The House of Witchs

This Week’s Prompt: 99. Salem story—the cottage of an aged witch—wherein after her death are found sundry terrible things.

The Prior Research:Salem

I’d been house hunting for the last four days, when Alex finally agreed to take me to the house on 35th and Main. He grumbled and sighed the entire drive, before we pulled up to the slightly overrun yard. It was a nice, two story house—clean windows, nice door, fresh wallpaper.

“It’s just a bit pricey, you know, and there are better places.” He said, sighing as we walked through the house. “I mean, and you know, it’s got a history.”

“And that’s why we’ve got to check it out!” I said. The house was the exact same, top to bottom—okay, not quiet the same. The kitchen down stairs was the exact shape of the guest room right above it, the bedroom and living room perfectly mirrored each other.

“I mean, it’s not like this is the same house they hanged her in.” I said, flicking a light switch on.

“No…Okay, no it’s not.” Alex admitted. “Got rebuilt a few times after fires and the like. Last time was back in the 70s I think. Some freak earthquake or something broke the foundation and they had to fix it. And then there was a wave of renovations.”

I walked through the halls. I wonder how much of this place had actually stayed the same after three centuries—were the rooms always like this? Did they shift and change? The attic upstairs was entirely empty except some boxes—what had they once held? Was the living room the same one where they tried her, searched her entire body for where the creatures of the night drank blood?

“I think it’s the one.” I said, smiling as we left.

“Of course you do.” Alex sighed. “Of course the witch house halfway out of town is the perfect one—no, can’t be any of the ones down town or near a train station, nope, crazy house.”

Apartment Floor A.png

“So it really is the same, top to bottom?” Cheryl asked. She was at the desk across from me, peering over the screen.

“Yep.”

“Doesn’t that get…confusing?” She said, clattering away at the keyboard.

“Not as bad as you’d think—I mean, I’ve gotten mixed up once or twice when putting stuff away.” I said with a shrug. “You know, I’ll come home, get ready for shower and whoops! Walked into the walk in closet, bathrooms on the other floor.”

“Wow. I mean, that’s not too bad.”

“No, like—unless it’s late at night, it’s pretty easy to navigate around. When I’m like half asleep, it gets worse.” If I’m drunk it is an actual nightmare. I once spent an hour racing up and down the stairs, trying to figure out which one had the living room and which one had the bedroom, before just sleeping on the couch.

“Seen any…” Cheryl, pausing mid type. “You know. Last people that had the house left after a month.”

“No, nothing.” I said, clattering along. “I mean, I might ask someone to look at the walls.”

“What, blood leaking from them already?” Cheryl said with a nervous laugh. I didn’t mention that the walls had made a clicking sound at night—not loud enough to wake me up, but enough to keep me awake. Everything was so quiet out there.

Apartment Floor B.png

It wasn’t much of a conversation, really. I had a few like that, people surprised I was living in the old haunted house. Which—okay, yeah, a few people it turns out had gone missing in the place. But like, of the past owners—I checked, out of curiousity—none of them ‘mysteriously’ vanished, and even the ones that had a bad time were like, fifty to sixty years apart. The stories get wilder around the 1700s—everyone’s grandma has a story about my old house it seems.

It was kinda thrilling to live somewhere famous. I even gave tours to a few friends—some of them joked about breaking into it when they were teens. Looked different, back then. Run down, but same double floors.

“Yeah, its always been like that.” Jermey said, pointing at the ceiling as we walked down the stairs. “I mean, you know, when I was here it was like. Graffiti’d up and shag carpeted.”

“Shag carpeting?”

“Yeah, it was gross as hell. But the same, top to bottom. Weird that they didn’t like—like the bathrooms weren’t.” He said looking it over. “I mean, they kinda are—we figured that since they were on top of each  other, we’d drop stuff down one pipe and it’d go down the other but nope. Just pissed off the handy man.”

“Thought it was abandoned?” I asked, frowning.

Jeremey shrugged.

“I mean, no one lived here. But I remember once we got wasted and tore up one of the walls—freaked out, thinking we’d get caught.” He said, gesturing. “But it was all put together in like. A day. Someone had to do it. Never heard of ghosts patching up brickwork.”

Apartment Floor C.png

I did get used to the noise after a while. The little creaks and dings and shifting of moving papers stopped bothering me.  I dreamed about getting lost in repeating hallways more than once. I know I came home drunk and went to bed in my room, and woke up in the living room at least once.

I kinda got used to just staring ahead and counting whenever I saw someone on the sidewalk, a shape I couldn’t quite make out until the last moment. Once or twice, I caught someone following me—or well. I thought they were following me. They just lived nearby and I hadn’t seen them yet. No one was following me.

At least—well there was one time. I woke up in the middle of the night in the bedroom down stairs. I walked around, trying to get my bearings again, and looked out the window—and I thought I saw Cheryl. She was just walking…to the bus station, which was weird because I swear she lived on the other side of town. No reason for her to be around her.

*

“Oh, just went home and binged some shows.” She said when I asked what she’d been up to last night. “How about you?”

“Not much. Read a book.” I muttered.  I mean, it wasn’t a lie. I’d been reading some documents. The crew that came over couldn’t find anything causing the clicking sound,  probably something the construction crew before left in there. So I went digging for the construction crew for the current house—and couldn’t find one.

I couldn’t find the last one either. Not like, a shell company or anything, but like—there’s a newspaper article from 1970 about a fire destroying the house. It’s listed for sale in 1972. That’s the house I’m in. But no one built the house. The listing is in a newspaper, it doesn’t mention the company. And I don’t even know how to start finding that in a public record.

“I think it was built by OMN?” Alex said. I hadn’t given him a ring in a while. “Can’t really…huh. Can’t find a specific record, but they did a lot of construction back then. Hey, don’t worry about it too much. It’s probably just settling or something—get an exterminator if your worried its rats in the walls I guess?”

Or move out of the creepy house, like I said to was the unspoken bit there. But whatever. I couldn’t leave—unless I found another buyer, I didn’t have the cash for that. So exterminator it was.

*

“And he found nothing.” I muttered. I could feel the bags under my eyes, even if they weren’t there yet.

“Well, that’s good right?” Jeremey said, printing another few copies of…something. I don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention.

“I just…It’s been getting louder I think. More frequent for sure. He heard it, said there’s no animal he’d heard make that sound—left out some traps.” I waved it away. Just when I got used to the little noises, this one comes in insistent.

“I mean—maybe a plumber or something? Might be something rattling in the pipes.” Jermey said, tapping the papers. “Loose coin or something.”

“I don’t…maybe?” I said throwing my hands up. “I’ve got to figure out what it is—I swear, I’d never have bought the place if I’d known it was this much of a pain. Supposedly haunted historical house is one thing, this is…This is just maddening.”

Apartment Floor D.png

I just didn’t sleep that night. It was the first night I stayed awake all night—cup of coffee and ears listening for any sounds. I’d just, I’d catch this thing.

The ticking started earlier than I remember it starting before. One of the old paintings ticked up a few inches. As I watched, the face on the old woman’s painting peeled off. A small plate there, of some fibrous material, rotated.

I got up slowly…and the floor swam beneath me. I fell back down. The room rotated. The walls fell away, a labyrinth of crystal and glass shimmering in the moonlight. My bed fell through the liquid floor. I screamed and waited for a crash.

None came.

I looked up at the old house—shimmering like moonlight on the water. New stars shone down through the transparent roof. When I got up this time, I was on solid ground. I saw hundreds of miles beneath the house—hundreds of fractal rooms. Perfectly shaped, all with glowing like stars. Except one—down at the very bottom, there was something…something dull. Some small blob, a hundred feet away. The ticking was coming from down in the depths, and I was sure it was from that strange shape.

There was a shout form the window. Looking up, I saw such…wonderful places. I saw hills of sunlight, I saw sable sands with red rivers. I saw moons, I saw worlds outside. I saw them tearing and bending and wonder turned to horror. The ticking turned to skipping—the house…whatever it was, something was wrong. I looked down again, at the shape sitting their listless.

It was like a bug trapped in amber. A small shape but I saw the whole house struggling to break free  of it. It shook and seemed to crack. The floor gave in beneath me, and I went tumbling down. Before I could get up, it cracked and fell again.

Bruised and exhausted, I fell. I fell through house after house. I fell down centuries, down to the very bottom. I looked up, struggling a bit to catch my breath. The light was dim down here—I could barely see my fingers.

I looked up and saw her. Hanging there—not really her. Not her body, that was long gone. Her shadow? Something that was there but wasn’t. It wasn’t really there. It was there though. It was…the house was broken. It yearned up.

But she was there. Her body was there, jammed in the gears and light. She was glowing like a dim moon, soft and cold. The windows down here were all black seas and forgotten woods. The house shook and quaked. It glowed and ticked.

Apartment Floor A
I next remember waking up in the hospital. The doctor said there’d been an accident—freak fire while I was asleep. Most of the house was burned down—not all of it, but most. The fire department was just glad to have contained it—there were lots of old homes down there.  It could have spread uphill, caught some of the others.

It was really lucky it just burned mine. I guess.

Just like that earthquake back in the 70s, I guess. Or the flash flood that tore out the foundations in 1922. It’s a very lucky house, in a way.



 

I’m still unhappy with this story. I liked the idea of the house as some sort of mechanism, which was stuck trying to complete its task by the crime committed in the past. But I couldn’t find a strong A-plot to go in with, and interweave with, the haunted house. I think there might be some burn out on houses for now–and looking a head, we’ll be away from them for at least a few weeks! Thank you for your patience.

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Salem

This Week’s Prompt: 99. Salem story—the cottage of an aged witch—wherein after her death are found sundry terrible things.

The Forthcoming Story:

This prompt continues our haunted and disturbed houses of New England—a tour that has gone on for almost a month now. Here, however, Mr. Lovecraft has grounded us in a very particular historical tragedy—the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. The story of the Witch Trials is an infamous one, but one where the details are sometimes lost. So I will describe the chronology in brief here.

The Witch House

The Witch House, former home of Judge Johnathan Corwin, is the last building standing from the Witch Trials .https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Witch_House

At the center of the witchcraft outbreak are two girls, Elizabeth and Abigail Parris, daughters of Reverend  Samuel Parris, and their mixed race servant Tituba. According to documents, Elizabeth and Abigail learned tricks from Tituba during the winther of 1691-1692. Other girls are documented as possibly being there. A time after this, it is reported that the children began acting strangely—they spoke in tongues, crawled into holes and walls, and others acted foolishly. The local doctor could not identify the cause of this behavior,  and proclaimed them bewitched. This of course attracted local interest, including a gathering of Ministers to determine who had bewitched them. Tituba and her husband offered their skills at finding witches—but were accused of witchcraft themselves by the children. Sarah Good and Sarah Osborn were also accused.  All were found guilty, and executed. Shortly after there were waves of witchcraft accusations in the area around Salem—A total of 151 people were accused, most but not all women. At least 20 were executed. Most of towns accused one to three individuals, and often only held one trial that year. Most of the accused follow expected trends—they were usually of low means, mobile, old and asocial. Those of greater means were rumored witches or accused before hand, and often new arrivals. After 1692, the hunt ended as the commission founded was dissolved. Numerous suggestions have been made for why—the targeting of less stereotypical

Recurring incidents associated with witchcraft and the trials are appariations terrorizing their victims, often to compel them to sign a book; the pricking or draining of blood; the appearance of people far from home; and the unheard speech of witches, often taken as cursing. This is not particularly new for witchcraft. In fact, one of the reasons Salem has attracted attention is not do to it’s bloodiness—it is far from the largest witch hunt—nor its symptoms—witchcraft symptoms, being based on witch hunting guides often enough, are very similar.  The only new notable symptoms is the betwitched cannot say the name of God, nor read the Puritan catechism, but can read it and say the Quaker and Catholic ones. Which indicates a curious and genuinely frightening notion for a community so defined by its religious convictions—that some force has compelled them into the hands of the enemy. But that is for the end.

Salem Trial.png

No, the primary point of interest with Salem is that it is very late in the history of witch hunting, and in a community that was not prone to it. Popular imagery of the story has suggest the Puritan Witchhunter as the most common participant in these massacres, but historically that does not bare out entirely well. The sum of Salem is a strange aberration in time and space, fitting into a common narrative of history during it’s era and until to this day—that as one moves farther in space, one moves backwards in time. So far from the continent, it is no wonder such barbarism occurred.

Certainly, the witch hunts have a character about them that lend themselves well to horror stories—they are a gothic horror for New England, remembered well by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s work. Here the witchcraft trials serve as a strange, spectral ghost that haunts the landscape and the characters. From the echoes of the accusations in the Scarlet Letter to the haunted images and manuscripts in The Devil in the Manuscript  and Edward Randolph’s Portrait. Given his admiration for Mr. Hawthorn, such an interest is not surprising for Lovecraft.

They are also a frequent stand in for the notion of a paranoid and superstitious community turning on its own—Arthur Miller’s The Crucible used the trials as an allegory for the MacArthur era of anti-communist witch hunts, for instance. Again, Mr. Lovecraft’s own lurking fear of tradition—his fear that the so called enlightened era of humanity was a mere moment, and soon darkness would descend in its old way—makes the connection rather clear. It is at times the use of authority to establish itself over the mob and quell progress—a line with more than some truth—and other times presented as the mob calling for blood and at best moderated by the priesthood.

Beyond these older sources, other media has of course taken on the notions of the witch trial in the new world—if not Salem itself, then certainly it’s presence. The Blair Witch, for instance, is also accused by children of her nefarious acts and haunts a nearby woods. The online series Catghost enters into these notions of magic and witchcraft—and even goes so far as Lovecraft’s witch house, crediting to the witches there some true knowledge of the universe beyond mortal ken. VVitch is a more direct example, featuring a Puritan family and being within a century of the witch hunts themselves.

MoreWeight

Giles Corey, one of the men executed for witchcraft, famously said “more weight” before dying by being crushed to death with stones.

What then should be done?  The prompt presents us with a rough timeline of events: A witch trial, followed by the search of her house, in which terrible things are found. This is a profoundly bad outline—there is no clear surprise, except to subvert the modern expectation that the victim is innocent. I do not believe we are in need of a story where the witch was really a witch. Alternatively, perhaps this is meant as a less direct version, akin to Dreams in the Witch House. Here, it becomes something again like a haunted house. And certaintly, there is a tradition of ghostly witches and associations between witches and necromancers. Here the history of the house comes to grossly manifest into the new inhabitants lives. And something could be done with that sort of horror.

One author suggested that the witch trials, and Salem itself, stand for the intervention of a spiritual evil in a material world. They are the imposition and manifestation of a very non-‘whig’ or modern sort of horror. They are the ancestral sin of the region—one of many perhaps. This then becomes a collapse of history in two ways. First, the most literal—the victims of the past refuse to stay dead and quiet literally disturb the modern world. Secondly, the means of this disturbance is not in the methods the modern world would permit—it is not an avenging family member descended of the witches, it is not some structural or biological secret lost from beyond the grave, it is instead a horror like those older horrors. It is a specter, a phantom, a shadow that lives.

If we wanted to go in a different direction then a simple Lovecraft haunted house, where ancestral guilt and fears stalk a new victim, we could play with the notions of memory and history that crop up in researching Salem. A major difficulty for those investigating Salem is the lack of proper documentation at times. Not all court documents are preserved, not all the accused have court documents, and so on. Things have simply been lost, some recovered in poems and stories, but most abandoned. Things that perhaps should not have been forgotten, for forgotten things still remain.

How would you approach a horror story about a witch’s cottage? Was she holding back something in the basement, now unleashed by foolish clergy men? Was there no horror before, but the tragedy has invited it in?

Bibligoraphy:

Latner, Richard. “The Long and Short of Salem Witchcraft: Chornology and Collective Violence in 1692”, Journal of Social History. Vol. 42, No. 1, Fall 2008. Oxford Universtiy Press.

Nevins, Winfield S. Witchcraft in Salem Village in 1692: Together with some account of other witchcraft trials in New England and elsewhere. North Shore Publishing, 1892.

Stock, R.D.. “Salem Witchcraft and Spiritual Evil: A Century of Non-Whig Revisionism.” Christianity and Literature Vol 42 No. 1, Autumn 1992.  Sage Publications Inc.

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The Bowen Street House

This Week’s Prompt:98. Hideous old house on steep city hillside—Bowen St.—beckons in the night—black windows—horror unnam’d—cold touch and voice—the welcome of the dead.

The Prior Research:Rhode Island Ghosts

Bowen Street was a bit nicer than I rememberd. The old pot hole was fixed—the bigger one, not the little ones—and the fences weren’t as rusty. Uncle Rodney had been a bit of a nutter towards the end. There were three locks, and a keypad. I remember when I was fifteen him showing off his security room—I’m still not sure if it’s legal to have that many security cameras peering out in all directions from your house. I’m sure it isn’t healthy to stare at monitors all night.

It was a stroke that got him.

Opening up the house, even with the keys and the passcodes, felt like breaking into some giant vault. There was a layer of dust covering everything inisde, and that was before I started going through the locked doors. Most of them were double locked, and the windows had bars on the inside. I don’t know what Uncle Rodney was worried about—he was just generally nervous it seemed—but he had made one amazing cage.

It really shouldn’t go to waste, I thought. It was his life’s work. And I admit, I didn’t feel like sleeping any time soon. The layers of dust made the air heavy, and I didn’t have time to clean. One night, with some beers, seeing what the old man was looking at all night. I’ll toss it out tomorrow, I thought.

CameraB.png

The house clicked to life at eight o’clock exactly. Camera’s whirred to life, screens flickered, lights shone down. And that was the visible parts. Webs of motion sensors were spontaneously woven over the yard, and I’m pretty sure the fence gained life electric. And I sat, drinking from a can, watching the screens. Trying to figure out what had made Uncle Rodney so afraid.

There was a bobcat that walked across the street, right up to the gate. I held my breath as it looked at the fence. It reached out a paw—I stared intently as it considered the jump.

And then, suddenly, it ran off. Scapered back where it came. I glanced across the screens, following the little angry furball until it got to a side walk and went down the street.

I mean, at that point, I kinda thought it lived across the street. There was another house there, although I didn’t give it much attention before. I mean, it was barely a house.

The roof was intact, and the doors, and the—I frowned as I looked at the windows. I guess the lights were off? They were completely dark—actually, zooming closer, it looked like the blinds were closed? No, not even that. They were tinted black. I sat back a bit. Was this whole neighborhood paranoid? I zoomed the camera back out, taking in the crumbling wreck. The porch had fallen in, the door looked worn and someone had stolen the door knocker, and–

There was beeping on one of the motion sensors. I frowned, and looked over at the other camera. My heart stopped for a moment as I saw a pale shape—some kid in a grey hoodie or with a blanket around their back—squeezing at the gate. I couldn’t quite make out what he was…I mean the gate was high voltage, maybe he had wire cutters or something.

I had dialed two digits before he was gone. I looked up as the phone rang, and saw him slip across and into the old house, turning back for only a second. I thought he looked into the camera.

*

“Mr. Barthet?” The voice came through on the other end after a minute of silence. “I don’t know how often we have to answer these calls before it becomes a crime, Mr. Barthet.”

“I’m sorry?” I asked, blinking. “This is the first time I’ve called.”

“Don’t tell me your memory’s going to, Rodney.” The officer sighed. “So what was it this time? Some rave across the street that no one else can here?”

“I’m—I’m not Rodney.” I said slowly. “My names Roger Barthet.”

There was a long pause.

“Oh. Well. I’m sorry for your loss Roger.” The voice said slowly. “Uh, well, alright—Your uncle had a habit of reporting on the old house. Don’t lose to much sleep over it. The place is condemned, should be bulldozed any day now. No one living there but some rats.”

“But I saw–”

“Probably some teen hiding there for a few days or something, you know how kids are.” the officer continued. “If he mucked up your fence too much, that might be something, but, well, we aren’t going out in the middle of the night to chase a kid down in a ghost house.”

And that was it. He told me to get some sleep, see if I felt better in the morning. I sighed, hung up, and went to bed. It rained that night, helped me sleep some.

CameraA.png

Not that I woke up feeling any better. If anything, it felt like someone had reached down my throat and dropped a bunch of needles in my stomach. I kinda staggered around most of the day. Took a walk down to the river, did some exploring.

The house across the street was definitely abandoned looking. I mean, the porch was rotting and missing all its paint—it had turned a weird grey brown of dead trees. A bunch of small live ones were growing in the yard. The old fence was pointy and green-black—I can’t quite tell with those old iron fences that have like, the tips you know?–and broken in a few places. The only really intact bits were the windows, which during the day seemed all the more strange. Seriously, why does an abandoned building have tinted windows?

I couldn’t get it out of my head, walking down the riverside. Someone definitely still used that house for…for something, I don’t know what. Maybe it was just a teen sex and drugs den or something. No wonder Uncle Rodney had cameras pointed at, must have been convinced they were going to try and rush his place in the night. I’m surprised I didn’t find a bigger gun-locker in the house. Yeah, I still hadn’t figured out how to get rid of that, I’m pretty sure Rhode Island’s strict about that sort of thing.

I didn’t go to bed that night. I stayed tuned in—the guy I called over said it’d be costly pulling out the all the wires, and he needed to check the house more, so I had a few more days. And I knew what I saw. If I could just see it again—If I could catch that kid—I think it was a kid. That thing in the night, I’d be able to sleep. I spent the afternoon after the work practicing the shutter function on the camera—a quick photo with a click. And so I waited. And waited. I waited as cars passed by, as drunk teenagers stumbled across the side walk, I wait until three in the morning, eyes fixed to the screens, staring out in all directions from this house.

I was almost falling asleep, despite the caffeinated heartbeat. And then I saw it. My finger moved before I did, clicking rapidly on camera six, the one facing the house. There it was—some pale ship leaning against the black windows.

It was pointing at the camera.

No. It was pointing at me. It held up a finger, a thin spidery finger, and curled it back and forth. Closer it said. Closer.

*

The police weren’t pleased to hear from me again. I swear I heard them mutter something about running in the family. But I know what I saw. And I brought the photos. Didn’t do a ton of good—they looked like photoshop or something. I don’t know. But they agreed, at least, to send someone over. Show me around the other house. Show me no one lived there.

“See, doors not even locked.” Officer Jones said, pushing the rotten wooden door open with one hand. “No one leaves doors open down here. Alright, lets look around, see if there’s any sign of a squatter.”

I grumbled at that—that wasn’t a squatter last night. But whatever. They didn’t believe me, that’s fine. They’d see. He clicked his flashlight on—the house was dark with the tinted windows, but not as empty dark as it was at night.

“Now, we’ll go quick. This place isn’t exactly hospitable.”

The wallpaper was peeling. There was almost half an inch of dust on the entire floor—hell, the carpet on the second floor seemed to be more dust then carpet. There weren’t any dishes, and only a few bits of silver ware. Most were to busted to be used. The walls upstairs had several gouges– “Twenty years ago someone looted all the copper they could,” Officer Jones explained—and most of the light bulbs had been smashed on the ground. There was a bathtub, stained and moldy. A bed. A few picture frames, although there had been more before. You could still see the marks on the wall were they used to be.

There was a chair by the window, where the figure had stood. I walked right up to the tinted window and squinted out—my house was nothing but a shadow from here, an inky blob you could barely call a home.

“Right, see? Nothing’s here.” Officer Jones said, gesturing around. “Nothing but cold damp floor boards, and broken things.”

I frowned and looked around. There was nothing but some broken things, some mold, and some dust. Why wasn’t there more? An old house like this, why not—why wasn’t there any graffiti? Why was no one living in this abandoned but…but stable house? Why hadn’t they for…who knows how long? What was keeping them out?

“Right. Nothing.” I said, as we walked out. What was beckoning me to stay, even in daylight hours?

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I stared out the window. No need for cameras this time. I could see that blasted house. I had seen something before. I know it, I know the cameras don’t lie. I’d locked all the doors, I turned on all the sensors. I had a hundred eyes wide open to see it again.

It was so small—behind the tinted windows, a breeze. It pushed gently against the door, pushing it open and outward. I stood and watched as the door opened, the trees rustled. It didn’t speak—it didn’t even seem..there. But the door slammed against the house wall. No breeze moved anywhere else. It slammed again. And I felt it’s eyes staring up into mine.

The police didn’t even give me a minute to explain. There was shouting, and a frustrated “then just stay inside!”. But I couldn’t. There was something there. Something in the house, that was watching me, that wanted something from me—or was offering something. I couldn’t tell. So I went out, into the night. I crossed the street, and went through the door.



This story is a bit rushed, but I like the pacing and I think the general idea of security and observation leading to paranoia. That both houses are in a way haunted.  That’s all for this Halloween–apologies for the delay, but things have been hectic.

Next week, we visit another very famous New England town. See you then!

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George and the Generous Tree

This Week’s Prompt:97. Blind fear of a certain woodland hollow where streams writhe among crooked roots, and where on a buried altar terrible sacrifices have occur’d—Phosphorescence of dead trees. Ground bubbles.

The Prior Research: Growing On Trees

The river had turned bright. The three farmers it touched stared in disbelief as the flickering water ran along its way, occasionally lurching to a halt. Grass around it had started dying.

“So. This. This is it right?” Johnson said, looking at everyone. “This is proof that God hates us, right?”

“Johnson!” George said.

“Bad harvest, bunch of rats break into the granary, and now there’s glowing star water killing everything.” Johnson said, waving at the water. “I want you to tell me, in the short time I still have land to stand on, how this is not proof positive this year is cursed.”

“Strings of bad luck happen.” George said, scratching his head. “I mean, long string but…”

“Maybe it will pass?” Gwyn said, stroking his considerable beard. “Came sudden, might be gone suddenly too. Things work like that sometimes.”

“I’m going to get what I can stored up.” Johnson said, shaking his head. “Water like that—that’s fairy nonsense or worse. Give it a week, and everything’s gonna be sludge and rot.”

So the three parted. Gwyn put old nets down from his time by the coast, hoping to catch the muck and keep it from his fields. Johnson went to accounting their belonings, in case the worst happened. He sent a letter down the road, to his brother in Alberdam. But George. George followed the river.

The river had its roots in the woods. Most things do. George knew pigs once lived in the woods, he figured cattle did too. So he followed the river back, through rotted roots and muddy land. He walked ahead, seeing what he might find among shivering trees and bald pines. For as the river wound its way down, the trees turned pale. The ground became soft and pallid. And animals made such dreadful sounds.

At the end of the river, George found it. Over the spring, a great tree with a glimmering brass trunk. No fruit sprang from the tree. No leaves. It’s roots, manifold and black, dripped luminescent sap into the river. Each drop sizzled as it touched the spring.

George was not a terribly wise man. But he knew clearly something about this was wrong. He rushed home and returned to that shuddering, sickly tree with an axe. Raising it high, he struck it hard—and it rang out like a bell in protest.

“Stop, stop, what are you doing?” A voice came down from the empty branches. “What are you doing, cutting me down with crude tool of yours?”

George was startled by the voice, but persisted. It again rang out like a bell, higher pitched this time. His axe blade looked a tad worse for the strike, but the bark had bent in.

“Stop that, stop that what are you—”

“You are spreading poison into our lands.” George said, reading a third swing. “I cannot lose it.”

“Wait wait! How much is it worth, this land?” The tree said, vibrating and shifting its bark about. George stopped his axe just before it.  “Perhaps we could trade.”

“And what could you offer, tree?” George said, resting his ax for a moment. “While I catch my breath.”

“Oh many things, many wondrous things. But perhaps most simply gold.” And as it spoke, an apple of shining gold grew from it’s branch, bending down in front of George. “Leave me be, and gold I can give every day.”

George took the gold, a small snap as it broke from the brass branch.

“Every day, gold like this?”

“Every day.” The tree’s voice said. George was a simple man. And while speaking trees were strange, far stranger existed in the wood. So he returned home without another blow.

Demon Tree One.png

And so he continued for sometime—about two months, coming to collect the gold, and letting his fields fall fallow. He never revealed the source of the apples he brought—in fact, when possible, he hid his travels down to the town to buy goods and food from distant farms. George was a simple man, but even he knew not to flaunt his gold.

Still he paused when he saw the carts outside Johnsons farm, the children swining legs from the seat.

“Nothing to be done. Lands cursed.” Johnson said, shaking his head when George asked leaning on the fence. “I mean, the grain that lived was inedible. But we’ll manage, we’ll manage. Probably won’t get much for the acres, but it’ll be something before the bank gets it.”

George nodded solemnly, and went for his axe. He hadn’t meant to ruin Johnson too. So out into the forest he went again, passed the twisting trees and mewling animals. The woods was quieter, the trees all had left shed broken coats of bark on the ground. The exposed insides were full of holes. Some times sap bubbled out of these, as the ground became muddy near the great tree. Its roots now dug deep into the ground.

“What now, little one? I gave you your gold for the—” the tree spoke, before George’s axe struck. A dull groan resonated through out the woods, the dying noises growing low and loud. The tree shrieked in it’s crown of twisting branches.

“What in the sweet—what do you want? More gold, is that it?” The tree shrieked. George saw his blow had left a large dent in the side. “I can provide more gold! Stop with that ax!”

“Gold will not help now.” George said, striking again and leaving a heavy cut. “Johnson already lost his farm. Gwyn will lose his. Gold can’t help that.”

“Are you—” A scream cut off the tree as the third blow struck, sluggish glowing sap leaking from its side. “Buy the farm yourself, you ingrate!” It bellowed. “You have piles of gold! Give some and buy his land, if you care so much! Its not like you need to worry about farming while I’m here!”

George paused, resting his axe on his shoulder, and stroking his chin. He had not considered that. Hiding his wealth had seemed so…vital. But it wouldn’t matter if Johnson and Gwyn were driven out already. The farms were just land then.  He shrugged and left the tree with it’s new wound, heading back to his farm.

Demon Tree3.png

And so it came to past that George and his family were alone in the farmlands. The fields did not grow properly there—they grew in small tufts and strange colors that year. Johnson and Gwyn had both long gone—George made no effort to maintain their fields. There was little to maintain, as the ground turned gray and then pale yellow. It was swampish and bubbling, the forest slowly sinking from George’s view.

“Its not natural.” His wife said as she looked out. “Its getting closer to town now—that poor boy, he drank some of it and…”

George nodded, staring out into the woods. The river was like moonlight now—cracks and springs up sprang up on the farmland. It wasn’t natural. But few things were in he woods now.

He had gone hunting once, and found not a single living thing. No birds sang, no deer ran. He saw a pale shape moving in the trees. He thought it was a cat, but it had too many eyes.  Too many legs. Or he thought as much.

The shivering trees—the ones that were pale and tall and thin like grain, but stung to touch—had grown where grain once rain. The land was sick. Perhaps it was always sick, George thought as he walked through the silent and shivering woods. There was no wind, but the trees still bowed and swayed as he passed.  And at last, he found the tree.

He had seen it daily, growing bigger and bigger. It’s roots were as wide around as a saucer. Its branches were knotted like a boat’s strings, and thicker then rope. A web of shimmering shapes made up its top. Two great cuts were on its side.

Demon Tree 2.png

“Have you come again with your ax, George?” The voice said solemenly. “Have I not been true and good to you?”

“The land is dying.” George said. A bit of regret remained on his voice. “You have been true and kind, but the land is dying.”

“It has always been dying.” The tree said. “It was dying a year past when we first met. What has changed? Have I not given you gifts, to stay your ax?”

“The land is dying faster now. Down in the town people are dying.”

“People are always dying, George. Dying is the way of things.” The tree said, unmoved.

George shook his head, having no more of the trees words. He took his ax and struck the tree’s trunk—and again it resounded like a gong. But the bark did not budge.

The ax swung again. The tree was unmoved.

The ax swung. The tree shook with laughter.

“George, I have been good to you.” The tree spoke. “And you have been good to me—so I tell you this. If you wish to quarrel with me, leave now. For I have grown too deep to be overturned by an ax or flame. The time for such has passed. Run now, and I will not pursue you for scaring me so.”

George stared as the tree’s branches unfolded—revealing glimmering fruit, brilliant like stars. He dropped the ax into the gray mud. And soon he too left the land by the river. So the rotting tree came to consume the land along the great river. Nothing wholesome remains in that woods.



While this might need one or two more editing passes–and could certainly be improved by more character interaction–I’m actually rather proud of this one. I think the basic idea of a parasitic but wealth producing tree growing monstrous and uncontrollable when allowed to flourish by human greed is a decent enough idea. Giving more character to George would be the first addition–at the moment he’s rather blank as a person, except a bit greedy and a bit simple.

Next time we return to a particular haunted house and the cold touch of the dead!

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The Green Sun

This Week’s Prompt:94. Change comes over the sun—shews objects in strange form, perhaps restoring landscape of the past.

The Prior Research:THE SUN

“I think it’s finally stopped.” I heard Joesph say. We looked up from the poker game and canned beans. The fire in the fire place was still going, but the corresponding pitter patter of rain had paused.

“Check to see the visibiliy levels, John. Mary, see if you can see the flood waters.” Joesph said, looking out the window to the sky. We sighed.

“Right when I’m winning.” I muttered, going up to the attic. Our house was pretty high up, compared to everyone else. It was a pain when we had to walk up the stairs, but well. It was handy lately. From the roof, I could see the water that went out in all directions. The street was normally chock full of cars smashed together into damns, bits of wood, and the occasional gas fire rolling by. On good days, it receded low enough for us to get a boat out, and grab some supplies that hadn’t been lost.

Today, however, was a better day. The clouds overhead—the clouds that hadn’t moved for the last six months—were breaking. And below, I could see the tops of all the reefs.

“Its going down!” I said, running down to Joseph.

“Fog banks mostly rolled back too.” John called up. “We can definetly go for a run…and…”

“And I saw a bit of the sun!” I said, pulling on a heavier jacket. “God, I never thought I’d be happy for a sunny day.”

“Hm…high visibillity, calm but lowering waters…” Joseph said thinking. “We are running low.”

It didn’t take much persuading, really. We practically bounced to our crude row boat, heading out onto the streets. The reefs took some navigating—the car mirrors or broken glass from windows and occasional empty beer bottle meant we needed to navigate some. But the bigger issue we found was the water.

The water lowering was great in general—it meant this stupid storm was over, and the damage could be reckoned with. Schools could maybe start opening. We could check in with friends we’d only spoken with over improvised wire phones. Power could come back. And we could have some proper cooking for once, instead of burning dried drift wood for a fire. And plumbing. God I missed plumbing.

But the water lowering also meant some areas we used to row over now were grounded. It wasn’t a fast problem, but pushing our little ship up and over took some work. And it’s…amazing how different a place looks in the sunlight.

Green River.png

“It’s almost pristine, isn’t it?” I said, looking at red plastic Movie Theatre sign. The black letters beneath had been scrapped off, and a lot of the glass was smashed. But in the sunlight, pushing away the ever present mist and fog, I could almost read it.

“I mean…it looks nicer. Still a lot of seaweed on it.” Joseph said, pointing at the green growths that had spread over a lot of it. “Or algae or soemthing.”

The other thing I’d never noticed before? How much stuff was in the street. I mean, garbage yeah. But the sunlight shone through and for the first time I saw shapes clearly. I don’t even know the names of half the things I saw, swimming and crawling in the dirt.

“Think that’s a sea snake—be careful, those things are venomous.”

“Why didn’t we try fishing?” I muttered as we passed a large fish with red-gold scales, swimming and nibbling on a road sign.

“Because we don’t want to know what they’ve eaten. Same reason we boil water before drinking it.” Joesph said. John yelped as we drew near an intersection, and pointed down the street.

“What is—oh God, what is that?” Joseph said. Looking over, I stared at what was Main Street. The cloud cover had completely dispersed.

It was like the buildings had emerged from some cacoon. The ruined concrete and broken brick work was replaced by soaring carved marble and steel. The sky scrapers were carved with vast statues, arms reaching across to form bridges. They seemed to twist upward, spiraling instead of running straight up. The windows looked carved from coral, little portals inside. I could see other ships down the waters—the flood hadn’t sunken that much here, but the mist had given way to a thin green shine.

“This…this wasn’t here before.” I said, staring out on the soaring structure. “Should…should we check it out?”

“I mean, we have to right? Meet the new neighbors, all that?” John said, looking at the giant buildings with some trepidation.

GreenRiver.png

We rode the water down—and the sun was so bright. I guess my eyes hadn’t adjusted. The streets were full here, with high sidewalks we drew close to. There were some moasaics along the walls, and the people…they looked different. They looked taller, lankier. Most were wearing the sorts of clothes I had only seen in fashion shows. Long capes, dresses with high collars that wrapped around the mouth. Glittering gold and blue and green, reflecting back the green sunlight.

We could hear people talking, but I couldn’t understand a word they said—it sounded sing-songy. Birds with brilliant feathers flew over head, like some sort of peacock crow. It was as I looked around that I saw my hands—my raggedy hands slowly taking on a dimmly green sheen, the ship swelling into one of those big Venice canal boats.

“Joseph!” I said. I think I said. I didn’t know my own voice. “Joseph I think we should go back.”

Joesph turned away from the sun—his face looked avian, with round eyes and a sharp nose, and gold dust spreading under his fading eyes. Even his teeth where changing, turning sharp as he frowned.

“What are you talking about?” He said, his voice a bit lower pitch. His voice was shifting midspeech.

Green City.png

“Valenth, what’s taken you this day?” I heard John say. My head hurt—a migraine building in my head . I got those when the weather changed. I had wondered when the storm would—no the sun was what had changed, not the storm. The storm had just ended, the sun was wrong.

“We. We should head back. Something’s wrong with…” I looked up at the green sun shinging through the mists and hazes. Brass ships soared overhead—and a cloud drifted by. It was small, a wisp of the storms that faded from my mind. Clouds were rare in Balon—more common in the windswept north, but even then they were usally thin and misty things. But there it was, casting a slow shadow across the river. I looked and saw the green glass of the river turn to mud and wreckage. How strange the effect shadow can have on the senses.

And as it swept over us, our large ship was a rowboat. Our finery and changes vanished. And for a moment we were back to ourselves.

We rowed fast to keep up with the shadows, towards our old home. The water was still receding—and the clouds breaking. We had to abandon the boat and run along the edges of the buildings. The sun light broke in patches. Sometimes in front of us, sometimes behind, always turning what it touched into a strange bubbling brass mess.

Our home was high up—the waters never reached the top. They were gone from the entrance now, as we stumbled and panted through the doors. Homeward bound—up the stairs. Being high up was always bad when the power was out. The green light streaming in shifted the ground behind me—all gold piping and swirling shapes. The stairs flickered into ramps and back again—landings appeared and vanished. I slipped on steps that were gone the next moment and back the next as the clouds bought us a little more time. A little more time.

We didn’t make it to the top. A window cast over the stairs—and a door formed there, bright red and without any seams. I got there after Joseph, who was just slumped against a wall next to the window. We slumped together there, watching the wall as John came in. A bundle of freezing people, hiding in the shadow. Watching with dread as the dawn began—as the light inched its way closer along the wall and windows opened up above us.

Waiting.



This story took a bit to develop, and I think it’s not entirely finished still. I thought the image of sunlight breaking through a storm was more powerful then a gradual rise—as well as adding drama to avoid or approach the light. The idea of some…new age came from Aztec stories, but doesn’t entirely jive with revealing past scenes. I think making that more explicit—or beginning in the fantastic setting and having the clouds cause flashes to the apocalyptic flood visions might have worked better. I think the horror of slowly losing your self to a cosmic change, one as all encompassing as the Sun, was the way to go. I also…apparently find the color green strange and frighting I think. I’ll have to check earlier stories, but it seems to be a theme. Aw well, a note for the rewrites next year! In the mean time!

Next week! Old Colonial houses overgrown once more!

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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.

Wheel of Fortune.png

 

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.

Cours De MiraclesThe Voice.png

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.

Judgement Day.png

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…

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