The Court

This Week’s Prompt: :78. Wandering thro’ labyrinth of narrow slum streets—come on distant light—unheard-of rites of swarming beggars—like Court of Miracles in Notre Dame de Paris.

The Prior Research:The Court of Miracles

Dear Mariam

It is a happy lie to presume that the current state of affairs will continue, uninterrupted, forever. In Berlin, I was introduced to the notion among some brahmins of India, that the world was always cycling and shifting. Some suggested that every moment was distinct and novel, others that the world was a great wheel among a multitude of other wheels. I find such notions endearing. They suggest, ultimately, that this state of being we enjoy will in time come again and again.

I was in Paris last week—a city with wonders and bohemians alike. A city that has seen its changes and reversions, its miracles and blasphemies. Are there a people as resentful of good governance as the French? We will see—the future holds many secrets. It was a long night when I decided to retire home, coffee and wine having mixed in my head a bit strongly. I was aware, despite myself, I was critically aware of all my senses as I walked towards my home for the visit.

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I was keenly aware of the stones that felt through my shoes, of the lights on the streets, I could read them all very well. Despite this, my mind was drunk as a sailor. All the senses in the world are nought if the mind is gone—and so I found myself now moving through back roads, convinced that I had found some short cut or another to home. Yes, your dear brother still has not learned to hold his liquor. And Paris, lacking as it is in pea soup, is still a city designed by madmen for rats more than for the intellectual and rational mind of an inebriated university student. Some Cretan must have felt quite clever building up it’s walls and streets haphazardly and in rounds.

I reached that edge of the city, the halo of darkness that marks the seemly from the misbegotten. The penumbra of the city of lights I suppose, where even in my disreputable state I was aware danger was about. The bark of a stray dog alerted me, and I turned to see two men slumped on the side of the wall—talking and pointing off in my direction. The alley over had a mangey hound, low to the ground and bigger than me by a good amount. One of the men shouted something at the dog, who barked again at me. My heart in my neck, I turned and headed away, along the outer roads.

The light was scarcer here—the buildings in disrepair. Notre Dome still towered in the distance, but her bells resounded on empty streets. My own foot falls were most of my company, and the faint outline of my long shadow among street lights. The night was oppressive, and the haze of wine was wearing thin. I grew more aware of my danger, so far from where I was—in fact, I barely knew the names of these avenues. And yet, as my mind returned to its fullness, my senses receded away. My eye began to fail me, and I saw strange shapes shifting—I heard noises from nowhere, and caught whiffs of the party long past.

So there I was, fumbling in a darkened street—certain it was empty, but hearing movement just out of my sight. The occasional meow of a cat or warning bark of a street dog kept my on edge as I started back—I would head towards places I knew, but find the streets and alleys turned me around again. In these valleys of darkness I felt condemned to wander until dawn—at last I saw a light, strange and ferocious in the distance.

My sister, you must think your poor brother a fool for approaching a strange light in the middle of the night, far from home and in places of danger. And you may be correct— but in my defense there is I think some human instinct to seeking out things to see, and that instinct over came my good sense. I do not regret it. If it was foolishness, then I have become one of God’s own fools now.

The source of the dancing lights was apparently shortly after I started after it—a fire. Open, on an autumn night. That alone was not surprising, I reckoned. No, what was shocking about the flames were their size. It was a bonfire, surrounded by all sides so that the buildings hid it from authorities. It wasn’t until later, when I recounted to my friend the shape of the place, that I learned I had been at the most infamous court in France—where bandits and beggars commingled. And I saw them, I did. Around the fire, speaking and dancing, planning and training in the method of their profession.

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The moment my eyes fell upon the crowd, I made towards the edges. Do not fret, sister, I was not immediately spotted as a man of means who might be extorted. The benefit of the lifestyle of a student is that I am used to appearing impoverished. So I made my way, carefully and slowly, around the crowd.

For the land of miracles, little wonders failed to happen. I heard children laugh, yes, but also weep. Babes cried out, and comforted by mothers. Bellies rumbled hungry . Men shouted, cursed, talked of God and damnation. Some spoke of great cons on the local priests—how they might get more meals yet from this or that source. But slowly, I heard one by one the topic turn to ‘the nightly business’.

It was as I was on the edge, that they appeared—the nocturnal crew. A group of three or four, with one shorter man at the head. At the center of the fire, a dull drum beat began that silenced the crowd. I turned and listened, as a figure began to speak, in a voice as low as thunder and rumbling like flame. He spoke at a length, and I cannot repeat it here. Not only for concern of my sister’s sensibillities, but because the whole of the speaker’s tongue was lost on me—at times, French, yes, but at times in Spainish and German or even languages in the East. The finery of his words were thus lost on me—as was the outbursts and shouts from his fellows. But the thrust, that I understood.

There is an old Jewish story I heard once, about four men who saw the face of God. One went mad, one died, one became a heretic, and one became holy. I found it an amusing understanding of the truth, but little more. Now I cannot say which I am. I sit writing this letter, having heard a man—and still, I am uncertain if he were a man, woman, or angel—recount the suffering of the world. I have seen his hand point towards me, however incidentally, and recited the crimes of the world.

He talked of starving children, of thieves and murders in palaces of bone, of the blood watered sugar canes, of the shots that rang out in town squares. He talked of lives that never could be, of villages and peoples trampled undnereath, of the four horsemen unleashed—how following conquest had come the ills of war, famine, and plague. And how now, now at the turning of the years, it would finally end.

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I fled at once, away and no longer caring that I drew attention to myself. I found my way, stumbling, wheezing—yes, your dear brother has yet to learn proper exercise—to an officer of the law. To a street that, I realized, was well lit. To a place, a place where I could find my way home.

 

That was a week ago. Yet the fire, the fire still burns on my skin. It holds some space in my head, it murmurs in my ear. That Judgement Day may come at the hands of man and not God is a terrible thing. That it might seize me, at any moment—surely this has driven men mad.

A man cannot bear that great weight—I expect the cracks to form soon. It is coming soon, it is winding down the wheel of fate soon. When judgment comes, will it be our last? Paris, my sister, Paris is kindling. Perhaps it won’t come soon—I pray I do not see it soon. For the righteous are against us, and I see no recourse or escape. The sea will not take me, and even in Berlin I know those words will haunt the streets.

I wonder now, when I have the patience and mind, if this tribulation has happened before? Has the wheel of fate turned past, or is the end of all ends coming for us? On that day, will my name be called? Will the dull thud of the razor resume, the old heart of Paris restored? Will they cheer when my head rolls free? Or worse, will I be swallowed up—nameless in the flood?


 

I’m not fond of this story. I think it came out unfinished, and that it was both too politically overt, and too vague in it’s horror. It feels like perhaps the pay off to a larger build up or  a story where the ‘threat’ is so clearly the hero, that it’s hard to be scared with the main character. Aw well.

Next week! Secrets beneath the castle walls! What is waiting in the forbidden room?

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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…

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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A Certain Preponderance of Witnesses

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

The Prior Research:It’s Alive!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moroco Graveyard 2.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GraveYardMoroccoAltered

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

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

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

Abanonded Hotel Morocco.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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The Brand of Nasht

This Week’s Prompt: 63. Sinister names—Nasht—Kaman-Thah.

The Relevant Research:What’s In a Name?

It started in my left palm when I was five, dying skin forming a single pale letter. It stretched out in both directions like a skeletal pair of wings or an ant with too many legs. There were hushed whispers of what it meant, but for ten years the spreading script in some unintellegible language continued. At last, my mother sat me down in private, as both hands already stung to use and searing marks made their way down my back. And she told me a story. A story of her old life, away from the hills, when she lived on the plains of Kaman-Thah.

On those plains, in the house of a noble queen, a word was spoken in wrath and greed, in prideful seeking of power from old scrolls. And this hidden word, this ancient name, spread along the walls and pillars, like ivy of fire. Those who heard it broke and bent, and the first bearer of the name emerged from the carnival of seared flesh. Within days, her home was changed in way she couldn’t say. The name that scarred the stars in the sky, granted fire to the eyes, and rent the veils to hidden places spread not just in the shouting of the mad man plague, but seared its way into souls through their very eyes. She had fled into the hills, pregnant with me when she reached the hills, among people who nothing of the word, her face bearing scars of that old encounter.

To rid herself of the name that wormed it’s way through her flesh and blood, sketching itself into her eyes and cheeks, she spoke it one more time alone to me. For my first name was that ancient and dread name, exorcised into me as a babe. She gave my second name to me in a proper ceremony, bore it in a sealed talisman, and taught it to everyone so that the children wouldn’t release that poison. But they knew. If not the form, they knew the substance.

Hand2Mark.png

And now, the name long dormant, never spoken for more than a decade, was waking. It was time for me to go, lest it burst free and devour my home. They had considered killing me before now. But they were afraid. The curse might escape in my blood on the ground, or into the air with my dying breath. So I wasn’t going to die. But I couldn’t stay.

I begged my mother not to send me out of the hills I had known. I begged to stay somehow. I begged even for life not that far off, on a hill a day away, in a hut of my own building. But there was no negotiating. I pleaded a way to cure the markings that spread. My mother showed mercy, her diamond face cracking slightly. She knew no cure for that curse, she confessed. But perhaps, in the storied halls where the name had been kept, deep in Kaman Thah, I might find solace. She told me which direction to run, gave me a meal to depart with, and sent me on my way.

My first thought was to go to my neighbors, but there door was locked and they didn’t here my knocking on the door. By the time I gave up on receiving hospitality from anyone I’d known , the sun was rising impatiently on the horizon. Hurry up, it whispered on the morning breeze. You can’t lurk here forever. I set out then, with but a meal and a notion of where to go.

When I wondered into other towns, ones that new my marks and hurled stones at me, I thought of home. I wondered if they wept when I was gone, or if they had done all the weeping when I was born. I learned to wear heavy rags, to scavenge clothes on the days journey, following whispers as hunger gnawed away at me. I barely slept, even on those nights where my bed was the soft grass and my roof a friendly moon. Most nights it was neither.

Kamanthah.png

A waste encircles Kaman Thah. The ground is a rusty red, a scabbed over wound from long ago. Spires shoot up on the horizon, arrow shafts jammed into the flesh of the earth. I scurried across the crumbling dried mud that made up the cloudless land, forgetting my rags I drew near. There was a faint wind, heaving over the ground and forcing a thin mist of the

I saw the letters that were emerging on my skin inscribed into shattered stones that seemed to pulse as I got close. I saw rotting blots that made the contours of characters on the trenches that ringed the city. When I approached the great gates, broken down and twisted by unseen hands, I saw the cancerous cyan light all around me. The windows and doors of the buildings were bloated and molded into half formed faces within faces, crumbling edifices that if somehow brought together would be a perfect sculpture of the dread sorcerer. Pulsing stars made up their brickwork and mortar, hanging on the skeletons as the flesh of a jellyfish lightly adheres to water.

As I took in the sight of so much mutilated masonry, I heard footfalls down the streets. There, hunched over the twisted fractal fingers that a statue had become, was a thing like a man or dog. Its forelimbs where bent thrice, a jagged line that ended in double-sided hands that seemed stitched together. A tail with a luminous stinger swept back and forth as it observed me, its face a mass of iron that dripped onto the floor. The thing loomed over, white flames slipping out of the shifting eyes. For a moment, I thought that like a stray dog it may be befriended, beast in this strange city that might enjoy company. And then it screeched at me and bolted off.

As I felt the pang of not being of interest, I grew suddenly afraid of a more terribly shape and sound—a drunken and sickly choir making its way toward me, a mass of bodies lurching forward with jaws that reached to their distended stomachs and flesh that folded together. At once they were one and then many, and when that sea of eyes laid on me, they were far less passive. Their bodies became vigorous and the tide surged towards me as I ran down a nearby alley, weaving through the paths that from above formed the start of that name. I hid behind a door of open palms as the mass surged past, its many arms still outstretched to find more food for the fold.

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When I was sure they passed, I slipped back out. Clutching the cloth close over my warped limb, I carried on. I didn’t know what I was looking for…or rather I knew, but not what it would be. My mother had said to seek scrolls for some cure, but I had no illusions that such a thing could be found. Not anymore. No, in this city of broken reflections and copies of copies and recreations that crumbled after themselves, I sought the name in it’s fullness. I sought that thing that was what I might be, what I could become.

I sought to drive a knife into its head and make it bleed for cursing me, to watch it die on the streets of its own shape, until from its corpse I might find meaning and that most basic of life’s blessings that was stolen from me. I wanted to watch that damned sorcerer’s pusling form die in his temple to himself, bleed out in his own ego.

Other creatures appeared, but seemed unconcerned with me. A great winged thing, with a serpent neck and a head full of eyes flew over head. It’s feathers fell sloppily on the floor, cracking the ground beneath the wait of letters they formed. The name was everywhere, but unfinished and poorly rendered. I knew the shapes from my hand, where it still refined and spread even then. I followed the sections that looked most finished, that most resembled my palms brand, for what have been days—for the sun and moon and stars all too were bent stranger here, into writing in glowing lines upon a twisted sky.

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Until at last after days of worming my way through the mass of bodies and brickwork, I found it. A towering temple body. A hundred hands drooped onto the street, pillars of the hunched over form. As I stepped between them, into the interior, I saw that the arms that held the dreadful body aloft were fractal, each composed in turn of a hundred smaller limbs. Within I saw a glimmer of light reflecting off some strange shape inside.

Haggard and tired breaths pushed through the body of the sorcerer, from mouths unseen. The smell was at one time putrid rot, at other times sweet honey. My gaze fell upon the head of the aborrent thing which was made of rust red flesh, colder and less harsh on the eyes than my own limb. In the back, staring over the finger formed iconostasis with a many pupiled eyes it waited. I drew closer, waiting for a snarl. Waiting for a sign, a woven spell, a flash of light, or worse.

Closer, closer, crawling over the bent wall and remains. With a sharp stone in hand, I was close enough to touch that strange pulsing mass of eyes. Carefully balanced, I stared at the infinite inscriptions of the name, each marking and completion within itself. Over and over it worked itsway on the flesh of the temple, symetrical and unbroken if faded with the winds of time. Every blow bled that name in bright colors down its red face, down my hand and on the stone as I smashed it’s eyes and skulls apart screaming vengance, laughing, crying as it bled and as the breath began to stop.

I feel to my knees laughing as the dread sorcerer died, my hundred hands holding me above the ground. My hundred fold eyes saw the temple fade into another corpse, as I stood tall. It was dead, except in my head. The name was gone, and I left that city triumphant and towering over the broken and half-formed progeny of it’s endeavor. The pains of my flesh born limbs were gone, and I set my eyes northward, to show my mother what I had become.


I enjoyed writing this story. I think it could obviously use some work, but this is the first one in sometime that I felt at least had a fun premise and concept. It was nice to write after some more academic work, and to indulge in something like character work–something that is usually lacking in the stories I manage to produce in a week.

Next week! Making life, the new old way!

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The Bride and The Bridge

This Weeks Prompt: 62. Live man buried in bridge masonry according to superstition—or black cat.

The Research:All Walled Up

I remember that fateful day, down by the bubbling stream. We left the crumbling remains of stone all the more bitter than before, as bits of men and mortar were washed away again. The command had come down, from the voice of the river herself. The bridge would not rise, until someone had died.

First she asked for a pair of twins, named Strong and Sturdy. I went out, with the King’s ring and funerary pay. I searched in the valleys and fields, in the woods and riverbeds. I went between hill and vale, through moors and mountains, but not a sign of them. The children were gone. Maybe they already lay as corner stones to some other bridge. Or maybe the river was cruel, and delighted in struggle.

We despaired, until we found a stranger on our roads. Then we delighted, and slipped some belladonna in his drink. So we set about building again, tossing the traveler we found on the road into the hole. He was unawares as the soil filled up around him, and the stones were laid above him, a tomb of strong masonry if nameless. The good Lord would recognize him on judgment day anyway.

The stone bent, the wood snapped as the river roared to life. We saw her then, the ala rising from the waves like a storm swirling out of the clouds. She towered over the three of us, myself the chief mason, the King and the Duke. She made her demands more clear this time.

The Bridge1.png

“You give us not twins, but one, not a friend, but a stranger, buried in his sleep, that none my know? And you thought by this we would be sated?” She boomed on the winds and spray. “A hundred bones will grid my stones, unless a new offering is brought. Bring us not an old man, not an orphan, not a stranger, not a widow, not an ill man, or grandmother. Bring us a mother, a wife still young that we will hold them close, in the stones of your bridge.”

With that, she crashed as a wave onto the rubble, and washed away men and mortar.And so we three, wind biting at our cloaks, made our way to the hills, clouds hanging round our thoughts. Between us, we each had a young boy, and a wife. I knew in my heart, as the wind as chilled as my blood, that there would be much mourning soon.

“How should we decide,” The Duke asked, examining his nails with his thumb, “who will suffer this terrible fate?”

“If all is to be fair, we should cast lots.” I mused, unable to meet their eyes. My sweet summer flower, buried beneath the stones, weighed heavily on me. It seemed that giving fate the knife and telling her to cut the line would at least make it bearable.

“That is too vulgar for something like this…” The king said, staring back at the river. “Let us give it all unto God, and the masons, so we cannot cheat the river. I will go among them. Whosoever’s wife brings their meal tomorrow morn, they will wall up below.”

We each shook on the arrangements, and made our way, thoughts of doom lingering long over our heads. The fog rolled up the hills, as we all took our beds, for what might be the last time. I smiled at dinner with my Dmitri and Katrina. They had condolences over the failure of the bridge, although by then…well, it was hardly surprising. The stew and bread were warm, and hearty, and dread wore me down to sleep swiftly.

Ah, that dreadful day, when the sun came over head. My flower sweet Katrina woke, and went with the others to fetch water. We came quietly to the masons camp and waited, looking on the horizon. The fog was still there, the dew still wet when we saw her, my lovely wife in white, her head scarf held tight with a basket of bread and a pail of water.

“Sweet Katrina, why do you come alone?” I asked, my heart heavy. She smiled with rosy cheeks as she came down the hill. The masons took their bread, as did the king and the duke. With their iron shovels, they began to dig.

“Ah, her Majesty fell ill. And the Lady Duchess took to bed with a fainting spell.” my sweet Katrina said. “So the work was left only to me. The load was heavy, but I knew the hunger would be heavier for my husband.”

I smiled as best I could. Oh, a fool I was to trust other men with promises of fair play, when their loves and lives were on the line. One of the workman put his hand on my shoulder, a wieght holding my ghost from escaping. In the years since, I’ve not forgotten his words.

“The bridge is ready for the lady.” He said grimly. My smile fell, my face felt hot.

“What’s this? You prepared the bridge again for me?” My sweet Katrina said with a laugh.

“Yes…The river wants a burial.” The workman said. I couldn’t even speak, I just hung my head.

Coward I was, to not set upon them then and there, and fight the call of the tide. I saw the Ala in the winds watching then, waiting. The bridge was still a fragile thing. It would bend and break.

“Oh, and it’s to be me?” My Katrina said with another laugh. The workman nodded, and the two of us lead her to the opening in the foundation. We wrapped around her eyes a blindfold of white, and a red cloth for the angel of death around her neck.

We lowered her gently down to the stone floor. It was a deep, slanted hole in the earth, smoothed walls on every side. As deep as a grave, as wide as three men side to side.

“Well, its not the most comfortable, but the stones have been harder.” My Katrina jested. She smiled up at us for moment…until the workmen shoveled in dirt. She shouted and cursed at the bruises.

“That’s enough of that! What kind of game is it to throw dirt at a wife?” She said, as the dirt began to cover her feet. She ran her heads on the pit’s walls, but they were smooth. I looked away.

“What civilized wit you have, to make a show of a woman like this. But please, I’m sure the point is past, you can stop now. I’m going to need some help getting out of this.” My Katrina said, the dirt up to her waist, as she pushed up despite the flowing dirt.

“What have I done for this? Please, what have I done?” She cried out, as her struggling arms were covered to the elbow. “What have I done to die like this?”

The dirt rose to her neck, the workman silent as they set stones around her.

“God take you! Should your brothers trod on my bridge, you cowards and monsters, I hope they are smashed into the river rocks and drown! The plague take you by the throat, you and all your kin!” She shouted, full of venom.

TheFoundation.png

“Even if it is your own brother?” The mason asked, the last dirt in his shovel.

“Where is he now?” She hissed back. And then was silent ever more.

The bridge still spans the river, unbroken yet. The ala stays silent beneath, shaking occasionally but no more than from wind and rain. The clouds seem to linger over head, longer than before, obscuring the eye of God from what we have done.

I come to visit her often. I lay flowers by my Katrina’s stone, with my son beside me. I wonder too, where her brother roams. It does not matter. He is too late, and my gifts are too little. She is restless in the earth now. In my dreams and waking hours, I hear her cry out. But as then, I do nothing.


 

This story was fun to right, and figuring the perspective was the most difficult part. It could be expanded–originally the tale ended on a note of vengeance on the deceptive Duke and King, but that was taking too long. At this brief, I think it works well.

Next week, we go to a new prompt! Names of Power and Praise!

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The Pale Hound

This Week’s Prompt: 58. A queer village—in a valley, reached by a long road and visible from the crest of the hill from which that road descends—or close to a dense and antique forest.

The Research: The Severn Valley

In the days leading up to incident of September 1st, 1859, there were a number of sightings around the world. Spiritualists and visionaries recorded, perhaps in retrospect, the warnings and signals from the sky. Perhaps one of the most enduring of these, for those who have delved into the tales around the event itself, is that of Joesph Cormac.

Joesph Cormac’s regular travel, as accounts of the incident all make clear, ran from his workplace down an old road and along the Svern river bank. The road is famed for it’s demonic owner, who rides in the dead of night to steal away sinners. Further, the woods that surround it like skin on a serpent are known for there flickering lights that lure men into the hands of ghostly robbers. Others have been swept up onto mountain tops by the whispers of unseen maidens.

But Cormac had a peculiar banality to his life. While few report such things without a good deal of prodding, Cormac only revealed further layers of dead normality. Even those who regularly saw the fae denizens of the world invisible said that the world seemed to loose it’s fog around Cormac. That lines were crisper, nights brighter. Cormac himself attributed this to his simpleness, having spent much time observing things as they were, not as he would have them be. It was, he said, from working with stone so much. It left little room for the bizarre, if one only focused on the geometry and carvings of rocks.

So it is no surprise that on September 1st, at ten o’clock, he was not too worried at the sight of a large dog digging in a bush. Some tellers maintain the bush had thorns, and that Cormac should have been more wary for the lack of blood. Others say it was just a large creature, and that approaching strays is always a bad idea. Both are correct. Cormac himself confessed on a few occasions to feeling a bit sentimental towards dogs and animals of the woods. This fondness moved him to approach the wild creature, which seemed to have stuck it’s head in the thorn bushes.

As he called out, however, the dog showed no signs of recognition. It simply dug deeper into the bush, making a small pile of dirt. Cormac pressed on, encouraged by the lack of growling as he drew near. He put his hand on the canine’s back, petting it’s fur and whispering to it to get it’s attention. When his hand touched the dog’s back, which he maintains was cold and wet, like a fish with fur, it turned to face him.

The Pale Hound1.png

Cormac objects often to this terminology, for the dog had no face. No head at all. There was a neck that ended in a gruesome wound, smoke rising from it like a fire was in the dog’s belly. The noise it made, according to Mr. Cormac, was a deep gurgling sound, like a drowning man gasping for air. It held him transfixed for but a moment, punctuating it’s noises with gasps of silence before Mr. Cormac’s sense returned and he bolted away.

Mr. Cormac’s fear did not lead him back to the road, however. Rather, called by perhaps a sense to hide or recalling the geography of his home and seeking a short cut, he ran further into the woods, away from the road. And as I said, Mr. Cormac had no fear or experience with the supernatural or unseen. He had no reason, even in his primeval soul, to fear that in the woods worse things waited. Such was the confidence of his banality.

After an approximate thirty minutes of flight, Mr. Cormac recovered his breath leaning on tree, no longer hearing the dreadful footfalls of the dog in pursuit. There was a silence in the air as he walked. His steps made no sound on the August grass. In the distance, he saw lights faintly on the hills, that he reasoned were lost travelers or robbers. He tried then to understand what the pale thing was, lurking in the bushes. By his own account, Mr. Cormac then and there swore off all alcohol for the rest of his life, reasoning that a forgotten pint now haunted him. He then carried on, until a slight movement caught his eye.

The silence was in fact its herald. For there, up ahead, was the pale dog, perched down and facing him. There were no eyes to see it’s expression, no teeth to bare. Nothing but the vacant hole that dripped smoking blood onto the stones. It sat, and raised it’s neck, smoke wafting up into signals in the night sky. A distant shape on the mountains came into clearer focus, small sigils floating on high. A silent howl to the moon.

PaleHound2.png

This time Mr. Cormac found more fight then fear, tossing stones at the dog to scare it off. But it’s fur, so cold and wet, held fast to the stones he hurled, giving the beast a hide of gravel. It did stop its smoke, and bent low, a beast ready to pounce on its prey. Mr. Cormac stopped as the thing rippled down the stone outcropping and with a hungry gait approached him. Cowering, he promised the insensate thing that he meant it no harm, that he would play fetch. He seized a random tree branch, and gestured it to the non-existent eyes of the creature, before tossing it off in the distance, and running the other direction.

Mr. Cormac got a good distance before he heard the sound of footsteps behind him again. The hound was not far off it seemed, and so Mr. Cormac sprinted faster and faster. He reached again the old Roman road, and cobblestones having zig-zagged through the trees and bushes. Now, in his panic, a host of sounds roared towards him. A pack of hounds, it seemed, followed just behind him and on his tales. The galloping of a horse thudded behind them, a horn staggering them. Something old awoke in Mr. Cormac, something wise enough to keep his head away from the host he heard.

At last his breath ran out as he collapsed beneath a common beech tree, it’s canopy sheltering him from the sky. Gasping for air, he heard the sounds of the hounds and huntsman fade away into the night, no doubt having found another fool to chase. It was now well past midnight, and the lights on the hill seemed to be fingers reaching up into the heavens. At last, Cormac thought, he could rest.

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He drew long, sharp breaths as he rested, staring at the hill side. And there he saw a pale shape running up, coming to a full stop on the top of the hill, and tilting upward. And then another, familiar smoke rising from them into alien shapes. At last, a light was seen, rising from those hills. Cormac thought for an instant he’d run all the night away, as shining lines appeared on the hillside, dancing lightly between the fae hounds and their towers of smoke. It transfixed him until a pale hand gripped his shoulder. The fae had found him, their hunt growing quieter the closer they drew. The hounds were upon him, immersing him in smoke and shade. Mr. Cormac, in terror, recited a rote prayer.

The sudden onset of the aurora appears to have save him, although Mr. Cormac attributes it to his prayer. At the rising light, the hounds vanished and the hand let him free. It seems they mistook the coming flare for the sun itself, which they may never see.

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