The Rats Are Closing In

This Week’s Prompt:73. Rats multiply and exterminate first a single city and then all mankind. Increased size and intelligence.

The Resulting Story: Squeaks in the Night

Rats. Famine and plague, gnawing away at the world. Rats. Rats are such terrible, and perhaps awful creatures—they appear in horror and folklore in many places and many ways, gruesome and terrible. And still in fantasy and modern writing—we’ll get to those in a moment, but rats are rather vicious creatures frequently. And this trait of rats is not new.

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One of the most gruesome forms of rats in folklore is the rat king. No, not a fantasy creature. Rather, the rat king is a terrible phenomenon. A number of rat corpses, with tails knotted together. The result is a strange selection of bodies, tied into a ring and sometimes difficult to distinguish. Such discoveries are ill omens, markers of plagues, particularly common in Germany.

Germany has two other rat stories of note, regarding wide spread destruction and social unrest. The Pied Piper of Hamelin is the more famous of the two. The story says that the town of Hamelin had a problem with rats—so great that it was willing to offer the gold to have them removed. A piper, in many colors (pied), offered to do the feat. The song brought the rats after him, and all but one drowned in the river.

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The piper returned to receive his pay. But the mayor refused to pay him the agreed upon amount—either refused to pay at all or refused to pay the full fee. Enraged, the piper promised his revenge. And soon got it—he played his song again. This time, he lured the children away. The entire towns children walked away—except sometimes for three: a blind one, a deaf one, and a lame one. Sometimes, the piper leads them to a happy kingdom. Sometimes to Transylvania. Sometimes he returns them for ransom. Sometimes they are drowned.

The other, grim story with rats is the Mouse Tower. Hatto the Second, cruel archbishop of Maiz built a tower on an island. He demanded tribute from passing ships, having archers destroy those who would not comply. In 974, a famine struck and the wicked archbishop sold his stock of granaries at exorbitant prices to the peasants. As they grew irritably, and almost came to revolt, the bishop hatched a new plan. A terrible plan.

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The archbishop announced that for one day, he would throw the granary doors open. The peasants were delighted, and on the day, the rushed into the barn. The archbishop closed the door behind them, barring it with wood and posting guards around. And then he burnt it down, declaring “listen to the mice squeal!”

Returning home, the Archbishop did hear them squeak. For an army of mice besieged him and his, threatening to overwhelm his castle. In fear, the Archbishop fled to his island tower, assuming the mice could not swim. And he was right—the mice died in droves chasing him. However, some reached the island. Enough arrived to eat down the door, and reach the top floor. There, they devoured Hatto the Second alive. A near identical story is told in Poland.

Rats are also known for predicting disasters: Pliny, for instance, ascribes them the ability to detect and predict coming wars and disasters. The mice and rats reveal this by eating various items of clothing and army equipment. A similar incident resulted in the founding of Hamaxitus—a wandering band of warriors were told to settle wherever the ‘earth born’ attacked them. Reaching a field, the band was attacked at night by an army of mice who chewed their leather straps away. As home to the plague and predictor god Apollo—his sun element came later—the city fused the two into a worship of Apollo of Mice.

Compare as well to the mice of Karni Mata Temple, who are believed to be the re-incarnation of Karni Mata and all her male children. In particular, the white rats are believed to be these incarnations, and eating the food they’ve nibbled is considered one of the highest honors.

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In Japan, Daikokuten the god of wealth and abundance is associated with rats. In fact, rats often come around his rice bowl as a sign of abundance. The god of the kitchen, known for his great grin, is an amazing god of the household.

The Ainu, who are natives to those islands, have a more interesting and mixed story of the origins of rats that, in fact, resembles our prompt in the broad strokes. The creator deity—my Ainu folklore documents are from a missionary, and thus have a rather distinct Christian edge—was fond of all he created. The evil one, the devil, came and mocked the creator still. In response, the Creator made a rat on the evil one’s back and set it to bite off his tongue. The evil one in turn retaliated by compelling rats to multiply until they became a nuisance and threatened all humanity. The Ainu gathered and prayed for relief from the rats—and this resulted in the creation of cats by the Creator to aid them.

Another Ainu tale tells of how mice or rats were created at the village Erum kotan. Folklore says the people of Erum kotan, or ‘rat place’ worship rats and make offerings to the family of rats—and the chief of rats is the mouse. If the tribe of rats is not appeased, they destroy gardens and inflict famine, and it is in honor of these rats that no cat is allowed to be carried by the shore, let alone let onto the island.

More monstrous rats come from Chile and the Mapuche—the Colo Colo. A rat like creature that lurks in rafters, the Colo Colo hatches from a snake egg that has been nurtured by a rooster. It feeds on the saliva of the houses inhabitants. Like a vampire, this draining of liquid leaves the victim exhausted or even kills them. Removing the monster requires a shaman.

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These stories of rats are more mixed then I expected, although that might be popular cultures influence. Rats associations with plague have been played up more recently as of late. And by late, I mean perhaps as far as the turn of the century. Count Orlok, the second most famous vampire in the world, is modeled on a rat in order to distinguish him from the more seductive and charismatic Dracula. Star Vs The Forces of Evil highlights rats as a group of corn devouring forces of evil. Large rats lurk in the fire swamps of Princess Bride. Redwall apparently features a number of rats—I admit, I never read the series.

Our story is something more akin to myth then most of these. The rats grow in size and number and intellect after ravaging a city—in a way, they resemble a comic by Zach Wienersmith (yes, that’s his name):

Our story is an apocalyptic even, where by humanity’s epoch ends and a new age begins under a different creatures rule. Comparable stories have been told on this premise, typically with apes more than rats but still present. And that..brings me to one more note before discussing our story. The choice of animal here may be coincidence, but I feel like the choice by Howard of ‘rats’ indicates a rather specific anxiety. Mr. Lovecraft’s antisemitism and racism are a matter of the public record, and the associations of the Jewish people with rats is equally a matter of public record—particularly in the 1930s and 40s, under the Nazi regime in Germany. The undercurrent, then, of humanity being replaced by rats from a city is…troubling. I don’t mean to say that such a story will have such undercurrents, but to avoid them they must be addressed. It might do well in our story to examine the fullness of the rats mythical and folkloric nature—as an arbiter often of divine will and justice it seems—then to go with mere plague and famine.

Mr. Lovecraft himself featured rats in a story about degeneracy—titled “The Rats in the Walls”, the story has come up before, and deals with cannibalism, cruelty, and the decay of aristocratic bloodlines. I am…not planning on such a story being the center piece of our own work.

The trick then is determining the narrative for this story as an apocalypse. We have to cover a large amount of time—the annihilation of one city, the collapse of civilization as a whole, and the increasingly intelligent rats. One way around this, to keep a single character running through the story as a whole, is to make the story post-rat. This would make the world something what we did with Gil’s Gone—a human characters or character who survived the initial rise of rodents, now in alien warrens and cities. The last gasp of humanity, before being devoured. The story would need more than “last man standing” as a plot, however. And we would need more than one character. There’s some work still needed for this concept. A friend of mine, who is rather fond of rats—she keeps a few as pets—has discussed rat social structures with me. According to here, and a brief examination of Wikipedia, rat social structures do exist and often contain power struggles by means of play fighting and what she termed ‘power grooming’. In cramped spaces, they become aggressive and fight differently than when they play. Their behaviors can be expanded to some social behaviors, seen from the outside.

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All Hallows Night

This Weeks Prompt: 72. Hallowe’en incident—mirror in cellar—face seen therein—death (claw-mark?).

The Resulting Research: Polished Silver Distorts The Eye

The autumn wind was cool on my face. The grinning faces of the jack o lanterns weren’t enough for warmth. It was that most wonderful night of scares and sweets. The most wonderful night of the year. I went to the old haunt of my ghastly crew—the iron gate near the graveyard, where it had been agreed we’d all meet.

Jordan and Lamark were the first to arrive. Jordan had painted his face green and had two cardboard ‘bolts’ sticking out of his neck—Frankenstein, I think. Or the monster from Frankenstein? Or Frankenstein’s monster? The scary dead man. Lamark was in a black and white skeleton costume—Did they meet up and decide to both go as scary dead people? Maybe. Maybe.

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“So, we’ll circuit around the Renolds and then to the Prices.” Jordan said, gesturing at the hand drawn map in his hand. “The Renolds have the most candy, but everyone knows that. If we don’t hit them up early, they’ll be out by the time we get there. And the Prices are nearby, but Mr. Price goes to bed early, so we need to go there next.”

“But the Prices give out those hard candies!” Lamark protested.

“Right, but my cousin loves those. We can trade them for some chocolate coins he finds somewhere.” Johnny said, nodding.

“Your cousin’s weird.”

“The weirdest. Alright, and then after the Prices, we…” Johnny said, continuing along the route through town. I nodded, walking the route in my mind as I clutched my bucket.

“…and then we all meet up back here. Now, where’s Phil?” Johnny said, rolling up the map. I looked around for Phil. He was always late, every year. If he was very late, he might cost us the Price’s candy. Lamark started tapping his foot impatiently, until at last Phil’s heavy breathing could be heard. Wrapped in rags—again with the scary dead people, was that all they could think of?–Phil came up the hill, wheezing and staggering.

“Sorry, sorry. Had to—had to get around the Collins house.” Phil said waving his hand. “Took longer then…then expected.”

“You could’ve just walked past it. House is harmless.” Johnny said shrugging. I nodded in agreement. I’d been to the Collin’s house a few times, and there was nothing wrong with it. It was just old.

“Harmless? I’ve seen things there, man. It’s haunted, I swear—there’s lights in the middle of the night, and Luke saw someone digging around in the yard, but there weren’t a hole there in the morning.”

“Yeah, because you fill up holes after you dig them, moron.” Lamark said, rolling his eyes. “I mean, he’s probably looking for the Collin’s gold.”

“The Collins what now?” Johnny said, turning to Lamark.

“Their gold. My grandpa said the Collin’s great granpa—uh, well great granpa when he was a kid, so great great granpa I think?—got rich off something in China, and were paid in tons of gold. Buried it near the house, in case he needed to find it and to stop the government from taxing them over it.”

“And it still there?” Johnny asked, thinking a bit.

“Course it is. I mean, if it wasn’t, we’d hear about it right?” Lamark said.

“…Right, what if—hear me out—what if we just gave the place a quick look on the way back? I mean, we cut across there between the Avery’s and the Johanson’s. Just a quick stop, you know, see if we can find anything.” Johnny said, unrolling his map to point. I frowned. If we stopped, we might miss some of the candy, and then what was the point?

“Tonight? You want to go tonight? If it’s haunted, it’ll be haunted tonight!” Philip protested.

“What are you, five? There aren’t any ghosts there. Just an old house that might have some buried treasure.” Johnny said, waving his hand. “Sides, if there are any ghosts, we’ll just scare’em off.”

“…Fine.” Phil relented.

I sighed and took the back as we walked down the sidewalk, heading towards at least the first candy.

*

The Collins house looks old, even nearby. The roofs look heavy on bent wooden walls. The panels have swollen with rain and paint. The yard is over grown, more weeds then grass. In the spring, dandelions and bright yellow flowers bloom. But in the fall, its brown and marshy and dead. The fall had gotten rid of any buzzing mosquitoes, or weaving spiders. Orange leaves pilled around the single lone, bent over tree. There were strange colors along the bark where lighting had struck not long ago. The wind ruffled the dying grass.

“Right, not that hard see?” Johnny said, unlatching the gate with a stick and walking over the drive way, broken by roots.

“Yeah, but a stop with no candy still seems stupid.” Lamark said, shivering a bit. I had to agree—we had a good haul so far, but it could have been bigger.

“Who knows, we might find some souvieners.” Johnny said, shrugging. Phil was to busy cowering to complain. Well, to complain loudly. I heard his mutterings of how foolish it was to be wandering this far out, at this hour, on this night, to a haunted house.

“Or maybe something to trade for candy or something. Besides, what if we get to see a ghost?”

“Thought you said ghosts weren’t real.”

“Probably, but I mean, it’d be cool if they were right?” Johnny said, walking up to the rotted door.

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It gave when he pushed, the knob worn and rusted. The floor creaked in as we followed, the dust thick on the ground and the tatters of cob webs spun over the stairs. A starved spider dangled from the rafters, swaying in the wind. Our flashlights fanned out faster then us, checking for a glimmer of silver or gold.

We were quiet as the grave as we walked, each plank creaking or crunching. The house was bare—no chairs, no tables, not cups, no food, nothing. Utterly hollow inside, even the wallpaper peeled away to leave barren gray planks.

Johnny wanted to go upstairs, but there was no way Phil was going to cross the ruins of arachnid civilization. He was convinced spiders were lurking as ghosts right there, unseen and unheard. Not that what Lamark found next was much better.

“No. No no. No no no. Not the basement. Come on, I don’t even go into my basement.” Phil said, staring at the small stairway down.

“Won’t go in the attic, won’t go down the stairs…Come on Phil, if you were gonna stash something, you’d put it down there right?” Lamark said. “We’ll just go down, have a peak around, and come right back up, then off to the Vernon’s place for more candy.”

“No, no way. I’m not going down there.” Phil said, shaking his head. “Nothing good’s down there.”

“Fine, if your gonna be that way, you can stay up here alone as look out. Lamark and me will go down, see that there’s nothing, and come right back so you can get some sweets. Or, better yet, you can just run home.” Johnny said, descending back down, before Phil could respond. Lamark shrugged and went down as well, with me nearly knocking Phil over as I followed behind.

The basement was mostly empty. A few tarps, a broken smatterings of wood. Lamark sighed with relief—until another light shown back at us. Johnny laughed when he shouted, putting his hand on his shoulder and pointing.

“Well, we found something.” Johnny said. It was a small sliver of mirror, under a tarp—barely shining the light back at us.

“We could probably take it back.” Johnny said, walking up to it. It was small-ish, maybe as big as a small pillow. “Think it’ll look neat.”

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“Heh, like you need to see your face more often.” Lamark said nervously, still scanning the room with his flashlight. “Well, we looked around…Better head back up.”

“Yeah, yeah, just let me see this.” Johnny said, removing the tarp from the mirror.

And then he saw me. I waved, and he made a horrible noise.

And then Lamark made the horrible noise when I tried to stifle Johnny’s noise, his fake bolt hitting the mirror. Lamark ran up the stairs as I pushed Johnny against the mirror. I don’t know if he saw me, but I heard the door slam shut. I turned after him, forgetting that I left a bit of a red claw mark on the mirror. I got up the stairs in no time, and saw Phil standing there. Staring at me, red dripping from my fingers, candy fallen on the ground. Phil, to his credit, didn’t run this time.


This story was fun to write, even if the climax was a bit rushed. The writing was delayed some by moving, but actually came fairly naturally. It’s a bit of a common of a ghost story, and  I think the ending is broadcast rather clearly. Still, even if a few months early for the great holiday, I enjoyed it!

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Polished Silver Distorts The Eye

This Weeks Prompt: 72. Hallowe’en incident—mirror in cellar—face seen therein—death (claw-mark?).

The Resulting Story: All Hallows Night

This prompt brings a few easily linked pieces of lore and understanding—mirrors, faces, and Halloween. We’ve discussed some of these before, mirrors notably here, but there is more to discuss then one post could entirely cover.

The role of the mirror in folklore is often one of truth revealing or deception. A mirror provides a clear reflection, or the clearest we can have, of the world around it. In times of antiquity, these mirrors were rare as well—and often made of silver, making them signs of wealth and the supernatural. It isn’t surprising then that many mirrors were in fact used in scrying and other magic for knowledge.

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The Yata No Kagami

One of the most famous instances in particular of a mirror for truth is the Yata no Kagami, part of the Imperial Regalia of Japan. The mirror, dating back to to before 690 A.D. was used to lure Amaterasu back from her retreat into a cave. Like the other elements of the Regalia, the mirror was gifted to Amaterasu’s grandson when he set about unifying Japan and becoming emperor.

Not far from Japan, the mirror has a special role in Buryat and Mongolian shamanism. The Toli is a specially prepared ritual mirror that is capable of interacting with the supernatural. The mirror is circular, and among the Daur people has notable qualities of purifying water, contacting spirits, and healing wounds. In some cases they even contained the horses of the shaman, and might be layered as symbols of power—the more mirrors accumulated, the stronger the shaman was.

In more mundane uses, mirrors have been used as ways of contacting the beyond. One mirror was carefully made for the purpose as a part of the spiritualist movement—a movement we’ve discussed a number of times—that involves allowing the mirror to face nothing but a black ceiling so the dead may enter. By holding a candle close, users may see their dead loved ones.

Another folklore blog has noted a New England tradition by which one would discover their true love by walking down the stairs and looking into a mirror. Reciting words over the mirror while doing so reveals in it the image of one’s true love—or a coffin, which means they will die soon and alone! Of course, given falling down the stares because your focused and chanting over a mirror…well,I imagine it’d be dangerous for spell casters. 

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An Aztec Illustration Of A Mirror

In more ornate cases of mirror divination, various Mesoamerican cultures made use of obsidian mirrors to contact the world of the dead. The Maya depict their mirrors as tools of kings, and often hand held (although some larger illustrations show mirrors held by dwarfs and servants). The Aztecs believed the god Smoking Mirror observed all the world through his mirror of gold (his idol was made of obsidian, implying perhaps that all mirrors were his eyes into the world—a horror concept if I have heard of one). Spanish forces and authors attributed more to the fear and superstition of mirrors. Bernardino de Sahagun described the following occurrence:

The seventh sign or omen is that waterbird hunters caught a brown bird the size of acrane, and they brought it to Moctezuma to show him, he was in the room they call Tlillancalmecac. It was after midday. This bird had on its forehead a round mirror in which could be seen the sky and stars, especially the Mastelejos near the Pleiades. Moctezuma was afraid when he saw this, and the second time he looked into the mirror that the bird had, there he saw nearby a crowd of people gathered who came mounted on horses. And Moctezuma than called his augurs and diviners and he asked them “Don’t you know what this means? That many people are coming.” And before the diviners could reply, the bird disappeared, and they said nothing.”

One of these obsidian mirrors made it into the possession of famed occultist and astrologer John Dee—and is still in the British Muesum to this day.

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John Dee’s Mirror

Another famed folklore mirror is in the one on the wall in Snow White. Here again the mirror serves as a vehicle of truth and vanity—it does not give the answer desired, but the honest one. The other major mirror I recall from folklore—and more accurately, from an original fairy tale—is the one crafted in the opening of the Snow Queen. This mirror is again related to sight, but this time is related to the distortion of sight. The mirror, upon shattering, splinters the Devil’s work across the world. The mirror causes cynicism and despair in those who’s souls it penetrates.

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Another story from Granada deals with revealing of the truth by a mirror—the mirror is held by the barber, to find a potential wife for the king. The mirror will reveal blemishes of the soul on the silver of the mirror, helping the barber find a proper wife no matter rank or birth. This of course has the intended effect, and a proper but lowly wife is found. You can find the story here.

Delving a bit backwards for a moment, and dealing with a mirror that effects apperances and horror, we can consider Perseus. Danae, Perseus’s mother, was cast to sea after giving birth to him—long story, involves Zeus and a prophecy about Perseus murdering his grandfather—and upon washing ashore in Serifos, they were taken in by a fishermen and brother of the King. The King of Serifos desired Danae, but Perseus was a danger to his advances. At a party, Perseus rashly promised the king anything he desired—and the King asked for the head of the Gorgon Medusa, who’s form was so frightening that she turned men to stone with fright. To abbreviate the story, Perseus slays the monster with a mirror shield, avoiding directly gazing on the gorgon. Placing her head in a satchel, and ignoring the two creatures that spring from her neck (Pegasus and Chyrsoar), Perseus heads home to complete his story—which bears little relevance to our prompt.

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The prompt does remind me of a particular Lovecraft story—The Outsider, a Gothic horror story of a man who has spent all his life in a castle. The story follows his escape from isolation and entrance into a world that was naught but stories to him. The story’s conclusion and final twist I’ll not spoil (you can find the story in full here). Other instruments of viewing—such as glass of Leng—stick to the theme of revelation and truth.

The story here more reminds me of the child hood activity of dares—daring someone into the cellar on Halloween night, to gaze upon a mirror in darkness. It’s comparable to the idea of Bloody Mary, who appears by gazing into a mirror in the dark by candle light. Or the Blue Baby story, which poses another legend of a haunted mirror. I think that some combination of the two–the revelation of identity in the mirror and the dare of children–could make for a compelling case.  

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A Prodigal Son Returns

This Week’s Prompt: 71. Man has sold his soul to devil—returns to family from trip—life afterward—fear—culminating horror—novel length.

The Prior Research:Dealing With The Devil

I was on the porch, watching and waiting for Rinaldo’s return. My elder by a few years, he had gone to Germany to learn his letters and then to Russia following a scholar of theology and her child-sciences. I had feared I’d only see him again by chasing after him into the wilds, an idea I wasn’t necessarily opposed to. I was understandably delighted with mother and father when we received the message that he was coming home.

Our village was small—only the priest knew letters and numbers well. Rinaldo had managed to go abroad only after living in town for months and working himself to the bone while learning. They seemed magical, the scraps of paper and marks of the quill that transformed our misty covered home. With one hand they took, the other hand they gave, marking the words of the King and God as they went.

When Rinaldo broke the morning mist His sallow skin and bagged eyes gave that away as he walked down the path to our farm. My good brothers back was bent some, as if a rock bent him over. He came back wearing a fine red cap and dull cloak, a bag of belongings in his hand as and a iridescent feather sticking from his brow. Not waiting for him to get close, I rushed down to hug him close.

There was a pause on impact—a moment of uncertainty. That was to be expected—my brother had been slow even as a child, and no doubt exhaustion had made him slower. What I did not expect was for him to remain stiff as a board before resting a hand on my head and pushing me back.

“Off.” He said, his voice with none of the playful teasing I’d expected. When I took a moment to move, startled by his demeanor, he growled and pulled me back by the hair. “I said off.”

I stared as he continued down the path to our parents, who looked on a bit confused. They told me when I came in not to worry much on it. Rinaldo had been away for a long time, and was no doubt quite tired—travel and exhaustion change people, and no doubt after a good meal and rest Rinaldo would be back.

He stayed in his room for most of dinner—when at last he descended, he didn’t speak a word and took his plate with him to his study. My parents comforted themselves—exhaustion might have eaten at him, or perhaps he was in no mood for conversation. His absence at grace was troubling too. He had been a very prayerful person before his departure. Very talkative as well.


The next day, I went out as always to gather flowers on the hill before helping in the field to cheer him up. I was certain that would cheer him up—buttercups were an excellent cure for almost anything. It was almost harvest time, and mother and father needed all hands to keep the rodents away. When I ran up the field, I felt something crawl on my back. I turned around, and saw a single eye staring from Rinaldo’s room, barely illuminated in the twilight. It was uneasy, that eye—it seemed to clear and large to be Rinaldo’s, but it had some semblance. My body trembled and I felt as if my courage was shaken from me like dust from a cloth. Whatever the strange look from his room was, I had lost all desire to go near my home for the day. Maybe I’d stray into the fields, but the house gave off an unwelcome air.

EyeHouse

Instead, I gathered my flowers and stayed in the field, watching the roads and waiting for the harvesting to start. I gathered a variety of flowers—buttercups, dandelions, all sorts of bright yellow flowers. I made my way towards town, away from my house. Dealing with Rinaldo, in his poor state, was beyond me this early in the morning. It was on the road that I saw her.

Lady DeFronte…I had known her as a highly respectable woman of the town. Dressed in her finery, she was walking alone the other way, all in green and red, with a strange look on her face. She barely noticed when I called out to her and waved—at first I took this to be the airs of a well off woman, who were wont to ignore children. But as she drew close, I saw a serene smile on her face, her eyes fixed ahead.

“Oh, Rinaldo’s younger. Is he returned yet?” She said when I got close enough to wave more pressingly.

“He came back yesterday. But he’s in a sour mood for now, I wouldn’t bother seeing him.”

“Oh, well, I will see what I can do about that.” She said her eyes fixed at some point past me, still smiling. She walked off before I could reply. I watched her walk off, her gait a bit stilted and strange.

I continued down the road to town, and saw a young bakers wife coming up the road with the morning’s bread. She had that same peaceful serene look, and waved passively back as I went along my way. I tried to warn her too about Rinaldo’s temper and mood, but she ignored me and carried on with her walk.

In town, nothing seemed amiss. I had meant to stop at the bakers to get bread, but that seemed pointless now. So instead I went about looking for a present or trinket for Rinaldo—something that might help anchor him back home. I looked around the market a bit, for some little thing, when a bit of movement caught my eye. I hadn’t seen the culprit clearly, but the size of the shape convinced me a stray cat had slipped down a corner. Forgetting my prior quest, I chased after the shape, and caught sight of it more clearly when it stood perched in the window sill.

It was like a rat in shape, the same thin hairless tail. But it was the size of a cat, with hands like a monkey. Its head, which appeared like a man, was tilted down to better fix its goat eyes upon me.It stared at me intently, and I felt that same disdain as at my home—a mixture of revulsion and fear that held me in place and nudged me back. It bared it’s mouth open at me, showing snake’s fangs along side a host of others, and made a low hissing noise when I tentatively took a step forward.

Strange Rat

And then it was gone, into the house on which it was perched. I stared at the space it had left behind, before retreating. I lingered around town a bit more, visiting the smith’s son and the carpenter’s children. But even as we played in the streets, tossing stones, fighting with sticks, and other games, I felt that unease. That pair of eyes lurking on roofs or behind doors, staring hatefully. Animals do not look like that.

Eventually, I decided to head home. I knew mother and father would be cross by now, but I hoped I could explain it away. On the way back, I felt a sigh of relief. The road was free of the strange eyes that shown. Night was coming soon, but that merely painted the sky red instead as the stars began to shine. I had discarded my old flowers—most had wilted by now, except one I kept behind my ear. It was sturdy and fresh, until the house came into sight. I felt it wilt into a sickly shape as I stepped onto the door and slipped inside.


The house was dark. And almost silent, save strange scrapping and settling sounds. My courage again fled, as I crossed the threshold. Turning into the kitchen, I saw mother and father seated in their chairs, eating quietly—but the thing on the table was a fowl I’d never seen before. It was colored wrong—almost bronze and with flesh that smelled slightly.

Fearful of punishment and of the strange meal, I slowly walked to the table. Neither greeted me when I sat down. I reached out slowly to cut a piece of the strange meat, but felt an smack on hand. I recoiled and glanced around. Neither of my parents had moved. I tried again, more cautiously this time, but the pain on my hand returned. Terrified now at the invisible force, I pushed back and left the table.

My parents didn’t say a word.

It didn’t matter where I went in the house—there was that feeling in the air of something rotten and wrong. My heart raced, and my brain filled with terrors that refused to take on a good shape—that something lurked just out of sight, or beneath the chairs and floorboards. The roof of the attic shook, and I heard moans and the scraping of furniture on the floor above me.

I decided to flee then and there. Even as young as I was, I knew something unholy resided in our house—and looking out the window it wasn’t hard to find. Our crops, our harvest, had been carved strangely. A may pole had been driven into the field, with ribbons running down. Letters ran along the ribbons, which at the end had a pack of strange creatures, visible only slightly by the moonlight. Around and around they went, carving strange rings and spirals into the ground. I felt the strange pressure in my brain, as if the pole were working its way through my skull, carving into my thoughts with a deadening nail. It was not a pain like a slap or a sore, but an ache, like a bruise that was pressed insistently. I saw other figures in the field, drawing closer—a knight clad in red, with a winged shape on his shield, in the distance of the field, with a woman dressed in purple on the back of his monstrous horse. I knew, somewhere in my soul, if I stayed much longer, the pole would fix me in this place.


So I slipped away into the night, back to the road. I knew of one man who knew letters besides Rinaldo, and might know the cause at our home. The priest found me pounding on the chapel door.

“Child, what has you out at this hour?” Father Tabris asked, staring at me.

“Something’s wrong with my brother.” I said, staring up with wide eyes. “He’s…something’s wrong since he’s come home.”

“…come inside, I’ll put some tea on.” Father Tabris said, nodding.

I will give the good Father this—he was very patient with a girl that no doubt seemed mad at first. I hadn’t the forethought to bring proof with me. I had seen the strange goings on by night, and what could I have gathered? The strange rat? A bloody parchment with my brother and the devil’s signature? The poultry? They all repulsed me, and at least one would bite me. Still the Father took it all into consideration. At first I thought it was humor, but I saw in his eyes that something simalir was ruminating.

“I had…concerns about your brother’s arrival. I found a dead cat in the sanctuary, dragged to the altar—and stained on the floor were small hand prints, like it was taken by a violent child or dwarf.” Father Tabris said, looking at his tea. “It wasn’t long before I went and found the creature responsible—at a glance I thought it was a particularly large rat. I drove it off with a stone—or so I thought.”

“Do you know what’s happened with my brother?” I asked. Father Tabris seemed unable to hear, continuing on.

“It was strange, too, that your brother came so soon. I remember, his letter, it seemed so calm in handwriting for a boy coming home to his family. I took it as discipline well exercised—that he had maintained such a hand only after years of penmanship. But perhaps that was another missed warning. Perhaps, I should have seen those shapes in the morning mist—small, mayhaps, but fateful in the end.” Father Tabris said, looking at his silver cross, running his fingers on it.

“Do you know what–”

“Yes, I know what happened to your brother.” Father Trabis said, standing and going to his desk, rifling through his papers. “He has made, I fear, arrangements with a power I cannot compel. Exorcism, sadly, was not much of my teaching. But I am aware of some folk that still lurk abroad…”

“Abroad?”

“Abroad…Not far, but away. I had intended to leave this night alone, but if you too haven’t fallen under his spell—it is best we go together, there is safety in numbers at night and along on the road.”

“Wait, we can’t—leave now? Your a priest!” I said dropping my tea, the clay cracking and the tea running over the floor.

“I am, yes.” Father Trabis said nodding.

“Priests defend their flock from wolves!” I protested.

“Yes, shepherds fend off wolves. But we are not dealing with wolves. We are dealing with bandits in the night—and for that we need a different man of God.” The priest said, shaking his head. “I will not make you come—but your brother’s depredations will only grow.”

We left that night. I hope to return soon.


I am…not happy with this story. I had planned it to be longer (the third act is missing, and the first act/section goes too fast for my liking). It’s a shame that I spent a lot of these last few weeks moving and getting used to a new place–I really think the basic concept here could be a great horror story. Aw well, I suppose that’s for the Patreon next year. Speaking of…

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Dealing With The Devil

This Week’s Prompt: 71. Man has sold his soul to devil—returns to family from trip—life afterward—fear—culminating horror—novel length.

The Resulting Story:Forthcoming!

This month is something of a return to popular topics it seems. Last week, we had the creation of the world out of a person—not that dissimilar to the stories of Leviathan from a few years ago. This week, we return to the archnemesis of mankind and one of the most famed tropes in fiction: a deal with the devil. Through folklore onto plays in Shakespeares day, even into modern television, the Devil is a busy tradesmen and contract writer it seems.

Theophilus Deal With The Devil.png

The first story of a deal with the devil—directly said as such—comes from the early church and Saint Theophilus. Saint Theophilus of Adana was a saint from the early 6th century, who according to the chronicler was a humble man that turned down an appointment to a bishopric. The bishop elected instead refused to give him a post as archdeacon. Now regretting his humility, Theophilus contacted a sorcerer or necromancer, and contacted the devil himself to gain his position. Theophilus renounced the Virgin Mary and Christ, and signed a contract in blood to become a bishop again. The devil fulfilled his end of the arrangement.

Not long later, however, the Saint Theophilus grew afraid for his immortal soul. He fasted for fourty days and prayed for forgiveness from the Virgin Mary. After chastising him, the Virgin Mary went to intercede with God. After another thirty days fasting, she returned and granted him absolution. The devil, displeased, three days later lay the contract on Theophilus’s chest. Theophius takes the contract to a real, non-diabolic bishop, who burns it. The saint then dies of joy.

Codex Gigas.png

This story is among the first we have, but there are many more. Another holy man made a bargain with the devil to complete a bible before dawn in the early 13th century. This holy man had broken his monastic vows, and was in danger of being walled up a live ( a punishment we are familiar with). He prayed to no avail, until at last he called upon the Lord of Darkness. The Archenemy of All Mankind finished the work in an hour, and in memory, the book—now known as the Codex Gigas—contains a large picture of the Devil himself inside.

The greatest holy man to supposedly make deals with the devil was Pope Slyvester II. Pope Slyvester introduced Arabic numerals to the Western Church, and was rumored to have stolen a Arabian sorcerer’s spell book. The sorcerer pursued him, able to see all in heaven and earth by means of the stars, until the man who would be Pope slept atop a bridge in order to evade capture. Later on he used the spell book to summon forth a demonness in order to secure the Papacy, and created a brazen head of bronze that could answer any question posed to it (as long as it was a yes or no question). The demoness or the head warned the Pope that if he gave Mass in Jerusalem, the Devil would slay him—resulting in the pope canceling his planned pilgrimage.

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However, Pope Slyvester II did give a Mass at “The Holy Cross of Jerusalem”. And what happened there is somewhat disputed. One instance says the Pope felt suddenly ill, and requested that after death his body be cut to pieces and scattered. Another says the devil did assault the Pope and ripped out his eyes. The Pope, pentient, chopped off his hands and tongue. After death, legends formed—based on a misreading of his tomb text—that his bones will shake whenever a Pope is close to death.

Another man of learning who regular dealt with the devil—although who never lost his soul in the process—was Saemundur Sigfusson. Saemundur’s deals range from transport back to Iceland on a seal, to learning the Dark Arts from the master himself. In each case, however, Saemundur outwitted the devil, often by causing the devil’s end of the deal to become impossible. For instance, the Devil promised to take him to Iceland on the back of a seal in exchange for his soul. Saemundur, wisely, killed the seal moments before it met the shore and walked off.

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John Fian was a more recent man accused of making deals with the devil. A Scottish schoolmaster, John was accused and confessed under torture to being a witch who had signed a contract with Satan himself. This deal granted him, if accusations are believed, the power to bewitch town folk—including a botched attempt that resulted in seducing a cow—and raising storms to destroy ships. The schoolmaster did, to his credit, claim to renounce Satan to his face. Sadly, he then attempted to flee authorities and was predictably burned alive after a rather nasty torture involving nails.

John Fian features in the book of the same time, the Demonlogiae, by King James. The book contains a section devoted to contracts with the Devil, who takes various forms to render various services. When curing disease, he appears as an animal. When answering great questions, he possesses the body of a dead man to fortell the future (an example of Necromancy, no doubt). Other times, a devil may take the form of a ring or enchanted item, and elementals—those angels that occupy the air, fire, earth, and water of the world—are also fallen devils. The services of the devil are often ones of revelation—often of secrets King James reckons are not to be revealed, as God has sealed them up, or of secrets that do not require diabolic aid. Further, the Devil’s work is accorded to be no more than illusions—his armies are but strange shapes in the wind, for true miracles only God can work.

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That of course, does not mean deals were made only for lofty goals of intellect. The tradition of a devil’s bridge is far more practical then the Faustian search for knowledge. These bridges are built with a pact of the devil and are often believed to be constructions of antiquity. Some versions it is the mason that gives their soul—in others, it is the first person to cross the bridge to give their soul. While there are many versions of the story, one version contains another saint—St. Julian the Hospitaller. The Saint, however, cons the devil by sending a pig or dog across instead of a human being.

Another case of practical skill is a man in Shropeshire wrestled or dealt with the devil for power over motion in many ways. He supposedly was able to compel a man to return to him after leaving a bar and hold him there in place, cast illness with his evil eye, and other nuisances.

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And of course, there is the most famous case of dealings with the forces diabloical—Faust. Johann Georg Faust is a historical figure attested to in a number of documents, but his legend makes any accurate statements difficult. Often driven out of town on accusations of fraud, Faust or Faustus—who may have been one or two individuals—claimed to be an alchemist, a doctor of philosophy, a doctor of medicine, an astrologer, and magician. His exact activities as he traveled are recorded somewhat:he preformed a astrology for a bishop in 1520, and banished from Nurnberg and Ingoldstadt in 1528 and 1530—on accounts of necromancy and sodomy. In 1536, he received recognition as a more genuine authority, and is last recorded in 1535 in Munster.

The legends around Faust existed in his life time. A man declaring himself Faustus Junior boasted of being able to preform the miracles of the bible. Other accounts credit Faust as boasting of granting the German Emperor victories in battle with magical means. Faust was rumored to have a dog that became a man servant, of flying, of deceiving men into rubbing their faces with arsenic to remove beard stubble, and more. In 1540 or 1541, Faust supposedly died of an alchemical accident. His body was greatly marred, reportedly as the devil had come for him at last to collect. Faust’s spellbooks have been published for two hundred years, the last one in 1691.

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Faust’s deal with the Devil is recorded in The Historical Faust, a German chapbook. The deal occurred in the Spesser Wald. It is recorded as such:

Now the Devil feigned he would not willingly appear at the spot designated, and he caused such a tumult in the forest that everything seemed about to be destroyed. He blew up such a wind that the trees were bent to the very ground. Then it seemed as were the wood with devils filled, who rode along past Doctor Faustus’ circle; now only their coaches were to be seen; then from the four corners of the forest something like lightning bolts converged on Doctor Faustus’ circle, and a loud explosion ensued. When all this was past, it became light in the midst of the forest, and many sweet instruments, music and song could be heard. There were various dances, too, and tourneys with spears and swords. Faustus, who thought he might have tarried long enough now, considered fleeing from his circle, but finally he regained his godless and reckless resolve and persisted in his former intention, come whatever God might send. He continued to conjure the Devil as before, and the Devil did mystify him with the following hoax. He appeared like a griffon or a dragon hovering and flattering above the circle, and when Doctor Faustus then applied his spell the beast shrieked piteously. Soon thereafter a fiery star fell right down from three or four fathoms above his head and was transformed into a glowing ball. This greatly alarmed Faustus, too. But his purpose liked him so well, and he so admired having the Devil subservient to him that he took courage and did conjure the star once, twice, and a third time, whereupon a gush of fire from the sphere shot up as high as a man, settled again, and six little lights became visible upon it. Now one little light would leap upward, now a second downward until the form of a burning man finally emerged. He walked round about the circle for a full seven or eight minutes. The entire spectacle, however, had lasted until twelve o’clock in the night. Now a devil, or a spirit, appeared in the figure of a gray friar, greeted Doctor Faustus, and asked what his desire and intent might be. Hereupon Doctor Faustus commanded that he should appear at his house and lodging at a certain hour the next morning, the which the devil for a while refused to do. Doctor Faustus conjured him by his master, however, compelling him to fulfill his desire, so that the spirit at last consented and agreed.

Faust’s bargain specified that the spirit sent would serve him for period of time. At the end of this period, he would surrender himself to the spirit. He forsook the Christian faith and signed such in blood. In exchange he gained any desire he wished—although not marriage, as that was a sacrament. The spirit appeared hence as a Fransican monk.

FaustMonk.png

Faust then inquired many things of his spirit guide, flying into the heavens, descending into hell, learning falsehoods about astrology and others. He stayed in the Pope’s palace invisible, slept with the wives of the Sultan while wearing the sultan’s form, and more. He cursed a knight to have antlers, trapping him in a window; he gathered food for a pregnant countess and created all manner of animals; he conjured Helen of Troy to show his talents of necromancy; he encountered sorcerer’s who could chop off their heads and put them back on again.

In the end, Faust’s students begged him to ask for forgiveness. And he tried to. But Faust was convinced his contract damned him, and so could not genuinely ask for forgiveness. And so he met a gruesome end, which I will not repeat here. Faust leaves a will and testament, granting his butler Wagner all of his belongings. (I will note here: the original Faust chapbook, linked here, is shockingly anti-Semetic in many ways.)

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Later versions of Faust include more details—the play of Goethe add a love intreast that might redeem him, and the role of doubt as near conversion is expanded. Goethe also added a happy ending—Faust at the end of Part II is redeemed by the angels as Mehpistophles lusts after them.

More modern takes on the Deal with the Devil focus on an interesting and specific talent and form of expression—music. Folktales about violinists making deals with the devil include: Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840), who was rumored to deal with the devil and who was not permitted a church burial upon death; Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770), who wrote a sonata based on his encounter with the devil; Philippe Musard (1792-1859), who’s wild conducting style convinced some that he had also made pacts with the devil; Tommy Johnson (1895-1956), a blues musician who’s brother claimed he sold his soul for guitar playing skills; and Robert Johnson (1911-1936), who made a similar deal. And of course, there is the folk song about the Devil going down to Georgia.

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The deal with the devil persist in popular culture, although the cause over time seems to have changed. The major deals with the devil I recall—such as Futurama’s The Devil’s Hands are idle Play Things or it’s later movie The Beast with a Billion Backs— present deals with the devil as matters of passion and love. The Disney movie Princess and the Frog has a non-literal deal with the devil for status and freedom in a more traditional mode, however. The film Anastasia features a reference to a pact with Rasputin in exchange for sorcerous power—in a way reminscent of the Disney film. Generally, however, deals with the devil are lately things of lost hope and desperation—I have more examples, but they are spoilers for shows worth of material. This contrasts the model that folklore presents, where deals are made not to save lives, but to advance one’s station and power over the world or to increase one’s knowledge. And to be honest, that is more tragic to me.

At the end of the day, a deal to save a life is a heroic sacrifice. It’s tragic, and poignant, and sad, but ultimately it’s a failure to think things through or let go or consider alternatives. The deal with the devil plays on character flaws, but often for a goal that is more easily accepted. The problem is mostly these stories are about saving people—not about the heart of the original deal with the devil, which is the loss of an immortal promise for mortal gain. Some deals change this by making the deal with the devil not about the soul itself directly, but about actions that lead to torment and the path of wickedness anyway.

Our story resembles a song I heard once: The Devil’s Train by Lab Rats. Unlike the more famous song, the Devil Went Down To Georgia, this story features a more diabolical assault. The character features an unspecified deal with the devil and…well, you can watch it here:

The Deal with Devil here is for the soul of the man. The question is, what did the man trade for? What did he receive for his immortal soul? For the story to work, we need I think for the stories unsettling terror and growing fear to work the change should be…less spectacular then Dr. Faust. More practical, more pragmatic. As to what a man is like without his soul…well, I think that is the source of dread and uncertainty isn’t there? That there’s something intangiblelly…unsettling about a person. The deal, of course, should be a secret I think. A trip abroad can change someone, and that gives us some cover for the changes in one of our characters.

The relationships at play here are also uncertain. I have been assuming the man is the patriarch of the family, but on reflection the horror might work better with a young man…it is easy to grow so distant from a person that you no longer recognize them. A trip abroad exacerbates that effect. I myself am going abroad soon, so such changes are on my mind…hm. There’s a good deal to think about for this story.

I will note that I intend to ignore the ‘novel length’ suggestion—The story may be long, but certainty not that long.

Works Referred To:

Jackson, Georgina F. Shropshire Folklore. Edited by Charlotte Sophia. Burne, 1883.

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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.

Man in the Roots.png

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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The Root of the Mountain

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

The Resulting Story: Mountain out of a Man

The creation of a mountain or island or even the world from a single person or creatures is far from new. We discussed last year the tradition of murder at the dawn of time—of great primeval crocodiles and serpents and monsters of the sea that oppose sky gods and are murdered for it. Among these many beasts, there are a handful that in turn are laid out to form the foundation of the world—a testament to their size and to their importance in the world.

Tiamat

Marduk fighting Tiamat

The first example of such a creature we will discuss is the most malicious. Tiamat is a vast mother goddess, the primordial salt water sea that rages at the death of her husband the freshwater sea. In her war with her grand children she :

Made in addition weapons invincible; she spawned monster-serpents,

Sharp of tooth, and merciless of fang;

With poison, instead of blood, she filled their bodies.

Fierce monster-vipers she clothed with terror,

With splendor she decked them, she made them of lofty stature.

Whoever beheld them, terror overcame him,

Their bodies reared up and none could withstand their attack.

She set up vipers and dragons, and the monster Lahamu,

And hurricanes, and raging hounds, and scorpion-men,

And mighty tempests, and fish-men, and rams;

They bore cruel weapons, without fear of the fight.

Her commands were mighty, none could resist them;

After this fashion, huge of stature, she made eleven [kinds of] monsters.

Her exalted commander, Kingu, bore the Tablets of Destiny and power over all the gods! Tiamat’s shape is hard to say. While moderns may think of her as a great dragon, she appears in some cases more like a cow with great udders, and certainly odder then most reptiles with her lips. Each portion of her is divided up to make the cosmos—the sky is held by her ribs, her tears are the Tigris and Euphrates, the Milky Way is her tail. The blood of Kingu was used to make mankind.

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Ymir and his cow

The other example is Ymir—First living thing of the Norse mythos, born when the lands of fire and frost met. At this point, the great first giant emerged—Ymir. And shortly after he found his great cow companion—to my knowledge, this is unrelated to Paul Bunyan. He persisted like this for a time, fathering the frost giants. Eventually, however, the sons of Bor—Odin, Ville, and Ve—slew him and arranged the cosmos from his body. From his skull, they made the heavens. From his hair, forests. His bones became the hills, the seas run with his blood. His brains were made into clouds, his eyebrows were men. And in one case, the maggots that fed on his corpse became the dwarfs.

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Less malicious is the act of Pangu. Pangu is from Chinese myth, and takes on his form not from a violent ambush or great war, but as he comes to old age. In his early years, with the aid of four beasts, Pangu separated the earths and heavens to make a habitable cosmos and cut Yin from Yang with a great ax. But as time went on, he came to grow old and die at the age of 18,000. Slowly, he takes on the form of the world as he passes on into death. Like Ymir, his body is divided up into various parts of the world. The wind is his breath, the thunder his voice, his left eye floats upwards to be the sun, his right eye is now the moon. The fleas on his body became animals, his beard became the milky way, his head mountains, his bone marrow great diamonds.

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Svyatogor coming on his steed

There are other, debatable examples. Typhon, for instance, was trapped beneath a mountain and an island in one version of his myth. But trapped is not the same as became, I don’t think. More directly linked to our tale is the Russian bogatyr, Svyatogor. Svyatogor is a mountainous man, who eventually lays down in his own stone coffin to die. He passes his strength on to Illya, the greatest of the bogatyrs, through his breath.

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Mt.Mayon–yes, the smoke formed like that naturally.

Perhaps the least malicious, even less than Pangu, is Mt. Mayon. Mt. Mayon is the result of a tale of love between Magayon and the prince Panganoron. The two’s relationship enrages the failed suitor Pagtuga, who gathers his warrior s and steals Magayon’s father. The ensuing war sees the lovers victorious, but Patgua’s warriors shoot one of the two—versions differ—on the way home. The other commits suicide, and are both are buried. After their burial, a mountain arises from their graves—Mt. Mayon, a still active volcano.

Fictionally, I’m again reminded of the story of YISUN from Kill Siz Billion Demons, who destroys themselves to create a pair of gods, who in turn make all gods. This generation of gods in turn gives themselves over entirely to death in order to create a world each—with life and creatures spreading forth from their holy city of Throne.

The stories so far touch mostly on great cosmic creations. I think ours will be more like Mt. Mayon—a place of legend, yes, but not as grand as the entire world. Our story, as one of ‘phantasy’ instead of horror, I feel a cataclysmic battle less of interest then the slow, gradual expansion of a mind. We start with a body, a man or woman, and slowly they become something more—something vaster, and often covered in life. We can consider, perhaps, that both mountains and islands are found in groups—ranges and chains. At the same time, they can be quite lonely places. A deserted island or a lonely mountain is not an uncommon description.

The nature of this story will be, I think, entirely atmosphere—it could be horror, but it feels more calm and meditative and thus perhaps a bit strange for this blog. Still, it will be an engaging story to write and place to explore. Spacing and pacing the progress from mortal to monument might be difficult. It requires attention to sentence length, to description, to punctuation, and to variation. Atmosphere and mood are, in my opinion, far harder to grasp and far more essential then action or characterization. To make a house feel alive is no easy feat.

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