After the Funeral

This Week’s Prompt: 88. Lonely philosopher fond of cat. Hypnotises it—as it were—by repeatedly talking to it and looking at it. After his death the cat evinces signs of possessing his personality. N.B. He has trained cat, and leaves it to a friend, with instructions as to fitting a pen to its right fore paw by means of a harness. Later writes with deceased’s own handwriting.

The Prior Research:A Witch’s Best Friend

Dani’s house was a small and sorry thing, light blue turned grey and overgrown grass. I had already gotten half the boxes into the car when her orange-black friend started mewling at me, sitting in his bed atop some plastic boxes. I sighed and gave him an ear scratch. I don’t know how to explain to a pet that their mom’s not coming home.

If it wasn’t for Tigger, I probably wouldn’t be here. Not because there’s a lot of stuff. For someone who rarely left home, Dani kept very few things. It was a mostly spare building, and after she was diagnosed three years ago, it had started getting emptier and emptier. It was like she gave away another ten percent of what she owned whenever she went to the hospital.

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It was visit number three that she got Tigger. He was an angry little cat, but Dani swore she saw love in his eyes. She had a few scratches, and broken glasses to prove he was an ass even as Tigger purred innocently in my lap.

But he’s calmed down a lot. Especially when he plays with the light.” She said, pulling out a little laser pointer. Tigger’s eyes immediately followed the light that flickered back and forth on the floor—his tail brushed against my arms as I felt him prepare to pounce. He stared for a time, head moving back and forth, back and forth.

Most cats start lunging really quick, but Tigger takes a moment—he waits for it to–” The red light stopped on the floor. I groaned as the cat left off with full force, clawing at the red menance. “Stop.”

She laughed a bit as Tigger looked around confused and frustrated that his prey is gone. I reached over and gave him a little ear scratch in compensation.

Bit mean.” I said, as Tigger purred and nuzzled my arm.

I guess. Good for playing though. Besides, he knows it’s not real.”

***

The last ten percent of Dani’s things was a back breaking amount of books and unfinished papers, and small box of stuff for Tigger. Some toys, a bed—which I put in the front seat—and a small pen box. Tigger himself moved between the seats with familiarity—I wonder if Dani took him on drives? People did that with dogs, maybe cats liked it to. I’d have to keep that in mind.

There really wasn’t anyone else for the cat. I mean, I guess there was a foster house but…Even if Dani hadn’t left him to me in her will, I would have picked him up. He didn’t have any grandparents to go to, Dani never married, and while her neighbor and the local barista knew of her they didn’t really know her that well.

***

Oh, she…well, I was wondering why she hadn’t gotten the mail.” Her neighbor said, after stopping me from unloading the another box of handwritten letters from the house into my car. “That’s…that’s a shame.”

Yeah.” I said, pushing the cardboard box in. Tigger was sitting there, watching the neighbor intently.

Well if you need anything, let me know. I, uh…” His voice trailed off as I glanced up. He wants to say that he thought she was already dead. Or he wants to say he thought she was moving. Or when is the house going up for sale. Or something. Something he knows he shouldn’t, I’m sure. So he leaves.

Tigger glares after him as he goes. Solidarity cat, I didn’t like him either.

***

The first few days with Tigger are odd. He wakes up really early—six o’clock in the morning, every day. Worse, he wakes me up at six in the morning every day, on the dot. We sprung forward, and he still woke me up at six in the morning without fail. Which, well, it was an adjustment.

And even then, he was really picky about the food. I haven’t heard of cats begging for food, but the way he looked at my cheese and onion omlette was pretty close. It was…really weird, honestly. He curled up on the side of the couch, watching the tv and at first I thought it was in my head. But he was hissing at bad jokes like Dani would, and glared at me when I switched away from cooking shows.

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When I thought about it, he had picked up a lot of his owners habits. Not just waking up early, and liking cooking shows, but he even tried to drink green tea. And she did like omlettes.

Probably just Dani rubbing off on him. They spent more time together than Dani did with…anyone, so I guess some bleed over was to be expected? Or maybe he was missing her too, and trying to play along.

It’s just nice having a really good listener around, you know?” Dani said, as I tried balancing the phone and cleaning the dishes at the same time.

I guess.” I said, catching a loose plate. “How’s the new meds working out?”

Oh fine, yeah. Tigger’s a bit annoyed that I’m up and about when he’s trying to sleep, but he’s a cute grouchy cat.” Dani said. “He’s gotten better—he definetly knows when I’m talking to him.”

How do you know? I mean, does he talk back?” I said laughing a bit.

I mean, how do I know anyone’s thinking?” she said. I could hear her unblinking gaze. “And yes he does thank you. Particularly if he’s hungry.”

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Talked when he was hungry was right. He’d walk up, sit on his rear, look at me for a moment. And then, indignant that I hadn’t conjured food for him on the spot, he’d rear his head back and yowl. Follow me around yowling too, eyes closed until I replaced the food or at the least reached down and let my hand’s get examined.

He’s a picky eater, but I knew that. Dani complained about needing to buy him food a few times—something about how the cat ate better then her. Or maybe that was what I told her, and she said it back mockingly. I grumbled about it out loud and Tigger walked up and started yowling at me over it. Guess he had figured out what some words meant.

The last call we had was actually kind of hopeful. She’d started a new treatment, things were improving, she was back to writing her philosophy of the mind stuff. Which…which always seemed kind of grim, given the circumstances.

It’s just fascinating—like, how do you explain people? Is it memories? Is that all we are?” she said, after a minute of discussing an instance of a woman being apparently possessed by her great uncles ghost. “I mean, it’s not perfect—there are a lot of fraudsters out there and stuff, but people think their under the control of some strange otherworldly forces! And how does the mind trick itself that thoroughly?”

I was more than happy to nod along, even if I only kind of understood her ideas about the mind as a pattern replicating in itself or something. I’d given up asking about doctors and tests by then. She’d tell me if something had gotten better, she always did.

After that, we still…kind of talked. But more with letters then phone calls—she wasn’t feeling well enough to call. She’d send letters instead, letters that. Well. They hurt to look at. The handwriting’s decay is rapid, really. Crisp at first, complaining about a head ache and rambling a bit about authenticity. And then, in three letters later, it’s barely legible doctor scribble.

While unpacking her stuff, I found the note, with my name on it. There was some torn tape—it was attached to a package at some point. A small set of instructions, in barely legible writing—and a picture of a weird little glove for Tigger. He was nuzzling my leg as I read. It was…okay, well, who was I to say no to Dani’s last request?

I opened up the old penbox—there was a pen, with a small attachment, like a glove, for Tigger’s arm. A small button on the side turned on a slightly off frequency. Dani’s letter mentioned a light. At the sight of it, Tigger sat perfectly still, raising his right paw up. Making sure not to break the line of sight, I slowly placed slipped the pen on. Tigger tapped the table expectantly. I blinked as he tapped again, facing straight ahead.

I put a piece of paper down. Tigger slowly began to write.

And I started to cry, hand over my mouth.

Hi Leslie, its Dani. I know I probably look a bit different, but its me.”




 

This story was…interesting to write. Its conceptually very…grounded. Or aims for it—there aren’t any supernatural monsters, there aren’t any ghosts, and the mood I intended was a sort of weary melancholy. The idea to me was instantly one of the most captivating, and I think could serve as a solid start of a strange and some what sad story about grief. Unlike most stories, I think 1500 words roughly was the appropriate length. Dani and Leslie are rather thin characters, and certiaintly could have been built more, but with just the simple plot the length seems about right.

Next week, we go somewhere a bit familiar and a bit foreign, a place Mr. Lovecraft no doubt feared and a place that is full of conflicting folklore. Come and join us then!

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The Wound

This Week’s Prompt: 74. Italian revenge—killing self in cell with enemy—under castle.

The Prior Research:Revenge Most Cruel

CW: Suicide

“I had forgotten you still had this, Ottobuno.” Venerio exclaimed as we arrived at the lone castle to my families name. It was a stone edifice, bare of most adornments within and without—sacrifices to be made to keep the walls themselves.

“Is the village still there, where we once played?” Venerio asked, peering from the hill off towards the seashore.

“More or less, although the fishermen have mostly left.” I said, smiling. Oh those golden halcyon days, when we were young. Running side by side, having slipped away from lessons to steal fish for ourselves. Summer days that seemed they would never end. They tasted bitter now in my head.

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“Well, that is a shame. I hope someone still collects their fish.”Venerio said, gesturing for my servant to open the door. “Never was their tastier ones.”

“We may not dine on them, but certainly from the balcony we could see the sea.” I said, walking down the hallway steps, checking my belongings.

“Ah, the balcony…a day such as this, with an evening breeze would be delightful.” Venerio replied. We moved through the halls, and up the stairs—past parapets that had not seen shot nor arrow in almost a century now. So remote was this place, that time and war had forgotten parts.

“Hold one moment.” Venerio said, pausing before a tapestry. I turned on my heel. He was dragging this affair out almost intolerably. The painting he had stopped to look at was an old one—on it was St. Michael, driving his spear into the twisting serpent of hell. The spear’s cross-guard was a crucifix, and at the other end Christ reached down to carry forth a mass that had been trapped beneath the serpents head. Vernon’s eyes traced the spear’s shaft into the winged archangel’s hands, his own almost touching it.

“Is this one of Ricardo’s pieces?” Venerio asked slowly. “It has some of his…wonderful imagery to it.”

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“Yes, one of the older ones we commissioned from him.” I said, nodding and taking a step to the side to appreciate the site. “He’s quite capable of capturing the wondrous in his work, isn’t he?”

“That he is, that he is. Did you see the new piece we commissioned? It was just finished, third in the set. It’s of Paradise, but with mother and father as Adam and Eve.” Venerio said, nodding.

“…Then that leaves to you Cain or Abel?” I asked, eyes narrow some. Venerio laughed. How I hated that light, high laugh. Small needles in my skin.

“Ah, no, I do not feature yet. Perhaps I will be a frolicking child or take on one of the Judges faces. Do you think I would make good Gideon?” Venerio asked, puffing out his chest, hands on his hips.

“Perhaps, if not a Samson.” I said with a chuckle. “You have the face for it at least. A jawbone would look strange in your hands though.”

“Maybe two, if the trades east are good—spices for pigments after all.” Venerio said, lightly wrapping an arm around my shoulder. “Why, maybe we can get one of you—a Solomon or Absalom, with such hair.”

I laughed, my eyes fixed as he burst. He looked so innocent when he laughed—as if he didn’t know I would have had a picture of a saint already if not for him. If those spices came on our ships, we would be dining at a villa, not a dusty castle. If we had been but five years, not a decade, earlier, Ricardo would be painting my parents again. The laugh is an opaque mask, but certainty of purpose lets me see clearly.

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He attended me on the balcony, where we drank wine in celebration of the coming spring. He had entertained me only a month prior for Christmas—a misbegotten act of charity. That night, that horribly night when he offered me—me! Who’s ancestors were Senators of Rome!–charity. He told me that hard times were upon me. He confided in me that night that, he knew a fine heiress who might value my name and pity me. Pity enough, perhaps, for an arrangement or marriage while I still had my youth. He told me, me that he could not bare to see me decay away in my old family homes.

I felt the knife in my pocket to cool my nerves. It’s blade, its hilt, its carved crest of his wretched thieving family. It was set. It was all set for this night.

“Ah, the gods,they have forsaken us! There is no more wine!” Venerio said, turning the bottle upside down. A drop of red wine fell to the table, staining the white table cloth.

“Not yet, not yet. I have an old cask down below, filled to the top.” I said, raising my glass. “And who better to share it with, on this night. No finer wine exists in my line.”

“The best wine? Why, we are already drunk! You’ll waste it.” Venerio laughed again, cutting my ears.

“Ah, no, a man only truly appreciates wine when drunk.” I said, standing with exaggerated pauses. My mind was, in truth, clear as day. A great lens it made, bringing the world into greater focus. I wondered, did my blood have warmth still? Or if he touched my hand as we caroused down the stairs, did it feel as cold as the Northern Sea?

The cellar was down several rows of stairs. It was only with the guidance of my deft hand that Vernon did not meet his fate at the hands of the stone stairs or walls. Drunkard and fool. But death would not come so swift. As he stumbled into the room, nearly collapsing over the wine, I shut the door—and locked it with an iron key.

“This…this the wine?” Venerio asked, striking the barrel with an open palm.

“Yes, the best in the family.” I said, drawing the knife and walking over. I paused. There was still one last step. He was trapped here—the servants had seen him and me enter, alone. Venerio’s habits were no secret—the power of alcohol over him was second only to God Himself. All was set for the final, fatal step.

I drew back the knife before Venerio eyes and drove it into my side.

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“Christs wounds what are you doing Buno?” Venerio said, staggering back in shock, as I pushed the blade across. It was warm, my blood was warm as I staggered forward, dropping the knife on the cask.

“Not…rotting away…” I said, with a laugh. His face at that laugh—did he still pity me? No, no I wouldn’t have him pity me.

“Don’t you see, you fool? Your all alone—with me and the knife.” I said as my head began to ache for the lost blood. “They all saw you, drunk as ever, come down here with me! Run and hide, it doesn’t matter—when they find me, they’ll know who it was that did the deed!”

Venerio backed away slowly, the knife clattering to the floor.

“Buno, I-I don’t, what is wrong–”

“And then.” I said, smiling. “Then they’ll hang you from the rafters—you and one day your thieving parents and your whole wretched house. The knife was your knife, they’ll know what kind of cut-purses and villains you are.”

My voice began to dwindle, curses half formed on my lips as blood pooled on the floor. I saw him run, but I am not afraid. Here in this forest, I wait—I know he’ll be down here, down in the frozen wastes.


So…this story.

I’m going to write a bit more on the writing of this story then normal. The story’s initial pitch is tragic over the top Edgar Allen Poe horror. It’s a story of vengeance that is literally self destructive. But it’s also about suicide.

I’ve had several friends who were suicidal—and several who actually took their own lives. That fact was true when doing my research, but the impact of it only became clear when I sat down to try and write the story. And…well, it made writing the story more taxing then normal. While the story was delayed some so I could finish the Patreon rewrite of Demophon—which was delayed because of moving in Morocco and other work—it was also delayed because writing a suicide scene was…well, almost too much. Almost.

I usually say if a story I’m writing scares me, it’s a good sign. The Muse story still unnerves me, for instance. But this…this was a bit much.

With that said, next week we return to more lighthearted affairs. Black Mass beneath a church’s ruin. It’s gonna get witchy.

 

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It’s a Masquerade!

This Week’s Prompt: 69. Man with unnatural face—oddity of speaking—found to be a mask—Revelation.

The Resulting Story: And Off Fell His Mask

This prompt is a fascinating one. Partially because, again, it calls to mind a specific pulp story that inspired it. Partly because masks are such a fascinating thing to me—masks and personages and disguises are so strange. This corpse has a good deal of promise, I think, especially in my reading between the lines that our man with a strange face is a stranger arriving—a form that has some folkloric resonance with revelations.

The first unwelcome and amazing guest I can think of in the realm of Folklore is the Green Knight. The Green Knight is a variant of the Wild Men we discussed long ago—however, he is a more civilized sort. He dresses in knightly attire—all green, with a great green axe, a green shield, and a green horse. His most famous incident is the tale of Gawain and the Green Knight. Arriving on Christmas, he offers to play a game in King Arthur’s court. The game is simple: someone strikes him with the ax, and he returns the blow in a years time.

Gawain and the Green Knight

The Green Knight after his game.

King Arthur initially rises to take the challenge, but Gawain steps in. Gawain reminds the king that without him, the kingdom is naught, where as without Gawain it is…well, probably going to last longer, but that’s another story. Gawain steps up and takes the ax, and lopes the Green Knights head off, presuming that the lethal blow will end the game there.

The Green Knight, a poor sport, takes his head, wishes everyone farewell, and rides off. The rest of the story, including the final confrontation between the Green Knight and Gawain can be found here, and is an interesting read if you are interested in English Poetry.

Moving our folklore away from the British Isles, let’s consider the Popul Vuh. Here, the Hero Twins are our guests of honor. After their first death at the hands of the lords of Xibalba—they got better, don’t worry—the hero twins became traveling magicians. They burned down buildings, and then used magic to restore them. They slew animals, and used magic to resurrect them. And then at the end, one twin slays the other, and restores him to life.

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The Hero Twins doing their favorite trick, on the left.

It was this last trick that drew the attention of the thirteen Lords of Death. Intrigued, they invite the two magicians to preform. At the end, the Hero Twins invite One Death and Thirteen Death to partake in their greatest feat of slaying and raising the dead. Of course, on this occasion, the Twins do not raise either of the Lords, and force concessions from the other eleven to restore them.

We can also consider, with the element of a mask that resembles a face, the story recorded as from the Pima Indians, regarding the masked man and the turtle. The masked man, Nahvahchoo, travels the world unearthing treasures and dangers in every direction, learning the might of the winds in each of the four directions, and meeting a powerful bow at each part of the sky.

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Then there are more absurd or strange instances. The Ball of the Burning Men—Bal des Ardents—was a masquerade ball held by Charles the VI that ended in rumor, fear, and death. The masquerade included a performance of various members of the court, including Charles, dressed in wild men outfits and, according to contemporary chroniclers, baying like wolves and shouting obscenities at the audience. A celebration of a lady-in-waiting’s marriage, the ball became gruesome when Charles’s brother brought a torch to close to the five dancers. All but two dancers died in the ensuing fire, as the costumes took light. The dance’s wild nature, and the gruesome result, lead to public outrage and rumors of sorcery in a decadent court. Fear of revolt drove the king and his brother to offer penance at Notre Dame Cathedral shortly after.

The king’s brother Orleans is of interest here, to me anyway. He was accused of sorcery at this event and later ones, and was considered to have made an attempt on the kings life. The event itself is fascinating in consideration of our prompt, as the wild man costume resembles a man with a deformed or strange face. Here, however, it was a guest without a mask that started the terror, instead of one of the masked men.

Masque of the Red Death

It may have, however, inspired a famed horror story that keeps to the idea of mask and revelation: The Masque of the Red Death. This classic tale of horror sees the nobility sequester themselves off from the rest of the populace as a plague—the titular Red Death—sweeps the land. As the prince Prospero celebrates in his castle, decorated with seven rooms for the seven sins, an uninvited guest arrives. Dressed in all red and with a strange mask, the strange guest worries the party, until at last he is chased through the halls by the Prince Prospero. After his arrival, the plague strikes all the members within dead.

And then there is the play that is both before and of the mythos: The King In Yellow. A short story collection that predates Mr. Lovecrafts own work, the King In Yellow is a collection of horror stories that feature the recurrent element of a play. The play is normal, until the second act. The second act is maddening and terrible to read or witness, driving others out of their wits.

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The play is, for a feature of the mythos, suprisingly detailed. We know, for instnace, it features a kingdom called Carcosa, features at least 3 characters (Cassilda, Camilla, and the Stranger). It deals in one way or another with a place or thing called Hastur, and the arrival of a guest who’s mask it is revelead to be his face. The play is given vague description in Repairer of Reputations:

He mentioned the establishment of the Dynasty in Carcosa, the lakes which connected Hastur, Aldebaran and the mystery of the Hyades. He spoke of Cassilda and Camilla, and sounded the cloudy depths of Demhe, and the Lake of Hali. “The scolloped tatters of the King in Yellow must hide Yhtill forever,” he muttered, but I do not believe Vance heard him. Then by degrees he led Vance along the ramifications of the Imperial family, to Uoht and Thale, from Naotalba and Phantom of Truth, to Aldones, and then tossing aside his manuscript and notes, he began the wonderful story of the Last King.

The end of the first act, in the same tale, ends with the terrified Camilla’s line “Not upon us, oh king! Not upon us!”

The King in Yellow is a reccuring symbol in the Mythos for one of it’s most peculair entities: Hastur. Hastur to me is of especial intreast for a few reasons. One, Hastur proceeds the mythos as a body of literature—he appears first in an Ambrose Bierce tale as a god of shepherds and is rather benign. When he appears in the King In Yellow, Hastur is again strange and an entity of uncertain providence. Mr. Lovecraft and Derelth later rendered him more malicous in later works, a sort of rival of Cthulhu. Later still, AD&D’s Manual of Divinity gave him another strange aspect—Hastur’s capacity to be summoned by reciting his name three times in a row.

Now, what’s interesting to me in all this—and a portion of Hastur and the King In Yellow that is not often discussed in my opinion—is an odd parallel. We have here a deity, ancient and vast beyond compare, who is fond of shepherds, passes judgement–”not upon us oh king!”–and is served by strange servants. The usage of this being’s name infuriates it, it detests and wars with another old being in the sea, and its judgment leads to the end of the world. Why, I have heard of such a god before.

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The Climax of the Bacchae

Well, I’ve heard of two. One that I will mention here, returning again to Greece, is the tale of the Bacchae. Here, Dionysus returns to his home to conquer it. He is seized by his brother, Pentheus, and not recognized—Dionysus has disguised himself as his own priest—and then imprisoned. After breaking free, as gods are want to do, Dionysus unleashes fire and earthquakes before confronting Penetheus. At this confrontation, shepherds come and tell of strange madness afflicting women in the hills. Some are tearing animals to shreds, or braiding their hair with serpents, or suckling on wild animals. Included among these revelers is Penetheus’s mother. The farmers tried to seize them, but were in turn torn to shreds by the women’s bare hands.

Penetheus, alarmed at the madness, plans first a massacre. Dionysus, however, persuades him to instead spy on them to learn their secrets. As he dons his disguise, Penetheus begins to see strange visions—two suns overhead, and horns emerging from Dionysus skull. Convinced of his limitless strength, he goes out to spy on the cult. He is found and murdered by his own mother, convinced he is a mountain lion. Cradling her trophy, Penetheus’s mother comes to her sense at the words of Cadmus. She and her followers are driven into exile for their crimes, and Dionysus turns Cadmus into a serpent before leading a barbarian horde to conquer the city.

This has the elements that clearly resemble the King in Yellow—there is madness, royalty, fear, and the end of a dynasty. As Hastur evolved, he too acquired a reputation for debauchery, although more of an upper crust decadence then the more barbaric and countryside madness that Dionysus seems to specialize in.

I think a retelling of the Bacchae is the most interesting route to take. It deals in many ways with the themes that are common in Lovecraftian horror—the arrival of an other, the terror of madness and affliction, the decay of societal norms (perhaps for the better, perhaps for the worse), and with the victory of the unknowable over the known. We also have a handful of roles or characters at the center of the drama—Penetheus, Dionysus, and the Maenads, with a few nominal characters. Of course, there should be some alterations. As is, it might read that the Other, the outsider, the non-authoritative is the dangerous and thing to be feared. And while that might be the intent of Mr. Lovecraft at times, such phobia of the powerless is hardly the work of fiction.

What about you? What masks do you fear? What revelations to they hide? What horrible things wait?

 

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Networks of the Dead

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

The Resulting Story: The Death of Mr. Donovan

We delve deeper now, from the cemetery and undertaker to the ossuaries and catacombs of the dead. A catacomb is an underground tomb, constructed for resting the dead. Generally these forms in cities, often in cases where graveyards simply will not due anymore. The famous catacombs of Paris were made after the cities cemeteries were flooded by rain, pushing bodies and skeletons to the surface and onto city streets. The catacombs of Rome likewise began due to overcrowding and land shortage, the grim reality that there were to many dead and not enough tombs. And then there are American catacombs that imitate these sites, strange tourist attractions. But we will return to the strangeness of the subterranean landscape of America in a moment.

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For now, let us focus on the old world. Beginning in Rome, catacombs were constructed by members of the Jewish community as well early Christians, both who preferred burial to the more common method of cremation. The tombs thus give artistic insights into traditions of the era, and have an air of mystery about them. A number of saints are buried there—who are by definition holy individuals and beings—and at least one fringe archaeologist has suggested the grail might be buried there. As the catacombs are under Vatican control, the possibilities have not been fully explored.

The catacombs of Paris have a more infamous reputation. Built out of an old mine, the catacombs here are full of bones from the 1800s. Only partly open to the public, the catacombs have attracted rumor of conspiracy as long as they have been around. The mines they were built out of are rumored to have been the location of black masses in 1348. Bandits and revolutionaries hid in the sprawling labyrinth, as did in more recent years Nazi bunkers and French Resistance members. Even more recently, daredevils and thrill seekers have built an underground art society around the catacombs and mines. Secret pools, murals, and even a cinema have all been found by authorities beneath the city of lights.

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With walls lined with skulls and bones, the catacombs of Paris certainty have an atmosphere of horror and the macabre, yet somehow still alive and changing and reshaping. It is here that the Phantom of the Opera lived, that Jean Val Jean made his escape, where monarchists and fascists were killed, where black mass and plagues were born.

So, are there any such catacombs in the American cities, locales and lacuna of horror waiting beneath our feet?

The short answer is…not exactly, but something similar. There are catacombs in the United States(Which is likely what Lovecraft means by America, as opposed to Americas). One is a replica of the Roman catacombs in DC. Another is the catacombs near New York, in St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral and other churches. Another underground locale, that I have little knowledge of, is found in Waterbury, Connecticut documents the life of Jesus Christ. So there are some overt underground burials. But more interesting are those sorts of places that resemble the catacombs in life. Abandoned routes and work ways under a large living city, still mysterious and without exploration being complete.

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In New York City, there are large abandoned subways that are not immediately accessible. While trains sometimes run down here, and there are inhabitants, they resemble the catacombs in many ways, with continuous habitation and dangers around every corner, from trains to small spaces. The danger of police and others down in the depths are a continuous problem for those urban explorers who go down there. Images can be found here.

Another set of abandoned works exists in LA, the remains of the trolley system that was shut down in the 1950s, which later on was host to disaster shelters during the Cold War. Since then, development has divided up its remains.

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The biggest of these abandoned networks of tunnels is beneath Cincinnati. These tunnels run two miles in length and are mostly intact, if sealed. The construction began in 1920, abandoned in 1925, and at last closed in 1950s after being considered for a bomb shelter. The tunnels have some rumors around them still—hauntings, mainly. A connection to catacombs thats more direct than most, as the catacomb is often just that. A realm of the dead that exists in a material form. Its a small demesne of Hades.

A more mythic connection is the sorcererous lair of Afrasiab. While not obvious comparison, it is Afrasiab is a destructive force who holds an advanced and luxurious underground bunker with layers of steel several men thick. It is host to an artificial sky, and four rivers—one of wine, one of milk, one of sour milk, and one of water. Like many of the other catacombs, the abandoned remains of such ruins could be come

Lovecraft, for his part, presents something like those above. The Vaults of Zin—a connection between the Dreamlands and the waking world—are likewise underground remains of a great civilization that connects to the ultimate fate of the dead, and inhabited by the monstrous and cannibalistic ghasts. These tunnels, that make the world between the here and the bizarre less clear, are a place of possibility and disruption. They mark a boundary that we can traverse to a strange and secretive realm, where societies of the living transgress among the dead. More importantly, the catacombs are a from an earlier and abandoned age. Yes, at some point someone was digging the ones in Rome, those in Paris are the remains of old mines, those in the United States re abandoned subways, and even in Rome these catacombs are out of use by now. Catacombs are re-purposed remains of a long lost civilization or time.

I bring this up because, if I were to speculate on the catacombs here, the surprise of their discovery is important. The catacombs are discovered recently, and therefore are previously unknown. This means, unlike the ones we’ve discussed so far, the catacombs are not connected to the current inhabitants. This lays into the United States twice over: Not only is the United States a young country—relatively seeking, of course,–and thus any catacombs would be something of a surprise but it is…how was it once put….built entirely on an Indian burial ground. While catacombs may not be widespread, there are discoveries in the last few decades that indicate intense burial sites at the least.

Building on this, as some archaeologist discovering the remains of a long lost nation and catacomb is…well, a start. Where it goes I’m not sure. There are themes to explore but I’m not sure what to do with a meeting of a forgotten past and the modern present. A lost history might be found, in the images of the catacomb, that belies some history that the modern world denies. But …I must think on what sort of discovery that would be.

What about you? What horrors or wonder discoveries in an abandoned underworld might you find?

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The Many Doors of the Dead

This Week’s Prompt: :59. Man in strange subterranean chamber—seeks to force door of bronze—overwhelmed by influx of waters.

The Research:Bound Beneath The Earth

Theodore was unconcious when the lowered him down the ancient pit. His mind had been adled shortly before, so that when he awoke, he would only distantly recall the actual descent. And his limbs would be limp, unable to resist his executioners. They were oddly kind for what they did, lowering him almost gently down to the dimly lit shore of that vast aquafir. After it was done, they cut the rope with a quick knife stroke, and closed the door.

Theodore came to an unknown time later, with only a dying fire and his stocks. Finding a sufficiently sharp rock, he bashed his hands free, and seized a larger piece to be a light. The rest he tossed on the fire, to shine brighter on his return. Doing so, he made his way along the shore. The water was fresh but almost algae filled. It lacked the familiar smell of salt, the motion of coming and going waves.

There were no shells, only broken stones along the shore, and the charred remains of other stockades and fires. Theodore stepped around them with some respect, wondering sometimes if something lived in the lightless pool. But no motion, not even the pull of the moon, seemed to alter it. Deciding that he would not die with only a pool of water to stare at, he turned away and walked deeper into his tomb.

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The first thing he found was a corpse, bloated and rotting from the nearby lake. It lay curled up at the bottom of an alcove, the burnt ashes of stocks having only left a vague mark on the ground. Theodore raised his torch a bit to see if any remained, revealing the man’s slack jawed face as he did so. His hair on end, Theodore turned and pressed on. The cave couldn’t go on forever.

Theodore found the quiet and emptiness made him prone to introspection. His shadows and the unmistakable presence of a hundred other condemned bodies were the only company. He wondered how long this receptacle of misery had existed. What crimes had condemned men through the ages down into the pits. Ages past they said, blasphemers, witches, sorcerers, and worse had been sent into the unknown depths of this purgatorio. Theodore felt his own crime, then, was rather small. A bit of blood on the stones was not compared to the horde of sinners that teemed around forgotten fires.

As the cave descended, the flickering light revealed crumbling walls and walkways of stone and dried mud, the outlines and echoes of a habitation. There were collapsed beams of smooth stone, having given way to long forgotten weights. There was nothing written here, no wind to stir the accumulated decay. The only marker of time was that as he went farther and farther, the buildings rose and grew sturdier and sturdier. As the fire began to fade a great gate, opened by a long forgotten traveler, came into view. It’s metal frame and wooden form were better made. Atop it was something inscribed:

The hands that raised me have perished. The hands that sought to tear me down have become naught but dust. The Sky that smiled at me is buried, and the mountains from which I was quarried are long worn down.

Inside the buildings were of stone, locked together without mortar. The cyclopean structures were preserved, with only broken shards of glass along the floor. Here, the dead had taken more corporeal forms. Corpses lay, as Theodore explored, against windows. They looked out longingly, minerals having long replaced muscle, statues frozen in rotting states. The dead idols, lifeless beyond dead, were found in the streets.

Here were some locked in embrace, heads tilted and small streams of salt marking where tears would fall. There, beneath the greened copper eagle, was a figure gripping at the base of an altar to some forgotten god. Around a dried fountain lay others, arms covering their chest. They waited in rows,eyes and tongues missing, some creature having long chewed them away before the petrified wastes could have their way. At the base of the fountain, Theodore found more scrawled writing in holy script.

Weep not for us, traveler, who has come to this most holy shrine. Far and wide is our fate known, and you must surely know it well. Your pilgrimage is welcome, to look upon our last works before the great gods recalled us to our heavenly posts.

Theodore continued on, stepping carefully around the stone bodies, moving deeper inward. The statues at the gate were crumbling horsemen, proudly facing out with rusted blades the underground lake, welcoming long passed foemen. The center statue between them had decayed such that the line between victor and defeated was hard to see. Whether the forms gripping the standing man’s limbs were carved from stone or frozen flesh, Theodore did not want to know. The limbs had fallen limp either way, outcry now fallen away, recorded only in it’s failure.

The dark had made Theodore numb. The vague outlines of finished structures, edged by shifting shadows, and the remains of the sedatives he’d been given when lowered into this pit had made put his mind into a state of dull curiosity. Still, the bodies had broken into his soul, and planted a seed of growing fear within. Deeper in, he went, until he came to an elaborate door of painted wood. When the torch touched it, it sparkled and nearly blinded him. The broken piece of stock dropped to the floor and nearly went out as he rubbed his eyes to see the bejeweled door. The engraving was as follows, in archaic tongues.

I defied the deep. I defied the Flame. But when at last my doom came, it made me hollow and hallowed my steal to gold. An exquisite corpse I leave, for lesser worlds to recall.

The buildings rose like columns beyond, broken tops of glass shimmering like stars from the torch. A shimmering and flickering of candles and the constant smell of incense and myrrh filled the air. Theodore tossed the burning remains of the torch aside, and watched in horror and awe as it caught on a puddle and ignited a larger fire from the strange mater. In the snaking light of the new inferno, he saw bodies wrapped in fine silk, with tendril funerary masks carved from green stone.

A pair of statues, carved from flesh colored stone and covered with moss, leaned forward in the hall. They were like lions, but with manes of peacocks feathers, a million colored and cracked eyes. Past them were orbs held up on hundreds of spindly legs, like spiders of glimmering glass, red sand illuminated by their circuitous path. They danced around a monolith with a whole running through and what appeared to be an entire choir of bells and drums inside it’s hollow frame. When Theodore rapped it, a wondrous tone was made.

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He could have, should have, wandered among those many delights for ages. Had Theodore done so, he would have perhaps found rare rest among illustrious if unknown people. The three eyed forms he found, their bodies thick in oil and dripping along the floor, eight feet tall and with the occasional visible claw, were at the least of more noble dress than those he left behind. There was something, however, that caught his eye. And Theodore’s eyes had betrayed him before into this down below.

There was a bronze door along the wall. It was plan, without ornament. There was an engraving, a fish and a hand. It’s meaning was lost to him, but given the dire warning that every other door had born, and the safety so far, Theodore was unafraid by now. He gripped the strange, circular hold, twisting it readily, and throwing open that antique door.

The onrush gave no moment for though. Lights were extinguished as the waves suddenly overcame him, overcame the tomb. Glass and fiber, metal and bone, silk and stone mixed in the pandemonium that fell out, that rushed down along. It swelled and surged, dragging the glorious dead to the convicted and damned, mixing the ashes of the condemned with the sacred oils of the eldest. When and how Theodore died, none can say. His fate was learned, when the waters bubbled up, out of that old forgotten hole.

I didn’t have time to edit this one as much as I wanted, and obviously the details of Theodore’s crime are left to the reader’s imagination more than I might have preferred. Aw well, that is the nature of these sorts of things. Next week, we pull strange and ominous things out of the sea!

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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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It Fades. It All Fades

This Week’s Prompt:36. Disintegration of all matter to electrons and finally empty space assured, just as devolution of energy to radiant heat is known. Case of acceleration—man passes into space.

This Week’s Research:The Gate To Nothing

A rock floats in a dark jetsam of nothingness. In the distance a dim, dying red light lands on the small rock. In prior ages, describing stone as rotted would perhaps be inappropriate. But by now, the general gradual decay and disintegration of the world has left us with few words for the crumbling state of existence then rotting. Holes of un-reality work their way through the foundations as I watch the solid stones laid long ago turn into ash and dust.

Such is the state of the world.

Randolph and I have grown up in the world this way. It was a bigger rock, and when I was little there were more stars. Stars that were all colors, stars far away and near. This last one was the one we ended up on, one of three scientific bets. We had a chance to fix things, and there were enough people back then for bets without certainty. Now there’s just the two of us, on this rock. We saw the last, glorious light of the distant blue star ages ago as it siphoned away into the void.

Such is the state of the world.

The state where our little garden, the New Eden of a New Jerusalem, has died. Died within months, actually. Ranolph was disappointed, he was hoping to see the pure red that happened when a dying stars light played on the blossoms of a rose. I expected them to die. But then, I expected him to die. That part isn’t true yet, not all the way. His limbs are only now starting to decay, the skin flaying as radiation takes its toll. But he’ll die.

There’s no way to reverse, yet. It’s the state of the world that’s causing it. Something got broken back when there were hundreds of stars, when as a little girl I could wake up and count them in the sky, and needed more than fingers and toes. Back before that even. I grew up on a world that wasn’t, in the beginning, ours. Our world was a heap of burning refuse by then, long forgotten at my birth. Maybe that’s what broke the whole of existence.

“There’s really no need for all this.” Randolph mutters, as I strap on his servo arm. “Arm’s still gonna catch it and my hand feels fine.”

“Feels fine, sure. But there’s more left of the bushes then your fingers, and I need a functioning assistant.” I say, frowning. He wasn’t wrong though. The energy released by the slow decay of his skin would wear it out too. Calling it a disease might be wrong, but decay and disrepair spread with no other good analog.

“You still think it will work then.” Randolph said, following me down into the basement.

“It can’t make things worse, can it?” I said, flicking the light switches on. Three buzzed on out of the twenty or so, barely lighting the room. They’d been going out one after another for weeks now. Some had broken down cords, others had shattered glasses. A lot were just that much more dust in the wind.

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“It could make it faster. That’d be a bit worse, I think. Give us less time to enjoy things, wouldn’t it?” Randolph said, walking over to the console and flicking it on. The multiple redundancies kept it running well enough to appear normal. We only replaced a few buttons a week, most with the somewhat more intact duplicates. We’d get another two months out of it before it collapsed into dust, dust into component atoms, and finally atoms into particles, which would vibrate into the cosmic soup and void.

But for now, the console clicked and beeped. The great fans began whirling above us, grinding to life. They served the simple, if fundamentally necessary, purpose of clearing out all the rot and decay from the larger more elaborate machinery. The glass tubes took longer to decay, having been designed as self repairing on the atomic level. Eventually, a few particles too many would fall away, and that would be the end of that.

Then the actual mechanics began to buzz with light. Elaborate webs of tubes began to glow with flashes of energy, collisions of captured particles, thousands of careful combinations of the very foundations of reality.

“In all honesty, I wonder if this is causing things somehow.” Randolph said, as I examined the digital display. Paper couldn’t be wasted out here, there wasn’t enough stuff to keep permanent records. Our minds would last the longest, we hoped, so we memorized all the negative results.

“Yeah, maybe. But the alternative is that we just let it happen. And to hell with that. I want to see the stars again.”

“You think this is it then? That there’s really nothing else out there but us?”

“We haven’t heard anything from anywhere else.”

“Maybe their quiet?” he said, leaning on the wall. When I turn to look at him, I can’t really argue with him. Randolph’s back has been hollowed out some, like a burnt or collapsing tube. The flashes of decay are like sparks off a burning log.

“Maybe.” I said, looking up at the roof. Another hole has rotted in the supposedly perfectly stable crystalline. Dug by invisible termites and worms. “But we’d see them, wouldn’t we? So far away, you’d think they’d want to see us too.”

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The whirling is gaining speed, the flashes are on the last few combinations.

“When things are falling apart,” Randolph continues, looking at the rapidly rusting hand of his, slowly turning green and red. The copper wires were becoming almost as thin as spider webs. I couldn’t keep looking at him. “When things fall apart, when the center cannot hold…sometimes things wind down and that is that. I don’t know. It feels far away.”

He’s getting far away, fading fast. I’d offer to replace more pieces, to rebuild his back and his arm, but we’re already short on matter. I have another hour. I have another hour of hoping the random blasts of particles and smaller things, things I can’t conceive, will create something again. Will reverse the trend.

We figure, we figured I suppose, with the rest gone on to that side of the sea that no one ever comes back from, we figured that if something as spontaneous as the Apollo missions could cause the world to collapse then something as small could set it all right again. Some small cancellation of the equation, a slight change in the balance would do the reverse.

And yet, for decades, centuries, who knew? Time didn’t work right without points of reference. For however long, nothing happened. Nothing changed. But we had time. We had generations to figure it out. My parents and their parents and their parents all saw the attempts to undo whatever harm our ancestors had brought into existence unwittingly. Theories at the exact cause were thrown and forgotten. Aether made a comeback as a possible source of the failure. But nothing.

Nothing. And now, we couldn’t hold much more than a few particles.

And I watched as nothing continued to happen on the screen. I felt slight pulses of heat as Randolph faded to nothing behind me. He wasn’t gone yet, as long as the dim heat continued. He wasn’t gone yet. He wasn’t gone yet.

“I wonder if we could adjust the speed by repairing the feed.” I said, keeping my eyes towards the machinery. You can’t look at someone leaving. It’s rude to stare. And what do we have left, here at the end of the world, if we don’t have are decency.

“Not much broken.”

“Maybe breaking it would help?” I say, ignoring the faintness of his voice. “Feed more particles, increase the odds of a reversal.”

Of course, really, I wonder if were looking through an infinite desert for one needle, one gleaming diamond in a great rubbish heap. It might come, it might come yet.

“Doubt it. You ever wonder if something comes next?”

“You remember butterflies?” I say, ignoring the question. “I wonder if they’ll be back first. Or if life’s too complex to come back like that, so soon.”

The heat was fading now. I could step closer, I could try and persist in pretending a little longer. Randolph certainly wasn’t moving any time soon. But I could. But I couldn’t. There was a weight. A weight that seemed to root my feet and eyes. It had been growing and growing and growing, and now it transfixed me to my spot waiting for what I knew was coming. I waited.

And I felt the heat stop.

Not suddenly. For a moment, it stayed as a memory. A residual touch, a distant feeling that worked its way through my skin.

And then there was a flash on the tube. And I watched as the minus, a minute late, became a small illuminated cross. And felt the dust began to build itself back together. And alone on that island in the deepest darkest of seas, I wept while the world was reborn.

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I had trouble with making any horror in this. I settled on abandoning horror entirely, and writing something of a tragedy. Or maybe just something contemplative. I don’t know, honestly, what to call this thing I’ve made of bones and sinew. It’s strange and familiar, but painful to see. I suppose there’s something simple dour about what I’ve made. A feeling that I’ve had, knowing something dreadful was coming. But we’ll see.

Next week, a new topic. Something more…cheery. Something more innocent. Almost more…childish. Come and see!

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