Under the Sea

This Week’s Prompt: 125. Man abandon’d by ship—swimming in sea—pickt up hours later with strange story of undersea region he has visited—mad??

The Resulting Story: The Sea Dane

This week’s prompt returns us to familiar waters for the Undead Author Society: Strange and terrifying sights beneath the sea. We’ve touched on undersea creatrues, regions, and even peoples before. We talked about the most famous, Atlantis, here. We discussed undersea bishops and mermaids here.

Now, this recalled to my mind another flooded ancient city of Northern Europe—specifically, Ys. When I first heard the story of Ys, I was traveling in Ireland. The tour guide told a version that said Ys was sunk by druids to protect it—and if anyone found the golden keys to the city, they would inherit its power and it would rise again.  The key was under an unmarked grave in Ireland, and hadn’t been found yet!

The version I was able to find more documentation of is slightly different. Ys is found off the coast of Brittany. The King of Is or Ys is Gradlon, with his daughter Dahut. The city is built on reclaimed land, with the golden keys to the dykes holding it fast during the day. Gradlon’s daughter Dahut takes the keys, in most versions, and opens the dykes to flood the city. The reason she does so varies—in many versions, she is impressing a flatterer or lover, and drunkenly mistakes the dykes for her palace. In others, a man with a red cane and beard has come to the city and stolen the keys to flood the city. As the city floods, a saint or holy man comes and tells the King to flee—offering his horse to escape with. As he flees, his daughter jumps on the horses back, and the horse stops. And only be throwing her off does he escape.

Some versions suggest she in turn became a mermaid, bringing us to a full circle of our story from the Netherlands. To this day, at low tide, the ruins of the city can still be somewhat seen. The ruins are again attributed to Roman builders at times, at others to ancient sources. At least one suggests the devil danced on the dykes, mocking the king with his keys. A source I couldn’t confirm (it is in French) has Dahut build the city with korrigan aid and command sea serpents to serve every citizen of the city, building wealth with raids and oceanic diving. This wealth made them cruel, and soon they drove beggars and others out of their homes and streets. And so they were buried by the sea. It is said, in some versions, that that Is or Ys will rise again, and the first to hear its bell toll will become king.

A comparable Welsh tale modifies things somewhat. The drunkard is now the steward, and there are references to an overflowing well instead of the sea that creates a lake around the city. Still, the King escapes and is the sole survivor.

Bomere pool was likewise formed from a flood. The village that once stood there turned back to idolatry and the worship of Norse gods, only mocking the Christian faith. When the priest warned them of God’s wrath, fish bones were sewn to his cassock and children pelted him with stones. This did little to dissuade the priest, and his endurance won over a few back to the faith. However, in December the rains began to fall.

The priest, walking one day, saw that the dykes were about to burst. He ran down to warn the feasting pagan people, but was dismissed for his kill-joy croaking. One might expect, when the flood came on Christmas Eve, he and his followers would be safe on their hill. But no—the waters hit them first, rising over the altar, and washing away the entire village. You can still, they say, hear the ringing of the Sanctus bell over the pool.

A variant of this story exists, however. It was placed back in the Roman Empire’s reign. In this version, the warning comes from a Roman soldier, sent by God to the town. However, only the daughter of the governor will listen to him. The rest of the town beat him and mock him, as they did the priest in the other story. The soldier would have married the Governor’s daughter, but it was not to be. On Easter, devastation came to the city—a flood so massive it wipe the city out entirely. It is said the Sun rejoiced and the cattle prayed to God in thanksgiving. The solider was spared, but his love was not. He can be seen when the church bells ring, rowing a boat looking for his lady love to this day.

Amusingly to me, one version of the story sets an even pettier reason for the flood—that a farmer was harvesting grain on Sunday.

There are stories in Shropeshire where greed is the ultimate cause: Ellesmere was once a great meadow, with a well of pure water in the center.  People came from all around for the drink, until a churlish man purchased the land and demanded payment for the water. The next day, his wife found the meadow turned into a vast, worthless pool. And the price the man had to pay was kept high, for his poor conduct. 

Donegal Bay has a number of tales of sunken and undersea cities as well. A castle, with fields of cattle, is said to be visible in the morning—and that its inhabitants dress in old and strange clothing. When a marquis went to reclaim some land, he found the sight and ceased all work on the project—if it was due to the beauty of the city or something else we don’t know.

Another nearby castle emerged for reasons that are by now familiar. The local chief was holding a feast and advised by a saint to invite the poor as well as the rich into his hall. When he refused, the saint cursed him and the waters flowed up from the well and over the city, drowning it—in another case, the wicked chief held the saint prisoner and the well water rose up to over take them.

Another Donegal Bay story tells of a visit to the undersea, but not how it came to be. A man was riding at sunset towards a lake, when he found himself on a mirrored surface. He continued until he came to an underground room, and was asked by many hosts there to eat and drink. However, for once, our hero remembers his folklore and flees—seizing a bottle as proof. He emerged onto shore and was so frightened by what he had experienced he died within the year—but he had proof.

Another hero did not listen, however, when he pursued his sheep into an undersea kingdom. Here he married a red headed woman and lived a happy life—before deciding after three days to return and tell his family. Sadly, he learned that time is different under the sea—and he had been gone three thousand years.

Moving away from the British Isles, we can find underwater kingdoms farther abroad in Nubia. Here we have the Aman Naltah, river inhabitants who live in castles beneath the Nile. They will regularly, reportedly, drag persons down into their world and gift them with divining powers upon returning them. They also cause halluncinations or amnesia by dragging people beneath the river, aid in exorcisms, and so on. But they are not the only inhabitants of the Nile.

There is also the Aman Doger. These creatures also inhabit the Nile, but are much more tangibile. They have donkey like legs, log tails, big ears, and burning vertical eyes that are the only visible sign of them during sun rise and sunset. They do attack people, particularly women, to acquire gold for their taxes in their home country or to gain food. Robbery is not their only trick—they will lure people to the shore by calling their name, and then suck breath and blood from their nostrils, draining their strength. Being nocturnal and terrifying creatures, they prey on children of course. And most terrible of all, they will break vehicles and steal dates.

The more fascinating part for our purposes is the purported origin of the creatures. In one instance, a travelling sufi was rejected by pagan peoples. He cursed them to a terrible form as punishment, in a way familiar to the above. In some cases, this was the fate of all the original inhabitants of Nubia. Another, more modern-set origin says that when the British colonized Sudan, one tribe would not pay their taxes and rebelled. Sadly, they lacked gold and guns—so they made use of their sorcery to become river beings. Tragically, their sorecery was their undoing—they lost not only their wits and appearance, but became forever hungry and in need of wealth to pay their new overlords beneath the waves.

At least one story has such a spell lifted by a sword being cast through the Aman Doger, who afterwards retursn to Sudan to take up work as a merchant. It should be noted that, as a bewitched tribe, the sorcerers of the region have power over them. And as monstrous creatures, the appropriate verses of the Koran will disperse them.

Further from the Isles still is a tale from Micronesia. The handsome son of the chief of the Lugenfanu on Losap was on a boat to Truk when they came to a group of whales. However, these whales were actually girls in disguise and one of them, taking a fancy to the boy, knocked him overboard. The men on the boat did not notice, and so he was left swimming.

At least one text refers to them as dolphins, which is more reasonable and thus less fun.

He preformed some diviniation magic to learn which direction was preferable for him to travel. When it favors none, he asks if diving down would be best—and the magic says it is. So he dives down beneath the waves. There he found a clean and wonderful island, with a large pool in the middle, deep and wide. He hid in nearby bushes to see if anyone would come to the pool and bath. And soon the whales came, and each leaped into the pool from the salt water and removed their skin, revealing themselves to be beautiful girls.

Now, this story being an animal bride story (in a way), the boy finds the skin of the prettiest and steals it, for he is intent on making the prettiest of these whale women his wife. Unlike many such thieves, however, he quickly reveals he has the skin and that he hid it so the two of them could talk. After learning his story, she invites him home—sorry that she was the whale to knock him overboard.

At the home, her sisters arrive. The woman hides the boy, promising to keep him safe. The whale girl in turn ask why they can smell a foreign human in their home—with some agreeing to be his friend if he is a boy, others saying they will hate them regardless of boy or girl, and others promising to beat and murder him.  At least the first time—the second time they ask, they agree to be friends or even marry him.

So they all marry him, and agree that one will stay with him at all times while they are about. And in this time, the boy teaches them cooking for they did not know how to cook meals and hade been eating raw fruits. AT last, the prettiest girl’s turn comes again and the boy asks to be taken home again. The sisters are deeply unhappy, but they hold a feast to send him off and teach him how to revive dead whales, should they awash on his shore.

The undersea realms are thus places of many wonderous magics, where one can drift without being entirely aware. It is not surprising that shipwrecked sailors might dream of them—we have comparable cities in stories of the Flat Earth, where lineages of magicians have dwelt beneath the sea.

Our story would then follow the mad sailors story, their descent downward into this realm of magic and wonder, and their eventual return to the surface. Would it be a land of fish men, sorcerers, fae, or even the dead? What world will he return to? What treasure or proof will he steal? Come and see next time!

Bibliography

Doan, James. “The Legend of the Sunken City in Welsh and Breton Tradition” Folklore, Vol. 92, No. 1 (1981), pp. 77-83. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd.

Kennedy, John G. “Aman Doger: Nubian Monster of the Nile.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 83, no. 330, 1970, pp. 438–445. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/539665. Accessed 2 Feb. 2021.

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

Meder, Theo. The Flying Dutchman and Other Folktales from the Netherlands. Libraries Unlimited, 2008.

Meehan, Helen. “Underwater Worlds of the Donegal Bay Area.” Béaloideas, vol. 71, 2003, pp. 1–12. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20520823. Accessed 2 Feb. 2021.

Mitchell, Roger E. “The Folktales of Micronesia.” Asian Folklore Studies, vol. 32, 1973, pp. 1–276. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1177461. Accessed 2 Feb. 2021.

The Flood

This Week’s Prompt: 104. Old sea tavern now far inland from made land. Strange occurrences—sound of lapping of waves. [“Vacancy at the Fenrick Inn” by F. Omar Telan]

The Prior Research:Dutch Tales About the Sea

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The light house of the Shellburg family was the only famous thing they still had to their name. Old sea charms still hung from the poor family home, occasionally jostled by the playing children. Joseph and his brother, Maurice, remembered the jade statues from China, the gold from the New World, and ivory chess pieces from India. But then they killed the sea.

The children of the town often wonder at the lighthouse now, miles and miles away from and jutting out of  a church, a looming steeple. No light shines from it anymore, but a dolling sound is heard every hour, ringing from its sturdy foundations. They don’t rember that the rocking outcroppings they play on were once buried beneath the ocean waves, who’s shore washed over their school. When their older they learn such fanciful things, when the world feels more certain.

And when the sea died, the sailors moved with it. For the most part, they went with the tide, towards new docks and ports, where their trade was still of worth. But Captain Shellburg was growing old for the sea, and the work of a farm seemed to his liking. When the new land was laid, he set up home around the lighthouse his brother manned, and bought land from the Livington family.

Lighthouse1

Joseph Shellburg cursed his grandfather’s memory. For the Captain, as he was known among the family, knew little of land and was perhaps swept up in romantic memory. He bought land worth little, marshy land on which little grew. Nothing of worth, the Livingtons boasted in the bars, ever came from Shellburg soil.

And so fortunes dwindled, portion by portion. At last, they had to sell the land, retreating up into the great lighthouse that now looked over farmland for miles around. Joseph had protested the last indignity by the Livington family, who had asked that the house be scrapped. It was an unsightly thing, they said, and served no real purpose. The new church needed a steeple, they said, and there was plenty of stone to be found in the old light house.

It was the priest, Edward, who suggested otherwise.

“We perhaps do not need a new tower—rather, could we use the lighthouse itself? Build round it. It has such a lovely few of the town.” Father Edward said, his constantly shaking hands stroking his chin. “And of course, we are called to be fishers of men. The tower once lead ships to shore, perhaps its bell will call souls to salvation.”

Joseph was thankful, especially when he secured work for his son as the bell-ringer—he himself had found employment with the little food that did grow on the land. Still, he loathed that bell as it woke him from his recollections every hour. An ultimate charity, yes, but a reminder of what had been lost with the sea.

The bell tolled five times, as Joseph looked up from the field. The sun was still high in the sky. But he had worked the agreed amount, and collected his share from Coreman. The Coreman’s farms were not the best off, but Joseph would rather work to aid a poor man than beg for scraps from the Livingtons. He already had to see them at the inn, he would loath to see them during the day.

At Roger Coreman’s request, Joseph brought in some water from the well for the evening. And it was then, while walking to the well and the tree, that Joseph saw something strange. A gull circled over head, landing on the top of the well and squawking.

Seagull

“Run along, little bird.” Joseph said, tossing a stick at the gull. “There is no sea here, no fish for you.”

The gull fluttered away but stayed a moment longer, squawking defiantly. Joseph threw a stone to frighten the creature off. It would starve, Joseph thought, among the farms so far from the shore.

He lowered the bucket down into the well, deep into the fresh water. After a moment he raised it back up—and the rope shook violently. Staring down, Joseph saw…a shape in the water dark, moving and shaking the bucket. He frowned as the bucket came up—and found a squirming scaly fish within. Carefully, Joseph removed the fish.

“Ah, did he drop you in here? What a strange present from an old gull.” Joseph said, frowning. “But you need not suffer like me. Let me set you back, into your little sea.”

And he gently lowered the bucket back down. When he came up again, the water was clear and clean as it ever was.  He brought it back to Coreman, who thanked him and paid a little extra for the small favor.

Joseph set back towards the town center now, ragged and worn. He met Maurice at the entrance, as a toll rang out from the old light house. His younger brother was wideshoulder and prone to smiles—and had found an old sight in the town. A black cat, purring as he scratched beneath its chin.

“Ah, they’ll be calling us witches again if you do that.” Joseph said shaking his head.

“Oh, but look at the poor thing.” Maurice said, reaching behind the ears. “Remember, when there were dozens of these?”

“Yeah, two for a ship, catching rats and the like.” Joseph said, admiring the cat, it’s white star chest born proudly. “But people talk.”

“Let them talk.” Maurice said, waving his hand. “There isn’t any witchcraft in cats, no more than there was in our knots and charms from the ships, nor in the old driftwood we played with.”

Joseph nodded. The Livingtons liked cats—everyone in town liked cats. But black cats brought storms, and witches. Joseph had a hid a few wild ones as a child, but they all eventually vanished.

“Fair, fair. Keep it out of sight, I’m hitting the old Mermaid.” Joseph said, waving him off and holding up his extra pay. “Enough to make the place tolerable.”

“I’ll catch up.” Maurice said, the cat having settled and curled up on the barrel.

The old Mermaid had once been a rickety wooden tavern, but in the generations since the Captain, stone had been laid around it’s foundations. It was an impressive building now, pillars on the front, a carving of a twin-tailed mermaid atop the entrance. The lights inside were still warm, and the bartender still fond of the Shellburg family. Inside, it hadn’t changed at all. The tables were the same, some cracked and wobbly. The booths at the edge were new, but little else.

Joseph even heard the tide sometimes, sitting with his drink. A dull rumbling, sloshing sound beneath the floorboards. He took a drink and sighed, waiting for Maurice to come back. No doubt smuggling in the black cat.

He blinked at the taste of the beer, staring down at the cup. The taste of seaweed in it. And a salt-smelling wind battered on the doors and windows. As the bell tolled, he even heard…a dull roar. Foam rose from the cracks for a moment, a fog out of the floorboards.

FloodWaters

Joseph stood up, as the room seemed to rock. A roar grew outside. Louder and louder. He reached the door, the ground sinking beneath his feet. His shoe nearly stuck in the new muddy stone. The sound, the dreadful sound—there it was. Growing from the North, like a roused lion. Transfixed, he barely noticed Maurice pulling his jacket back, black cat around his back.

“Flood!” Maurice shouted, as he ran, to drunken patrons and confused  passersby. “Flood! Get to high ground!”

“Flood?” One of the Livingtons said, and laughed. “Don’t you know, boy—the sea is dead!”

Maurice was frantic in pulling his dullard older brother up and up to their only home, the tolling light house. He shouted and railed, but none would believe him that a flood was coming. Even as seagulls circled and settled atop the roofs. Even as the ground heaved and sank and slipped. Even as the darkness of night settled over the land, only the rounding bell to guide them up.

The sea roared to life, swallowing field and home, waves crashing over roofs—only the lighthouse remained.



This story is one of my favorites, even if I think it’s half finished. I think at the moment, its a bit too slow and not quite odd enough–the tension doesn’t build appropriately, and the ending is a bit sudden. But it has more promise than most! Next time, a return to a common topic of our research–the hungry dead!

The Gate to Nothing

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

The Resulting Story:It Fades,It All Fades

The prompt this week is one of a cataclysm made by human kind’s ascension to an unacceptable height, specifically beyond the bounds of the earth into the stars. There are echoes of similar stories in both Classical and Biblical stories of hubris that we will discuss before examining the possible story routes this might take, from stories of survival to stories of despair. And perhaps how each could take the form of horror.

Hubris is a tradition among the Greeks for years. It is perhaps best and most famously expressed in the story of Icarus, where in Daedulus is imprisoned by King Minos in a labyrinth of his own construction. Daedalus constructs two sets of wings using wax and feathers in order that he and his son might fly across the sea and escape. He warns Icarus not to draw too close to the sea, or the waves will engulf him, or too close to the sun, where the wax will melt. Filled with joy at his wings, however, Icarus flys toward the sun and then plummets to his death as his wings melt away.

Bellérophon.png

Bellérophon, one of the first heroes of Greek Myth, likewise meets his death in ascending. With the horse Pegasus, he attempted to ascend Olympus after slaying the Chimera. He attempts this twice over Pegasus’s protests. The third time, Pegasus bucks him per Zeus’s instructions, and Bellérophon…well, plummets to his death.

Noah.png

These two stories of hubris, however, are personal tales. The prompt is regarding one of more cosmic significance. And for that, there is the time honored tradition of the deluge story. The deluge is a tradition across the world, and often has something to do with humanities…problems. Among the Greeks, the Deluge was over the decline of Bronze Age man. Among those of the Near East it was due to the noise caused by humans, disturbing the sleep of the gods. The Bible implies, by placement, that the flood was caused by perhaps the Nephilim or the raising of the Tower of Babel. The Maya story varies, but reasons include transgression or neglect of proper duties.

I could not locate the cause of the Hindu flood, which was also survived by a man with a boat. This begins the second theme of these myths: after the deluge, the survivors (if there are any. The Maya story has every member of that race of mankind destroyed) repopulate the earth and often play some role in defining the laws that are to come. This next race of human kind is almost always shorter lived and less grand then their ancestors as well. But they are more pious or perhaps more strongly instructed to avoid offending gods in that way.

The flood then is the means by which the divine punishes mankind for stepping past his bonds. But…well, the heat death of existence is a good deal more permanent then that. Heat death is the reduction of all movement, all existence to nothing. The prompts to something more like the end of Ragnarok or the floods of fire in Revelation, which have a sense of total annihilation. These though are eventually followed by rebirth. The death of the Sun in Egyptian and Aztec myth is more akin perhaps, but still not quite imminent enough.

No we must abandon folklore here, I fear. It is too cheerful and lacks the sort of dread and doom that this story seems to imply. The fear being invoked here is one of emptiness, of annihilation in every capacity. It’s an almost tragic doom decreed by fate. And for that, inspiration might come from the realm of Poetry.

Particularly, the poems around the end of World War 1 come to mine. T.S. Elliot’s Hollow Men at the end becomes that disturbed and doomed atmosphere. The Second Coming by Yeats is much similar, although one filled with dread of a coming future more than a wasteland. There is in both, however, a sense of collapse of the world and everything around it. From these we might create an account of the final days of the universe.

Yeats.png

The horror of annihilation must be balanced against the implicate tragedy. After all, while a slow death of existence is somewhat horrifying in the existential way, it is …well, rather dull. By definition, little happens as the universe winds down. It is a whimpering slow death, not the grand death of dramas. How to make that engaging then?

Well, partially this can be achieved by drawing an omniscient description of decay, but a purely descriptive story is rather boring as well. No, it occurs rather more interesting to describe how the last man becomes the last. The wandering of two souls, one on the verge of death, the other weighing whether to follow him into the void that expands forever outward and inward. Or perhaps the person struggles in vain to reverse the collapse? That might be the best yet.

Yes, an island floating in the void, as the ground around it breaks apart, as the plants begin to wither provides an excellent marker of time as things end. Who these people are is another matter entirely. I am not sure myself. I would be in favor of scholars and scientists, stereo typically those most capable of such feats as to hold back the flood gates of oblivion.

That is all I have for this prompt this time. But maybe, in this broken jaw bone of lost kingdoms, you have seen etched something grander. Something more beautiful. Or more dreadful. Similar topics have been discussed here and here.

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