Ruins in Alabama

This Week’s Prompt: 111. Ancient ruin in Alabama swamp—voodoo.

The Resulting Story:  Bath Bombs and Abandoned Houses

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Here we have a number of topics that I want to try and plumb. We have first an ancient ruin in Alabama—which to me means something made by the First Nations of Alabama, including the Alabama tribe. Then there is the notion of voodoo brought up again—a topic which I will try and discuss where relevant to Alabama, but which I have done considerably more research on in Louisiana. And then we will attempt to synthesize the two forces with other folklore of Alabama, in order to produce a framework for a horror story next week. Needless to say, this may be more grounded then the horror of the Isle of Curses.

My first stop in research, after reframing around Alabama, was a work titled Popular Beliefs and Practices from Alabama. The notion of voodoo put in my mind to go the Supernatural section. I found only had one reference to voodoo by name—that one could chant the word “modi” at a child, to sap their strength—but a number of supposed practices that seemed similar to popular conceptions of voodoo (and perhaps were called such by Mr. Lovecraft—for more of Mr. Lovecraft’s own reasons for invoking voodoo, see my article here).

For instance, to reverse a hex, one might stick pins in an image of the hexer. One can keep the devil at bay by putting on shoes in the right order. Those born with a caul can see what the author calls “hants”, which seem to merely be a local term for ghosts or “haunts”. Or one can lay jars of nails and urine down to prevent hexes, or grains to keep the devil at bay—these last two remind me of many traditional wards against devils, fae, and night hags. Likewise, with horseshoes or wearing clothes inside out. I admit, scattering red ants to keep away witches is a unique and interesting idea.

Horseshoes

The fire place seems to also be a source of witchcraft in the text—letting fires run long help keeps witches away, and if you wish to find the witch, there is a rather simple ritual to work. Remove each brick of the fire place, repeating the names of suspected witches. When you are done, bury water among the ashes and wait. The first of the named who calls you is clearly the witch.  Placing water bottles in the fireplace or green trees on the chimney keep them at bay as well.  The other ritual for removing witches is to take a piece of wood that’s been heated (a fire place connection again) and connect it to a picture of the witch, and then shoot it with a silver bullet.

The section on the magic is arguably more horrific—a number of rituals make use of black cat’s bones, acquired by murdering the cat and boiling it to get access to the bones. In one case, by running the bones through your teeth, you can find a bone to turn invisible. You can also wear these bones, to gain either good fortune or the powers of a magician. By killing a salamander or lizard in a bucket with the image of a person you can give them a rash, and if you manage to bury a snapshot of the person, they will perish. One could take a crow, cut them open, remove their innards, sew them back up to detect a witch. Anyone who, seeing the body on the road, looked at it curiously was a witch.

Curiously, the only animal use that is not abused is if you suckle on a sow—you might learn to see the wind that way. What this means isn’t elaborated on in the notes. I presume to see the wind is to see the world invisible. One creature I found…interesting was a large insect responsible for sleep—by beating its wings, it set out fairies, who in turn beat their small on the brows of those who ought to rest. I wonder if such fae creatures are allergic to coffee…None the less, a giant insect that is responsible for all sleep in the world, living in the woods, is a tad horrific and wonderous.

Moving on from these practices, we can look into stories of the Alabama people. These stories were collected long after contact with the first settlers of course, and bear clear signs of that (references to fire arms and bullets and so on). The nature of the collection means I’m not entirely certain of their veracity. One of the more interesting stories was of the Bear People. A bear stopped a man traveling in the woods, and asked how many people lived in his village. The man told him. The bear said he would kill everyone who lived in the village if they did not put up a white skin, or in one version, move across to the other side of a river. One story suggests the cause of this violence was a man killing a large white bear that was the chief of the bear people—another seems to make it arbitrary. Some people listen to the man, while others do not. The bears come, and murder all who did not listen, despite their fire arms—a veritable horror scene of bears upon bears, cubs and elders.

Bear Wrestling

Another story details the origin of deer. The first dear was a fawn. It was at first guarded by wild cats…but the wild cats ate it. Then it was guarded by a wolf. And the wolf ate it. Then it was guarded by Panther…and the Panther ate it.  And each time it was revived, until finally, it is guarded by “Bird-that-sits-on-deer”, which eats ticks and flies off from the deer every now and then. At last, as the deer grows big, the bird flies off for winter. When it returns, the deer is gone.

The people then gather to find it, and eventually the wise members of the community determine it is in the south. Then they form many ranks to hunt the deer, and summoned it with a cauldron and song. The deer’s approach shook the earth like a railroad. The men stood ready with arrows, with ghosts behind them, and behind them panthers, and behind them wolves, and behind them at last the wild cats. As the great deer approached, the wildcats fled. The arrows and ghosts proved useless, but the panthers and wolves killed it, with the wildcats ripping out its throat.  Each hair that falls from the beast as humans cut it to pieces becomes a deer, and runs off.  The image of this…wave of deer is also almost terrifying. A great progenitor beast that releases miniature versions of its kin out into the world.

There is a large reptile that is worth mentioning—despite the description, the foot note says it appears as a scorpion with a red mouth. The creature lives in a tree, and is disturbed when a group of hunters start a fire in its hollow, looking for a bear. It chases down the hunters, one by one—and one by one, they grow weaker and are devoured. One man survived by diving into the river, where the lizard could not see him. He later returned with some Shawnee to kill the creature—and they made the land boggy to trap it, killed it with axes, and then put tobacco in its mouth to prevent its return.

There are other stories, but the collection seems to dwell on animal fables that are not…relevant in my opinion for horror stories. We also have stories from voodoo—the most interesting to me was the notion of the zombi, as a man robbed of their wits or soul, and forced to preform labor for another. The victims were often believed to be the homeless or those who deviated from society, although research on the matter can quiet obviously be difficult to acquire. Most of my research was also focused on Louisiana not Alabama, and thus the applicability is…questionable. Still, the banality of having a zombi to man your shop was and has been interesting to me. As more than one person has observed, the fear of the zombi in the New World is that even death is not an escape from subjugation, and the notions I found in the article of entire secret plantations of zombis were horrifying.

With that in mind, what can we make of this? What ancient ruin can we find, that has some voodoo connection?

The obvious answer to Lovecraft I suspect would be to invent a city or settlement of the Alabama or other First Nations of the area (I did not have time to dig into each historically, the Alabama had towns as did many other groups in the Southeast). Or to make some almost pre-human settlement, where dark magics were prevalent. But that seems…hm. Uncomfortable to approach. A more recent ruin, like the plantations that were so fearful of voodoo might be better, but runs into the problem that we had earlier from two weeks ago. Perhaps a ruined house that was were adherents of these traditions lived…we might elide the issue of race in this story by making them white but…hm. Well. It is a puzzle, one I’m sure we can solve. I feel this is a story that is easily grounded. One notion I have is to place this story in the civil war, with a ruin found by Union troops in Alabama—but that would require more investigation into that part of the war.

What do you think could be done here?

Bibliography

Swanton, John R. Myths and Tales of Southeastern Indians. Washington, US government print office, 1929.

Browne, Ray B. Popular Beliefs and Practices from Alabama. University of California, Berkley press, 1958

Ackermann, Hans-W.; Gauthier, Jeanine . “The Ways and Nature of the Zombi”, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 104, No. 414 (American Folklore Society, Autumn, 1991), pp. 466-494

 

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In The Walls

This Week’s Prompt: 107. Wall paper cracks off in sinister shape—man dies of fright.

The Resulting Story: FORTHCOMING

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This story  is one of the rare few that I believe can be traced directly to an existing inspiration. The Yellow Wallpaper  was published in 1892, and while it does not feature the exact prompt here, the detail of the shape of the cracking wallpaper calls to mind that story. The story itself deserves a full treatment, as it proves foundational to a number of horror tropes and notions—the unreliable narrator, as a start, but also malignant architecture and strange sights. The story itself has been interpreted as being a feminist work about the poor treatment of women, particularly the frequently suggested cure of the time of essentially ceasing intellectual activity to avoid hysteria. You can read the full story here.

CaskOfMonteEgro

The idea, however, of the walls containing something malicious isn’t unheard of past this story. Staying in the realm of horror, before venturing into folklore, we have Mr. Lovecraft’s own Rats in the Walls, where things lurking beneath the walls prove the maddening undoing of the main character. We have Edgar Allen Poe’s story of the Black Cat, where a woman’s body is buried in the walls after a murder, and the specter of his guilt manifests on the wall—and the Tell Tale Heart, where the thumping of a long dead heart.

In folklore, the idea of malignancy being placed within a building is an old one. We discussed, when talking about thepower of magic, the Tibetan death curse that must be planted in the roof of a building. We’ve also discussed how within walls, we canbury guardians to secure our fortune here. But today I’d like to examine a few more examples of how things hidden, just out of sight in our architecture, can spell misfortune. And how they can bring blessings.

Horn Tibet

A common example of this is found in witchcraft stories—one I’ve discussed on Patreoncomes from Basque country. Here a witch has afflicted a princess with a terrible, wilting disease, by placing a toad beneath a statue. Until the toad is removed from the garden, she cannot hope for a cure—and by this means the witch seeks to inflict untold misery on her victims. The day is saved by an orphan listening in and going out to undo the harm. We see similar uses of toads elsewhere, where their mere presence causes trouble as discussed here.

In the astrology treatise of Al Hakim, a number of talismans are noted—prepared properly, these talismans can work a number of magical wonders. They can destroy enemies, corrupt cities, prevent marriages, assure positions of power, end crops, and more. These talismans operate with the power of celestial spheres, which exert power over men’s lives and minds already. The power of talismans, utilizing these spiritual forces, is something almost divine. Of particular note are terrible talismans that bring enmity and hatred among lovers and friends. Placing these at meeting points can unravel relationships entirely. Many of these talismans require specific stones to be engraved at the right hour, to better call down the spirits and forces at work. Among Coptic talismans, many are aimed at the relationships between families—cutting marriages to achieve one’s love, transfiguring a woman into a horse, and so on.

Talismans Symbols

Talisman Scripts, from the above text.

Albanian stories of witchcraft suggest that with careful application of pig bones, one can bind an evil into a building. By creating a cross of the bones and hanging it outside the door of the building (particularly a church), this will trap them in the building and cause a panic. On the first of march, you can keep them from entering by driving horns into the ashes of a chimney, or hanging scissors at the door—a wise choice, as that is the night the witches gather.

Protection and curses worked into the foundations of the household or building are thus rather common in European folklore and practice, as well as in places beyond. The family in particular is vulnerable to madness by the house—something that perhaps ties back to the haunted houses we had discussed in the past. The house thus is the hearth, the home, the source of vitality. And there is not much more research I can say on that.

Except to discuss where we might take this as a writer. Now, the original story of Yellowed Wallpaper certainly features the decline of the domestic relationship in an almost gothic way. The unreliable narrator begins to see strange things, goes mad and even assaults her husband for her poor treatment, her mind gone by the end from being trapped in such a place. And most of our stories have played, perhaps, on a similar notion of madness in their own way.

If there is something archetypical here, in malevolent architecture as a conceit, I would suggest it is in fact the haunted and cursed house. But not the house that is haunted by necessarily a ghost—not by necessarily a precisely human and anthropomorphic phantom. Strange patterns on the wall call to mind the mathematical regularity of fractals and geometry that Mr. Lovecraft feared stretched to infinite. Terrible shapes here remind me of fungus, and the cracks in the wall from Edgar Allen Poe resemble a cat. A house that is wicked in its own way, terrible in-it-self, not by housing some other intellect. It reminds or suggests to me another house entirely, and perhaps a more sinister version of miraculous images that we discussed here.

Caanite Teraphim Gods

Household gods like these often served as protective talismans for the household.

We have also a prompt that is very much the climax of a story. This is not a full tale, but rather the ending or mid point of a story of domestic madness. We could follow prior writers here and suggest that this strange breaking shape is a product of an existing neurosis. An ill omen taken shape in the wallpaper itself. If these walls could talk indeed. This cursed narration I think should have an unreliable narrator—both because of the original story, the Yellowed Wallpaper, and the other story this reminds me of.

Writing an unreliable narrator is somewhat difficult, I find. If done well, it provides a layer of mystery to the events—it provides intrigue and a question of reality. But it is a device that, to me, always begs the question of why. Unlike a third person omniscient narrator, or even third person limited, with an unreliable narrator we are deep within the mind of our main character. The character needs a reason to be telling us this story. Attention needs to be drawn to “how did we come across this” in a way that other stories often lack.

Now, there are some reasons to tell such a story. One is part of a confession—a somewhat common reason, in many cases. While not a literal confession, this is the function that the Tell Tale Heart and the Shadows Over Innsmouth and even, arguably, Crime and Punishment. Here we begin with being told the guilty party justifying or explaining his crime, in someway as to make us sympathetic. However, there are other methods. There are stories like the Yellowed Wallpaper, where no justification is needed—the story is simply presented as is. Others function as a found manuscript—a story we were perhaps never meant to see, or one that has been restored by an outside agent…ah, I keep thinking of that house. It must be the weight of the plague on my mind.

So which will our story be? Well…I prefer the edited manuscript. It is perhaps from being too deep among the books this week in research, trying to find half remembered stories to fit this article, but there is I think something more horrific and mysterious about a manuscript you stumble across then one that is given as pure confession. In the case of confession, it is hard if not impossible to avoid the idea that they have clearly committed a crime. What is and isn’t true is much more apparent, I think, if you know they have already done some wrong doing.

But textual corruption, editing, age, and omission by the writer and others who have had their hands on it all can contribute to changes and secrets. References to common aphorisms, long forgotten, can easily make a text almost incomprehensible. That is something that fits my tastes much better than before.

What cursed houses have you heard of?

Bibliography:

Atallah, Hastem, translator. Picactrix: The Goal of the Wise by Ghayat Al-Hakim.

Durham, M. Edith. “121. Of Magic, Witches and Vampires in the Balkans”. Man, Vol. 23 (Dec., 1923), pp. 189-192. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

Monteiro, Mariana. Legends and Popular Tales of the Basque People. New York, New York. F.A. Stokes 1891.

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Terrors in the Night

This Week’s Prompt: 106. A thing that sat on a sleeper’s chest. Gone in morning, but something left behind.

The Resulting Story: FORTHCOMING

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Mr. Lovecraft has here given us a terror that is very common in the world, rife with folklore explanations, and that plagued the man himself in his life. Sleep paralysis is the experience of waking up, but being unable to move, speak, or in anyway act. Victims often hallucinate, and commonly report the sensation that someone or something is in the room with them—something the brain processes as dangerous.

Such an anomalous sensation is the source of many terrors of the night—the most famous perhaps being the nightmare or night hag. In documents across Europe, the night hag finds sleeping people, binds them, and then rides them—like a mare—to her various delights, before returning them exhausted.

At various points in history, the nightmare has been its own spirit, either a being named Mara or a dwarf or the like. However, in English, the spirit quickly became associated with the more common source of supernatural evil: the witch.

Nightmare witch

Witchcraft reports from England suggest that such enchantment requires the insertion of objects—often sharp and deadly ones, such as scissors—into the victim for the magic to work. Some of these witches sent spirits, supposedly, to disturb the sleep of their victims. Often a these spirits took the form of cats (the recurring internet meme of cats making it impossible to move when they lay on you has some ancient parallels it seems). Other times, the shadow figures are witches themselves, who attempt to strangle their victim as well as prevent them from sleeping.

In South Carolina stories, the night hags are even more nightmarish. They often drink blood of their victims, and sometimes ride their victims without skin. With salt on the floor or certain rituals in a bottle, the Night Hag can be captured in a bottle while trying to reassume her skin. An informant claimed that the hag left a detestable slime when struck by salt—perhaps indicating there is something not entirely human beneath their skin. These hags might go door to door begging for food or hitchhiking, cursing those who show hospitality in a perverse inversion of regular witchcraft.

Witches in Nigeria were also believed to also engage in terrible acts during the night. They might make off with the breath of children, or feast on the souls or psyche. Meetings between witches, in both Africa and Europe, were often described as out of body experiences—as where some of the transformations a witch would engage in. These psychic feasts and meetings are the cause of illness, sickness, and death among communities—often by weakening the victim’s body such that more mundane illness can enter.

NightmarePainting

Of course, human intervention isn’t the only potential source. In China, Thailand, Poland,  and Uganda (among others) it is the dead that harass the living this way. The kokma of St. Lucia is a ghost, but rather specifically a ghost of a dead child that leaps on and throttles its victims. In Zanzibar, there is a terrible bat like demon that assaults people in their sleep. In Cornwall, the creature is instead a large hairy thing that binds a man down and called the hilla. In Ireland, it is instead a great bird with many talons and wings called tromlui. Beyond cats (who are easily the most common), sheep and roosters also appear as oppressive spirits in the world.

That isn’t to say there is no protection from these powers! Salt in some communities will work, but one particular charm from Anglo Saxon Texts protects against a spidery dwarf creature that enters illness upon the victim:

“Against a dwarf one shall take seven little offerings, such as one has worshipped with, and write these names on each of the offerings: Maximianus, Malchus, Iohannes, Martimianus, Dionisius, Constantinus, Serafion. Then afterwards one shall sing the charm that I say hereafter, first in the left ear, then in the right ear, and then above the top of the man’s head. And then a maiden must go and hang it around his neck, and do so for three days; he will soon be well. Here he came in walking, in spider form. He had his harness in his hand, he said that you were his steed, he put his traces on your neck. Then they began to travel from the ground; so soon they came from the ground, then their limbs began to cool. Then came in walking the beast’s sister; she put an end to this then and swore oaths that this would never harm the sick one, nor that one who might find this charm or knows how to recite it. Amen.So be it”

NightmarePainting 2

Here, we see the Seven Sleepers invoked as they often were to protect against sleeping illnesses and the like (We discussed the seven sleepers here). Other cures exist through out the world, from the aforementioned traps to cleansing to finding the witch responsible.

We come then to our story of horror. One of the most fascinating things, implied here, is that an object is left behind by the creature, spirit, or witch. This parting token to me marks not a gift, but rather a cursed object returned or some calling card—I am reminded of the discarded ring from our Netherlands stories that were in fact the doom of the woman who found them. Terror in the night for Lovecraft is not uncommon—the Witch’s House deals with dangerous dreams from living in a cursed place, and the threat of nightmares is common in horror (we could also consider the Hugenot house and other haunted places that torment victims in their dreams). But here, the presence has a dreadful physicality. It is not just terrible dreams—which might precede or follow from the spirits presence—but it is the arrival of something terrible and barely visible in the night.

We had a  similar story with the night monsters earlier—the aswang was our creature then, that slowly revealed itself and well. The story is here. But still, we need I think a distinction between this story’s terror, the vampires we’ve discussed, and the earlier version of this story that we examined with the Horla (here). Making things a bit more difficult, the night hag and it’s many other names does not do much. It sits on a person, it strangles them—an experience that I can say personally is terrifying, but difficult to communicate a whole story about.

Strange isn't it?

For some surely unknowable reason, all the artistic representations of sleep paralysis and nightmares sitting on people feature attractive women in distress.

Perhaps we can build on the notion or terror of SUNDS—sudden unexpected nocturnal death syndrome, a phenomenon referenced in some of my works as being related to nightmares and their kind. Mysterious and horrific deaths work better than a single stalking thing in the darkness. I have the notion now of a rash of mysterious deaths and killings, as creatures of darkness and night begin to swallow up a town or city—things that perhaps resemble our earlier aswang, that wait until nightfall to make their presence known, while walking in the day in more innocuous forms.

We can play with forms of horror here, I think. There is an existential fear, of falling asleep and not knowing if you will wake up—of falling asleep, and being started awake by some unseen terror—of waking up to terrible news while you were powerless. There is something we can wrap into and work with this story, as well as a monster story that has a resonance with the sleep deprived and brightly lit modern era.

 

Bibliography

Adler, Shelly R. “Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome among Hmong Immigrants: Examining the Role of the “Nightmare””, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 104, No. 411 (Winter, 1991), pp. 54-71. American Folklore Society

Davies, Owens. “The Nightmare Experience, Sleep Paralysis, and Witchcraft Accusations” Folklore, Vol. 114, No. 2 (Aug., 2003), pp. 181-203. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd.

Gay, David E. “Anglo-Saxon Metrical Charm 3 against a Dwarf: A Charm against Witch-Riding?” Folklore, Vol. 99, No. 2 (1988), pp. 174-177. . Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd.

Ross, Joe. “Hags out of Their Skins”. The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 93, No. 368 (Apr. – Jun., 1980), pp. 183-186. American Folklore Society.

Parrinder, E. G. “African Ideas of Witchcraft”. Folklore, Vol. 67, No. 3 (Sep., 1956), pp. 142-150. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd.

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St. Andrew’s Day

This Week’s Prompt: 105. Vampire visits man in ancestral abode—is his own father.

The Prior Research:Romanian Vampires

This story in part brought to you by our patrons on Pateron

Robert Dellsworth nearly dozing when he heard the knocking at his door. A man of his middling thirties, overworked from his office in town, he was slow to answer. Donning whatever clothes were nearby, at three in the morning, he finally made his way to the door. The infernal knocking door.

“Coming, coming! What in God’s name—” Robert began, before the sight cut through his thoughts. His father stood at the doorstep, for the first time in twenty-three years. There was silence on the November air.

“Can I come in?” Geoffrey Dellsworth said softly. In a daze, Robert stepped aside, gesturing for the man to come in. The wind whipped behind him, closing the door.

“I’m sorry, but you…you resemble an old relation of mine. But that can’t be. Please, why are you waking me up at such a late hour?” Robert said, the fire in the chimney crackling to life as his father knelt near it.

“It is no mere resemblance, Rob.” The man said, sighing as he stood and looked around the old Dellsworth entrance. “You removed my portrait.”

“Again, that can’t be. I know, certainly, that you can’t be him.” Robert said, his voice shaking. “He is long dead—or best be. When my mother died, he was no where to be seen, and never once did I hear of his inheritance or advice for two thirds my life. It would be nonsense to come back now. No, no, please sir, do not maintain this charade.”

“Hm. You seem unwell. Perhaps we should sit, and discuss this over tea?” Geoffrey said, walking into the kitchen. “You know my favorite I hope?”

TeaKettleBoiling

The whistle of the tea kettle did little to the silence. Robert studied the man, his father. He had grown a longer beard, but his face was the same—as if wandering free from a dream. His eyes the same warm brown hue, details he’d forgotten but seemed to fit. A small scar on his cheek. A spot above his eyebrow.

“You can’t be him. But if you are Geoffrey Dellsworth, why are you here? Why now? Why not ten years ago? Twenty?” Robert said, voice straining. “Do you know what happened when you left? The rumors that went round me and mother? What it did to her?”

“It was better than staying around long.” Geoffrey said, another flicker of wind striking the ground, scattering dust. “It was better, I had hoped, for you for me to be gone some. I hope you have not made things too good for yourself.”

“Too good? Oh don’t worry about that now. Not now.” Robert hissed. “I’ve made things plenty good without you. I had to leave town for studies, I had to work long hours and burn what little inheritance I had. But I’ve made things plenty good.”

“Have you now?” Geoffrey asked with raised eyebrow.

“Go around and ask someone else at three in the morning what the Dellsworth name is!” Robert said standing. “Go and ask any of the business men I financed, the charities I’ve run, the poet’s I’ve given patronage, the people I’ve fought for in court. Go and ask them if it’s the specter of your sordid past that looms over this house! I’ve fought for that, making things too good for me!”

Geoffrey was silent. His ears seemed to prick up, and a slow sigh escaped his lips.

“So. Why. Why now?” Robert said, slumping back in the chair. “What do you want? Money? A place to hide from some new family you’ve made overseas? What?”

“No, Robert, nothing like that.” Geoffrey said, shaking his head. “No, no. I’ve come for you. For your own sake.”

“Oh that’s—”

“You’ve said your piece. Now I will say mine.” Geoffrey cut in. “I wish I could say I regret leaving your mother all those years ago. But I knew it wouldn’t be for the best. I am…not an easy man to get along with, even in the best of cases. That isn’t why though.”

A wind blew again…but this time, something flicked up by his father’s side. It was a strange shape, but gone in an instant.

Demeneted Wolf Skull

“No, no that isn’t why.” Geoffrey repeated, clicking his tongue against teeth—teeth that looked all the sharper. “My long shadow is more than a shadow Robert—It’s true, what they said. I killed my wife in Ellingston. And my daughter, and my son, and my brother, and my cousin, and my niece, and my nephew. And I knew, if I stayed too long, I might do the same to you.”

“…Is that…” Robert stood and pointed at the shape, gone in a moment. Geoffrey’s back seemed hunched, his head longer and his teeth like needles for a moment—and then it was gone.

“So I left, without warning, hoping to spare you that fate. But I knew as well that one day I would have to come back. You’ve got the same blood. That is how it is with us.  We live our lives, as best we can. But the old blood, the hungry blood, it wakes up eventually. If we are lucky, like I was, it wakes when we die. But not always. It wakes, it feeds, it sleeps, it wakes. And it will wake in you.”

“…You’re a vampire.” Robert said, staring at Geoffery. “Is that it? You left because…what, because you thought you’d attack my mother? Attack me?”

“I left because I knew I would. I could feel it. Growing, more and more demanding. You’ll get used to it, you’ll learn to keep it under control and leave when you must.” Geoffery said, nodding. “That’s why I came back. You need to leave, soon. Walk the world. Learn how to handle yourself. I had hoped…but I hear others breathing here.”

Robert’s face went pale and his blood became ice. His wife and two children were upstairs—they were heavy sleepers, as was he usually. But the last few nights he had trouble sleeping, waking often and early.

“You’ll hurt them if you stay.” Geoffrey said calmly. “Worse than I could hurt you—you’ll kill them if you stay. For their sake, Rob, you should leave.”

“There’s got to be another way to…even if what you say is true, there’s another way to deal with this than running off, ruining everything I’ve had. I’ve already done better than you once, I’ll fix this mess to.” Robert said, voice shaking.

“You can try.” Geoffrey said standing. “You can fight, you can struggle—but you’ll only make it worse. Wolves must feed on sheep—and that is what you and I are, Rob. Wolves and worse. It hasn’t come yet—I can see in your eyes, its still sleeping. It’s there, the old blood never fails. Never has.”

Stone Coffins

“You think-you think you can just come in here and tell me what I’ll be? Get out of my house!” Robert said standing up. “Get you and your so-called advice out of my house! I have worked to hard and long to scrub your stain out of the family name to believe this, any of this!”

Geoffrey nodded and stood, adjusting his coat slightly.

“Well. It will come soon. And when it does, I will be waiting in Ellington. We can drink to ease the pain.” He said, with a toothy grin. “Enjoy your fight—every inch of ground you’ll end up giving. Every twitch, every glance, every drop of blood. It’ll be worth it, I’m sure.”

Without a word, he vanished like dissipating mist.

Robert was alone again. Shaking to pour a cup of tea—a bit splashed onto his hand. He hissed and impulsively brought it to his mouth. Had his teeth always been that sharp?



This story took a number of revisions to get right, both in character and in structure. It ended up getting into some potentially heavy subjects—but that seems to be the nature of horror stories about family and folklore. I’m fond of it and unlike most of my stories I don’t think it needs much expansion—refinement, rewording, and so on but no really extra scenes or the like.

Next week, we’ll be returning to the classic night terror, and discussing why you can’t sleep at night! See you then!

I’d be remiss not to mention that we discussed the fate of a very different vampire—a blood drinking dragon who could appear as a man—here on my Patreon, for 5 dollar patrons. You can get monthly research and stories, for five or one dollar each starting today!

 

 

Romanian Vampires

This Week’s Prompt: 105. Vampire visits man in ancestral abode—is his own father.

The Resulting Story: Forth Coming

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We’ve discussed the nature of vampires many times—in fact in the last six months, we’ve discussed it at least twice, once focused on the Philippines, once on the Balkans. For this third venture, I decided to move to a more precise examination of the Vampire as Family member, especially in the Romania. These vampires have something in common with their Balkan kin, but are strange and horrifying in their own ways.

One early difference is that not all vampires in Romania are dead. People destined to become vampires when they die can send out their souls or even bodies far from their bodies—akin to the story of the Jack we discussed last time, where a solider sent out his form with a playing card. These living vampires can be contrasted with the dead vampires that possess their corpses to wander out at night. There are other types of vampire we will discuss.

Like Balkan vampires, Romanian vampires often target their families. However, unlike most of their Balkan counterparts, reports exist of vampires returning home at night and doing house work or tending to children, even as they feed on them. And the life cycle of a vampire is more expansive than in the Balkans. A vampire, after seven years, will devour its whole family, then the whole village. Eventually it returns to life, and leaves to another country (or at the least, a place where a different language is spoken). Here, the vampire will settle down and start a new family, with children destined to also become vampires when they die. Thus, the vampiric plague spreads outward and onward, from one community to the next.

The signs of a vampiric fate are readily apparent. The most common is to be born with a caul, but others include simple wickedness among men and women, especially witchcraft. A child that is unbaptized will become a vampire after seven years, and its burial site will become unholy if not well looked after. If a pregnant woman doesn’t eat salt, her child will become a vampire. If one can break the fate of a vampire, the person becomes an omen of good luck. Suicides can become vampires as well, and have to be carefully treated to avoid that fate. Those doomed to be a vampire, in some reports, leave their bodies at night. Their soul emerges as a fly and goes about the world—a true vampire’s soul emerges as death’s head moth, which can cause sickness in a home. These can be pinned to prevent their escape or mischief, although most are unwilling to subject even a vampire to a second death.

Deaths Head Moth

A deaths head hawkmoth

Vampires have a variety of powers, even while alive. In one town, Michaela, vampire women were said to be tied to specific animals or phenomena from whom they drew power. Drawing this vitality is dangerous for the victim—a vampire who draws from bees may render them unable to gather pollen, and thus starve them. Another, more domestic vampire drained the power of bread from other households to make her bread the best anyone could manage. On St. George’s Eve they gather this power, either for themselves or for others—a vampire might gather beauty for a woman, rivalry for men, and so on. The women appear as red faced and dry, often in rags on St. Andrew’s Eve. The male vampires are bald and have hooves and a tail.

St. Andrew has a few other ties with vampires. One informant claimed that St. Andrew helped vampire women who had achieved their state rather than being born into it. St. Andrew’s Eve is also when they begin to travel the world, and are at their strongest (except wizard or witch vampires, who are strongest at the new moon). They weaken in spring, with either St. George’s Eve or Easter, no longer able to work as terrible powers as they once could.

The most dread vampire is the varcolac, a species of celestial vampire. These creatures cause eclipses, and bloody the moon when she is red or coppery. They appear as dogs, dragons, many mouthed creatures, and more when they go to eat the moon. Otherwise, they dwell in mortal bodies that enter a deep sleep when they sally out to eat the stars.  Their origins range from again cursed children to spirits born of dust swept towards the sun, and some of the stories are almost comedic—for instance, that spinning by moonlight allows them to ride the string up to the Heavens and eat the moon and sun.  The sun defeats them with the lion he rides on, while the moon is too strong to be so easily devoured. In one story, it is God that has given them this mission, to inspire penance in humanity.

Solar Eclipse

A recurring story in Romanian Vampire lore is the vampire who takes a lover. In one story, a young man and a girl were deeply in love, and carried on a tryst without the girl’s family knowing. Eventually the young man’s relations approached them for marriage—and were rejected, as they were very poor. So the young man hung himself and became a vampire, and continued to visit the girl—except the girl did not love him, evil spirit he had become.

A wise woman advised her to attach some yarn to the coat, and follow the thread. She followed him back to his churchyard, and waited at twilight. She then saw him feeding on the heart of a dead man. When the vampire confronted her about her delay, she denied knowing anything. Even as he threatened her father, she asserted she knew nothing. And so her father died. The next day, she again refused, and her mother died. At last, he threatened to kill her—and she claimed to know nothing. She instructed her relations that she was going to die soon. She asked to be held in wake near an opening in the wall, and buried in a forest not a church yard.

And so it came to pass. She was buried in the woods, and a wonderous flower grew over her grave. The son of the emperor passed by one day, and saw this flower—and took it with him, digging it up and transplanting it to his garden. At night, the flower became the girl again, and she and the emperor’s son came to be married. She would not leave the house, however, in fear of the vampire—except once, when her husband asked her to go with him by carriage. And there by the road, who should they pass? The vampire himself! She fled the carriage at once, and the vampire pursued, until they came to a church. The girl hid behind a holy picture, as the vampire reached to grab her. And then that holy picture fell down, and struck the vampire, rendering him to dust.

Variants on this story can be found, repeating the same pattern and tricks. A detail that isn’t mentioned in this version is the meeting on St. Andrew’s day. Some variants specify she can’t go to church for four years—and going early, her vampire lover murders her husband and son. Her grandmother provides the solution, with water of life and holy water—the first to revive her family, the second to murder the vampire.

St. Andrew

St. Andrew, wondering why he’s associated with all these damn vampires.

Another tale about vampires and women tells of how a vampire approached a group of girls at a river, disguised as a youth. He told such wonderful jokes and made such good conversation that the whole group could not help but laugh. But there was one girl in particular that he teased remorselessly, pinching her until she was black and blue. Such torment caused her to drop her distaff with linen—and see his tail. Realizing what he was, she tried to leave with her friend—but her friend’s laughter made it impossible for her warnings to be understood. So she fled into the woods alone( “into the forest as old as the world and as black as her fear”, which is such a lovely phrase). Her companions waited for her return, until it became apparent she was not returning. The vampire, enraged, demanded he be found—and when she wasn’t, he brutally murdered the other girls.

He then found the girl in the woods, and asked her to come with him—and in her state of shock and fear, she followed the monster to a hole in the woods. He asked her to descend, but she insisted he descend first. He agreed, and she trapped him with some linen before fleeing east to a house. Here she found a strange sight—a dead man with his arms crossed over his breast and a torch at his head. She decided to sleep her, and would have slept well if not for the pursuing vampire. The vampire arrived, and fought the dead man for some time, both vanishing when day arrived—for the dead man was also a vampire. Awakening three times in the night, the girl was terrified—except the third time, when she beheld the beauties of the woods. At last she left in the morning and returned home, telling her parents of all she’d seen.

And she began to sink into the ground. For the vampire had enchanted her, and she too had become a vampire.

This tail, a unique signifier of the vampire here, is the source of another amusing fact of Romanian vampires—when they wash, it rains. Unlike other vampires, for whom running water is a bane, Romanian vampires cannot drown and always float.  Kings would send their armies to bath during drought, in case one turned out to be a vampire.

The Romanian Vampire is much more a creature of nature than some its counterparts—we have a strong association with power over natural things (bees, beasts, and insects), we have them living in wild places, often on the borders of villages or in ancient woods. Some are great, terrible, even cosmic threats that consume stars, while others are much more mundane and lurking creatures. And their capacity, nay, fascination with family works well for this story. We anticipated this in our story about the returned father before—I admit, this prompt was on my mind even then. But this story I think could take a stranger, darker turn—the vampire’s Gothic roots and the notion of it as a hereditary condition are all at play in a way that was less relevant for the Balkan vampire. What horror will we weave? Come next week and see!

Bibliography:

Murgoci, Agnes. “The Vampire in Roumania”, Folklore, Vol. 37, No. 4, pp. 320-349. Taylor & Francis, Ltd (Dec. 31, 1926).

Perkowsky, Jan. Vampires of the Slavs. Slavica Publishers, Inc. 1976

 

I’d be remiss not to mention that we discussed the fate of a very different vampire—a blood drinking dragon who could appear as a man—here on my Patreon, for 5 dollar patrons. You can get monthly research and stories, for five or one dollar each starting today!

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

This story brought to you by our patrons on Patreon.

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!

Dutch Tales About the Sea

This Week’s Prompt: 104. Old sea tavern now far inland from made land. Strange occurrences—sound of lapping of waves.

The Resulting Story:

This Research in part brought to you by our patrons on Patreon.

Did you know “made land” means reclaimed land from the ocean? I didn’t! I spent a slightly embarrassing amount of time trying to find places or folktales about where the sea has receded before at last finding stories that fit this prompt (somewhat). The only one I found there had to do with the Norse God Thor and while it was…interesting, and connected to drinking, I think I’ll save it for another time.

No for this week I decided to delve into the folklore and urban legends of a part of Europe I admit I knew little of before hand: The Netherlands. The Netherlands have been making land for centuries, and unsurprisingly they have many stories about floods, storms, and the sea. Some of these are fantastic, some of these are rather mundane.

For instance, the story of how the north sea became salty. Once, there was a ship over one hundred kilometers long. It was so vast that a man on horse had to relay orders up and down the ship, taking six days to deliver each command. Where this vast ship came from is unknown—certainly it is a magical marvel, lacking telephone or telegram, and yet almost a small island in scope. But as perhaps was inevitable, the ship and it’s many crew members where wrecked at sea. The salt needed for such a vast ship is almost incalculable, and so the entire North Sea became salt water instead of fresh water.

Ships of same build if not scale were in the employ of a Woman of Stavoren. She was wealthy beyond compare, as a widow running a vast shipping empire. One day, she demanded that the most valuable thing money could buy be brought to her—and in time her ships returned, full of rye. Enraged, she ordered the barley be thrown overboard. All this was seen by an old man on the quay, who told the woman that one day she’d be poor. She swore to him that she could never be poor. To prove it, she hurled a ring into the sea and said she was like to get that back as to be poor again.

The next evening, a cook served her fish. And inside, the woman found the ring. Needless to say, storms struck and sank all her vessels—and she was rendered destitute, forced to beg on the street. The rye still grows where it was thrown, according to rumor. They bare no fruit.

Witch Burning 1

But let us leave the sea behind, but not to far—and venture into taverns and cellars. One story tells that there is or at least was a wine cellar well known by older women. Here, witches flew to meet and drink and enjoy themselves. One woman, after her first trip to the cellar, decides to bring a younger friend along. However, she is too excited to recite the spell to bring them there properly. Most importantly, instead of “Afterward home again” she says “nevermore home again”—and curses the two of them to be forever lost on the road. The younger friend realizes the trouble their in—and as they can’t get home, the devil will come soon to snap their necks. In true college friend fashion, the two decide that if they must  go to hell, they will go drunk.

Later, the two are found passed out in the cellar by some workmen, with incriminating brooms. They are found guilty of witch caft and sentenced to burning—they awaken during the burning, however, and manage to escape the devil by converting on the stake. The devil, having appeared as an owl over head to seize their souls, leaves enraged.

Another tavern cellar had a more dangerous creature lurking in it then two drunk witches. Down in a inn at Utrecht, there was a basilisk. The basilisk was born of a rooster’s egg, laid by a snake. The creature was born down there, unknown to the inhabitants. It was first discovered when a man went down to get a drink—and never returned, as the venomous eyes of the basilisk killed him and ground him to dust. This first victim was dismissed, many assuming he had just gotten drunk and passed out—until a second man went missing. And a third. At last, the innkeeper was about to investigate when a monk happened to come in and stop him.

Basilisk1

Now, the discovery of a fire breathing—the story mentions this offhandedly, and so shall I—murderous chicken-snake is of course bad for business. So the innkeeper asked for anyone to help, offering a hefty reward. At last a street urchin came in, with a plank of wood as his only tool. Despite the pleas of the adults, the child descended to fight the cockatrice—and triumphed! For to the beasts surprise, the otherside of the plank was a mirror! So the beast died to it’s own gaze.

A more comedic inn story comes to us from Zuiderwoude. A solider was playing cards with his fellows, to pass the watch. Off hand, he offers to send the Jack of Clubs to fetch some jenever. The others laugh at such an impossible trick—but the solider insists. And with their agreement, he goes unconscious. He turns as pale as paper and sweats like a pig, as the jack of club vanishes. A few minutes later, to the horrified soldiers shock, a bottle of jenever appeared with a jack of clubs in its neck. The original solider drinks heartily, and they all join in.

The next day, they walk pass the main gate and learn someone assaulted the guard, nearly knocking him out and slipping past unseen. When they pass a local innkeeper, he accuses them of making a terrible ruckus last night to get nothing more than a bottle of jenever. When they deny it, he singles out the solider with the jack as having come to him in the night. The storyteller asserts said solider was a sorcerer, who never truly left the room.

But one that stuck out to me for our purposes is the Herring in the Bucket story. It is a short and simple and rather mundane story.

The story goes, a farmer was drawing water from a well. When he brought the bucket up, he saw there was a herring in it—a fish swimming in his drinking water. It occurs to him that the fish must have swam into the well—and if it swam into the wall, the ocean must be seeping beneath the earth. A single good storm would sink the entire area, washing it all beneath the sea. And with this in mind, he became miserable and angry, until at last the storm came—and when the waters receded he was found dead.

Herrings

This sort of story has a few other variants—the maintaining of a dyke is a communal activity that the rich and arrogant often neglect and are ruined for ignoring. But what to me works here, in this small simple story is the horror that it displays. The growing realization that the buried sea is ready to rise up again and swallow it all. I pondered for a moment, why the farmer didn’t leave—but how could he? He is a part of this land as well. In our story, the old sea tavern is perhaps safe—it is where the coast once was, after all. But the made land is unstable—the symbolism of unstable lives, of long buried tensions coming to surface is apparent. Especially considering in vino veritas. There is a lot here, with simple and growing signs of impending doom.

Whether we take it to be the utterly mundane terror of a rising tide—something that is topical these days—or if it has some supernatural to it (we have many many many examples of the sorts of strange things that lurk in the sea), the story has I think a firm and clear footing. What stories have you heard, about seas, taverns, and tavern basements?

Bilbiography:

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

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