There Is Nought But Chaos

This Week’s Prompt: 80. Shapeless living thing forming nucleus of ancient building.

The Resulting Story: The Shifting Temple

This week we are given a topic that we have, in the past, covered with some detail. The notion of a living core of an ancient structure bares a resemblance to notions of shapeless forces we discussed regarding Azathoth—we will be re-discussing some of those here, with greater detail and focus, as well as some other forms of living structures.

There are two parts to this prompt, each worth review in equal part—the shapeless and the center. That is, there are creatures and stories of things who’s shape cannot be known, and of things that support buildings and worlds. Both will be discussed—particularly when they overlap at the end.

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First we will discuss the most fantastic—the shapes at sea that support entire camps, and resemble islands from afar. This is actually the origin of the Kraken, a creature recorded in biology texts from the eighteenth century. There is another such creature in Norse tales, the hafgufa. Recorded as a giant whale, the hafgufa resembles an island from afar—in some tales, its nose is so massive that it suffices for an island!–and it is noted both for its taste in ships and men, and its peculiar means of attracting prey. The hafgufa is a species of two in some texts—and both are infertile, otherwise the ocean would be over run by false islands. In some texts, the hafgufa is also called the Kraken—albeit a whale not a squid. You can find more of it here.

Medieval Bestiaries produce another whale like creature—or sometimes turtle—who is so big, it’s back ridge has trees growing on it and valleys form around it. The aspidochelone is sometimes more sinister however—its appearance of false life and safety are an allegory in one text for the Devil and demons, who seduce the desperate.

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In Ireland, the stories of Saint Brendan the Navigator tell of a strange beast that appeared as an island and breached his boat. The Saint here is safe—the whale sinks after a fire is lit on it’s skin, much to the shock of the crew but little harm.

In Chile, there are stories of a similar creature—although it is more commonly in lakes, the Cuero is a danger to sailors who draw near it’s lure. Sometimes the shape is like a cow hide, sometimes an octopus, sometimes a stingray. Here is a more in depth article on not only the legend, but histories of it’s recordings

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Then there are those supports that are much wider and vaster then a mere ship. The World Turtle, for instance, carries…well, the world on its back. Sometimes this is a literal and direct holding. Kurma, for instance, supports the world directly in Hindu stories. Other stories, such as when Nuwa repaired the sky, have the turtle shell as a form of architecture somewhat removed. Turtle Island refers to this imagery as well—the notion that the Americas are on the back of a great mythological turtle. Other stories—the most obvious being Discworld—suggest the world is on the back of four great elephants, and then on the back of a turtle.

Bahamut is another supporter of the world, albeit a fish with a great bull on its back. Found in Arabic sources, Bahamut is more terrifying then others. The bull on its back has a hundred legs and horns, and Bahamut itself is so vast all the worlds oceans would fit into its nostrils like a mustard seed. It is also the farthest removed of all the great beasts—on its back, the bull; on the bulls back, a ruby; on the rubys back, an angel; on the angel’s shoulder, the world.

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The map of the world here is rotated on it’s side–Bahamut is the fish

Of course, there are also non-sentient living supports. The World Tree can be found in cultures around the world. The famous Norse Tree Yggdrasil holds the nine worlds in it’s branches—and is echoed in the Volsung saga, were the house of the Volsung’s has a great tree holding up its roof–the tree is called Barnstokkr. There Odin—well, a stranger who resembles him greatly—places a legendary sword, that begins their undoing. Further south, we can find the world tree in Zorastrian stories. The Gaokerna is one of many great trees—its fruit is immortality, and will be key to the recreation of the universe. Beside it grows the Tree of Many Seeds, where all plants have their origin.

Not far away from the Zorastrian myth, we have the world tree of Kabbalah—a tree that, I have heard at least, is often depicted upside down. The Tree of Life here holds many worlds, as the light of divinity is refined downward from the undivided Ein Soif into this world. Kabbalah as a tradition is rich in symbolism and complexity, and should have more of an article at some point. The interesting point to me, however, is the suggestion of a reverse tree–a Tree of Death, that runs counter to the virtues of the Tree of Life and is made of the shattered remains of an earlier world. 

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The top portion of the World Tree found on Pakal the Great’s tomb.

Maya world trees are commonly depicted in artwork—the tree runs from the underworld into the heavens. Like the tortoise shell of Nuwa, the tree was constructed after a flood—the destruction of Seven Macaw and the end of the wood people—and like stories of Ymir and others, it is fed by the blood of gods. Some link it’s form to the visible Milky Way in the sky

All of this brings us slowly round to the most literal form of the shapeless center—Chaos, Khaos. Beginning with the most literal, the Greek conception of Chaos is the source eventually of all things. The form or force that precedes all the rest of existence, Chaos is gloomy and far away—and not terribly relevant to most stories. Chaos is the origin directly of Night and Darkness, and sometimes the foundation of reality itself.

Chaos is not the only strange and shapeless originator in Greece are concerned. There was the strange shape in Demophon’s casket, which was the first topic we discussed discussed (and which was rewritten on our Patreon here). Chaos in other cases contains all elements. When Milton depicted King Chaos in Paradise Lost, he maintained this for the realm of Limbo, where elements fly about.

Biblical starts of Genesis refer to an abyss of water from which the world was made—using the terminology that neighbors used for Tiamat, a vast sea monster that was also eventually the root of all things and truly varied in shape. What this abyss was is a topic of much debate, especially in esoteric circles.

Chaos can be joined by Hundun. Hundun is a Chinese character, a faceless wanderer that is the originating chaos of the world. I recall best a story of Hundun from the Taoist, Chuang Tzu: The Emperor of the North Sea and the Emperor of the South Sea once met with Hundun. Grateful for his generosity as a host, they offered to repay him by giving him the seven holes all men have (eyes, nose, ears, mouth). Each day the bore another hole in Hundun’s face.

On the last day Hundun died.

Hundun has other comparable descriptions, often like a lump of clay and making a sound like thunder. It is malleable, sudden, and terrible perhaps. Or just hard to see, touch, or discern except by its overwhelming presence.

Taoist notions of a shapeless root of the world are common in Chuang Tzu’s writing. We can consider the story of the Shaman and Hu Tzu. Hu Tzu, a sage, changes his complexion and diagnosis at every meeting, culminating in this one:

The next day the two came to see Hu Tzu again, but before the shaman had even come to a halt before Hu Tzu, his wits left him and he fled.

“Run after him!” said Hu Tzu, but though Lieh Tzu ran after him, he could not catch up. Returning, he reported to Hu Tzu, “He’s vanished! He’s disappeared! I couldn’t catch up with him.”

Hu Tzu said, “Just now I appeared to him as Not Yet Emerged from My Source. I came at him empty, wriggling and turning, not knowing anything about `who’ or `what,’ now dipping and bending, now flowing in waves – that’s why he ran away.”

That the ultimate origin of reality is shapeless and indeed perhaps unable to be shaped is not unique to these presentations: Ein Sof, the infinite roots of the Tree of Life, is beyond definition as a being. The Prima Materia is less sentient, but the raw potential of creation that can—in theory—be shaped into just about anything that’s desired. These forces of chaos are also vitality—they are shapeless and thus support all shaped things. They are the raw stuff at the very core of life in the world.

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I couldn’t figure out how to cut this properly, so enjoy the image of the Prima Materia or alchemical mercury–the cubes are the mercury.

This I think could be the source of our horror story—instead of merely discovering a shapeless core at the center of the world, we could present a story where that shapelessness is vital to the world and its movements. And if that shapelessness collapses—if like Hundun, it dies on contact with the five senses—then there is a tragedy at play too. By discovering the truth of the world, something about the world’s vitality is lost. I could go on about how defining something restrains it, and so on and so on, but I’ll leave that for the musings of the story.

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A Buried Feast

This Weeks Prompt: 65. Riley’s fear of undertakers—door locked on inside after death.

The Story: A Strange Estate

This prompt returns us to the graveyard—a place that of course we visit for horror often. The named person here, Riley, wasn’t someone I could find, much to my frustration. So instead I will pursue the fear of things that lurk in the graveyards and move about the graves. Things that can lock a door from beyond a grave perhaps. Our focus, the undertaker, has some interesting roots as one who explicitly profits from the dead, indiscriminate of the cause.

We’ve talked about a number of dead creatures that are corpses brought back to haunt the living here and here. We also discussed communing with them here.Today, I want to focus on things that actually reside in graveyards—in mausoleums and near undertakers. And as for the fear of undertakers, one particular fear of those who dig among bodies comes to mind for me. The fear of those anthropophagous creatures that feed on the dead, ghouls and worse that lurk near graveyards.

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A Gathering of Ghouls from a Persian text

Ghouls proper are creatures from Arabian and Middle Eastern mythologies at larger. Some traditions hold that a blow to the head will kill them, but a second blow will raise them from the dead. The ghoul lurks at times in the desert, taking the form of animals or people to lure travelers to their death before devouring them. The ghoul is at times taken to be djinn that were sired by Iblis, the Muslim equivalent in many ways to Lucifer in Christian mythologies. Ghouls in Iran were demons that entered heaven after being disbarred at the birth of the prophet Mohamed. These demons are also the source of crocodiles as well. Ghouls may feed on the living as well—in some cases, ghouls cause bleeding on the feet and then drink the blood. Others resist invaders or marchers through deserts and are put to flight or even death by the mere mention of God’s name.

The Ghoul is also the name of a distant star, Algol. The star is the glimmering eye of the Gorgon in Perseus hand in the Greek Zodiac. The star’s flickering nature made it seem inconstant, and it’s red shine might be responsible for it’s association with great violence and bloodshed. The Ghoul creates corpses, you see.

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The Astrological Symbol for Algol

In Germany, another creature haunts the graveyards—the Nachzehrer. This creature is in many ways like a vampire, feeding on the living after death. However, the Nachzehrer does so in many cases by eating itself—the more it feeds on itself. Like many undead, the Nachzehrer are often suicides, but not always. In some cases, they are the patient zero of a plague, and the continuation of the plague is linked to their persistence. The Nachezehrer is easy to recognize—it holds one thumb in the opposite hand, and it’s left eye is open. By placing a stone in it’s mouth, the Nachezehrer cannot continue devouring itself, and thus becomes ineffectual.

Another spirit, not exactly dead but fond of corpses and graveyard, is the Hindu vetala. The most famous story of the vetala occurs with King Vikram, who had twenty five attempts on capturing the creature. The vetala here hung upside down, and inhabited and animated dead bodies. When captured, the Vetala proves helpful, warning the King Vikram of treachery before he is murdered.

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Not the anthropophagous, but commonly mistaken for them. These are the Akephaloi

A more bizzare cannibal, farther afield then the others from a graveyard is the anthropophage, a strange group who are noted as the most savage and barbarous. These individuals were first reported by Herodotus, expanded on by later authors. Pliny attributes them to dressing in the remains of their victims as well. These lived on the fringe of civilization, where most cannibals are placed in the Western tradition.

While cannibalism continues in other places, I will restrain myself mostly to those who feed on corpses near internment, as opposed to those who eat their enemies.

The other layer of this is the nature of the undertaker—a figure I admit I confused with the grave digger. The role of a mortician in society, so close to death, is variable. In some societies, for example third century China, the mortician was often an exorcist who drove out demons and hungry dead from the place the body was meant to be buried. We may also talk here about the role of propriating the dead and ensuring their passage, as books such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead persrcibes. The mortician must be knowledgable of the dead and of the needs and customs of burial.

In one of his better stories, Lovecraft introduces his own race of ghouls. These creatures resemble dog-headed individuals, and move between dreams and waking worlds. Appearing first in Pickman’s Model, the ghouls are terrifying creatures that the artist observes as a sort of changeling tale. The Ghoul as a sort of liminal character, capable of moving between the boundaries of living and dead and dreaming, is an interesting take on the matter.

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Saturn Devouring His Son, by Fransico de Goya. The work appears in Pickmans model as an example of the painters art.

Whne it comes to the actions of corpses—that of gravediggers and robbers—Lovecraft has at least one story that hits the mark that will not be one I’ll be following on. Partially because it seems ill suited for the prompt, which is about the shock of the dead being awake and denying you passage, and partially because…well. Mr. Lovecraft’s Reanimator story is one that descends from a decent idea into shocking levels of racism by all accounts. For those curious, you can read it here. The story has had a number of movie adaptations, which I admit I haven’t seen.

Another story from the Cthulhu Mythos work of Mr. Lovecraft that touches on grave robbing is of course The Hound, which deals more with grave-robbing then preparing. It is, however, notable as the first appearance of the Necronomicon, and deals somewhat with the ghoul-dog association of Lovecraft’s. You can find it here.

Approaching then the key point in the prompt: the locking of a door from the inside. This speaks to some sort of reanimation as well, although it might be a fail safe from said creatures. If the coffin or mausoleum is locked from the inside it follows rather obviously that it is because someone living inside wishes to keep something out. We know what they are keeping out—our undertakers and cannibals. But what dealings does our formerly deceased have, that has convinced him of the existence of such creatures? Has he seen the ghouls in the night, stalking between grave stones?

Further, who is our main character here? I will say that the dead man and the ghouls are probably not likely. While exploring either head space would be fascinating, I’m not sure if it would be productive or frankly that easy. A monster’s or a corpse’s head space can be difficult to examine. So some of the living must be on hand. Given the principle discovery—the door is locked from the inside after death—the occurrence should happen after the funeral. Which means either a friend or family member, perhaps staying near the graveyard.

Near the graveyard, or in the town at least. Perhaps having inherited the manor of the deceased, our visitor takes up residence. There, he learns in the basement of the dark happnings that have attracted ghouls and undertakers to his family estate, and to that most recent grave. This gives a bit of gothic tinge to our story—and borrows from the Lovecraft story Rats in the Walls a bit. That story also invokes cannibalistic husbandry, breeding human beings to sate the lust for flesh in a family line. Attaching a ghoulish character in this mannr to the story, I think, will wait until later. I suspect—and consulting both Wikipdia and the list this is confirmed—that there will be better times for indulging in the sins of the family as feeding on the dead so directly.

So our plot then will be an individual attending to the house of his dead relative, and over time becoming aware of the strange nature of the gravediggers nearby. I suspect we should have a cast of three characters among the living then—the main character, a friend or neighbor, and the undertaker proper. The creatures at work, the strange ghouls or the hungry Nachzherer serve as characters, but less refind in their form and narrative purpose then the other three.

Works Cited

Harper, Donald. “A Chinese Demonography of the Third Century B. C.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, vol. 45, no. 2, 1985, pp. 459–498. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2718970.

 
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Sailing Away

This Week’s Prompt :57. Sailing or rowing on lake in moonlight—sailing into invisibility.
The Resulting Story: The Wind Blew Out From Bergen


Moonlight and invisibility are strong themes of these last few prompts. If I had the money to acquire a copy of Mr. Lovecraft’s letters, I’d wonder what possibly prompted this set of thinking or line of inquiry. As it is, we will press on. This prompt does have the benefit of being distinct from those before in at least one respect. The invisible no longer haunts us, nor is it revealed. Rather, we see the visible become invisible.

The beginning notion of sailing or rowing into invisibility, being lost to the sight of humanity, has some interesting parallels in the border space of folklore and urban legend. The basic premise is not too strange. After all, the sea is full of strange monsters, of sirens calling out to drown men, of ancient rebels against the gods, and more. But disappearances at sea? Those are old.

The most famous disappearance locale for American’s is actually far more recent then you might suspect. The Bermuda Triangle’s record only begins in the 1950s. But if there is a place more synonymous with “lost at sea” in the modern day, I’ve not heard of it. The triangle has it’s points at Bermuda, Florida, and Puerto Rico. It’s reputation of consuming ships is famed enough that I will stop here to say that in all likelihood, the probable cause is the sheer number of ships traveling those waves.

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The related Devil’s Triangle in Japan is another recent notion of seas that enjoy sinking ships. It too has only been reported in the early 1950s, as has the notion of twelve of these paranormal vortices. While no doubt these can be sources of inspiration, their newness ought to be remembered.

Even ignoring these paranormal sightings, sailing to the land invisible is not so unusual. Odysseus did so, and found even stranger lands in the journey there. And funeral barges of Vikings and Egyptians alike were supposed to go on to the dead. King Arthur was sent out sailing to an unseen land, attended by three women. Like wise Väinämöinen built a ship of copper, with an iron bottom, to leave the land and sail to the heavens, out of the mortal(visible) world. Quetzacouatl left the realm of the living, in some versions, on a barge or boat of snakes! Such are the strange contraptions needed to reach the heavens.

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But outside the realm of myth, folktales from various places talk of the dead as invisible sailors. Near Brittany, some report the dead are gathered in great invisible boats to be taken to the Isle of the Dead. On the Breton coastline, skiffs come out manned by the invisible dead. This is typically an ill omen. A German folktale reports that these dead voyages can do what is implied by the prompt, and fly towards the moon. Rabbi Amram asked, reportedly, to be placed in a coffin and allowed to flow wherever the river took him. The coffin, much to the world’s surprise, floated up the river!

And if it is rending ships invisible by their sinking, then the Devil must have his due. Multiple demonic forces or malicious spirits are thought to sink ships when angered or displeased. The devil himself was once sighted at sea with a sword in hand. Other times, demons take the crew themselves!

The devil, according to a story from Schleswig-Holstein,still ferries people across Cuxhaven bay. He does this to liberate himself from the consequences of a certain compact.He had procured a ship for a certain captain, the latter to yield himself up with the ship, which was to be kept busy so long as there was a cargo. This Satan tried to find, so as to keep the vessel cruising until the compact expired, but the was outwitted at the end of the first cruise by the captain’s son, who crowded sail on and let the anchor go. The fiend tried to hold the anchor, but went overboard with it.” Reports Fletcher Basset, citing an older text (Schmidt-Seeman Sagen, which I did not have time to check).

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We then can consider also those ships that are now invisible, having made the journey. The Flying Dutchman, who made a deal with devil long ago and now serves as a sort of sea-bound Wild Hunt, has been mentioned before. But let us look at him at length. The Flying Dutchman is a man-of-war, a terrifyingly vast warship that emerges from the storm to assault ships as bad weather strikes. Another name for the ship is Carmilhan, with the goblin Klabotermen as it’s pilot. The ship has no crew except invisible ghosts, no sails but rags, and hounds ships to the end of the earth. Other times, the ship is a former slave-ship, which was struck by the tragedy of the plauge.

Related is Falkenberg, who sails the world and played dice for his soul with the devil. In some cases, Falkenberg is the Dutchman himself.

One amusing tale tells of a group of pirates that, in the stylings of Scooby Doo, pretend to be the Flying Dutchman, only to be assailed by the real thing. As the storm blows in, the demon ship is unflatered by it’s rival and engages in combat. The results are sadly one sided, as the demon ship lays them to waste with ease.

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But the Flying Dutchman is not the strangest of it’s kind. There is still the Bewiched Canoe. Yes, a magically canoe. From French Canada comes the story of a huntsman who so enjoyed the hunt, he made a pact with the devil to continue it forever. Not only is he in a canoe, but the canoe flies through the air.

Larger than these, is the ship Chasse Foudre, a French vessel that takes seven years to tack. It is so vast, it shifts all wild life around it. Her nails along the hull allow the moon to pivot, and climbing her masts take lifetimes. She is crewed by men so large, that their smallest pipe is the size of a frigate. A Swedish ship of similair size, the Refanu, is so big that horses are used to relay orders. Her crew is thus of a relatively normal size, as opposed to giants that lumber about other such world ships.

More strange vessels under sail include one recroded by Ibn Battuta, the Lantern Ship. Once the ship was a demon that, on occasion, demanded sacrifices. It has since lost it’s powers, and is forced back by recitations of the Quran by local visitors or a priest.

All these vessels then serve as the start for our own. But what start is that? I think the two more modern moments that this prompt calls ot mind are from Tanith Lee’s Darkness’s Master and H.P. Lovecraft’s own Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. In both, there is a celestial voyage to the heavens aboard a special craft. And I think, for both, the journey is more of an atmosphere of wonder or fear then it is a narrative. If we are to go to the moon, to the invisible world, a horror or fantasy that is mainly derived from strange monsters or explicit dooms is not the best. Better, I think, for something tinged with dread. A glimpse of the invisible, that unfolds. Something subtly moving, something just a little out of place. Of course, such writing is difficult. It’s not what I am used to, frankly, and doing something with subtly is not my strength.

Still, a story of a slowly vanishing ship under the moonlight, perhaps draped in mist, needs something more subtle then perhaps I would normally do.

Bibliography:
Basset, Fletcher S. Legends and Superstitions of the Sea Throughout History. Marston,Searle, and Rivington, 1885

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The City In Silver Sands

This Week’s Prompt: 47. From Arabia Encyc. Britan. II—255. Prehistoric fabulous tribes of Ad in the south, Thamood in the north, and Tasm and Jadis in the centre of the peninsula. “Very gorgeous are the descriptions given of Irem, the City of Pillars (as the Koran styles it) supposed to have been erected by Shedad, the latest despot of Ad, in the regions of Hadramaut, and which yet, after the annihilation of its tenants, remains entire, so Arabs say, invisible to ordinary eyes, but occasionally and at rare intervals, revealed to some heaven-favoured traveller.” // Rock excavations in N.W. Hejaz ascribed to Thamood tribe.

The Research: Pillars Lost In Shifting Sands

 

I recently came in the possession of a curiosity that has defied expectation. A set of papers, written in a slow long hand, coated in silver sand. The box of them was sold to me by an antiquarian by the docks, and the shopkeeper there informed me that he had purchased them from an Arab traveller, who had found them among the sands of Arabia. It records…well, I have reproduced the legible portions here. Needless to say, I belive it is of the upmost intreast to our society, and the common brotherhood of mankind, that this knowledge be considered and carefully revealed at the appropriate time.

I have long searched for Irem, City of Pillars, Atlantis of the Sands. A city of the primeval age, if the Mohammedan is to be believed, and thus host to secrets beyond imaging. The wonders of Alexandria, the prosperity of ancient kings of Egypt, the wonders that were ascribed to Daedulus and Zoaraster, the majesty of Ethiopia and the rest of the East African coast, all this can be traced to Irem. It sits at the center, like the nucleus of a great pulsing cell of life. From it emanates wisidom and prestige, the first birth place of mankind.

Recently, my search has come to an end. I have tracked down a guide to the deserts, who several trusted sources have verified can lead me to Irem. I made sure to consult sources that are beyond mortal keen, my crystal nearly cracking from over consultation and interrogation. The trusted guide has hence lead me out near the volcanic fields of the south, and told me that there, when the moon is full and the wind rides over the bubbling fields and makes a howling flute sound,the city of Irem appears for any to enter.

Overjoyed, I offered him the opportunity to join me, but he said it was not the place of living men to disturb Irem. Perhaps the superstitious fear to venture into the unknown, but I had already seen the terrible ruins of Sarnath in far Mnar, had often read of the dread plateau of Leng, and seen the distant black stars of Hali. I fear no place haunted by strange sounds and the flickering ghosts of the past. So I waited in the desert by a burning fire, with the gathered herbs to help see beyond the veil of the mortal world.

As the night went on, and the moon grew bright, I started to lose faith. The worm doubt was wrapped around my heart. But at last, I saw them. Men and women walking, as if fighting some great unseen wind, their bodies bright but without distinction. Like figures of smoke or made of cracked glass, they tumbled forward along desert slopes. I raced towards them, and saw rising behind them the lost mountains and towers of Irem.

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The text here becomes somewhat illegible. However, it is clear that our traveler, by some means, managed to enter Irem, and records some of the wonders he saw as such.

…of marble, and towering edifices of basalt. I wondered the wide avenues for a brief time, and saw great giants, robed and with faces covered by veils. From each a singluar silver light shown through the veil. Some it seemed from an eye, others from their mouths, or perhaps they were built strangely. The whole place was covered in dark fog, and lighting crackled in the strange, dark sky. It was of every hue and, despite the apparent closeness of the arcs, there was no sound. The light was brilliant but faded fast. In an effort to avoid the gaze of the giants, for I could not discern their motives as they shuffled among their mountain dwellings, I hid by the wall of a great stone hall.

And there, as I got my bearings, I beheld a sight both wondrous and terrible. What I had thought were men and women fleeing the city were in fact the city’s outer wall. A mass, rising higher then I could see, of silver statues. Each was interlocked carefully, arranged to be impenetrable but striving forever away from the giant’s keep. A monument to those who it seemed had failed in their efforts to leave the city of pillars.

And I saw, in the dimly lit room I as in, that a multitude of others hid in carvings and outcoves along the great doors, like rats in the halls of terrible kings. Here I spent sometime, as I found a few who knew my languages. They were a frightful of the giants, and said that strange birds would drag them away in the night if caught on the street. At day, however, all was safe. The presence of the birds was their only means of discerning time, however, and it was by their terrible -illegible- where they detected before hand.

The people here are aware of the wall. If one tries to scale it or flee out the gate, at the wrong time, then they are trapped as ardent statues. However, the giants have some means of moving through the gate. They have seen strange figures coming through or venturing out the gate, and some believe that if one is cautious and quick they can sneak out with the procession. Such have never returned, but to those born in these warrens, wearing the scraps of silk left by great giants, why would they?

They have given my shelter and offered to show me the ways to find the giants hidden lore among their places of worship and laboratories in the depths of the city, where….lies sl….in abundance and ….

At this point the entire text again becomes illegible. By the various diagrams that were found amongst the texts, it appears that our entrepreneurial traveler had some skill as an artist. He has diagrammed and noted that the people had the features of many tribes of the earth, but their skin tone possessed an ashen, silver coloration. A few fragmentary pieces remain. I have arranged them in chronological order, roughly.

…within which a body might be preserved without regard for its…,something that even the best botanist might find astounding, especially with how functional the survivors told me their senses were. The sensation was akin to joy, pleasurable but now repulsive to the…. Who found it difficult to discuss. The production of such boxes and glass however is…..

…. expedition, I located a large, dark obelisk carved with ….like the skull of some lost bovine. The eyes appeared to have some awareness, and flashed various colors in response to lighting over head. I suspect it provides the dregs and…. with directions of some sort. Why such a monument would be necessary, I can’t say.

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The silver gaze …incredibly painful. Needles through out the ligaments and bones, freezing in pain, matched only by….Hideous disposition. Luckily the creature did not notice me, distracted by Fernda’s more obvious form. She whimpered as it reached down and scooped her up with barely a worry in a single hand. Like an insect.

I know the face of one of the silver filled ones. …. her blood with …., replaced her mind …. sand, but I know her face. I saw her in a portrait in…. How long has he been here? And why is the sand so vibrant. I must…

…reflects some of their devices, making lines and patterns when near them. Enough of it, and one could move objects remotely by adjusting the machines nearby. They could even…. or perhaps communicate distant messages. What effects on the body must such irritations have? The impulses must be minute, if they are undetected…

And so ends the majority of the fragments. I have removed any of the small, one sentence or garbled letters that have no clear meaning. Sadly, either the shopkeeper or the Arabic tradesmen, failed to preserved the middle text. However, to what I am sure is our benefit, the ending of the story is preserved.

…the entrance to the great laboratories. I have bought myself time, after seeing the engines of the lords of this city. I have bought time with blood of others, and now, if my calculations are right, the moon shines again over the Arabian desert. I’ll send everything I’ve written out into the world, out where it can perhaps serve as a warning.

The mechanisms beneath the city are horrors of horrors. They are in possession of more than I dreamed of. Great crackling engines are down in that darkness, and I saw the bodies of even vaster titans. From these they directed dregs under the every watchful Anzu birds to carve more silver and iron. I have learned, that the engines send messages to others. Sleeping near them, I feel them shifting my dreams as I hid. I shudder at what they do when turned, focused onto the enemies of Irem. What power they hold over the mind, even here in their hidden city.

They speak in a buzzing tongue in their laboratories, and walk without veils. They speak with invisible whistling wind spirits, and strange demons, and send them out into the world to find precious…. That they might persist in their experiments. What ever work they do, it bodes poorly for the world, and that it is hidden makes their …like the roots of a twisted tree.

The possibility of such influence, unseen, among the people of our guarded nation must be investigated, I am sure you will agree. The nature of the influence itself would be of utmost interest of the society, I am sure. In these waning days of the world, we should be certain that no unseen hand pulls at our hearts or minds, nor any unguided or foreign pulse beat in our countryman’s minds.

 


 

This story I believe holds not only some promise for future visitations, but some genuine unnerving ideas with the interrupted narrative that is recovered. Next week, we again visit calamitous cities, but these now in their prime.

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Pillars Lost In Shifting Sands

This Week’s Prompt: 47. From Arabia Encyc. Britan. II—255. Prehistoric fabulous tribes of Ad in the south, Thamood in the north, and Tasm and Jadis in the centre of the peninsula. “Very gorgeous are the descriptions given of Irem, the City of Pillars (as the Koran styles it) supposed to have been erected by Shedad, the latest despot of Ad, in the regions of Hadramaut, and which yet, after the annihilation of its tenants, remains entire, so Arabs say, invisible to ordinary eyes, but occasionally and at rare intervals, revealed to some heaven-favoured traveller.” // Rock excavations in N.W. Hejaz ascribed to Thamood tribe.


The Resulting Story: The City in Silver Sands

After a dirth of short, brief prompts, Mr. Lovecraft has graced us with a longer and more elaborate notion! Excellent. And one with a good deal of information as well! Let us begin then with the nature of the tribes and the city they supposedly hail from, according ot the texts at hand.

Thamud dwelling

A cliff dwelling attributed to the Thamud

Thamud, Jadis, Tasm, and Ad are all members of the a group of tribes referred to as ‘Perishing Arabs’. All four are extinct populations according to the Koran: Jadis and Tasm by genocide, Ad and Thamud were destroyed for their lack of faith. Iram of the Pillars is a city of Ad, and was destroyed in some versions by a storm, in others by volcanic activity. Iram was sent a prophet, to bring monotheism to the region, but did not listen. Likewise, Thamud was sent a prophet and by accounts from the Koran shared some relation to Ad. Thamud was destroyed by earthquake after rejecting the prophet. Thamud seems to have constructed homes from within mountains, or inside of them, an architectural feature I suggest we continue in our own story.

Now, of course, civilizations that have fallen from hubris are not new. We’ve covered some before, but we might call to mind Atlantis and Babel, also punished for their arrogance. Sodom and Gomorrah likewise for their crime of inhospitably were laid low by YHWH. However, what is notable about Irem is not only it’s location (a desert, as opposed to at sea), but also it’s nature as still existent. Sodom and Gomorrah are traditionally not available for human eyes to behold, and Atlantis is buried in the sea. No, Irem is still in the desert, where some occasionally find it.

Iram of the Pillars

Artist Interpertation found on Wikipedia

The invisibility of Irem to all but holy eyes also bears resemblance to hidden kingdoms of djinn, which occupy a different spatial relation then those of mortal men. We might also consider hidden kingdoms and cities such as beyuls of Tibetian mysticism or the fairie lands of Celtic myth.

Celtic myth, particularly Irish, adds an interesting element: the phantom Island. Brasil (not the nation) is and island that emerges and disappears at certain times throughout the year. In Slavic myth, there is Buyan, the island that holds the immortal Korschie’s heart. Both islands are near impossible to reach, but not as otherworldly as lost Atlantis is. Our story, from these traditions, should probably be about the cross over into such an otherworldly place, which is more than mortal but less than magical entirely.

BrasilIsland

The mythical island of Brasil

An odd, if depressing, version also found in Russia is the Kingdom of Opona. Opona is an earthly paradise for serfs, that lies on the edge of the world. There are no nobles, no gentry at all here. Only peasents and their ruler, the wise and just White Tsar. It is an odd place, that many peasants wandered forever searching for. I don’t know exactly what to make of it, except as a note of interest.

I would even suggest borrowing some of the most common themes of those strange places that are just out of sight, namely the warping of time upon entrance. We might find in our mysterious city a plethora of lost souls, still wandering from eras long past or only just recently present. This could perhaps create a colorful visual, if not cast to draw from. The associations with these hidden locals and the dead should also, in all likliehood, be preserved in our text.

Before continuing, I will pause here to note that Mr. Lovecraft does appear to have used this prompt for his own work, The Nameless City. The work in that case focuses on an archaelogical expedition, and in some ways is similar to At the Mountains of Madness which also featured archaelogical uncovering of an alien city, filled with hieroglyphs and markings.

For our own story, I would begin with the city alive instead of dead. A city that is only briefly and occasionally aligned with our own, allowing travel only at very specific intervals of time and space. Partially because this will be an easy seperation from Lovecraft’s own work, but partly because it also allows us to play with the notions of apparent destruction. It would also allow us to include other characters who are perhaps a tad more otherworldly then our lead.

As to their own identity, I would shy away from an actual man of science or a professional in matters of reality. We won’t be using our belabored Ottoman bureaucrat or a census man. No, I think a better character might be one who is interested in such ruins, who has sought them out at the time they appear, and made the journey at no small expense out of an obsession. I think it will be an obsession on matters occult more than scientific, determined to plunge the depths of reality for some lost secret or another, or believing that the hidden city of Irem actually contains. I imagine then our narrator is an eccentric of some sort at the least. I have an idea for his means of communication, but that would perhaps be giving too much away.

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Djinn and Beyond The Grave

This Week’s Prompt: 35. Special beings with special senses from remote universes. Advent of an external universe to view.

This Week’s Story: The Tears Begin To Show

When dealing with prompts so simple as this, I find it best to turn to potential sources within the human mind as we have it recorded. Folklore records such thoughts well, and in this case, extra sensory perception is a common concept to mine and discuss. The supernatural, particular in folklore, is the unseen and unperceptible. This is the nature of spirits, and those who see them. The more urban legend sorts of creatures, such as alien sightings or the like, follow similar veins. Perhaps we’ll take them on last.

The first sort of spirit, past the faries we’ve discussed extensively, that occurs to me are the djinn. Part of this is because the djinn are from that heartland of Lovecraft’s horror, the Middle East where ancient ruins and large urban centers have sat side by side for thousands of years. But part is also because of the nature of the djinn, as creatures more different to us in substance than necessarily in psychology.

djinn2

Conquest of the Djinn

The djinn are arranged as we are, with kings and princes. The live as we do, with animals and shepherds. And in someways they operate like we do, albeit in reverse. We feed on the living, they find flesh on the bones, for example. And the djinn, like us, have trouble perceiving our world. Unlike the fae, who find us with ease and then retreat or run away, the average djinn is as aware of mortal existence as he is of the bottom of the sea.

ghoul

A Ghul, Sometimes A Djinn

Djinn do have some distinction from our perceptions, however. They are often conflated with demons, and by such an association gain a number of miraculous strengths or powers. The dread lord of Darkness is, in Islam, among their ranks rather than an exile of the Angelic Host. Ghuls are sometimes brought in as djinn as well. Their extreme supernatural might is credited in popular stories of granting wishes (although whether such wishes are real or simply through vast connections depends on the telling), and certainly a certain blue figures ability to reference things beyond his era implies some knowledge we are unaware of.

Genie.png

Then There’s This Guy

The djinn also have two animal associations that they often take, two that are wary to any folklorist. The serpent and the dog. Creatures of perception and wildness, seekers and keepers of secrets. The djinn can be seen as a sort of intermediary sort of being. Not knowing everything, not entirely knowable, but not entirely alien either.

Ifrit.png

Such strange middle grounds are the dwelling place of the parapyschological. Second sight and mediumship, perceiving past the normal are all in this haze. Djinn and others are often accused of being behind these events by critics in the Middle Ages. It’s not, therefore, to unusual to suppose that if there are contacts from some other realm, they are related to these folkloric figures.

And contact with such things is often…dangerous.

The Exorcist, classic of horror writing and cinema that it is, provides the often cited story for why one should avoid piercing holes in the veil. Often it is credited with the literal demonization of the Ouija board, previously more a children’s toy or a serious divination tool in China. The spiritualist moment and connections with death are thus fairly self evidently. The Lovecraft mythos are built on this sort of Icarus like straining.

ouija

Ancient Chinese Ouija

But this prompt goes a step forward. Rather than mere contact with these alien entities, our own perception broadens to an extra universal view. An out-of-universe experience, if you will. This may be a new sort of horror. This is the horror or perhaps fantasy of ascension. It is similar, perhaps, to the notions we discussed when examining the creation of the universe, albeit almost in reverse.

What such a perception is, is again mostly irrelevant. What matters is how we get to this point view. It seems that the story relies on two elements of horror. One is the introduction of extra-universal entities viewing the world. These entities, to keep our story short, will likely contact an individual. There horror/distress of hearing or being contacted by entities alien to you is a good enough start. Being gradually drawn into the entities own sense of perception allows for more sorts of horror.

The horror of going insane blends well with that horror of loss of self. Of being absorbed into a larger, more dreadful mass. This horror is the sort that has been explored in science fiction before. It is full of possible additions, the metaphor of dying, of growing up, of political or religious movements or revelations. But given the limit our writings have, I will restrict it to only the concrete fears of paranoia and loss of self. The others might emerge as I write, but there is no guarantee.

When this strange perception happens seems key. I’ve grown a bit tired of the modern age. Perhaps now we can examine a tale akin to that of Abdul Alhazred, and return to the Ottoman empire, its connections between Greece and India. A Golden Age of exchange and trade. Alternatively, another empire that perhaps has reached that similar level of spiritualism that afflicts all empires.

It is, after all, an inversion of the hope spiritualism promises. The wonder of pyschics is that there is something unseens, something that enhances the world. That the afterlife or something like it exists and will bring a sense of certainty to the world. If we make it horrific, it is that this hopefully place is a lie. That this dream is, secretly, a nightmare.

Spiritualism.png

Mother Russia might, political problems of recent days aside, be a great fit then. Spiritualism took hold at the turn of the last century, and the strangest of occultists have developed from this period. A Russian man or woman, as political revolutions move in the air, being lifted into yet another terrible horror. Perhaps during the brutal civil wars, whisked away after a fashion? We’ll have to see what such a place was like.

I might do some more exploration on this. If I have time, I will look into works on that period, a strange place and time not touched by American Horror writers often. But that’s me. What did you find?

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