The Hills Are Alive

This Weeks Prompt: 96. Unknown fires seen across the hills at night.

The Resulting Story:Lights Away

The hills have eyes of fire. The strange shapes on the edges of towns and building up to dread mountains attract a great deal of attention, both nefarious and wondrous—why is perhaps for another to speculate. They are clearly demarcated landscape features, and often can hold springs, metals, strange stone formations, and hiding behind them lies lord knows what.  At night strange things can happen in the hills. By day great fortresses rise to their defense. Sometimes these are intertwined, such as in Tyrol, Austria.

In Tyrol, there is this story. An old lady visited the castle, and found its courtyard full of nobles and servants. One of these servants granted her a gold coin, and the scene vanished. As she left, she was met by a solider with a single match and holding his own head at his side. The solider warned her—tell anyone of this, and evil would befall her. The woman tried her best, until a magistrate learned of the gold she had. When the magistrate pressed her on the matter, and forced her to speak, she is whisked away and never seen again. Later, a young nobleman heard this tale and decided—being a knowledgeable sort—to see for himself what was atop the mountain. As he and a servant ascended, six times an unknown voice told them to desist. The solider was there again, and demanded to know who came—the nobleman declared “It is I!”. When asked who “I” was, the nobleman asked for his sword. But a terrible horseman with no head rode out, seized him, and vanished with him into the country side. The solider drove away the servant with his sword.

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In County Durham, England, there is another haunted and wretched hill. There is a strange story of a hill in Scotland, named after a dread worm. There was an heir of the Lambton family, some six hundred years ago, who ignored his obligations to God and humanity alike. Every Sunday it was his habit to go out fishing, and one such day he was raving about his woes to the local servants when his line was tugged. Thinking he’d caught a grand fish, he pulled and pulled—only to find a horrific, pale worm with many hooked teeth and eyes. Horrified, he fought with the thing—which would not let go of his wire. At last, after speaking with a stranger, he tossed it down a well. Where it grew.

And grew, and grew, until it was too big for the well. The worm rose out and grew so large it was able to circle a nearby hill three times—the hill thus named Worm Hill. The creature then laid waste to the countryside. The household of the heir worked hard to find a solution, the heir himself having repented and gone to wage some foreign war—perhaps service in the crusades.  The creature cannot be stopped until seven years later the heir returns. Taking advice from a local sibyl, the heir places a suit of armor filled with spears near the great worm. The sibyls only demand was that he promise to kill the first thing he came across on his way home, or a curse would lay on his family to never die in their own bed for nine generations.

Lambton Worm.png

The heir did so and the serpent assaulted his armor. But the spears struck into its pale flesh, even as it wrapped tighter and tighter.  At last, it bled so the entire river ran red, and the heir struck the creature dead. He sounded his horn in victory, and his father ran out to greet him. The heir was struck, and could not bring himself to kill his father. So he sounded again in terror, and killed the hound that ran out. But the curse held true.

Another hill in the Northern Counties held a poisonous winged creature, that frequently flew out and wrapped itself around Wormington—hence the name. This creature lived in a cave in a hillside.  The panic the creature inspired was so great that villages ten miles away considered abandoning their homes.  At last a champion stepped forward, and after his normal weapons failed, took some peat covered in pitch and shoved it down the beasts throat. The worm suffocated and its death contractions still mark the hill with spiral patterns.

A mountain in Italy bears lights for a terrible tale—one that I feel ought to have been exhumed from our work with the devil. Pietro Balliardo is the origin of this strange flame on a hill. This man had gained divination powers and command of the devil from a small bookshop. One of the first things he does is get revenge on a woman who refused him—she is found one night, burning atop a Mount, and all who pass by must stir the flame regardless of their will.  He did other outrageous acts, a small Faustus of Italy who in his time repented his ways.  I am sad to say he does not typically die, although he does beat his breast with a stone until he bleeds

Spook Light Hill in Indiana is a particularly haunted hill it seems, with strange ghostly lights. One source of these lights is an old man, looking for his daughter’s head—his daughter took a nasty horse-and-buggy crash a while back, and her head was cut clean off. Another explanation, related, claims it was a farmer who fell off his plow and somehow cut his own head off on the plow. Yet another story says it a ghost of a father from the 1800s. He wouldn’t let his daughter date, until one night she convinced him to let her date a solider. The solider apparently killed her, as her body was found outside the next day and the man is still hunting.  Another story says instead it is from an old couple. One night they went out looking for a lost cow and her calve. The next morning the woman fell into an open grave and died—years later the man died of natural causes. And yet they are still seen looking for the old cow.  The lights, however, remain and won’t say why.

Hills England.png

From Cambridgeshire, we have hills formed of a dispute between the giant Gog and the giantess Magog. Every day they quarreled in their cave until Gog declared he would kill her. Magog fled at once, and out ran him easily. Gog then took up some nearby earth and threw it at Magog. He missed, creating the first hill. He missed again, making a larger hill. But the third struck home, and buried Magog alive—this made the highest hill yet. Similar stories in Shropeshire tell of giants who made the hills by hurling stones and dirt at each other across rivers and the valley.

From Herefordshire, the story of the creation of Robin Hood’s Butts relates to the old trickster Satan. Having learned the people of Herefordshire were building churches and cathedrals and leaving his way of life, he gathered up a number of stones to level the city of Hereford. A passing monk, however, came across him on the road and learned of his intent. In disguise, he taught him all about the corruption of the church and priestly offices—and convinced the devil to go home, abandoning his stones to from the two hills.  Some versions replace the devil with Robin of Loxely, who has set out to destroy the monks of a monastery with Little John. They come across a cobbler, who tells them that the monastery is too far to ever reach. Little John and Robin Hood give up, again leaving the stones to form the hills.

In Ireland, a number of old forts were believed to be inhabited by fairies, or perhaps at one point by the Danes—whether these Danes are from Denmark or are simply named the same is unclear, as they are recounted as diminutive red-headed men and woman, something like dwarves. It was said that when these forts were inhabited, and they wished to communicate across long distances late at night, they would light great fires to signal from far away. In at least one circumstance, leveling of an ancient fortress on a hill resulted in the sudden death of every workman who participated in the leveling. Later rumors of great tunnels underneath, where oxen could plow, began to spread. This cemented it as a fairy home.

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To end our collection of tales, a more happy, less horrific fire on a hill comes from Kenya. Here we are told a man with a beautiful daughter promised to marry her to anyone who could spend all night in the nearby cold lake.  The lake was not only cold, but apparently the gathering place of man eating creatures and animals. A young man decides to go, despite his mothers pleading—for he is in love. So he goes and sits in the cold water. His mother, however, followed him. On a small hill, forty paces away, his mother placed a pot and started a fire. The light frightened away the animals. When the son saw it, he was glad for his mothers love that saved him. The man, however, tried to refuse the marriage since he claimed the fire had warmed the pot. A brief ruling by a judge, however, settled the matter.

The fire on the hills story then is the source of many strange creatures and activities. I have not even begun to discuss what first occurred to me with fires on a mountain—great and ancient shrines and revels, from Zoroastrian to Celtic in origin. The ghosts and monsters here, the strange fairy fortresses, even the unknown Danes provide us with something uncanny. As I said, hills are often associated with power. What is going on up on that hill? Can you bear to see what is lighting on that strange hill?

Bibliography

“The Fire on The Hill : African Folk Tales : Fable : Animals Stories.” English for Students, http://www.english-for-students.com/The-Fire-on-The-Hill.html.

Andrews, Elizabeth. Ulster Folklore. E.P. Dutton, New York. 1919

Buck, Rachel Harriette. Roman Legends: A Collection of Fables and Folklore of Rome. Estes and Lauriat, Boston 1877

Tibbits, Charles John. Folk-Lore and Legends, Germany. J.B. Lippincott, 1892.

Baker, Ronald L. Hoosier Folk Legends. Indiana University Press. 1982

Leather, Ella-Mary. The folk-lore of Herefordshire. Jakeman&Carver, Hereford. 1912

Henderson, William. Notes on the Folklore of the Northern Counties of England and The Borders. W. Satchell and Peyton Co. 1879

James, Maureen. Cambridgeshire Folk-Tales. The History Press. 2014

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Yonster Over Yonder

This Week’s Prompt:93. A place one has been—a beautiful view of a village or farm-dotted valley in the sunset—which one cannot find again or locate in memory.

The Prior Research: Off the Map

I have never been to Yonster, but I know every road by now. Last night I woke up, and could tell you that the library of Yonster is situated on Main Street and Elephant—Elephant has it’s unusual name from a zoo at the end of street and a foolish twentieth century attempt at advertising through civic infrastructure. There have been movements to change the street name but none have managed to get past the current Mayoral family, the Straubs, who find it quaint. And like many things in Yonster, quaint seems to hold it together.

The dreams about Yonster have been going on for a few weeks now. Just bursts of facts and trivia. I know that Ms. Madeline Alba, who is recently widowed, makes her pie with an dash of vanilla with the raspberries to enhance taste. She learned that the local Starbucks did something similar with their hot chocolate, and thought it was a great idea. She has green eyes.

I keep notes on it, figuring it’ll make a great book someday. Yonster seems like a nice place to visit, but a quick search on Google Maps and nothing. I mean I got a few Youngsters and the like, but yeah. No city, no small town with a population of 2000.

I’m not even sure where it would be—the people there speak English I think, but I can’t read in dreams. I’m not even sure what the dreams are. Sometimes, I’ve got this nice little house that’s a far cry from my cramped apartment. It’s been in my family for generations. I work in town, although on what I’m never sure. It requires a suit, but things are old fashioned in Yonster, so that could be anything.

Small Town Maine yonster

Yonster’s architecture is, outside of the city square, fairly old fashioned. I’d call it Parisian, but I’ve never been to Paris. The buildings are all family homes, and a number of them have tile roofs. The streets aren’t built for cars, although a few people have one. I myself prefer to walk, and enjoy the roadways.

The dreams have gotten more common as I’ve been handling my dad’s work. He’s selling his house—which I won’t lie, stings a bit. But with Mom gone…I can’t blame him for wanting to get out. We brought in some people to clean it, and I’ve started going through the stuff to sell. He can’t stand doing it himself. My therapist thinks the dreams are an escape. I can’t really disagree—seems like it, easy to slip somewhere were things never change when your dig through your parents old stuff.

It was while digging through that cardboard maze that I found it though. A old note book, in my dad’s nightstand. Time stood still as I read the first page.

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“There’s this place called Yonster…”

I was thinking, when I read, that maybe he’d read me stories about it when I was little. But he’d kept dates—small, at the top of the page where I could miss them at first. First one was when he was nineteen. The whole book was filled with details. Bits and pieces, talking about people and places. I didn’t know Alba’ s mother-in-law didn’t trust their marriage. And given what my father said about George, I didn’t blame her. Marriage and father hood really shaped him up. And the bar down third, where the boys played—that had been a church once, but they’d moved into a new building.

There’s only so much coincidental detail that one man can believe is circumstances. I could believe remembering stories of Yonster—I could even believe maybe imaginging some changes. But the swerves were so…mundane. So normal, so bland. No one shipped off to join the army, no one ran for office and was mirred by scandal, no one had any affairs at all. I had no relations either. There were no long lost grandparents who left me an elaborate mansion. If this was the fancies of childhood—where were the fancies?

My father lives on his own, mostly, but he still manages to keep odd hours. It wasn’t until late in the afternoon, after I’d poured over every detail of the books. Coffee made me jittery and sickly as it faded. It burned at my stomach and made my hands shake. It made my neck feel soft and my head heavy, slumping a bit. But it kept me awake, and I didn’t really want to sleep right now. Something seemed sinister about my inherited dreams.

“Yonster…that’s…hm. Was that were Mary ran off to with Ronald? The one who was an architect.” My father said, stopping with two mugs in hand.

“No, no that was Yonkers.”

“Right, Yonkers, Yonkers. No, don’t think I wrote much about Yonkers.” He said, holding one out.

“No, right. I mean, do you remember visting Yonster? Nice place, had a few hills. You might have known the—there was a statue in town. A big one, of three guys on a horse?” I said, scratching my head. It was a monument to some local heroes during the Civil War—I’m not sure what Civil War, but they had horses and sabers, and they were local heroes. Everyone was related or married into their families. I think that limits the time of the Civil War, maybe two centuries ago? Three? Maybe longer—horses and sabers are as old as steel at least.

“Well, three? Like, three on three horses?” He sipped and frowned. “There’s a lot of those down in London. That what your thinking of?”

“No, no, it was one statue—one place thing. With three men on one horse.” I said, breathing deep. “Does any of that sound familiar?”

“…Are you alright, Justin? You seem worked up about this.”

“I’m fine, I just. I just found some writing about it in your place, and was wondering about it. It seemed, you know, familiar.” I said.

My father didn’t know anything else. And the sixth cup of coffee looped back around on me. I felt my bones weaken, and only with force of will got home. I fell onto the couch, and slept. And dreamed.

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The sun over Yonster is clearer than anywhere else I’ve seen. The cicadas buzz with the spring’s arrival, and the river runs clear. It’s thinned lately, but winter snow was arriving. It was swelling, and green was growing again. A good time of year, as the rains came in, for drinking tea outside and slipping in doors. The rains are always calming in Yonster.

I figured I had…something, between my memories and my father’s forgotten ones, to place Yonster on a map. Somewhat. The terrain, the style of the saber, the way the buildings looked. The problem wasn’t ‘were’ such a place could be—it was that those places had maps. Yonster looked like it had rolled out of an English Romantic pastoral, but with electric lights.

And England was mapped.

England was mapped. Ireland was mapped. Maine was mapped. And it wasn’t like Yonster was small. I had known a friend in college, who claimed all over the south were unmapped and unmarked farms and villages waiting to take up guns against the federal government. I still think that’s a load of crap, but even those imaginary secret armies were small. But Yonster was…probably a few hundred people.

I narrowed it down over a few day. It was probably an abbreviation—chester became just ‘ster’ over the years, putting it somewhere in the Isles. I even worked out the etymology, although no one in Yonster was impressed—that fortress, or fortress over yonder.

I must have looked bizarre on the train from London. I told people I was hiking out in Scotland for a few days, map in hand and note books in my pack. The landscape looked right for Yonster, and Alba was a Celtic name—shared with a Latin one.

The Scottish countryside feels like a place you could hide things, as you move farther and farther into the highlands. It was a good place to start—even if it wasn’t as known for horses, I don’t think, as Yonster was.

I spent six months walking towards Yonster. I knew that I was getting close, even as I circled back and came around. Even as I started running low on cash, as the leaves changed. I told anyone who asked that I was going back to visit some friends out in Yonster—no one asked much after that, although I had plenty to tell them. I don’t know how I got back every day, every night rain or shine I was there. It was always Spring in Yonster, and the people always patient and kind. It kept me warm on days full of cold, and full when I slept hungry. For six months, I chased the phantom through hills and dales, in valleys and near cliffs.

Small Town Maine yonster

And then I found it—the old road to Yonster. It was smaller than I remembered, but what did that even mean really. The road was dirt, overgrown mostly. The buildings were small and few. There was maybe a dozen old houses, empty houses—no not quiet empty. But no one lived there. It was nothing like I imagined, but it was Yonster. I could feel it in my bones.



This story took some work to come up with an ending for—I wasn’t satisfied with leaving it as utter delusion, or having it really be some paridisal home. So I opted for something in between. On a revisit, I think expanding some of the search would be warranted—or perhaps changing Yonster from a sort of small town idealism to a more fantastic setting like the folklore had.

Next week, we leave the invisible and soar into the heavens! Behold, the Sun!

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The Wind Blew Out From Bergen

This Week’s Prompt:57. Sailing or rowing on lake in moonlight—sailing into invisibility.

The Research:Sailing Away

I sat on the great cliffs of Moher, staring off into the fading sea. I’d come in quiet contemplation of all that I knew, facing into the inevitable turning of the tides. The moon was large that night, casting a great pale shadow on an otherwise dark sea. It looked, from those great cliffs, that the world ended just on the horizon. Or rather, that it wrapped itself upward again, so that the moon in the sky was as much a reflection as the one on the sea. In a moment, I thought, the sky will churn like the sea, and the moon will be rent to pieces.

It lasted all of a moment, my apocalyptic thoughts. In the next, the caw of a raven restored a sense of present. The cliffs were solid stone, and I sat with legs over the edge looking below. All was quiet, except the washing of the waves. All was still, despite the churning of the sea.

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That was, until a curious sight caught my attention. It came up from the northern shore, first as a gentle cold breeze. Turning up, I saw the ripples on the water spilling onto the sea from some unseen source. At last, into view, came a vast sailing ship. Fog was round it’s sails, and flickers of lanterns lined it’s hull. Three sails full of wind pushed it on, but below I made out the motions of oars. It was as if a modern Englishmen had placed his hull on a ship of antiquity.

The Ship from the Cliffs

It recalled to mind, though, not the dread iron clads of this modern age. It was a wooden ship, moving at full sail. From afar, by some strange focus or unknown providence, I could still make out each hand and every sailor. My heart paused. For there, gambling on the deck, was Henry in his prime, his chest unmarred. No blood dripped on his uniform, obscured by royal red. His face seemed healed, both eyes still good and joy springing along his face.

And there, beside him, was William, drunk and laughing at some obscenity unspoken, waving his bottle like a cutlass. Recounting some half remembered story, of the Caribbean and pirates and smugglers and women. I leaned close, shocked further to see more of them. Brenard, reminiscing over the edge, laughing with Thomas. Robert had found William and the two were in each other’s grips. Oh, they all looked so young and well. Their skin was flush with color, no longer the pale and bloated things that floated to the surface of a stained sea.

More figures came into view. A crowd of Frenchmen here, a fallen German sailor there, a captain with fire in his beard, women and men alike. A strong man from the islands shared a pipe with a Frenchmen who, I sense, he may have beheaded. All seemed well. All was merry, there was drinking and dancing and revelry. Eventually I focused on the most peculiar figure. At the great wheel, he stood over six feet tall with skin the color of sea weed and hair as red as fire. Wildly he spun the ship’s wheel, and yet the ship stayed steady. Every now and then he would shout out a song, and half the crew would take up this shanty or another, a symphony of languages to the same tune.

But stranger still than that man was the thing that emerged from the captain’s cabin. A towering figure, with a single red eye, beneath a man of hair and above a beard that seemed to large to belong to a man. Like a large crab, with a wide brimmed hat dripping jewels, he stood surveying. And then fixed his eye on me.

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Reaching a gloved hand out, I felt his gesture calling to me. All of them, beckoning me as their ship began to go farther out to sea, shimmering in the breeze. Wordless sirens, they sang to my heart, already wounded. The promised calm seas and celebration, and green hills and isles of gold. I jumped out of my shoes, flew out of my body onto it’s warm deck. I was young again, my stomach full of fire and laughter as I stood upon the floor, music filling the air. Their singing my song, the band invisible is playing my rhythm, and Delilah is there waiting for a dance.

I mumble and try and to take a step forward. But something has caught my leg. I pull harder, as the ship beneath me is pulling away. As the rail hits my back, I cry out for them not to leave me, that I am soon coming. The crew don’t hear me as they fade away.

Again on the misty cliffs of Moher I sit, alone on darkened stones, staring into the pale sea. The black waters below smash with little fanfare along the shore and cliff face, leaving small traces of salt in open wounds along the rock. I get up, and turn to walk away. But somethings still fastened, lightly, to my leg. Looking down I see it fade. A pale white hand, back into the stones, lets me go at last as I head back to the road.

 

———–

I’m not terribly fond of this one. The hook of alluring memories of younger days occured to me two days before it was finished, and I don’t feel like I had the time or creativity to extend it longer than it was. It feels like a small scene in a larger story, which might be a good place for it. I am oddly fond of my illustrations this time though.

Next week, we stay in the British Isles to discuss a peculiar valley!

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Dead Man’s Hand

This Week’s Prompt:53. Hand of dead man writes.

The Story: The Dead Man’s Rites

This will be the second week of the dead speaking! But this is a bit more strange form. The form of a dead hand has a particular piece of imagery associated with it, the Hand of Glory.

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Hand of Glory at the Whitby Museum

The hand of glory is an infamous bit of black magic, made for thieves and burglars. It, unfortunately, requires the failure and hanging of another man. The hand is removed from the hanged man, and enough fat is removed to construct a candle. The candle, while lit and occasionally after a spell is spoken, will paralyze all who are in the house, or alternatively put them to sleep.

The hand of a dead man, that of a not necessary criminal, is cited here as a source of healing among the Americas. Notably, rubbing the hand of a dead man on the thyroid. Similar cures are suggested for blackheads and moles.

In Lincolnshire, there is a report of another dead hand, more sinister in nature. As related by Daniel Codd, the Dead Hand is a hand without a body that searches out individuals and drags them deeper into the marsh. In this way, it is sort of a flesh and more proactive will-o-wisp. The origin of this mysterious monstrous hand are not reported.

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Other free hands are more noble caliber, especially regarding writing. The most famous precedent is from the Bible, specifically the book of Daniel. Here the hand is not dead, but is a supernatural agent anyway. It communicates a divine message, as the dead often do. The message is ignored, and then what happens when you ignore the messages of the gods happens.

The power of a hanged man’s hand to heal is a novel to me. The role of the dead as a sort of healing means is not terrible new, if only as ancestors possessing mastery of the dead by association. In popular culture, the dead are more malicious nowadays it seems.

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The context, however, is less jarring when compared to the notion of saint’s relics. Saint relics frequently have healing capacity, being empowered by the holiness they bore in life. Often, though not always, portions of the body are considered relics of the saint. These relics are, of course, not the regarded as the same sort of person as a criminal is. However, many saints are martyr’d or sacrificed by the state. This might be a point of connection between the two, but little else. I have yet to find a saint who’s hand wrote beyond the grave anyway.

The idea that portions of the body contain portions of the soul or vital parts of the mind is rather old as well. The humor theory of medicine attributes emotions to various fluids. While the soul itself is not a physical component, it’s possible to alter thoughts in that way. The Egyptian theory of the soul traced the various portions of it—in Egyptian theory, there are five portions of the soul—to specific organs that were preserved in canopic jars.

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The discovery of a dead writing hand is probably a good portion of this story. A novelist dies, but then suddenly his hand is heard scratching at the coffin. There is a record of many forms safety coffins, that warn people if they have buried their loved ones alive. The scratching of a hand or the ringing of a funeral bell therefore serve as a good start. Imagine the horror of only the hand, the instrument of art, being alive and crawling spider like out of the crave after it was dug up. Then, such a thing produces art…but art of what sort? What writing does it bring froth from beyond the world? What poetry does something that is only a hand produce? Which has no eyes to see, no ears to hear, no mouth to speak, that operates only on a detached sense of touch?

The role of inhuman or altered art in Lovecraft is something we explored before, although there it was more in the form of inspiration. Here I think we have the chance to return, from the perspective not of an artist but of an audience for the audience.

We would be remiss not to note the notion of quite literal posthumous publishing seriously. After all, it is what we claim to do here.

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Dreadful Tapping

This Week’s Prompt:52. Calling on the dead—voice or familiar sound in adjacent room.

The Previous Research:Calling Up the Dead

The four of us had heard of Master Dorthman’s services before the unfortunate accident. In that age, seances and masters of spiritual sciences were arising in a way that honestly spoke to either the authenticity of the science or the ultimate capacity for forgery and profit it presented to a bored elite. I will not say personally which I believe it is. In recent years, as my hair has greyed and age has slashed my face with a thousand daggers, it has become apparent that neither is forgery terribly profitable nor is the science as certain as once believed. However, this encounter of mine was at the heyday, and it is more of the certain then the profitable to record.

Master Dorthman was a medium that Timothy knew well at the time. Through some telegraphs and informal meetings, the Tim, Robert, myself, and Liza had agreed to seek out a medium for the upcoming anniversary of the departure of a devout spiritualist friend of ours. Drew had died in an ignoble way after a string of misfortune, and it was of our interest to see what had become of him in the hereafter. At the time, my curiosity was genuine.

 

Master Dorthman’s reputation was, according to Timothy, on the rise. We invited this up and coming man to meet us a few times before and he seemed charming enough. At the least, he would not be a bore if nothing came from his various devices for revealing letters of the dead in paper or hearing their sounds through a special silver horn.

So we sat in darkness, with the only illumination being a set of four candles at the corner of the board with letters. Dorthman, a lanky gaunt man with something of a goatee, all from his many prescribed ascetics, stared into space. The burnt incense formed a haze around his eyes as he hummed, to better receive the ghost of our dead friend before moving the viewing glass on the table. It was, Dorthman had explained, an old oriental trick to commune with the dead. The room was silent yet brimming with anticiation of some sign.

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And yet, it was still shocking when it came. We had expected Dorthman to open his eyes and proclaim something or in trance suddenly speak with dearly departed Donald’s voice. But no. It was a much smaller sign. From the hall outside, down the stairs towards the living room, came a tapping noise.

“Did you hear that?” I asked, turning from the cirlce.

“No doubt a rodent.” Tim muttered as Dorthman continued to hum.

“I doubted rodents made that sort of noise.” I said again, before the tapping resumed in a cascade.

“No, that’s no rodent.” Dorthman said, standing suddenly. “It is the spirit of the departed making his presence known. Right now, he makes clear his idenitity. The tapping, it is the way spirits show themselves and say who they are in their higher language, where the complexities of language are made more simple! Now, allow me to attend to you spirit!”

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And with that, he walked around the table his head held high, a candle in hand to descend down below into Donald’s ancestral home. The four of us sat in silence, unsure of our showman’s return. At last, Liza broke the silence.

“It did sound like a song I’d heard before. I hear out in the Americas, the mediums set up songs to lure the dead back.” Liza said, adjusting her dress.

“Well, that’d make sense. Music, it’s said, is the highest form of expression. The German barbarian might not understand much in his mechanical brain, but even he is susceptible to music. Why, in Africa–” Robert began, before I cut across.

“Yes, but Donald didn’t exactly have a knack for it in life did he?” I said, frowning. “He was rather unrefined in that–”

“I’ve found it yes!” Dorthman’s voice came up from across the hall. “I have found it, yes! Come and see, it’s wonderful! Though you will need a candle to see!”

“Don’t go down there yet.” I said, glaring at Tim. “Mere tapping might be many things. And I’m not so sure approaching a strange man in the dark is wise.”

“But if he’s found it, we ought to see!” Tim said, picking up one of the candles.

“What if it isn’t Donald? What if some robber has him by the throat, the tapping being some glass? Or worse, what if it’s some other apparition.” I said.

“What makes you think that?” Liza asked.

“When was the last medium who hollered at you to come down?” I asked.

“Perhaps he’s–” Tim’s discussion was stalled.

“Describe him!” Robert shouted, lifting a candle and nodding toward me. He slowly stood next to Tim.

“He has a long face, and lantern eyes! His left eye is a bit deformed!” Dorthman’s voice said. The gentlemen glanced at each other.

“Stay here. If it comes to something, we’ll come and get you.” Robert said. “The two of us, with these sticks between us, should be able to sort this out.”

And the two of them left us in the room. We could hear now the tapping from down stairs as they descended, thumping down flawless wooden steps. The tapping was a pattern, but not one we could determine. It was to music what glossolalia is to speech. Recognizable, but utterly divorced from familiarity.

“Maybe…Maybe we should try to finish the séance without them?” Liza asked, shuffling so she was across from on the spirit board after what I later gathered were about ten minutes passed. The tapping had decayed again into silence. With a shrug I joined her on the other side.

Liza had been to a séance before this, and so was more than willing to guide me along the process of the spirit board are erstwhile medium had left behind. Putting both hands on the piece, she gestured for me to follow suit. She closed her eyes and said something I couldn’t hear. At the first feeling of movement, I started my hands back, as did Liza. We stared at each other, expecting the other to confess to being the source of the motive force. Then slowly, we turned our gaze to the viewing piece, as it slowly began to move across the screen.

Some may ascribe this motion to a number of spiritualist tricks. Magnets and electricity are often involved in such deceptions, or perhaps subtle motions by some unseen mechanism that Dorthman had told Liza of before hand. But for myself, Liza seemed to startled to be implicated. Again, it is possible that what occurred was some forgery with which she was complicit. As she left the world in the sieges since, and never confessed any such thing to me, I am doubtful the truth will be known. Thus, I stress, I am only putting to pen what I myself saw.

For the small viewer began to move hesitantly across the table. It gained confidence as it did, finding its bearings and at last with precision began to spell out a phrase: Not Me.

There was a moments confusion, before we heard Robert and Tim’s voices from the stair well, and Dorthman’s from the ground floor.

“Its Donald! Come down, you have to see this! Donald’s back!” Tim’s said, his footfalls coming closer to the door. Recalling the promise the gentlemen had made, we wait. But there was silence as Tim stood before the door. No light cast from his candle inward. The door, held shut, betrayed nothing but darkness beyond.

Then, that dreadful tapping sound began on the door.It was more layered now, as hundreds of fingers rapping on the door, prodding it and testing it.

“Won’t you let me in?” Tim’s voice said from some far off distant cavern. I put my hand on Liza’s knee and shook my head in case she had not yet understood what danger we were in.

The rapping continued, and the voice did as well. Sometimes Robert, sometimes Tim, sometimes Dorthman. But never Donald’s. So we stayed there, vigilant as the night slowly faded into day. Then, when the rapping ceased, the door opened. For a moment, we saw a terrible Hecatoncheir, arms outstretched in a web of flesh and muscle around the door frame. But it was quick to become smoke before it could become anything too real.

HundredHands.png

We found Robert and Timothy slumped on the stairwell, candlesticks still in hand. We roused them with some difficulty, fearing at first they had joined Donald in the here after. As for Dorthman, his location was revealed with the sound of the slamming of the front door. We last heard he had headed across the channel to seek more continental success. I wonder if this was his first encounter. I wonder also, how he awoke before the others.


 

I’m rather fond of this one. I think the basic presence of a seance gone awry is a good one, and allowing the iniatal contact to be a false ghost might be a good start. I think it could have been doubled in length, but finals week is upon me, so doing so was not plausible at the moment.  The images used likewise are not ones I am particularly proud of.

Next Week! We return to the dead, but not an entire corpse but rather a single dead hand, scrawling out its will.

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The Battle of Timalt Tower

This Week’s Prompt:26. Dream of ancient castle stairs—sleeping guards—narrow window—battle on plain between men of England and men of yellow tabards with red dragons. Leader of English challenges leader of foe to single combat. They fight. Foe unhelmeted, but there is no head revealed. Whole army of foe fades into mist, and watcher finds himself to be the English knight on the plain, mounted. Looks at castle, and sees a peculiar concentration of fantastic clouds over the highest battlements.

The Research: The Storm Comes. The Dragon Roars.

Slowly I ascend the stairs of the old stone tower. Timalt was built in the old days, before the Normans came, before the Saxons came, before the Romans came, when all was still British in the North and South of the Isle. It’s stones were strong blocks from Faerie times, and its foundations the bones of the earth. I drifted up past sleeping guards, long enchanted by aged magics, to the roof of the tower. For outside there was the sound of clashing steel and the roar of the war horn.

I sat atop the towers roof, and saw the forces arrayed on the field. On the West end of the field, there was a host of Englishmen. Bright red were their shields, with the great wyvern of Wessex on their flags. Shining swords and spears of steel marked them, and they were the ones bellowing such dreadful horns. At their head stood a man with a great helm and sword, taller by a foot then his fellows, atop a mighty steed and dressed in chain.

Arrayed on the East side, with the setting sun, were men foreign and familiar to my eyes. Men in yellow shirts and tabards, come from forgotten hills and mountains. They bore no marks on their shields or banners, just a bright yellow plain. A host of great serpents, with red scales and eyes of fire walked and flew above them. They had teeth like swords and claws like spears, and from their mouth issued fire, that destroyer of cities.

At their head walked a man tall and mighty, like a giant born again. His blade was notched along it’s edges, and not of steel but some strange darker metal. He rode atop the greatest of the wyrms, a beast with five heads and belching thunder as well as flame. And he too was foreign and familiar. For the English had a name for his kind, that they oft forgot. These were the men beneath the hills and dales, whom the Faeries drove out when they fled. They were the sons of Death and Time, great terrors of the world. The clergy would say that they were the parody of man, made by the enemy. The wise speculate the opposite. That such beasts seem to have culture older than our own inclines unfortunate conclusions. They are the Igvs, creatures that have been and will be for many years to come.

The two engaged in melee for sometime. The English let loose their bows, raining arrows down on the wooden shields and scaly hides of the enemy. The response from the enemy is the calk-clak-clak and a loud whirring sound. A number of them lift up strange weapons that resemble spears and let loose volleys of darts and arrows. A multitude of the Englishmen are sent writhing, their armor glowing like stars atop the misty ground.

The swords now meet, and here at first the English have the advantage, driving steel between tabard and skin. But the serpents now roar, and at the front runners direction, belch fire onto the men. Shields are feeble tools against a dragons flame. The tall Englishman, their champion and leader, strides forward despite the fire and shouts in a strange tongue to his opposite. I understood it’s meaning, if not it’s words.

“This land is under my protection still, vile creature of the Gurganthor! By my blade you will be undone as before, and sent scurrying back below!”

I find it strange that he speaks not in English, doubly that he seems to know this dark king of the Igvs who swarm up with him. The King of the Igvs draws his marked blade in reply.

“The time has come, the sun is fading, the light below is growing great. Come forth, you fool of Avalon and lost kin, and meet your fate. My blade is sure, my body still, my blood will not be split.”

And with that the Englishman, or at least the body of one, charged forward. Some bravery infected his horse, stirring against it’s natural enemy. The Dragon roared, and the flame spilled forth, but by some trick the horse was unscathed. The clang of steel rang out as the king of Igvs and the English Lord dueled. There was an unusual grace to the King of Igvs, each blow slowly flowing into another. It was as if the sea rose and fell, wave after wave assaulting the coastline.

Perhaps, against the stony style of another English lord, or Saxon brute, or Norman conqueror, it would have overcome. The weapons of time are gradual and grinding, like wheels and sands. The steel makes roots that crack the armor, the shimmer bypasses it as the wind of ages does. But all these powers found a strange foe in the Englishman.

For he did not, as I expected and have observed elsewhere, hold a rigorous guard. His blade was swift, his arm a flickering flame. His shield relented and shifted, his body liquid and sinuous. As the King of Igvs grew in size, his arms swelling like trees, so did the Englishmen seem all the smaller and more nimble. His sword a stinger, his form a scorpion or a bees. One moment he was beneath the tremendous blow of the King of Igvs, the next he slipped away. Never has a mortal man been so artful.

At last, the fateful blow came. The Englishman’s sword felled the great tree of Igv’s head, freeing the great metal mask that lay on that knotted trunk. But then I was astonished. Beneath the helmet of the king, there was no head at all.

And then I was no longer on the oldest tower, atop the bones of the world. I had a body again, of tired flesh and sinew, of worn muscles and rapidly pulsing heart. I was atop a horse, who shook violently. I blinked rapidly, looking about, sword still in hand. I saw the old tower, the wretched tower, built round an old tree according to the men of God.

And atop it a strange storm flickered and flashed. My mind slowly receded from my memories in that tower, but I could not recall what had happened when I was here. I knew not why I was on the field, nor why I led so few against so many. Before me fled into the hills the Igvs, leaving clattering armor behind. And my memory with them threatened to recede, with nothing but the silver and crimson lighting left.

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The Storm Comes. The Dragon Roars.

This weeks prompt reads: 26. Dream of ancient castle stairs—sleeping guards—narrow window—battle on plain between men of England and men of yellow tabards with red dragons. Leader of English challenges leader of foe to single combat. They fight. Foe unhelmeted, but there is no head revealed. Whole army of foe fades into mist, and watcher finds himself to be the English knight on the plain, mounted. Looks at castle, and sees a peculiar concentration of fantastic clouds over the highest battlements.

The Resulting Story:The Battle of Timalt Tower
Welcome back, brothers and sisters of our esteemed order! We apologize for the delay, but tests must be taken and some recovery was need after dwelling on the abyss for too long. So we begin this week looking at something a bit new. A dream again, of a great battle worthy of the father of fantasy, with dragons and swords and duels and inhuman powers! So, let us take it a part bit by bit and begin.

I will not begin by examining the nature of the color yellow. That is a doomed rabbit hole of hundreds of cultural contexts that might not lead anywhere. I will, however, begin by addressing Mr. Lovecraft’s most famous character in yellow: The King in Yellow. The King in Yellow and his city of Carcosa actually predates the works of Lovecraft.

Yellow Sign.png

The King in Yellow is in fact a play initial, about the arrival of the King in Yellow from his realm of Hali. The book it is found in deals greatly with many horrifying concepts, but chiefly the play is famed for driving those made with truth at the end. The King in Yellow comes as a revelation, a terrible truth that will expand his realm over into Carcosa. The book as a whole focuses on similar revelers, artists and decadents.

For these, the King in Yellow is also often associated with decay, decedance, and entropy. And the allies of the men in yellow, the great red dragons, are similair. While the term dragon has grown to apply to just about anything vaguely serpentine (as giant applies to all things big, and fairy to all things magical), there is something of a concrete definition to be found. In general, a dragon is a serpentine creature, possessing magical powers, and often legs.

This includes a variety of creatures of course. The dragons of the Journey to the West, who are lords of vast treasure and the undersea realms, fit the mold as easily as the great wyrm Fafnir, a transfigured dwarf of the Volsung saga. It also includes perhaps the Feathered Serpent (a proper deity, who we will discuss on article only to him and his kin), and my favorite dragons: the slavic Zmey, who have three heads and spit thunder and occasionally have children with mortals.

zmey

Best dragon.

But these dragons are known to Englishmen, and are brilliant red. The color is the key here. And as I would not try and unearth all the secrets of the color yellow, I will likewise not do so with red. But a red dragon? That symbol is known. The red dragon, as those who play various tabeltop games or read Biblical lore might know, is the most fearsome of all kinds. For that is the beast of revelation, the great dragon with seven heads and seven crowns upon it’s heads, and a blasphemy on each crown.

RedDragonRevelation.png

So we have an allegiance of somewhat diabolic forces, and an air of enchantment. For if this story is to have weight, I would certainly not permit a dream to be the focus of an entire plot. Thus we have the last section, the strange clouds floating over the tower. Strange clouds and storms are often means of transportation and conscious movements.

But storms also have a second role: They are marks of strange and dangerous creatures. The Umu dabrutu, the Zu, and Pazuzu of Sumerian mythology, for example, are terribly and chaotic storms bearing weapons into battle. The Maruts form another host, underneath the greater storm gods. The thunder birds are kinder creatures, but still, beholding one forces one to do all things backwards. The storm, as a symbol of power among many a high god, is also a dangerous and chaotic force at times. In more recent times, ariel spirits are often counted among the ranks of demons and horrors.

lighting-sprites

In other news, these were seen above hurricane Matthew. Delightful.

Thus we have something of a notion of what is at stake. There are great forces of desolation and diobaltry on the rise, threatening to overcome the English dead. There is some strange sorcery on the tower, kindly or no. Perhaps some wizard has switched places with the leader of the english, in order to save them. Perhaps it was some working of the enemy leader, who possesses some magic if he’s able to hold a form without a head or body.

This would be where I dwelled a great deal on the formation of our story…but it is again rather plainly laid out. Likewise, we have a protagonist and narrator already. So again, we will leave it be with these wondering on the things themselves.

What relation to these yellow tabard men have with the dragons? Are the dragons their beasts of battle, or are they the dragons servants? They are willing to engage in a duel on foot, and appear to be proficient at their swordsman ship. The dragon might bespeak a welsh character, or even a Norse, with the dragon as a flag or figurehead on a ship.

somersetflag

What is the history of this war? Is it recent? Is it habitual, for men in yellow to assail England from some country unseen? We are told this is a group of Englishmen, not a group of men from any particular reason. This places it probably after the Norman Conquest, or shortly before it. Interestingly, if we take the terms metaphorically (and thus in a way that I, dear brothers and sisters, find incredibly dreary), we find that a flag of such resembles the flag of Somerset. Of course, Somerset is distinctly and definitely English. Still, perhaps that will be useful for your reconstruction.

We will come again next week, then, with this English leader’s corpse. And all will be well.

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