Bound Beneath The Earth

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

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

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

Plato's Cave.png

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

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

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


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

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

King in the Mountain.png

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

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

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

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

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

City of Brass.png

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

Bibliography:

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

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The Pale Hound

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

The Research: The Severn Valley

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

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

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

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

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

The Pale Hound1.png

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

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

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

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

PaleHound2.png

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

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

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

FinaleHills.png

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

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

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The Severn Valley

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

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

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

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

Severn River VAlley.png

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

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

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

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

Devil's Chair.png

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

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

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

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

Pooka

A Pooka, as illustrated by a Welshman

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

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

WildEdric.png

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

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

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

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What Was It?

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

The Relevant Research:The Little People In Life

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

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

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

“I thought the fall did that.”

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

“Aren’t women witches?”

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

“Okay. So I kill-”

“Deal with.”

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

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

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

BookFinished-Textless.png

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

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

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

Mare

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

Vergil had already concluded he was cursed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OpenGrave+Priest.png

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

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

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

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

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

“You’ll starve.” Dominic said gravely.

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

“Cursing folks.” Dominic said, frowning.

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

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

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

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

The Ribs.png

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

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

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

StarMouth.png

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

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

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

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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.

cat sith.png

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.

wolf

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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The Fantastic Fae From Faraway!

This Week’s Prompt: 24. Dunsany—Go-By Street. Man stumbles on dream world—returns to earth—seeks to go back—succeeds, but finds dream world ancient and decayed as though by thousands of years.

This Week’s Story: Part 1, Part 2

This prompt brings many things to mind. For starters, we have Dunsany again! We talked at length about him here, for those uninformed. Great author, and all of his works are available online. Go-By Street included!

And Go-By Street is…interesting as an inspiration, since it is a sequel to the Idles of Yann. I will spare you the summation, since the basic premise is outlined in the rest of the prompt. And what a prompt. We have a reversal of a folkloric trope here: Fairyland.

Do not mistake the lands of the fae for kind ones, however. Distant though they are, the fae are a capricious lot. Even when they intend the best, they often do harm. The most famous harm, and one that this bears more than a passing resemblance to, is the habit of changelings. Fae will, for a variety of reasons, make off with a child who isn’t properly guarded by iron (or cold iron, to distinguish from steel). They replace the child with one of their own who is elderly, or a wooden doll.

Changeling

When Subtly Is Secondary To “Screw The Fae”

The replaced child dies soon, and the stolen mortal suffers whatever fate the fae has in mind. Sometimes it is noble, as Oberon and Titianna’s during Midsummer’s Night Dream. Of course other times it is sinister. Fae are always in need of servants, you see. Even in Arthurian tales, there are stories of fae making off with brides and cattle of mortal lands, and taking them into their misty home.

The other story, and the more direct parallel to our prompt, is that of the traveler who comes to the Fae unawares. He falls in love with the extravagance, partakes of its food and perhaps falls in love with a woman. And then, one day, for whatever reason he decides to leave. This…never goes well. Typically, a condition is placed. The most famous is he must never leave his horse. And if or when he does, he will find age and time lost catch him. He is then rendered to dust.

The fate of faerie gold is likewise dim, turning to leaves upon returning. Beautiful steeds become donkeys. The gifts of the fae are only valuable in their realm, and like dreams, they fade in the realm of mortals. The nature of the fae (immortal, naturalistic, romantic, and captivating but fleeting) has captured imaginations of British authors for a good deal of time, and many a case they have played the role of the dead for cases like Sir Orfeo (the name may ring a bell).

OberonandTitianna

The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania, by Sir Joesph Noel Paton

On the positive end, the Queen of Elfland supposedly granted Thomas the Rhymer prophecy and other gifts. The Faeire Queene ( an epic poem of truly vast proportions) grants also the eponymous character status as a benevolent entity. The authorities in the fae realms tend to be more fickle, but these diamonds cannot be left out.
The mingling of medieval and pre-Christian thought have given the fae the odd place as “not demons, but not angels” in some literature. The origin sometimes given is angels unwilling to revolt or remain loyal (a characterizations perhaps rooted in dreams as paradise, but mortal. Or the fae’s own complex nature). Other times, the fae owe great debt to those below, and pay tithe of seven men and women to the Enemy yearly (again, yes, this is familiar to a certain Greek fable).
The dream world of the fae is therefore, to say the least, complicated. Other similar stories include Rip Van Winkle and the last knight of Charlemagne, who dose off only to find the world shifted centuries in their sleep. The existential dread, then, of one’s world changing while one ‘rests’ is old. Waking up to an unfamiliar place is perhaps, however, a good deal better than sleeping into one.
For dreams are often places of fantasy and desire. Dreams, dreams are escape from reality-as-prison. Even nightmares are escape for more mundane and decaying terrors. Dreams decaying into derelict and destitute ruins is …disheartening. What could so destroy the land of fancy?

TheWildHunt

Asgardseien by Peter Nicolai Arbo

This pursuit raises perhaps one last story of the fae. The hunt. Oh the Wild Hunt. Trumpeting they come, on the clouds and riding dark horses. Sometimes, they are fae. Sometimes they are the souls of the damned, doing the devils due. Sometimes they are spirits of storm, laughing in thunder. The Wild Hunt is always a terror, bearing pestilence and power. They make off with souls to the land of fae or the dead, and their leader is often the Grim One, the Allfather of the land (Odin to the Norse, Arthur in Brittany) or a particularly cursed man (Count Hackleburg, oddly enough).

The fae version has a unique touch, however. As they draw close, the footsteps sound more distant. As the victim escapes, they sound closer. Thus, the prey runs itself ragged, and rests in the time of emergency. The fae rider is often the color of storm clouds (Dark grey or pitch black). The force of chaos perhaps could be the source of the age and ruin in the dreamland.
Mention must be made of the more obvious notion (albeit after this prompt was written): Narnia. For those unfamiliar…go read Narnia. I don’t really have other advice. It likewise has time skips between visits to a fantastic realm by accident. Go read it. It’s no Dunsany, but Lewis is a decent writer for the most part, with bits of brilliance when he remembers he’s not writing theology.

CSLewis

I love pictures of old authors in black and white. Have you noticed yet?

Structure is heavily preset in the prompt, but I will suggest one theme/scene that occurs in a favorite modern show of mine. That is, the realization that this is a shifted time isn’t simply another land is the recognition by a small child who is now an old man. Otherwise, the structure works out as described above. I have an idea for this work, and with regards to that I will keep my own counsel.