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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Drowning Deep

Trigger Warning: Suicide

The Relevant Research:The River Runs Deep

This Week’s Prompt: 38. Drowning sensations—undersea—cities—ships—souls of the dead. Drowning is a horrible death.

Silver light settled around the bodies beneath the bridge, a ghostly corona around a corpse homage to the moon above. There was a total of ten identifiable bodies resting there, waiting. Gazing upward at me, pupils rolled back to reveal pallid with dots among the bloated flesh. All drowned.

“Could be a serial killer?” Dorothy next to me said as the various smarts started trying to figure out how to haul up this mass with damaging much.

“Could. Be the weirdest yet. I mean, I guess he could just drown them, but seems like people would have heard something.” I said, squatting down to look. “Can’t be group body disposal, though. The one at the bottom’s rotted quite a bit. What’s the underwater version of a maggot?”

“Fish?”

“Funny. Anyway, if they were all dumped at once, they wouldn’t have rotted so weirdly.”

“Different drops then.” Dorothy said with a shrug.

“Yeah, but I’m not seeing any wounds. Look, no cuts, no lacerations on the top one. No blood at all.” I said, frowning and looking to either side of the bridge. “Plus, you’d think someone would have noticed, right? Like on a morning jog? River’s been clean most of the month.”

“Clean, but how many people look down into the rivers these days. Maybe he dead weighted them?” Dorothy said, shining her flash light towards the feet. Nope. Completely bare of rope.

“Suicides?” I ask, thinking for a moment.

“All in the same spot?”

“I mean, it would explain the lack of bonds or wounds. But your right…wouldn’t they see the bodies? And if they did, why would they…I mean, seems like a weirdly private mass suicide.”

“They’re not all cults, Jim.”

“Most, most are cults.”

“Could have been a pact?” Dorothy said, frowning sat the water. I shook my head.

“Pacts are smaller, usually. Plus, now that I think of it, if this was organized—a”

“The rot would all be the same.” Dorothy finished.

“Guess we’ll have to see what the guys find.” I said standing up. My knees audibly cracked. I slipped the flashlight into my jacket, and tipped my hat to the boys trying to figure out how to lift the bodies out without them disintegrating.

Suicide wasn’t exactly new to Windgift. There was a joke around the department, ever since the factories and railroads made the city big, that one in every two murders was really a suicide by criminal. But it had exploded lately, near the waterfront. This was the first pile but the concentration was the only thing that separated it from miles of river shore.

I wandered down the raised and fenced coast line. There was an occasional shimmering fish swimming up its waters. I wondered if they knew when people died here, if they started up and up to feed on the remains. If they were gathering for a feast. Wonder what kind of fish ate only the fingers and toes.

The bodies were ruled a suicide, with a probably corpse desecration by a surviving member or by the scum who’d set them up for it. Lawyers were watching their wills, vultures watching a limping cow to find it’s hunter. There was no revolutionary firebrand to collect, though. And if the wealth made its way to some singular cult leader, it did so through a venerable hydra of untraceable transfers and shells of human beings. It was an epidemic, a plague.

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I looked at the pristine, perfect pale river. A disease that, by all efforts of our fine municipality, had no healers at the moment. Not enough. So they had, failing to cure the disease, put someone to stand out as to prevent the systems.

I sat at my chair atop the iron tower, watching the iron fences around the bridge from behind metal bars. The first guy ‘fell out the window’, so they built a railing. The second hung from the railing, so they added spikes. Next bit the wounds and leapt out. So they finally put in bars. And, premptively, they removed the rafters and anything that might serve such a purpose from the room.

I even got a nice new uniform that was a too elastic to hang anything from, and entirely lacking a belt. I hadn’t exactly been happy to receive the job. Even without the collapse rate, preventing self destruction wasn’t what I had signed up for. I mean, yeah, you always had to watch the occasional drunk. But this wasn’t the robber and gangster filled apocalypse I wanted to be the watchman against.

I had already shouted scripted warnings out onto the bridge three times that night. Once I had to use my tranquilizer for a fool who had nearly scaled the fence. It wasn’t lethal within four shots, and it made a loud cling on the third to signal for back up in case the shot had been self aimed. Hard, given the length, but there was no need to risk it.

As night began to rise and the clouds lost the little light that escaped them. It was another dark night, with stolen stars lining the streets and glittering in the river, giving it an outline of dull gold. Occasionally a thin veneer of oily waste rolled down its way, distorting the shape like a large serpent slithering just beneath the waters.

It was beneath one of these persistent blights on the face of the river that I first saw it, between those bars. A languid form, a second ripple working its way out of the oil drifting on the surface. It was a spiny thing, with a longing, flicking extension like a tail. I didn’t see it properly yet. It caught my eye as a strange disturbance and nothing more.

Following it there was a clatter of steps on the bridge. Bolting up, I saw someone leaning against the iron nailed planks. Her ear was pressed up against it, listening intently. I leaned over in my chair, impulsively reaching for my rifle and my megaphone.

She was staring straight ahead with this blank stare, focused. She took a step back, staring now at the barricade, almost stroking it.

“Get away from the barricade ma’am.” I shouted through the megaphone. I don’t know if she heard me, entranced by something invisible. She stepped back, and took off her shoes. Then her socks, then her gloves.
“Ma’am, step away from the fence!” I shouted a second time. No signs of her making a move but bizarre behavior on the bridge could not be tolerated. She started rapping a rhythm on the rough wood. I frowned, listening for a tune.

And I heard it. I heard it first in the rapping, but then in something else. A sound that wasn’t there before. A soothing melodic sounds, a melancholic sound coming from the river. Gripping my rifle, I turned out the window. And there I saw it, coated in oil. The head of a great dog, a scaly hide behind it. It swayed as it almost howled out a siren song above, calling to the woman. Calling to me, to join it in the river and be free.

I thank god the bars caught me before I did anything, that the railing spikes stabbed my leg shaking me out of it. I carefully lowered my long rifle down between the bars. Looking down the scope I fired a dart at the beast. It yelped but carried on.

I fired again, this time down the throat. It banged on a tooth and lead to a grimacing, ducking thing that still skulked near the surface, howling at me. The woman at the bridge was banging on the wooden barricade.

I fired the third time, the loud ding of the rifle matching the dart’s sinking into it’s right ear. It howled at me, and sunk beneath the waves. It was utterly gone when I looked for it. My darts floated on the empty water, and the woman, shaken by a fellow law officer, moved along.

I scribbled a note on the paper before leaving.
“Shoot singing river dogs on sight.”

I doubt anyone will take it seriously, but it now joins the one about beautiful lake women and swans. I fear, honestly, that our river has become sort of gathering place for things like that dog. Next time, I think, I’ll aim for the bloody eye.

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The River Runs Deep

This Week’s Prompt: 38. Drowning sensations—undersea—cities—ships—souls of the dead. Drowning is a horrible death.

The Resulting Story:Drowning Deep

To drown is to die a bad death. This prompt invites us to consider many aspects, many things that one might see down among the inky black of the sea. The image of an underwater city brings to mind fantastic locales of Atlantean ruins, but more directly brings to my mind (perhaps do to the morbidity of the rest of the subject matter) to an old Poe poem, presented here in abbreviated form(Because Poetry is Amazing).

City In The Sea
Lo! Death has reared himself a throne 
In a strange city lying alone 
Far down within the dim West, 
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best 
Have gone to their eternal rest. 
There shrines and palaces and towers 
(Time-eaten towers that tremble not!) 
Resemble nothing that is ours. 
Around, by lifting winds forgot, 
Resignedly beneath the sky 
The melancholy waters he. 

The poem ties the deep, undersea city with elements of hideous horror, of time, and of Satan. All topics we’ve discussed before and one’s that provide plenty of room for horror. But we’ve done them before. We also covered the notions of some nautical myths in our talk on Rhode Island, although a few more regarding ships and the souls of the dead need mentioning.

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There is of course the famous Flying Dutchman, made famous in the most contrasting roles I’ve seen: Davey Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean and Spongebob Squarepants. The Flying Dutchman is a continuation of sorts on the themes of the Wild Hunt Infernal: The Crew is condemned forever to plow the waves and skies. Davey himself seems to have a sordid past, either a devil himself or Jonah damning sailors yet. The souls of unfortunate sailors descend to his place, and in this way he holds all three of the elements as one.

Chilean Folklore presents another ship, however, manned by more then the dead. The Caleuche is a phantom ship at sea that contains not only the dead, but also gives instruction and transport to warlocks. To access the ship, a warlock must summon a Caballo marino chilote, a golden horse with a fishes tail. The King of The Sea would then permit transport to the ghostly vessel.

Of course, not all such water horses were kindly. The Scottish waterhorse would rather ride into thnae lakes and drown it’s rider than provide mystic aid. A plethora of drowning entities follow this route. The Siren sings to drown, as we’ve said before. Slavic Vodyanov and Rusalka drown those near their rivers as well.

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My favorite drowner, as of late, is the Ahuitzotl. The river dog, as it is sometimes known, will lurk in the river and then drag you below with the hand behind its tail. After drowning, the little beast will eat the finger nails, eyes, and teeth. And oddly specific sort of animal.

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These drownings provide a better plot, I believe, then the undersea city itself. There is something awful and personal about drowning: It is a death that kills and isolates inequal measure and rapidly. It is also often, to my mind, associated with suicides. It is hard to kill a man by drowning intentionally, as opposed to by poison or by a simple knife. It is a death that often involves much struggle or none at all, betokens either great force or a void of anything.

I think the story will take the form of a mystery then. A series of drowning, along a canal. The same spot. But is it, our inquisitive detective will wonder, the work of a murderer? Is the place now a nexus of despair, a self perpetuating site like some bridges become? I don’t want to say too much, as I have little to say. Come by next week to behold the horror that lurks beneath the surface.

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Djinn and Beyond The Grave

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

This Week’s Story: The Tears Begin To Show

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

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

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Conquest of the Djinn

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

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A Ghul, Sometimes A Djinn

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

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Then There’s This Guy

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

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

And contact with such things is often…dangerous.

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

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Ancient Chinese Ouija

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THE MOON

This Week’s Prompt: 30. Strange visit to a place at night—moonlight—castle of great magnificence etc. Daylight shews either abandonment or unrecognisable ruins—perhaps of vast antiquity.

The Resulting Story: The Mansion of the Moon


The Moon. The Moon, majestic mighty Luna. That, my fellows, is what strikes me most from this prompt. The Moon is one of the greatest and largest forces in the heavens. As such, it’s form and meanings are vast and numerous. We will begin with a few folkloric examples (of multitudes), as well as a few mythic divinities, and of course some more popular recent examples.

The Moon has almost always belonged to the wild places. The moon is a shifting changing thing, and this change has been known for quite some time, particularly in contrast to the more constant rising sun. The pair are often persented as opposites in one regard or the other: in southern Mexico, the Moon is Mary to the Sun-Chirst. Diana and Apollo likewise stand as opposites, in gender and attitude (Diana being a huntress of the wild, Apollo the patron of arts and civilization).

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The Moon has it’s animals as well. The rabbit of the moon is a vast cornucopia of forms, from China to the Aztec empire. The reason behind the rabbit changes, admittedly, but often involves some form of self sacrifice (failed or otherwise). The owl, with it’s circular white face and nightly habits, makes an important contrast with the eagle of the sun. In the Near East, the Bull comes forward as a lunar creature as well, tied to the necessary sacrifice to the gods.

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This changing nature of the Moon also gives the moon a reputation for shifting nature and illusion, and by extension madness. Among gods, we can see a number of sorcerer gods associated with the Moon. Thoth of Egypt, Kalfu, and Huitica as examples. The Tarot Card of the Moon reflects this uncertainty and changing state. On either side are twin towers, a wolf and a domestic dog, and across from the moon is an amphibious crab crossing from sea to land. The moon violates and warps divisions, it transcends and works between them.

Several of theses, such as Thoth and Chang’e, are further associated with the transformative powers of alchemy. While the Sun plays a more obvious role in Alchemy symbolism, the moon plays an equal role. The synergy between silver and gold in the philospher stone, the combinging of the fundamental masculine and feminine is key for ‘true’ divinity.

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The association with madness, however, runs deeper. In English we maintain the notions of insanity tied to the moon with words like lunacy or moonstruck. The full moon is a time between things, an imitation of the sun in a strange way. The wolves howl at the moon then, and in Europe some trade shapes with men. The moon, as delightful as it can be in it’s blurring of borders, can also dangerous. Some borders exist for a reason. Confusion and chaos inspire dread when taken to far. After all, when dreams and reality become blurred, nightmares come to life again.

This is the heart of the solar-lunar conflict, it seems. The Moon blurs what the sun would define. Here, in the prompt, this is a clear under current. The moon shows a vision of a glorious past that is no longer, the sun forcibly reasserting reality. And that conflict, between reality as objective moving phenomon vs reality as a shifting moment, swinging back and forth, perceived and understood differently through many minds, is a rich one. I would recommend looking into Moon Hunters, a game that deals with these themes and others in interesting ways.

After all, the famous opening of the Call of Cthulhu warns us about the boundaries of objective knowledge: “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. We cannot deny that there is discomfort in uncertainty, that contradiction (especially as large as a castle) of what seems apparent has a hint of madness and horror about it.

The nature of this dichotomy informs the story we must weave, however. As tempting as it is to invoke the moonbeast or the temple of the moon in the Dreamlands, these are unnecessary and may weigh down the plot. Besides, we had plenty of monsters in our last few works. No, this one will flirt with unreality and uncertainty. This we will have almost certainly no non-human characters (except the moon and castle themselves).

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This might be a bit distracting, after all. Credit to King of Rats: http://kingovrats.deviantart.com/

Proceeding from that, the first thing that I can think of with the prompt is obsession. An obsession with finding a lost paradise is a common trope, and one that I think can work well here. The nature of moonlight and madness would add to this. I wonder now, is the castle inhabited? Or is this mystical castle by itself enough to lure someone in?

Who, further, would be enticed by the castle? Someone, no doubt, who wishes to escape. A romantic, probably. The sort that are prone to being moonstruck and caught up in memories of the past. Of course, that sort of obvious choice is a good reason to avoid it. Making a man who is normally scientific, normally a futurist, normally despising the preciousness of nostalgia fall into such a trap would be all the more enticing. Cognitive dissonance is a strong motivator, after all.

I think a romantic uninterested would make a good counterpoint. The unenchanted seeker and the disillusioned fool is a pairing I’m unfamiliar with. The interactions before and after seeing the ruins would be the dynamo of the story.

I’ll start there then. What story have you found among the ruins and the dead?

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The Great Mau and The Wolf

This Weeks Prompt:28. The Cats of Ulthar. The cat is the soul of antique Ægyptus and bearer of tales from forgotten cities of Meroë and Ophir. He is the kin of the jungle’s lords, and heir to the secrets of hoary and sinister Africa. The Sphinx is his cousin, and he speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinx, and remembers that which she hath forgotten.

The Research:Everyone Wants To Be A Cat

 

Beneath the majestic sphinx, on a cloudy and moonless night, there was a parade that had not been seen in centuries. A gathering of the cats of the world, for the great Mau beneath the sphinx had come forth to speak. The message was sent to all corners of the world, engraved in the hides of rats and mice that the great Mau’s attendants had caught. The great Mau, eldest of living cats, would have all the cats that could attend. Black cats with white stars on their chests came from the Isles, kings of the many clans of Scottish and British cats. Tomcats and turtle cats, red cats and black cats, cats from the alleys of New York and cats that lived in the jungles came. Great Wampus cats from the woodlands came, in their feline form rather than their feminine one. The Tiger rajs came, the mountain king cougars came, the pride princes came, all gathered to hear that elder brother of the Sphinx speak.

The great Mau was adorned in Orphirim gold, with glittering earrings and necklaces. Already a large cat for his kin, the great Mau was even larger to the wise eyes of cats. Cats, as many a man will tell you, can see past the body and into that numinous land of souls. And the soul of the great Mau was mighty indeed, vast and towering over his younger sister. It washed over the crowd, covered in rat pelts and the scars of many battles with his long lost fellows.

Such was the great Mau that spoke to the mighty congress of cats. The language of cats is strange to human ears, involving much mewling and purring and motion. It is hard then to say what the Mau sounded like. His voice, as it was, was slow. Deliberate. Thumping and melodic, loud but not shouting or echoing. And he spoke thus.

“My little kittens, my children so far removed that I barely recall where to begin, dark tides have spread. Things that only can be discussed in this most sacred hall. You recall, that this hall was built to resemble my sister. That this land is our land, our holy land where we are gods still. This land, this desert, is what remains of our great glory and power. Here, we cats need only fear the alligator and the stars for dominon. And only here can I speak and live, for my power would collapse without.

“But time does not care for our wants. The workings of humans do not care for their powers, or their lurking foes. Our enemies and us have worn down our powers. My respect to the tomcats, to the wild cats, and the lap cats. But you are not the great gods which compelled man to offer reverence. You are not the watchful lords that fought the plague, nor the muses of Sekhmet and her slaughters. You are not of the kind to be placed at Ishtar’s chariot. You are, like all things it seems, so small now.

“Our enemy has shrunk as well. The wolf, the great wolves of yore, the dire wolf and the mountain wolves, have become as small. Surely, some are vast and large, but many now are pups even when fully grown. No longer do they lure the soul of man to wild hunts, but rather are content as we in domestic bliss. And our wars, our wars in the halls and alleys while fierce in some places,” the great Mau said, bowing to the alley cheiftans, “are small still. But such is known. Why would I call, to remind you how far we have fallen? Why summon cats to say dogs are small?

“Because not all are. A great wolf stirs still, to wolves as I am to cats. He is old as I and long slept at his owners feet. Waiting for the day where, as all things say, when the dead shall rise. He hoped, perhaps, to see that day. But he hopes no longer. And he is dread and doom filled. Where he roams, now in the world, his soul shifts and shakes the souls of men. His rage and fear, his howls are now threatening all we have done.

“I would, my kittens, sally out to fight him once more. But I have grown complacent. His might is not the same kin as mine. Mine is divinity, mine is holy, mine is regal. And such things cannot with ease leave the palaces and the halls. His, his is a different sort. His is the sort that is found in all places, that bubbles up in the cities and flows freely in the wilds. The great wolf cannot be allowed to stand. He must,” the great Mau’s voice faltered for a moment, uncertain, “he must be opposed. Or even our sacred land may be undone. Thus, from you my masses, my children I love, I need a champion. To face the wolf with our blessing. To close his sanguine maw. Else he might rally the forgotten lords among them, and the black dogs of the Isles return. And the great hounds of the north return. And Anubis and Set return. And his majesty bring our war to an end, gruesome and vile.”

There was a silence among the crowd of cats. They had heard, even the mighty rajs, of the wolves of old. How their might ancestors, with sword teeth and dagger claws fought against them across the seas. And in story, the phantom of such beasts began to grow larger than ever was. The Tomcat chiefs, the alley cat lords, they still had injuries from skirmishes with the lessers. None of them dared to face such a beast as the wolves of old, lest they suffer an injury they could not recover. The Cat Sith, lord of isle cats, with his proud on his chest, avoided the gaze of the great Mau. He knew the great black dogs of the fens well. He would not sally out. The Wampus Cats were likewise afraid, but their fear was mixed with confidence. Surely, if the war went wrong, they might hide in human form for sometime. They knew little of the great dogs hunting habits.

At last, a small kitten arose, with a spotted coat. She came from across the seas. A simple pilgrim, she was, a common kitten among the crowds of panther pashas and Leonid lords. She lacked the stars of the cat sith, the claws of the tiger. Her teeth were, like many kittens, small. But she stepped forwards, the little thing, and spoke softly.

“If a wolf needs to be sent away, I can try. I can learn. I have sought out mice and rabbits, even at my young age. I have frightened off greater dogs before, and I have lived in the cities and houses of men. I can try to send off this great wolf.”

“Little one, smallest one,” the great Mau said, with a chuckle as best he could, “your bravery commends you. But you cannot fell such a beast as this on your own. Come then, who will aid the kitten in her venture?”

Again silence for a time. But then, slowly, one of the elder tigers came forth. He was older than the mortal Raj of india, and his fur gave testament to his age. All over him were scars. A number of his teeth had fallen out, his claws once great and sharp were dulled with time. One of his eyes a man had put out ages past.

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“I have little to lose, great Mau, even to such a beast. Death comes to me like a memory, and soon I know he will be upon me with his ancient words and fatal touch. I will protect the kitten, while you find another greater champion.” the old tiger said.

The great Mau, reluctantly, assented. And so the two cats went out from the gathering, to find the old wolf that rose from the crypts. The land of dogs and foxes was well known to the old Raj. He, limping, let the kitten ride on his back. If the great Wolf had risen again, no doubt it rose in the homeland of their kin. Lupine beasts held sway in the deep dark forests of the world, but they were holy in the North and among the hills of Italy and the Black Forests. There the old and young began their search.

The wolf, it must be known, is a carrion creature. While the noble tales tell of wolves as fighters, honorable and strong, they are often famed for feeding on the dead. The cats, even the young as the white kitten, prided themselves in being absent from those tales. It wasn’t cats that Achilles attempted to feed the corpse of Hector to, no feline friend stood in Odin’s hall, and certainly none was every folly enough to feed on the bodies of man in fields. At least, as was admitted.

Knowing this, their search was easier. A great wolf, reasoned the kitten, would be on the look out for great carrion. For piles and bodies of men and beast alike. And the old tiger was silent, limping as he did, toward Cairo. For he knew where they would find the wolf in the countries of men. There were few places of old slaughter, very few. But new slaughters, the old tiger new, had grown vast in size.

They traveled for months before the raj could smell the wolf. Months north of the holy land of cats, years away from lost Ulthar. There, on snow fields, even the kitten could smell the great wolf. But there was more than him here. For the Raj in his jungle had received word that the sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve had begun to war again. And here, on a snow plain, he had heard the blood ran the worst.

Great clattering and grinding machines wound across the plain. Thunder bolts seemed to clatter on either side. Herds of humans ran across the fields, letting lose their new fangled spears and swords to strike from afar. And the fell in droves. More of them fell as the old raj and kitten watched then the cats had ever known existed. Man was truly an abudant animal, the old raj said.

The pilgrim kitten mewled and wept.

But it was there, among the freezing bodies and the crying men, that they saw the wolf. The great Mau was right. There was some clear kin between them. The wolf, like the Mau, was not a particularly large or fearsome wolf to the sights of men. No more terrible in form than any other of his kin. He lurked around the field, and made no sign of attack. But the cats.

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The cats saw his form, large and terrible. He towered over the field, with jaws large enough to swallow armies whole. His eyes were a deep sanguine red, his teeth covered in gore and blood, his coat stained with the remains of slaughter. This visage stood looming, waiting, eager again to feast on mortal flesh. Around it, the raj (who saw more clearly than the kitten) could make out smaller forms. Wolves, smaller wolves were gathering to the great Lupus. Swarming to form one great pack, for now only in spirit. But soon, the raj guessed, soon in body as well. And it was a dread host indeed. The raj knew some of those forms, from distant Asia.

“Let us return little pilgrim. We have seen what it is, where it lies, and what it’s strength is. There is no need to risk our lives.” The old raj said.

The kitten did her best to frown. Sadly, she had not learned the feline trick of appearing perpetually displeased with the world. Still, she bounded off the raj and onto the snow, her spotted coat clear as day.

“Is not so big nor dangerous for me. You are old and wounded, stay if you want. I’m off to slay the wolf!” she said, her eyes glittering with pride. For you see, like all small animals, the kitten was convinced she was larger than life. There is a courage that permeates tiny creatures and persuades them that no matter the opponent, they are mightier. Among small dogs, there is a similar belief, if not as well articulated.

So out ran the kitten in front of the wounded raj, darting in the snow beneath the hail of fire and rumbling metal treads. The lurking wolf did not see her as she ran forth. But as she grew close, his visage grew more like his soul, more dreadful and frightening. This was the beast that had inspired Fenris, this was a beast that could eat the sun.

And the kitten bit him in the paw as hard as she could.

The wolf howled for a moment, surprised by the sudden sting. His coat turned a coal black, his eyes a vicious red, as he looked down at the kitten. The raj waited off to the side in earnest, unable to leave and unwilling to charge into the beasts maw.

The kitten proceeded to bite the wolf again.

The great wolf turned down, now aware of what insect was causing him so much grief in the winter snow. Slowly he lowered his head over the kitten and began to growl a warning. The kitten continued biting and clawing as best she could, unable to speak dog. The wolf barked and snarled at the kitten in rage, showing a full set of spear like teeth.

The raj considered running across the field, through the lines of fighting men, when he heard a particularly loud thunder clap. A boom echoed, and the wolf turned for a moment. And then he was splattered against the floor as one of the man made machines went forward. There was that boom of thunder and the wolf was struck by some might spear meant for the machine. The kitten came loping back to the raj, covered in blood and gore.

“See? I told you. I maybe small, but no dog is too big for me.”

The raj merely stared ahead in shock. The wolf’s spirit still loomed howling in pain. But it was not but a spirit now.

“Perhaps, little one, we have been wrong about the threat.” the old raj said. “Perhaps it is not the dogs that we should fear in coming years, but our old charge man.”

I’m not super fond of the ending for this one, but I didn’t want to extend it into a full multi-part story. So the end is a bit rushed, certainly. Also, the time of year constrained me some.Still, it seems servicable. What did you find with the Cats of Ulthar? Where did they come from where did they go? Let us know in the comments! Next week: We go to Providence Rhode Island!

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Everyone Wants To Be A Cat

This Week’s Prompt: 28. The Cats of Ulthar. The cat is the soul of antique Ægyptus and bearer of tales from forgotten cities of Meroë and Ophir. He is the kin of the jungle’s lords, and heir to the secrets of hoary and sinister Africa. The Sphinx is his cousin, and he speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinx, and remembers that which she hath forgotten.

The Resulting Story:The Great Mau and The Wolf

Well, my fellows, we knew something like this day would come. Is there any corner of the internet, vast bulk that it is, that is free of cats? I think not. They have become as constant as air is to the real world our corporeal forms inhabit. And Mr. Lovecraft was certainly a cat lover, a friend to all felines in writing and in life. We will proceed then with some trepidation.

To begin with, this story is not quite “properly” unfinished. The Cats of Ulthar is a completed work, and casts some doubts on the veracity of the list as “incomplete”. It is spared in that, according to the list, the prompt dates a year before the text itself was published. However, I’d be remiss not to link to it here.

Moving on some, we have a few proper nouns. Ophir and Meroe are connected only by ancient Hebrew lore, with Ophir as a rich port of gold belonging to Solomon. Meroe was the site of a victory by Moses under the Pharaoh, where the walls were guarded by serpents and other such sorcerers. Such places are certainly the sort of old lost nations that would have entranced Mr. Lovecraft, and I shall refrain from dragging out tired old discussions on the nature of lost nations. Particularly since both have been located in Africa.

And while the jungles of Africa are not the first I think of when I think of clawed jungle lords (those would be India and their might tigers and Rakshasa), Africa is recurrent in the European imagination of the early 1900’s as a jungle. The call to Egypt and the Sphinx cement that are cats, who are wise and ancient, to be African in extraction and possess deep and hidden knowledge of an almost sorcerous sort.

egyptianmau

To properly categorize such a creature, I turn a bit to cat’s themselves. It is not surprising that this most ancient cat is African, particularly Egpytian. The first domestic cat breed, the mau, is Egyptian and often it is remarked that Egyptians revered cats as sacred. Cats in many cultures can see the unseen, spirits and ghosts. For their supernatural perception and their tendency to exterminate mice and other pestilence bearers, cats have a reputation as unfortunate or exceptionally lucky creatures.

When it comes to specifics, however, the reputation does vary. Islam pays homage to the cat, as a favorite pet of Muhammed on some occasions, and the preferred pet by far. The Yule Cat, of Scandanavian sources, is not a pleasant creature that any holy man would love and in fact feeds on those who, during the new years, did not receive new clothes. Joining it from the North is the Cat Sith, a faerie that resembles a large black cat with a white spot on it’s chest. The Cat Sith sometimes played a benign role, as a king of cats or their nobles, but also sometimes stole the souls of the dead by waiting over their graves after death.

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Across the pond in the new world lurks the Wampus cat, a creature that supposedly has roots in Native American lore. A woman supposedly wore a cat skin to spy on a warrior meeting, and was discovered. The local shaman cursed the woman to the form of a cat, and she has lurked in Tennessee ever since.

In the realm of general fiction, there are two cats worth mentioning before going on to general possible plot and structure. That is, the cat that frightened me as a young boy, and the cat that may have frightened you unawares.

shere-khan

The first is a familiar figure, from that wonderful mouse ironically: Shere Khan. Lest we forget, the prompt reminds us that cats are kin with jungle lords, and if there was ever a king of the jungle more dreadful and terrible then Shere Khan, I have not yet heard of him. Haughty and violent, self assured and strong, the great beast was terrible in its ways. Tigers are a regal sort already, but in the Khan there is something of his namesake perhaps.

The second is one you’ve heard of, but by different names. He was, when first scribed on the page, the Prince of Cats Tevildo. Later he gained other names and titles, Thu and Gorthaur. Finally, you have perhaps heard and seen him as the Dark Lord, the Nameless Enemy, the Deceiver, The Lord of the Rings, Sauron who was Marion. That archenemy, that lieutenant of Melkor, that dread beast was once a feline. A lord of lions, a tyrant of tigers, a consul of cougars, a…the alliteration alienates a bit doesn’t it?

That said, I think for this story we will leave the more malicious tribes and lines of felines off to the side. This story, I suspect, is not a horror story but a fairy story. A great mau, oldest of cats, a cat of Ulthar, has called some conclave near the base of the sphinx. But what danger gathers the leaders of the entire feline race, from every place and location?

What enemy do cat’s dread the most?

That is simple.

Dog.

teacup-shi-tzu

No, not this kind.

Cats and dogs squabble seemingly endlessly, and I am certain there is some fascinating work to be done, comparing stories of their battles. For our purposes, however, we are not simply dealing with a dog. Not a pug or a shi tzu or any other lap dog. No, our creature I think ought be a bit fiercer to menace the eldest of cats. A hound, a hound like Fenris and his brothers, who will eat the gods and the sun and moon.

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This kind

Such dreadful hounds exist and persist in fantastic works. There is Dunsany’s hound of the Gods, Time. There is Mr. Lovecraft’s own time related beasts, the Hounds of Tindalos. The werewolf and its kin permeate to much to list. Needless to say, I think a canine antagonist to our feline protagonist would work well.

Further, I think I’ll set this one in a more modern location and time than some of the others have occupied. This is a bit tricky, but more than possible with such a fae story. After all, what dreadful things has the hound been up to as of late?

The problem of course, is that this story is unlikely to be a horror story. The result is likely to be more of a fantasy story than anything to horrific, except perhaps in the natural horror primal in great dogs and feline magic.

I will also endeavor to include the #horrorprompt of this week: Sanguine Eyes. Perhaps a bit literally.

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