Baqi and the Golden Fruit

This Week’s Prompt: 126. Castaways on island eat unknown vegetation and become strangely transformed

The Prior Research:Fruit of the Sea

The Sea Dane would tell this sailor’s tale, both in the humble halls he washed ashore in, and in the ruby lit halls of Dahut. He had heard it himself at a port of call in Iberia, from a sailor named Baqi. Baqi had traveled many seas, from the city of Caesars to the west coast of Africa to the seas about Arabia. He had many tales of strange ports and stranger things he had seen—but this story was the strangest.

Baqi and his crew were sailing towards the Pillars of Hercules, the great white cliffs that rose into the heavens. They had brought a fine hall from the coasts, to markets in the Mediterranean. Spices and ivory and gold from the coast of Africa—but as they sailed, a terrible storm rose from the great sea in the west. The ship was sturdy, but the darkness and wind overcame them, unseen stones cutting the hull to pieces, and casting them into the waves.

They awoke on an island with shores of golden sand and emerald trees. Of the crew, maybe a dozen survived. The wreckage that floated ashore was naught but drift wood and some rations for their journey. Baqi and his men gave thanks for surviving the storm—they prepared to burn the driftwood for warmth at night, and salvage what they could, bury those who had perished. And Baqi took his first mate, Alaric, to see what life might persist on this island.

They traveled sometime, before they found the center of the island. A lake, clear and placid, surrounded by large trees. And upon the trees grew a strange fruit, like an olive perhaps but as big as a man’s head.

“Do you think we can eat those?” Alaric said, scratch is head. Baqi frowned and considered.

“Who’s to say? It might be a dreadful poison.” He said turning to the lake and looking down at the fish that swam in it’s depths. “We have fish, though, and some supplies. We have wood a plenty.” He gestured around him. “We’ll wait to eat the strange plants until we have no better option.”

And so the crew set up shelter on the shores of that lake—the water pure and fresh and sweet, and the driftwood burned easy. The wind was calming and soothing in the night, as the moon came over head—except when it shifted direction. Then it made a terrible rustling, like a great cloud of locusts was going to rise from the branches and consume them all. It made it hard to sleep.

*

They ran out of provisions before they finished cutting trees for their ship. The great fire they lit on the shore lured none to harbor—although perhaps it was simply not seen. Only once did the nightwatchmen spy a ship passing over the horizon, and even that was from a great distance—and the sounds at night made many question his health.

The crew split in two on the matter—one group went out, armed with what weapons they had to repel pirates to hunt boar or other animals of the island. The others would draw lots, and see who would try the new fruit. Boar or berry might claim one or two, but might sustain them longer.

Thus, Alaric  climbed a great tree and cut free one of the sweet fruits and Baqui went out into the forest with spear in hand. It was on this venture, moving far from the lake, that Baqui found strange sights. He found piles of stones, aligned as if great walls—but within their borders, he found naught but more trees. Before he lingered long on that outcropping, he and his men spotted a small deer—and the chase resumed.

When they returned, they found the rest of the crew seated in a circle, observing the young man who drew the shortest lot. There was a fruit in front of him, with a sliver cut from it by his knife—the flesh of the fruit seemed to be a shinning white like an apple’s interior.

“It’s sweet…savory too. Like cattle made of honey.” He said, cutting another slice and eating it. Alaric looked over at the arriving hunters, with their own catch—a pair of small deer they had found. Baqi chuckled.

“Well, if it tastes better and is easier to find…how much has he eaten?” He asked his first mate.

“This is the second fruit—nothing strange has come over him yet.” Alaric said. “We’ve watched closely—not even the slightest sign…”

“Then it seems safe enough for now.” Baqi said—although later he regrated his eagerness. “We can hunt and build, but this will make good reserves. Plant some of the seeds, and perhaps we will be rich from them when we return to friendly and familiar shores.”

*

They did find, in time, that there was good timber for building boats—but there was little eagerness to leave the quaint island. For the lake and fruit kept them fulfilled, and each found their own entertainment. It was like a paradise, and they told themselves surely the wind was still foul and the waves still treacherous. They had best give it a season or so before trying the waters.

Alas, Baqi mourned that time—when the gates were open for any to leave. And he recalled to the Sea Dane, the night they were closed forever. For one night, not even two weeks past when the first fruit was eaten, a man woke the whole camp. He had seen a shape moving past the fire. It looked much like a man, but without a head and with long limbs. The sailor was convinced that they were not alone on the island—that this was the source of the rustling sounds at night and other strange things.

Now, it is no secret that sailors are superstitious folk. Any who rely on the vagaries of wind and wave are prone to beliefs in all manner of fortunes. So they made plans that night—they stayed together, and appointed their bravest, including Baqi, to keep an eye out for the strange shape the next day.

That night, the wind rattled the leaves worse than before, filling the night with hoarse laughter. Baqi, days staying on the island, was still unused to the sounds of the nightly winds. He stood about with his fire, watching the darkness for any strange sights or shadows.  Any wild dogs or deer, as he privately thought the shapes must have been.

And then the arm darted across the tree line.

He and the men instantly rose up, and moved quickly, silently as they could—the shape was large, like a bear but walking on all fours. It fled from them, quick as a deer—but they were used to hunting deer. At last, they chased it to the shore of the sea. AS they drew close it turned—two golden eyes like a great lions shown in the moon light. Baqi felt a primal terror come over him as those eyes stayed fix as the head rotated away—and the beast leapt into the sea.

*

They built walls of wood to keep the beast at bay. They made wind chimes and trap wires—for they did not know what the beast desired, but it seemed fearsome and ill tempered. They sharpened spears for their defense, and laid  pointed sticks around the places they planted new fruit trees, hoping to keep the creatures away from their prized plants.

They did this in vain.

*

They did not wait until night to descend upon the camp of the sailors—oily scaled skin and eyes like a lion. They came with a roar that sounded of death and put fear into every man’s heart, sending them fleeing from the walls they crudely made—carrying only a dozen or so of the golden fruits. They came and a mist of darkness swallowed the land behind them, as if the sea rose up.

The sailors fled up the island, behind the stone walls Baqi found long ago—where it seemed the strange beasts were loathe to go.  They lit torches, and as night fell they stationed guards to see that the strange beasts did not overwhelm them.

“We cannot hold for long.” Baqi said as he walked in front of the flames. “At any moment, they might come upon us—and they are far more numerous then us. Still—we have trees in these walls, ones that might be of use. We can build a raft in the night, and flee before they come upon us stronger.”

“Flee? While they hold our gold?” Alaric said, standing up. “No, no, they cannot be allowed to keep it. We have arms—stones and slings we can make, and strike them down from this fortress, recoup our losses, and take back that grove!”

His response was met with cheers of the others among the grovesmen, although the hunters remained unsure.

“We have tools for hunting deer, Alaric, not for killing beasts bigger than a man.” Baqi countered. “We have a few spears and knives—”

“We have courage and will—and fire!” He said, gesturing at the bonfire. “And those can more than startle and scare away monsters of the night! If we aim true and with care, we can do so without our gold igniting!”

“Who cares for the fruit, our lives are on the line!” Baqi shouted. And when Alaric looked at him with rage, Baqi saw his eyes had taken on a gold shine.  He did not remember what Alaric said, with those leonid eyes. But he felt them call to his blood—to the fruit he had consumed.

And then he knew he must flee in the night, or he too would be consumed.

“Do what you will.” Baqi said, stepping back, cutting through the haze of Alaric’s speech. “And I do what I.”

*

Baqi confessed he didn’t stay for the fight—he gathered those who were sane, and as the others heated spears and stones to make tools of war, they built something like a ship. Some drifted away from their work—eyes taking on a bronze or gold hue whenever they left.

As Baqi set the raft to shore, he turned to his fellows.

“If any of us are gripped by that madness, we must tie him to the raft and hope for the best.”  He said solemnly. And then he inhaled sharply and sighed, and confided to the Sea Dane—he was the first to lose himself to that golden sound. It was like a great bell resonating in his ears. It was a thirst that couldn’t be slaked, a fire in his stomach that threatened to boil through his skin. His comrades restrained him, bound him to the crude mast.

At last, they came to friendly shores. And there, he told the Sea Dane, he began to recover—but the fire never really ended, and still he dreams of those stone walls and strange beasts.


I decided to tie this story in with the prior one (here) slightly, as a framing device. The story concept I think could be fleshed out much more, and I probably took on a longer narrative then needed. Next time! We return to the birds!

The Sea Dane

This Week’s Prompt: 125. Man abandon’d by ship—swimming in sea—pickt up hours later with strange story of undersea region he has visited—mad??

The Prior Research:Under the Sea

The fishermen did not know what to do, when they pulled their strange haul onto the deck. For it was not often that a man in mail and byrnie. He took ragged breaths as he came to on the ship, his fingers gripped tight around a well worn key of finest gold, his beard so long it reached down to his waist. It was only after some effort he managed to stand and speak at all. And all he would ask is if the sun was still in the sky.

The Dane of the Sea, as the Bretons called him when he was out of earshot, was taken in to gather warmth and wits that day. His dress gave him away as a man a viking, but his state was strange for one—for he had no sword or axe or spear, and while he had rings to pay his stay, they had a strange cast about them of green-gold. What drew him, more than the strangeness of his voyage.

The Dane of the Sea was one of many who had sailed along the coasts of the mainland, laying pillage to the abandoned fortresses of Romans and cloisters of monasteries by river and sea passage. It was after ransacking one such monastery that the storm came.

The waters churned and the waves crashed against the long ships, the sky as dark as night. It had come with such speed that the crew did not have time to go to shore until it was upon them. They turned and rowed with the waves towards the shore, aiming away from rocky coasts—but misfortune had more in store for the Dane of the Sea than just the surface could offer.

No instead, the waves battered on and on—and some great force pulled down at his legs and arms, the darkness coming over his vision, fearing he died a drowning death as he struggled. Something coiled about him and down he plunged.

The Sea Dane awoke in a room with heavy furs and a crackling fire. He was on a great bed with heavy wools.  A window covered by animal hides, although what he saw seemed to be the glimmering scales of fish as big as a hand. As he stirred, he door opened and a maid greeted the Sea Dane.

“Ah, the good sir yet lives.” She said, in her hands a wooden tray with a cup of painted peach wood and a meal on a platter, a  smoked fish mixed with rice and pasta and strange fruits.

“Do I? And where, pray chance, do I live?” The Sea Dane asked the maid as she laid his meal before him. The maid smiled as she stood.  “Last I recall, I was embraced by dread waves and soon to be nothing more than memory.”

“You are on the Isle of Ker Is, in the hall of the great lady Dahut. She will tell you more, when you have the strength to see her in her hall.”

The Hall of Lady Dahut was bedecked with perfumed candles. The Sea Dane was struck at once by the lanterns hanging from the ceiling and the candelabras that lined the walls and were born by youths and maidens around the hall, light dancing on the dark blue tapestries. The play of light and shadow gave the serpents and warriors and boats a life of their own. Most impressive was the singular ruby that hung on a chain of iron above the high seat, for it gave off a red light like the sun as it set over the sea.

And beneath this crimson light sat the Lady Dahut herself, a woman of beauty that surpassed any woman the Sea Dane had seen. Her hair appeared like fire in the red light, the straw blonde playing against the piercing red of the ruby as she shifted. A cloak of dark blue wraped around her dress, a crown of studded silver rested on her brow, intertwined serpents of gold worked across it. The light caught on the crown and spread over the hall, illuminating every shadow the candles and ruby did not reach with it’s radiance.

And her voice, as she greeted him, was like a radiant song.

“We see you have recovered from the worst of the sea, stranger. We had worried you slipped through to the land of the dead.” She said with a smile.

The Sea Dane bowed and greeted her in turn.

“If it were not for your blessed isle, I perhaps would.” He said as he rose. “I admit, the sea took quite a bit from me.”

“We would be remiss to turn a guest from our home while they are still groggy from the depths—although, we do object to calling our isle blessed.” She said, rising from her seat and walking down the hall, beckoning the Sea Dane. As stepped out from the crimson light, he saw the carved rings on her fingers, coated with gems—and she lowered from her hair a vail of emeralds  the size of raindrops. She went down, taking a candelabra where each branch was a carved warrior, their spear rising out of the candle and purple smoke rising from the tips of their weapons.

And he beheld a great city of stonework, paved roads like the romans laid and towers rising with gilded rooves. The riches of the city were cast in night, illuminated only by lanterns—and at a gesture to the sky, the Lady Duhat told him why.

“Our Isle is far from blessed—Ker Is was, when I was young, cursed.” She said, and the Sea Dane saw the heavens darker than the night—for there were no stars or moon, nor the subtle shades of clouds. An endless dark rising forever up, an abyss without end. And distant from the city, it came down to earth. There were great whirling shapes, winds of horrific might that snarled light itself as the swirled.

“A lecherous priest came to our land, and tried to persuade my father to wed him despite my will. When I rejected his proposal, in his spite he cursed our isle to never see the sun again. And so, a storm has assaulted our shores in the years since. We survive by means of my wisidom, and many scholars who know how to yet draw life from the ground and fish from the waves and storms.”

At the time, the Sea Dane believed the curse was nothing but storms and winds—he did not see the churning mass that the so called winds pushed. He did not at the time wonder how seamless the sky overhead was, without fault in the clouds—except when some vast shape seemed to shift and churn close at hand.

“Well, when I regain my strength, perhaps I can set myself to finding a wiser man to lift the curse.” The Sea Dane said, stroking his beard. And here perhaps the audience would jeer some, that Lady Dahut’s beauty was what drove him—and not, as he protested, his hospitable nature. For when one is taken in from near death, offering a service seems only fair.

“Perhaps, when your strength is yours again. But there is no need to rush things—the sea and storm will wait for any man.” She said with a smile. “And it has been long since we have entertained a guest from afar—surely you have tales to tell.”

And so the Sea Dane spent his days in the halls of Lady Dahut and her court. He was provided a harp, and played it well as he sung the songs he knew. At this point in his tale, the Sea Dane told the people of the Bay a different story every time—and how Lady Dahut adored it, and her court applauded the tales he wove. Often they were of family and feuding and oaths and tragedy. And this was the bulk of the difference in each telling, that story the Sea Dane told Lady Dahut in her cursed city.

Each time he told the tale, the Sea Dane would sigh and say he told many more than he had time that night, and that the true matter was yet at hand. For the Sea Dane had spent many nights—or he took them for nights—in the halls of Lady Dahut, and yet he felt none the stronger. He suspected something was amiss.

One night, when all else went to sleep, he slipped from his chamber—hoping in the deeper darkness to find some clue to his predictiment. He moved with practiced skill, out into the halls—he avoided the guardsmen with their fish-tailed helms, making his way out of the hall and into the streets.

The city was full of riches, palaces of pearl and coral. There were large stone works, like the churches of Romans he had heard of but not yet seen—or perhaps those of Greeks, farther afield, and the old temples they once worshipped in. These were well lit, although the carved faces on their insides were unfamiliar to the Sea Dane.

But it was when he approach the storm that he grew suspect—for here was a line of those candles commonly held in the palace. Around the so-called storm, there were rocky walls that had been smothed over, and clouds of incense rising upward and back. The winds must be terrible, the Sea Dane thought—but he was curious. So he reached forth and put his hand against the wind—and felt the rush of water, the freezing cold of the bottomless deep.

Starting back, he stared upward and saw, for the first time, the shape of a dread leviathan against the waters. A serpent, a vast one as long as two boats from tail to head, that coiled in the water and watched him with golden eyes. The Sea Dane was a brave man, but the sight of such a creature—drawing close, lowering it’s head through the waters into the air, chilled his soul.

It’s jaws opened, revealing teeth like knives, and out poured gold and jewels, vomited forth in front of the Sea Dane. And as it withdrew, the Sea Dane looked down at the green marked gold. And no longer did he wonder at how the nobles lived so richly here, with so little visits from the world above.

It was on the return to the palace, however, that the Sea Dane learned the truth of his imprisonment. For it was while skulking through the courtyards that he found the Lady Dahut and her maid walking in the darkness.

“Why let him live much longer, your grace? He is of those that in the past we made prey of—if we had but said the word, serpents would have dragged down the whole of plunder from that ship, and we would yet rejoice.” The maid said, as her mistress walked ahead. Lady Dahut hummed as she examined a thorny rose bush that grew at the base of an apple tree—both nourished by unseen powers.

“A few more gilded trophies would bore us swiftly.” Lady Dahut said, examining the apple before plucking it. “And none of that haughty priest’s bones were aboard the vessels—whatever magic his kind have learned that so enscroll their bodies with immortality, it was out of our reach. So, instead, we have now an exotic pet. And he is not so harsh to look upon, nor is his voice unpleasant.”

“Still, do you not fear he will grow restless? He was a wanderer.”

“Let him.” Lady Dahut waved her hand. “If we bore of him, he will drink an enchanted Draught and become a new man, forgetting all else. And we have not had a new member of our court in some time.”

The Lady produced a dagger from her dress, shaped like a snake’s fang. She dug it into the apple, slicing it carefully and handing it to her maid.

“Be certain he eats three of these—any less, and he may find strength to swim away from our shores into the abyss.”


And there we must cut off the Sea Dane’s tale. It is late on Tuesday evening, and I wanted to  ensure this part at least was finished. The idea of a gothic horror series struck me with stories of mermaids beneath the waves and a reversal of the normal animal bride affair—not an entirely original notion, but I thought one that was potentially horrific and fitting the genre. We might return to the Sea Danes tale next time, as we come now to stranger islands and the rare flora that grows on them—perhaps the Sea Dane encountered other places before washing into the fishermen’s nets!

Or perhaps his escape from Lady Dahut’s clutches will wait until a later date. We will see. See you next week, with more research at the ready!

A Lost Limb

This Week’s Prompt: 124. Hideous secret assemblage at night in antique alley—disperse furtively one by one—one seen to drop something—a human hand—

The Prior Research:Left Hand Left Behind

Michel Donner rarely set foot outside his home in the wee hours of the morning. Even the small lights of dawn seared his eyes and made him break out in sweats. A pleasant sensation at sunset, when the intensity was fading, but in the morning it merely exaggerated his exhaustion. Still, last nights…peculiar gathering had forced him out into the light.

He paced down the alley, a one eyed stray hissing at him as he approached. Michel bought him off with a small bit of fish, tossed carelessly aside. They had been mostly silent, the strange men. He now could see, clearly, the strange symbols spray painted onto the walls of the alley. Circles and geometry patterns from school. Strange, kids these days. He amused himself at the dress up occultists of the day, before his attention was drawn by the familiar glimmer of gold on the asphalt.

It was a small band, pushing free of packaging paper. A ring, simple band—and it was as he lifted the package that Michel realized it was still attached to a hand.

Michel paused for a moment as he lifted the package, feeling the dense muscle and bone beneath it’s paper layer of skin. He hefted it for a moment, inhaling sharply.

And returned without a word to his home.

The Donner house was an abandoned building before its current owner, Michel, had arrived. It was secluded among the mostly forgotten old town buildings. There were people, but none that would be bothered by his activity in the depts of the night. None who asked many strange questsions or invited him away.

Michel carefully placed the hand on the kitchedn table, unwrapping it delicatel. It was a pale left hand, with a golden ring still on its ring finger. There was a red tattooed flower on the wrist, the edge of the stem with the letters “hen” in cursive on it. Michel retrieved a pair of tweazers and carefully removed the ring, examining it slowly. On the inside, good fortune had delievered him a name.

“Dorthoy Windsor.” He said slowly, placing the ring down and continuing his examination. “Assuming this isn’t pawned.”

A name was all he really had. Nails painted red, no blood or the like under them. There were…splotches of blood elsewhere. Sadly, she had not perished with her wallet or an identification card in her grip. Unsurprising.

That left examining the wound. Now, removing a hand is not the easiest of tasks. The tendons at the wrist had been severed, but the wound was not…clean. There were marks of hacking on either side of the incision—but the wounds were clean. She had passed before her finger hand was cut, although of hat was hard to say with merely a hand.

Someone might have advised Michel to call the authorities, and report such an atrocity in his own backyard. But Mr. Donner was a very private man, even without his condition. He never enjoyed when officers were involved in his affairs. So instead, he consulted the white pages—being one of the few to still regularly receive those tomes.

The name Windsor was luckily relatively rare. Locally, anyway.

Michel hated driving during the day. The bright light overhead were distracting—and it gave him such an awful headache. Still, he knew better than to ask for a private meeting in the late hours of evening. Such pains could be endured, with proper pills. They had been before, they would be again.

The Windsor house, unlike the Donner house, had a healthy and verdant lawn surrounding it. Even dandelions poked through the pavement on the way to the door. Michel had pried the ring free of the hand, leaving the gruesome trophy in the back of his car. Explaining that he found a gold ring was better.

Or would be, perhaps, if there had been an answer to his persistent knocking. After twenty minutes of silence, Michel took it upon himself to find the inhabitants of the home—or, judging by the contents of his car, the remains of them.

The lock to the backdoor was of poor quality. It was very expressive—the sign of someone who cared deeply about the appearance of security, but lacked the knowledge to appreciate actual security procedures. Michel’s method for opening such locks was not exceptional—any number of odd books on hobbies could uncover them. After about a moment, the backyard was open to him.

*

He was apprehensive at first, as he walked over the grass. The bright light of the sun was especially bad, reflecting off a pool below as well as from the sky above. There was a large tree, previously hidden by the house, branches hanging down over disturbed ground. It drew his eye, how the grass was so thin in this one spot.  

Lucikly for Michel, there was a shed nearby. Dorothy had been a gardener, and had a fine enough trowel and set of gloves. Her shovel was rusted and the nails holding it to the shaft were loose—well used, perhaps a handy me down. Still. It would suffice later on.

Gloves in hand, he surveyed the rest of the yard,straining to see in the bright light.  Nothing peculiar. Dog house, but no dog. A doll house being painted on the table. Or maybe a diorama. Regardless, Michel made his way to the back door—and found the lock already opened. Not just opened—the bolt, upon opening the door, had been removed.

Michel sighed with relief as he entered the Windsor home. The room closest to the back yard was a kitchen with a tile floor…and a shag carpeting floor adjacent to it, for a couch and living room.  Michel never understood the appeal of carpeting, it seemed all the harder to clean.

The kitchen was missing a few knives. That was something Michel checked on impulse these days—the exact number of knives present. Steak knives were missing, nothing terribly exotic. They made decent enough weapons.

The living room had a leather couch, and a pair of…connected seats. A couch for people afraid of appearing intimate, perhaps. Playing with a lever on the side, Michel ascertained they were recliners. Nothing stuffed in them.

Moving through the home, absent mindedly, he did notice a picture slightly ajar. A normal man or woman, or even child, would have passed it by without thought. But Michel was gripped by the paranoia of the night deprived. He removed it carefully, with gloved hands, looking to see what caused the slight change in weight. And there, presed on the frame, was a small rectangular piece of lead. Engraved on it was an eye, and characters unfamiliar to him at this hour. Characters and shapes he recalled dimly, like the writing one sees in a dream.

He stole that cursed tablet of lead. And he continued in the home that wasn’t his home.

*

There was a second floor to the Windsor home, a large loft and several rooms. Nothing of note, which itself was suprising. Michel was under no illusion he was the first to trespass here. No blood, no stains. No one had died here.

There was an office upstairs. He found a collection of business cards, Dorothy Windsor, private therapist. A number, an address for her office. He pocketed it. A list of patients. He took a photo of that, a small camera he had with him at all times in his jacket.

A through search, however, found a few other business cards. Intended to be discarded, it seemed. These had two names printed. Stephen and Dorothy Windsor. The office was the same, but of course a second number was printed. A lead then. He noted the pattern of a rose on this old card. The tattoo.

With that all gathered, he looked down at the yard from the office. The strange patch remained.

*

Michel was exhausted even before he began digging. He dug a few feet, until the metal of his shovel struck wood. A box, about ten inches by eleven inches. There was a loose chain around the lid, and a small lock. Lifting it out, Michel saw there were two—one lock on the chain, and one lock on the lid proper—a combination lock.

After placing the dirt back in the hole, Michel placed the box in the trunk, next to the box with the hand.  He’d have supplies to break it open at home. And he could use the rest. It took all his power to get home, and secure the boxes before collapsing onto the bed.


This story was difficult, and ends I think at the end of the first act. I had some personal issues crop up while writing this, and ended up scrapping an earlier draft that featured the hand at the midpoint. I think expanding on this story will be easy in the future—Michel’s strange condition and behavior is a bit of a joy to write.

A Night At The Museum

This Weeks Prompt: 123. Dried-up man living for centuries in cataleptic state in ancient tomb.

The Prior Research:On Display

Fisk locked the museum door behind him. The curator had placed a notice outside, that do to a recent incident, the museum was closed for the day. The News reported an ongoing investigation into a robbery.  Of course, to Fisks’s chagrin, they mentioned that the exact items stolen were not disclosed—meaning speculation ran rampant.

“Last thing this place needs, a new round of theorists.” Franklin said as Fisk passed him a coffee.

“To be fair, Frank, this is a new kind of problem.” Fisk said, as they walked back to the Lost Treasures exhibit. The two of them looked over the crime scene, such as it was. The case for the new exhibit was open, sarcophagus closed. There was another body, the mystery mummy, fallen on its back near the door.

Well, mummy was a bit much.

“Look, I hear cocaine rots you inside out. Maybe he’s on some new shit?” Fisk said, scratching his head as he walked around the body. The body was wearing a black t-shirt, a light jacket, some gloves to stay warm and a hankerchief. The baseball cap that was a foot away—knocked over when the body fell over—was probably his too. The problem was  the body itself looked like someone freeze dried an entire person. The skin was stretched tight over bones and muscles were atrophied, eyes shut against the floor, hands crumpled where they’d hit the ground.

“Right okay.” Franklin said, walkinga round the body and up to the open exhibit case. He pointed at the carefully opened plexiglass latch. “So, this—this seems like someone tried to lift the thing out of here. Right? Opening the case at night, and cameras all bugged out.”

Fisk walked over to the rotating security cam. It was a cheap thing.  Probably didn’t actually get good image anyway.

“That adds up.” Fisk said, waving at the security guard.

“So he breaks into the museum, comes in to lift some stuff and then…what? Suddenly paralysis?”

“Heart attack?” Fisk said, walking back to the body. “I mean he can’t have been in good health, looking like that.  Here’s a cat or something, and bam!” Fisk clapped his hands together. “Drops dead. No exit wound, nothing.”

“…seems strange, just dropping dead like that.”

Not that there was much such gentlemen of the law could say. They took their notes, and had the body sent away to men who’s work was dealing with the dead instead of creting them. Morticians are well versed in the art of preservation and decay, to determine and ascertain the most probable cause of the end of their fellow man. And Douglas considered himself one of the finest in such a regard.

Which made the mystery of the exterior exceptionally frustrating. As the police had suspected, not a singular exit wound was left in place. Nor entrance wound. There were some scratches made by nails, but they seemed like the itches made by fidgeting not struggling. The fingers were brusied, and their tips were even smashed—but that was due to the other, frustrating fact that Douglas struggled to explain.

Douglas, before working as a coroner, had spent some time as a mortician. And he would never imagine such a well preserved body would exist outside such professional circumstances. The skin was dried, the insides had long lost their moisture as well. Which was unusual during a cold, wet winter season.  Perhaps, Douglas considered, the man had taken some preparations for his demise. Or maybe it was the result of a freak diet.

It made the incision somewhat more difficult process—the skin being tough and leathery, instead of smooth and easy to cut. The mysteries of the surface could be solved by going underneath…he thought. Until he found the organs.

He almost admired the handy work. It took skill to preserve them this way. Perfectly still, resembling dried fruits stuffed into a leather bag. Even their flaws were there—the mar of regular smoking on the flattened lungs, the build up around the heart valves. It was like the entire body was filled with fermaldhyde.

That was one thing, however, that felt even more out of place. The smell. There was a certain smell corpses have. Rot, decay, even preservered they smelled disquieting. This one, this one smelled sweet. Almost like lavender or honey.  Douglas did take a sample of a strange, light golden substance forming around the throat—perhaps a toxin—and wrote off the strange smell to that.

As he scraped the maerial into a vial, he felt the first twitch. The spiderweb of nervs around the neck twitched back—muscle long too stiff to respond to the pulsing attempt at movement. As Douglas sat upright, he saw it again. Another twitch, a flicker of light down into the arm. It wouldn’t be until the afternoon that he confirmed it—despite all odds and sense, there was something alive on his desk.

A museum at night is a particularly eerie place. A home has familiar shapes in the darkness—chairs, couches, moonlit windows. But a museum lives on the unusual silleuhette. On the strange shape that even a child can tell is not of this time. In a normal home. Finding such a compression of history would be alarming. In the halls of the Geogrestown museum, stepping through a doorway and finding yourself back a century is part of the appeal.

It isn’t exactly a hard to place to get into. You’ll see movies, with laser tripwires and pressure sensors and people rappelling down from the ceiling. Its all very fancy, very expensive to film, has room for tension and comedy all of that. And there’s some museums that can drop enough cash to actually install those things. Really, it’s a locked door—which exists to make things a modicum more difficult—a security guard—granted, they don’t let folks who signed up day of cover night shift—and a trip alarm. Maybe a motion sensor near the big exhibit. Some cameras for the guard at the control desk.

No, what stops most robberies at museums is probably the logistics. Its pretty hard to get an ancient bronze shield out of a building without anyone noticing—not because there’s tons of eyes on it, but because we sadly don’t live in an age where you can walk around with a giant bronze disk and not get asked strange questions.

The other added layer is what is actually on display. A lot of what you see these days are replicas—specifically to prevent people like me from reaching in, grabbing something, and ducking out.  Which, well, sucks because your stuck with a cheap copy of something you can’t even really sell unless you find a dumb as hell pawn shop owner. Not that those are exactly in short supply but…

Luckily, the odds of the Georgestown Museum faking an entire mummy are rather low. I mean they could, but I’m pretty sure no part of town has enough money for that on a dime. I put my duffle bag on the floor and looked over the body. The security had, I admit, been a bit of a hassle to work around.  A cruder sort would’ve just conked him hard on the head. A smarter sort might have hacked the cameras or something.

Me? I just dropped something in his drink, let it run its course. Walked in, turned off the cameras, walked out. Kept my mask on just in case I show up on the news.

It was cold, probably an extra layer of preservative or something. The sarcophagus looked small on the news—it wasn’t like any that I’d seen before. It was only about four feet long, two feet wide, looked like some sort of big egg. Unscrewing the top of the glass took some special tools—and that wasn’t accounting for clicking the motion alarm underneath.

I figured the thing was pretty solid, pretty heavy. I’d considered trying to pop it open and moving just the mummy—but probably that’d break in the bag. Still. I had to check, before I made off with it—if the sarcophagus was just an empty box, well. That would be bad for any follow up work or pay.

The lid was a thinner than I expected—but I got a good grip on the cold stone, and with some scratching managed to lift it up. And there he was—curled up like a babe, thin as a chicken. His hands were clasping…something close to his chest.

It was shiny, whatever it was. Looked like some sort of…emerald maybe. I leaned down to get a better look at it. That’s when I realized it was looking at me.  Empty eyes, staring at me.

***

This story hit the actual drama towards the end. I realized too late that something like the Autopsy of Jane Doe—a film I forgot until writing this—would actual serve much better than a crime procedural.  If or when I rewrite this, that’s probably the direction I’ll lean into more. Next time, we delve into secret gatherings seen at night—and what they might leave behind!

The Foundations

This Week’s Prompt: 122. Horrible things whispered in the lines of Gauthier de Metz (13th cen.) “Image du Monde”

The Prior Research:Mapping the World

The lady at the front desk looks at me funny when I hand her some cash instead of a card. Probably waiting for my nightly company to show up or something, but she doesn’t say a word about it. Wonder if the scuffed suitcase helps.

I pop it open on the desk and start sifting through the papers, setting up my own little computer lab as best I can. Being faceless if not nameless has become a necessity in my work. You see the world-famous detectives fall off the wagon or off a bridge enough times, you learn to leave justice blind. That said, this isn’t anything quite as big. Right now anyway.

Juan Albert. Went missing near a new construction site—the latest, biggest exhibition of Andrew Doyle. Doyle building another eyesore in the middle of fuck off nowhere wasn’t that weird—state money ended up in his projects, the projects made cheap and quick. Never worked, never turned a profit, but Doyle tended to walk off with a cool pay out.

Of course, things get shady all the time with Doyle. People go missing, yeah. Regulations get flouted, people get hurt in construction, unions get busted by private investigators who are looking for a paycheck. Probably living more comfortably. Striking back costs your face, first, then your name. Then probably your life.

Juan’s family, though, caught me on step two—my name got passed along to them as someone who wasn’t too worried about consequences of tussling with rich men’s guard dogs.  After looking over everything, I pack up. I place a few small recording devices under the bed and desk, in case it’s searched. It’s never been searched yet.

And I head out, to have a word about what’s gone wrong around this town.

Juan’s sister doesn’t meet me at her home address. Town like this, everyone knows everyone. And while some gossip might start about talking to an out of towner, worse would come up if I was seen at her house. Plenty new people coming in to build Doyle’s new structure—a review of the project calls it some sort of broadcast station or something. No one bothered explaining why it was in the middle of the desert, about an hour even from here.

So she met me at a mostly abandoned mom-and-pop café. It smelled more like tobacco than coffee, and that tainted a bit of the taste, I won’t lie.

“Never talked about any trouble at work.” She said. She looked exhausted, and given the weird hours, this was probably a between jobs meeting. “You know, normal ‘wish got paid more’ and ‘working long hours’ stuff.”

“No one outside of work who might have…taken an opportunity?” I said, tapping my chin. “Any fights before or people who might have a grudge?”

“Not that he talked about.” She said, shaking her head and stirring the sugar in her coffee. “I mean, I guess I never know right?”

I nodded and looked over the notes again.

“Did he talk about…hm. How to say this…” I said tapping my chin. “Did he stay out late or talk about meeting someone? Things can go bad after hours, especially in construction work.”

She thought for a moment after that. Took a sip of her coffee—it’d gone cold already.

“There was a meeting or two he went to. Apparently they were organizing a soccer thing after work or something. Blow off steam you know, there’s always someone pushing for everyone at the office to be a team.” She said, looking at the cup a bit more.  “I don’t think he’d get killed over that though. I mean, folks get heated over that stuff but like. Not that heated right?”

It probably wasn’t soccer. I mean, they might have played soccer, but if there was a meeting that got him murdered, it wasn’t a soccer league. Murders like that, they happened yeah. But there wasn’t a clean cover up, and usually there was a bit more pissing and moaning. If I wanted to get to the heart of the matter, it was time to take a look around the last place he was seen.

The concrete monument rises about an hour outside town. Hexagonal rooms jut out form the side, the wall not yet wrapped around them. It was like looking at the cracked core of a giant bee hive, all around the pale concrete bone of some giant. The sky was dark grey, the clouds dimming even the bright lights of the sunset.

I had tried figuring out what this was, before I set out to poke around. But even parking my car and looking over it—guards mostly gone for the day—I still had no idea. It was supposed to be offices, but this many offices in the middle of the desert was nonsense. More likely, Mr. Doyle had placed some research or monitoring out here. Something that needed peace and quiet.

I walked in through the back, moving through the unfinished skeleton. Passed the iron fence, there were deep pits into the ground—given the iron girders that spiderwebbed in them.  I peaked down a few and well. They were weird. All pointing inward, not cross hatching at all. Looked like a giant iron toothed worm had died trying to escape the ground.

I’m not an architect, but I don’t think those are meant to be like that. The lack of any sort of…anything really to stop someone from just falling in felt off. Yeah, OSHA was a joke when it came to men like Doyle—that wasn’t news, he probably had an automatic withdraw to pay the fines when they came up. But this seemed dangerous, wasteful, and weird—usually you only get two out of three.

That said, no body, no bloodshed, nothing that seemed out of the ordinary. So, clicking my flash light on and tapping my camera, down into the deep I went. Past the silent mixers and looming crane, past the packed up drills and machines, scanning the shadows for any signs of life or light. It had been days. There wasn’t likely to be much here. But you have to check…just in case someone missed something.

The insides weren’t finished, although they were far enough along that you could see the outlines of familiar places. Front desk, elevator shafts bare and open, restrooms without doors or toliets but shaped like restrooms. It was all mundane, all the same as you’d find in a hundred other business parks.

It made the center stand out.

There was a wide hole in the center of the room, around the bare concrete and tiling. It was lipped, probably to hold some corporate seal. But there was wooden 2X4s over the thing…and tapping it, it rang hollow.

Ripping up the floor of a building under construction is…well, it’s the sort of thing that blows your cover wide open. I paced around the edge, looking for any bits that were loose enough—until I realized the easy option. The elevator.

Now climbing down an elevator shaft at night is not safe. Climbing down an unfinished one is even less safe. Climbing down an unfinished one in hopes you’ll find something incriminating is down right dangerous. Still, down I went.

It was a long climb, down past the unfinished parking lot and storage areas—all empty, identical rooms, the elevator doors not even put in. No, the first set of closed doors was all the way at the bottom—and crowbarring those open took some work. Still, I got into the long and empty room beneath the seal.

It was some sort of office, or workshop. Lots of measuring equipment, papers pinned to walls—papers I took a quick pick of, circles and measurements and so on. There was some…well, weird equipment too. Scalpels and gem cutting tools, a set of microscopes and magnifying glasses at the center. Sheets of gold leaf and silver and copper. Some weird coins hanging from the ceiling.

I took pictures of all of it, as close as I could. And it was in the flashes that something else caught my eye. It was the reflected flash in a ruby—a ruby set in a pushed aside model, of a city surrounded by a circle.



So this took forever, and not because it was good nor because the story in question was particularly hard to work with. It’s been sometime since I worked on a mystery, and frankly it was a bit too ambitous and placed in the wrong point in a story to work in 1500 words. That and the holiday season really extended this much longer than it needed to.

I will see you next Wednesday for the last bit of research for the year!

Seeking Wisdom

This Week’s Prompt: 121. Photius tells of a (lost) writer named Damascius, who wrote “Incredible Fictions,” “Tales of Daemons,” “Marvellous Stories of Appearances from the Dead”.

The Prior Research:The Last of His Kind

Oil lamps illuminated the faces of the Muses, painted eyes watching over the scrolls of lore. It was my honor to attend to such texts—the Imperial archives, surviving riot and war, time and time again.  Sophia smiled on us still, we her sacred stewards under the Aquilla. Still, even among such scholars, neophytes whisper. There are old texts here, of course. There are texts that were penned by ancient men, in times of light amongst the dark.

But the stories that linger around men of learning. The common folk say we peddle in secrets that can cure warts, that can send misfortune on our enemies, that can alter the fate of princes. We do know many things, lost to most—collections of lore on the body, how the stars can effect the fates of persons upon birth, the histories and philosophies of leadership. But there is nothing wicked about such knowledge, rightly gained and earned.

Still, such stories color ones mind, when a man enters the hall, his hood pulled over his veiled face, hand covered by a falconers glove. In the light of the oil lamps, his white robe caught the shadows—it looked pockmarked. Something about his gait alarmed me—my eyes went around his robe, looking for signs of grease, catching a feather caught at the bottom of his robe and dust stains lining the edge. Repulsive.

Still, he approached. When he drew close, I saw that beneath his veil was a mask—a mask of well-worn ivory, with carved carnelian lips. His voice was weak, like the wind moving through the reeds of the river.

“Honored master, I have traveled far and long.” He said in practiced tones, stumbling slightly in his Greek. “I am seeking wisdom that I have heard is in your house. I ask for some sanctuary, that I might cultivate in myself better virtue.”

Practiced words, practiced pleas. Hollow and rotten from over use, no doubt. No, no there was something wrong with his manner, his gesture. No, he was here for some other reason. An ill wind followed him in. But it would not behoove a man of learning to dismiss a man without reason. So I drew up my conviction and waved my hand to brush aside his request.

“I am afraid, supplicant, that this honored library is in need of more than sophistry. We cannot permit you entry on such grounds.” I said. The man’s left hand shook at his side—a strange convulsion, but sinister.  He bowed his head and stepped back slightly.

“I see, I see. I shall return then; I shall return with more promising requests.” He bowed slightly, turning to leave. Even his gait, staggered and creaking like a broken automaton, was unsettling. I gave a brief prayer, and returned, hoping to forget his visage by morning.

It was alarming, then, when he returned the next day. This time he came, shambling mass, with a scroll in his hand. I took it quickly—and inside found a commendation from a scholar I spoke often of in Athens. The speed was surprising, until I saw the date so inscribed—this abhorrence had traveled far it seemed. That at least was not a lie.

“This is quite impressive, but we are not open to all—this place is under imperial aegis.” I said, shaking my head. The man inhaled sharply, hissing like a serpent as he stared at me through veil and mask.

“This is unreasonable, teacher. I wish to read only a tome, for my own understanding. Is that not the purpose of wisdom, to share it like the light of heaven?” he said—before coughing into his robe and glaring at me with hate. “If you fear I am here to make off with your scrolls, you may attend me—even a man such as you would be able to over power me in this wretched state.”

This…was true. His form seemed light, robes hanging from his frame like they would from a dying oak. And unobserved, he might make off with some texts for some distant Persian. I sighed and nodded.

“Very well. What wisdom drives you to such lengths?” I said, gesturing at the many, many shelves of scrolls. The man seemed contented, leaning back some.

“It is a text by Damascius of Athens, last of that pagan line. Marvelous stories of Demons is the title.” He said, scratching at his chest. I caught a glimpse at his wrist beneath his gloves—how many sores were on his arms. Some seemed to ooze pus and blood. Maybe it was the oil lamp.

“Well, I think I know that text.” I said, taking a moment to consult the inventory before leading him back, deeper and deeper. His steps followed, stilted and scrapping on the stone. Such a broken wretched shape—but he had come with commendation with Athens. And I could not turn him away, not yet for that.

But his coughing, his hacking and wheezing. It was stifling, and seemed to douse the lamps momentarily with the phlegm he spewed. At last, not to far from the entrance, but when we were alone, I turned to face him again.

“Sir, please, you must leave. You may be a scholar of good intent, and wisdom you do profess, but I cannot risk that you will riddle these halls with your misfortune. Plague and bile spews from your mouth—go now, before a black death comes to the wise and learned of this house!” I said, pointing out ward, my own lamp held high. He recoiled at the light—but in silence acquiesced. And gone he was, from this house of wisdom, even if the air of his presence remained.

Of course, he returned. Like the pestilence that clung to him, he returned. An old itch on a royal thigh, with a letter of health from many a doctor—many of repute, who attested not only his health, but that whatever illnesses and conditions he had, they were not present in the miasma. He had many herbs sewn into his cloak now, to keep the stagnant air at bay.

“Now, at last, may I seek my text?” He asked, his irritation clear. I acquiesced, biting my tongue. It seemed no matter the documents or proofs I needed, he would find them. So at last, we returned to those muse lined halls.

He coughed hacked, but no mucus was left in his wake. Perhaps there was something to the assertations that these outbursts were like the twitches of muscle memory. He staggered, he stumbled, he cursed. But this would get him free of my hair, so we sought his book.

“Here, the complete writings of Damascius.” I said, holding the lamp to the collection of scrolls. The man’s hands shot up like a coiled viper. Grabbing a scroll, he opened it swiftly, and placed it to the side. Another, another like a grotesque hundred limbed spider seizing flies.

In moment’s he had emptied the first shelf, and was panting with effort.

“There is no need for such strenuous—”

“I seek neither your opinion nor consul.” He said in a low growl, as he turned through another book. “Where is it, where is it? It must be amongst these, somewhere, somewhere.”

And he began to pull free the second set of scrolls—but in that moment his arm froze. His other hand gripped his chest and he panted. He swore in some alien tongue, his finger nails dragging on the wood as he collapsed before me. My heart, normally an open wound, felt nothing as he expired.

And then the next moment, alarm struck me. As man became corpse, before my eyes, fear struck me. There was a dead man in my house of knowledge! A man who died seeking my understanding! A morbid and frightful curiosity came over me, as I stood over what was once so wretched. I saw he had fallen, his mask knocked askew. And beneath, I saw something foul.

It was as if to stare into death itself. How had such a man, more miasma and malformed rot than flesh, survived to seek me? What had driven him, that this apparition of Hell did not stall or stop him?

I wrote a letter with this inquiry to my college in Athens, who spoke so highly of the man. It was my embarrassment to not know his name—nor did any of the doctors, who wanted him out of their offices as fast as they could.  But he was so striking, that I was sure my colleague would remember him and his miasma of rot. It rattled my brain, how my emotions were quickened when he expired. Should it not be the reverse?

Why should I feel more sorrow for a corpse than a man?

My friend’s missive came in its time, almost a year since the stranger’s passing. He was distraught at the death of his friend, a fellow he knew well—destined for the priesthood, he said, and a bright young philosopher. He had some accident in the woods of Macedonia, my friend said, and had been seeking cure to his affliction. Fate had turned her face from him, and the Devil had filled him with afflicitons.  

He had no known cure, and concluded that some spirit of the woods—perhaps some old phantom of a bygone age, still trapped here on its why to the beyond—was quarrelling with him. Especially as illness seemed to afflict him, and sleep fled him. He hoped that whatever affliction it was, it did not follow him still into the bosom of the Lord.


I wanted to do another historical piece, and found the idea of a character seeking the work I myself couldn’t find appealing. This definitely drew more from ideas of misfortune bringing demons then anything else. I’m rather content with this one. If I rewrite it for Patreon, it will probably take a radical new direction–or expand on the ending, having the confused master of the library seeking what caused the illness. I also would have done more historical research on the actual running of an ancient library!

Next time, we will discuss a 11th century story of the fantastic! I will see you then!

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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