Death Lights on the Marshland

This Week’s Prompt: 114. Death lights dancing over a salt marsh.

The Resulting Story: Marshlights

Strange lights floating over wild places are well accounted for in Northern Europe and beyond—the dancing will-o-wisp or Ignis Fatuus is a rather common trope around the world. A number of countries ascribe their origins to the dead stuck wandering the world—they are in Sweden the dead who have left unfinished business, in Denmark they are spirits of unbaptized children seeking baptism by leading to water. In parts of England they are torches carried by lantern men or by the famed Robin Goodfellow. Stories of their origins however are varied.

One from England tells us of a man named Will who spent a life time of wickedness as a smith—yet when a traveler was in need of a new wheel for his cart, Will quickly repaired it. As luck would have it, the traveler was none other than Saint Peter, who granted any wish Will wanted. Will asked to live his life again and—instead of repenting—lived another life of debauchery and wickedness. Having now finished two lives of sin, he expected hell’s gates to open for him. But they were barred. The Devil told Will that, with his experience in sin, he would easily overcome the Devil were he let in. So he was sent back. Of course, such deeds barred him from Heaven as well—and so Will now wonders the world, with only an ember of Hell to keep him warm on the swamp lands.

A comparable tale—traveling Saint Peter, blacksmith given wishes, banned from Hell—comes from Thuringia, Germany. This time, Saint Peter granted him three boons—as long as he didn’t “forget the best”. The man asked for two magical powers, that none could enter his house without his permission except through the keyhole and that any who climbed his pear tree couldn’t come down without his permission. And for his third wish, rather than eternal happiness, he asked for a never ending bottle of schnapps that granted eternal youth. And with these, he trapped both Death and the Devil and lived happily. That is until all his neighbors and friends died. He then went to Heaven’s gates, but Saint Peter rejected him for not asking for the Best—that is, eternal happiness. This smith then dwells under the mountain with the Emperor, shoeing his knights until they return.

In Wales, a man named Sion Daffyd made a deal with the Devil, on the condition that if he could cling to something successfully the Devil could not take him. The Devil eventually came and seized him—but Sion begged he be allowed to taste an apple to wet his lips for hell. The Devil consented, and predictably Sion clung to the tree for dear life. The Devil relented. Heaven however still banned him, and so Sion became a fairy.

A similar Jack exists in Nova Scotia, Canada—perhaps unsurprising given the colonial origins. Here, notably, the Devil is the one to grant the wishes instead of Saint Peter. Still, the effect is the same—the devil is bound first to a spot, then up a tree, and then told to transport sand from one side of the counter to the other, one grain at a time. At last, he gives up in frustration and casts out the all to clever Jack.  He gives him a lantern to roam with, ever after.

In Cambridgeshire, in the Fens, there is a particular kind of will-o-wisp. This apparition appears to be a man on horseback, running and holding a lantern aloft. We can find also a strange fiend here called the Lantern Man. While it’s not specified that this particular marsh fiend glows, his name associates him with the other foolish lights. Hunters keep some distance from the creature, as whistling for dogs will attract him and the only way to escape his wrath is to lie face down and fill your mouth with mud so that the fiery fiend will pass you without incident.

In Nova Scotia, there are stories of strange balls of fire—flames of unknown origin, more often then just the dead. A man walking home once saw a rabbit on his foot, and when he kicked it, it erupted into painless fire. The man was then struck by an immense weight until he managed to get home.

The Lantern Man connects us to a more distant group of ominous fires. In Trinidad, we have a variant of the demon tree story, associated with local witches. These witches, as we mentioned here when discussing swamp creatures of Louisiana and the surrounding region, shed their skin at night to take the form of flying balls of light and gather blood for their patron held in a tree. Louisiana itself has another strange swamp creature, Nalusa Falaya whose young are said to resemble children and float glowing in the swamps to lead travelers astray. They manage to float by removing their innards, allowing them to be perverse balloons. The Nalusa Falaya’s face is so dreadful that, if seen, it will knock a grown man unconscious. And while they are fallen over, the fiendish shadowy creature will put a curse on them to spread to all they meet.  

The Choctaw also tell of the Hashok Okwa Hui’ga in traditional stories. This being can only be seen at night, and even then only its heart can be seen. It lives near swamps, and attempts to lure people astray. In order to avoid being trapped, one must look away immediately upon spotting the glow. Otherwise, you will wander in circles without end.

Back to Wales, we have another swamp light—a creature called the Ellylldan. This creature lives on the edges of swamps, and glows with light. As it passes, nearby swamp creatures grow silent—and its light fades as one approaches, reappearing brilliantly as one moves. Often these creatures dance in the marshes and put men to sleep, and at least one account claims they are the same as the Pooka. This creature appears often in stories, mischievous and cruel. For our purposes, he too carries a lantern and leads travelers astray—often to high cliffs, near rushing rivers, where they nearly fall in before he escapes laughing.

One note I came across that interests me about these lights is the gradual decline of the creatures, as bogs and swamps are drains. In Wales and Manx, the cultivated field of the farmer explicitly made the region difficult or impossible for the fires to survive in. They thus have something of a tragic quality, as their environment is consumed. In Cambridgeshire, an observer noted that the loss of the bog and the increase in light pollution meant there were less and less will-o-wisps seen these days. There is, perhaps, a metaphor for the retreat of magic from modernity in that image. The fools light was dangerous and mischievous, but perhaps missed in the current times.

But beyond that, the nature of these lights from European lore seems durable. They are alluring lights, often of dead men but not always, who strive to lure you away from your path and often to your doom. Many are nefarious, wicked creatures—some the remains of men so clever and wicked that even the devil himself couldn’t match them. They live in swamps and often traveled but uninhabited places, and are often knowledgable in some way. Very few stories, strangely, mention actual deaths resulting from the lights. They are a nuisance more than a menace, which means drawing horror from them might require some stretching and creativity.

I have excluded two other mysterious lights for now, as not being exactly, well, marsh related. One is St. Elmo’s fire, a sea born anomaly where parts of a ship appear to be aflame. More extreme and out of my normal study—although not too far out—is the appearance of lights as UFOs. Most famously, there are the Foo Fighters (ah, not the band) who were sighted by World War II bombing crews. The idea of fairy concepts being repurposed into alien imagery is not without precedent—there has been research and discussion of how alien abduction and changeling or other fae stealing stories are markedly similar in details and distribution.

The other thing is the phrase “death lights” and the alluring, transfixing nature reminds me of Stephen King’s It, where the Dead Lights preform a similar role. In It they are of course more malevolent, consuming forces instead of mere tricksters—they drive men mad and consume their soul! There is also one of the most famous lights in Lovecraft, that haunts a blasted heath—the Color Out of Space, which is dangerous to have contact with and behold.

Bibliography

Bushnell, David I. “Myths of the Louisiana Choctaw.” American Anthropologist, vol. 12, no. 4, 1910, pp. 526–535. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/659795. Accessed 7 July 2020.

Cashen, William. Manx Folklore. Published by Douglas Johnson, 1912.

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.

An Ill Fated Boat Ride

This Week’s Prompt: Phleg′-e-thon: a river of liquid fire in Hades.

The Research:River of Fire

The river was great drain down the side of hills, a bright reddish brown even on the best of days. A dead snake constantly inching it’s way down, Mel would never normally go down near it. But she and Donna had made the promise to go and see if it was really true. If past the old statues, through the bent woods, and right before the lake that had somehow kept it’s clarity, on a moonlit night with no clouds in the sky, you really could see the dead.

You know it’s a rock formation, right? There’s a bunch of those. Or some mist or something.” Mel said, putting a white mask on as she got aboard the boat with Donna. They’d considered renting one, but the only boat at night was run by Mr. Gills. And Mr. Gills had one eye, kept three barely tamed dogs, and looked at people like they were meat. Donna was convinced he’d killed someone before. So they “found” an old rowboat.

Or swamp gas, maybe. But come on, what if it’s not?”

We’ve traveled down a dangerous river of slurp and who knows what to see the dead.”

And that’ll be awesome. C’mon, I borrowed a knife and got a new can of mace for this.” Donna said from the old boat. “We’ll pull over on the lake and see the moon at worst, and then trek back, and you can blog about how we wasted a night on an adventure! Or seeing the dead, now come on!”

Mel frowned, looking down the sides of the river, checking for the tenth time that she had her phone and keys. And then the began down the river.

RedRiverCover.png

The moonlight seemed to foul on the water. When you could make out it’s reflection, it was an outline of rotting cheese instead of the orange disk overhead. Mel saw some distant lights over the hills, probably a summer camp bonfire. It was oddly cold along the river, the summer heat sucked into the porous earth.

And who’s that?” Donna asked, shining a light on a marble calvary man covered in moss, his head having fallen off.

Judging by the…colorful base.” Mel said, squinting at the layered graffitti. “He’s at the least had an eventful love life. Name starts with an H…Henry?”

Henry, huh?” Donna said, shining the light at where the head would be. For an instant there was a face in the branches, grimacing from with flashing eyes and fading translucent skin. The tree lines became veins of invisible wounds along a shadow of a face. Mel blinked, and it was gone.

What war did we have that’s got a statue these days?”

Plenty?”

Okay, but which one that people leave in the middle of the woods?”

Mel had to pause at that. Yeah, you’d think a place that could afford a statue would move it. But they were drifting into older parts of town, which were more wild than others.

Maybe they tried. I read about that, back in Spain, that saint statues went back into the wilds if you tried to bring them back.” Mel said, pointing her flashlight into the nearer woods. The sudden movement of the flashlight caught some of the branches and a few birds fluttered away, cawing at being disturbed from sleeping.

Yeah, I would rather be asleep too, Mel thought. But a deal’s a deal.

That’s dumb. It’s a statue. Just move it back again.” Donna said frowning, her light catching on glittering cans that poked above the river’s sludge surface. With a flashlight instead of the moon on them, the metal became rusty detrius again. Mel wondered if stars worked like that. If you saw them too clearly, were they no longer beautiful?

I think the idea was it was the saints that moved them.” Mel said. The river had carried them past the last of the statues now. The gray and red iron of the cemetery was coming into sight now. Probably, Mel thought, the statue was a grave not a war memorial. Probably, the idea was that the cavalry man buried beneath would stand in an unstained, well kept forest of stones and sarcophagi. Maybe even surviving family or service men would visit him.

The Old Town cemetery had been so thoroguly reclaimed by the forest that there was burial a tombstone that could be read. Some tomb stones and family lots were knotted together, moss layered over them like a blanket over a group of hiding children. Some of the longer stones had croaking frogs on them, large white eyes reflecting the light perfectly back at Mel and Donna, little lanterns on the edge. And of course there were spider webs. Spider webs from branches to roots, among graves that could still be seen, running as a second fence between the iron one. Some spiraled, some just ran straight, a net of silk to catch flies that no doubt had been plentiful from all the bodies once.

Maybe the reconstruction club should do something down here.” Mel said.

The reconstruction club?”

The Historical society, the ancestry commune, I don’t know. People who have money to fix old stuff.”

Huh. Wonder if anyone related to the old town still lives around here. They’d probably want their grandparent’s old stuff fixed up.”

Charon's Boat.png

Mel nodded, before glancing over the hill. A dim orange light was starting to rise in the distance. It couldn’t be sunrise already, could it? No, no they’d been out here only a few hours. It must still be that bonfire. Man, that was a long party.

There was a sloshing not far behind as they passed the graveyard. A black boat gradually pulled up along side them. Mel and Donna exchanged looks as the growl of an angry dog was heard from what was clearly Gills ship.

Well, row! Mace probably won’t reach that high if he’s gonna kill us.” Donna said in a panic.

Mel began as best she could to push faster along the sludge. The larger boat moved along, foot steps echoing on deck as their smaller shipped slowly pulled ahead. At last they seemed safe, a good distance established. Unless, of course, he had a gun.

If he had a gun, we’d be screwed anyway.” Donna muttered when Mel mentioned it.

Maybe we should land?” Mel said, looking to the side of the river. The coast was a thin outline of reeds, but she could still make it out from the pebbles on the shore.

No, no. No. He’d just jump us there.” Donna said, not taking her eyes off the boat. “Damnit, what assholes is he bringing out here.”

Maybe he just sails down river at night?” Mel said, still catching her breath.

What, in the midlde of the night in this–” Donna stopped as Mel gestured at their boat with her hands.

Okay, but we have a good reason.”

We’re chasing a ghost story.” Mel groaned.

Look, I just-Oh shit, he’s started again. Paddle!”

You paddle.” Mel said, lying back and looking at the handful of dim stars in the sky. “I’m tired.”

Donna groaned, but grabbed the oars and began driving their boat back away from the ceaseless march of the more proper river boat. Mel watched as a figure came out with a lantern in hand on the prow. It seemed extremely reckless to sail without anyone steering. Donna’s rowing pushed them ahead again, past the cemetery and far from the boat.

Is he still following us?” Donna asked, sighing.

No…No, he pulled off, seems to have run ashore.” Mel said squinting. The orange on the horizon was growing behind the ship. Mel now heard the hiss of steam. The smell of burning filth came down on the wind ahead of the stream of fire that was snaking it’s way towards them. Fire full of smoke and dancing shadows, tongues of flame licking the sky.

Oh god, oh god.” Mel said, pointing vainly over Donna’s shoulder. Gills boat sat in front of the fire, back-lit by it as he waited by the side. The thick smoke and fire was gaining steam as Mel grabbed the oars from Donna and started peddling towards the shore.

River Of Fire.png

Adrenaline was pumping the oars, giving Mel’s arms any strength. Furious movement away from the fire was the best she could manage some of the water splashing over and into the boat as Donna turned herself to see the encroaching light. As Mel felt exhaustion take its toll, as the boat bumped against rocks hidden in the river, ruins of some long forgotten damn and bridge, the flames seemed alive. A mass of red and green and orange and blue teeth teetering over the water through pumes of smoke that masked it’s true bulk. It was almost transfixing, fire having that special power that it does over terrified and desperate minds.

The boat hit a final rock and Mel felt it slipping out from underneath, rolling onto it’s side. The water tasted worse then it smelled as Mel tried to swim out from under, flailing vainly towards the shore. There was a brief, panicked comfort in the cold water, even as a branch clung to Mel’s leg. Kicking violent, Mel pulled herself free at last and pulled herself to the shore.

RedRiverCover1.png

Only then did she turn back to see the branch, slumped in the river, overcome and lit by the fire. The smell of burning flesh filled her nose as she saw the dead floating down the stream.

****

Midterms put a great deal of temporal stress on this story. I like the idea of playing with the reality of the horror vs the literal tricks of light and shadow, but the ending is rushed and to be honest it doesn’t have the symbolic resonance the story deserved. But it was either wait another 2 weeks perfecting it, or sending this out. I’m disappointed that the fiftieth isn’t my best work, but that is nature of things sometimes.

Next week, we journey to a strange garden with stranger shadows.

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River of Fire

This Week’s Prompt:50. Phleg′-e-thon: a river of liquid fire in Hades.

The Resulting Story:Ill Fated Boat Ride
This week’s prompt appropriately enough brings us back to one of the richest goldmines that Mr. Lovecraft employs: Classical imagery and mythology. In this case, the Phlegethon, one of the rivers that runs along Hades, providing a boundary marker. The river itself is often described as alit with fire, flowing ( or “coiling”) into the depths of Tarturus, the closest thing to an infernal domain the Greeks had.

Phlegethon

Fittingly, then, Phlegethon has been maintained past the Classics into the imagery of Hell provided by Christian authors. Dante describes it as a river of blood and violence, boiling over as murderers and war criminals were forced to stay in it by patrolling centaurs. Milton places it and the other four rivers as parts of hell explored by the fallen angels, before the idea of tempting mortals is introduced. The Faeire Queene by Spencer has it scorch sinners, and even Mr. Lovecraft included it in the work “the Other Gods”.

However, as strange as a river of fire might sound, it is not alone in peculiar underworld rivers. Rivers, being natural dividers and boundary markers, often arise around the land of the dead, many with strange contents. Hubur, the Sumerian river of the dead, held dead souls in it’s depths against their will. Sillias, a river reported by a Greek traveler in India, allows nothing to float, but rather drags everything into it’s depths. The Vaitarna River is, to the sinless, a river of nectar. To the sinner, it appears filled with blood, bones, and pus. When the sinner approaches, flames appear everywhere. Those who try and cross, and are in fact sinners, will burn forever in the whirlpools in it’s depths.

Vaitarna.png

And of course there is Xibalba. Xibalba has a number of rivers. A river of blood, yes, but also a river of pus and a river of scorpions. These rivers mark the roads and borders of the Maya realm of the dead, to keep the living out and the dead within. The rivers must be crossed successfully,

These rivers often have fearsome guardians. Hubur has monsters with many arms demonic birds, the Phelegthon has it’s centaurs in Dante, and Vaitarna has hundreds of crocodiles and birds to devour the flesh of sinners before the cross.

Phlegethon2.png

Of course, rivers of fire are not merely fantastical. There are multiple records of polluted rivers bursting into flames or exploding, sometimes for shockingly long periods at a time. The resonance of damned souls burning and industrial waste igniting is perhaps not an accident. It is a potent image, fire snaking it’s way down what ought to be it’s relief, a boiling mass of suffering from what is normally life giving.

River On Fire.png

Rivers role with the dead we’ve discussed here, when talking of suicides at bridges, and here with Davey Jones. The river’s leading inexorably down to a place of punishment is not one we’ve directly addressed. However, as an image and mode for a story, flowing down a river unwittingly to doom seems as good a premise as any to describe the arc of a story. The realm of the dead is near the edge of the river, the damned are just below it’s surface struggling to be free.

I would focus on the rivers, then, and the journey down them rather than the dead itself. It can keep the story somewhat more grounded then we’ve been lately, more in the realm of the mortal than the completely supernatural. I’d suggest a borderline between the surreal but natural occurrence of flaming rivers and the wholly supernatural rivers of fire and hell would be a good place to work. A place of uncertainty, where the danger is real, but the extent is not completely clear. And the river is a good place to set such a story. Rivers are border places, where parties of either side might meet. It is a perpetual threshold between two places, endowed with motion onward.

The other recurring image is the attempt (and failure) to cross the river by sinful souls or inquisitive dead. Xibalba is the exception, of course, having been crossed and overthrown by the Maya Hero Twins, and even then it had more confounding traps past the river. Vaitarna allows people to cross with proper preparations, offerings, or after a lengthy time of suffering. Other rivers are generally safe to the sinless, a sort of natural filter.

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And of course, with many of these, the role of supernatural ferryman is a strong image. A ferryman who is more aware of the nature of the river and what’s around it. Charon serves this roll for the Styx, Guru’s for the Vaitarna, Virgil for Dante. These more than human guides might have a place in our story as well.

Come next week to see what corpse we pull from the boiling blood, and what it’s appearance resembles!

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The Fall of Anuel

This Weeks Prompt:48. Cities wiped out by supernatural wrath.

The Research:Calamity And Woe

Thul of the Golden Collar moved through the outer districts as a hare moves through the forest in dread. Beyond Anuel’s kingly walls of marble, lined with gold, there was all the ills a city might expect. The brand of high nobility on Thul’s brow gave him a degree of protection form banditry and worse as he moved through the market. But the fire roaring in the distance, the veiled bodies of the diseased glimpsed in boarded up homes, the hungry dogs that barked in the alleys thick with the stench of the dying were not as kind nor as polite as to excuse him.

Spice and sparse food were not what Thul’s purpose this day. Under the smog and smoke, he was looking for something peculiar to his soon-to-be married mistress. She was exacting, and Anuel’s gods were a greedy bunch. They hungered for blood and gold, and Thul had seen those slaves of less pure collars led screaming to be offered before the bloody handed lords of Anuel. But these would not do for princess Shapanat. The princess had deemed that only the sort fit for the highest of gods, made beautiful in the fires and grind of the city. A diamond the glistened in the rough, she said as she sent Thul out.

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He had his instruments of his temporary office. A staff topped with miniature hand carved of jade, to be used to point to the fortunate one. A crook to dissuade any of the masses from assailing him. And on his arm, a band like a serpent of silver as a final badge of office. So adorned, Thul set out among those bound in iron and brass, dregs of the city.

He saw while he walked the cities degenerate roads a peculiar sight. A man, dressed in nothing but his vast and unkempt beard. He was standing on a pile of broken boxes, jumping now from one crumbling, cracking bit of wood to another.

“Repent, oh gluttonous Anuel! Repent, for the gods skulk now in the hills and plan your ambush. Repent and they shall pass over you, and your wicked ways! For I have seen great lords of rust and rot, who will make your stones like dust and your irons sand!”

Thul ignored this latest doomsayer. If the gods had any plague for Anuel, it could not reach past the great walls. The gods of Anuel stood there resolute and guarded, pleased with the blood and fire given to them daily. But not far from him did Thul see what his mistress desired. A young child, skin as dark as the night sky, with eyes the color of the moon and day. The prophet protested more, but Thul parted him with the gesturing stick.

“You have been found in copper.” Thul said to the boy, who showed neither fear nor understanding. “You will be wrought into gold.”

They were the words with which to address a sacrifice. Thul found no wailing here, however, that he and others had grown accustomed to. Now crying mothers or threatening siblings. There was s sudden silence spreading from the boy, a ripple out as a hundred eyes stared at Thul as he walked back to the marble walls. They recalled stories of jackals and hyenas waiting in badlands, watching prey pass.

There was hunger in those eyes.

The day of the wedding between Shapanat and Marad was attended with much pomp and circumstance. The fleet of litters were gathered around the long table, with the many slave serving nobles waiting. With hands gloved in velvet and utensils as long as spear, they served the greatest guests, so that the air only barely touched them. Others, the lesser members, made a show of walking about in fantastic array, with masks and feathers and long flowing gowns and capes.

Decadence2.png

The newly wed royals sat atop their thrones, skin painted bright red and yellow with crowns of emeralds and sapphires. But one thing disturbed the serene surface peace of the court. As the ceremonies and gifts began to approach the greatest height, some of the guests noticed a new member among them. He had a mask of gold, that stretched from ear to ear, leaving only his eyes and forehead apparent. The rest was kept in a playful smile, like a statue carved by the wisest carver. A small whole in the mouth piece allowed him to speak, and what a voice it permitted. It was a soft thing, like a bird song in spring. But his words when he spoke where never soft.

“I have come to reclaim what the houses of Anuel have stolen from the lion, the bull, and the dragon.” He said, when asked of his purpose. “And I shall do so.”

He milled about in silks of silver and white, although some swore they saw a bleeding stain emerging on his side. His steps seemed like a delicate insect carefully crawling on the skin of a great beast, grace without any apparent thought to what he did. The stranger’s stir brought Thul’s attention, as he was sent to inquire of the strange debt collector.

“Lady Shapanat has heard that you believe she owes you some debt, and one great enough to interrupt this high and holy day.” He said, staring into the man’s eyes that seemed, if for a moment, to swirl like a serpents. “She would like to hear what is owed to you, or what you claim is. And if possible, she has given me authority to remedy it this night.”

“Ah, send a serf instead of facing the messenger yourself.” the man said smiling. “She has stolen the nations of the bull, the lives of the lion, and the might of the dragon. They have thus laid siege to her, from outside the walls with all their battery. Now, they have seen she has stolen something even more beloved. A boy they blessed for great things. Return him, and they shall abate.”

Thul did not have to return to his mistress to know her will in this matter. Delight was written across her face when she beheld the boy. Her wrath would be in equal measure, and would fall upon his back as soon as this impudent foreigner was ripped to shreds by eager hands.

“That is not acceptable.” Thul said simply. “We may compensate whoever it is that you represent, with a value in gold or jade that is equal to him in weight.”

“The gods deal in more than you, little man.”

As they spoke, the boy in question was lead atop the great circular sacrificial stone. Three bent gargoyles, with the heads of crocodiles and the bodies of leopards, held up the altar that was carved in the image of a hungering god. There was silence, as the sacrifices were, one by one, lead up to the altar. They were covered in oils, with feathers from their hair and prayers carved on their face. Twenty three were brought up before the boy, each pushed to their knees, and their throats slit so that their blood spilled into the mouth of the grim god of Anuel.

But when the boy was lead, with the horns of a bull on his head and chains of sparking silver around his arms, the crowd grew more silent yet, inhaling in awe the little sound there had been. For he looked the part of a small god, to be sacrificed to their anthrophagian lord. And some even wept, when he was slain on his knees like the others.

The weeping was prelude. Many touched their faces to find tears of blood, and some even swore the great crocodiles wept bleeding tears as well. But this was for a moment. In the next, the earth shook violently, rising and falling as if a herd of cattle ran under the surface, their backs pushing against the rocky ceiling of the cave. There was a sudden roar of thunder, but not a sight of lighting or a cloud in the sky. The altar cracked, the jaw of the god of Anuel forever open and broken by the rage of the unseen. And out poured a cloud of dust and smoke, a pillar of darkness rising into the sky.

Decadence3.png

The smoke hung over the noble quarter like a funeral shroud. Thul wondered at it as he stood on the balcony. He ought be overseeing the iron bound winemakers, or the copper servants taking food for his mistresses feast. But Thul of the Golden Collar felt no such compulsion to duty anymore. The other servants had fled or hid, as the storm and smoke settled.

In the distance beyond the wall, the fire raged. The child’s sacrifice and the omens hence had been magnified with time, echoing out and growing in power as they reached the edges of Anuel. People saw ghostly lions and specters with bloody hands roaming the streets,crying out for the boy.

The people were rioting. They were clawing like hungry wolves at the walls. They were pelting it with stones, hammering with iron tools that quarried mountains and fields. Thul had seen them on his walks with his mistress, watching the tide of glittering iron and flesh smash against the walls. They hadn’t broken through yet. But the walls couldn’t hold forever.

His mistress had fallen ill in this rain. It was sickly green or grey at times, and where it fell, all the crawling things of the world crawled forth. The cats of the house were often hard at work crushing and hunting the scorpions and ants and beetles and centipedes that were encroaching on the noble gardens. Such sights weaken her already failing constitution.

Thul watched and waited for the final sigh. He watched and waited for the hammering at the walls. As mighty as the marble was, lined with gold, it would bend and it would break. Already it’s varnish was rotting away, revealing gravel beneath the sheets of marble.

In his soul, Thul prayed that the gods so offended would come swiftly upon him. A crack, as the marble walls at last broke, seemed to promise just that.

****

I’m not the entirely happy with this piece. The writing outline was well made, but it deserves another pass or two. It occurred to me that the extended timeline would have worked better with a distraction from the Gods wrath. Some drama or nonsense that would occupy the time of the nobility (And the audience) as the tragedy mounted beside them. However, I couldn’t work one in that felt natural, so I dropped it in favor of what is here. If I come back to this, which I might, that will be among the first additions.

This was our second anniversary, although we did little with it. Next week, however, will be our clearest reference to some rather intriguing Lovecraftian lore: The demon sultan himself will be there for all to see.

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To the Beginning of It All

This Weeks Prompt: 34. Moving away from earth more swiftly than light—past gradually unfolded—horrible revelation.

The Research: The Start of It All

12.At the center of it all, at the dawn of it all, a fire burns. A single many colored point of light that sears itself into the minds and eyes of the three who behold it: philosopher, priest, and poet alike. It lingers there, igniting new candles beyond the glass veiwing station.

earthfromafar

1.It was a voyage unlike any other, crossing not just the encircled worlds of space but trespassing deep into Time’s domain. No longer would Chronos be some unconquerable titan or unpassable gateway. Rather now he would, like his mother Gaia and father Ouranos , be rendered a domain of humanity’s stolen thunderbolt.

11.As they flew back, the three candles saw worlds come into existences from the coalescing smoke whirling out of that first primordial flame. They saw as strange lights flickered brilliantly out of the darkness, pale in the presence of their eyes now burning inside out with a blaze. They could feel, as the ship pulled itself lurching back in time, a sensation spreading out of their eyes.

2.The passengers on this most auspicious voyage were carefully chosen. Not just scientists went aboard, although they were many. No, for this most deep dive into the origin of it all, all had a say. Thousands went aboard the great ark, to be conveyed homeward and see the on edge of all that was. Priests came to see God’s face. Poets came to hear the song that came from the stars. Farmers came to see that origin of life, that thing which gave them work and began the greatest of all gardens. Craftsmen came to see themselves reflected in the unfurling of all.

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10.As they flew back farther still, the fire spread within them. Most of them thought that their inside, their memories and their intuitions, their instincts and emotions would burn last. That the flame would strip first inhibitions and rules, that the inner id was an inflammable substance. They were grievously wrong. The fire was kin to those deep things, and caught them first. Flickering it stripped things bare. All those deep things sank into it as if it were a great vat of quicksand or a pit to the depths of the sea. And so it was as the planets cooled and the first stars died.

3.It was strange passing past earth and seeing the rise and fall of progressively smaller empires from miles away. Ripples seemed to cascade in waves over the world, astonishing everyone who watched. Jungles and forests spread, and then glaciers spread over them, and back and forth the eternal clock swung. As they passed farther out, they saw multitudes of other worlds coming into view.. Worlds that lacked the familiar buzz of comm chatter and radio signals. Worlds that they knew had been full of life when they began the journey.

9.The poet did as poets do when they find something new. He composed verses and rhymes and meters and couplets and similes and metaphors, relearning his trade first with the pastoral. And so, the fire spilled from his mouth and whole worlds were settled with things like shepherds as planets are like hills, and naiad inhabited rivers rolled out among the stars. Life began and ended as winters came and went with the poets unwavering diction. HE spoke not a word of language any would understand, but the language that all the world obeyed. For he had seen the fire.

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4.The engines whirled as the passengers went on and on. As they grew farther past, those with telescopes saw the belt of broken stones assemble itself into a whole of fire and soot. The children delighted themselves with the fire works of supernovas in the distance. They played with toys that now stood like giants over distant shapes. A few clamored to see the lone planets, lost hunks of ice roaring about the solar systems as this ship now did.

8.The priest did what all priests do when they behold revelation. She preached. She told the world of God and heaven, of profound unities and theorems, of mystic bonds that transcended apparent flesh and matter. And so between still shapeless smoke, flickers became clearer. The shepherds of mountains felt communion with one another. And fire, across all worlds, fire spread and delighted. The suns came into being more crisply, to imitate that first holiest of lights. And at her bidding did the first of those hilly worlds whirl down tumbling into the center of those stars, a sacrifice to the great powers that filled her. And she and the poet with words quarreled on things, and on the shape of things they had seen.

5.As the passed the edge of the cosmos, the passengers saw more of those many formed galaxies than all but the stargazers had seen. A brilliant web spread across the sky as they drew closer and closer together. It transfixed and tired many to behold such a vast shimmering form, a tapestry woven out of the cosmos.

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7.The philosopher first did what their kind always does when they behold new truth. Doubt. Question. Deny. It burned at the edges of the philosopher’s eyes, until at last it escaped. It sculpted around itself those unsightly laws. It molded worlds of it’s own accord, full of hypothetical creatures. Things built of solids, hive minds, dreamers without eyes who never knew their delusions from all that was. Gaseous forms that fed on stars, strange minds with axioms alien to any of the ancients or moderns. P-brane zombies, ideological impossibilities.

6.And so the two ships passed on silver streaks, most onboard the one sleeping as they passed into that realm that kept the priest, philosophic, and poet awake as they beheld the new wonders sweeping past.

 


That ends this tale. Here I tried something new with time as well as space. I hope the experimentation wasn’t too confusing. There isn’t much character here, and like many stories, I wish I had more time. But ah well. What did you conjure or concoct?

I’d also be remiss not to admit that this was the song that inspired most of this to a degree:

Next week, we step outside the cosmos. And see with new eyes.

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The Start of It All

This Weeks Prompt: 34. Moving away from earth more swiftly than light—past gradually unfolded—horrible revelation.

The Resulting Story :To the Beginning of It All


Well, this prompt is a bit peculiar. We are grounded in the motion of the narrative, a movement away from home into the past. The view expands both as we draw further back onto a larger horizon and as we travel back farther and farther into time. And of course, per Mr. Lovecraft’s usual, there is a horrifying revelation at the end of it all. Where to begin?

I will skip over how time travel occurs when one is moving at relativistic speeds, primarily because I am unqualified for such things. You, if you are interested, can find some sort of start here. Rather, lets begin by constructing something of a narrative arc out of the basics.

There sadly will not be much in the way of folklore or mythic routes this time until the end of the story, as time travel backwards is not a terribly common trope. Likewise, while some horrible revelation at the origin of all things might have something to work with, this will have to wait.

Rather we’ll start with the first beginning, the impetus for this fantastic voyage. And the clearest cause for that would be that most pure of scientific exploits: exploration. Mankind has been fascinated by it’s past and origins for as long as they have been forgotten, and the ability to view such an event would no doubt foster inquiry. There’s an entire novel in the build up, the people who would devise such a machine, and who would in the end put it to use.

But we don’t care about most of that. Instead, it is enough to say that such an engine has been built and sent a crew hurtling back through time, witnessing from greater and greater distance history flow in reverse. This will be the mid section of two great bulks of writing, as I’ve devised it. We must have an introduction to our characters, the conflicts in their lives, and the rules of the machinery at the start. Then we have this, the voyage itself, where we can include beautiful descriptions of the vision and where perhaps we will include the midpoint for the character conflict. It might instead itself by a the midpoint, a stunning display that changes the perspective on the world.

ShubNiggurath

She’s our mum. WE GET IT.

And the high point, the climax, the horrible revelation. And it is a…well, I hate to disparage Mr. Lovecraft, but there is a certain obsession with horrifying origins isn’t there? I could talk of Chaos and Tiamat again as I did here, but I feel we should move in a different sort of horror then here. The first thought is a taint the crew creates by it’s finally stop in the past. That some how, at the end of the journey, they damage things irreparably. This notion is not uncommon in pop culture time travel stories, and is often half the reason to have them. Alternatively, the voyagers ensure some great calamity they sought to stop, dooming them tragically. This also is a common complication, and thus not one I’d like to entertain.

But a third option presents itself as I think about all of this. What if we reverse the nature of the contamination, so that it’s no longer damaging the past but the future? What if something in those first few glorious moments of existence was extinguished long ago (and for good reason) and now, by means of this craft, finds it’s way back?

Now that we have the basics of the plot, we should lay the ground work of a setting. Given the nature of the prompt, the setting here is worth spending sometime ruminating on. We are dealing with something like an elevator or bottle episode: we have a small cast in the same area for almost the entire story. Sure, they might look outside the window to see history whirl past. There is a vast expanse, however, of characterization and atmosphere that can be imbued within something as small and claustrophobic as a spaceship.

space

Vast, isn’t it? Messy too.

This is apparent in not only works of horror (Event Horizon and Alien both seem rather relevant here), but in science fiction in general. The feel of the Enterprise is fundamentally different then that of the TARDIS.

So what about ours?

Well, our ship is best served, it seems, by a contrast to the strangeness flowing outside. An articulate, clean, neat, and white room with a large viewing mirror might serve to separate it from the swirl of lights and colors and darkness out in the void of space that grows and grows. More importantly, it is easily susceptible to whatever form our primeval corruption takes. Alternatively, we might make it something more lived in. A place that is familiar to the modern reader, like an airplane or a…well, sea ship. Circular tables, nice seats and benches, drinks about. The parts of truly human life. Disruption to this shouldn’t be too hard, and it would move things away from the sort of clinical future that is more common these days.

Now we have a what happens, a where it happens, a vague notion of when (honestly, with times being what they are, is it any matter if it’s in a century or a millennia?), but not a who it happens too. So, who do we need for this little story? Who needs to see the start of everything?

I should mention now that I am in the midst of reading some science fiction myself, namely Dan Simmon’s Hyperion. The book hands questions of knowledge quite well, and I might take a bit from it in the broad strokes of some of it’s characters. Namely, we have in Hyperion a Scholar, a Poet, and a Priest. Each by profession bears a different understanding of what we might for a moment call philosophic truth. Each communicates knowledge in it’s own way. And thus each might present an interesting opportunity to explore this corrupting force from the start of the world.

oya

The Yoruba Goddess Oya

The more I think on such a force, the less I like calling it corrupting however. I feel a more direct analog to creative forces might serve us better. Fire. Fire as a force at the start of existence has deep roots. The Eddas refer the fire of Muspelheim, the Yoruba of West Africa have Oya, and the reforming nature of volcanoes has been noted in the Pacific. All this in addition to fire’s…loaded symbolism as destroyer, refiner, creative spark, and maddening pain makes it a better start I feel than an abstract corruption or malady. Rather, some of that first fire at the dawn of all things follows the shuttle back.

And what happens when it returns? Hmph. That is a question I don’t yet have an answer too. I suppose it does what an especially creative fire does. Consume and filter and refine the world in the image of it’s wielder.

What did you dredge up from the edge of space dear reader? Have you seen some other horrid revelation sweeping the nations?

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