The Death of Mr. Donovan

This Weeks Prompt: 66. Catacombs discovered beneath a city (in America?).

The Recent Research: Networks of the Dead

It would be irresponsible to give my report in an itemized fashion. As shall be clear, this incident has left my memory no longer with me in its entirety.

I pulled up at the new dig site with some spelunking gear ready. Stepping over through the door frame, I slipped on my dust mask with a nod at Donovan. I was a bit later than expected, but our subject wasn’t going anywhere. We lugged both of our cases of supplies through the silent interior. The wooden skeleton of the house was stripped bare. I wove my way through the debris to the proper dig site—a room not marked on the floor plan, going back almost a century. The room was untouched by most of the machinery around it. The solitary desk, still coated in gray dust, was pushed against the back wall of the house. We followed the tracks with my equipment and hat with a flash light, stepping over to carefully open the central object of the room: A lone trap door, with a rusted chain wrapped around a lock. The chain had already been cut, left in case it became important later.

So, what do you think is down there?” Donovan asked, flicking his head light on.

Bodies, probably. What else do you bury under the floor board?” I said, turning on mine. “Or secret passages to some rally point.”

Smuggling maybe.” Donovan nodded, lifting the door open. There was the rotted remains of a ladder on one side, our own metal and modern one sliding beside it. Slowly we descended, into the cold and yawning tunnel. The flattened stone floor and walls, despite occasionally irregularities, were still evidence of some ancient architects hand and measure.

There were no protrusions for a time, no markers. There were faded colors on one part of the wall, no doubt some lost paint or signal. The darkness swallowed sound as we followed the path, a rope leading back to the surface. Should something unthinkable happen, the crew was a few tugs away, to get us back up.

Working my way in and across for hours according to the timer, I came across our first discovery—a set of heavy iron doors, with neatly interlocking teeth. There were a pair of handles to force it open, but the teeth were holding it in place and a large metal wheel. Turning it some, the doors rolled open with the girding sound of rusting iron. As it clattered apart, the other side was revealed as a collapsed cavern. A broken down exit.

In the darkness I retraced my steps, echoing slightly for the length of the tunnel. Eventually my flashlight caught the flickering reflection of something else. A bit of glass buried in the mess and mass of the underground. Drawing cautiously closer, and stepping over some broken bricks, more light seemed to pour in.

There was a door of glass and some strange almost plastic material. The glass was shattered, broken shards catching the light and reflecting it back up. Within I saw the dim flicker of lights, abandoned in the dark. Holding back an exclamation I pulled at the rope three times, indicating a withdraw.

CatacombDoor edited.png

Lighting? A door? What, we found a bunker beneath this old house?” Donovan said, as I drew out my crude map on the black board we had set up.

Something like it, yes. A very sophisticated one—must have some sort of generator. Or the tunnels are newer than they seem—they could be siphoning power from the city’s generators. But still…our tunnel, it bypassed a sealed door. So, the trapdoor must be more recent then the door….especially since there was nothing obstructing our entrance down…”

So, what, someone built an iron door and lighting a hundred years ago and somehow kept it running, with no one noticing?”

Well…maybe. However, the other structure might also be more recent—the iron door having been navigated around, and the room refurnished in the mean time. Hell, they might have used this entrance to get things around the iron door and then walled it up.”

Alright, so we go back down, and what? What do–”

It’s got lights on still. It might have people in it. Hm. This…okay. We could alert authorities…”

But…?”

Well, I’m thinking who exactly builds strange bunkers beneath buildings and what sort of shit we’d be in for finding an abandoned one.”

Abandoned?”

Glass was broken, and I didn’t here anything back there. So probably. Must have left the lights on when they left. I think we could make some headway…at least know a bit more about what we’re getting into before diving in or running off to warn the authorities. Delve a bit deeper.”

We worked out a plan. As I had made the initial voyage down, Donovan would take the lead this time, moving forward with a twenty foot length of rope between us. I would remain stationary, until the rope was near taught. Two pulls then would indicate a safe approach, three need of assistance, and four a withdraw. Back down we went, with a longer length attached to the surface. We had conscripted a workman from a part of the construction, and informed him likewise of the signals. This way, should we both be incapacitated, we had a life line to the surface.

Outside the entrance was only some broken glass, smashed out from within. Pushing open the door, with some difficulty, we went into the blinding light of the interior. The lights were that dim pulsing blue of bio-luminesence. Small lines ran between them, and brown moss clung between the crystals. The ground was smooth and without breakage, like a single slab of limestone extending out from underneath. There were some veins where water had warn things down over the years, but not much else. Tracing these lines back, Donovan went ahead.

After a couple tugs, I followed and found the small pool, damaged slightly so that it overflowed onto the floor. It still gurgled around a translucent orb, rolling the orb over the fountain over and over. The room around it was more open, with benches along the wall. Some sort of communal area it seemed. Bits of plant life had made their way here as well, algae floating on the top of the water. Donovan moved along through one of the nearby rooms as I inspected the wall mosaics.

Geometric patterns ran along the wall, fractal triangles spreading across and colliding, interlocking into one another. Small waves ran along their bottoms, creating rivers pouring down into a sea below or sky above. I wondered if they were just artistry or if they had clues to the means that this fountain, made by unknown hands, was still functioning.

Catacomb Wall Drawing 1.png

I didn’t tell Donovan my suspicion before we descended, a suspicion that was growing as I examined the work in the fountain room. That we had found something truly impressive. A relic not only of an earlier age, but…perhaps of a different kind. Of strangers, of things long dead that had raised some civilization before us. Some antediluvian race had raised these tunnels. At Donovan’s two tugs I started to follow the rope—when another two came, I picked up speed.

Well, would you look at that…” Donovan said, gesturing at the glass panes before us. They were fogged with mist, but green shapes could be seen within. A greenhouse, separated by a star shaped wheel. A seal no doubt to keep the warm air in, keep the moisture in, keep the greenery in and healthy. It took both of us to turn the seal, but with some effort we got the door open. Donovan again took lead, as I examined the exterior panes.

They made curious colors, the two panes ever so slightly off grain from each other. On the outside was the carving, something like a star shape—but bent at the edges and points, so that it was more a spiral then a star. They repeated on the inner pane as well, if distorted more so to be a galaxy of glimmering glass. There was something about those stars, an overlay as it were. Something…unsettling about their arrangement. The angles seemed to be carefully placed to conceal some facet of the glass and the interior. It couldn’t be hiding anything bigger than a few feet on the other side. Not even that, no, it was only that big when I got close. No, if it was something that big I’d see it. It must be meant to hide something far smaller, maybe even between the glass—not the presence, not the color, but the details of something in the stars.

And then the rope tugged once—twice—and, as I felt the third, it went limp. There was no sound as I looked down into the green house of the abandoned bunker. Nothing but the dripping of water. I backed away slowly, pulling the rope back as I backed down the hall, refusing to look away from the depths. For a moment I saw motion in there. Something in there. I saw leaves rustle as I walked backwards. I looked down when I pulled the last rope up, to see a branch broken off.

I do not know yet what became of Donovan’s body. I have not ventured down there in the week since. But I worry, what things laid those long forgotten foundations. I wonder, if they have had their own revelation. That, the world they retreated from has now again become inhabited. Or perhaps, that whatever end of the world they feared has passed unobserved. I wonder if they too now are planning on going on an expedition to an unknown world. Or worse, if such ventures have passed unnoticed by our eyes. We must find that catacomb again, that passage in the depths—or we shall be found by it.


This story is a bit rushed. I have not much else to say. Mostly I just couldn’t get enough of a plan going, even with the fertile material. I latched onto the idea of layers of discovery—a new catacomb, a new bunker, and then at last the inhabitants. I don’t think that was the right idea. Maybe a more modern secret society hidden inside the unseen catacombs? Or more characters, and more dialouge in the venture to the dead? I think my writing needs to return to the roots of horror I’ve drifted away from in some of these stories—taking character conflicts and enhancing them with the supernatural. That will be for next time, when we go to an abandoned city and mysterious horses.

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A Strange Estate

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

The Relevant Research: A Buried Feast

Our estate sat on a hill not far outside of town. I’d been there only once, when I was a young man. It had been my great uncle’s fiftieth birthday, and in celebration ever branch of our esteemed family had arrived, packing the rooms with laughter and dance. Now with a lonely trunk I stood at the doorway, fumbling for my new keys.

I spent the day familiarizing myself with the rooms. The paintings had almost all been auctioned off after a season of funerals. It was amazing that it had taken so long for it to reach the roots of the tree—it cut away at the branches first, seeping up the blood lines until at last it made roost in the this hall. At the base and atop the entryways at angels, granite cherubs my ancestors had acquired on their Italian tours from grave stones. They always flanked a stone shield, our jackal headed crest long decayed away to the point of vanishing.

Statues Holding Shield.png

The view from the windows were of a rather ugly sort. The family cemetery sat not far off. While head stones did rise occasionally, most of the coffins were tucked into the face of a hill. Small carvings had been placed in front of their resting places, with engraved names and faces marking each of the dead. They rose in rows on the side of the hills, a crowd waiting for something.

Such ominous shelter would not be anyone’s first choice. Nor was it mine. In fact, had I any other place to call home, I would have sold such an isolated and abandoned abode. But I was not fortunate in business, and as such had little recourse. My disgruntlement was limited, however, as it was later explained to me that the will stipulated I hold it for a decades time before attempting a sale.

I’d met the undertaker and the grounds keeper shortly after agreeing to take up my family estate. The undertaker was an old man, thin and bent with age. He had been rather polite about the whole matter of the will. As the plauge seemed at last to have passed, he joked his buisness was in decline. I didn’t laugh.

The grounds keeper was a large man, of a jolly dispotion, who showed me around my estate. The woods not far off had once been good for hunting. Of course now he was not sure. Others had chipped away at it over the years. Still, he was proud to show me the gardens he had tended. The gardens he assured me were food for the soul.

The house was the sort that would take a decades salary to bring to proper state. It creaks wherever I step, servants having long abandoned its care when my great uncle was in the last days of his life. After eight hours, I feel I have scarcely begun to explore it. The last survey had been done a decade ago, before the last rooms had been built. Still, I had plenty of time for a full survey later on. For now I unpacked and got ready to relax for the evening. I lugged my trunk up the stairs to the guests bedroom.

The bed was in good, if dusty condition. In fact, of all the rooms of the house, it was the least disturbed. Laying on my own sheets and blankets, I took to sleep quickly.

A tapping came down through the hall in the middle of the night. At first it barely stirred me, but the insistence of this noise at last drew me out of my repose. Candle in hand, I set out to find it. The house groaned as my foot steps moved along. Down the stairs I went, looking for the tapping.

I first found a culprit in a loose door that the wind moved back and forth ever so slightly to make the clicking sound. I closed the door and fixed a chair in front of it, but the noise continued. Th tapping had another source. A window open ever so slightly that I thought closed, rapping on in the wind. I fastened this close too.

A strange sight was on the periphery of my vision—a shadow on the grass in the grave hills shadow. It moved fast and low to the ground, peering back for only a moment. A pair of eyes flashed in the night, and were gone in a moment. Squinting after them, I determined I had mistaken the men of the grave yard making their rounds for something more sinister. The evening fog obscuring them and the glint of the candle on the window glass had no doubt played on my sleeping mind as some sort of strange creature.

I returned to slumber after that, convinced that the noise was stopped. The next morning, however, I made a point of retracing my rounds. The paintings, those that survived, were still intact: The strange pale serpents, the portraits of family patriarchs and matriarchs in their neat rows around the dining hall, the great mountainous landscape of some lost travel. The shields, the stone cherubs.

Snake Painting.png

My inspection, however, made one new discovery. One of the walls had strange marks along the floor, scrapes. Vermin, perhaps, or some stray cat. These thoughts however subsided as I examined the scratches more closely. No. No, they had been made coming from the wall. Curious.

Passages in this home were not that unusal. Servants passages ran through this place like unseen arteries, once full of food and tea and the young blood of society when they wanted some privacy. The latch that was hidden long a column of the wall was thus easy to find. It opened with ease, into a stone passage that wound down. A cool breeze came through that smelled of grass and soil.

Captivated, I followed it downward. This was a differnet make then the rest of the house. It was carved lime stone, the erosion of years making it smooth an pourous. The inner skin of some vast creatures jaw or the teeth of a great maw as I descended. The breeze was a relief in an otherwise warm room. As I walked, I could make out faint carvings along the walls. But their meaning was lost to me.

What was not lost on me was the strange crypt I entered. There was a fire on the side, with a mechanism that kept it constantly fed long burning logs. In the center of the room was a raised rectangular platform, flanked on either side by two statues. The statues were strange winged creatures, armed with swords and axes, two in each crudely fashioned arm. The avian heads had expressions of sadistic menace and eyes that bore a strange likenesses to living hawks. I wondered, briefly, if the foundation of their form was not in fact a dead eagle. But that was not the most pressing matter.

The rectangle was a sarcophagus, even from afar. I had no doubt of who’s it was, for their identiy was carved into the rock itself. But how my great uncle had been buried here, in this elaborate mauselum was beyond me. But it was his face, perfectly carved and staring up to me with painted eyes. Surely. Surely, I thought, this was a farce. An elaborate ruse, laid to give future generations a false sense of importance. I found the seem of the lid and followed it, puling at the handle…

And it wouldn’t budge. I heard locks click inside, holding it fast. I bent over and saw no keyhole or mechanism for locking the sarcophagus. No way to opn it fast without damaging the facade. I headed up stairs, certain that a crowbar would do the job and that the affair would be settled. Whatever inheritance had been done away with in this joke would be resolved swiftly and surely. Lost in such thoughts, and of old aquaintances used to breaking into secure voltage, I returned to the room…to find it in ruin.

MAnorHallWriting.png

Something had come through and over turned the furniture and left claw marks along the walls. In broken red letters was carved, along the seats and beneath the crest “Promised to Us”. It was at this moment that two thoughts occurred to me. One: I had yet to ascertain how a cool breeze was coming up and out of the tomb. And two: If the lock could only be sealed from within…what unmentionable horror did it intend to keep out?


This weeks story is not one of my favorites. I considered delaying it a few days, in order to rework and rewrite sections of it, but I simply ran out of time. I think this is about halfway through the narrative proper. The story should divulge more I think of who the uncle is, and what these creatures are, more than just allude to them. In all, a story that could be greatly improved on with more work. If I had more time, I would probably cut back on the descriptions and add another voice to the narration.

Next week! Catacombs! Hidden cities!

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It’s Alive!

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

The Resulting Story: A Certain Preponderances of Witnesses

The creation of an another form of life is a pursuit that humanity has pursued for a long time. While the intentional creation of a doppleganger is not well known—such things tend to form by chance or anomaly when they occur, and grim visions at that—the idea of continuing on or creating something without a partner is not novel. The horror that can come from these often alchemical projects is vast as well, especially as some are horrific or humorous folklore tales.

A Homonculus.png

The most common example of the formed individual is the alchemical homonculus. The creation of life in this manner was the goal of alchemists as much as the philosopher stone was; in fact, in the Middle East it superseded transmutation as the primary great work. The Western version, found in Parceleus, seeks to create a new living man by use of an artificial womb—specifically a horses womb. After forty weeks, the child is born and can be fed blood to bring it to the fullness of life, albeit diminutive life. The significance of such an event has been noted by other researchers as an attempt at the recreation of life as done in Genesis.

The creation of life from clay has the additional version in the mode of the golem. The golem is a creature of Jewish folklore, formed of clay and enlivened by commands through its mouth. As mighty beings of clay, the golem was a staunch defender of the community if a silent one. The golem in the most famous narrative, Prauge, turns out in its own time to be a danger when it turns against the community—reasons vary from rejection to simple murderous impulse to violation of the Sabbath. Either way, the golem is ended by the hand that created it by removing its scrolls or altering the script on its head that gave it life.

GolemofPrauge

A recreation of the Golem of Prauge.

The horror genre has of course a parallel with the golem, shared as part of the origin of science fiction: Frankenstien’s monster. The monster, like the golem, is a recreation of the forming of life that starts out benevolent—to the farm family at least, if not to the creator himself who has fled. Eventually he turns on his creator, and the rest is as they say history.

There are more modern uses that, like Frankenstein, employ electricity. The New Motive Power was an attempt to create a messianic figure out of electricity and metal. Its creator, John Spear, communed with an electrical host of spirits. Intended as one of many inventions—including airships and mass telepathy communication networks—the mecha-messiah was ritually conceived and born to no avail. In many ways, this ritual creation of life resembles that Babalon Working by a pair of occultists a century later. Neither attempt succeeded, to the despair of horror authors.

This physical recreation had influence for a significant amount of time among scientific thought. In the pre-genetics age, it was believed that the sperm carried a miniature version of the eventual human that would be born of it, and if placed in the right conditions it would form the person without need for another partner. Preformatism had some proponents that placed the miniature in the egg instead of sperm. Irregardless, the theory proposed in essence that humanity had been entirely contained in its original parents, a scientific notion that has a resemblance to mystical notions of Adam as the first man.

Then there are more esoteric notions of life creation or duplication. The Finnish for instance had a tradition of guardian spirits that resembled their shamans, going ahead of them and doing as they do. The Buddha was capable of generating replicas of himself in meditation, illuminating the universe. Boddhistavas, as they approach their state, gain the power of multiple bodies to send forth and convert or exhort more individuals. The Monkey King, Sun Wukong, multiplied himself in battle and trickery on many occasions. The ability to create many bodies can be found among the rddhi in the Oxford dictionary, allowing for many of the dopplegangers so far referenced.

SunWukonFightsALion

Sadly, I could not find an image with Sun Wukong’s self-duplication. However, this fine print was found at http://www.yoshitoshi.net/alpha.html.

With all this in mind, there is another question to be answered: Why? Why is our nameless man trying to create another version of himself? Many reasons for making artificial life are given in folklore. Expressions of enlightenment, need for protection, divine emulation, want for a bride, want for a child. All of these have a history at some point in the history of popular media. However, I think the version here suggests that the source is self-centered. What we have here is not just a creation of life but a recreation of the self. The use of such bodies to cheat death is a surprisingly common trope in media for the mad scientist: The illustrious Doctor Doom has used it after a fashion, as did M. Bison, Rick Sanchez, and a host of others.

Rick and Morty.png

The use of clones as back up has a number of interesting implications from a metaphysical perspective—after all, it confirms a belief on the one hand of a consciousness that can be transferred between material bodies without much difficulty, while at the same time an avoidance or refusal to be restrained to that purely incorporeal state. Or, put another way, such a transfer only seems possible if there is something like a soul—whether as the softward that the brain ‘runs’ or pyscho power or something similiar—but an aversion to taking on that immateriality fully. There is an implicit lingering fear in the creation of a second body—that the soul or minds fate will not be a happy one.

An attempt at immortality then seems the ideal one here. Creating a version of yourself that will presist after your gone, perhaps as vengance against your killers or to torment them? Or just to escape fires eternal? Either way, I think we are again more in the land of mystery. Which means…well, half of the idea has been spoiled by writing this article. We’ve given away the means and most of the motive—although their might be more to it then simply avoiding death.

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What’s In a Name?

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

The Resulting Story: The Brand of Nasht

We begin this week with an interesting pair of names that are of note in the world of the Mythos: Nasht and Kaman-Thah are the priestly guardians of the Dreamlands of Earth, preventing the unworthy from journeying there in slumber. This role lacks the sinister overtone that Lovecraft has here described; all accounts point to Nasht and Kaman-Thah being beneficent forces of caution. Digging around the paragraphs or so dedicated to them in the Dream Quest for Unknown Kadath, we find a few suggestions of where to go. They wear crowns of Egypt and have at the center of their temple is a pillar of fire that seems to reference Zorastrian fire shrines. Mr. Lovecraft’s interest in magicians of the middle east—hardly a unique topic for his time—is well noted.

However, the use of names might provide more of a resource. Names are things with no small amount of power. The real name of an individual can grant power over said person. Isis gained power over Ra by means of learning his true name. Ra in turn formed the gods from naming of his limbs, according to the Egyptian Book of the Dead. These names can be invoked for the safety of the travel into the world of the dead. The name of a god invokes their power—it is in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost that Catholic and Orthodox rites are preformed, for instance. The inability to name or create image of the Abhramic God is precisely because of this power wrapped up in names.

TheFuries

The Kindly Ones

This power of names and the divine extends further into mystic and magical arts. Writing the name on pieces of lead and burying it in the ground was a common way to lay a curse on someone in Greece and Rome. The recitation of names is key in conjuring forth demons in the Goetic arts. In the Odyssey, the name of Odysseus has to be learned for the curse of Polyphemeus to lay hold on him. Without the name, the curse couldn’t find its mark and be grounded in the world. Names are often changed for the sake of politeness: The Friendly Folk and Kindly Ones (the fae and furies, respectively), are named not so much for accuracy as for appeasement.

The names of children are of special importance. Many cultures take pains to wait to name the child, especially in regions with high infant mortality. The role of Christening in some countries doubles as protecting the child and marking the child as a social being. The child becomes more real when named. Naming a child after an ancestor honors the deceased and builds protection. The Netsilik and other Inuit people invoke lengthy names, therefore, so that a newly born child has a number of protectors. New names are added to the child’s birth name as life goes on, helping further protect them.

Abraxas

Abraxas

Amulets in particular often have names inscribed on them, in order to ensure the protection of the depicted figures. Amulets may have gods themselves, saints, and so forth. The most memorable of such entities, for me, is Abraxas. Abraxas is a rather strange entity, a god or demon or aeon or perhaps the God, who we know chiefly through amulets that display his form: a man with a rooster’s head and snakes for legs.

The Olympian Spirits—not to be confused with the Olympian Gods of Greece—also provide power by engraving their names on objects, granting long lives, familiars, and other mystical powers. With proper preparation, these strange entities are formidable tools of magic indeed. Sadly, whatever tradition they belong to appears lost to history.

The Sigils of the Olympic Spirits

Symbols of the Olympian Spirits, for use on amulets.

Other times, the actor takes on the name and role—and thus power—of an entity by assuming their name and a mask. This role, often taken up by priests, could give insight into our ensuing plot where one becomes the named entity for a duration of time.

The name then has mystical and magical import built into it. But the problem is greater here, in that theses names we are given are sinister, left handed and wicked. What does it mean for a name to be sinister? Is it a wicked sounding name? In all likelihood, that is what Lovecraft meant, but that is a boring answer so I’ll ignore it.

Hephestus

Hephaestus, the occasional employer of the Dactyls.

As a brief aside, while digging for information on name invocation, I came across an oddity. Now, its fairly well known that sinister has its roots in the Latin for left handed(sinister). The act of theurgy, sorcery, and demonic invocation traces itself back, etymologically, to the left hand Dactyls. This connection, while tenuous, seems like it could be built on. After all, Egypt and Babylon have sorcerer connotations to some (we discussed the implications of that here, in case your wondering). Names then could wrack strange effects on the world.

Another answer is that these names are emblematic of wicked or dangerous powers. These are sinister names, in that they are names not meant to be said or they will draw unwanted attention when invoked. A curse or a demon swear. The names, when given or spoken or taken, work some disturbing change on that which they touch. We can consider the various names that mustn’t be said in this category. Hastur’s supposedly dangerous name, for instance, is in this category.

Another possiblity is that the assumption of this name brings about something sinister. By becoming, in a very real way, Nasht or Kaman-Thah, the person becomes wicked or inclined to wickedness. They become something like a demon by taking on the mantle of long lost powers.

That leaves what has happened. We could do a story that tells how these ancient names became sinster—what force or history made them so corrosive? Alternatively, the names are inscribding on a tablet, a piece of paper, an amulet of some sort that afflicts the people who behold it or touch it. The names themselves are inciting and powerful implements, if mostly passive agents in the world. What effects they cause, what curses they bear are matters to be worked out.

I think I will take a different route. Instead of dealing with the horror at first and straight ahead, it would be better to come at the invocation and evocation of these dread names as things of the past. The utterances or history of these names, written and embodied in the world.

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The Sacred Fish

This Week’s Prompt: 60. Fisherman casts his net into the sea by moonlight—what he finds.

The Prior Research:Dredged Up From The Depths

The fisherman of the western cliff face, far from the city of Kahal, lived entirely at the mercy and providence of the primeval mother sea. On it’s black waves, as the moon glimmered down, a passing stranger would find one of the small ships sailing along the cliffs and coves, dragging the net behind. Old Ichabod kept his ship out late that night, searching for fertile waters. His ship was slow, his nets were poor. His wife Sarah had held their home, by carving the other fish and making clothes to sell. So tonight, he sailed past his normal waters, off towards the shores marked by crumbling pillars.

During the day he would not be so daring. For reasons long forgot, the village did not fish in the bay where old spiraling coral rose as long lost gate posts. But such protected paradises become rich for desperate plunder. The waves were strong at the coral edge, and most canny fisherman avoided the bay for those dangers alone. Ichabod, however, moved between them with ease. He dragged his nets along that shallow floor, looking to bring fish that had never seen such a boat. And shortly after, his nets grew heavy.

DeepFish2.png

Pulling them over, he found them thick with a pulsing white mass of fish. They were strange, squirming, wretched things. Their skin was smooth to the glance but sharp to the touch. They had no eyes, and no teeth in their mewling mouths. Their fatty, fleshy bodys struggled feebly against the air. But their bodies, as life left them, smelled like honey and their blood was like olive oil. Despite having never seen such things,Ichabod reasoned that such a haul was worth returning with, and the fish worth at least a taste.

Icahbod slipped back home in silence, returning home to a confused wife. He took one of the fish inside and carved it, and cooked it in the pan. A bit of fat flickered off it’s goldening meat and onto his thumb. He took a quick taste, and found the substance tasted sweet and succulent. The finished fish was filling, the best the couple had ever consumed.

They were less delighted and more deeply confused when the next day, Sarah found herself sick in the morning. The two went to a wise woman, who confirmed their suspicion. Sarah was pregenant. The two were both delighted and confused. They hadn’t lain with each other in some time. Ichabod grew wrothful, suspicious that some more fortunate fisherman had visited his wife. But her pleading convinced him she had been faithful. Strange as it seemed, the two concluded the fish were to blame.

The bounty of fish, cooked to delight, brought them some fame in the day as well. And, full of daring, Ichabod made the trip again and again, growing rich off the sweet tasting blind fish. It’s effects became known, as many women was with child in a few weeks, and the village hungered for more of the strange fish.

DeepSeaFish.png

Other sailors began to wonder where Ichabod got his fish, unseen elsewhere in the ocean. A few tried to follow him at night, but Ichabod was wise to them and refused to sail to his hiding spot until he was sure he was alone. The fish he ate restored him every day, as if he’d never slept.

But one of the farmers, a younger boy Obed, snuck aboard Ichabod’s ship one night, hiding in the cabin as the fisherman left the shore. And by moonlight, through the door, he saw Ichabod breach that taboo bay. He was so startled he let out a squeal, revealing himself to the old fisher man’s wide pupiled eyes. Icahbod had the boy over the edge in moments, dangling by his shirt.

The boy quickly offered to help Ichabod catch even more of the fish, saying that with two ships, they’d both make four times the profit, helping each other carry more of the load back. And Ichabod considered, and agreed, for substantially more of the profit than a mere half. Given his precarious position, the boy agreed.

So the fish poured in greater numbers, their mewling and whining stifled by the flames and ever hungry populace. Eventually, Ichabod hit upon a better idea. He and the boy went and rebuilt the old tower near the bay and built a crude gate. Coming to town, he explained that he would allow any to fish from his hidden bay for a fee.

OldIchabod1.png

At first there were threats of violence, but by then Ichabod had grown large from his diet. His skin was growing gold, and his hands had become webbed. Small growths had appeared within his mouth, barely visible but he felt them when he ate. It made eating much hard, but the small growths massaged the soft flesh of the fish well, refining there flavor and picking bones clean, saving him the bother of cleaning the fish. Some even said he at them live. In the last three months, he’d grown a foot in height. The boy, in his fishing and abundance of the fish he had, was up to his shoulder and had small teeth running on the top of his mouth. The two of them had nothing to fear of violence. So the village relented.

It became common to spend nights in the bay, catching fish and eating them on the shore, before retiring home in the morning, to tend to wives and trade with sea born merchants, who found the changes startling. Men and women and children no longer ate grains, but devorued fruit and raw flesh. Their skin was paleand scaled, their arms lengthy. Ichabod allowed traders to ply their wares, but prohibited them enter his bay, erecting barricades around his tower and piling stones to hurl at vessels. He and his wife rarely left their tower, sending the fishing boys to do his biding from the shore.

But even this was tiresome. In time, the village moved into the bay entirely. They caught the fish with their hands, no longer bothering with nets. They had boats, but swimming in it’s inky deep was a common pastime. And, at last, the children were born.

They were pale mewling things, with eye lids too heavy to open, and skin that was soft to look at but sharp to the touch. Their hands had small claws, and their mouths had loathsome tendrils, perfect for catching fish and the deeper things of that by gone bay, the things that had lurked so long ago in sacred waters long forgotten. And so the people of the western shore were known as far as distant Kahal.


That ends this weeks tale. I had a busy week, so didn’t have the chance to review and rework this as much as normal. I like the general premise, and I think some horror of what you consume could be played with. A longer time scope would also serve the story: gradual mutation after eating unknown substances is ripe for material.

Next week: a pilgrimage to a demon throne!

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Bound Beneath The Earth

This Week’s Prompt:59. Man in strange subterranean chamber—seeks to force door of bronze—overwhelmed by influx of waters.
The Resulting Story: The Many Doors of the Dead

We find a man in a room, underground, with only one exit. He may stay in this room. Or he may try and force his way out. When he goes and tries to escape his isolation, the onrush of the outside world, a miasma of chaotic waters, kill him. We do not know if he was pulverized or drowned. But had he not forced open that door of antiquity, he would be alive.

I say antiquity, because that is what the metal bronze conjures. It is a metal deployed in phalanxes or on chariots, not in the knightly arms of medieval warlords or the rifling of a modern man. It is a material of a bygone age. And as such, we might discuss some of the metaphor that seems at play in this story. For, pushing the bounds of the world and meeting catastrophe is a common theme in Mr. Lovecraft’s work.

Plato's Cave.png

We can consider the lightless room or cave to be a maker of the cosmos. Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher who put Socrates’s words to writing, used a similar metaphor. In the Americas, a number of South Western people’s describe the emergence of humanity into the world as coming from a series of caves. Both the Navajo and the Hopi include stories of humanity emerging into this world from one’s deep below. In the myths of Maya and Aztec people’s, cave play the special role as connections to the underworld and ancestors. In more modern times, there are of course notions that we are within a hollow shell,the inside of an egg waiting to be born.

So we are within the world. And there is a door, made in ages past of bronze. It is the only way out, it seems, from our comfortable room of known existence. This door of bronze perhaps could be taken as the understanding of the world our ancestors had. It is a limiter, beyond which we cannot see anything—the chamber is after all subeterranean, and who would force open a door that they knew had a vast expanse of water on the other side. By pushing past these ancient limits, we encounter something new, or at least vast. The waters, who’s symbology we have discussed before, are a vast life giving force that overcomes the fool that releases them, creating a minature deluge. The man dies for his curiosity.

The metaphor points generally to a sort of terrified conservatism that defines Lovecraft to a point. We can recall his famous opening of the Call of Cthulhu:


“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. “

That being the case, we must consider how to wring more out of this then mere dread. Watching a man slowly go insensate before making a fatal mistake, unknown and unmourned by the world at large in his tomb is…dull. I am sure there is some way to make such a story intreasting. But on it’s own, existential dread is an easily dismissed horror. No. A better trick, I think, is that of memory. To recollect, as one stumbles through the strange cave, life before this darkness. What it is that lures the fatal, doomed choice of opening that ancient door.

King in the Mountain.png

Places literally underground are not uncommonly full of dangers. We have talked about the threats of some of these creatures before, such as kobolods and grootslangs and Typhon who was buried under a mountain in Sicily. Other stories that are more than relevant here include those things of the deep that hold ancient knowledge. The dead are the most common, but not only example. In Russian Folklore, we have a giant of a man named Svyatogor who is trapped beneath a mountain and yet lends advice where he can to the knights of the Rus. In Arthurian myth and Charlemagne romances, Merlin often ends up beneath a tree or within a tree despite all his wisdom. And of course, there is the King In The Mountain, Barbossa being the most famous literal version. Some of these imprisonments, however, are only that. While a traveler might find such strange nobillity here and there, they aren’t dwelling so much as sleeping.

We can also consider creatures that are more serpentine in nature, as was touched on here. The great naga princes of tibetan folklore often dwelled in dreamworlds of the deep, resembling the fae we’ve come to know in many ways, including their power of many forms and their multiplicity of gifts, and a bit of their penchant for trickery.

In Maori folklore, Maui’s blessings come from his mother and father who live in the depths of the earth. Maui further presents an intreasting example of the sort of hubris Lovecraft would give to the man of science. Maui heads out to earn man’s immortality, by defeating his ancestor. The result is rather predictable, if bizarre. He heads within his ancestress while she sleeps, warning the nearby birds not to laugh. One very young bird does, and his stirring ancestress kills Maui.

The Sumerian hero Gilgamesh likewise ventures underground, following the flames of the sun in order to reach the place where immortality might be found. He also fails, although he survives the encounter. His test is rather wakefulness, and in another time we will discuss the motif of death and slumber. 

To return to how this might shape our narrative, the cavern is as much a character as our prisoner. It is a character in shapes and form, eliciting memories and moods. I think a landscape like those the dragons once dwelt in will work well. An abandoned faerie castle, the ruins of a great dragon’s kingdom, a landscape that is more than darkness and shadows wandered through forever and ever. It also might give the bronze door some more menace, if it is the only worked metal in the cavern of wonders. The only plain, unadorned thing, in a forgotten land.

City of Brass.png

A good reference for this material would be the story “City of Brass” from the 1001 Arabian Nights. The story follows travelers through a series of barren wastelands and tombs, full of strange sights, desiccated corpses, imprisoned demons, and odd devices. It has a rather clear moral to it about attachment to material goods, but at the same time there are undercurrents of cosmic horror as the will of God so portrayed is not always knowable. The story also features several instances of characters dooming themselves by ignoring clear warnings, which falls neatly into what might be waiting for our prisoner. The city itself is slightly off from the prompt, sadly, being of brass instead of bronze. But the visual cue is close enough I believe.

Bibliography:

Grey, George. Polynesian Mythology, and Ancient Traditional History of the Maori. Whitcombe & Tombs, 1974.

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The Pale Hound

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

The Research: The Severn Valley

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

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

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

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

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

The Pale Hound1.png

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

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

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

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

PaleHound2.png

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

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

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

FinaleHills.png

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

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

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The Severn Valley

This Weeks Prompt: 58. A queer village—in a valley, reached by a long road and visible from the crest of the hill from which that road descends—or close to a dense and antique forest.
The Resulting Story: 
The Pale Hound

Mr. Lovecraft’s love of isolated, small communities is well documented. And given one of his original sources of inspiration, Arthur Machen, it’s not too surprising to see a fondness for the wilderness and great forests. But what to make of this hidden village, that we didn’t perhaps already do with Saint Silvanus? Well, this strange village is hidden. Perhaps it is stranger than it seems.

We discussed hidden lands to some length with Irem, but I believe we can yet go farther. The village is visible within a valley, and I think to keep it separate it will be a valley not a forest, isolated and away from the world. In the world of Mythos, there is a particular valley that this brings to mind. The Severn Valley.

The Severn Valley is, of course, a real location. It is, appropriately, in Wales and is run through by the river Severn. Folk etymology suggests that the name comes from a drowned nymph, a…curious notion. Alternatively, there is also a Celtic god Sabrina who may be responsible for the name of the river.

Severn River VAlley.png

Some notes, however, from Welsh folklore as recorded in the 1800s. Particularly hills. Hills have a couple of associations in the Severn Valley. Giants are said to have built them, particularly the large hill Werken. The inhabitants of the hills and stones are often giants, and attempts to build churches are frowned upon by these large natives. Often, stones were thrown at the churches, in an effort to destroy them.

Such giants in their constructions often carved out sections for water to flow through, making the rivers and causeways, with their massive spades. On a few occasions, they turned theses spades on each other in fratrcidal murder. Such is giants: Grand, mighty, and quarrelsome with each other.

An even more bitter resister of the churches is the arch enemy of mankind. The devil himself often disassembled churches that were raised on hills, until at last the builders gave up and went elsewhere. The devil also built a vast roadway, which he rides. His horse is pale, like all ghostly Welsh animals, and he has a cow’s horns and feet. Should he find a sinner on his old, Roman road, he will scoop them up and carry them off.

The devil also sometimes sits atop the Stiperstones mountains, hoping to send them back into the earth and in doing so doom England. He has, of course, not managed it yet. But the devil is nothing if not persistent.

Devil's Chair.png

Other mountains are haunted by Gywillion. The Old Woman of the Mountain would lead, by voices and cries, travelers up the mountains and leave the trapped in the wilderness. Other mountain faires frequently take the forms of goats. One Cadwaladar was taken away by such a goat-fae, to the meeting of such fae. He was promptly knocked off the highest mountain in all of Wales.

Further, the hills near Vicorium held once a wicked city, a heathen city that denied it’s prophet. A nearby mountain erupted and sent fire down, while the river rose in flood. The prophet survived, but searched for the governor’s daughter, who he loved. But she had drowned. And now, still on Easter, the figure of such the prophet, a Roman solider, can be seen rowing. Looking distantly for his beloved forever.

From another mountain, a Saint saw the land of a faerie king. Enraged at the faerie king’s presumption, he toured it, seeing armies with weapons of hot and cold, and dispelled them and their galmour with holy water. This apparently sufficed for him.

Alternatively, an antique forest. Faeries of the wood eat poisoned mushrooms and lead based butter, wear gloves of sedative leaves and lurk in every corner. In their ranks are the faerie fires, sometimes the will-o-wisp, sometimes the pooka. The will-o-wisp is often merely a luring fire, while the pooka takes many forms to taunt it’s prey.

Pooka

A Pooka, as illustrated by a Welshman

Some of these locations are haunted by ghostly dogs and pigs, often pale things without heads that bark or growl or hound their prey. The association of the color white with terrible creatures extends, as we have seen, to the mount of the devil. And it associated with a great hero of the region, Wild Edric. Edric, according to historians and folklorists, was a resistor to William the Conqueror.

Wild Edric’s traits are like many golden age kings. Eventually, however, he made peace with William. His lands, however, failed to stay in his family. He has since taken up residence…elsewhere. Some stories place him in a lead mine out west. Others say he rides in a wild hunt on a white horse, and if emerges during wartime, the war will be dangerous. His condemnation is said to last until the English are driven out, and all is repaid. Edric further made that awful mistake and married an elf maid. His sword is currently held by a fish-knight in the river, waiting his heir.

WildEdric.png

So what have we then? A haunted landscape, of ghosts and faeries and lost cities and giants. Much as can be found in any place. We need now what makes the village weird. What is it, from the hill or forest, that makes this small village that is hard to see from without, strange or bizarre?

Another facet to strange here is the role of ghosts and fae as ominous. Sightings of unnatural or bizzare creatures are often signs of greater dangers or terrible fates. And there is a peculiar event that I have wanted to include in a work of weird fiction or horror for sometime now. The Carrington event, which disabled electronics around the world. Aurora’s were seen all the way in the Carribean, with those over the Rockies being bright enough to wake gold miners from their slumber.

Such an event no doubt drew omens and signs and activity from the world invisible. It is a date in time which can ground the story we tell, as much as the Severn valley grounds it in place. From here, the encounters with these omens, and whatever really caused the auroras and activity (this is horror after all. The sun is a rather dull explanation when there are so many other options) can be disclosed. Perhaps one of the giants awoke again in the hills. Perhaps some grand hunt occurred through time and space. Who’s to say?

What do you think? What strange village lies in your writing?

Bibliography

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

Sikes, Wirt. British Goblins: Welsh Folk-Lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions. James R Osgood and Company, 1881.

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What Was It?

This Week’s Prompt:55. Man followed by invisible thing.

The Relevant Research:The Little People In Life

The two men squatted in the bushes across the old house in the woods. For the last ten years, it had been assumed that no one lived in the woods, and that this house had long been abandoned.

“Alright, so review. Old man’s on the second floor, behind the blue door. You run up there and…deal with him, in case he tries to get something on either of us. Vergil said, flick the sack open for the third time. Only one sort of person lived this far from the world, in derlict houses.

“Then I put everything that looks vaguely valuable in the sack. You get his books from his room, and any of the weird stuff he has up there. We make a break for it, and if anyone asks, he broke your kids leg.”

“I thought the fall did that.”

“Then he caused your kid to fall. Look, witches are strange like that.”

“Aren’t women witches?”

“Remember Godfrey? He was a witch, stole all that cattle and got so big.”

“Okay. So I kill-”

“Deal with.”

“Deal with the old man and steal all his magic stuff. Why do I wanna do that?”

“So we can give it to the church to get rid. You know. In case he’s bound some stuff in the pages. Don’t wanna burn it all and make things worse, letting loose Lord knows what, right?” Vergil said. Of course, Dominic would forget all about it when they got back with the loot. Vergil could get to work getting himself some of the old man’s magic, and all that came with that.

The two men rushed quietly from the bushes. The front door of the building was locked, but it was an old wooden door and Dominic had a hatchet. Cutting open the front,they were able to get in and get to work. Vergil busied himself with tossing silver into the bag—there was a lot, Vergil noted, probably to facilate his witch craft—as well as a number of knives and carved wooden plates. He examined a well made drinking horn when he heard thrashing from up stairs. Vergil sighed, looking around for anything more valuable before seeing an iron glint near the fireplace.

BookFinished-Textless.png

A spear was held across a shield with carefully scrawled runes along its edge. Something from the old country. Something mighty from the old country. Vergil decided that this was also his and no way in hell was Dominic to know of it. He dropped his bag and took the spear down carefully, before running out the door and jamming it beneath some old and bending roots. All the better, he thought, to come back to later. Judging from the noise, Dominic still had some work to do.

The two had no difficulty removing the rest, and Dominic didn’t bother asking about the books when Vergil gave him some silver. No, all was well. That night, Vergil hid all his plunder beneath his bed and wasted the night away doing his best to make sense of the books letters and pictures. All seemed well.

In the midst of the night, Vergil’s breath left him. He awoke, cold and transfixed, gasping for air. Around him the room seemed to swell and deflate, his lungs taken out of his chest and made into the entire house. Footsteps ran across his stomach, like a herd of cats waiting, clawing and prodding him as he was trapped and struggling. Eventually, he collapsed back, into a dreamless sleep.

Mare

When he awoke, he found his limbs ached in every which way. Vergil pulled himself up from his bed, his knees no longer obeying him entirely. He pulled himself along the ground as a seal, blood painfully returning to his still waking legs. At last, he managed to grab a walking stick, and struggle to his feet. Taking a deep breath, he pushed himself along the road. The morning mists were still on the ground, hiding the occasionally loose stone that scrapped his hands when he fell.

Vergil had already concluded he was cursed.

With stings in his side, hungry and tired, he arrived at Dominic’s home. Best to see if both theives had been struck down, Vergil reckoned. He rapt on the door with his staff, supporting himself with the wall. Dominic opened the door, coughing slightly, his skin a slightly sickly green.

“Okay, so, maybe he was actually a witch.” Vergil said, with a pained smile. Dominic grimaced and nodded.

“So now what? We go to the priest?” Dominic asked, the door still in hand.

“What, and confess? No. No, we just…ah!” Vergil said, snapping his fingers together. “I know! We must have forgotten to bury him. Right, of course. He’s restless, that’s all. We bury him, read some scripture over him, and there you go.”

“Right, but don’t we need a priest for last rites?” Dominic asked, scratching his chin.

“What’s with you and getting clergy involved?” Vergil muttered.

“What is it with you and avoiding them?” Dominic asked, looking towards the church and giving Vergil a sidelong glance.

Vergil eventually relented. The two went and fetched Father Lionel, and explained that they had come across a deceased old man in the woods. Neither made much mention of sickness, and Vergil did his best to hide the pains in his joints. The priest was shocked such a grizzly robbery could occur, and agreed to come and help in the burial of the poor dead man.

The old man hadn’t moved from his bed. Vergil was almost dissapointed. By now, use of his legs had returned to him in no small measure, and he was able to assit dominic in wrapping the body in his bloody sheet. The makeshift cloth coffin was carried down the stairs, to the aghast priest. The priest, of course, agreed to bury the man here, nearer to home. The church cemetary was nearly full in those days, as Vergil and Dominic well knew.

The three of them then stood round the empty plot. Dominic and Vergil slowly lowered the body into the ground as the priest read the rites allowed. Just as the body settled, before the dirt was shoveled in, Vergil’s grip on his staff was pricked with thorns. Letting out a yelp, he stumbled into the grave, onto the dead man’s rotting form. Vergil struggled to pull himself back out, scrambling backwards out of the grave and pushing himself back up with his stick, out of breath and sweating in pain.

OpenGrave+Priest.png

The priest assumed it was the face of mortality that drove Vergil to gnashing and cursing on the ground in pain. He was, in a fashion, correct.

Vergil and Dominic slumped back to their haunts, and there decided to share bread. The burial of the old man had exhausted both of them, and in his misery Vergil had forgotten to eat in the morning. Dominic let Vergil rest as he acquired the bread and broke it between them. Vergil, near starving, ripped half his portion off with one bite, before turning and spitting it up.

“What the hell?” Vergil said, staring at the chunks of what for a moment looked like rat, before realizing it he was mold spread over the entirety of his meal. Dominic’s eyes widened as the mold spread over the bread in Vergil’s hand, and the smell of decay filled the air.

“I…I don’t think it was the ghost.” Dominic said slowly.

“Course it was! We just…the priest missed something.” Vergil said, rubbing his temple and trying to ignore the pleading in his stomach. “Beat you he wasn’t holy enough anyway. I’ll sort it out tonight, find something in the stuff we stole, and then this will be done with.”

“You’ll starve.” Dominic said gravely.

“I’ll go hungry a day to get a ghost off my back. Whatever that old man did, I’m sure he wrote down a cure or some such. After all, what’s the point of curses if they don’t have a cure?”

“Cursing folks.” Dominic said, frowning.

“That’s half it. Any good or smart wizard knows you curse people to get what you want. Then, you get’em to pay you to fix it. It’s like that priest down in south France. He’ll curse a family for you for a soverign. And if the family want’s to get cured, he’ll fix it for twice that much. If you pay thrice, he’ll never curse you in the first place.”

“What if they just wanna kill you?” Dominic said, scracthing his chin.

“We got axes and swords and poison for that. No need to wait till your beyond the grave for that.” Vergil said, pulling himself up and limping down the road.

The day seemed darker then before. His shadow ran long infront of him, the sun dimly red to his back. Vergil heard every sound now, his sickness having sharpened his ears at the cost of all else. The wind rustling between the leafs and branches held conspiracies and laughter. The creek giggled at his expense. Distant travlers and townsfolk sounded like a crowd all around him, and the birds whistled in horrible tones as he passed. Squirrels scurried up the trees, their tails flat and teeth bared. How rarely, Vergil noted, had he considered the close kinship between rats and squirrels until that long walk home. At last, beneath the wooden ribcage of the forest, he arrived at his home and set about sorting through the magician’s things.

The Ribs.png

He noted the spear as a cause at once. Such a fortunate and fine looking tool, a ghost might be jealous of it. The latin letters glimmered as he continued to dig. The books as well, but he was slow to part with those. Then there was the old horn. That might be the cause as well. Some spell worked on it, although a horn being the cause of his agony seemed less likely then a spear.

Gathering these around him, Vergil now wondered how to go about speaking with the dead man, or appeasing him. The strange thought occurred to him, to go out to the new grave. Yes, to the new grave. There, he could leave these, and get on with his life. The ghost would take them or not, and all would be well.

So, with spear and book and bent back, Vergil went walking into the woods at night. The moon was high, and if it weren’t for his coughing and clean shaven chin, a strange might have thought that in the woods walked Wotan, returned from his grave work. In the silence of night, puncuated by the hacking of his illness, Vergil at last came to the freshly turned grave and slumped down, to rest from the walk. The sickness had sapped his mind and body of it’s cohesion, such that his spirit would wander off at the slightest touch. Looking at the starry heavens, Vergil decided to rest.

StarMouth.png

He awoke, held in place by a hundred thousand pins and needles. He tried to scream in pain, but his mouth was sewn shut as well. Above the stars seemed to draw closer. But gone was their luster. Now they became shimmering eyes full of malace, glittering fangs stretching out in hunger. The array swirled around him, a sea that engulfed him and tore at his skin and muscle. Frozen and screaming, Vergil saw himself die.

Dominic found Vergil’s remains the next day in the woods. Neither horn nor spear nor book had been moved from his frost covered corpse, which defied the July sun. Not a thing out of place. Dominic rushed to Vergil’s house, convinced that the spirit had found what it wanted. And there, a great tree had been felled onto the house.

Inside the crushed remains of Vergil’s hovel, was the overturned bag. It did not take long for Dominic to notice what was missing. All the silver was there, neatly stacked despite the chaos around it. All that was missing were the knives.

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The Little People In Life

This Week’s Prompt:55. Man followed by invisible thing.

The Resulting Story: What Was It?

The nature of the invisible, the unseen and perhaps only barely felt, is so vast that we might have some difficulty. Demons, angels, ghosts, gods, jinn, giants, the entire genre of tales concerning little people are all examples of invisible things that may follow someone home. To ease our ability to work in this context, it would serve us well to examine a piece of fiction that Mr. Lovecraft had in mind when he wrote this prompt, one that he is known to have held in high esteem. I mean the French story, the Horla.

The Horla is an alien creature, or rather an “Outsider”. The novel does not detail it’s origins, but does give a good amount of description of it’s abilities. The Horla is a sort of vampire. It is an invisible presence that haunts the protagonist and alienates him from others around him. The Horla itself feeds on the life energy of the main character as he sleeps, and drinks water while remaining utterly invisible. The Horla’s arrival is eventually traced to a ship from Brazil that the main character happened to wave at as he passed it. This sort of little gesture with vast consequences is common in stories of invisible forces haunting ones life. The Horla renders the man’s life so intolerable that he schemes either to kill the horla itself, himself, or both if that is what it takes.

TheHorla.png

From the Wikipedia Article on the Horla.

We’ve talked about the sort of insomnia the Horla generated before. But a better description, particularly when pared with a vampire, might be those creatures that are considered responsible for sleep paralysis. Jinn fall into this category, as do a variation of the witch who manifests as a cat in Italy. In old English, the term for this state is being “hagridden”, as one was…well, ridden by a hag while they sleep, leaving them paralyzed and drained in the morning. Hags of this sort can be found around the world, although a nice summary of them is here.

Other traditions from the Germans and Swedes assign this role to a goblin, the Mare, that sits atop someone’s chest as shown below. The Mare would ride non-human things as well, including even trees. In the early thirteenth century, there are accounts of a king losing his life to a sorceress’ mare that drove nightmares upon him.

Mare.png

Nightmare by Henry Fuseli

Another variation in the northern European climes is the Alp. The Alp has the distinction of drawing it’s power from a magical hat it wears at all times. The Alp will drink the blood of sleeping children and men, while drinking the breast milk of women it’s preferred victims. The Alp in many ways resembles a demon, being able to shape-shift and driven off by the cross. The alp has one more connection that is of an interest: the term Alp is etymological cousins with the term “elf”.

It is often hard to remember that elves, as we know them, are a frankly rather strange conflation. The tall, beautiful, haughty race that we find in Oberon and Titania and the Lord of the Rings are drawn from the nobles of a lineage, while expunging the parts of elves and little people who spoiled milk, that waylaid travelers, dance with them until they died, or even stole children. Even Shakespeare maintains some of the awfulness and pettiness of elves, with Puck and Oberon enchanting a man to have an asses head and conspiring to have Titania fall in love with him.  The danger of elf shot, a chronic pain in the limbs, was quite real. The line between elf and vampire, now rather clearly drawn in modern fiction, was less clear.

Mare2.png

A variation of Nightmare, above. It is weirdly hard to find pictures of these guys.

A non-European example of such little people, one that is more pertinent to our invisible condition, is the Pukwudgie. The Pukwudgie is capable not only of invisibility, but also of sowing confusion, creating fire, becoming dangerous animals, inflicting injuries with a gaze, and damaging the memory of their victims. While their temperament seems variable depending on locale, the capacity to wreck such havoc on the life of a human being is considerable. Why, at this rate, all they need is the want to steal life energy, and their almost a horla!

The Netsilik people have two invisible people around them. The Taglerqet are shadows that resemble human beings in appearance and society. They are visible only when they are slain. The more standard ivigut are humans who, when seen, turn into stone to hide their appearance from others. They are rumored further to feed on the stones themselves.

With that in mind, do we have a direction for our narration? Do we have a place for our story to be going? The conflict no doubt should be the sudden attraction of this invisible thing, this nameless force that follows our protagonist and does…something. While the obvious answer is to make it a hostile power, akin to the forces that follow in a number of tales from disturbing tombs of elder civilizations, the means of harm should be more precise than that. The sickening of milk, the rotting of wood, the chronic pains, the fevers, and the headaches. An invisible force that drives someone to madness and ruin over a slight, perhaps unknown or unintended, is a good basis for horror.

To dive a bit into the nature of the fear of the invisible, it does partly relate to a fear of the unknown or a fear of the unseen forces that shape the world. There are economic owners, there are cultural institutions, there are unseen forces of society and humanity that do in fact operate in the world and can drive someone to ruin without any notice. These abysses aren’t completely mysterious, but the complexity of the world can often hide the true agent of harm.

But to me, the more relatable fear that can be exaggerated from this is the fear of well…How to say this in a way that is not silly? The fear of social mores. The fear of unseen rules of conduct violated. The fear that, without meaning to, you have made a powerful enemy or offended someone. It’s a fear of the unknown, I suppose, but more concrete than that. It’s not that you don’t know, it’s that not knowing will invariably lead to you coming to harm.

In this mold, than, our main character should have offended these forces in a way that is hidden in the narrative. No special attention can be given to it, or the offense and the anxiety of the unknown is too great. It would serve even better to hide the small offense that drew the invisible down by having the main character do some great insult to another power. The paranoia that could fester at chasing the wrong issue as the source of misery would be a good source of tension and gives the story some structure. We begin with the offense, then move to the consequences, then seeking remedy in the wrong source, more consequences, and the final revelation of the true source of the suffering.


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