All Hallows Night

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

The Resulting Research: Polished Silver Distorts The Eye

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

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

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

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

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

“Your cousin’s weird.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…Fine.” Phil relented.

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

“Thought you said ghosts weren’t real.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Father and Son

This Week’s Prompt:49. AZATHOTH—hideous name.

The Research:Blind Idiot Gods

The door slammed before Samson could sit down. Rubbing his temple, he looked to his wife Irene for some explanation, his face somewhere between dumbfounded and full of rage. His hands and throat were still shaking when he went into the kitchen.

We can’t keep doing this every week,” Irene said, her gaze avoiding the open kitchen door. Samson nodded, unseen, and poured a water to aid his dry throat.

No, no we can’t. But that’s–”

And it can’t be Paul’s call.” Irene cut in. Samson paused. “He’s a kid, Sam. He’s not gonna go out there, again, and have some road to Damascus moment where he comes back and it all clicks.”

Samson sighed as he stared at the water. The kitchen light flickered, the ripples bent before the hit the edge of the glass. He took a deep breath and went for his coat.

Alright, I’ll go get him. I know where’s he’s gone, probably.” Samson said, putting on the faux leather heavy jacket he wore for cold nights like this. Paul had gone to the same spot every night like this, Samson was sure.

And?”

And I’ll try to be more civil. I just understand how he thinks he can go around at night like that,” Samson said, shaking his head as he put a cap on. “Doing god knows what. It’s not safe out there these days, and I swear that those Miller boys are in some sort of gang.”

Scaring him off won’t help.” Irene said, eyes locked on her magazine now. “You know, there was a report on youth crime recently, and they said distant father’s played a big part.”

I don’t think being distant is the problem.” Samson grumbled. “But I’ll keep my cool this time.”

It’d rained during the fight. There was a wall of cold wet air like something out of a freezer right outside the door. It hadn’t occurred to Samson before he set foot outside. Well, he figured that your own flesh and blood calling you a damned fool for caring about where his life was going might be part of that. The street lights caught a few of the long, near invisible spider threads that ran from branch to fence. Some even ran along the fences, like a secondary ward against flies. Drops of rain water had made them rather appealing, even if Samson couldn’t bear the thought of a spider being anywhere near him.

It was a long walk to the train tracks. Samson was sure Paul was there. There was some intuitive reason, some chord that he and his son shared in common. When Samson needed to cool down, he’d take a deep dive into some misery. Go somewhere painful. It wasn’t healthy, not by any notion of the imagination. But it was what he did.

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As he passed a strange shaped web, that had been bent just right to look like a spiral by the rain water, Samson wondered if that was the start of it all. They’d found Jordan dead on the tracks, head busted open a few months ago. He knew Paul would grieve, he’d braced himself for loud sobbing and mourning. When it didn’t happen, he’d figured Paul was going to just ride it out. Maybe it’d buried it self, waited. Maybe.

The boys Paul was with now, when Samson knew anyhting about them, were strange ones. Stupid, snarling, barely intelligent kids who gave him a dirty look whenever they saw him. Which, Samson admitted, was rare. He paused his thoughts to collect himself. He’d grown up here, he knew the streets and architecture well. He’d been headed to the last of the rails, but the red brick work told him he was on the wrong side of town already. He’d slipped across without any notice.

It was disgraceful mistake, he had to admit. How did you miss the tracks? It was like missing the river. Samson organized his mental map, and figured he’d gotten distracted and missed a turn or something. Maybe his mind was moving away from construction as he mulled over the weirdos Paul called company.

It was wrong, Samson thought, to hate your son’s friends so much. But they were bad kids. They had this look in their eyes that reminded Samson of starving strays. And while he might pity them, in some abstract way, they were too cunning and a half for their own good. The thing was, and this made Samson more uncertain, they didn’t dress like thugs. Some wore button ups, clean slacks, dyed hair parted neatly. Hell, if you’d told him this was just some intern down at the firm, Samson would have believed you. Weird as it was to see that sort of clothing on them, the clothing wasn’t the problem. It was the way they walked, it was like there was a slight invibislbe gas leaking from their mouths. Their eyes hinted at malice, and they held their hand smore like claws then proper fingers and joints.

Samson got dizzy again, near an intersection. He stopped himself this time, and realized he had almost missed the train tracks again. The under pass, lined with tents, was just on the right. It seemed to swell in front of him. Most of the denziens were inside on a cold night like this. Samson frowned as he walked down the shaky concrete. Some of the asphalt must have been fresh, with the way it shown and almost flowed in the light. Like a river of gold.

It wasn’t fair, to call them strays. Strays just wanted some food. Or a home. Samson had taken in a few when he was a boy. No, they were more like…like the spiders. Or like a wasp Samson read about, that played with cockroaches before killing them. Malicous, maybe even sadistic, but naturals at it. They’d probably given not a second thought to what they did. Samson wasn’t sure if they’d done anything. He had theoires. He was pretty sure they’d killed a cat. There were less cats and squirrels about. He knew they were bullies and probably a few made a career being vicious. He’d seen one burn a bunch of dolls in an alley once.

Samson didn’t know which was worse. That the strange idiots stole a girls dolls and burned them, or they bought a bunch of dolls to burn for the hell of it.

Maybe they’d killed Jordan. The thought had crossed his mind. It seemed so fortunate for the freaks that Paul needed an outlet, and they were right there.

But Samson put that all aside as he walked down the tracks. Now was the time for peacemaking. Now was the time to talk with Paul, to make sure he got home, to make sure he was okay. The tracks were where Jordan and Paul once walked.

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Samson blinked a few times as he made his way down. He didn’t bother calling out, it was bright enough to see Paul when he needed to. Hell, it was getting brighter and brighter as he walked down the tracks. There wasn’t any particular light, just everything seemed to be in sharper contrast and glow as he went. The tracks had clearly worn down since he got here, Samson thought. Some were broken or sprawling off. Maybe repairs or replacements required those bends and buckling. Some of the pieces of wood seemed to be replaced by bits of metal. A lot of them had been vandilized, little holes stabbed in them or gibberish carved in them.

Along the way, Samson swore the shadows blinked at him, or that in the holes of tracks there are flickers of motion like scurrying ants or beetles. It’s not too bad. Vermin always forms when places are left alone and forgotten. Samson’s known that for a while.

At last he comes to something that might be a destination. A pair of cargo containers, red and blue. On top are a bunch of tents, mini-roofs. Lights are shining out, brightest just above the two roofs, making a dome of bright light that slowly dissipated upwards into the sky. Samson walked to the rusted steel doors, breathed deeply and knocked.

There wasn’t any sound before the knock. Then a slight whistling and piping, as if Samson had disturbed some strange sleeping creature. Samson blinked and turned to make sure nothing was following behind him. When he looked back, the metal was gone, bent up into a surprisingly spacious ceiling. The piping continued, shaking the shimmering interior. As he stepped in, Samson heard the crunching of sand or salt beneath his shoes.

Samson heard voices from the deeper interior, halls of shining metal containers and ladders to the top tents. The light was bright,and Samson had to cover his eyes to come inside. Slowly he worked towards the voices. Paul was probably among the voices, deeper into whatever strange fort this was.

There was scribbling on the wall, symbols that Samson recognized from an old code book he had as hobo warning marks. About wild dogs and guns. Some of the scribbles were decayed, some were definitely alphabets he’d not seen in his life. Or gibberish in English, overlapped from overwork.

The halls smoothed as he got close to the voices. Despite being maybe twenty feet across, it seemed to stretch in front of Samson towards the horizon. He was surprised how quickly he crossed. He was surprised how long it took. The piping was melodious, almost calming now. With each step that crunched, crackled, and echoes through the metal walls it grew louder, more persistent. Like a lullaby being sung over a screaming child.

At last, Samson found the source of the lights and sounds. A door off the side of the hallway opened like a flower, peeling away but with a smoothness that washed over Samson’s alarm. They were gathered their, the strange boys playing piping instruments. They sat around a green fire that seemed to be a reflection, more flat then fire should be.

Paul was there, as Samson thought. Paul sat in the fire unsinged, eyes closed. Samson walked forward into the hall. A single word was written round the walls now, without beginning or end.

THOTHAZATHOTH

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Paul murmured it in endless chant as Samson walked towards the fire, his son still unburned. In an instant Paul’s eyes opened. They stared ahead like wax orbs, no light shining from them. He stood, the flaming plat form putting him at eye level with his father.

Paul…” Samson said, arms outstretched. “What is this Paul?”

Paul looked back as if he did not understand, like Samson was speaking a language he never understood. Samson took another step forward.

Let’s go home, Paul. We’ll talk about this.”

Paul didn’t move from the fire, his clothes unburned. Samson took another step forward.

Son, come on. We can–”

Paul let out a howl and Samson started back. He saw a flash of a knife in his son’s hand, a flicker of silver that rushed at him. With strength not his own, Paul toppled his father and slashed into him over and over again, before slicing his throat.

As the men and women at the center of the city had said, a sacrifice would be provided. Paul had expected his mother, however.

 


 

This story gave some trouble. I didn’t know the ending until I got there, and it is a bit sudden isn’t it? But I think some of the central conflict and fears could be expanded on later.

Next week! Our fiftieth research! Our fiftieth story! A story of fire and sin!

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The Fall of Anuel

This Weeks Prompt:48. Cities wiped out by supernatural wrath.

The Research:Calamity And Woe

Thul of the Golden Collar moved through the outer districts as a hare moves through the forest in dread. Beyond Anuel’s kingly walls of marble, lined with gold, there was all the ills a city might expect. The brand of high nobility on Thul’s brow gave him a degree of protection form banditry and worse as he moved through the market. But the fire roaring in the distance, the veiled bodies of the diseased glimpsed in boarded up homes, the hungry dogs that barked in the alleys thick with the stench of the dying were not as kind nor as polite as to excuse him.

Spice and sparse food were not what Thul’s purpose this day. Under the smog and smoke, he was looking for something peculiar to his soon-to-be married mistress. She was exacting, and Anuel’s gods were a greedy bunch. They hungered for blood and gold, and Thul had seen those slaves of less pure collars led screaming to be offered before the bloody handed lords of Anuel. But these would not do for princess Shapanat. The princess had deemed that only the sort fit for the highest of gods, made beautiful in the fires and grind of the city. A diamond the glistened in the rough, she said as she sent Thul out.

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He had his instruments of his temporary office. A staff topped with miniature hand carved of jade, to be used to point to the fortunate one. A crook to dissuade any of the masses from assailing him. And on his arm, a band like a serpent of silver as a final badge of office. So adorned, Thul set out among those bound in iron and brass, dregs of the city.

He saw while he walked the cities degenerate roads a peculiar sight. A man, dressed in nothing but his vast and unkempt beard. He was standing on a pile of broken boxes, jumping now from one crumbling, cracking bit of wood to another.

“Repent, oh gluttonous Anuel! Repent, for the gods skulk now in the hills and plan your ambush. Repent and they shall pass over you, and your wicked ways! For I have seen great lords of rust and rot, who will make your stones like dust and your irons sand!”

Thul ignored this latest doomsayer. If the gods had any plague for Anuel, it could not reach past the great walls. The gods of Anuel stood there resolute and guarded, pleased with the blood and fire given to them daily. But not far from him did Thul see what his mistress desired. A young child, skin as dark as the night sky, with eyes the color of the moon and day. The prophet protested more, but Thul parted him with the gesturing stick.

“You have been found in copper.” Thul said to the boy, who showed neither fear nor understanding. “You will be wrought into gold.”

They were the words with which to address a sacrifice. Thul found no wailing here, however, that he and others had grown accustomed to. Now crying mothers or threatening siblings. There was s sudden silence spreading from the boy, a ripple out as a hundred eyes stared at Thul as he walked back to the marble walls. They recalled stories of jackals and hyenas waiting in badlands, watching prey pass.

There was hunger in those eyes.

The day of the wedding between Shapanat and Marad was attended with much pomp and circumstance. The fleet of litters were gathered around the long table, with the many slave serving nobles waiting. With hands gloved in velvet and utensils as long as spear, they served the greatest guests, so that the air only barely touched them. Others, the lesser members, made a show of walking about in fantastic array, with masks and feathers and long flowing gowns and capes.

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The newly wed royals sat atop their thrones, skin painted bright red and yellow with crowns of emeralds and sapphires. But one thing disturbed the serene surface peace of the court. As the ceremonies and gifts began to approach the greatest height, some of the guests noticed a new member among them. He had a mask of gold, that stretched from ear to ear, leaving only his eyes and forehead apparent. The rest was kept in a playful smile, like a statue carved by the wisest carver. A small whole in the mouth piece allowed him to speak, and what a voice it permitted. It was a soft thing, like a bird song in spring. But his words when he spoke where never soft.

“I have come to reclaim what the houses of Anuel have stolen from the lion, the bull, and the dragon.” He said, when asked of his purpose. “And I shall do so.”

He milled about in silks of silver and white, although some swore they saw a bleeding stain emerging on his side. His steps seemed like a delicate insect carefully crawling on the skin of a great beast, grace without any apparent thought to what he did. The stranger’s stir brought Thul’s attention, as he was sent to inquire of the strange debt collector.

“Lady Shapanat has heard that you believe she owes you some debt, and one great enough to interrupt this high and holy day.” He said, staring into the man’s eyes that seemed, if for a moment, to swirl like a serpents. “She would like to hear what is owed to you, or what you claim is. And if possible, she has given me authority to remedy it this night.”

“Ah, send a serf instead of facing the messenger yourself.” the man said smiling. “She has stolen the nations of the bull, the lives of the lion, and the might of the dragon. They have thus laid siege to her, from outside the walls with all their battery. Now, they have seen she has stolen something even more beloved. A boy they blessed for great things. Return him, and they shall abate.”

Thul did not have to return to his mistress to know her will in this matter. Delight was written across her face when she beheld the boy. Her wrath would be in equal measure, and would fall upon his back as soon as this impudent foreigner was ripped to shreds by eager hands.

“That is not acceptable.” Thul said simply. “We may compensate whoever it is that you represent, with a value in gold or jade that is equal to him in weight.”

“The gods deal in more than you, little man.”

As they spoke, the boy in question was lead atop the great circular sacrificial stone. Three bent gargoyles, with the heads of crocodiles and the bodies of leopards, held up the altar that was carved in the image of a hungering god. There was silence, as the sacrifices were, one by one, lead up to the altar. They were covered in oils, with feathers from their hair and prayers carved on their face. Twenty three were brought up before the boy, each pushed to their knees, and their throats slit so that their blood spilled into the mouth of the grim god of Anuel.

But when the boy was lead, with the horns of a bull on his head and chains of sparking silver around his arms, the crowd grew more silent yet, inhaling in awe the little sound there had been. For he looked the part of a small god, to be sacrificed to their anthrophagian lord. And some even wept, when he was slain on his knees like the others.

The weeping was prelude. Many touched their faces to find tears of blood, and some even swore the great crocodiles wept bleeding tears as well. But this was for a moment. In the next, the earth shook violently, rising and falling as if a herd of cattle ran under the surface, their backs pushing against the rocky ceiling of the cave. There was a sudden roar of thunder, but not a sight of lighting or a cloud in the sky. The altar cracked, the jaw of the god of Anuel forever open and broken by the rage of the unseen. And out poured a cloud of dust and smoke, a pillar of darkness rising into the sky.

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The smoke hung over the noble quarter like a funeral shroud. Thul wondered at it as he stood on the balcony. He ought be overseeing the iron bound winemakers, or the copper servants taking food for his mistresses feast. But Thul of the Golden Collar felt no such compulsion to duty anymore. The other servants had fled or hid, as the storm and smoke settled.

In the distance beyond the wall, the fire raged. The child’s sacrifice and the omens hence had been magnified with time, echoing out and growing in power as they reached the edges of Anuel. People saw ghostly lions and specters with bloody hands roaming the streets,crying out for the boy.

The people were rioting. They were clawing like hungry wolves at the walls. They were pelting it with stones, hammering with iron tools that quarried mountains and fields. Thul had seen them on his walks with his mistress, watching the tide of glittering iron and flesh smash against the walls. They hadn’t broken through yet. But the walls couldn’t hold forever.

His mistress had fallen ill in this rain. It was sickly green or grey at times, and where it fell, all the crawling things of the world crawled forth. The cats of the house were often hard at work crushing and hunting the scorpions and ants and beetles and centipedes that were encroaching on the noble gardens. Such sights weaken her already failing constitution.

Thul watched and waited for the final sigh. He watched and waited for the hammering at the walls. As mighty as the marble was, lined with gold, it would bend and it would break. Already it’s varnish was rotting away, revealing gravel beneath the sheets of marble.

In his soul, Thul prayed that the gods so offended would come swiftly upon him. A crack, as the marble walls at last broke, seemed to promise just that.

****

I’m not the entirely happy with this piece. The writing outline was well made, but it deserves another pass or two. It occurred to me that the extended timeline would have worked better with a distraction from the Gods wrath. Some drama or nonsense that would occupy the time of the nobility (And the audience) as the tragedy mounted beside them. However, I couldn’t work one in that felt natural, so I dropped it in favor of what is here. If I come back to this, which I might, that will be among the first additions.

This was our second anniversary, although we did little with it. Next week, however, will be our clearest reference to some rather intriguing Lovecraftian lore: The demon sultan himself will be there for all to see.

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The Immortal[Imperial] Rites

This week’s prompt:45. Race of immortal Pharaohs dwelling beneath pyramids in vast subterranean halls down black staircases.

The Research:Maat and Apep

To His Sacred And Imperial Majesty, Great King of Cairo, Commander of the Faithful,

Your faithful servant has much witnessed many miracles in his travels. The men of the hills and their idols, fearful things along rebellious Aegean shores, and beyond. So he reports thus a mission both fruitful and tiring for his form, to that most ancient of lands Egypt.

His report must begin thus: While returning from the tasks your Majesty had assigned him in foreign lands, for the betterment of all people, your servant heard a strange rumor in Cairo’s dockyards. The rumor was something of a story that the Jewish people tell, of thirty-six righteous souls that preserve the whole of the world from the judgment of God. It was a story your servant had heard in years before and years since, and of itself was little to report.

But of greater interest was the storyteller’s insistence that he had seen these very men, in a distant farm along the Nile. There, the man said to your Majesty’s servant, they all had gathered in order to combat an enraged djinn that the Prophet Sulieman had bound in the earth at the height of his kingdom. Your servant was of two minds regarding this tale.

The first was that indeed there was a group of wise men, doing some holy meditations as the Christians say the desert fathers do or some of the Sufi’s preform. In which case, their wisdom would be for the beneficence of your majesties reign, as their wisdom could aid in all things under the sun and bring about great victories for your Majesty.

The second was that, given the past your Majesty’s servant has had seeking out strange and remote places, these men were charlatans and sorcerers. In this case, they ought be sought either to lend their talents for your Majesty’s victory or, if they are unwilling and in service of futile rebellion, put to the sword to end whatever darkness they preform. Either way, I made my way down the Nile to investigate this further. The flood was particularly swift that year, so the journey down was swift.

The location of the gathering was, according to the riverman, well known to be in southern Nubia. There, beneath a pyramid, the conclave could be found. He warned your servant, however, that some disturbances were rumored to have come from the desert. Your servant gave these warnings perhaps too little heed.

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The first village along the shore your servant arrived at was fractious, and found your servant’s arrival an affront against them. Your servant explained he was not from the local pasha, but rather from a farther off land, in search of supposed wise men. They were still disrespectful to your servant, who learned hence that the village was many rebellious ones in that year. Given this, what occurred later was of little surprise.

The villages eldest, however, recalled the tale that had reached the ears of your Majesty’s servant, and directed him further inland. There, the eldest said, your Majesty’s servant might find the men who knew of the ancient clergy that dwell beneath the earth and their battle with Iblis. Your servant thanked them and continued along the path.

Suffice to say your Majesty’s servant was greatly misled in this. As he traveled through the desert, he was waylaid by horsemen armed with spears and crude sickles turned into swords. Your Majesty’s servant, lacking in the arts of war and being a scholar by trade, was quickly captured and brought back to their distant camp. Here he overheard them speaking of ransoms or murder for your servant’s great transgress of having a righteous lord. Here he learned that he had been betrayed.

Exchange

By what was over heard, your servant fears rule of law has begun to slip in the region. Bandits are growing bolder, more numerous, and the remains of older orders are starting to rear their ugly head. The disuptes seemed trivial, even out here. Support for rulers who your Majesty’s elders rightfully displaced had found fertile soil with recent droughts. As food failed to grow, resentment was brewing. Your Majesty’s servant held his tongue, and did not speak out, for he cowardly feared for his life. Still, he has sent word to your Majesty’s right and honorable swordsmen.

The exact conditions of your servant’s escape are perhaps evidence of the beneficence of G-d. Or perhaps the arrogance of defiant subjects. After all were asleep, your servant was granted a miracle.

For while he was bound and gagged at the camp site, your servant found that one of the bandit’s had left abandoned a sword in the sand. Carefully, your servant crawled on his belly like a serpent to the sword, unsheathing it with some difficulty using his neck and chin as makeshift hands. With some caution he then freed himself, cutting the bonds on the blade. Able to wield it properly, your servant cut his feet free and removed all impediments to his escape.

Still, your servant was in the desert and lost. He knew not where the men of legend and righteousness were, nor even where the grasps of civilization lay. His only clue, that night, was the path of a dog he found wandering in the desert sand. Your servant reasoned that, if the dog was alive, it must be going somewhere it knew, somewhere with water and possible food. Your servant’s choice was aided by the sound of waking men in the camp, who had made clear they deisgned to kill him.

Your servant wandered thus, after phantom footprints until dawn. The cold of the desert night and the silver of the moon preyed on his mind more than once, deluding him to thinking he was in the realm of the pagan dead, where shades wander. But the rise of the golden sun, and the gust of heat it brought over the world, dispelled that notion rather soundly.

It was at dawn that, in the east, your servant saw the tips of the pyramids promised. They were not as wide or grand as those near Giza, but rather like spear heads rising from the earth. There was a small village near it, which your servant now approached cautiously. Here he found men who spoke freely, having little apparent fear of strangers coming from the desert. They were confused by your servant’s claims of your Majesty’s authority, and even laughed at the telling of your authority. Your servant would have pressed the issue, but considered it unwise.

The young men your servant found around the pyramids took him inside, and gave him good food and rest. When your servant asked after the thirty-six holy men, they told your servant that he should rest and eat, for approaching their kings while in such a state may kill him. Your servant unwillingly obliged, satisfied that at last safety had been reached.

When your Majesty’s servant awoke, it was well into the night. The moon had risen to near it’s full, altough it was a new moon and thus marked by the absence of light rather than it’s prior silver splendor. The stars alone cast some light on the soft sand and dirt, and even this required a torch to be guided through to be of any use. Your servant was then lead by one of the native guides towards the pyramids, where a set of black steps were now revealed.

Here, they told your servant, was where the wise men did their work nightly. For by day they slept, to better have energies for their holiest of works.

Your servant was lead then down these stairs to a room that was made of perfecltly locked stoned. Painted along the walls were the sigils of the Egyptians from the days of the prophet Moses, images of sun worship and cats. A great pair of beasts were resting there, something between desert dogs and donkeys. They raised their heads, which had something of a crocodiles teeth to them, and seemed distrustful of my approach, until the guide tossed some meat at them.

“You are our honored guest, they are over zealous guards. If your master is who you say he is, then he is deserving to hear of our great work.” The man said, wiping his hand on his robe as we turned a corner beneath the pyramid.

And there I saw a terrible sight. Thirty six men, in the headress of pharaohs, each with golden masks and well kept beards, stood in a wide circle. At the center of the circle they held something fast with each of their thirty six hooks. Each struck it back with their flail, chanting in a tongue foreign to my ears.

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But it was the thing, the thing they struck that struck me with horror. For it appeared to be a child, beaten and bloodied so greatly that I could not tell beneath it’s rags whether they were boy or girl. It cried out pitifully at each wound. As I stared horror struck, I realized each cry was for help in a different tounge. Greek, Aramic, Arabic, Persian,French, the tounges of the distant east, tounges I had never heard. It cried out again and again. At last I turned to my guide in rage.

“What deception is this? This is what you are proud of, this is what you call holy work?” I said, nearly snuffing out our late when I reached for him.

“Of course it is holy work! Or are people beyond blind to decievers now?” the guide said.

“Explain.”

“The child is no child. It takes many forms, every night, that it might by mercy escape into the world. For it is the king of dreams the men here battle, a proteus of chaos and terror.” the guide said, frowning. “For millenia they have stood and stamped it out. When it slips it’s binds, even a little, it spreads famine, it devours empires, it overturns rightly apointed princes and unleashes plauges. The thirty six lords here must, therefore, bind and strike the beast or inflict its suffering on the world.”

Your servant insisted there must be another way to deal with the malcontent. He was told there was not one. Your servant again pleaded that the child was crying. Your servant was informed that one often cries out when struck with lashes. Your servant continued until his guide held up his hand and infromed your servant that there was nothing to be done. Such was the nature of the world, that thirty six righetous lords must inflict such punishment on the king of dreams until the end of days.

Your servant was then escorted out, but found the sun to have risen when he set foot on the edge of the stairs, and the silence of the night replaced by the clamor of Cairo. By some old magic, your servant believes he was in the end transported, back whence he came.

Your servant would suggest, humbly, some force move to the south to liberate the children sentenced to blood beatings. But he is uncertain if such a child is existent. And that aside, your servant recognizes the animosity of those regions have more pressing and immediate concerns. He sends only his humble advisement.

Your Right Hand and Clear Eye,

XXXX


If this story was of interest to you, consider reading earlier exploits of our lost scholar here, and here.

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

There Is Another In The Woods

This Week’s Prompt: 41. The Italians call Fear La figlia della Morte—the daughter of Death.

The Relevant Research:Frightful Night Terrors

Elise had been stolen from me. Elise, Elise had been stolen in the middle of the night. Again. I was out in the old forest with my flashlight, searching as best I could. Again.

The first time she was small. Only six. Only six, and out of the house. Well, that doesn’t give the full story. Her door was locked, a nice iron pad lock as well as the normal lock. The windows had been barred, in case some of the more adventurous squirrels or raccons lept in at Elise. It was a secure as secure could be. I even moved her bed, in case someone through something through the window. It was safe and close.

Foggy forest nights where the clouds seem to have come down from the sky and subusmed the moon are not exactly comforting when you’ve lost something. Your feet catch on the roots, and after the first few you times you fall over, you start thinking they are trying to drag you down into the ground. The flashlight can catch the branches, giving me time to duck and weave through the woods. It wasn’t a quite night this time.

Last time, there was almost no noise in the woods but my footsteps and heavy breathing. I knew Elise was in the woods. There hadn’t been any signs in her room, the lock and bars still intact. But I saw her steps going off towards the woods. I grabbed a hand gun, my flashlight, and went running. I didn’t think to call the police. Not yet.

Tonight there was the occasional clinking when my footsteps hit a broken beer bottle. The wind drove the branches against each other, scratching at the sky. There was an occasional howl in the depths, towards the old hills. I ran faster, my flashlight bumping up and down. I called out for her again. Last time, last time it had taken two days to find her out in these woods.

I spent a night running around screaming, last time. I wasn’t even the one who called the cops. Neighbors around the woods called complaining about the noise.

“Now sir, calm down. How long has your daughter been missing.”

“I don’t know, three hours? I noticed she was gone when I went to bring her water for the night, she always gets water at around nine, and then she wasn’t there, so I went out–” I said, my voice beginning to pick up speed as I talked.

“And there was no one else in the house? No one at all? No visitors, babysitters?” the man in blue asked, tilting his head to look inside.

“None, no.” I said flatly.

“Door was locked and everything.” He said, thinking for a moment. “Well, we’ll get a search party together. You mind coming down to the station, so we can a statement on the record?”

“Yeah, yeah, sure, just let me get some things.”

“It’d be better for it to be right now.” the man said, stepping out of the doorway.

The station conversation was much the same. They asked again about the room, why was it so secure, if I heard anything, if I saw anything. I had heard tapping on the top floor I said, but I thought it was a door in the wind or something. They held me there, away from the search party, for about six hours.

It wasn’t hard to piece together what they thought had happened. It was suspicious, it was frustrating. You do everything you can to keep your daughter safe, after her mother vanishes into thin air, and people start to wonder what your hiding her from. What’s out there that warrants bars on the windows, iron locks, and a fence? Then the start asking if it’s something inside instead. And it goes down hill.

Not like I don’t know what did it. I do, I do know. Out here in the woods, there’s only one thing that steals away with children. Mother told me about night like these, and I told Elise. These are old woods, and her mother didn’t understand that either. They’re fairie woods, woods were you better carry a cross even during the day.

They found her in the woods last time, sleeping in the roots of a tree, with a few scratch marks and a sprained ankle. She said she didn’t know how she got there. And maybe she didn’t. I hadn’t put all the stuff up yet. Just the one lock. It’s possible, I guess, she just snuck out. But how did she get so far away, from the second story to the woods with barely any sound? No, it took her there.

I tried telling Elise once, but she was so young. So very young, she had trouble grasping what I meant by faeries.

“But wouldn’t they be scared of you, papa?” she asked. “I mean, Tinkerbell would be frightened off by you. All you have to do is say you don’t believe in faeries.”

And I smiled and said sure with a laugh. Still secretly sewed some iron into her clothes, as a ‘game’. Yeah, it might have looked a little odd if you saw it, and it gave her a bit of a rash as she grew up. But it was the only way to be sure. If she knew what was out here, she’d know that it wasn’t scared of me. Contrary to what Disney says, faeries are rarely kind or small. And the one in the woods…he’s neither.

“He walks on long legs, so that even boys and girls on upstairs rooms aren’t safe from him.” Mother told me, holding her arms over my head like an oak’s branches. “And if you’ve been bad, it comes up from the forest for you with it’s long branch like arms.”

I had scratched my face pretty bad by now, the thorns of bushes and low hanging branchs having left their mark. Especially as I was more focused on moving forward then anything else, and so instead of ducking and weaving in the thickets I walked straight through them.

“And he takes you away, to his house, for as long as it takes for you to learn your lesson. He took my brother once, and he was gone for a whole year.” she said. Uncle Tommy was clear that he’d gone to millitary school, but to be honest when I was little that might as well as been hell.

I didn’t believe in him for a long time, until I was out in the woods myself. I saw him, two long arms out stretched among the branches, and a bright toothy grin. Long pale legs and a glowing face like a barn owls. I saw him, I did , that night Elise went missing. And he’s come again, he’s come again for my daughter.

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Why now though? I can’t help but wonder as I begin to lose the speed in my legs. Why now? It’d been three years, three years since they found her. She’d been well behaved, she’d been doing good in school, I’d been doing the best I could, making recitals, making it to bake sales, buying girl scout cookies, selling girl scout cookies, telling her good night.

What had gone wrong?

I didn’t shout her name this time. I didn’t bother calling the police this time. The bars on her window sealed my fate I think. No one likes them. Home owner’s associations been knocking on my door about them every month.

“It’s ugly” they say.

“New homebuyers think it’s a prison cell.” they say.

“It can’t be good for little Elise.” they say.

What do they know about what’s good for a kid, huh? What do they know, they’ve never had one. Never had one go missing in the middle of the night, and never gone to bed wondering if she’s snuck out again. For a year after, I put a baby monitor in her room, just in case. Maybe that’s where I went wrong, maybe I let my guard down. But hell, the bars. The bars were a must.

I know that’s what got her last time. And hell if I let that thing steal her again.

Not that they did any good it seems. But the iron should have! The iron should have burned him. My grandma, she had iron tied above her when she slept. It’s what kept her safe. My mother, she just put a cross of iron on my neck.

I find my answer, pretty quickly. Its hanging from a tree branch, a small piece of bright blue cloth with the tiny iron thread gleaming in the flash light. My heart stops for a second and I feel my breath become lead in my throat. In a daze, I look around, I look closely and carefully for any sign of her. It had to have come through here.

Someone’s sobbing or…laughing, its that sound that’s between the two. I round the trunk, watching my steps. When I come around, I see a girl Elise’s age. But her mousey brown hair has been cut in weird places, and she’s got bruises on her arms. There are wrinkles beneath her eyes and callouses on her hands that I’ve never seen before.

It can’t be her.

“L-Lizzy?” I say slowly, getting down on one knee. “Lizzy, is that you?”

“Papa!” she shouted, looking up at my light and running into hugging me. “Papa, he said I could go home, papa!”

I patted her on the back as her tears rand down my shoulder. I should have been delighted. I should have. My little girl was back. But something felt wrong.

“Go home? Honey, you’ve only been out here a few hours.” I said cautiously.

“No, no, papa, its a been longer that. Months at least.” she said through tears. Months? No, something in my mind clicked. Not months. Years.

What had been living in my house?

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Frightful Night Terrors

This Weeks Prompt:41. The Italians call Fear La figlia della Morte—the daughter of Death.
The Resulting Story: There Is Another In The Woods

The tie between fear and death is fundamental to the notions of horror as we have them. There is nothing more fundamental to our nature then a fear of death. That fear pressage death, be death’s relative, is not so strange. In the myth of the Greeks, fear and terror are children of Ares, butcher of war. Fear is at the essence of what we do here, fear is at the heart of horror.

But there are very few things that are, well, just fear. Dying of fright is certainly a phenomenon, well documented at that in several anthropological works. But, well, those aren’t situations that lend themselves well to horror. Fear can cause a heart attack, which is existentially terrifying, but lacks a certain amount of drama.

The Tingler

There was a horror movie classic about a creature that fed on fear, delightfully called the Tingler. The eponymous creature causes a tingle in it’s host spine and feeds on it’s fear. Only by screaming can the creature be prevented from curling up and crushing the spine. The concept of something that feeds on fear is continued in Harry Potter to a degree, a creature that resembles a dementor but devours fear instead of misery. Even Power Rangers has had villains that collect fear.

But these are…well, silly. The Tingler might have been frightful for it’s day, but as a scary story it falls very flat to me. No, folklore will have to do. Now, there are few folklore types that deal in fear…but there are many. There is one that is everywhere, one we’ve left off to the side: the Boogeyman.

The Boogeyman is a strange sort of creature. It isn’t really a definite creature usually, rather a fearsome name and behaviors. Often it eats disobedient children, or kidnaps them, or otherwise disposes of them. Its menace is often opaque and childish in logic, a dream like threat that has menace on it’s edges.

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Wewe Gombel

But sometimes, in the course of the world, he is extremely defined. In Hati, he is Master Midnight, his legs are two stories tall. He steals away those who would come out after night, whisking them away. Wewe Gombel in Java kidnaps children…from neglectful households. In Sicily, those who play near wells must beware a water spirit dragging them below.

The Inuit people have a shape-shifting giantess with a hole in her back. Luxemburg’s Kroperman lurks near storm drains like a certain clown, and pulls children in with a hook in their nose. The Zulu Tikoloshe is capable of sending fear and death upon people, with gouged out eyes and a gremlin like appearance. The United State’s Bloody Bones, who sits atop the bones of lying and swearing children, is another gruesome member of the pantheon of frights.

All these are creatures created for fright, and their horrific crimes are often in that fairy tale category. They devour those who won’t sleep, or eat their meals, or are up after hours, or so on. This is at first nothing more than a small scare for children, but the violation of taboos can provide a great deal of horror (as we discussed before regarding sacred spaces) and an adult haunted by a terrifying child form has found some strength these days. Modern horror, such as the Babadook, brings a boogeyman like presence to life in a way that is…terrifying.

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I think that the perspective perhaps ought not be the child. I remember the movie the Labyrinth, with its…well, David Bowie and I think it gets the crux better. The heroine accidentally invoke or invites the goblins in to take the child away and greatly regrets her decision, engaging in the quest to pursue him and returned the lost babe (with the power). The Babadook likewise is the mother’s story, and better for it.

DavidBowie

Seriously he stole a child, why is he so fabulous.

The loss of a child has an innate fear, and as such I think the loss of a child by kidnapping can expand on it more than by a cannibal. There is something more unnerving to the thought that your child is out there, your child is being held by a stranger, growing old without you as opposed to dead. That’s not to say a child’s loss isn’t tragic and horrific, but it is a) a sort of horror and tragedy that outpaces my skill and b) a tension that is hard to communicate in a short period. The kidnapping provides a better, cleaner end and recurring drama that has a material touch. There is something more concrete when a child might still be rescued, the taunting possibility of a happy ending with parent or child reunited.

I’ll observe, strangely, that the three examples I can think of are mothers pursuing their children(specifically sons or son analogs). This…seems odd. There are stories of father-daughter concerns in horror, although specifics escape me. Something to consider when writing this story.

Well, we will proceed next week with a tale of a lost child, a fear of near to death, and loss. What have you unearthed near this particular literary corpse?

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