The Empty Windows Part 2

This Week’s Prompt: 119. Art note—fantastick daemons of Salvator Rosa or Fuseli (trunk-proboscis).

The Prior Research:Temptation

Part 1:The Empty Windows, Part 1

I spent the afternoon clearing off the window. It was an exquisite work, really. Along its frame were carved distorted statues and cut outs—when the sun shone down, they cast long and wide shadows down, acting out some play along the walls. Sadly, they had been damaged beyond recognition. I couldn’t tell a knight from a knave, nor a man from a goat among the shapes. But a clever bit of artistry all the same.

The glass of the window was more a shade than anything else. There was an attempt, I think, to guide the light not only over the rotating images, but the window itself. Portions, small lines, were lighter than the rest. To cast an image in lighter shadows perhaps…too small to be entirely successful. But still! I wondered what I might find, in this new window. After it was cleared, I gathered my things, looked upward into the dark.

It was like a looming eye looking down on me, a slumbering giant that dwarfed the house.  As the sun shifted across it, I stared longer. I waited for some vision or sight beyond. I waited for a world in the dark glass—but I saw nothing.

Not quite nothing.

I saw myself in the glass. Reflected, distorted. The curves stretched by body, my face and body—it was like a grotesque flower formed of my features. The thin lines looked like abandoned strings falling off my face. Like my reflection hanging from the ceiling, by thin fibirous puppet strings. So perfectly cast, I could feel my own weight above me. It was…disorienting, to see an empty shell of yourself, staring down from a dark and starless sky. Even at noon, there was no color to my reflections skin.

I am not surprised such a window was covered…but I held out hope that day that, in my work, this would open a new insight. A new window into the world beyond. After all, it was so finely made and so opaque—once my vision could pierce it, what wonders would I find behind? What worlds waited?

That night the wind was heavy. The storm was gone, but airy nymphs danced in its wake. Sleep thus so far away from me, I decided to do as I had in the past. I would survey the worlds again, from that sacred seat, with naught but candle, moon, and star.  The room was dark and heavy at night, and I sat to record poetry of Verta, who now sung songs of Gladwing’s endevors. Or so I thought, the images seemed to be of that great hero.

Studying that window, with a candle at it’s base to illuminate the figures, I felt some small comfort. But as I wrote, I felt something else. Long shadows were cast by the candlelight. The moon and cold starlight were enough to cast that pantomime of broken gargoyles…but they seemed less clear. Shapeless, dim masses against the light and dance. They lacked the stark, crisp lines that separate puppets from men.  

I pushed on though, writing. Writing and writing. Even as the darkness felt heavier and the dancing shadows grew more unsettling, while the winds howled and battered at the walls. It was after recording the third stanza—in a tongue I still didn’t know—that I knew real fear.

Because I could not stand.

It was as if a great weight was sitting on my back. It could crush me. It would crush me, if I tried to stand. Only by remaining hunched over, working away at the visions beyond, could I keep the weight off of me. The wind felt cold on my neck, unbidden from some window left agape elsewhere.  

The air pushed in to my lips as I wrote. My limbs were tightened, gripped by unseen iron centipedes, hundreds of small iron pins down. They stabbed, my arm twitched up and tightened, dragging lines across the page, cutting across text or sliding to underline words of warning. Scuttle, scratch, stab. I feel wounds. I bleed but my blood is invisible on the page, it leaves no stain. I write and write and cannot see that I bleed. Even as something coils round my crown. Even as my eyes sting and I taste iron in my mouth. I cannot see that I bleed.

*

The burning heat of the sun woke me the next day, shinging through the skylight. My head was burning as I dragged myself down for water. Despite the ache, I prepared for another day—today I would relax, and recover from the hell of last night. My stomach felt like something had coiled up inside and around it, holding it hostage.

I was determined, however, to write outside that night. To go out amongst the plains, where I might see the vistas with my sharpened vision.  I went then among green plains and forests, to visit the amphitheater of red gods with twin heads. I wondered under the sky, completing my sketches and studies.  

It was while I sat among the seas of memory, watching another investigation of the scholars there—they were fishing up a lost marriage from the deep currents below. It was a broken, sad thing—fins spread out with rainbow colors, reflecting the violet light poking through the clouds. Tender moments carved apart by deep and buried scars. It was on those fins that I saw something strange.

It was like a stain, a shadow—a shape reflected on the scales. One I had never seen before.  It was like a drop of oil paint unfurling on the water of the scene. At first, I thought the shape was a malformed tumor on the memory. A horrible, illict act of violence, remembered in the world beyond. But as I drew close, the fin folded—and the stain remained on the new scales. Perhaps it was some unreal sickness, but such no. It was too flat. It was something in the scales.

It was in the fields behind me. It was shapeless, dark and alien against everything else. A heavy shape, long thin limbs probing out on the grass. It moved with some uncertainty, on thin legs that barely supported its great and terrible mass. One limb rose from the rest. A probuscius dripping with inky darkness, gleaming with stains of light.

I had no desire to follow such a story with a monster like this. But no matter where I walked—to red or green or yellow lands, to listen to songs or poems or witness great wrestling matches, among towers and amiptheatres and zigguarats—it followed. It followed, and slowly made the most dreadful of its own noises. Dissonant unsounds, that were heard by all I saw. Pipping of the most dreadful sort. Dancing limbs, with all the elegance of a spider weaving her web.

That is what it most resemble. A spider, with limbs of thin glass and a body of sludge and fungus and rot. And it moved with such ease, even as the land around it shifted—it paid no head to anything else.

Except, as I reckoned when I closed the door, me.

It would not enter my abode. Perhaps it could  not. Perhaps it chose not. It sulked, like a dog left out in the rain, outside my window. I wished for rain. For some flood or heaving river to well up and wash the stain away. It sat, uncaring, atop even my greatest visions. It was hard to record the wonders beyond with this impish demon, lurking in the shadows and emptiness of the world. The others, my beloved knights and poets, did not see it.

As the day grew longer, however, it grew larger. And it grew company.

I saw it swell like a boil, thin layer of skin holding back a most foul inky bile. Spidery limbs punctured out, spilling dripping bile over the land as a new swarm of self-same demons, with their trunks and crawling limbs ushered out. They two roamed over the landscape. They drew near to my door in packs, clawing at the windows, and revealed mouths with of shadow.

And they would not leave.

They would not leave.

I could not make out the shapings and happenings of Glimmerwing and his kin, because these bestial gnats got in the way. Their buzzing, for they made such monstrous buzzing like each drop was an angry cicada, droned out the philosphers. They darted around the golden fields. And every day there were more, leaning on the edge of stones. They extended their long trunks down, like fishers of men in the most crude of ways.

I saw them catch a man of the red lands once. They pulled him up into nothing, and devoured him whole in their darkness. They devoured up my hope of leaving my old manor. For they were waiting there.

*

I did not answer the cold wind that called me to write at night, when darkness would be thick on the grass. I ignored the sounds and calls of monstrous things. The weeping, the chortling, the sound of pigs crying out at slaughter.

I stayed in my bed, and stared at the ceiling. I had locked the door to my study—for I knew that strange things now lurked beyond the window. Strange things lurked from that dark glass. Hungry and numerous things, waiting all about me. What they wanted, I did not know. But they had nothing but ill intent for me now.


This story was delayed greatly by healthy issues and work. I’m not happy with the result, especially with a delay. I like the idea of a window that looks in on the artist as the final twist, with strange demons coming through over time. But it’s not refined enough, frankly. These two stories together will make a good idea to revisit in a year or so.

Next time! We return to some avian friends.

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The Empty Windows, Part 1

This Week’s Prompt:118. Something seen at oriel window of forbidden room in ancient manor house.

The Prior Research: Through the Looking Glass

It was a special sense of space that brought me to the oriel window. Being new to the building, I had only briefly explored it’s grounds—business had kept me from being too keen on its contents and precise layout. It was a house of relative isolation, for relatively little. The benefit of buying at government auctions, there wasn’t much competitions for the place.  Its grounds were grassland, dotted with islands of white stone. If the house was swallowed up, I doubt anyone driving by would have noticed.

So I took sometime to pace about the house, and there I found it—a strange jutting balcony on the western wall. A set of windows surveyed the land—but they were impenetrable from the outside. And more worryingly, no such structure had been found on my first day inside the building. It took about an hour to find the slightly off color wall—much longer with tools to break the plaster over the heavy oaken door.

There wasn’t a handle either, but that was easy to fake. A twist and some careful strokes and the door came open on a hidden room.

It was a small room—a round balcony, with oddly spaced windows. Each of them had a curtain drawn, and a thick screen pulled over them. In between them was a desk, a chair, and an empty picture frame.

Scooting around the desk, I carefully removed the screen—and what a window was hidden by that dreadful veil! It was smooth and green tinted, and seemed to ripple in the wind. It was exquisite. And each that followed, as amazing as the last. I found crimson, azure, indigo, violet, all the many colors of the rainbow in the seven windows there. I admit, it was a bit gauche—but the light it cast on the table was fascinating. And the view of the same plains, cast in only a slightly different color, made the world of difference.

A few days later, I moved some things into the room—my old typewriter, my note books with sketches, and my personal bookshelf. Finding a place for the shelf that didn’t obstruct the inspiring windows took some effort, but I eventually managed to squeeze it across from the door way.  And then I set about writing, watching at the seas of grass shifting in the wind.

It took sometime for the first changes to be clear. I thought it was the isolation getting to me, gazing out through the windows at the grass. Surely, I was imagining shapes moving out there—a forest so verdant and lively through the green window, a rust-red desert in the red window,  a world strange and in perpetually night in the indigo one. They were faint impressions of shapes, like ripples hidden in the glass that my eye was just now noticing.

But no! I saw them, now more and more clearly. They were worlds, worlds fully formed in the windows of such graceful and alien cast.

I saw in that verdant window a country—I cannot read their script, so I called it Verta for its color. Not the most creative name, no, but it must do for now. I observed such dances and songs by their bards—silent, yes, silent yet. But they were entrancing still. They were a different sort of people than most, thin and frail looking. A strong wind would rip their limbs, I feared, a strong storm would shred and tear their wings. Even when they fought, and they fought often with gallantry and honor, they fought with rapiers and sabers and it seemed more like a delicate dance. Even the spilling of blood, who’s color seemed as green as the trees, was more enobled than dreadful. How they seemed to love and fight with a serene passion, it was wonderous. One I had named Gladwing—he was a fierce fighter, wearing a coat of arms of sorts that I’ve drawn here. He was a superb dancer as well, and truly seemed the flower of virtue—even if perhaps his people’s practice of devouring some of the dead seemed unseemly to me.

The yellow window, almost golden, presented fields of wheat for miles. Vast farms, maintained in eternal summers. Golden, blocky buildings peaked over high walls. At first they were of wood and paper, but in time they were stone to last the ages of the sun baked lands. In great chariots, pulled by creatures that were part lion and part oxen, I saw great kings and queens ride out to survey the land. They met and fought, and built great towers to commerate their battles.

And through the red window, among the long grass, I saw the domain of great giants. Twin headed giants, who discussed among themselves and between their heads often. They sat on great stones and spoke for long intervals—I imagined their tones dull and droning, even as they gestured solemnly at stars and shapes in the distance. They built great tablets, with paintings more expressive than their faces. I found it strange—they cast many images of figures with one head, but they and all life had two. I wondered if perhaps they thought of such singular purpose and thought divinity? Or perhaps each head thought itself as a singular entity, trapped without any privacy.

And then through the indigo window showed me a world stranger yet—for the grass became thick here, not grass at all. No, it became a sea, vast and inscrutable, with slow and heavy waves. Drifting overhead were islands, and icebergs rose from the tips like stones. The people here were strange, yes, but not as strange. They had camps to mine strange ore from the icebergs—often they threw from their dead from floating islands, while others wore heavy cloaks and brought nets in the sea to catch strange fish to examine.  One I noticed came frequently, examining the fish who’s skin seemed to hold lost memories and forgotten thins. I haven’t named him yet, his name is on the tip of my tongue. But I remember him clearly.

And through the violet window, a world where the dead were closer to the living—the gaping abalaster entrances and openings where shades would come to retire. The sun was dim, distant and cold. It was like a moon made more bright, shimmering just barely against the dark and perpetually cloudy sky. Familes grew around these openings—hundreds of generations in vast and ever growing mansions. Like mushrooms, they spread and sprouted out of the ground. I saw the weight of years crush and grind passions. With time, even the dead seemed to become nought but architecture, and I grew fond of a young scholar who made the study of decay her passion. I called her Morrigan, after the crow goddess, for she seemed fond of crows. Ghostly animals were herded past her house, as she entertained and wrote papers, and rode with those dead so near to dissolution.

I saw these and I wondered, at all these worlds—why would they have been hidden from the world? Why would anyone board up and bind these windows tightly? Such insight, such wonder—a man of science would find no end of discoveries with this glass, with these world’s just beyond a thin line of glass between us.

Months later, I realized that it was not just the distortion in shapes of glass—it was distortion of the light itself. My eyes, even when I wandered in the grass for fresh air, they could see the ghosts of worlds gone by. Worlds that were just slightly out of sync with my own perception. I stood beside Gladwing as he fought his dread rival, I stood on a stone to see the death blow. I sat and listened to the great two headed speakers debate on solitary summer stones. I watched the great king Orabi wrestle his opponents to the floor as I wandered through the taller grasses. I heard the lapping of the waters against the seas. How strange and beatufiul, to have such refined and sharpened vision. My eyes, adjusted to the colored lens, now saw the shining wonders everywhere.

*

Perhaps that is how it should have ended. Perhaps at last than I would have enjoyed a dream in this empty house, in this grassy sea. But the plains were wracked one night, with dreadful storms. Thunder and hail bombarded the building, keeping me up all through the night. And when it ended, I found a strange shape form the outside of the house. Atop the old balcony, broken a bit now, was a wooden covering. I had taken it to be a nothing more than a ceiling—but from the ground I saw the sun shine down. And reflect off the dark and smooth  shape of a hidden window of darkest black, resting atop the ceiling.


I’m afraid even with my brief break I ran out of time to flesh this idea out in full. Instead, I’ll leave it here—and return to it after next weeks research!

St. Andrew’s Day

This Week’s Prompt: 105. Vampire visits man in ancestral abode—is his own father.

The Prior Research:Romanian Vampires

This story in part brought to you by our patrons on Pateron

Robert Dellsworth nearly dozing when he heard the knocking at his door. A man of his middling thirties, overworked from his office in town, he was slow to answer. Donning whatever clothes were nearby, at three in the morning, he finally made his way to the door. The infernal knocking door.

“Coming, coming! What in God’s name—” Robert began, before the sight cut through his thoughts. His father stood at the doorstep, for the first time in twenty-three years. There was silence on the November air.

“Can I come in?” Geoffrey Dellsworth said softly. In a daze, Robert stepped aside, gesturing for the man to come in. The wind whipped behind him, closing the door.

“I’m sorry, but you…you resemble an old relation of mine. But that can’t be. Please, why are you waking me up at such a late hour?” Robert said, the fire in the chimney crackling to life as his father knelt near it.

“It is no mere resemblance, Rob.” The man said, sighing as he stood and looked around the old Dellsworth entrance. “You removed my portrait.”

“Again, that can’t be. I know, certainly, that you can’t be him.” Robert said, his voice shaking. “He is long dead—or best be. When my mother died, he was no where to be seen, and never once did I hear of his inheritance or advice for two thirds my life. It would be nonsense to come back now. No, no, please sir, do not maintain this charade.”

“Hm. You seem unwell. Perhaps we should sit, and discuss this over tea?” Geoffrey said, walking into the kitchen. “You know my favorite I hope?”

TeaKettleBoiling

The whistle of the tea kettle did little to the silence. Robert studied the man, his father. He had grown a longer beard, but his face was the same—as if wandering free from a dream. His eyes the same warm brown hue, details he’d forgotten but seemed to fit. A small scar on his cheek. A spot above his eyebrow.

“You can’t be him. But if you are Geoffrey Dellsworth, why are you here? Why now? Why not ten years ago? Twenty?” Robert said, voice straining. “Do you know what happened when you left? The rumors that went round me and mother? What it did to her?”

“It was better than staying around long.” Geoffrey said, another flicker of wind striking the ground, scattering dust. “It was better, I had hoped, for you for me to be gone some. I hope you have not made things too good for yourself.”

“Too good? Oh don’t worry about that now. Not now.” Robert hissed. “I’ve made things plenty good without you. I had to leave town for studies, I had to work long hours and burn what little inheritance I had. But I’ve made things plenty good.”

“Have you now?” Geoffrey asked with raised eyebrow.

“Go around and ask someone else at three in the morning what the Dellsworth name is!” Robert said standing. “Go and ask any of the business men I financed, the charities I’ve run, the poet’s I’ve given patronage, the people I’ve fought for in court. Go and ask them if it’s the specter of your sordid past that looms over this house! I’ve fought for that, making things too good for me!”

Geoffrey was silent. His ears seemed to prick up, and a slow sigh escaped his lips.

“So. Why. Why now?” Robert said, slumping back in the chair. “What do you want? Money? A place to hide from some new family you’ve made overseas? What?”

“No, Robert, nothing like that.” Geoffrey said, shaking his head. “No, no. I’ve come for you. For your own sake.”

“Oh that’s—”

“You’ve said your piece. Now I will say mine.” Geoffrey cut in. “I wish I could say I regret leaving your mother all those years ago. But I knew it wouldn’t be for the best. I am…not an easy man to get along with, even in the best of cases. That isn’t why though.”

A wind blew again…but this time, something flicked up by his father’s side. It was a strange shape, but gone in an instant.

Demeneted Wolf Skull

“No, no that isn’t why.” Geoffrey repeated, clicking his tongue against teeth—teeth that looked all the sharper. “My long shadow is more than a shadow Robert—It’s true, what they said. I killed my wife in Ellingston. And my daughter, and my son, and my brother, and my cousin, and my niece, and my nephew. And I knew, if I stayed too long, I might do the same to you.”

“…Is that…” Robert stood and pointed at the shape, gone in a moment. Geoffrey’s back seemed hunched, his head longer and his teeth like needles for a moment—and then it was gone.

“So I left, without warning, hoping to spare you that fate. But I knew as well that one day I would have to come back. You’ve got the same blood. That is how it is with us.  We live our lives, as best we can. But the old blood, the hungry blood, it wakes up eventually. If we are lucky, like I was, it wakes when we die. But not always. It wakes, it feeds, it sleeps, it wakes. And it will wake in you.”

“…You’re a vampire.” Robert said, staring at Geoffery. “Is that it? You left because…what, because you thought you’d attack my mother? Attack me?”

“I left because I knew I would. I could feel it. Growing, more and more demanding. You’ll get used to it, you’ll learn to keep it under control and leave when you must.” Geoffery said, nodding. “That’s why I came back. You need to leave, soon. Walk the world. Learn how to handle yourself. I had hoped…but I hear others breathing here.”

Robert’s face went pale and his blood became ice. His wife and two children were upstairs—they were heavy sleepers, as was he usually. But the last few nights he had trouble sleeping, waking often and early.

“You’ll hurt them if you stay.” Geoffrey said calmly. “Worse than I could hurt you—you’ll kill them if you stay. For their sake, Rob, you should leave.”

“There’s got to be another way to…even if what you say is true, there’s another way to deal with this than running off, ruining everything I’ve had. I’ve already done better than you once, I’ll fix this mess to.” Robert said, voice shaking.

“You can try.” Geoffrey said standing. “You can fight, you can struggle—but you’ll only make it worse. Wolves must feed on sheep—and that is what you and I are, Rob. Wolves and worse. It hasn’t come yet—I can see in your eyes, its still sleeping. It’s there, the old blood never fails. Never has.”

Stone Coffins

“You think-you think you can just come in here and tell me what I’ll be? Get out of my house!” Robert said standing up. “Get you and your so-called advice out of my house! I have worked to hard and long to scrub your stain out of the family name to believe this, any of this!”

Geoffrey nodded and stood, adjusting his coat slightly.

“Well. It will come soon. And when it does, I will be waiting in Ellington. We can drink to ease the pain.” He said, with a toothy grin. “Enjoy your fight—every inch of ground you’ll end up giving. Every twitch, every glance, every drop of blood. It’ll be worth it, I’m sure.”

Without a word, he vanished like dissipating mist.

Robert was alone again. Shaking to pour a cup of tea—a bit splashed onto his hand. He hissed and impulsively brought it to his mouth. Had his teeth always been that sharp?



This story took a number of revisions to get right, both in character and in structure. It ended up getting into some potentially heavy subjects—but that seems to be the nature of horror stories about family and folklore. I’m fond of it and unlike most of my stories I don’t think it needs much expansion—refinement, rewording, and so on but no really extra scenes or the like.

Next week, we’ll be returning to the classic night terror, and discussing why you can’t sleep at night! See you then!

I’d be remiss not to mention that we discussed the fate of a very different vampire—a blood drinking dragon who could appear as a man—here on my Patreon, for 5 dollar patrons. You can get monthly research and stories, for five or one dollar each starting today!

 

 

The Old Castle on the Hill

Police violence and systematic racism has resulted in the death and imprisonment of countless innocents, the destruction of properties and futures, and produced irrevocable damage. Protests have continued for a month and show no signs of slowing. You can find links to donate at the end of the research, in place of our normal Patreon link.

This Week’s Prompt: 116. Prowling at night around an unlighted castle amidst strange scenery.

The Resulting Story: Ghosts, Presences, and More

Nobody wants to live in an old castle. It’s cold, drafty, dusty. In summer, the heat of the sun sinks into the stones, in winter the snow falls through the holes in the roof. You think exploring it would be fascinating, but at my age, I’ve wandered every hall, battlement and servant’s passage. Even the great bat hates it here. On nights when the moon is obscure, he takes flight and goes down to the town, to bother people with comfortable homes. I watch him soar over the church from the window, one of the rotted curtains pulled across the window so that I can see out, but they cannot see in.

I used to sleep more, I feel. It is harder now. Exhaustion comes, but sleep will not follow—and by the time rose fingered dawn arrives, I find myself refreshed somewhat. Maybe this is that Old Age the poets warn me of so often. Am I at last now ancient? I had expected it to rot my bones and muscles, but perhaps restlessness is it’s own decay. Perhaps my proportions are not the only oddity in my nature.

When dawn comes I retire from my steadfast watch—the sun has always been too harsh and hot for my constitution. I withdraw deeper into the rubble and ruins, to the old study I’ve collected. It was at one point, I believe, a place to store food for siege—but the mice have eaten away all the food, and the only vermin now are dust bunnies and ants that try my patience.

That is not entirely true. There are some supplies. Many, many bags of tea from my younger days, and from perhaps some companions I once had. When I was young and spritely, I would go down under the cover of night to town—I would bring the old change I had scrounged or a broken knife from a knightly suit in the catacombs, and I would barter and beg and bandit for tea and bread. With my treasure, I would make my way home in the night—or sometimes, when I was especially bold, I would take my plunder and sleep away in a barn’s roof. On those fantastic days I’d while away in the rafters with the cats, until night came again and I returned homeward.

Of course, I didn’t only barter for beverages. The books that lined my walls were proof of that. Yes some where here when I first…well, when I first was I suppose. I devoured them quickly, and while they are still among my favorites to revisit, my hunger for more is insatiable. Many of the others are borrowed or stolen. A few pamphlets and journals I gathered when guests came to visit. Well. I thought them guests at first. Many I learned where scholars and students, thinking the history of this keep of mine lost. Often, the great bat scared them off or they were frightened by my wanderings at night. Some simply slept and I, like Robin Hood, stole from those rich in knowledge to give to the poor of thought. Rather, myself.

But I have grown old, and the castle is called haunted by those who live not far off. They see me  at my window sometimes—I wonder what they suppose I am. Do they whisper I am a banshee? A dead lord? I rather like the thought of being a dead king, still pacing his old hold where there were once feasts and revels. A ghastly Arthur, surveying a land he would protect where he not mortally wounded. It is better than demon or sorcerer or murder—such ghosts are common and grotesque.

Some still come to study the castle. Many are young and eager to prove their bravery—and they have strong sticks or painful spray or rocks, and so I avoid them. Some are especially bothersome, calling out names to speak with the dead, however, and these I delight by arriving in the night like an unseen lion. And they often leave some scrape of cloth or note books behind, and from these I learn more of the village and its struggles. A small note there, and observed backwards glance here, mutterings and rumors told while waiting for the dead to arrive. This was the sum of my direct knowledge.

Sometimes I received other visitors though. Ones who came to the castle alone, to hide—perhaps unawares of the stories of the great bat in the roof or my own…less than homely visage. They were sometimes chased here and seeking shelter—and I knew enough of hospitality from old texts to leave them be, and not trouble them with my presence. Others came here of their own will, often hiding as well. One or two seemed aware someone else dwelled in these halls, leaving a little gift or two. One, ah I remember her, she would leave a basket of bread in the doorway for me. She was a slight thing, I suspect she needed it more than me. It was a kind gesture.

And from all this I have learned very little about how I am thought—except as the owner of my own castle, which I find fitting—but a good deal on the bat.

The great bat, who’s wings span a small hovel. Who’s form in it’s fullness only emerges in the darkest of night, and feeds on cattle and unruly children. The bat, a most infuriating house guest who age seems not to touch. Who steals from farmers and is only driven away by the ringing of church bells—although I must admit, the presumption that it is some diabolic nature that drives him away and not the simple scale of the noise is…well amusing to say the least. I believe biology not theology is at the root of this aversion. Certainly, the beast has no particular aversion to the remains of what I assume is the castle chapel. Although perhaps without a proper priest, and after so much rot and wear, the chapel is no longer holy.

Such was my life—wandering halls, watching through windows at the lives of others. Observing the bats habits, avoiding the pools of blood it left when it made off with a cow. Reading and guessing at the world beyond. The town was more architecture than inhabitants by the time I was awake—few people moved about at night.  And this continued for years, decades perhaps.

And then, when I stood watch, I  shapes on the horizon. Unfamilair ones, on distant hills. I knew the sihloutte of horsemen, vaguely. And as they rushed down, I knew that transcendant fear that all men have of the calvary charge. I saw the moon flash on sabers drawn.

I could see then, in that moment, what would unfold. If none woke, death and flame would come. I did not, could not, know their purpose. No news came to my old castle. But the arrival of horsemen by night, with flashing sabers silently drawn, never changed.

As they crested the hill, a terrible sound rose in me—a scream of warning that rang through out the valley. A scream that shook the trees and stones, as I pushed my decrepit, pale form out the window, the white whisps of hair flowing behind me. 

And with that the village awoke, as I felt weary. My lungs were not as strong as they once were. My head felt light as I rested against the wall. I did not know, as I took short breaths, if I had roused the city to save it’s life or merely face its death.


This story was actually rather enjoyable to write. The ending and the beginning don’t quite jive–and it ends rather suddenly from an earlier, more methodical pace. I think it might have been better to just…allow a sort of slowed, relaxed horror ending instead of a sudden threat on the horizon. I’ll keep that in mind for revisions later.

Next week! Something hungers!

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2. LOVELAND FOUNDATION: is committed to showing up for communities of color in unique and powerful ways, with a particular focus on Black women and girls. Our resources and initiatives are collaborative, and they prioritize opportunity, access, validation, and healing. https://thelovelandfoundation.org/

3. COMMUNITY BAIL FUNDS: Donating through this secure platform is an easy way to support protesters nationwide. The site equally divides your donation between 38 community bail funds or allows you to allocate a desired amount to each fund. https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bai…

4. THE EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE: is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society. https://support.eji.org/give/153413/#…

5. THE TREVOR PROJECT: Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award®-winning short film TREVOR, The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25. https://give.thetrevorproject.org/giv…

6. THE COMMUNITY BAIL FUND: Protests mean arrests, arrests mean bail. Bail threatens the economic security of those fighting for justice. Help ensure safety of those arrested and donate to the community bail fund here: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bail_funds_george_floyd

7. THE NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. is America’s premier legal organization fighting for racial justice. Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans. LDF also defends the gains and protections won over the past 75 years of civil rights struggle and works to improve the quality and diversity of judicial and executive appointments.

Between Two Waterfalls

Police violence and systematic racism has resulted in the death and imprisonment of countless innocents, the destruction of properties and futures, and produced irrevocable damage. Protests have continued for a month and show no signs of slowing. You can find links to donate at the end of the research, in place of our normal Patreon link.

This Week’s Prompt: 115. Ancient castle within sound of weird waterfall—sound ceases for a time under strange conditions.

The Prior Research: Waterfalls

Castle Rurneck abuts a great cliff-side. From its towers, Sernae could see both rivers that flanked the castle, like loyal lions at the throne of a god. The twin waterfalls roared, clouding the base of the castle in perpetual mist and fog. Sernae had never ventured into the fields of the island—she had crossed the bridges in a carriage before, but the mist shrouded shores were unknown to her.

They were moss covered, her friend Ahura told her. Perpetually muddy and full of life. Ahura would go down to fetch water, wash clothes, and gather herbs. Not that Sernae had seen even a scarp of mud beneath her nails or on her fingers. She appeared always immaculate, no matter when Sernae found her.

Sernae today sat and stared out the window, listening to the roaring crash of the waters, watching the trees and wind sway away from the impact. It had a calming effect—when she was abroad, she missed the gentle thunder of the water. It was an old friend, always there and ready. Like a kindly lion, eyeing any who approached her.

And then it stopped.

Sernae didn’t notice for a moment. Like a fish who finds itself in a boat, still trying to swim but struggling, the vanishing of the ever present sound seemed too impossible to register completely. She frowned, felt her head, a sudden panic starting to grow in her throat. The world still swayed but the music was silent. She began to her shouts of confusion, unsure if they were hers as she leaned over—and saw the water fall still crashing against the river, silent as the grave.

*

“No, my lady, nothing peculiar.”  Ahura said, as she helped brush Sernae’s hair. “The river perhaps had more frogs than average, but it is the season for such creatures to multiply.”

“Hm…perhaps I’m in need of a doctor. I swore, the falls went silent for a time.” Sernae said, her face scrunching up. She knew others heard it—how had Ahura missed it?

“Perhaps my lady. I’m sure you’ll get to the bottom of whatever it is you heard.” Ahura nodded. “Or, perhaps, didn’t hear.”

It was as she combed that Sernae got a sight of Ahura’s hands—and saw thin lines along her fingers. She snatched her wrist and pulled the surprised girl’s hand in front for a better look.

“And what are these! Don’t tell me you tried and catch some spiney fish in the river? You shouldn’t be fishing with such sharp lines  either!” Sernae said, examining the thin lines that ran across Ahura’s fingers. They were sharp lines, crisper than claw marks.

“It was a fishing net, my lady, that got caught in wash. “ She said, rubbing her fingertip against her thumb. “It will heal, do not worry.”

Sernae…frowned at the net marks. They were thin, straight lines but didn’t nets curve and bend and wrap in the water? She had never known Ahura to hide things from her, not since she was a girl. Still, perhaps it was a surprise. Maybe Ahura had taken up weaving with more diligence than Sernae suspected, or had been focused on practicing the harp—the lines were straight across, like harp chords would be.

But after Ahura left, curtsying in her plain red dress, Sernae’s mind wandered as it was want to. On days like today, when thunder’s rolling sound joined the roar of the waterfall in a symphony, her mind could not sit still. Something about rain and wind and thunder aroused the darkest suspicions in her mind. Perhaps, she thought, perhaps Ahura was practicing some of the Old Faith. Perhaps she was weaving a web to capture something deep in the falls.

But it was done and gone. Whatever art it was, it had reached is conclusion, and the falls were restored.

*

Sernae busied herself the next day with her own weaving, by the windowside. The clouds were thick and dark, the mists a shadow cast by them. The rain pattered on the glass relentlessly, making the details of the land even more difficult to perceive—dissolving the image of the island into a muddy shape. The rivers would flood, but the castle was built on deep stone foundations laid long ago. The fields, she was sure, had their own ways of surviving storms.

She was inspired by the weather to work on a cloak—one to be worn by someone venturing into the cold and damp weather outside the castles walls. With threads chosen, tightly knitted—ah how that word sounded so close to knighted—to keep out water, to swell when wet and form a barrier against the downpour.

The weaving and knitting was so consuming, she almost missed it—but again, a subtle silence. The cacophony of wind and thunder and rain had lost its fourth voice. The roar of the waterfall vanished—and the elements felt hollow and unreal without it. Like they floated above and apart from the world.

Sernae gripped her needles and went to the window of the tower, thrusting it open—she had to be sure it was no fluke of madness. She stared out onto the island, the silence heavy as the clouds. The mists was disturbed and whirling—the rain made it hard to see the edges of the river. But the absence cut deep. And in the dark, muddy wash of the world, she made out a single bright and clear streak—a red cloak, running along the edge of the water. Could it be?

She tried to call out, but her voice seemed to catch in her throat. That bright red, seen in the flashes of thunder—darting now, to avoid being seen, towards the deepest of the mists and fogs. That bright red seemed oh so familiar. Ahura, perhaps? But what was she doing in such dread weather—what was she doing, when the most unnatural of silences fell on the land?

And closing the window, Sernae made up her mind. She would learn all she could about her servants dark deeds—and her mind wandered, as it was want to on such days, to all manner of bargains and rites that might be preformed in complete silence.

*

Ahura had been surprised by the gift—a cloak, with an elaborate crest on the back. A glimmering sun set on the back of a red field. Sernae had insisted she wear it.

“You are always out and about near the river and fogs. It must get cold, especially with the rain as it is.” Sernae said, holding the cloak out. “I cannot bear to think my friend, with her common constitution, will become ill.”

Ahura could not refuse such an offer of compassion, especially from one in such a high station. Sernae knew this. She had stitched it with that very intention. She had woven it carefully, to shimmer just so against the lightning and in the mists. Even from afar, she could make out the pattern on the cloak.

She had herself woven a second cloak—one that was dark as night, with streaks of blue and purple. While a pure darkness may be recognized, a shadow cast by no one, her cloak was woven to resemble cloud cover and inky shapes in the mist—the sort that might be forgotten or ignored by those in a hurry.

And so, her gift given and her cloak prepared, she set out to witness the schemes that silenced the water fall.

*

Sernae found both useful as she followed Ahura outside. She had little for her defense but a heavier than average distaff and a knife she stole from the kitchen. The air outside the castle was cold and heavy, but not as sharp as Sernae had feared. She could feel the ground greedily gripping to her shoes—shoes not meant to walk such paths.

Still, she had to know. Ahura’s attempts at playing dumb did not fool her. She had to know for certain what was going on. She moved in the mists, along the muddy road and past fields unfamiliar despite their closeness. Most of the common people were sensible—they either had taken shelter from the still roaring winds, or they had the sense not to draw attention to a noblewoman trying to hide herself.  

She followed the light of Ahura’s cloak, hiding herself among the reads as Ahura whistled. The basket rattled, as she approached the roar falls. Never before had Sernae been so close to the vast, bellowing falls. The mist were thickest here, around the pools that were the beating heart of the rivers.  Where the storm above ended and the mists and fog began was unclear—everything was unsure and uncertain, the edge between muddy shore and marshy pool.

But the sun she wove of such shining silk, that she could see clearly in the fog. She followed it quickly , her own cloak heavy and wet. She stayed near the tall reeds as she approached, following the furtive Ahura—closer and closer to the falls.

Ahura stood stalk still, on a large rock leaning out to the pool. She sang a song—barely audible over the roar.  And then there was that dread moment of silence—As Sernae had thought. And through the silent waves and rushing waters, two thin, sharp lines appeared. They swelled, slowly growing outward into long, segmented limbs. Out of the parted water, a head as big as the castle windows emerged, framed by long flowing white hair, and with glittering eyes. It sang back softly to Ahura, the same song. With spider like grace, the creature revealed itself—a great spider atop a web of harp strings, plucking and pulling each to make the most delicate music.

And it was then that Ahura realized she had been followed. For she turned and Sernae felt her eyes on her dark cloak.


I’m afraid this story ends at the start. I had a bit of sickness this week, and was having trouble getting into the groove of the story. I think the concept, of investigating the silence and the image of a castle flanked by waterfalls is good—but I think it might have been better to reverse the rolls, or move away from the more isolated nobility.  Next time we will be returning to strange castles  and the family lineages they imply.


Please consider helping if you can.

1.BLACK LIVES MATTER: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_…

2. LOVELAND FOUNDATION: is committed to showing up for communities of color in unique and powerful ways, with a particular focus on Black women and girls. Our resources and initiatives are collaborative, and they prioritize opportunity, access, validation, and healing. https://thelovelandfoundation.org/

3. COMMUNITY BAIL FUNDS: Donating through this secure platform is an easy way to support protesters nationwide. The site equally divides your donation between 38 community bail funds or allows you to allocate a desired amount to each fund. https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bai…

4. THE EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE: is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society. https://support.eji.org/give/153413/#…

5. THE TREVOR PROJECT: Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award®-winning short film TREVOR, The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25. https://give.thetrevorproject.org/giv…

6. THE COMMUNITY BAIL FUND: Protests mean arrests, arrests mean bail. Bail threatens the economic security of those fighting for justice. Help ensure safety of those arrested and donate to the community bail fund here: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bail_funds_george_floyd

7. THE NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. is America’s premier legal organization fighting for racial justice. Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans. LDF also defends the gains and protections won over the past 75 years of civil rights struggle and works to improve the quality and diversity of judicial and executive appointments.

Marshlights

This Week’s Prompt: 114. Death lights dancing over a salt marsh.

The Prior Research:Death Lights on the Marshland

My mother told me this story, which her grandmother told her. The fens on the other side of the wood, down the hills from us, have never been lived in. Everyone asks, when they get old enough to ask questions but still young enough to expect answers, why we avoid the fens. Surely, going through the old marsh would be faster than around. Especially in the Summer, when it was dried out.

They would tell us then of George, Geffoery and Gerald—three hunters that were out in the woods near the fens. They were well off men, the kind who could afford to spend their summer chasing a stag through the woods. It was a lucky day, despite the fog. Gerald had consulted an almanac for the weather before, and George had asked a local woman how the winds would be. So they set out into the fogged wood, with their hounds and their guns, looking for a stag or dear or bunny.

Yet they found nothing as they searched—not even a sparrow was in the woods for the day. The dogs were confused, barking and chasing shadows. Still, the three persisted in the woods, and out onto the empty fen. And it was there, among the grasses, that the dogs started barking—and soon gave chase into the high grasses and bleakness.

The three hunters turned to run another, and raced after their hounds. They had not seen such eager dogs on the dry fens.  There was little that lived there, except rabbits and birds. But they followed the dogs, chasing and shouting after them encouragingly until at last they saw a deer running ahead, their hounds darting behind it. The creature’s horns were the most beautiful ivory white, like someone took down the moon and put it around its head like a halo.

The white-eared deer ran in circles round the fen, round and round. Round and round. But they could not catch the starling beauty, and night was fast upon them.  So the three paused, alone on the fen that night, and turned to one another.

“I will go home—the stag is fine, but we have lost her.” George said, lighting his lantern.

“No, no I can hear the dogs barking—we are not far yet from the stag. And think of those horns!” Gerald said, shaking his head and lighting his. “I will chase it, if I have help. The fen is not so big that we could get lost.”

“Ah, I will help then.” Geoff said, taking up his lantern. “We can follow the strange thing across the fogs and mists until morning—then we must retire. I cannot spend two days hunting one deer, no matter how wondrous.”

And so, they parted ways, on the misty marshland—two chasing the strange deer, one wiser and heading home. But it mattered little—for through out the night, the mist grew in every way. The sky grew heavy with clouds as Gerald looked for a way home. The rain began to rumble as George and Geoffery found their prey. And at last, the fen flooded—faster and with greater vigor than it had ever in the past. And all three men were swallowed, their dogs too, leaving only their flickering lanterns to float on the waters. On misty nights in the fens, you can see the three men still sometimes—Gerald trying to climb the hill to the forest for safety, Geoffery and George still racing in the marshland, the sound of dogs still barking.

And that was the story I was told about the fen. As a child, I at first could never dream of someone walking in such a haunted place. But as I became a teen, and less likely to believe my elders, I wandered into the woods and marsh on mist-filled nights. It was a rite of passage, marking the end of pre-teens, to go and see the lights. Or rather, the lack there of.

No one I knew saw the lights, the deer, or anything of the sort. Some saw fire flies, some saw rabbits. But it was an empty fen. So, when it was my time, I had little to fear. I was coming back from a trip the next town over, and with some ceremony I said I’d take a short cut through the foggy fens. There was some laughing at my dramatics as I headed out, tipsy and confident, to see cross over back home again.

It was a full moon that night. There was nothing but the sound of grasshoppers and the small flicker of fire flies. And the sound, the squishing sticking sound, of mud sticking to my steps. I stumbled home, torch in hand and coughing from the effort of walking in something like a straight line. It was then, on the edge of the fen, that I saw it.

It was bigger than I thought it ought to be. It was big for a deer, like a moose more than a little scared thing. An elk I guess, red as blood and with sickly glowing horns. Now I’ve not seen many a stag or elk. I don’t hunt, I stay from the woods usually, and their skittish things. But I know horn. And those were so smooth. Looked like someone froze milk into a steel mold.

It stomped a foot at me, spooking me back a bit. I know people who get punch happy with some liquid courage, but that isn’t for me. Thing was tall as me, and horns looked dangerous. I stumbled back, held my hand up as it watched me. Kept my hands where it could see me as I shuffled and tripped over a rock. I heard a thud of bounding legs, and for half a second expect the thing to trample me in a moment of weakness. Yeah, I know elk or deer or moose or whatever, big horned things don’t eat meat. But still, out of it like that, I swore it would take an arm off. I mean, you know horses think fingers are carrots, right? What do I know.

Hands around my head I shouted, and felt a shadow over me—like walking through a cold patch. When I opened my eyes, I turned about to see what I’d been missing.  I stared down into the mists, where the horns still shone, dancing away as it bounded. I knew then and there I could chase it if I wanted—and maybe, if I was quick, I’d catch it. And they were amazing horns.

But I saw them then. Two at first, then three, then four—then a dozen or more, dancing lights, flickering in and out of view. They chased after, dancing from place to place. Only one stood steady, far away—small like a star.  I stumbled and tripped and chased that stationary solitary star.  Up I followed it, up and up to the hill and then the forest—and there it stopped, and fell back into the mists, sinking away.

The woods was long shadows and sharp winds, leaves rustling and snaking across the ground. Dark and empty except the street lights filtering from home. Sometimes the fog was thick, and the light seemed dim—maybe that was the lights I saw, that I imagined where men and dogs in my drunken haze. When I made it home, I didn’t understand what I’d seen—I scribbled on a scrap of paper what I remembered, so I could tell Josh all about it. It was crazy, I thought.

The next day, when we were all together again, everyone asked how I’d made it—did I see anything? How’d I get around the fen? Josh thought he saw my torch going off on the edge of the water when they got there.  A bit after I left the rain started coming down, cold enough to shock even a drunk like me to my senses.

It was then that I remembered the bright red dear with the dreadfully pallid horns, like someone stole the moon. Though I laughed with them over the idea of haunts and hunters, I will never set foot in those fens again.


This week’s story fell a bit victim to deadlines. I decided to go with more a ghost story and feel like the narrative could have been expanded some—layered, so that you, the reader, were diving into these various folktales about lights on the fens. It could create a sort of patchwork feeling, but unfortunately I ran out of time to expand on the idea. Aw well, that’s what Patreon is for!

Next week, waterfalls and castles!  

The Lives of Sam Dedric

Police violence and systematic racism has resulted in the death and imprisonment of countless innocents, the destruction of properties and futures, and produced irrevocable damage. Protests have continued for a month and show no signs of slowing. You can find links to donate at the end of the research, in place of our normal Patreon link.

This Week’s Prompt: 113. Biological-hereditary memories of other worlds and universes. Butler—God Known and Unk. p. 59.

The Prior Research: Lives Well Lived

Sam had always insisted there was something special about him. We’d known each other since primary school, and he insisted that, really, he had to be a faerie child. That some day, his parents would take him aside and reveal that he was secretly the magical prince of England or something. Because in those days, England was about as fantastic as fairy land. When he gave that up, he fell into the idea that he was actually some long lost heir to one or another obscure noble post—he even became fascinated, when the Romanov’s perished, with the idea that somewhere in his family tree there was some trace of blood that would grant him the Russian throne. That such a claim was…irrelevant given present circumstances wasn’t a concern of his. He was sure that some lineage of his had destined him for a higher position than a bank clerk.

“It really is a phenomenal science.” Sam told me one day, gesturing to a freshly printed book—Researches in Reincarnation and Beyond. “There’s entire worlds of knowledge we might be missing out on.  All of those secrets locked up in here.” He tapped the side of his head for emphasis.

“Mmm. Sounds…well, sounds like some nonsense. When your dead your dead, Sam.” I said frowning. “Till God calls you or something like that.”

“Oh, that’s an old-fashioned way of looking at things. I’ve got the journals from France if you want to read them. They’ve found mediums everywhere, and in fact there’s a demonstration coming to town soon. We could go, find out our spiritual history. Why, I just read a case where a woman’s fear of spiders was explained by her last life having died to a black widow bite!”

“Fearing death by spider doesn’t require psychological necromancy, Sam.” I said, dropping two cubes of sugar in the coffee.

“Alright, but I read another account—this woman, she refused to speak to men with red hair. That’s strange isn’t it?”

“A bit.” I said, mixing the cubes.

“Right, well, it turns out, in her life as a queen of Ireland, her husband had red hair and cheated on her, and the resentment stayed with her! Isn’t that amazing? She even spoke Irish! And she’d never been to the island!”

“That is…impressive.” I had heard there were parts of Ireland that still spoke Celtic, but reciting it from nowhere was incredible. “So, you want company for your visit to the traveling circus?”

“Oh no, not just that. I have a better way. Many of these books, they focus on the new state—but you don’t need a doctor to enter another state of mind. In India, they would drink a liquid or smoke a pipe to do it.”

“Opium and cocaine exist, yes.”

“Yes, well, I’ve come into the possession of a substance—it took some finding, some asking after and some trips abroad—”

“Ah, so that was why you visited Europe last year.” I said, taking my first drink, the coffee accelerating my mind in tandem with the thought.

“Yes, and to see of course the wonders of Rome. Anyway, the substance, it has properties—it allows one to expand their awareness into their past, as a hypnotist does. And I need someone to be with me, to record what I see and say, so I do not forget when I come out of the trance.”

“…”

“I am of course willing to compensate this volunteer handsomely for their time.”

*

And so I arrived at Sam’s apartment that evening, fresh from working from one madman to assisting another. The stairs rattled and creaked as I climbed up them. At least for Sam, the price was better.  I stopped on the third landing, and rapt my knuckles on Sam’s door.

Sam was dressed in…well, I assume a bathrobe and a heavy towel on his head. There is a very slim chance the turban was genuine, somehow. He was sluggish as he looked into the hall.

“I doubt anyone followed me, Sam. Now…did I get the time wrong?” I asked, looking at my wrist watch before looking back at him. “I hope I didn’t interrupt anything.”

“No, no, come in, come in.” Sam said, leaving the door opened as he turned around. “I’ve been purging my system—refining my internal chemistry so the substance has the greatest possible effect. I’ve also been doing practices to open the mind, meditations to avoid any unnecessary clutter.”

Sam’s apartment smelled of steam and sweat. There was a coat of incense to cover the smell, and windows open to the rainy weather outside. The discordant smells, the heat mixed with waves of cold hair outside, and Sam himself sitting down in a chair, slumped over in self-induced illness, drove home my second unspoken role. While yes, I was to write what Sam rambled and raved during his hallucinations, I would also be on hand to call for help should the worst happen or witness if Sam failed to recover.

“Now, the solution will last three hours at most.” He said, taking a small vial of liquid from his robe. “I hope you have a steady and energetic hand.”

“For the agreed sum, my hand might as well be a type writer.” I said, taking a seat at a round coffee table near the window—one of the few places conspicuously clear of clutter and books and notes and charts. I sat down, with my pen at the ready to transcribe, nodding for Sam to begin.

*

The substance took approximately thirty seconds to fully effect Sam—early symptoms, such as an increased lethargy, and his fingers tightening around the arm of his chair, began after two seconds. Still it took thirty seconds, more or less, for him to begin describing scenes. He saw first terraced fields of rice, flooding—he saw a family, his father an ailing old man that he cared for, his mother long go, and his own son a lazy fool who meant well. But the splendor that Sam had hoped for evaded him—he seemed to be a simple farmer, even as he peeled back the layers of a life time in East Asia.

He recounted then a life time as a sailor on the monsoon winds, riding along the India Ocean.  He saw many women and men at ports of call, he saw great wealth trade hands, pirates fended off. He saw cities that stood proud along the shore with temples unknown to him except in his texts by reputation—but he and his new ‘memories’ disagreed on what they meant, which was Buddhist and which was Hindu and which was Muslim. He left that life and continued downward greatly disgruntled.

And found himself recounting an old life, a life longer than the prior two combined, living as an old painter in Greece. He lived a quiet life in a monastery—he painted icons and images carefully, with Byzantine colors and techniques. His master piece, an icon of Revelation, where the dragon descended down in crimson colors. He was serene in his age, but as he remembered his youth, he grew in exuberance—he entered the monastery late in life, his youth spent fighting and drink in the countryside. But still, no golden circlet.

History was glimpsed through his lives, although rarely could he tell when and where—wars and plauges and famines flew around him, but with only one set of eyes at a time, he could not piece together where he was or which they were. Somethings he didn’t even understand—he perished from unseen blows, illnesses that escaped his understanding and diagnosis. Some lives a man, some a woman, some neither, some both, some long, some short.  But over thousands of years, of seeing wonders and arts, in worshipping a hundred ways, in the fullness of time, he was not yet a king.  Each of these spans took approximately three minutes or so, with Sam speaking faster as time went on.

Thus with frustration he took a second dosage, determined to delve deeper—having passed the first farms in some river valley that spirits took kindly too. Places the rain was common, and the crop came in well.  He hurried across steppes, his mind traveling to plains and forests and savannahs, to hills and icy peaks. And it was then that things began to change. His coherency began to decay, and motions and sections began to drift together. He mentioned red lights, red foxes, or strange sights—but the details were unimportant to him it seemed.

Sam found cities again, but far from the lands he knew. He described great windows of diamond, looking out onto green seas that seemed like flowing jade. There were ships as black as night that sailed, crewed by him and his four-armed brethren. He had sailed to distant islands, past gates of red gold. He had warred with a monster with blood ren skin and iron armor, who swore to find and slay him in a future life, when he saw him again.  Sam had scoffed, not believing in the past what he thought now. Still, for his heroism, he received victorious sacrifices—but no crown. So, he plunged further down.

And it was as he continued downward, recollecting and refining through time, seeking his sense of royalty, that I noticed a shift in the air. The smoke from incense grew thicker, the room grew warmer. Sam began to sweat, the incense dying his sweat deep red. I ran to the windows and tossed them open as he no longer formed words, just syllables. A heavy cold wind rolled in, and I turned to see it toss and coil around Sam, the candle lights glowering at me as the wind roared. It began to rain outside.


This story ended up drawing more on the Frank Long story Hounds of Tindalos then my original research would suggest. I had at first an idea for a story that was about multi-life grudges, hypnotism revealing that a patients phobias were in fact from fear of multiple enemies oaths of revenge coming true. I think I prefer this version, even if the ending is a bit rushed. Definitely one to return to for Patreon.

Next time! Lights on the marsh!

Links: Please Consider donating to one of the following causes

Please educate yourself if you can. Protests are not spontaneous. Read more on what Black Lives Matter means here https://blacklivesmatter.com/what-we-believe/

1.BLACK LIVES MATTER: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_…

2. LOVELAND FOUNDATION: is committed to showing up for communities of color in unique and powerful ways, with a particular focus on Black women and girls. Our resources and initiatives are collaborative, and they prioritize opportunity, access, validation, and healing. https://thelovelandfoundation.org/

3. COMMUNITY BAIL FUNDS: Donating through this secure platform is an easy way to support protesters nationwide. The site equally divides your donation between 38 community bail funds or allows you to allocate a desired amount to each fund. https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bai…

4. THE EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE: is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society. https://support.eji.org/give/153413/#…

5. THE TREVOR PROJECT: Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award®-winning short film TREVOR, The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25. https://give.thetrevorproject.org/giv…

6. THE COMMUNITY BAIL FUND: Protests mean arrests, arrests mean bail. Bail threatens the economic security of those fighting for justice. Help ensure safety of those arrested and donate to the community bail fund here: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bail_funds_george_floyd

7. THE NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. is America’s premier legal organization fighting for racial justice. Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans. LDF also defends the gains and protections won over the past 75 years of civil rights struggle and works to improve the quality and diversity of judicial and executive appointments.

Gerald Report

Before getting to this week’s story, I wanted to take a moment to address the recent events in the news. Police violence and systematic racism has resulted in the death and imprisonment of countless innocents, the destruction of properties and futures, and produced irrevocable damage. At the Undead Author Society, I try to mostly focus on folklore and horror stories, mentioning politics only when they intersect with the material. But it feels wrong not to say this clearly: Black Lives Matter. You can find links to donate at the end of the story, in place of our normal Patreon link.

This Week’s Prompt: 112. Man lives near graveyard—how does he live? Eats no food. 

The Prior Research: Long Pork

8:00 am- Gerald wakes up. He fluffs his pillow, twice today. On some days he fluffs it three times. I have not found a pattern to this yet.  

8:10 am- Gerald goes to shower. His water is supplied by an old lead pipeline, run by the Municipal Water Company. Gerald has not missed a payment in seven years, and that payment was delayed only due to inclement weather. There is a small window, facing away from the graveyard but into his bathroom. Gerald’s showers are always hot, they fog up the windows visible from the street.

8:25 am- Gerald dresses and watches the news in his living room. His preference is local news, Channel 8. He receives bills from three different cable providers, one of which is addressed to a different name. Gerald says that it’s a mistake he hasn’t corrected, and that Alan Cordwick is the prior owner of the house. Alice Cordwick is listed at City Hall as the prior resident. Alice Cordwick left the building two months ahead of Gerald’s arrival—she works upstate. Alan Cordwick has a Facebook  profile, but it has not been updated since Alice’s departure.

9:00 am- Gerald goes out for coffee. He made his own, until his pot was shattered. The pot was a gift from a daughter or cousin or aunt, the story seems to change. He prefers his coffee dark, to jolt himself awake for his morning walk around the cemetery. He orders his coffee from a local shop, which drops it off in bulk bags. He prefers beans from Arabia. He does not smile when he talks about coffee.

9:30 am- Gerald returns to the house, having walked the entire way to the coffee shop and back. He collects the mail, usually two dozen envelops and a package twice a month. The packages are regular, rectangular cardboard. He gets every three months a collection of Cutco knives. He worked for Cutco for a five year period, from 2000-2005.  

9:35 am- Gerald walks to the cemetery for his first rounds as groundskeeper. He walks in a counterclockwise pattern. He stops and examines a few particularly old gravestones that are overgrown. The names on these stones are Alfred O’Maily, Johnathan Stutton, Emelia Harrington, and Roger Dormithy, according to the registry. However, the names are damaged significantly. On Sunday, he pours coffee on them, about one tenth of his cup on each.

10:35 am- Gerald compeletes his first round. He pulls weeds with heavy welding gloves. His own yard has received three complaints from the Home Owners Association. Two of these were for an overgrown lawn, the third was for trash left in the open. All were filed in the summer of 2012, by Miss Malory Cordoway. Miss Cordoway passed away in the winter of 2012 of natural causes. Her dispute with Gerald was not formally investigated.

11:00 am – Gerald drives the 1987 Volkswagen Beetle that is outside his house. He will tell visitors he is going on a lunch break. He drives three miles to the parking lot of the Michaels Crafts Store. He sleeps in the parking lot, listening to recordings of Car Talk. He parks in the spot farthest from the store, in the second row, near the shopping carts.

1:00 pm – Gerald drives to the Bashas on Main and Mckellips. He buys a coffee from the Starbucks Kiosk. He asks for the dark roast today. In summer he asks for the cold brew. He leaves without making any other purchases. He then drives to Lowes on Broadway and Southern. He purchases several lengths of copper wire for household repairs, a box of nails, and replacement tools as needed. I have only seen his house damaged once, in a thunderstorm. He did all the repairs himself in twenty four hours. He never calls a plumber or carpenter to do his work.

1:10 pm—Gerald returns home. He checks his mail again. His afternoon mail is comprised of Amazon orders, primarily college text books or magazines that are only found in doctors offices. In addition, he receives about one to five letters from a foreign address (in descending order of frequency: Paris, France; Barcelona, Spain; Luxembourg City, Luxembourg; City of London, England; Rabat, Morocco; Tokyo, Japan; Sydney, Australia; Toronto, Canada). Envelopes are never thrown out, nor are their contents.  He claims they are from “business associates” from his time selling insurance in Indonesia.

1:22 pm – Gerald watches a television station (821) that plays static at all other times of the day. At this time, the television station broadcasts a burning log stream. This Christmas log recording is of unknown origin, and the TV station has yet to be entirely located.

1:25 pm – Gerald goes on his second walk around the graveyard. He listens to a podcast, usually Bonesaws.

1:45 pm – He stops near the grave of Timothy Robbinson to smoke two cigarettes. His medical records show a history of smoking back to 1983, but no negative side effects or signs of lung or throat cancer.  I have not found prior medical records.

2:00 pm – Gerald stops at a utility shed at the other end of graveyard. The utility shed’s door has a setoff 3 locks—one bolt, one combination, one two keyed. Gerald enters the shed with supplies purchased from Lowes. The shed is officially a utility shed, for upkeep of the grounds. Gerald, however, stores all known and accounted for tools at his home. Noise complaints from one Joseph Dorian Farrow from 2009 report loud music and drilling sounds from the shed at 2:00 pm until 4:00 pm. No subsequent complaints have been filed. Mr. Farrow moved to Maryland in the fall of 2010.

4:00 pm – Gerald exits the shed with a new cup of coffee, and resumes his route. His coffee is warm enough to emit steam, indicating it’s fairly fresh. No external electrical generator exists for the shed, and so far no wires running to it have been unearthed. His electrical bill is normal. Perhaps he has an interior generator? But he never buys gasoline. Something is inside the building.

4:30 pm – Gerald returns to his home. He prepares another cup of coffee. He watches the afternoon news. He watches a syndicated set of sitcoms while working in the garage. He works mostly with carpentry, making small children’s toys. Once a week, he instead piles up boxes of the toys and takes them to the post office. He marks each by hand and sends them, although where they go I do not know.

4:42 pm – Gerald whistles a tune. The tune has not been precisely identified. I have heard it once before, when a child was walking past my door, but I’m not sure if it is the same tune. Maybe that is where Gerald heard it—Gerald avoids the schools, however, and routes children walk down when he is around. Funerals with children keep Gerald away. But I have not yet found him on any legal registry.

5:00 pm – Gerald begins his final walk, in the reverse direction. He regularly looks over his shoulder. He carries a heavy flashlight and takes his time walking. He wears a workmans gloves. He points the flashlight behind every third and fifth stone—that is, the third stone, the fifth stone, the eighth stone, the tenth stone and so on. He pauses as it gets dark out, and I have seen him point his lights at the sky, as if singaling to something up on high.  The flashlights make a sequence of symbols, recorded below. There is no apparent order.

5:12 pm – Gerald reaches the utility shed. He checks every lock, twice each. He walks around the shed twice, shining his light at the foundation and then at the connection between the wall and the roof.

5:25 pm – Gerald arrives back home.  He checks the mail. He shines his light under his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle, outside the house. He checks the lock on the trunk. Gerald’s trunk contains a number of old magazines from 1984 to 1992. A precise count has not been confirmed, but at least Amazing Heroes,  American Health, and Between C & D as well a collection that are missing their covers and thus unidentified.

5:30 pm – Gerald returns to his home, and watches television. He watches Hallmark Movies on VHS. Gerald prefers ones about Christmas.

5:50 pm – Gerald rises and goes to the bathroom. On his way back he refills his water bottle.

6:10 pm – Gerald rises and goes to the bathroom.

6:30 pm– Gerald rises and goes to the bathroom. He swats a fly on the wall. There is always a fly on the wall. There are a number of flies in Gerald’s house. But there is no fruit in his trash, nor meat containers, nor bones or poultry remains.

6:50 pm – Gerald rises and refills his water bottle.

7:10 pm – Gerald begins a second tape.

7:32 pm– Gerald refills his water bottle.

7:58 pm– Gerald gets up. He takes his jacket and leaves his hat on the chair. He leaves the television on. He exits his house through the back, into the graveyard.

8:10  pm– Gerald arrives at the back of the graveyard. He walks across the graveyard. He has no flashlight. This provides little hinderance.  He unlocks one of the locks on the shed. He walks to the back of the shed.

8:12 pm – a click is heard at the front of the graveyard.

8:15 pm– Gerald heads to bed. He sleeps beneath three blankets. He sleeps for 12 hours. He is awake for 12 hours. During no period of the day does Gerald appear to consume food of any sort, nor purchase any.


This week’s story was also inspired by the following Tom Waits song:

Links: Please Consider donating to one of the following causes

Please educate yourself if you can. Protests are not spontenous. REad more on what Black Lives Matter means here https://blacklivesmatter.com/what-we-believe/

1.BLACK LIVES MATTER: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_…

2. LOVELAND FOUNDATION: is committed to showing up for communities of color in unique and powerful ways, with a particular focus on Black women and girls. Our resources and initiatives are collaborative, and they prioritize opportunity, access, validation, and healing. https://thelovelandfoundation.org/

3. COMMUNITY BAIL FUNDS: Donating through this secure platform is an easy way to support protesters nationwide. The site equally divides your donation between 38 community bail funds or allows you to allocate a desired amount to each fund. https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bai…

4. THE EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE: is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society. https://support.eji.org/give/153413/#…

5. THE TREVOR PROJECT: Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award®-winning short film TREVOR, The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25. https://give.thetrevorproject.org/giv…

6. THE COMMUNITY BAIL FUND: Protests mean arrests, arrests mean bail. Bail threatens the economic security of those fighting for justice. Help ensure safety of those arrested and donate to the community bail fund here: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bail_funds_george_floyd

7. THE NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. is America’s premier legal organization fighting for racial justice. Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans. LDF also defends the gains and protections won over the past 75 years of civil rights struggle and works to improve the quality and diversity of judicial and executive appointments.


Bath Bombs and Abandoned Houses

This Week’s Prompt: 111. Ancient ruin in Alabama swamp—voodoo.

The Prior Research: Ruins in Alabama

This story in part brought to you by our patrons on Pateron

The forest was fog filled when we snuck past the security guard. I could see my breath in the moonlight as we went down the park paths. Marjane was leading the way, holding her hand up every now and then to signal a stop. We held fast and listened for a sound on the wet autumn grass. Once or twice we saw a patrol car, a tired volunteer in a golf cart with the headlights on. I clutched the bundle in my pocket—the first bit of magic I’d ever done, to not get noticed if I didn’t want to.

There were paths to where we were going. Nice and clear paved roads most of the way. But those were where security patrols were expecting people, we figured.  We had made charms to keep ourselves hidden, and mapped out a path of least resistance to get deeper into the old park.

*

“Are you sure you need to do this?” George asked Marjane, looking over the map I’d printed.  The baths were marked with a red pen, and we’d tied string to some pins. “Like, doing some palm readings and stuff isn’t exactly…this.”

“I’m sure. Who knows when we’ll have a chance to try this again?” Marjane said, biting the middle knuckle of her index finger in thought. “We’ve got to do it under the full moon, I’m sure of it.”

“It’s just…this is trespassing, on like. A place with actual security. Not breaking into an old house for a séance or something.” George said, scratching the back of his head. “Hell, this is vandalism on top of trespassing..”

I looked over the map again, thinking over what Marjane had said. The baths were old, ancient really. Who knew what secrets she’d be able to pick up there? What ghosts she’d be able to speak with? She’d had a knack for that sort of things since we were kids, and was only getting quicker at it.

Old Stephen Baths

The baths are a pair of large, rectangular cuts into the ground lined with stone. I guess they might not be baths—to night they looked kinda like big graves, but they were too clean to be ever used. Freshly dug out of the stone.  The fog was settled over and around them, like a witches cauldron.

My job was the easiest.  Marjane had given me some gems and featers to make my inner spirit sharper—it helped me spot guys waiting to jump in the hallway, or on the walk home. Now it was to help spot security guards. I had a dog whistle—Daniel and Marjane had sharpened hearing that could pick a dog-whistle out of nowhere. And there was my first sack, filled with some special stuff I’d kept hidden all my life. Now they’d keep me hidden, as long as I held them.

I looked over my shoulder as Daniel and Marjane poured out bottles into the baths—bubbling and hissing as they mixed. Marjane had her notebook open, papers stolen from old libraries stuffed in with sketches of what she’d seen in seances and dreams, packed into a leather cover she’d made herself—the old cardboard was long gone by now.

*

The Sycamore house was a lump of rotting wood sitting a mile out of town, sitting on a hill of weeds. It had been condemned by the town for about three years—it took two more for it to get the demolition stamp. Not that they every got around to demolishing it. No one seemed to care about the old house, no one wanted the land just yet—it was in a nice spot, honestly. I’m pretty sure the local realtor just…forgot about it.

Not that everyone forgot about it. I mean, we heard about it from some potheads, and Marjane decided that a house that kept attracting people despite being condemned and dangerous must have some magic in it. She didn’t listen when we pointed out that magic was probably privacy. I don’t…really remember how she talked the four of us into going out to the house that night, when she said the stars were right.  Something about the house of Aquarius.

So we opened the creaking rotten door, and found a room that was mostly lacking in graffiti—well, no. It just had a little less graffiti then the rest of the rooms. And the few patches of clear wall that were there, Marjane carefully drew over with chalk.

“That way, the door we make only lets the right ones in….oh I can’t wait to see what’s in here!” She said, stretching with a flashlight to finish the circle and weird letters around the edge. Or I think they were letters, one looked like a little dude holding a crescent moon. Finally, she got to the center of the room, drew a big circle—a really good, solid big circle.  Ashley put down some candles with George, on little Xs that  Marjane marked.

Old Stephen Woods

The big worry wasn’t noise around the baths. We could be pretty quiet, and Marjane’s whispering incantations hadn’t every really been noticed before. No, the problem was smell. Marjane’s concoctions had this…tang in the air, this sickly sweet smell, like a tootsie roll stuck in your teeth. The incense she burned, the candles, it made this tangible cloud of smells that didn’t belong in an old building, let alone a foggy woods at night.

The moment I got a whiff of it, I glanced back—a colored smoke was coming from the baths, and Marjane was sitting cross legged, holding hands with Ashely and Daniel, chanting their secret words. The smoke was heavier than normal, weighed down by the fog—it looked like a bubble waiting to burst through the surface of the sea, streaks of oily shapes in its substance.

We didn’t know if the security team had dogs that would catch the smell early—but now was my time to stay focused. I found a cool tree to hide behind, gnarled and old. Marjane said you could tell magic things just by looking at them, they felt different if you had refined your gift. And this tree…looked special. Knots placed in a way, I could almost make out a pattern. I sat there and listened to the wind and the patrols—waiting for one to turn this way.

*

The room in the Sycamore house changed when Marjane chanted. It got colder. Damp, heavy hair without any water.  Everything was quiet, oppressively silent. I turned as she spoke, so soft that even in an empty world I couldn’t make out a word.

But there was something there. She’d called someone there, and she was speaking to them. I knew in my bones, in that small room in the Sycamore house—something magic was talking to Marjane. Something that called people to this place.

No one goes to the Sycamore house anymore. If you ask why, they say it just seems dangerous or strange or cursed. I went back once—it doesn’t feel cursed.

It feels empty.

Abandoned House Alabama

The tires skidded down the road. I tilted my head to hear them turn—but they were followed by a crash. And then barking. I grabbed my packet of collected things and hesitantly walked after the noise. Under a flickering streetlight, I saw a tilted golf cart crashed. No dog though…no dog anywhere. There was more barking though—I could hear them, somewhere close. No security guard either.

As the light flickered again, I felt the fog get heavy. My breathing slowed, becoming a regular relaxing rhythm with my slowing heart beat. I heard a distant crack—a loud sound from the baths, as if a great bubble had just burst. I held tightly to my pack in my pocket as I slowly headed over, stifling a yawn.

Halfway back I leaned against a tree—all the running had taken something out of me. I needed to catch my breath, I needed to rest my legs. I somehow fell asleep there.

The sun woke me up…everything felt cold and damn, my jacket covered in dew. I looked around—maybe my magic had worked so well, I thought, they didn’t find me when they left. As my hearing came back, I heard the smouldering and the sirens. It wasn’t until I saw blue and red lights that I realize I had been color blind for a moment—my senses returning as I grip my pouch and crept closer.

And I saw them, still sitting there—holding hands around the bath, police officers looking around, an ambulance pulling up. Their heads were turned up, to look at something floating just above Marjane. Something that must have been horrible, or beautiful, to make their eyes go so wide and turn their skin paper white.


I like this story. It’s small, compared to others, and not as clear…but I had a good time writing it. Not much else to say, except that part of the notion for this story was from late research on the “Indian Baths”–now believed to be made by European settlers–at Old Stephens as an example.  I feel like I left very few traces of “Voodoo” in this story, but that might be for a rewrite with more time and space.

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

The Island of Curses

This Week’s Prompt:  110. Antediluvian—Cyclopean ruins on lonely Pacific island. Centre of earthwide subterranean witch cult.

The Prior Research: Taboos and Makutu

This story in part brought to you by our patrons on Pateron

The oars of Abasi’s trade ship cut into the wine-red sea, the boat heavy with gold from Egypt, destined for Ionia. It was a pleasant day, the wind at their backs and the sky clear of storms. A short stop in the southern coastal towns of the Hitites would perhaps be doable without losing too much time. Nestor, the quartermaster, was concerned they would be lacking provisions if they did not make the stop. He and Paimu got into a small debate on the matter, when there was a cry from the front of the ship.

No man aboard had seen such a thing. It resembled a great crocodile of the Nile, but with limbs that ended like a monkey’s, with claws that were as long as knives. Its mouth grinned and was wide like a shark, and its tail flicked about like a perverse lion. In a moment, it set upon them—first catching Yohannes between its jaws, then bounding to slash the throat of Menmu. Abasi himself drew his bronze khopesh, that had run red with pirate’s blood, and watched it bend and break on the armored hide. Nestor and Paimu, startled, rushed back as the beast dove, its head shattering the boards.  Nestor took his heavy club, for killing fish when he cast his nets, while Paimu took up an oar.

Both waited, looking over the ship for the beast—and then felt the ship shake. And slowly the water rise. As the two men realized what was happening, the beast remerged—smashing apart the boards beneath them, its claws grabbed their throat. Yet neither perished- the claws held back from slicing their necks. Instead, both felt the chill of the Mediterranean, and faded into unconsciousness.

trireme

*

When the two men came to, they found themselves in a large circular room, with a great hole in the ceiling. Paimu stretched his limbs, and found them sore—and as he started to stand, a sharp pain came from his neck. He traced a small wound on the nape of his neck with his finger. Shallow cuts ran down his spine, Nestor rising to check his own.

“Some sort of…brand perhaps?” Nestor murmured, looking around the room. Huddled masses slept against the walls, some asleep with eyes wide open.

“That doesn’t bode well…there, that man Nestor…does he not look to be from north of the sea?” Paimu muttered, pointing to a pale redheaded man. “And that woman…I have seen her kin in Babylon I think…and some of these people are from even farther shores.”

Nestor, for his part, walked down the step and looked around. There were no chains here, and it struck the Hellene very strange that none should be here. If this was a place of bondage, did they not fear some would try to organize an escape? None the less, his sailor’s eyes were drawn to the sky light. How the owner of this structure had built a perfectly circular roof, with a hole at its center like some sort of wheel escaped him.

The sight of the stars, however, were unfortunately familiar.

“That and this neither…those stars ought not rise until winter.” Nestor pointed upward. “I see the twins far too high in the heavens, even in autumn.”

Paimu heard the sound of steps first. They looked at one another—the two of them had been in such binds before, by pirates and thieves of the sea. Yet, so far from familiar shores, things might not be in their favor. Before the men could seal their fate, a great horn was sounded. And searing pain ran down their limbs, seizing them up in agony. The other prisoners in the room bolted awake, and the doors were thrust open. Each had a long wooden staff, tips lacquered with with strange swirling signs, and armor wrought of a strange dull silver.

They barked orders that neither Paimu nor Nestor understood—but like children, they imitated their fellows, who formed neat lines a followed the two men out of the building. They found themselves now on a path, carefully covered in stones—each seeping and glistening. Great mountains rose about them—or at first they mistook them for mountains. But to their shock, they saw the careful markings of  brick work and mortar. Columns rose of such craft that the tops of the mountains seemed to be floating island. And their summits were not shrouded by great clouds—no by mists that marvelous statues breathed into the sky. Through the mist, gardens could be seen.

Along the slopes, they saw more of those fearsome beasts that had stolen them away, but other wonderous things—men and women with avian aspects, who’s songs intermingled with distant screams. They stayed close at hand as they joined a greater throng, and marched out of the city—past gates with hundred headed guardians and spider sentries hanging from the ceiling, past cyclopean laborers carving great obelisks of stone, past the monolithic inverse mountain that was silent—to vast orchards.

At the entrance, there were piles of workman’s gloves, made of smooth leather, with wards written on their finger tips.  Both Nestor and Paimu followed the lead and donned the gloves, and watched as others all took baskets—and began the work of harvesting the delectable fruits of the trees. The two were cautious moving away from the others—who spoke to each other in a strange tongue, one that they stumbled or mistook, a tongue born of a hundred peoples trapped under one boot.

“Mere slaves…seems a waste to send such beasts to capture men only to work their fields.” Nestor said, the fruit coming free with ease. Paimu shook his head.

“Did you not see the wonders of this city? We are in some enscrolled place, who’s to say the logic of poisoners and their kindred? What if they have some pact that only people of certain nations may work their fields, to hold their power over death and spirits?”

“Perhaps. Still.” Nestor looked over the orchard and pointed lazily outward. “I see the sea. That at least is some comfort, that she is not too far away.”

Paimu followed his gesture but his eyes caught something else. He let out a gasp, and pulled the finger down. For there, they saw one of the other prisoners had stuck his glove on a thorn. As such, he laid a bare hand on the tree—and before their eyes, boils and blood ran up his arm. Shaken from his stupor, the man began to scream and stumbled—laying his bare shoulder against it’s truck. In a moment, his screaming stopped—the twisted and withered remains of his body fell against the roots and began to rot.

The two men were not total strangers to death, but the sight of one so painful and wicked was chilling to them both. Worse still when the scars along the man’s back—ones that no doubt mirrored their own—crawled free, a dripping web of blood and poison. In an instant it pulled low to the ground and then flew off—springing into the air like some horrific hawk or buzzing insect, back to unseen master of the orchard.

“…You are right, Paimu, this is a poisoner’s hold…more than one surely.” Nestor murmured.

“We must be cautious, if we have any hope of seeing Crete again.” Paimu agreed.

“But also, swift—I do not wish to be as dead eyed as the others here.” Nestor said, turning back to removing the fruits. “I do wonder how they taste.”

*

Inverse Mountain

Times came and went, seasons changed—or seemed to, as the great clouds over head shifted and the winds grew colder somewhat, the stars shifting slowly over the deep prison. They learned to speak some of the tongue of their fellows—some were from Athens or the Nile, and spoke some of the trade tongue that Paimu and Nestor knew. They learned that this isle, as far as others knew, was a great hold of hundreds of dread wise men—men who knew the secrets of making death into a metal, of working poison into every shape, of causing boils from afar and command spirits of ruin and power.

None had any hope of escape, only surviving past the coming day. For in a few months, there would be—according to the older prisoners—a great congregation at the upside-down mountain. There, sorcerers and witches from the world over gathered, having expanded the dominion of the island. They would have revelry and preform many offerings to their ancient spirits—the screams and blood of men and women would run deep, the gods of death and curses, the poisonous lizards and bleeding beasts, and other monsters would drink deep.

Paimu and Nestor, having some sense between them, resolved not to merely hope to survive. No, such a day when the bestial celebrants would descend on the many holds of the slaves was a day when they must escape. They learned from others how they might find the docks—for the sorcerers maintained many boats in secret places. Why they had need of such craft, when they might take to the wind, neither Paimu nor Nestor know—perhaps they enjoyed fishing.

Still, not all the knowledge had stayed among the sorcerers. Paimu had watched the guards closely, and listened to their speak. Nestor had paid rapt attention to the drawings on the gloves and arms. They knew little of hidden arts, but they knew enough to imitate them. With stolen rags and careful pricks of blood, they wove their own attempt at charms. Paimu knew some words he had heard priests say before, and they shared those secrets for good measure.

It was late in the day, when the march back to the orchard began, that they made their escape. They broke off from the marching order, past the dogs with serpents for colors and scorpion tongues. Paimu scattered ashes gathered from a dead man, confounding the watch-beasts’ senses. Nestor spoke words of reverence to secret gods he knew from the Myceneans, who wore helms of darkness and hid from men on the pass way. And with crude carved stones they found, ones that had no voices, they broke the locks on the old ships. The ships were strange, long and thinner than their old trading vessels—but the small ones were simple enough that they set sale, kelp sales catching an evening wind as they quietly rowed out.

Hope swelled in their hearts as they saw the light of the moon, shining on the blue waters. Nestor looked up at the familiar stars—there was no way to know how far land was from this blasted and twisted font of poison. But at last, the two sailors were on their old friend and foe the sea, and the strange beasts behind them.

Then smoke issued from their backs—smoke that smelled sweet, yet burned their skin, causing Nestor to fall over and grip his stomach. Paimu turned, and in a moment caught sight of what the smoke had called. When a drop of blood falls in the water, sharks swim across the ocean to the source—so to do the dread creatures of the isle chase those things or persons who try and escape the tight grip of their masters.

Taniwha A

An artist rendition of a taniwha, which looks more lizard like.

Paimu drove his oar into the water, yank the sail that always caught the wind to turn the ship to the side—hoping that the swerve would delay the chase as he ran to the front. Nestor, the old quartermaster, gasped out in pain but pulled himself upright. From the sides of the ship, he cast the nets he found—nets that cut his fingers when he cast them, boils spreading up his arm.  The sail suddenly clattered—the winds having heard some unspoken word, and now drove the ship to the shore, closer to the waiting jaws of the beasts. Paimu saw death before him. Nestor, feeling the end draw near, took hold of Paimu’s shoulder.

“Leave a sculpture of me in Knossos—and do me good with my kin, when you come to them again.”

And with those words, the old Hellene tossed himself from the ship—and as Paimu turned he saw the host of beasts set upon his thrashing form, the body of Nestor becoming a flotsam of pus and blood in glittering jaws. The ship crashed onto the rocky shore, shaking Paimu from his terror. He clambered onto the rocks, the beasts now devouring the boat behind him. Alone, he found his way to the great cliffs, paths marked with inscrutable signs—and there a cavern in which to hide. For Paimu had been told that the sign above the caverns prevented the beasts from entering, so that the stores of the sorcerers were not eaten. Among the strange blind fish, Paimu cowered and hoped this at least was true.

*

The sun rose over the shimmering sea, ships setting sail with unseen crews to harvest the glories of the sea. Guards dragged men and women to harvest from the orchards. Birds with brilliant feathers begin to sing. The smell of smelted iron and burning wood covered over the land. And the sorcerer Tane Baalbadur walked the shore, looking over the crashed and ruined remains of vessels from far off lands. His mount was a great red horse, with legs that bent like a spider and a serpent’s mouth. It hissed as it crawled over the cliffs. Baalbadur listened to its speech with amazement. Surely, the old sorcerer thought, no man had managed to hide in one of the treacherous caves and escape the demons of the sea. But his steed could not lie to him.

Baalbadur’s voice was what Paimu awoke to—the sorcerer in his finery, with a crooked staff of drift wood and many gems hanging from his jaw, staring down at him. The eyes of the sorcerer considered him, exhausted and with the scars on his hands from his flight ashore. Baalbadur clicked his tongue, his pallid fingers examining Paimu’s wrists.

“What we have here I believe,” Baalbadur said, in words that Paimu could not understand. “Is an error in accuquistion.”

Paimu struggled, mind blind by exhaustion and the aches of last night—his mind felt split by a great ax, his heart was pounding still from the terrors of the night. Still, he managed to strike out against the sorcerer, mustering every ounce of strength he had. The blow fell limp on Baalbadur’s shoulder.

“And a crass misunderstanding of our current condition.” The sorcerer continued—his nail jabbing into Paimu’s skin. Paimu felt a rush under his skin, as if his blood was replaced with the very wind. The sorcerer lifted his nail, and Paimu saw a knotted, tumorous mass hanging from it—like a fishing line covered with algae and blood. The burning in his back, from his poisoned brand, stopped.



 

I’m not happy with this story. It is, frankly, incomplete—it ends at what I intended to be the half way point. But after two weeks, the stress of the pandemic, of personal and professional issues, and of completing the story became too much. I’ve cut it off here—perhaps we will return to Paimu’s trials on the isle another time, under a different prompt.

Next time, we will return to Louisiana and discussions of voodoo!

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