Mountain out of a Man

This Week’s Prompt: 70. Tone of extreme phantasy. Man transformed to island or mountain.

The Prior Research: The Root of the Mountain

The land of Loni was once a flat and unmarked plan, a grassland that rolled on and on. It was disturbed, only slightly, by circular wood at it’s center—a wood of white, straight trees rising with branches outstretched towards heaven. It was in this small wood that the lone permanent inhabitant of Loni sat. Back to bark, the old monk sat crossed legged with eyes closed. At his feet a bronze bowl had been placed by some traveler over Loni. Scraps of paper and coin were in it’s bottom, but the meditative man was unaware. He had come this far for its isolation, for while there were lands that Loni sat between, it was deemed cultivatable and undesirable by most—a waste with a thin layer of grass over it by reasonable folk, and a haunted and spirit filled land by wise ones.

Pando1

Of course, no picture of Londi exists. Pando, a tree that has become a forest, is the closest we have in the modern day.

The mendicant had been mediating beneath the tree for over a decade, living on the earth’s slow breath and dew of morning. His thoughts lost in the depths of the cosmos, in passing he resembled a statue So it was that the rain and storms did not bother him. He was aware of them distantly, as if he observed them from afar. Nor was the brush fire that wrapped around the woods of any bother to him, for he had set his mind beyond such things.

Once, a bolt of lighting struck the tree he sat beneath, splitting it open and igniting the wood into a blaze that consumed all of it but the mendicant. Unmoved, he did not notice the seeds that fell into the ashes around him and on top of him. He was like a stone as roots spread across his limbs and legs, as trees embraced his form for stability. From afar, one could see that the new trees had grown a few feet taller, as proof the old man remained. Some drew close, and found his old bowl still there, at before the rooted statue that seemed trapped and bound by the trees.

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The rusting bowl was taken, by those who traversed the plains, to be a site of offering. Seeing to appease the the man beneath the trees, some gave him coin for good fortune. And those who later had good fates ascribed them to him, returning with greater gifts. Stories spread of the old man beneath the trees, of his power over wealth and wonder. Grant him coin, it was said, and he would guide the traveler to wonders. Or that he stood guard over some majestic treasure, or could from a far cure sickness. The old man himself noticed only the odd child who poked his nose or disturbed his peace in some other way. He could not but smile, shifting branches and roots with a small grin. Still the trees grew around him, a halo of plant life around his head. Otherwise, his mind remained away from the world, roots now dug deep.

Over time, the gifts around the old man grew vast indeed. Gems rested his legs, staves at his side bedecked with serpent and ox heads. Animals from far and wide had been left for his care, and grew to inhabit the forest. Images of loved ones in need of his thoughts, or of homes that people hoped to see, were thick on the floor around his bowl, making small walls. Abandoned swords, given up in oaths to him, or drinking horns cracked with oaths to him, the little god beneath the trees, accumulated around him. Such abundance could not help but be tinder.

In time, the place had become known as a place of pilgrimage and holy power. Loni had known no temples or kings, a land of itinerants and travel, of nameless shapeless spirits and ghosts. But not far off, a horse-lord heard of the treasures of the old man, and set to have them as his own. Gathering his arms, he rode with iron and fire to the woods, now thick in the center of the plains. The grass was dry that year and drought had settled in.

None of the men tried to move the old man, so covered in ash and roots and dead plant matter that he looked like a crude statue. As the nest of trees above him tumbled down, they could feel his breath on the ground, rising and falling without fail. Though they robbed him of many gems and weapons and tributes, they would not lay hands on those nearest him. And so the heated metal, the ashes of the trees and blackend roots settled on the shoulders of the old man, who’s long petrified bones and skin held it up.

After they returned with their loot, the plains of Loni were still and quiet. The years were burned into layers, into a hill of rotted and burned cinders. Decades layered upwards, rising over the grass lands. The animals had mostly escaped the fire, although they congregated around the hill often. The old man’s visage could still be seen slightly by those passing by—the small dents in the hill resembled eye sockets from afar, the ridges along the side might be construed as elbows. And the larger dent before the hill was commonly called “The Saint’s Bowl.”

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Slowly, stories spread outward again of the old hill where miracles happened. There were tales that it was a great giant who had passed on, or that the mound was some old spirit. Those who remembered the old days thought it some holy place, and remembered the strange god beneath the trees. Regardless, once the rains came, the woods and plains grew again. With them pilgrims and travelers came again. Now they built, atop that hill, a village. At first a small temple and inn—but in time farms and houses. The area of the old forest was fertile with fallen ash. What was once waste was now farms, and what was once a stop along a voyage became a destination of its own.

The path through Londi was always a path, but with no safe haven it was considered an unfortunate and impossible one. The small shrine before was a place for travelers to rest, but no long caravan could make much there. The plains were to vast, to isolated, for long journeys regularly. But now, at the heart, a small town grew. The five grains could grow there, and there were beds for travelers. The rains collected at the bass of the hill, a small lake that water might be drawn from.

Tales were told of the hill, how it’s old spirit guarded the town or how it worked miracles, how deep in it’s bones a treasure lay, guarded by a fearsome thing. The town grew rich in time, and grew vast. A keep of brick stood around the head of hill, a crown of stone for the old man deep below. And this city, rich on the river that flowed across the plains, was perhaps the longest garment the old man-mountain wore.

Fire did not lay the city low—no, no flames could bring down its walls. Nor did war, although that came often along the winds. Nor did storms, that battered and broke the sky. These added to the mound, the hill rising as one wooden keep or baked brick was buried at it’s base and another built atop it. But the city stayed all the same. Even as bricks and mortar and wood came from faraway to raise the city ever higher, the people stayed. They told tales of the growing hill, and how it was once a terrible giant that came to repent its ways, or how the old father mountain granted wishes to those who innocently prayed. The groves atop the hills head, in the royal gardens, were said to be a gift from the spirits beneath the earth. And perhaps, at last, an eternity seemed atop the hills.

The old man’s mind wandered those streets at times. They were as far from his old form as the stars once were—he walked atop his form unseen, taking in every movement across his form. New families came and old families went, roots of a different sort sinking forever down. His thoughts were the thoughts of hills, clouds and fogs taken up into the sky. The children and elders felt his movements from stone to stone, topic to topic. The shifting of the breeze marked his passage. And he delighted in them, even those that were entombed beneath his skin.

The city came to an end in time, however. Not from thunder, or fire, or sword. Slowly, along the path of caravans, it crept closer. Unseen, unheard, the death came upon the breath of men. It lurked on the backs of rats, in ticks and fleas. It grew and spread outward among the crowds. The rivers of trade, of silver and gold, laid the city low. They died in droves—from beneath the mountain, the city seemed to wilt as a flower plucked from it’s home. The walls, so long standing that the seven sages might have laid them, came tumbling down with none to repair them. The houses decayed as the trees before them had, and fell into disrepair. The hill grew as it did every time, the old man’s form rising to new heights.

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Those who walk the plains around the Mountain Londi sometimes hear the whispers of an old sage, and see the grass shift in the mountains shadow. Tales tell of the great caverns that are the eyes of the mountain, small and near the top. The lake and river beside it, an overflowing beggars bowl. A fine metaphor, the wise men think, for the appearance and abundance of the mountain. With such in mind, a group of ascetics built a monastery atop the mountain, where they sit in quiet contemplation—their minds tossed out ward to the starry cosmos.


This story was an interesting change of pace from the normal horror fare. While writing it, I tried to make it a bit more than a history of a location but a story of a person-place. The choice of each layer of destruction building the mountain was partly born of the folklore stories, but also from trying to give a pseudo-reality to the transformation. Instead of pure fancy, I wanted an stretch of a real phenomenon that also avoided body horror.

Overall, I’m actually rather proud of this story. Next week, however, we go back to the horror and a tale as old as Christendom: what happens when you sell your soul to the Devil?

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And Off Fell His Mask

This Week’s Prompt: 69. Man with unnatural face—oddity of speaking—found to be a mask—Revelation.

The Prior Research:It’s a Masquerade!

The King Hyperion sat on his golden throne, a glimmering pyramid of radiance. His fingers drummed on the heads of carved lions of marble. The crowd was silent, the air a nice cold breeze wafting on the summer day. His nose twitched at the thick smell of wine in the air, as he settled his gaze upon the man with the strange eyes.

“Your royal majesty, I present the apprehended felon.” The captain of the guard said, yanking the chain of the hunched over fool. “Loratian, disturber of the peace and decency.”

King Hyperion2

Loratian was hunched over, the many chains that hung from his back and limbs. He had a vulture neck and a mane of white hair. His brow had growths, small hills of flesh poking between his hair. Between two of these bulges, was the most striking feature of the prisoner. A crimson eye, with a blue pupil and purple iris, gazed out unwavering onto the king.

“Do you know what cause has brought you into our royal presence?”

“You have men with spears and chains, and they made a compelling case that my attendance was required.” Loratian said, grinning with broken and yellowed teeth.

“Yes, we suppose that is one reason. Our men were sent to bring you to our presence, for crimes against our person that you commit incessantly and daily.” Hyperion said, his fingers no longer drumming.

“Good king, had I committed crimes against your person, I do not believe it would be necessary for you to bring me here.” Loratian said, straining at his bonds.

“Do you deny your crimes then? We hear no end of your proclamations against our crown, and against our house, and calls for all manner of ignoble behavior.” King Hyperion said, his voice rising slighty. “You gathered riotous masses to assault our winery, our granary, and our stores of food. You struck down a man of the temple and spat in the face of a holy oracle.”

“To much applause, if I recall.” Loratian said, nodding.

“So you confess then, to these actions and worse—the murder of bulls on our streets, the declarations of kingship against our person, and the demands for royal revenues and tithes?” King Hyperion said, leaning forward.

“I cannot confess them.”

“And why is that?”

“For they are not crimes. And to confess them would be to confess to breathe, or to confess that I too am under the sun’s rays. A god among men, I have done no wrong.”

“…We take that as confession then. Your crimes cannot be passed without judgment—without punishment. As you show no interest in appeal or supplication, then you will be rendered unto God for judgment.” Hyperion said, waving his hand. “And cast into the wilds to suffer as beasts do in the wastelands without our grace.”

Grinning Loratian was taken back in bonds, to be held for the night. The crowd called out and clamored, some cheering, some begging for mercy and appeals to the heavens for mercy and forgiveness. Hyperion continued his business for the day, the face of the madman haunting him as lions fought for his amusement, gifts from distant provinces were offered, and entreaties to judgment maid.

At last, he retired to his counsel, seeking his trusted wife and adviser. The two had guided his hand faithfully for years before, through war and plague and famine. Surely they would know the source of this trouble in his vision.

“It it some enchantment he has.” The Queen Hellia said. “He is, no doubt, some sorcerer or occultist, who has dealt with spirits of the hills. Throw him when he came, and he will regroup there and plauge us anew.”

“Enchantment mayhaps, but there are arts to memory that are less harrowing then these.” The Vizier Corinth said, after a pause of thought. “Still, he has grown to mighty to merely be tossed aside. No, if he is sent to the wastes, he may stir bandits and treasonous farmers to heights of violence. We ought do more then put him to the wrath of God. We should instead escort him directly, with as much circumstance as he warrants.”

“Hm…Yes, there is a festival coming. If he is brought to the sword then, there will be no doubt of his fate. And we shall have not to fear of rallies—a martyr he may become, but martyrs can fade, and the mob is less organized without its head.”

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The execution was announced, by crier. In a weeks time, Loratian would be beheaded—the King Hyperion intended first to let him hang, but the thought of more words escaping Loratian’s lips removed that idea. No, the royal mind was set to see first his face sliced off, the wretched eye removed, and then the head cut from its stalk. With such thoughts in mind, he opened his court again to grievances the day after the announcement. What came in first did not surprise him.

They were a ragged crowd, murmuring as they approached his throne. From their midst came a woman, in dregs died purple and red with wine and sacrificial offerings, her hair wild and matted. In one of her hands was a staff tipped with brass pomegranate. As she took another step forward, a snake uncurled from her hair and around her neck.

“Lord Hyperion, I’ve heard that you plan to execute our leader for his deeds.” The woman said, standing tall.

“We have.” Lord Hyperion. “He has shown no wish to repent his deeds, and confessed to us all his actions.”

“Then we, his flock, ask he be released to us. We will take him far from a land that does not want his words and deeds, and will trouble you no more.” The woman said, gesturing with her spear.

“Our judgment is passed, and his fate we have ordained.” Hyperion said, waving his hand aside. “We send him as his sovereign on earth to the sovereign hereafter, our brother beyond the mists. That is our mercy—for our wrath, we may do worse while he still lives.”

“We insist, as his flock, he be returned to us—as it is, you delay his judgment for no purpose greater than your own sadism and fear. Release him, and we and him shall take our delights elsewhere.”

“His judgment is passed, his doom we will see carried out. If he wished to live, he would not have behaved in such an outrageous way.” The King Hyperion replied. “His blasphemy alone condemns him.”

“You are right on one account.” The woman said, frowning. “His judgment is passed—and now it is sealed. Doom comes for you soon, king of men, who has chained a god.”

“We have made our judgment. Leave, and thank the Lord that we have mercy in not speaking it against you.” Lord Hyperion said, rising in his throne, the lions at his side taking on a more fearsome aspect.

The guards saw the crowd driven from his throne room, and a new messenger brought in. An old man in the red of the country squires, he bowed lowly to the King. Hyperion sighed with relief at some decorum returning to his court after so many interruptions of squalid and unkempt agitators.

“Lord Hyperion, Sun upon your brow,gracious in victory, your squire comes with news from the hills and dales of your hold.” The Squire said.

“Let us here then, our good squire, what has become of our more distant lands. Are they prosperous and obedient yet?” The King said.

“Prosperous perhaps, but obedient I cannot say. A frenzy of signs emerged not long past—a great black goat was seen, with seven limbs and three eyes; purple and red lights were seen in the woods and in fog between the hills; and laughter took hold of half the people for seven days.” the Squire said, rising to a knee.

“Such oddities are not unknown in nature—strange beasts and lights are the work of many things. What of these?” The King said slowly.

“ Wise in your many ways, King Hyperion, you see that these are not but coincidences of the seasons and tides.” The squire said, bowing again. “However, the people, in their superstitious ignorance, have taken these as omens and now proclaim that a new god comes—they roam the country in costumes of straw and fur, and many have taken to celebration and debauchery. One of your wise and well appointed governors tried to approach the crowd—and among them, he saw his own wife and daughter, their silk in tatters and their crowns abandoned. He tried to lay hands on them, but the crowd assaulted and screamed at him, leaving him sickly and frail.”

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“This is not…pleasent news.” the King said slowly, his knuckles white in rage. “Send forth for my general Balivar, and let him lead a host against these rebels. The gods have assembled long ago, and their hersey has become riotous.”

“Are you certain, my lord? Might not letting the loose–”

“Has our crown slipped from our brow? Are the lions no longer beneath my hands? I have given the command—Call Balivar to our side, and send him with sword and spear and shield to crush those who stay yet in defiance.” The King said, standing slowly. “Do so at once, or our wrath will turn upon you next.”

The Squire made haste to leave, scampering bent over and shamed. The King breathed deep and sat upon his throne, imprints of his grip visible on the gold lions mane. Breathing deep, he calmed himself. He considered breifly the calm that would follow this storm—the end of these chaotic rumblings and sorcery in one strong stroke of the blade. Resuming his poise, he awaited a final guest.

She stood tall as she entered, dressed in finery of white and silver and gold, her headdress of scarlet feathers sweeping just beneath the top of the entrance. A masked servant held her dress as she stepped before the throne, bending her head ever so slightly. The Lady Nodens did not yeild easily, and even in royal presence, deference was hard won.

“Hail His Majesty, Thrice Blessed by the Morning Sun.” The good Lady said as she bowed. “Have we heard true that you will be bringing novel entertainment to our festival?”

“Novel? There is nothing new to it, save the victim.” Hyperion said, breathing calmly. “Nothing novel at all to the death of a man at my hands. This one may ramble and agitate more, but to cleave his head from it’s trunk is as old as the throne on which I sit.”

“Might it not be? For he has the novel face—that loathsome eye we hear of often. Bright red like a ruby against his twisted forehead.” Lady Nodens said, raising her finger to her own brow. “We covet it—a memento of your good will perhaps.”

“My good will? Tis a strange wart and nothing more. Still, in these trying times, it is a request I grant, that it shall be done.” The King Hyperion said, nodding. The Lady bowed and curtsied, taking her leave with her message done.
The King was restless the day on, even into night. When he lay beside his wife, he murmured in slumber. At last, his loving wife woke him.

“What troubles you now? Is some nightmare haunting you, riding you as a steed in battle?”

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“Perhaps.” The King murmured, sitting in his bed. “When I sleep, I see him. That foul sorcerer in the dungeon. I see his toothy grin and wretched eye. I fear he has some hold on my mind now, by some enchantment—as he does on my distant provinces and the poorest of my citizens.”
“Do you think you have judged wrong?” His wife asked, resting on his arm.
“What if I have? Nothing can be done of it now. Thrice I have condemned him. Should I free his chains, what then will be my strength? No, no the crown does not err, even in mistep. To release him now would be as to bow before his power—and that I will not do.”

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The palace courtyard was alight with music, on the day the sorcerer saw light again. He was dragged between crowds of masked faces, grinning cloth and feathers and furs. Hyperion, his adversary, sat on a wooden throne—the pauper king, overseeing the execution of his rival for the throne. Hyperion watched as the four men in furs, with wooden wildmen faces, dragged Loratian in chains to the chopping block.
As they made their way closer, there was a rumbling in the earth. The King paid it little head. The decadence and depravity of those rebel provinces—many now depopulated and extinguished in their time—had caused the gods to cry out. The shaking was not uncommon, when the earth sighed at her feast.
They took to the stone steps, to the platform that had been prepared. The King Hyperion rose, with his crown of oak. Loratian was laid next to his disciple—a woman who’s face the King had chosen to forget, her hands and teeth bloody with her kin. Loratian took the steps himself, his old sword at his side.
“In the name of the Heavens and Earth, speak now before condemnation.” the King said from his black hood and well cut rags. “Let the gods here your pleas, that they might part the heavens for your soul.”
“Strike me first, fellow. I must lead the way and unlock the gates of my house.” Loratian said, turning and smiling at the King with that forever frozen grin.
The King strode forward to grant the wish, over the cries of Loratian’s disciple. The crowd stared, as the earth shook again. There was a shout from the courtyard gates—glancing, the King saw a great light shining into the sky, a ray of red and purple glowing smoke. More tricks, he murmured. More false signs and omens. There could be no doubt for the crown.
The King raised his blade, and brought it down on the head of Loratian. As it swung, the air screeching around it, the king felt a tug in his chest. None the less, the blade struck. None the less, it did not strike true.
“Come fellow.” Loratian said, his head bleeding and dripping where it had been broken by the sword. “You must have conviction. Where is the iron will of the crown now, in your time of need?”
The King stared, transfixed. The blood grew as roots down Loratian’s face, his hair now like leaves, his face like stained wood. There were murmurs from the crowd at the sorcerer’s bravado. Sounds, not far off, of some great hunting horn. So the King, now in fury pulled the sword up again. And brought it’s flat against the usurper’s neck.
There was a crack like thunder as the blade struck the neck—and was broken.
“Ah, no use no use. That was long anon hardened in the forges of the sun. Your doubt knew better. To slay me, remove my mask, fellow. And then you shall be rid of my gifts and boons.”
Hyperion drew back his blade again, and this time he brought it clattering down on the face of gibbering prophet, slashing down to carve his brow to his chin clean off. And hear, his blade went with ease—it slid as if through water, the face falling off onto the platform cleanly.
The King did not see what lay behind that mask, only heard the outcry of the crowd. Turning he saw Lady Nodens faint in terror, and the guards scatter. The gates of iron bent as the strange smoke drew close—within Hyperion saw a horde of beggars bedecked with claws and spears and roars. Looking down, he saw the blade splattered with blood. He tried to lift it, but the blood had rooted in the ground and to his hand, growing beneath his skin.

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The Prophet stood, holding his broken face. From the hole where his mask once was, now grew branches and vines of a great tree, reaching anon unto heaven.


 

I wish I had more time with this story. As it stands, I think it is acceptable. It follows the Bacchae, but not to the letter–and is in fact missing the central climax, although the character beat of ‘woman of noble birth joins the madness’ is still present.  I didn’t get enough or as much editing time as I hoped for, and the result is in my opinion less than it could have been. I think a first draft would have been twice as long before first edits and so on.  I do like the ending, and the middle section is my favorite structurally, with three different portions.

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Dr. DuSan And The Case Of The Walled Up Rat

This Week’s Prompt:68. Murder discovered—body located—by psychological detective who pretends he has made walls of room transparent. Works on fear of murderer.

The Research:Hold Fast!

The moment I heard the car pulling up to my small country house, I knew that Dr. DuSan had arrived at last. It had been sometime since a case of any sort had come to the pair of us—a time of quite on the eternal front, I thought. Surely, this was the sun rising to reveal the latest offense on common decency. I opened the door just before he knocked, pack ready and supplies on hand, face flush with excitement that comes with calamity.

Shall we be off?” I asked, smiling with my coat half on and my umbrella in hand. Dr. DuSan looked a tad startled behind his old glasses, but smiled almost reluctantly.

Well, if you are in such a hurry, I suppose we can get the necessary hospitality from our guests…” Dr. DuSan said, stepping back as I made my way to the familiar black car.

So, what have they found this time? A body with no finger prints? A stabbed man, in a locked room? Some ghastly butchery with a surgeon’s eye?” I asked, pen and pad ready to take note of any and all unusual behaviors or markings that had been discovered.

They? What they? Oh, the police. No, Mr. Leeman, this is not an official consultation.” Dr. DuSan said as we wound down the roads of the countryside off to London, the oldest hive and grandest of diabolical hives. “We are going to make a house call for a dear associate of mine, of no intreast to any member of law enforcement.”

A house call?” I asked, blinking at the page. I knew Dr. DuSan kept a private practice, knowledgable as he was on the many ills and maladies of the body and mind. Still, his clients were more often friends in the fields then those in town.

A friend, one who I have not heard from in some time.” Dr. DuSan said, with a nod. “Mister Cornelius Gorgian is of course not the most frequent of my correspondents, but I hope this meeting to be quite informative.”

Ah, and you came to my house because…?” I asked, resigned that there was no great marvel to be had on this excursion.

My dear Leeman, I took you as the curious and learned sort. Mr. Gorgian is quite the curiosity, the sort that is invaluable to the able and intelligent mind. You will find his company most enlightening I hope.” Dr. DuSan said.

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Our conversation the rest of the drive avoided the topic of this ambiguous Mr. Gorgian. Instead, as we came into the city of London proper, politics and its many slanders and scandals occupied the discussion with a brief diverison into some strange notions regarding Puck in Midsummer’s Night Dream. In the end, we arrived at the relatively small house—for one Dr. DuSan’s friends anyway. Clattering the iron gate open, the good doctor hooked the brass knocker on his cane and rapped three times.

A young man came to the door, his office uniform partially unbuttoned and his tie loose. He smiled nervously, and extended a hand.

Hello, um, can I help? Morgan Mandrake at your service.”

Ah! Yes, yes, Mr. Mandrake. Mr. Gorgian spoke of you.” Dr DuSan said, returning the hand shake. “Quite the careful student, I hear. Or at least enough that the good sir sees you daily and nightly. Is he around?”

I’m afraid Mr. Gorgian is out for the day on business.” Morgan said, moving to close the door. “I can take a message–”

No, no, I believe I will wait for our meeting. It was quite important. Does he still have that green tea, in the blue tin?” Dr. DuSan said, putting his foot in the doorframe and moving past Morgan with a second step into the house.

Um, well, he has some yes, but like I said—” Morgan said raising his hand in objection.

Wondrous! A cup for me and for Leeman here.” Dr. DuSan said, looking around a bit. Confused, Morgan went to the kitchen, and Dr. DuSan gestured for me to take a seat. A wry look came over his face for a moment.

Ah, to the left—left—there you are sir.” Dr. DuSan said, hearing the shuffling of various items in the pantry.

I beg you pardon?” Morgan said, after starting the kettle.

Hm? Oh, it is a gift of mine—most useful, truly. It was the topic of our meeting today. You see, to me, the walls of a house are like rolling water—translucent and almost transparent. With a bit of focus, I can make out anything within or behind them.” Dr. DuSan said, smiling, before walking over to the north wall and tapping it’s top. “Here, for instance, you will find a poor rodent that was trapped and has died of starvation among the pipes.”

Truly?” Morgan said, tilting around the corner to get a better look at the sot to which Dr. DuSan pointed.

Get yourself a hammer, and you’ll find him back there. Or rather, forget the hammer. Come, Leeman, get a stool and take my cane. A good sharp blow should find us the poor soul.” Dr. DuSan said, gesturing over. I picked up a stool, confused as I took the cane in hand. It was weighty on the top—in more than one case, it’s shillelagh like construction had saved our skin. Standing atop an ottoman, I struck the wall hard and fast, the wood cracked and splitenerd.

Astounding…” I muttered as I removed the small dead rodent from the wall with the cane. “Truly astounding.”

Yes, testing the limits of my capacity was to be our subject today. And still will be, I hope, for he cannot be too far off.” Dr. DuSan said, taking his tea without sitting down. I stared down for a moment before hoping to the floor. It was a most peculair talent—I had no idea as of yet how Dr. DuSan had known the rat’s presence, or why he persisted with the ruse, but for now I played along.

Hm, well, that is a fascinating quirk. But as I said, Mr. Gorgian is out for the day, perhaps longer, and I can take his–” Morgan said, grimacing at the sight of the dead rat.

Nonsense, we’ll take our time. Don’t worry, my good friend, we won’t bash down anymore walls.” Dr. DuSan said nodding, along. “Just finishing our tea, and see if he returns.”

My good sir, please, I have studies to read and I cannot attend to both them and you today. If you wish, I will inform Mr. Gorgian of your visit.” Morgan said, more insistently this time.

Well, I know when hospitality has been retracted. Me and Mr. Leeman will finish our tea and take our leave…But please, I left some belongings here last time I visited. Allow me to collect them, and we shall be on our way.” Dr. DuSan said, gesturing up the stairs. Morgan took a sharp breath and a sigh, before gesturing in the affirmative, albiet with an implication of impatience.

Dr. DuSan gesutred me up the stairs, tapping the walls occasionally with his cane, whistling as he went. We collected a bag and some books he had left behind, Morgan watching us irritably. Every now and then. Dr. DuSan glanced over his shoulder to meet our former host’s gaze while walking about, in no hurry to accede to his demands that we leave the premise.

LondonHouse-altered.png

After about an hour of touring the upper floor, in search of his remaining bags, Dr. DuSan at last left. We packed into the car, tipped our hats to Mr. Mandrake, and thanked him for the tea. As we drove down the city streets, a single question eventually came over me.

The point of all that, Leeman, was to confirm a suspicions. Now, with some accuracy, I can inform the authorities of Mr. Gorgian’s murder.” Dr. DuSan said.

Murder? What on earth has you say that?”

Listen, Leeman—Mr. Mandrake assured me that Cornelius Gorgian had left town for sometime. A fact I do not doubt. However, he did not contend with my claim that we had arranged a meeting—no doubt by then he was more focused on vacating our eyes from the premises. Further, he was greatly concerned at our topic matter—the discovery of a dead rat. Tell me, Leeman, who knows the inside of a house better than a rat?”

Well, no one I suppose.” I said, thinking for a moment.

Very likely no one. For a rat to die the way it did, it was not happenstance. No, rather, the walls had been altered lately, such that it’s preferred pathway was blocked. I had my suspicions when I noticed the wall thinner at it’s point of entrapment—there were small marks along the ceiling, as if some creature were struggling to get out.”

Of course…”

Now, then, determining were Cornelius’s body was, that required a bit more work. My first clue was his calmness in greeting us. He was convinced we would not locate it—so I reasoned the body was well hidden already. Now, in London, a burial at night would be difficult to hide and there is little room for such things. So, I tested a theory. The location of Cornelius’s teas are well known to me, as are the difficulties of his kitchen. Thus, I set the first test of my memory.

When he returned, I saw the nerves of Mr. Mandrake—he grew more insistent after a display of my ‘abilities’. So I made sure to check his expression at every turn. The face, and the eyes, my good Leeman, are in fact windows into the soul. And so, our Mr. Mandrake gave away his guilt. For I saw, as I approached the hallway wall, his eyes dilated like a doe caught by the huntsman. Now, I did deduce more of the case from the blows of my shillelagh. The wall resounded slightly off in a number of places. I concluded that the mangled body of Mr. Gorgian was in fact scattered through the walls—as the authorities will discover no doubt.”

Ah, so that was why you kept—”

Yes Leeman. A bit of psychology, biology, and wit can uncover even such a cunning mind.”

It did not occur to me, not until Dr. DuSan was explaining himself over the phone, that one questioned remained unanswered. How had he known to make the house call at all? Certainly, I reasoned, he might have noticed a lack of correspondence. But if this Cornelius Gorgian was gone long, so would have others. A creeping unease came over me, as Dr. DuSan returned, having left his anonymous tip with the constable.


 

This story I think veers more into something of a mystery more than a true horror story. There is something unsettling about it I hope, but it is more in the delivery then anything else. All in all, I enjoyed writing it, and think the ending question could be expanded in later works.

Next week, we join mad revelers and don terrible masks as we see to startle and reveal!

 

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The Ruins of Dimov

This Week’s Prompt: 67. An impression—city in peril—dead city—equestrian statue—men in closed room—clattering of hooves heard from outside—marvel disclosed on looking out—doubtful ending. [“DISSIPATION?” by Dan McCoy]


The Prior Research:The Dread Horsemen

The days of clattering horseman outside the walls were the sort of days that cannot last forever. Raids either break upon the walls, or settle down as a moat of flesh before receding into the hills. Or so I had always thought, for the great hills of Dimov had never broken before. Now, I slipped through the streets, dressed in a stolen set of servant’s clothes as the smoke of the city settled away. Past the proud statue of Saint Alorium on his mighty steed and beneath the strong spear pointing at the setting sun with defiance I slipped, towards a small secret door at the side of the grand temple I had used in my younger years. While a more through army may have found it by now, I suspected that the city guard and the temple authorities employed greater scrutiny then the stragglers of hillmen on their red steeds.

St. Alorium.png

The door is still locked, but the familiar triage of serpents circle the knocking place. I rapped softly, hoping some member of our esteemed order still has survived. Clattering hooves went by, not far off, with none of the enthusiasm of the richer raiders. No, vultures now circled the city, the greatest of the host already sedate with it’s gluttonous feast. I was quiet, holding my breath, until at last the door opened and a pair of heavy hands pulled me inside.

My rescuer was, by account of his clothes, a smith. He had the heavy apron, the gloves, and the tired eyes. Not far into our hidden lodge was a younger man in tattered green and black robes, with a gold chain capped with an emerald, amulets and robes of the old scribes, who shut the door behind me and resealed it’s locks. Ah, to be back in a passage of celebration at the end of Dimov.

Were you seen?” My new host asks, looking over my shoulder as the last lock clicks.

No riders were outside, so beyond the unseen eye, our hiding hole is safe.” I said, nodding.

Safe? In this age? No, no we are not safe. We are merely alive.” The man of learning said, turning back around and looking about. “And maybe not long. One entrance of spies is sealed, but who knows what rats and roaches have snuck in through the windows and frames.”

I blinked a bit at the man of lore. The smith shrugged.

You must forgive Raam. A scholar does not outlive his university with his mind entirely intact.”The smith said, leading me along through the barricaded basement and past a table overturned. “But there is an enlightenment to his madness. We must secure ourselves, lest a spy of the hillsmen has slipped in. My name’s Dominic.”

Darius. What convinces you such spies are among us?” I asked, letting the false name roll off my tongue.

Walls do not fall to horses. Good walls do not fall to spears. Dimov’s walls did not fall to boulders. They did not fall. They had to be opened. And so there are spies, there are eyes of the hills among us, from those lost heaths.” Raam said, moving along after securing the door ahead.

The smith explained that, while they would simply hide in the lodge, the lodge lacked rations forever. Far greater stores were in the old offices above us. The three of us each took some lumber and tools of the smith—his old hammer and a few nails he had kept hand for repairs—in case we needed to board them up. The church kept stores frequently, and while the hillmen had yet to pierce them—being fearful of the great statues outside no doubt—we could make use of them with impunity. Not to mention oil to burn for warmth at night.

Three entrances, right?” I asked, pointing in the directions. “West, East, North.”

Should be. The glass is still there.” Dominic said, pointing at the gallivanting images of saints ascending from the depths and the glittering form of Saint Alorium with his serpent slaying spear. The three of us went to work. Raam’s garb belied his strength: he carried more than his share of the pew. It was while we were lifting one to the door that I noticed strange caluses on his hands.

But that aside, we got the three doors secured, piles of pews against their doors. The stores themselves were smaller than we hoped. Still, we made do with the bread we had, gathered beneath the stained glass in case the raiders looked within and spotted us.

Raam, I must admit, I’ve not seen a man with such might beneath their robes.” I said smiling. “Was the house of scrolls your second trade?”

Hm? Scrolls? You want to know of scrolls? Scrolls are weighty, especially in gold. Work, hard work, can lift the burdens and chains invisible that wrap around the neck and anchor the arms.” Raam replied.

It is like apprentice fees at the forge. You have to work some time to pay them off, although I did not know hard labor was a good trade for earning a good deal of money.” Dominic said, taking a bite from the bread.

You’d be surprised. I’ve not known a footmen who knew so much of scribes, so small people, rummaging about around bloated corpse royal.” Raam said slowly. “Flies and maggots all of them.”

Well I never–” I began, standing with my voice raised, silenced by Dominic’s hand. He pointed to his ear. Outside, there was the clatter of hooves. Dominic removed his apron to smother the fire as I darted to peek out the window. There were five of them on horse back, quivers at their side and lances in hand as they road around the statue, searching with torches in the moon light.

Silent, silent.” Raam whispered, crouching behind a pew. I nodded, slumping beneath the window so as to be unseen.

How many?” Dominic asked from his hiding spot. I held up an open palm. The five horses circled again, the rotating torchlight flickering through the stained glass, illuminating each preserved scene in sequence, the wall opposite showing a silent play of saints, rising from birth and falling on the spears and swords of the hillmen of old.

At last the circling stopped, and a few clattered off. I peeked over the edge, and saw one of the hillmen in his leather armor. In his hand was a bucket, with a dark pitch inside. In his other hand was a torn standard of the guard, wrapped into a mop of many colors. With a word to the other rider that remained, he dipped the standard in the pitch. Then he rode about, and slammed the stained glass with his spear, coating the colors in darkness. The other rider did the same, and one by one the saints along the side were subsumed by the waves of darkness.

Stained Glass Pitch.png

Darkness, darkness gathered by eyes…” Raam whispered, crawling about. “We’ve been discovered. They’ve discovered us now, because of you, you treason!” He hissed pointing at me.

Me, treason? You’re the one pretending at being a scholar! How can we trust a man of letters who couldn’t make a summer living as a scrivener or scribe?” I hissed back, jabbing a finger.

I was within when the city was taken! Only you and Dominic without! One of you, one of you let them in! Lead them here!” He muttered standing up tall now as the pitch covered half the windows. We had boarded ourselves in, and the fire at the doors would be more than enough to smoke us out.

If I was the spy, would I have stayed with you! Why? To die in this house of God in paupers outfit?” I asked, almost shouting. We were doomed, we were doomed.

Spies betray for a hundred reasons! Perhaps you wanted death, or sought penance! Zealot or despair alike!”

It was then that we realized Dominic was gone. We stared across at each other, the embers dying low. Outside, we heard clearly now, a hundred horsemen or more. Even through the pitch we saw the low light of torches gathered.

The front door.” I said slowly, turning about. “We might be able to force our way through there.”

And die to their lances?”

We die in fire or we die to a hundred spears, which will be faster?” I ask, rushing over to the door and pulling a pew down. The west entrance begins to crackle as smoke flows in. The back two glass windows crack with heat before shattering, scattering downward like a rain of multi-colored arrows. As we pulled aside the pews to make room, the wind rushed in. While the wind was cooling, and bought us time from the smoke, me and Raam heard carried on it the cheers and shouting of thousands of horsemen, come for the final demolition.

And then, as the final window shattered, as the fire spread from the eastern and western doors down towards us, we heard great hoof beats and sudden panic. Shouting and roaring of battle as at last we pushed open the front door, to make our feverish escape.


St. Alorium2.pngSt. Alorium stood on his twenty-foot tall steed, his spear bright and bleeding. Around him the hillmen roared as he stared with his maned helm, his eyes like glimmering stars. Fire behind us, death before us, me and Raam stood trapped at the threshold transfixed. The saint raised his spear and the slaughter began in earnest.


 

This story was tricky to write–I almost started it over again a few times, but ran out of time.  The statue coming to life seemed obvious if effective. The paranoia needs I think more time to actually develop, and more leads. At the moment it’s a bit arbitrary. And I think this is about half the story. The opening is strong, but more middle tension between the survivors over fear of spies or the looters outside is necessary.

Next time, we go more explicitly psychological, and visit a concept as old as modern horror genre itself–the mind of a killer.

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The Death of Mr. Donovan

This Weeks Prompt: 66. Catacombs discovered beneath a city (in America?).

The Recent Research: Networks of the Dead

It would be irresponsible to give my report in an itemized fashion. As shall be clear, this incident has left my memory no longer with me in its entirety.

I pulled up at the new dig site with some spelunking gear ready. Stepping over through the door frame, I slipped on my dust mask with a nod at Donovan. I was a bit later than expected, but our subject wasn’t going anywhere. We lugged both of our cases of supplies through the silent interior. The wooden skeleton of the house was stripped bare. I wove my way through the debris to the proper dig site—a room not marked on the floor plan, going back almost a century. The room was untouched by most of the machinery around it. The solitary desk, still coated in gray dust, was pushed against the back wall of the house. We followed the tracks with my equipment and hat with a flash light, stepping over to carefully open the central object of the room: A lone trap door, with a rusted chain wrapped around a lock. The chain had already been cut, left in case it became important later.

So, what do you think is down there?” Donovan asked, flicking his head light on.

Bodies, probably. What else do you bury under the floor board?” I said, turning on mine. “Or secret passages to some rally point.”

Smuggling maybe.” Donovan nodded, lifting the door open. There was the rotted remains of a ladder on one side, our own metal and modern one sliding beside it. Slowly we descended, into the cold and yawning tunnel. The flattened stone floor and walls, despite occasionally irregularities, were still evidence of some ancient architects hand and measure.

There were no protrusions for a time, no markers. There were faded colors on one part of the wall, no doubt some lost paint or signal. The darkness swallowed sound as we followed the path, a rope leading back to the surface. Should something unthinkable happen, the crew was a few tugs away, to get us back up.

Working my way in and across for hours according to the timer, I came across our first discovery—a set of heavy iron doors, with neatly interlocking teeth. There were a pair of handles to force it open, but the teeth were holding it in place and a large metal wheel. Turning it some, the doors rolled open with the girding sound of rusting iron. As it clattered apart, the other side was revealed as a collapsed cavern. A broken down exit.

In the darkness I retraced my steps, echoing slightly for the length of the tunnel. Eventually my flashlight caught the flickering reflection of something else. A bit of glass buried in the mess and mass of the underground. Drawing cautiously closer, and stepping over some broken bricks, more light seemed to pour in.

There was a door of glass and some strange almost plastic material. The glass was shattered, broken shards catching the light and reflecting it back up. Within I saw the dim flicker of lights, abandoned in the dark. Holding back an exclamation I pulled at the rope three times, indicating a withdraw.

CatacombDoor edited.png

Lighting? A door? What, we found a bunker beneath this old house?” Donovan said, as I drew out my crude map on the black board we had set up.

Something like it, yes. A very sophisticated one—must have some sort of generator. Or the tunnels are newer than they seem—they could be siphoning power from the city’s generators. But still…our tunnel, it bypassed a sealed door. So, the trapdoor must be more recent then the door….especially since there was nothing obstructing our entrance down…”

So, what, someone built an iron door and lighting a hundred years ago and somehow kept it running, with no one noticing?”

Well…maybe. However, the other structure might also be more recent—the iron door having been navigated around, and the room refurnished in the mean time. Hell, they might have used this entrance to get things around the iron door and then walled it up.”

Alright, so we go back down, and what? What do–”

It’s got lights on still. It might have people in it. Hm. This…okay. We could alert authorities…”

But…?”

Well, I’m thinking who exactly builds strange bunkers beneath buildings and what sort of shit we’d be in for finding an abandoned one.”

Abandoned?”

Glass was broken, and I didn’t here anything back there. So probably. Must have left the lights on when they left. I think we could make some headway…at least know a bit more about what we’re getting into before diving in or running off to warn the authorities. Delve a bit deeper.”

We worked out a plan. As I had made the initial voyage down, Donovan would take the lead this time, moving forward with a twenty foot length of rope between us. I would remain stationary, until the rope was near taught. Two pulls then would indicate a safe approach, three need of assistance, and four a withdraw. Back down we went, with a longer length attached to the surface. We had conscripted a workman from a part of the construction, and informed him likewise of the signals. This way, should we both be incapacitated, we had a life line to the surface.

Outside the entrance was only some broken glass, smashed out from within. Pushing open the door, with some difficulty, we went into the blinding light of the interior. The lights were that dim pulsing blue of bio-luminesence. Small lines ran between them, and brown moss clung between the crystals. The ground was smooth and without breakage, like a single slab of limestone extending out from underneath. There were some veins where water had warn things down over the years, but not much else. Tracing these lines back, Donovan went ahead.

After a couple tugs, I followed and found the small pool, damaged slightly so that it overflowed onto the floor. It still gurgled around a translucent orb, rolling the orb over the fountain over and over. The room around it was more open, with benches along the wall. Some sort of communal area it seemed. Bits of plant life had made their way here as well, algae floating on the top of the water. Donovan moved along through one of the nearby rooms as I inspected the wall mosaics.

Geometric patterns ran along the wall, fractal triangles spreading across and colliding, interlocking into one another. Small waves ran along their bottoms, creating rivers pouring down into a sea below or sky above. I wondered if they were just artistry or if they had clues to the means that this fountain, made by unknown hands, was still functioning.

Catacomb Wall Drawing 1.png

I didn’t tell Donovan my suspicion before we descended, a suspicion that was growing as I examined the work in the fountain room. That we had found something truly impressive. A relic not only of an earlier age, but…perhaps of a different kind. Of strangers, of things long dead that had raised some civilization before us. Some antediluvian race had raised these tunnels. At Donovan’s two tugs I started to follow the rope—when another two came, I picked up speed.

Well, would you look at that…” Donovan said, gesturing at the glass panes before us. They were fogged with mist, but green shapes could be seen within. A greenhouse, separated by a star shaped wheel. A seal no doubt to keep the warm air in, keep the moisture in, keep the greenery in and healthy. It took both of us to turn the seal, but with some effort we got the door open. Donovan again took lead, as I examined the exterior panes.

They made curious colors, the two panes ever so slightly off grain from each other. On the outside was the carving, something like a star shape—but bent at the edges and points, so that it was more a spiral then a star. They repeated on the inner pane as well, if distorted more so to be a galaxy of glimmering glass. There was something about those stars, an overlay as it were. Something…unsettling about their arrangement. The angles seemed to be carefully placed to conceal some facet of the glass and the interior. It couldn’t be hiding anything bigger than a few feet on the other side. Not even that, no, it was only that big when I got close. No, if it was something that big I’d see it. It must be meant to hide something far smaller, maybe even between the glass—not the presence, not the color, but the details of something in the stars.

And then the rope tugged once—twice—and, as I felt the third, it went limp. There was no sound as I looked down into the green house of the abandoned bunker. Nothing but the dripping of water. I backed away slowly, pulling the rope back as I backed down the hall, refusing to look away from the depths. For a moment I saw motion in there. Something in there. I saw leaves rustle as I walked backwards. I looked down when I pulled the last rope up, to see a branch broken off.

I do not know yet what became of Donovan’s body. I have not ventured down there in the week since. But I worry, what things laid those long forgotten foundations. I wonder, if they have had their own revelation. That, the world they retreated from has now again become inhabited. Or perhaps, that whatever end of the world they feared has passed unobserved. I wonder if they too now are planning on going on an expedition to an unknown world. Or worse, if such ventures have passed unnoticed by our eyes. We must find that catacomb again, that passage in the depths—or we shall be found by it.


This story is a bit rushed. I have not much else to say. Mostly I just couldn’t get enough of a plan going, even with the fertile material. I latched onto the idea of layers of discovery—a new catacomb, a new bunker, and then at last the inhabitants. I don’t think that was the right idea. Maybe a more modern secret society hidden inside the unseen catacombs? Or more characters, and more dialouge in the venture to the dead? I think my writing needs to return to the roots of horror I’ve drifted away from in some of these stories—taking character conflicts and enhancing them with the supernatural. That will be for next time, when we go to an abandoned city and mysterious horses.

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A Strange Estate

This Weeks Prompt: 65. Riley’s fear of undertakers—door locked on inside after death.

The Relevant Research: A Buried Feast

Our estate sat on a hill not far outside of town. I’d been there only once, when I was a young man. It had been my great uncle’s fiftieth birthday, and in celebration ever branch of our esteemed family had arrived, packing the rooms with laughter and dance. Now with a lonely trunk I stood at the doorway, fumbling for my new keys.

I spent the day familiarizing myself with the rooms. The paintings had almost all been auctioned off after a season of funerals. It was amazing that it had taken so long for it to reach the roots of the tree—it cut away at the branches first, seeping up the blood lines until at last it made roost in the this hall. At the base and atop the entryways at angels, granite cherubs my ancestors had acquired on their Italian tours from grave stones. They always flanked a stone shield, our jackal headed crest long decayed away to the point of vanishing.

Statues Holding Shield.png

The view from the windows were of a rather ugly sort. The family cemetery sat not far off. While head stones did rise occasionally, most of the coffins were tucked into the face of a hill. Small carvings had been placed in front of their resting places, with engraved names and faces marking each of the dead. They rose in rows on the side of the hills, a crowd waiting for something.

Such ominous shelter would not be anyone’s first choice. Nor was it mine. In fact, had I any other place to call home, I would have sold such an isolated and abandoned abode. But I was not fortunate in business, and as such had little recourse. My disgruntlement was limited, however, as it was later explained to me that the will stipulated I hold it for a decades time before attempting a sale.

I’d met the undertaker and the grounds keeper shortly after agreeing to take up my family estate. The undertaker was an old man, thin and bent with age. He had been rather polite about the whole matter of the will. As the plauge seemed at last to have passed, he joked his buisness was in decline. I didn’t laugh.

The grounds keeper was a large man, of a jolly dispotion, who showed me around my estate. The woods not far off had once been good for hunting. Of course now he was not sure. Others had chipped away at it over the years. Still, he was proud to show me the gardens he had tended. The gardens he assured me were food for the soul.

The house was the sort that would take a decades salary to bring to proper state. It creaks wherever I step, servants having long abandoned its care when my great uncle was in the last days of his life. After eight hours, I feel I have scarcely begun to explore it. The last survey had been done a decade ago, before the last rooms had been built. Still, I had plenty of time for a full survey later on. For now I unpacked and got ready to relax for the evening. I lugged my trunk up the stairs to the guests bedroom.

The bed was in good, if dusty condition. In fact, of all the rooms of the house, it was the least disturbed. Laying on my own sheets and blankets, I took to sleep quickly.

A tapping came down through the hall in the middle of the night. At first it barely stirred me, but the insistence of this noise at last drew me out of my repose. Candle in hand, I set out to find it. The house groaned as my foot steps moved along. Down the stairs I went, looking for the tapping.

I first found a culprit in a loose door that the wind moved back and forth ever so slightly to make the clicking sound. I closed the door and fixed a chair in front of it, but the noise continued. Th tapping had another source. A window open ever so slightly that I thought closed, rapping on in the wind. I fastened this close too.

A strange sight was on the periphery of my vision—a shadow on the grass in the grave hills shadow. It moved fast and low to the ground, peering back for only a moment. A pair of eyes flashed in the night, and were gone in a moment. Squinting after them, I determined I had mistaken the men of the grave yard making their rounds for something more sinister. The evening fog obscuring them and the glint of the candle on the window glass had no doubt played on my sleeping mind as some sort of strange creature.

I returned to slumber after that, convinced that the noise was stopped. The next morning, however, I made a point of retracing my rounds. The paintings, those that survived, were still intact: The strange pale serpents, the portraits of family patriarchs and matriarchs in their neat rows around the dining hall, the great mountainous landscape of some lost travel. The shields, the stone cherubs.

Snake Painting.png

My inspection, however, made one new discovery. One of the walls had strange marks along the floor, scrapes. Vermin, perhaps, or some stray cat. These thoughts however subsided as I examined the scratches more closely. No. No, they had been made coming from the wall. Curious.

Passages in this home were not that unusal. Servants passages ran through this place like unseen arteries, once full of food and tea and the young blood of society when they wanted some privacy. The latch that was hidden long a column of the wall was thus easy to find. It opened with ease, into a stone passage that wound down. A cool breeze came through that smelled of grass and soil.

Captivated, I followed it downward. This was a differnet make then the rest of the house. It was carved lime stone, the erosion of years making it smooth an pourous. The inner skin of some vast creatures jaw or the teeth of a great maw as I descended. The breeze was a relief in an otherwise warm room. As I walked, I could make out faint carvings along the walls. But their meaning was lost to me.

What was not lost on me was the strange crypt I entered. There was a fire on the side, with a mechanism that kept it constantly fed long burning logs. In the center of the room was a raised rectangular platform, flanked on either side by two statues. The statues were strange winged creatures, armed with swords and axes, two in each crudely fashioned arm. The avian heads had expressions of sadistic menace and eyes that bore a strange likenesses to living hawks. I wondered, briefly, if the foundation of their form was not in fact a dead eagle. But that was not the most pressing matter.

The rectangle was a sarcophagus, even from afar. I had no doubt of who’s it was, for their identiy was carved into the rock itself. But how my great uncle had been buried here, in this elaborate mauselum was beyond me. But it was his face, perfectly carved and staring up to me with painted eyes. Surely. Surely, I thought, this was a farce. An elaborate ruse, laid to give future generations a false sense of importance. I found the seem of the lid and followed it, puling at the handle…

And it wouldn’t budge. I heard locks click inside, holding it fast. I bent over and saw no keyhole or mechanism for locking the sarcophagus. No way to opn it fast without damaging the facade. I headed up stairs, certain that a crowbar would do the job and that the affair would be settled. Whatever inheritance had been done away with in this joke would be resolved swiftly and surely. Lost in such thoughts, and of old aquaintances used to breaking into secure voltage, I returned to the room…to find it in ruin.

MAnorHallWriting.png

Something had come through and over turned the furniture and left claw marks along the walls. In broken red letters was carved, along the seats and beneath the crest “Promised to Us”. It was at this moment that two thoughts occurred to me. One: I had yet to ascertain how a cool breeze was coming up and out of the tomb. And two: If the lock could only be sealed from within…what unmentionable horror did it intend to keep out?


This weeks story is not one of my favorites. I considered delaying it a few days, in order to rework and rewrite sections of it, but I simply ran out of time. I think this is about halfway through the narrative proper. The story should divulge more I think of who the uncle is, and what these creatures are, more than just allude to them. In all, a story that could be greatly improved on with more work. If I had more time, I would probably cut back on the descriptions and add another voice to the narration.

Next week! Catacombs! Hidden cities!

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A Certain Preponderance of Witnesses

This Weeks Prompt:64. Identity—reconstruction of personality—man makes duplicate of himself.

The Prior Research:It’s Alive!

The day after Orem was hung, there was a collective sigh of relief. I sipped tea as I read the report in the paper. A fraudster, who baited men and women into a world of drugs and prostitution, Orem’s sentence came down in the courts after he stole a well of woman’s gold chain for a spell of his. The chain he returned that was ‘enchanted’ a week later was a forgery of iron with gold plating.

It was, in all honesty, not the most impressive theft of his. He had made off with more in a month before. But the daring had roused enough attention that at last, I had the pleasure of laying hands on him and seeing him brought before learned judges. I had not seen the hanging, but like many things in life, once a sufficient mass of witnesses and reports emerge, the matter can be considered settled.

My office was lined with paraphenelia of the case, even a year later. A small set of ring-circuits were beneath my name-plate, little jeweled metal rings that reflected the electirc light directly overhead. When the mood struck me, I’d examine the small quartz stones, with carefully painted cracks. Orem was no madman, no distant lunatic who had lost touch with reality. Such exquiste and elaborate lies require a certain mindset and planning to be made real. One that I had assumed was unique to Orem.

So, imagine my suprise, when a new edition to my collection was brought to me by a nervous widow. She had found it in her floor board, she explained quietly. Years ago, she had been one of the women to bring testimony regarding Orem’s activites to the jurists.

Is it…one of his?” She asked hesitantly, as I examined the small circlet under a glass. “I thought, once, I saw him in a crowd. Or someone like him once, with his eyes.”

The ring is similair in make…but do not worry, miss. It’s fairly well documented what became of Orem. If this was planted at your home, its the work of a copycat. Someone trying to intimidate you.” I said, looking over the engravings on the rings. Thin painted lines on the small coppr ring, and a carefuly polished black stone—not actual onyx, but a forgery style that was familiar.

Are you certain? A sorcerer such as him, maybe he sent a ghost from beyond the grave.” The widow said shifting. “Ah, I knew it, I knew talking about it was a mistake.”

Orem’s forgeries are just that—forgeries. He was a showman, an actor, and a swindler. Not a sorcerer.” I said as reassuringly as possible. “I will look into whoever planted this—emotional terror is a tool of cowards.”

I had put that aside,when another report drifted in. Someone had seen Orem, near a graveyard outside town. He had a shovel and his old ragged jacket and scarf with charms sewn into it. Another woman came in, with pictures of her ceiling covered in markings that only Orem had made. At last, I set out from the office to the graveyard to investigate for myself. Once a certain numbr of witnesses reliable report an event, it comes dangerously close to true.

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The graves rippled out from larger mauselums, with broken stones and crumbled remains poking out of the dust. Between the graves were those praying for fortune or paying respects. My eyes scanned the dirt for footsteps as clouds gathered over head.

No, I didn’t see him exactly. Just someone out in the graveyard…it could have been a jinn for all I know.”

The first man I’d asked had found the notion of Orem’s return as unlikely as I did. But he had seen someone out in the yard, he couldn’t deny that someone had been out there in the morning mist, moving among the stones. Searching, maybe, for some buried talisman that Orem had used on them long ago. I pressed him to who had reported, before finding near the gates one of the witnesses.

I couldn’t look away. Someone had driven nails into my feet, and filled my mouth with cotton. It was his eyes in the night that did it.”

His eyes were wide, he whispered fearfully to describe the strange presence. A shadow on the moonlight. After the first, the second came unbidden.

It was him! I saw his scarf in the night winds, blowing back. And he walked with a limp—Orem had a limp, of course you remember. And he had that laugh, that laugh like a hyena.”

She was certain and frantic. The shape in the night had been Orem, and she would not enter the graveyard until an exorcist came. I was less patient, and went ahead. He had been seen in the western part of the cemetery. He had been seen where he was buried. My hand felt the small silver ring in my pock, its smooth onyx top.

GraveYardMoroccoAltered

Orem had received a proper burial. He had been given a good set of stones, at his feet and head, with his name written beautifully in swirling calligraphy. I walked around the body, looking carefully. If the new con man was stirring up fears, he would have left tracks. If he intended to dig up the old master, then there would be markings on the grave…and sure enough there are.

The soil’s been disturbed, recently too. The surface was slightly darker, and the marks of being packed by shovel were still visible despite the wind. Faded over the body were footsteps, boots that had left an imprint. There was, covered in some dirt, a small drop of wax. A candlit grave robbery. Not exactly what I had expected…but it confirmed that someone was rummaging in the rubble of Orem. And I knew where they’d go next.

Orem’s place of buisness was not far from the graveyard. From the outside, the building was unassuming. It was bare, even. The sort of thing you’d pass on the street and wonder if it was for rent. It was also therefore hard to find, hard to find again after you’d visited, especially if you went home in a daze of drugs.

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The door had a knocker, but I didn’t bother. On the sides of the frame, visible only from within the doorway, were strips of paper with blue ink scrawling down them. They’d decayed with the lack of inhabitant, curling and warping slightly with the weather so that the script was no longer legible. I pushed the door aside to find the workshop within.

The front room was clearer now then when we first took Orem. The incense was no longer burning. There was no chanting playing through speakers. The maps of the body, with each of its paths outlined carefully, still hung from the wall. An elaborate serpent wound its way along the wall facing the the door, its curves and curls highlighting eyes.

Around the room were various tools of Orem’s trade. Metal bars with sets of dice for geomancy, an apparatus of crystal and metal that he used to “speak with the jinn”, by focusing the energies of the invisible. A brass horn was abandoned, one of many gathering dust that glimmered in the sunlight. It was a more convenient way to “hear” those unseen spirits. But the true horrors were not in the front, were business was conducted.

Parting the beads, I went into the back room…or rooms. The wall seperating the sections had been smashed apart, leaving bits haging from the ceiling. Looking down I saw the chalked scribbles on the floor that I took pains to step over, my flash light shining across for hazards or signs of entry. There were metal cans of dirt, with the skulls of rats and burns nailed down to hold them in place, sewing needles out of their eyes. Small chimes dangled in front of the only window, dust settling gradually over the entire place.

In the center of the rooms was a large pot, one of those industrial pots for feeding hundres of people. Dolls of woven cloth and plant matter hung from it’s rim by piano wire, crests burnt into them and more than one having a cigarreete butt for a head. Walking around it, I saw the cauldron was also full of…well, dirt. It wasn’t quite dirt. It was, but there was a deep crevass carved down it’s center, and stains that were still almost viscous and bright red marred it. Wine, rotted from within, somehow bursting out. The smell of rotting eggs hunger over the wound, my light catching the tattered remains of an elaborate paper cover. Metal bolts were driven into the earth, catching the light ever slightly. Striations and veins marred it, carved after this mass had hardened into something stable.

The wind came in, and the chimes caught my attention back upward, away from the broken metal skull. There was the shelf, smashed open, shards of glass scattered on the floor. Inside were trinkets, books with pages sealed by honey and oil in order to maintain their secrets, and ensure the curses he’d bound inside never escaped. Photos of the shelf had helpedin the trial, but the books and strange bugs covered in careful paint had been left behind. They were too heavy, I remember. Not worth the trouble.

Someone stealing the books was expected. Orem wasn’t the only charlatan out there…and true beleivers would want a taste of that power. Being able to brandish the tools of an old terror was in it of itself worth it. Carefully counting the books, I noted sure enough a few missing. As I leaned down to examine the breach, I heard a rustle of the beads parting. My heart racing, I went back behind the shelf and clicked the light off.

In the twilight of the room all was still and silent for the next eternity. I hoped it was just the wind and nerves. A shadow slinked along th wall, with a small flickering light. The face was turned away from my hiding spot, a hand running along the walls and gently tapping it for something. His hand stretched to the ceiling, searching idly, before rolling his form around.

His face was full illumined as he examined the cauldron. His face, it’s lower half covered by a surgeon’s mask, was stained ever so slightly. The eyes searched the room slowly, reflective like a cats eyes. Yellowed, familiar eyes. Eyes that did not meet mine, as they again turned away, examining one of the dolls hanging from the pot. But eyes that still haunted me as my breath stopped for, that floated there without body in the air, small yellow flames flickering.

I took a step forward, unsure if I should bolt for the door or take my chances and strike him hard in the head. Strike good and hard and send the ghoul back to his grave. Strike, and send this cunning ruse back into the night. Strike, and be done with it. I rushed, and swung away, I heard the crunch of metal on the back of a soft head.

I never mentioned that visit to anyone. I don’t know which thought worries me more at night, when I look at those old rings. The nagging worry that maybe, maybe it wasn’t him. It was some looter, or a homeless man, and I’d killed them or knocked them out in cold blood out of supersitous fear. Or…if Orem had returned.


Adding this to the list of ones I think could be meaningfully extended. Honestly, I had scheduling problems this week, with finals coming up, and so am a little disappointed I couldn’t give this more attention. I tried to capture the uncanny sense that can exist around the dead and, in ethnographic and biographic accounts, around the sorcerer.Next week, we stalk the graves again with stranger creatures–fearsome undertakers await!

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