The Black Mass Gathers

This Week’s Prompt:75. Black Mass beneath an antiquated church.
The Prior Research:Witches Sabbath
Part 2:The Fire Breaks

The road to Elderbir was relatively smooth, even if circuitous. While a horse might have once navigated the streets with ease, the buggy struggled to make each ever tight turn. As we reached about half a mile from the small town, the path was too dense to continue for the driver. With a quick wave, I departed with my things the rest of the way.

BlackSabbathElderbir
Elderbir was a small town. It was far away from the city, and I hoped it would give me a chance to breath. English books in hand, I dragged my suitcase up and smiled at the young woman setting up a banner over the bakery. The smell of bread washed away a number of my cares, glancing at my slip of paper for the address I was staying at. I’d negotiated a place to stay with an agent in town—apparently this was a busy time of year, what with Midsummer approaching.
The house was a two store, square building, with a nice awning to protect from the ever threatening rain. I give the old wooden door a knock, rustling the pslams that are nailed to either side of the door frame.
“Ah, Peter yes?” A deep voice asked, as a broad and heavy man with a mustache down to his chin came into view from behind the door. “Auntie said you might be coming. Big city lad, here to work at the school?”
“Yes, yes, that would be me. You must Mr. Lorain. Yes, I’ll be instructing in English in a few days. Is my room ready or should I—”
“Is my room ready? Haha, listen to this guy. Yes, yes, of course it is ready. Clean and neat, thick walls and everything.” Mr. Lorain said, taking my shoulder with one firm hand and my bags with another. “Dinner will be cooked by my lovely wife and daughter, but that is a few hours from now. Let us get you settled, and then you can explore the town. Or sleep, I guess. It must have been quite the travel from Windgift to fine old Elderbir.”
I haplessly followed along, to a rather bare room with a small bed and desk, a half bookcase carved of dark wood against the wall. All in all very comforting, truly. Spartan, yes, but that left the mind able to be properly furnished.
“Thank you very much, Mr. Lorain.” I said, pushing my things slightly. “Think I’ll go look over my school at the least—I’ll be sure to be back for dinner.” With a smile, I made my way out of the house and back down the street. Distantly, I heard a clock dole out the hour mark—three dull resounding marks for the hour.
A gaggle of children came running down from the small foot hill the school squated on. A rectangular, unobtrusive building, with a bright red bricks and blue painted shutters. The children came toppling down, the younger ones rushing ahead laughing, while the older ones taking their time in small little clusters.

School Brick
By the time I was at the front gate, my soon-to-be coworkers were emerging. A woman and man—married perhaps?–who were a bit older than me descended down the path. Not the generation of my parents, but between them and me. The gentleman stopped at the door to secure it a moment.
“Oh, hello!” I said, walking up with a hand extended. “Peter Dorman.”
“The new literature teacher?” The woman asked, shaking back and smiling at me. There was something slightly curious about her eyes—one seemed larger than the other, by a hair at most.
“Yes, ah, Miss?” I asked,dropping my hand to my side awkwardly.
“Mrs. Tarney, and this is Mr. Tarney.” The woman said, nodding over her shoulder. “He teaches geometry, I think.”
“Oh, only the fundamentals and essentials. Most of the students benefit from a bit of logical thinking.” Mr. Tarney said, catching up. “Afraid the school is locked for the day—You can poke around a bit later. Already have a place to stay?”
“Oh, yes, with the Lorains.” I said, pointing over my shoulder and turning half around. There was a pair at the door actually that gave me a bit of pause—a woman with a bright red dress and hair done up in a net of braids, with little ribbons hanging off them.
“Oh the Lorains…there a good family. Mrs. Lorain’s cooking is amazing.” Mrs. Tarney said, smiling as she walked down past me, arm in arm with Mr. Tarney down the street. I watched after them for some time, before shrugging. Regardless, I could at least become familiar with the grounds for a bit before the sun dipped too low.
The school was a small building—only three or four rooms. There was a small fence, separating the bigger hills from this one. Of course, one of the kids had broken the beam, allowing a few children to slip out. The entire remainder of town could be seen from here, and beyond them the towering mountains. Mountains no longer distant, but almost breathing presences down my neck. The mountains that seemed to have dim letters scrawled on them, in long pale chalk lines.

*

I spent most of my days near the school house. Before classes, I would arrive early to speak with the Tarneys about the latest comings and goings. The next few days were a source of any number of rumors to share. Apparently, as autumn came, the rooms grew stranger. I had seen a woman with a heart shaped thing in a jar, that seemed made of human hair, somehow stuck together. Another man, living two blocks away from my own temporary residence, had arrived with a bright red hat, a bronze statue head, and small crowd of hangers on.
“Oh, well, we get all sorts. Lots of folks who move away come back this time of year.” Mr. Tarney said, as I told him of a woman with a black cat that I swore had thumbs.
“And do they all come back so strange?” I asked, laughing a bit as I wiped down the chalk board. The children were learning fast—faster than expected, really. I wondered if they knew more then they let on at first, but as long as a few were struggling a bit of review wouldn’t hurt.
“Well, one doesn’t often leave a place like Elderbir without being a little odd—small towns make interesting folks.” Mrs. Tarney said, shrugging her shoulders. “Are you staying late again?”
“I have trouble thinking with Mrs. Lorain’s cooking wafting into my room—and papers must be graded.” I said, nodding and taking the keys from Mrs. Tarney’s outstretched hand. Truth be told, I preferred to give some distance to myself—a cramped upstairs room affords a man little privacy with his thoughts. The school wasn’t private itself, but at this hour at least I could pretend to be alone.
Mister and Misses Lorain were a fine couple—and most of the other boarders were kind if eccentric. The most egregious cases did seem to be regulars—they spoke to Mrs. Lorain with a familiarity that now made some sense. Most were staying only a week or so, or so they said. The gentleman with the white snake around his arm said he made a yearly pilgrimage here. It was rather strange, none of them resembled many of the other towns folk. Truly at some point, Elderbir had played host to people from around the world—all within the last few decades.
Scribbling along on tests, I fancied what might have actually attracted so many visitors. Mrs. Tarney may say it was simple family reunions, but so many to fill almost a second city? Perhaps an army regiment once trained out here, and it became home over generations—first the soldiers return, then they bring families to visit yearly, and after they die, their children feel the pull like everyone before and so on. It was a remote location, but affairs of state have a strange way of transpiring all over the country.
While ruminating on these thoughts, something caught my eye out the window. An intense, but brief light—almost like a small orb of lightening in the distance. After glancing over and seeing nothing on the mountains, I wrote it off as nothing more than a delusion from overwork. But it came again. A small pulse of blinding light. Frowning, I walked over to get a better look—and then I saw it. On the mountain side and top, some how both brilliant as stars but barely visible as the sun set, were arrayed an army of multicolored fires.

Black Sabbath Mountain 1


So this week, I am afraid we will have to stop before the story is entirely finished—I simply didn’t have time to finish the story, and wanted to have something for Halloween! So, consider this a primer to the full story, out next week. What will Peter uncover about the strange guests, the strange lights, and this strange town? And what will he do with this new information?
Stop by Part 2 to find out! The Fire Breaks

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Witches Sabbath

This Week’s Prompt: 75. Black Mass beneath an antiquated church.

The Resulting Story: The Black Mass GathersThe Fire Breaks

The Black Mass is an intriguing part of folklore. It is hear that we come again to the explict religious fears of Mr. Lovecraft perhaps—while his fiction is angostic, the Black Mass is a fear in the folklore of Europe, particularly among Catholics. The concept of a Black Mass is rather simple: The Black Mass is a pervision of the Holy Mass by the agents of the devil, an anti-thesis to right and good churchly behavior. Thus, it is at midnight, it involves sexual acts and violence—sometimes cannibalism and human sacrifice, often poison and orgies. It is a night of witchcraft and Satan himself may walk at that dread hour.

The earliest accusations of something like a Black Mass—although not using that phrase—is leveled against the Gnostic sect the Borborites. The accusation includes tropes that are common throughout later accusations—the consumption of bodily fluids, sexuality, child abuse, and cannibalism. Like later accusations, Black Mass here is equal parts folklore and political attack. The Borborite accusations resulted in 80 people being expelled from the city of Alexandria, and the suppression of Gnostic texts since then has made determining the veracity of these claims difficult to say the least.

Witches Sabbath 2.png

The most famous Black Mass is the Affair of Poisons. The incident is detailed here in a translation of several recorded interrogations. Included is the mixing of the blood of a white dove with holy water and sulfur, the brewing of love potions of a duke, the invocation of three demonic princes, an abortion and the use of the dead infants in consecrations. To continue on in more detail would be a bit more grotesque then I am willing to do for this blog.

The result of this Black Mass was the arrest and execution of over 36 people. The dead included the mistress of King Louis X, Madame de Montespan, and a number of soothsayers, diviners, and alchemists. The chief witness was interrogated while intoxicated, however, and evidence of the supposed thousands of dead children is non-existent.

Witches Sabbath 3.png

However, it was far from the only Black Mass accusation to be leveled. Earlier works gave similar debauched and carnal descriptions of Black Mass, where the devil appeared as a great talking black goat. Witch hunters, comedians, heretics all in the twelfth and thirteenth century provide texts for Black Mass.

Another famous accusation was levied against the Knights Templar. While not accused of a specific Black Mass, the Knights Templar were accused of spitting on the Cross, denying Christ, worshiping idols, and of encouraging homosexual practices. Compounding accusations of fraud, secrecy, and corruption, these accusations eventually lead to the disbanding of the Knights Templar and the seizure of their lands by other states and the Knights Hospitaller. In addition, the accusation papers are the first time the now famous demon Baphomet is described. However, the demon has not taken its form as a black goat yet. Instead, it is described as : a dead cat, a severed head (sometimes with three faces), sometimes as a piece of wood with Baphomet upon it. The nature of this accusation is…difficult to find credible—the articles on Wikipedia document the strangeness of the name, the accusations specifics, and the theories around it. The idea of Baphomet as a demon was revived later for attacks against Freemasonry, and finally Baphomet’s shape became more concrete with Eliphas Levi’s satanic temple.

Witches Sabbath 4.png

In the folklore of Germany, Walpurgisnacht takes a similar role—or more properly, Hexenacht, the Witches Night or Witches Sabbath in the Brocken mountains. Here, on a night of a saint, the witches gather by flying goats. They trample crosses, are baptized in the name of the Devil, receive gifts from him, and have grand orgies—rather banal by standards of Black Masses. Spell preparations were also made—the unguent that allowed witches to fly was brewed, great spells were cast with the aid of other witches. And of course, copious amounts of human flesh were devoured. The location varies—while the Brocken is common, the mystical island of Blockula in Sweden also plays host, as do other mountains.

A slight variation on these masses, which resemble grand inversions of the order of mass, is the Mass of Saint-Secaire. Recounted most famously in the Golden Bough, the mass is a means of assassination. A corrupt priest and his lover go to a deserted church at eleven at night. He recites mass backwards, ending at midnight. He then devours a mass of three cornered black bred and drinks a cup of water, from a well in which an unbaptized child has died. Then, making a cross with his left foot, the priest proclaims the name of the victim. The victim then simply dies, rapidly wasting away.

Feast of Fools.png

More innocuous inversions of Mass include the Feast of Fools phenomenon. A celebration among the subdeacons and lower clergy, the Feast of Fools traces its roots back to similair Roman celeberations. The Subdeacons took reign as the overseers of the cathedral for the day, and partying on a grand scale commenced.

In the folklore of the Balkans there is a recurring trope of devils gathering in the woods at night. Unlike the others described, these dark gatherings are regular reports of their mischief to their superiors, and get beatings when they fail. In folktales of unfortunate or poor heroes, these meetings provide ample opportunities to eavesdrop on the problems and solutions the hero can provide for riches.

A German folktale of a conclave of corpses has an implied diabolical aspect. The doubting monk discovers them buried in a forgotten vault at night—their hearts are ringed with fire, and all of them sit at attention. When inquired to their fate, the corpses reveal that they are being punished by their victims nightly, until judgement day. The conclave warns the monk of this truth—that hell is real, and coming for him. At the end of the gathering, the monk repents and devotes himself to the church.

In Shropershire, the Stiperstones are reported as the gathering place of ghosts and witches to elect their king—and the mysterious place Hegmoor’s End is an island where witches gather. Not much regarding these gatherings is recorded, so we must presume they are sabbaths like any other.

In Rhode Island, Goose Nest-Spring is where the witches hold carnival, and have Sabbath at Hell Hollow or Kettle Hollow, depending on the teller of the tales. African American folktales in Rhode Island report that those who see witches brew—made frequently by groups of witches in graveyards—will crave nothing else, and thus starve even if they escape.

A Celetic folktale gives a more somber occasion—from the Isle of Man, one Mrs. Peacock claims that the devil occupies churches on All Hallows Eve. There, he takes the form of a somber priest and blasphemies against God for the night, while invoking the names of those who are to die and be damned in the coming year. If one listens, one can hear their fate—and perhaps even escape with their life. (Celtic 328).

With this foundation of diabolical tales, I think we can start working on the outlines of a story. I think this is a prompt that is more a scene then a full story—the climax or midpoint, rather then a whole outline as is the case elsewhere. With the idea of getting to a witches sabbath, I think we can play with the notions that this Sabbath occurs yearly, in the same place. Something like a grotesque yearly convention. And with a convention, we can imagine that a community has grown around it, in the same way that pilgrimgae sites foster the growth of communities around a trail.

Given the associations with secret knowledge and plans at play here, I think a story about discovering the Witches Sabbath that is at the heart of the economy of a small village or town either as a small child or as new arrival in town. The mystery of strange people arriving and treated as welcome guests, the sights of early fires and sacrifices in the nearby hills, and the inevitably doomed venturing into those hills one night, to see the secret ceremonies. I think that as a story might work well.

The exact character of the Sabbath is another question however. As mentioned above, Black Sabbath’s are often gruesome and needlessly dark affairs. Scores of dead children might be shocking to write about, but in the space of only fifteen hundred words—three thousand if I’m being generous—the image is more tacky then effective I feel. On the other hand, making the Black Sabbath a merely ordinary event is dull. Walking the line between serious horror and schlock—a line I willingly and eagerly cross at times—is a difficult affair.

Bibliography

Bourgaize, Eidola Jean. Supernatural Folklore of Rhode Island. University of Rhode Island, 1956.

Nicoloff, Assen. Bulgarian Folktales. Assen Nicoloff, 1990.

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

Rhys, John. Celtic Folklore. Wildwood House, 1983.

Tibbits, Charles John. Folk-Lore and Legends, Germany. J.B. Lippincott, 1892.

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The Wound

This Week’s Prompt: 74. Italian revenge—killing self in cell with enemy—under castle.

The Prior Research:Revenge Most Cruel

CW: Suicide

“I had forgotten you still had this, Ottobuno.” Venerio exclaimed as we arrived at the lone castle to my families name. It was a stone edifice, bare of most adornments within and without—sacrifices to be made to keep the walls themselves.

“Is the village still there, where we once played?” Venerio asked, peering from the hill off towards the seashore.

“More or less, although the fishermen have mostly left.” I said, smiling. Oh those golden halcyon days, when we were young. Running side by side, having slipped away from lessons to steal fish for ourselves. Summer days that seemed they would never end. They tasted bitter now in my head.

Italy CAstle.png

“Well, that is a shame. I hope someone still collects their fish.”Venerio said, gesturing for my servant to open the door. “Never was their tastier ones.”

“We may not dine on them, but certainly from the balcony we could see the sea.” I said, walking down the hallway steps, checking my belongings.

“Ah, the balcony…a day such as this, with an evening breeze would be delightful.” Venerio replied. We moved through the halls, and up the stairs—past parapets that had not seen shot nor arrow in almost a century now. So remote was this place, that time and war had forgotten parts.

“Hold one moment.” Venerio said, pausing before a tapestry. I turned on my heel. He was dragging this affair out almost intolerably. The painting he had stopped to look at was an old one—on it was St. Michael, driving his spear into the twisting serpent of hell. The spear’s cross-guard was a crucifix, and at the other end Christ reached down to carry forth a mass that had been trapped beneath the serpents head. Vernon’s eyes traced the spear’s shaft into the winged archangel’s hands, his own almost touching it.

“Is this one of Ricardo’s pieces?” Venerio asked slowly. “It has some of his…wonderful imagery to it.”

The Archangel Michael.png

“Yes, one of the older ones we commissioned from him.” I said, nodding and taking a step to the side to appreciate the site. “He’s quite capable of capturing the wondrous in his work, isn’t he?”

“That he is, that he is. Did you see the new piece we commissioned? It was just finished, third in the set. It’s of Paradise, but with mother and father as Adam and Eve.” Venerio said, nodding.

“…Then that leaves to you Cain or Abel?” I asked, eyes narrow some. Venerio laughed. How I hated that light, high laugh. Small needles in my skin.

“Ah, no, I do not feature yet. Perhaps I will be a frolicking child or take on one of the Judges faces. Do you think I would make good Gideon?” Venerio asked, puffing out his chest, hands on his hips.

“Perhaps, if not a Samson.” I said with a chuckle. “You have the face for it at least. A jawbone would look strange in your hands though.”

“Maybe two, if the trades east are good—spices for pigments after all.” Venerio said, lightly wrapping an arm around my shoulder. “Why, maybe we can get one of you—a Solomon or Absalom, with such hair.”

I laughed, my eyes fixed as he burst. He looked so innocent when he laughed—as if he didn’t know I would have had a picture of a saint already if not for him. If those spices came on our ships, we would be dining at a villa, not a dusty castle. If we had been but five years, not a decade, earlier, Ricardo would be painting my parents again. The laugh is an opaque mask, but certainty of purpose lets me see clearly.

Medieval Wine.png

He attended me on the balcony, where we drank wine in celebration of the coming spring. He had entertained me only a month prior for Christmas—a misbegotten act of charity. That night, that horribly night when he offered me—me! Who’s ancestors were Senators of Rome!–charity. He told me that hard times were upon me. He confided in me that night that, he knew a fine heiress who might value my name and pity me. Pity enough, perhaps, for an arrangement or marriage while I still had my youth. He told me, me that he could not bare to see me decay away in my old family homes.

I felt the knife in my pocket to cool my nerves. It’s blade, its hilt, its carved crest of his wretched thieving family. It was set. It was all set for this night.

“Ah, the gods,they have forsaken us! There is no more wine!” Venerio said, turning the bottle upside down. A drop of red wine fell to the table, staining the white table cloth.

“Not yet, not yet. I have an old cask down below, filled to the top.” I said, raising my glass. “And who better to share it with, on this night. No finer wine exists in my line.”

“The best wine? Why, we are already drunk! You’ll waste it.” Venerio laughed again, cutting my ears.

“Ah, no, a man only truly appreciates wine when drunk.” I said, standing with exaggerated pauses. My mind was, in truth, clear as day. A great lens it made, bringing the world into greater focus. I wondered, did my blood have warmth still? Or if he touched my hand as we caroused down the stairs, did it feel as cold as the Northern Sea?

The cellar was down several rows of stairs. It was only with the guidance of my deft hand that Vernon did not meet his fate at the hands of the stone stairs or walls. Drunkard and fool. But death would not come so swift. As he stumbled into the room, nearly collapsing over the wine, I shut the door—and locked it with an iron key.

“This…this the wine?” Venerio asked, striking the barrel with an open palm.

“Yes, the best in the family.” I said, drawing the knife and walking over. I paused. There was still one last step. He was trapped here—the servants had seen him and me enter, alone. Venerio’s habits were no secret—the power of alcohol over him was second only to God Himself. All was set for the final, fatal step.

I drew back the knife before Venerio eyes and drove it into my side.

KnifeMedieval.png

“Christs wounds what are you doing Buno?” Venerio said, staggering back in shock, as I pushed the blade across. It was warm, my blood was warm as I staggered forward, dropping the knife on the cask.

“Not…rotting away…” I said, with a laugh. His face at that laugh—did he still pity me? No, no I wouldn’t have him pity me.

“Don’t you see, you fool? Your all alone—with me and the knife.” I said as my head began to ache for the lost blood. “They all saw you, drunk as ever, come down here with me! Run and hide, it doesn’t matter—when they find me, they’ll know who it was that did the deed!”

Venerio backed away slowly, the knife clattering to the floor.

“Buno, I-I don’t, what is wrong–”

“And then.” I said, smiling. “Then they’ll hang you from the rafters—you and one day your thieving parents and your whole wretched house. The knife was your knife, they’ll know what kind of cut-purses and villains you are.”

My voice began to dwindle, curses half formed on my lips as blood pooled on the floor. I saw him run, but I am not afraid. Here in this forest, I wait—I know he’ll be down here, down in the frozen wastes.


So…this story.

I’m going to write a bit more on the writing of this story then normal. The story’s initial pitch is tragic over the top Edgar Allen Poe horror. It’s a story of vengeance that is literally self destructive. But it’s also about suicide.

I’ve had several friends who were suicidal—and several who actually took their own lives. That fact was true when doing my research, but the impact of it only became clear when I sat down to try and write the story. And…well, it made writing the story more taxing then normal. While the story was delayed some so I could finish the Patreon rewrite of Demophon—which was delayed because of moving in Morocco and other work—it was also delayed because writing a suicide scene was…well, almost too much. Almost.

I usually say if a story I’m writing scares me, it’s a good sign. The Muse story still unnerves me, for instance. But this…this was a bit much.

With that said, next week we return to more lighthearted affairs. Black Mass beneath a church’s ruin. It’s gonna get witchy.

 

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Revenge Most Cruel

This Week’s Prompt: 74. Italian revenge—killing self in cell with enemy—under castle.

The Resulting Story: The Wound

TW: Suicide

Revenge is a common motive in folktales and modern media, and covering the entire breadth of it here would be quite impossible. Even the specificity of “Italian” revenge would make cover the wide range of hauntings, heroes, and deceptions undertaken for revenge over a slight difficult to summarize in one article. However, I have found a few cases of revenge in Italian folklore that are of interest, and luckily that involve castles. I have yet to find a version of this specific prompt, so kudos to Mr. Lovecraft in that regard—if you know of a story such as this, where suicide is used to get revenge on an enemy by framing him for the murder, please let me know!

CaskOfMonteEgro

That does seem to be the plan at work here. Our protagonist, in a fashion reminiscent of Poe’s own Italian revenge tale, has opted to go to extremes to make his enemy suffer. He thus lures his enemy beneath the castle, and commits suicide alone with the enemy. Done properly, this frames the enemy for murder, condemning and ruining his life. In fact, more elaborate plans might frame the enemy for even more crimes, damning his entire line.

The stories that might have most inspired this tale are of course Poe’s Cask of Amontillado, Castle Orlanto, and perhaps the Count of Mote Christo. Reaching a bit more, the story that this reminded me most of was Count Ugolino—an Italian noble who features prominently in Dante’s Inferno. Ugolino was a Count of Pisa, who in life was accused of treason for the cities disorders, and served for several years as the most powerful man in Pisa during the war with Genoa. Ugolino rejected peace terms, which would have brought back many persons in political opposition. Later in life, Pisa was hit with fiancial troubles and bread riots—during one of which Ugolino killed the nephew of the Archbishop. The Archbishop rallied the populace, and tried to burn the town hall Ugolino was having his meeting in. After Ugolino’s illegitimate child committed suicide, Ugolino and his sons were sealed in the tower. The Archbishop had the keys thrown into a river.

Count Ugolino Inferno.png

The rest of the story picks up form Dante, that the three were starving. And in a moment of tragedy and horror, the sons asked their father to eat them after their deaths, to preserve himself.

Father our pain’, they said,

‘Will lessen if you eat us you are the one

Who clothed us with this wretched flesh: we plead

For you to be the one who strips it away’.

This resulted in the count dying of grief shortly after, descending to Hell and the ice as a betrayer of kin. The story recalls to me, both in it’s art and arc, some of the more monstrous stories of ogres and titans. At least Ugolino in hell is allowed to gnaw on the treacherous bishops skull in the frozen wasteland.

Stories of revenge from Rome are more elaborate. Amadea’s story begins with her happy marriage to a rich husband—the only issue being the opposition of her brother and father. Amadea, as a proper woman, brutally killed her brother, chopped his limbs off, and threw them at her father. While the display certainly prevented her father from stopping her, it made her husband uneasy. The newlyweds leaved peacefully for a time, happily even. They had two young children even. But as the children grew, their father remembered the crime, and ran off. 

When Amadea learned of this, she also learned that her husband had taken on a suitor. While her husband refused to let her meet her rival—after all, Amadea had brutally murdered once, she might again—he did allow her to send a set of pearls to the woman. Amadea had woven a poison into these, however, with her witchcraft. While these were on the way to her rival, she asked her husband to see their children for one hour. This her husband granted. That was a mistake. Amadea hugged her children and then, telling them that her love of them was too great, stabbed them before her husband’s eyes. In the next instant, she stabbed herself, and her husband died of grief on the spot.

Castle Poppi.pngAnother story, from Castle Poppi, tells of Matlida. Matlida was married, but not fond of her husband—it was a political marriage, and little love was between them. So she would send for handsome young men from the villages nearby, for comfort or for repairs. When evening came, she would take one of these young men to her chambers—and in the morning, to hid her adultery, she would drop them into a pit of glass and razor blades. When her crimes were discovered, a mob sealed Matilda in one of the castle walls, were she starved. She haunts the place to this day.

The Shakespearean story of Othello draws from Italian works on revenge as well—although like the Poe story, the motives of Iago are not overtly stated. The vengeance here is more long term, and certainly more through then the others, collapsing Othello’s reputation and entire life around him. Its scale is comparable to Amadea’s vengance in that regard. Based in scorn love and so thorough as to destroy the victim and criminal.

Titus Andronicus.png

Comparable further is the bloody and brutal Titus Andronicus. That story begins with the sacrifice of the sons of a German queen Tamora, in vengeance for the death of his sons in the war. Tamora eventually becomes empress, and she and her sons execute a cruel vengeance of rape and murder upon most of Titus’s family. Titus in turn invites the Emperor and Tamora to dinner…and arranges their death, having served them the remains of Tamora’s surviving son. Poison and blood ensue, resulting in the most deadly play Shakespeare wrote.


These tales of vengeance all maintain a motive of passion, often a betrayal of affections and close bonds—Poe’s friendship, Amadea and Othello’s love, and Ugolino’s betrayal of familial bonds. This reminds me of the story from the Balkans about the internment of a bride (here), that the betrayal of deep trust is the most painful and arguably resonant. Matlida’s murders are a strange, reverse Bluebeard—the internment is the main connection I see to the notion of the prompt.Our plot needs then at least two characters in any detail.

Another element I notice, in both Othello and Poe, is that the revenge is rather one sided. In the case of a rival lured to their doom, this seems more valid then Amadea’s. The victim being unaware of the approaching doom makes this more believable to me—unless we go with the notion that our mastermind has offered peace talks on false pretenses. That might be enough to bring them, but I don’t know if it would work to bring them alone.

No, alone and with no other witnesses seems to require something more.So, we will need to set up the feud—one sided as it might be—early in the story, and two characters that are at odds. It might work better to have asides—flash backs, or just the private thoughts of the murderer—building to that scene of suicide. I’ll have to re-read some of those earlier stories to see how they employ brevity. All in all I think we have a good short Gothic horror story from this. 

Bibliography

Busk, R. H. Roman Legends: A Collection of Fables and Folk-Lore from Rome. Estes and Lauriat, 1877.

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Squeaks in the Night

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

The Prior Research: The Rats Are Closing In

I’ve never liked the city at night. I blame television—the crime shows are always in cities, and the crimes are almost always at night. So when you walk in those precious bits of not absolutely brightly lit street, your hair stands on end. Is that a leaf billowing in the wind or foot step. Is someone following you or just walking the same way? What about the shapes in front of you, that you can’t quite make out? Are they people, or is it just a shadow from a passing car? Was that little bit of motion a cat on the prowl?

Of course it was. Of course it almost always is. My heart stays in my chest these days, along well worn paths. Sure, every now and then I eye someone with undue suspicion. But that’s all it ever is. And sure, I make a point of walking places where there’s more bright lights when I can—it helps to be safe, and i’ve never had that particular strain of paranoia that thinks everyone on a street might be scheming against me. Not frequently. The odd squeak or sound of a horn was easy enough to ignore.

Squeak? Hm. That was new. I fumbled with the keys at the front door, trying to brush it off. Rats were uncommon along 53rd, but they weren’t impossible. And it probably was a bicycle tire or something similar.

But then I heard another. And another. I turned my head as the lock finally clicked open. There, lurking beneath a bush, were eight eyes that seemed to faintly glow, packed ontop of each other. Staring at me.

I went inside quickly, making sure the door closed behind me. Flying up the flights of stairs, panting at the top. I barely noticed the small shreds of a spider web in the corner—I’d get rid of that later with a broom. Spider season was coming late it seemed.

Rat Dance.png

I woke up when my room mate slammed my window shut, my air conditioning crashing down three stories onto the back alleyway.

What the hell?” I said, jumping up from my bed as I saw Rob hammering nails into the window sill. He held up his hand to shush.

Your hammer away and telling me to sush what’s gotten–” I started before he put his hand on my mouth.

Shush means shush.” Rob said, glancing at the window. “We…we have a bit of a problem right now.”

I batted aside his hand and looked out the window. And I nearly vomitted. Down in the alley, I saw the broken remains of my AC—and a pool of blood coming from it, hundreds of small eyes staring up in a mass of fur and tails.

Rats. Hundreds of rats, filling the alley.

Jesus Rob, what the hell are they–”

I have no idea.” Rob said, walking out of the room. “I’ve nailed up most of the windows—a couple got in the kitchen door, but–”
I followed, still in light pajamas, and saw the remains of a few rats on the floor, little blood stains and broken skulls.

–There seem to be more. News says there’s a surge of them across town. Gotta imagine that there’s no pest control reaching us for a bit.”

The kitchen door was sealed with duct tap layers, and rubber cement. We’d lose the security deposit for sure with stuff like this. I mean the cleaning bill will cost a fortune, and a rat infestation—well, I mean it was the whole city so…my train of thought stopped when I looked out again. There was a dozen rats on the tree branch, crouched and baring their teeth. A number of small dents on the window indicated a few had jumped across already, trying to get in. One of the rats was nibbling on some shoelace.

Rat Council.png

Wait, they’ve shut down the whole city? Why not just run cars over them or something?” I asked, gesturing outside. “Or the trains?”

Did they scatter from the AC?” Rob asked, not looking up as checked the kitchen windows.

No.” I said, frowning.”

Then I don’t think their going to scatter from cars. Who knows, maybe they would, but do you want to take that risk? You run over a few—who knows how many, and then what? You park, and get jumped by hundreds of them on the sidewalk.” Rob said, shrugging. “Don’t know if they can stack high enough to get up the walls, but they can bite ankles pretty badly.”

At least we’ve got food.” I said, popping over the fridge and trying to keep the impending freak out down. “I mean…we’ve got some.”

A carton of eggs, some brocolli and onions, some carrots. Three pounds of ground chicken, because Rob refused to buy quality meat. And rice and pasta in the cupboards. More than enough food to last us a week…okay, five days. But still. That was a good amount. The rats wouldn’t last that long.

The lights flickered in the kitchen.

Shit.” Rob muttered, and ran out to the stairs. “Hey, Ashley, your lights acting up?”

Y-yeah.” Ashley’s voice came up from the second floor. “AC’s down too.”

Alright, I’ll test the pipes.” Rob said. “Tim, you check the place across the hall—don’t worry, I already nailed it shut. If the lights there work, then half the place has power. If not, the rats got the main line.”

I nodded, and ran over to the empty apartment across the hall—the door was unlocked, in case Mike found a buyer who wanted to see it that day. It was almost identical to ours—three bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen. But utterly barren, not even scarps on the wood floors.

It didn’t get any brighter flicking the switch back and forth. I went into the kitchen, and tried the same. Nothing. As I went to check the fridge there was a thud. Looking up, I saw a pair of paws gripping to the windowsill. The rat puffed itself up as it emerged, hissing. I slowly backed out of the room, not breaking eye contact, as another rat thudded on the window. And another.

They were hissing and clawing at the window as I scampered out.

RatBig

Lights down. And a couple got on the window.” I said as I heard the faucet turn off and a few stray drops fall. “Hows the plumbing?”

Well, we got water.” Rob said. Rounding the corner I saw the rust brown stain on the steel of the sink. “But don’t drink it. I don’t know if they’re rubbing in the water, or if the actually messed up the pipes.”

No power, almost no food, no water…” I said slowly, as Rob turned at another thump at our window. “We’re fucked, aren’t we.”

Not yet.” Rob said, thinking. “Down stairs I’m sure someone has water bottles. I mean, these rats are smart, sure, but it’s not like we’re in any trouble as long as we can–”

There was another ding on the window. Not the dull thud of a rat’s skull smacking on the glass, but rather a small tick of a stone striking glass. And then another. We both stared at the rats on the tree, sitting up on their hindquarters—tossing stones at us from the tree.

Yeah. Yeah we’re fucked.” Rob said, as the window started to crack.


This story is a bit rushed, and a bit silly. I went with an isolated and human level case, and wrote it with B-Movie notions in mind. If I had the time, I would have probably watched the classic movie The Birds for some inspiration regarding a massive of animals taking over and menacing a small town. As it stands, this story got interrupted by my own moving plans and a general problem of energy this week.

Next week, a story of revenge!

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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.

RatKing.png

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.

Pied Piper of Hamelin.png

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.

ArchbishopDevouredbyRats.png

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.

KarniMata.png

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.

Count Orlok.png

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.

Halloween 1.png

“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.

Halloween 2.png

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.”

Frankenstien.png

“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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