they didn’t really know her that well.

***

Oh, she…well, I was wondering why she hadn’t gotten the mail.” Her neighbor said, after stopping me from unloading the another box of handwritten letters from the house into my car. “That’s…that’s a shame.”

Yeah.” I said, pushing the cardboard box in. Tigger was sitting there, watching the neighbor intently.

Well if you need anything, let me know. I, uh…” His voice trailed off as I glanced up. He wants to say that he thought she was already dead. Or he wants to say he thought she was moving. Or when is the house going up for sale. Or something. Something he knows he shouldn’t, I’m sure. So he leaves.

Tigger glares after him as he goes. Solidarity cat, I didn’t like him either.

***

The first few days with Tigger are odd. He wakes up really early—six o’clock in the morning, every day. Worse, he wakes me up at six in the morning every day, on the dot. We sprung forward, and he still woke me up at six in the morning without fail. Which, well, it was an adjustment.

And even then, he was really picky about the food. I haven’t heard of cats begging for food, but the way he looked at my cheese and onion omlette was pretty close. It was…really weird, honestly. He curled up on the side of the couch, watching the tv and at first I thought it was in my head. But he was hissing at bad jokes like Dani would, and glared at me when I switched away from cooking shows.

cat2.png

When I thought about it, he had picked up a lot of his owners habits. Not just waking up early, and liking cooking shows, but he even tried to drink green tea. And she did like omlettes.

Probably just Dani rubbing off on him. They spent more time together than Dani did with…anyone, so I guess some bleed over was to be expected? Or maybe he was missing her too, and trying to play along.

It’s just nice having a really good listener around, you know?” Dani said, as I tried balancing the phone and cleaning the dishes at the same time.

I guess.” I said, catching a loose plate. “How’s the new meds working out?”

Oh fine, yeah. Tigger’s a bit annoyed that I’m up and about when he’s trying to sleep, but he’s a cute grouchy cat.” Dani said. “He’s gotten better—he definetly knows when I’m talking to him.”

How do you know? I mean, does he talk back?” I said laughing a bit.

I mean, how do I know anyone’s thinking?” she said. I could hear her unblinking gaze. “And yes he does thank you. Particularly if he’s hungry.”

cat3.png

Talked when he was hungry was right. He’d walk up, sit on his rear, look at me for a moment. And then, indignant that I hadn’t conjured food for him on the spot, he’d rear his head back and yowl. Follow me around yowling too, eyes closed until I replaced the food or at the least reached down and let my hand’s get examined.

He’s a picky eater, but I knew that. Dani complained about needing to buy him food a few times—something about how the cat ate better then her. Or maybe that was what I told her, and she said it back mockingly. I grumbled about it out loud and Tigger walked up and started yowling at me over it. Guess he had figured out what some words meant.

The last call we had was actually kind of hopeful. She’d started a new treatment, things were improving, she was back to writing her philosophy of the mind stuff. Which…which always seemed kind of grim, given the circumstances.

It’s just fascinating—like, how do you explain people? Is it memories? Is that all we are?” she said, after a minute of discussing an instance of a woman being apparently possessed by her great uncles ghost. “I mean, it’s not perfect—there are a lot of fraudsters out there and stuff, but people think their under the control of some strange otherworldly forces! And how does the mind trick itself that thoroughly?”

I was more than happy to nod along, even if I only kind of understood her ideas about the mind as a pattern replicating in itself or something. I’d given up asking about doctors and tests by then. She’d tell me if something had gotten better, she always did.

After that, we still…kind of talked. But more with letters then phone calls—she wasn’t feeling well enough to call. She’d send letters instead, letters that. Well. They hurt to look at. The handwriting’s decay is rapid, really. Crisp at first, complaining about a head ache and rambling a bit about authenticity. And then, in three letters later, it’s barely legible doctor scribble.

While unpacking her stuff, I found the note, with my name on it. There was some torn tape—it was attached to a package at some point. A small set of instructions, in barely legible writing—and a picture of a weird little glove for Tigger. He was nuzzling my leg as I read. It was…okay, well, who was I to say no to Dani’s last request?

I opened up the old penbox—there was a pen, with a small attachment, like a glove, for Tigger’s arm. A small button on the side turned on a slightly off frequency. Dani’s letter mentioned a light. At the sight of it, Tigger sat perfectly still, raising his right paw up. Making sure not to break the line of sight, I slowly placed slipped the pen on. Tigger tapped the table expectantly. I blinked as he tapped again, facing straight ahead.

I put a piece of paper down. Tigger slowly began to write.

And I started to cry, hand over my mouth.

Hi Leslie, its Dani. I know I probably look a bit different, but its me.”




 

This story was…interesting to write. Its conceptually very…grounded. Or aims for it—there aren’t any supernatural monsters, there aren’t any ghosts, and the mood I intended was a sort of weary melancholy. The idea to me was instantly one of the most captivating, and I think could serve as a solid start of a strange and some what sad story about grief. Unlike most stories, I think 1500 words roughly was the appropriate length. Dani and Leslie are rather thin characters, and certiaintly could have been built more, but with just the simple plot the length seems about right.

Next week, we go somewhere a bit familiar and a bit foreign, a place Mr. Lovecraft no doubt feared and a place that is full of conflicting folklore. Come and join us then!

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Ashes to Ashes Dust To Dust

This Weeks Prompt:87. Borellus says, “that the Essential Salts of animals may be so prepared and preserved, that an ingenious man may have the whole ark of Noah in his own Study, and raise the fine shape of an animal out of its ashes at his pleasure; and that by the like method from the Essential Salts of humane dust, a Philosopher may, without any criminal necromancy, call up the shape of any dead ancestor from the dust whereinto his body has been incinerated.”

The Prior Research: Restored And Resurrected

I stood outside the old adobe building. A dust devil rolled by, the windows and door trembling as it passed. They seemed more commonly lately, but that could be just my mind betraying me. The old Crowe house had always been a bit windy, even when it’s owners were alive.

I checked the vials in my hands and took a deep breath. Three. I had three to pull it off—three bits of glimmering dust and oil. I tapped the aluminum baseball bat on my shoe, testing my nerves a bit before going in. The gate wasn’t locked—not that surprising all things considered. It wouldn’t need locks anymore.

The Crowe family got me and Alfred’s attention five years ago. You study enough medical folklore, looking for lost cures and bits of genius that the modern age had swept up, you start to come across patterns. Patterns that take you from wizard to drug dealer to old grandma. And one of those patterns brought us to the Crowes.

There’s a trend—a common one, you can probably found it around the corner—of supposed doctors who have miracle cures. Cancers a really common one. And in those cases, before you ask why isn’t in the news—well, because the good doctors don’t do it for money, and won’t share with companies that would. Most of the stories are crackpot nonsense. The Crowe’s were one of the more extreme though. They didn’t cure cancer—they cured death.

Vials.png

Eliza Crowe has two obituraries, one from 1932 and one from a 1968. Printed in the same small paper, the two obituaries have the same details up for the first twelve years. That gave the stories of Louis Crowe having some sort of miracle cure more grounded—it spread around the house, and was easy to follow when we got here.

The fountain in the courtyard is covered in moss—stagnated without proper care. The water company had cut it off a while back, in preparation for the planned demolition. Electricity out too. As I walk up to the door, I hear glass crack. Looking up, I saw the shattered skylight, bit of glass still there. So, it was still here.

The door was locked—given it came and went from the ceiling, that wasn’t so surprising. Fortunately, the Crowe’s were predictable. Spare key in the potted plant. I mean, I guess a potted cactus is more secure then under the doormat. The heavy double doors open, and the remains of the living room are apparent. High ceiling, sitting area a small stair walk down. Couch was torn, some by a dog or coyote that’d wandered in, some by the actual issue. Four fan blades shot up from a shattered light.

There was stained cotton all over the floor, some giving away it’s footsteps. I listened for any movement in the house.

Nothing. I walked along the wall, passing the dining room towards the steps—there was noise. I turned quick, bat ready—and only flies. Flies buzzing around the dishes in the kitchen and on the table, some wasted away parts of food.

The Crowe’s didn’t keep much of their great grandfathers work, but they did know what we were on about. We talked for a bit, and the older Crowe says its all true—his mom not only died, she died in a fire. Louis Crowe was able to restore his mother from just ashes using a family secret. Of course, when asked why his mother had died anyway—albeit later—he shrugged and said his mother was a very righteous woman. She wanted to see her Lord in Heaven.

Of course, when we left, they hadn’t told us the secret recipe. I didn’t mind—odds were, it was some snake oil or something. That sort of selfless honesty—well, I could believe it of one or two generations of people, but a family? That never sold out a secret? No, not these days. You could make bank with that sort of thing, some black helicopter would have swept it up, surely.

Alfred didn’t think so. I really shouldn’t have been surprised, when he had that look in his eyes, that there was a break in to the house in another three weeks—and that the family vault had been broken open. Nothing missing, but the Crowe’s medicine book was open.

The stairs creek as I walk past stained and broken pictures of mountain landscapes. There’s a smashed imported tile scattered on the hallway threshold, the door still open. I have to be quiet now. Three vials and the bat is all I have. Three strikes, and I’ll be out. Hell, two and it’ll be over.

It sleeps during the day. Or at least, it doesn’t hunt in the light. People made it out during the night, the calls came during the night. The strange long limbs, the occasional eye, the crouching gargoyle that wasn’t on the church before.

One kid even told me that it spoke—the kid knew some old Greek, and thought he heard someone whispering old Homeric verses around the house one night. The kid followed the sound—the road was well lit, and he saw a tall man in an illfitting jacket and looking away, a hat on. The kid didn’t get close—smart, really, when the thing turned to face him.

All the kid would say was that he ‘didn’t look right’. The man’s face, looked weird. Droopy and strange.

The Crowe House

I didn’t see Alfred for six weeks—and he didn’t look good when he knocked on my office door. I looked up to see a haggard man standing there, bags under his eyes and skin now sickly pale-green. Before I said a word, he held a hand up.

Hey, long time no see, brought someone by,” he said quickly—and I heard the thwapping of a tale on the door. A small snout poked out, and then a jubliant ball of fluff jumped into my lap. I impulsively pet the corgi as Alfred took a seat and slumped down.

Great isn’t he?” Alfred said, cutting me off again. “He’s just as lively as when I was a kid.”

I paused a the corgi panted in my lap.

What do you mean when you were—Alfred, is this…?” I said, holding he’s head up in my hands.

Rocket, yeah.” Alfred said nodding. “Crowe’s formula works—its a miracle.”

…And he’s not like, a zombie? He seems…really friendly.” I said frowning. Rocket for his part titled his head at me and licked my nose.

No, no, nothing wrong with him as far as I can tell.”

…so what’s keeping you up at night? Took six weeks to make the formula?” I asked slowly. “I mean, why are…not calling me or emailing or…”

Well…” He looked at his ruined shoes.

Alfred, you look like shit, not like someone who solved the problem of dying.”

There’s a clay vase in our house.” He said slowly. “It’s old—like, before my grandparents came to the States old. No, like, before my grandparents grandparents moved to Greece old. I don’t know how old. It’s got some ashes in it, and I…I always wondered who’s they were. There was a picture on the top—they’d layered it over a few times, but it was portrait. I thought, you know, why not? Why not find out who this was?”

…Alfred, you didn’t…”

Alfred looked at his hands.

Well, see, I thought it might go wrong. Brought a few buddies over first, got everything ready, and figured five of us could take a startled and newly reborn person down. I hadn’t asked though, about the ashes. If they were human ashes.”

I stared as Alfred pulled out a handful of vials and a few pages.

I…I think it recognizes me. I know it does. I think it followed me, Andy. It followed me, and after me it’s going to try and find the book. I didn’t take the pages—I made photos. But I think it can read, and if it can read, it knows where I took those photos.” Alfred rambled, putting the crumpled papers and the vials on the desk. “I’m…I’m going back to the Crowe house tomorrow, with some things—some things that Louis said would put a man down. Down for good. But if I don’t do it, if I fuck it up, Andrew I need you to do it.”

I kept staring.

Keep Rocket safe, he’s a good dog, I just—I fucked this up and I need to get things sorted okay.”

I nodded.

You should get help if your in a bad place.” I said slowly.

A bad place? A bad place? Listen—I gotta go. If it knows I’m here, it might go after you, and—look, keep Rocket, I’ll be back for him if I can.”

Alfred didn’t come back. The police came by my apartment the next day—Rockets barking let me know. Alfred had been seen, of course, leaving my office at the university. He’d shown up, body badly mangled. A week before his funeral, someone broke into the Crowe’s house. When I got back down to the desert, cats were going missing every night.

CroweHouse2.png

I wasn’t completely clear on what Alfred had woken up. But his writing, panicked at the end, made it clear he was worried it’d find the formula Louis had made…and that it would wake more of it’s kind from ashes around the world. That “a once long lost horror might again walk the world unawares”.

Purple prose to the end.

It’s lying on the bed at the end of the hall—a nest of piled beds. Up close, the sunlight illuminated stretched flesh that shuddered and shivered. Its limbs changed—folding into and out of each other, blurring together. A squat head on top of it, like clay crudely molded into a human form. Two eyes, then four, all resting. It looked peaceful, as I opened the first vial.

The eyes burst open as I poured the vial out on its torso. It let out a howl and started to move—I swung the bat, again and again. It screamed. It aged, skin tightening and tearing.

I opened the second vial with my mouth, as the thing struggled to wake up and shake off the blows to the skull. The noise grew worse with the second vial—its flesh sloughing off as it howled. Organs pulsed beneath a thin paper veil of flesh. It was close, it was fading—it was pitiful really. Feeble hands reaching up to stop me.

I beat them down with my bat, and smashed the third vial.

I watched as it, howling and groaning, turned to ash and dust. Leaving not but a few small cat bones in the middle.


 

This story went through a few drafts, and I’m happy with the current set up. I never was able to nail down exactly what the monster was, or even what it looked like–and so the ending kind of falls flat I feel. Still, I am proud of the idea of reviving an alien horror unintentionally–in a longer story or with more time, I think it could have been delievered more effectively.

Next week! We begin looking at the folklore and horror found in one particular US state!

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