Mountain out of a Man

This Week’s Prompt: 70. Tone of extreme phantasy. Man transformed to island or mountain.

The Prior Research: The Root of the Mountain

The land of Loni was once a flat and unmarked plan, a grassland that rolled on and on. It was disturbed, only slightly, by circular wood at it’s center—a wood of white, straight trees rising with branches outstretched towards heaven. It was in this small wood that the lone permanent inhabitant of Loni sat. Back to bark, the old monk sat crossed legged with eyes closed. At his feet a bronze bowl had been placed by some traveler over Loni. Scraps of paper and coin were in it’s bottom, but the meditative man was unaware. He had come this far for its isolation, for while there were lands that Loni sat between, it was deemed cultivatable and undesirable by most—a waste with a thin layer of grass over it by reasonable folk, and a haunted and spirit filled land by wise ones.

Pando1

Of course, no picture of Londi exists. Pando, a tree that has become a forest, is the closest we have in the modern day.

The mendicant had been mediating beneath the tree for over a decade, living on the earth’s slow breath and dew of morning. His thoughts lost in the depths of the cosmos, in passing he resembled a statue So it was that the rain and storms did not bother him. He was aware of them distantly, as if he observed them from afar. Nor was the brush fire that wrapped around the woods of any bother to him, for he had set his mind beyond such things.

Once, a bolt of lighting struck the tree he sat beneath, splitting it open and igniting the wood into a blaze that consumed all of it but the mendicant. Unmoved, he did not notice the seeds that fell into the ashes around him and on top of him. He was like a stone as roots spread across his limbs and legs, as trees embraced his form for stability. From afar, one could see that the new trees had grown a few feet taller, as proof the old man remained. Some drew close, and found his old bowl still there, at before the rooted statue that seemed trapped and bound by the trees.

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The rusting bowl was taken, by those who traversed the plains, to be a site of offering. Seeing to appease the the man beneath the trees, some gave him coin for good fortune. And those who later had good fates ascribed them to him, returning with greater gifts. Stories spread of the old man beneath the trees, of his power over wealth and wonder. Grant him coin, it was said, and he would guide the traveler to wonders. Or that he stood guard over some majestic treasure, or could from a far cure sickness. The old man himself noticed only the odd child who poked his nose or disturbed his peace in some other way. He could not but smile, shifting branches and roots with a small grin. Still the trees grew around him, a halo of plant life around his head. Otherwise, his mind remained away from the world, roots now dug deep.

Over time, the gifts around the old man grew vast indeed. Gems rested his legs, staves at his side bedecked with serpent and ox heads. Animals from far and wide had been left for his care, and grew to inhabit the forest. Images of loved ones in need of his thoughts, or of homes that people hoped to see, were thick on the floor around his bowl, making small walls. Abandoned swords, given up in oaths to him, or drinking horns cracked with oaths to him, the little god beneath the trees, accumulated around him. Such abundance could not help but be tinder.

In time, the place had become known as a place of pilgrimage and holy power. Loni had known no temples or kings, a land of itinerants and travel, of nameless shapeless spirits and ghosts. But not far off, a horse-lord heard of the treasures of the old man, and set to have them as his own. Gathering his arms, he rode with iron and fire to the woods, now thick in the center of the plains. The grass was dry that year and drought had settled in.

None of the men tried to move the old man, so covered in ash and roots and dead plant matter that he looked like a crude statue. As the nest of trees above him tumbled down, they could feel his breath on the ground, rising and falling without fail. Though they robbed him of many gems and weapons and tributes, they would not lay hands on those nearest him. And so the heated metal, the ashes of the trees and blackend roots settled on the shoulders of the old man, who’s long petrified bones and skin held it up.

After they returned with their loot, the plains of Loni were still and quiet. The years were burned into layers, into a hill of rotted and burned cinders. Decades layered upwards, rising over the grass lands. The animals had mostly escaped the fire, although they congregated around the hill often. The old man’s visage could still be seen slightly by those passing by—the small dents in the hill resembled eye sockets from afar, the ridges along the side might be construed as elbows. And the larger dent before the hill was commonly called “The Saint’s Bowl.”

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Slowly, stories spread outward again of the old hill where miracles happened. There were tales that it was a great giant who had passed on, or that the mound was some old spirit. Those who remembered the old days thought it some holy place, and remembered the strange god beneath the trees. Regardless, once the rains came, the woods and plains grew again. With them pilgrims and travelers came again. Now they built, atop that hill, a village. At first a small temple and inn—but in time farms and houses. The area of the old forest was fertile with fallen ash. What was once waste was now farms, and what was once a stop along a voyage became a destination of its own.

The path through Londi was always a path, but with no safe haven it was considered an unfortunate and impossible one. The small shrine before was a place for travelers to rest, but no long caravan could make much there. The plains were to vast, to isolated, for long journeys regularly. But now, at the heart, a small town grew. The five grains could grow there, and there were beds for travelers. The rains collected at the bass of the hill, a small lake that water might be drawn from.

Tales were told of the hill, how it’s old spirit guarded the town or how it worked miracles, how deep in it’s bones a treasure lay, guarded by a fearsome thing. The town grew rich in time, and grew vast. A keep of brick stood around the head of hill, a crown of stone for the old man deep below. And this city, rich on the river that flowed across the plains, was perhaps the longest garment the old man-mountain wore.

Fire did not lay the city low—no, no flames could bring down its walls. Nor did war, although that came often along the winds. Nor did storms, that battered and broke the sky. These added to the mound, the hill rising as one wooden keep or baked brick was buried at it’s base and another built atop it. But the city stayed all the same. Even as bricks and mortar and wood came from faraway to raise the city ever higher, the people stayed. They told tales of the growing hill, and how it was once a terrible giant that came to repent its ways, or how the old father mountain granted wishes to those who innocently prayed. The groves atop the hills head, in the royal gardens, were said to be a gift from the spirits beneath the earth. And perhaps, at last, an eternity seemed atop the hills.

The old man’s mind wandered those streets at times. They were as far from his old form as the stars once were—he walked atop his form unseen, taking in every movement across his form. New families came and old families went, roots of a different sort sinking forever down. His thoughts were the thoughts of hills, clouds and fogs taken up into the sky. The children and elders felt his movements from stone to stone, topic to topic. The shifting of the breeze marked his passage. And he delighted in them, even those that were entombed beneath his skin.

The city came to an end in time, however. Not from thunder, or fire, or sword. Slowly, along the path of caravans, it crept closer. Unseen, unheard, the death came upon the breath of men. It lurked on the backs of rats, in ticks and fleas. It grew and spread outward among the crowds. The rivers of trade, of silver and gold, laid the city low. They died in droves—from beneath the mountain, the city seemed to wilt as a flower plucked from it’s home. The walls, so long standing that the seven sages might have laid them, came tumbling down with none to repair them. The houses decayed as the trees before them had, and fell into disrepair. The hill grew as it did every time, the old man’s form rising to new heights.

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Those who walk the plains around the Mountain Londi sometimes hear the whispers of an old sage, and see the grass shift in the mountains shadow. Tales tell of the great caverns that are the eyes of the mountain, small and near the top. The lake and river beside it, an overflowing beggars bowl. A fine metaphor, the wise men think, for the appearance and abundance of the mountain. With such in mind, a group of ascetics built a monastery atop the mountain, where they sit in quiet contemplation—their minds tossed out ward to the starry cosmos.


This story was an interesting change of pace from the normal horror fare. While writing it, I tried to make it a bit more than a history of a location but a story of a person-place. The choice of each layer of destruction building the mountain was partly born of the folklore stories, but also from trying to give a pseudo-reality to the transformation. Instead of pure fancy, I wanted an stretch of a real phenomenon that also avoided body horror.

Overall, I’m actually rather proud of this story. Next week, however, we go back to the horror and a tale as old as Christendom: what happens when you sell your soul to the Devil?

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The Pale Hound

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

The Research: The Severn Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saint Silvanus, Part 1

This Week’s Prompt: 56. Book or MS. too horrible to read—warned against reading it—someone reads and is found dead. Haverhill incident.

The Prior Research: Forbidden Texts And Wild Men

It is a well known but rarely discussed fact that a good number of local traditions practiced by in nomine Christian men and women are in fact of older and more pagan origin.”

The first draft of my good friend Charles’s paper began with that somewhat uncertain line. He had begun conducting research, detailed to a good degree in the paper proper, on an unusual example of such a “survival”. A small, local icon of a Saint Silvanus, nestled where it had been “found” years prior. The research was not terribly interesting to me. But I was not a native as Charles was, and thus perhaps lacked his fascination with this small miraculous icon and it’s pre-Christian or at the least pre-Niceaen potency.

All this was secondary, however. I was on a train bound for the nearest road to that old hill village for entirely personal reasons. Charles had sent me his drafts of his paper, and I’d done my best to edit the work into something respectable. I’d sent my revisions to him, expecting to hear back in a month.

The response never came.

At first I reasoned that Charles may be stewing, my red ink having perhaps drawn some genuine blood. Then worry that Charles might not have received my edits began to sink in. After my letter of reassurance received no reply, I began to suspect that either the postman was guilty of some strange academic sabotage, or that Charles had encountered a great deal of difficulty. I decided then to visit him personally, or at the least to begin the process of tracking him down.

The post office had confirmed my edits had been delivered to the last residence of Charles. Charles’s land lady there had explained that last she heard, he was headed back into the field, perhaps re-invigorated with questions, or searching for the semi-mythic shrine he had detailed in his notes. Where exactly the field was took even more work. But at last, I was on this train to the crumbling remains of an old town.

The town was, per Charles’s notes, about two hours walk from the train station. I, personally, would not have described it as “mushrooms rising from the corpse of a dying industrial town”, but I suppose Charles wasn’t wrong per se. It was his home to decry as he wished.Trunk in hand, I looked for the house that Charles had said he’d resided in during his research.

I found Charles’s informants house. It took a bit of seraching, but the two story house was recognizable with it’s white bark trees growing around it. After a few knocks, I had given up and was about to try the neighbors when a man shouted at me from the road.

Wait, wait! At least let me here what your selling!” He had a beard down to his waist, and looked like someone had draped skin and muscle over a carefully arranged set of barrels. Smiling, he walked to the house and held out an expectant hand. We shook lightly.

Well, I’m not selling any—”

No? Well, your not from around here. And I don’t think the Jacobs are selling yet. Census already?” He said, suddenly less amused.

No, no, not with the Census. Um, I’m actually looking for someone.” I said, rummaging in my jacket pocket and producing a picture of Charles. “He said he was staying here about six months ago. Haven’t heard from him sense, and I’ve been sending mail his way for a while now. Have you seen him?”

The man leaned down to look at the picture for a moment. An owl that landed on the branch of a nearby tree, rustling the leaves loudly. Normally nothing of note, but the sounds of the town were muted by the snow.

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Hm, yeah, Charlie. Thought he went back already. Or away I guess. That’s Charlie, always going where winds are taking him.” the man said, frowning and scratching his beard. “Well, its getting dark out. Why don’t you come inside for a bit, it’ll be cold out soon.”

The wind was getting stronger, and the sky seemed read to disgorge more snow. I decieded to take the risk, and see if Charles had left anything behind from his stay. Letters, notes, hints at habitation.

The inside was toasty, a fireplace in the front room. Off to the side was a kitchen and table, with some stairs leading up to where I presumed the bedroom was. At least two, judging by the windows outside. My host, who it slowly dawned on me was still nameless, lay down his tool set and sat down on the couch by the fire place to warm up.

So, you know Charlie? Where from?” He asked, glancing over.

Met him at university. Never talked about home much, and uh, for ethical reason’s his paper doesn’t say who he was staying with.”

Ethics, huh? Nice of him I guess. Names Morcant Mael. Parent’s wanted a Celt name.” He said, waving off my look of confusion. “Get a lot of them around here. Hell, Charlie’s birth name was Cartacos, then he started going be Carl, then Carly, then Charlie. Guess he got around to changing his name properly.”

You knew him for a long time then?” I asked, sitting down near the fire.

It’s a small town. Everyone at least knows everyone. Sometimes more. So, you read the stuff Charles was writing?” He said, clapping his hands together and rising, “And would you like anything? Coffee, tea, beer?”

Ah, a warm tea would be wonderful. Winters are cold up here.”

Well, the winds come right over the coast. So how is his writing?”

Lucky it has an editor. The man rambles in some parts, and leaves out whole sections in others it seems.”

Like folks names?” Morcant called from the kitchen.

Again, thats becoming a bit standard. More like, he just alludes to the story he was studying as ‘famous and well documented’, but never prints it.” I said back. Morcant emerged with a pot of tea and placed it on the coffee table between us.

Oh? Strange. I guess he forgot about it. He was looking into the statue of St. Silvanus, way out in the woods right?”

Yeah, that’s the one.” I said, sipping the tea. After a moment’s pause, I continued the thought. “Can you tell me what it’s story is ? For context?”

I suppose so. It’s no big secret really. Back when the town first got going, it was one of the few to stay with the old church, back with Rome. And the times were not good to be part of the old faith. People didn’t trust Cathloics more than almost anyone. Couldn’t have Mass, couldn’t settle, couldn’t vote, everyone thinking you were a spy for the pope. Most of them fled to Pennsylvania, I hear. But anyway, rumor happened that a bunch of rowdy Puritans, out of Indians to shoot and witches to burn, were going come and sack the town. Everyone figured now was the time to pack up and leave.

But this one woman goes out in the forest, trying to get to gripes with it all, and suddenly heres a crashing sound. Looking towards it, she sees something falling from the empty sky onto the ground. A statue!One of those old Italian ones, with horns coming off the old man’s head.” Marcont mimed two horms curling out of his head. “She thought it was Moses, but when she prayed at the shrine, the statue told her he was Silvanus. The statue asked why she was weeping in the woods, and she told him everything. The statue told her, go and have the town promise me one priest and one feast day, and God will deliver you from the English dogs.

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An image from another folktale of St. Silvanus. Charles recorded more than a few.

So she goes, and the town’s desperate enough to have faith again. So they pray to the saint, and send off some lad to be a priest and clean up the statue. And then, just as they can see the mob coming, there’s this roaring sound. Some beast emerges from the woods, looking like a bear with the head of a mountain lion, horns of a ram, and the arms of an ape. The whole mob runs off as this huge thing chases them back. Some stories say it killed a few of them even, and ate them then and there. Story says it was a holy thing, an angel made to terrify and protect the town. Statue’s still there, though I’ve not seen it in a while, and folks around here claim to see the creature every now and then. Local bigfoot, you know.”

And Charles was looking into it?” I said, thinking back to the manuscript. “Yeah, that makes sense. No reason not to mention the whole story though.”

Well, Charles wanted to find it I guess. Its out in the woods, somewhere.”

And he stayed here?”

Sure did. Charles knew the place pretty well, and the rent was free. His room’s still free if you need somewhere to spend the night.”

The rattling wind outside filled the air with tinge of cold over the firelight. I had planned on making the stop and then immediately heading back to the train. But the darkness had washed over the town faster than I expected. The dirt paths and paved roads from here to the trains station would only be lit by moonlight or the stars, and clouds could cloak those at any time.

Yeah, if that’s alright, just for the night.” I said. Morcant nodded understandingly, and showed me Charles’s room upstairs. It’d been Morcant’s son’s room before that but the boy was off with his mother for the next few weeks anyway.

Honestly, it didn’t look that childish. The waxing moon illuminated the barren room, the dust flowing up into a little bit of mist or frost amongst the trees. With the flick of the switch, the illusion was gone. The bed was big enough for a grown man, maybe two next to each other. The woodwork was hand made, with carvings on each post of bears. Probably the boy’s favorite animal. I could imagine them, like Silvanus, coming at night to protect him from the sorts of things that lurk down in the nightmares of children.

Inspecting the drawers as Morcant closed the door, I found what honestly was to be expected at a place of Charles’s habitation. Well kept coffee grounds and a few packs of cigarets stored between clothes. A hidden habit everyone knew about. But what was more intreasting was on the bottom drawer, beneath a large coat. My manuscript notes had made it, it seemed, covered in red ink as they were. More pressing were the pages written in Charles’s tight and squished hand writing.

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I carefully removed them and laid them on the desk, away from the window to read. An owl had landed there, and something unnerved me about the birds of this place. They were watching me. I just didn’t know for who yet.

The notes Charles had left behind, apparently undiscovered, included a detailed recounting of the story of Saint Silvanus, with a notable change. Charles refereed to the thing that came from the woods not as an angel, but as a “beast of god”. Given his theorizing in the margins, that this Silvanus icon was really an image of the god Pan that had only recently been rechristened in his Roman name, that wasn’t too surprising. What was more suprising was his reference to a “Green Bible”.

As I read through the notes in earnest, the citations of this text made it clear that Charles thought he had found the primary source, some great ur-text in the woods that if read would reveal everything. His sources on the book itself included mainly a few town elders who talked about a Bible belonging Diana—his name for the woman who first found the statue—that she had hidden away holy power in and left for the priest attending the church. The Bible supposedly held all sorts of secrets meant only for the priest.

I admit my first response to this nonsense was to shake my head at Charles’s overabundant conspiratorial mindset. While a secret Bible with unearthly powers wasn’t uncommon in the wide scheme of the world, presuming that because some older townspeople mentioned it exists was woefully naive. However, it was fairly apparent that Charles had gone out searching for this Green Bible. And hadn’t returned.

The room seemed to shrink with that realization, the gaurdians of the bed now grimacing at me as I flipped through the pages to find the map of the area. He had marked a spot with some scribblings I couldn’t make out. No doubt that was where he intended to go. As I considered whether to rest or pursue him into the cold immediately, a thought began to dawn on me.

Morcant must have known Charles was heading into the woods. Or had, at the least. Given all that had been left behind, he was no doubt still somewhere in that woods. Looking out the window, I figured I could make it across to the tree outside. Even with the wind. Morcant certainly didn’t know about Charles’s notes, and couldn’t have suspected that I’d find anything giving away what might have happened.

So I flicked off the light, and climbed on the window ledge. I wrapped myself in a jacket with a scarf hiding most of my face as I opened the window and exposed myself to the cutting winds again. As quietly as I could manage, I slipped out of the house, onto the tree branch. The branches were difficult, but there was something familiar about setting my feet down on the soft grass. I turned and slipped into the moonlit and snow crusted forest.

Continue to Part 2 here.

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In The Garden I Saw A Shade

This Week’s Prompt:51. Enchanted garden where moon casts shadow of object or ghost invisible to the human eye.

The Resulting Story: There is a Garden atop a Mountain

Now we begin a venture into two separate realms, both of shadow and of gardens, and what is in between. The central place in this story is something of an uncanny places, where the unseen is temporarily perceptible under the moon (who’s various shapes we recorded here). A moonlit walk in a garden is an almost romantic view of something unseen.

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Look at this dork. Hey Carl.

The role of a garden is important however. Garden’s have long had a place in Western thought, as places of cultivated nature that appear wild. Carl Linnaeus, an advocate for the idea of a fixity of species, viewed the world as a well cultivated garden, with the Lord as it’s gardener. This connects to the presentation in Western mythos of the Garden of Eden, where the lord tends to all things. It is a symbol of cultivation, growth, and to a degree riches. YHVH is not the only god with gardens however. The Greeks had the Hesperedies and some sources point to Indra possessing a celestial garden. Peach trees were cultivated by the celestial bureaucracy of China, and fruits of immortality were also grown by the Norse gods.

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This is cropped from the Garden of Earthly Delights. It gets weirder. See the cover pic? Yeah…

The connection with gods and gardens is more than something exclusive. Temples and monasteries often maintained gardens, either for contemplation or meditative purposes. These are separate from the wild places of the world, sacred groves and mountains that are maintained as wild as opposed to cultivated, and separate from those agricultural lands devoted to a temple that would often be redistributed among the public.

The most famous of these gardens are the Zen gardens of Zen Buddhism and Mary gardens of christian practice. I would point, briefly, to a wonderful story concerning monastic grounds and the discovery of a statue there in. It’s either a horror or humor story,depending on your own take. For me it was both.

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The connection between gods and gardens is more than just a potential connection of cultivation of the earth and tameness. It is also one of riches and authority. Gardens in ancient Egypt were known for providing nobility shade. Assyrian gardens were vaster complexes, given over to hunting areas of leisure. Gardens often in later times provided vegetables for manor houses. The garden was, in many ways, a symbol of riches and cultivation.

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The most famous of this category, without a doubt, is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon…which there is no archaeological evidence for in Babylon, although Nineveh may be their true home. All the better, if we are to work in mythology then. The gardens, one of the Seven Ancient wonders of the World, were built according to multiple informants to replicate the green hills of a queen’s homeland that she dearly missed. They are often raised or tiered, hence “hanging”, and have marvelous aqueduct systems to supply water to the trees.

Gradens thus already have something of the uncanny in them. They are close to gods, and by extension kings, and could be arranged as something liminal between the wilderness and the civilized lands. Particularly in periods where a garden served as much as a hunting reserve as it is a place for the gathering of fruits. The shadow is just as much, if not more, of a liminal thing.

Shadows have been tied to the realm of the dead for a considerable amount of time. The word “shade” shares an origin with shadow, obviously, and many descriptions of the afterlife in the near east place it in shadow. The shadow or shade is where the dark and light intermingle in a way. There are also reports, in the last few decades, of mysterious shadow people who may be reiterations of this older mythology.

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The loss of a shadow is bemoaned in many stories, although I cannot find any particularly old folklore. We have works by Dunsany that involve selling one’s shadow, a darker tale by Hans Christen Anderson where one’s shadow leaves and becomes a rather wicked man, a story of being shunned by society for lack of a shadow. In older mythology, the shadow sometimes reveals a creatures true intentions, as a reflection might. For instance, the Kitsune’s shadow is that of a fox demon regardless of her form. The devil has some associations with the shadows as his role of prince of darkness, helped by the Jungian concept of the shadow (We will get to that shortly).

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I feel like linking to “She’s a Maneater” here would be tasteless

Not all creatures of shadow are wicked, however, as the Sun god Surya in Hindu myth has married the goddess of shadow, and biblical passages often refer to the Lord as providing shade from the harshness of the sun. Dark isn’t evil I suppose.

Which brings us to the psychological shadow. The shadow, as conceived by the pyschoanalysist Carl Gustav Jung, is the result of repressed emotions and thoughts from the self. It has something in common with the Id of Freudian analysis, but is less inherently antagonistic and sexual. The shadow is better thought of as the opposite in the mind, rather than the barely contained chaotic.

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Ha. Look at this other dork. Also named Carl. Hi Carl.

The shadow as the source of a true self, as hidden hold of the soul, actually works fairly well with the notion of the Garden to a point. The graden is a place of divinity and sacredness, and while the shadow may be something profane, it is also a signifer of something human and sacred.  The shadow, like the garden, is something of revelation of character. It is the place where perhaps truth about the self comes out.

Alternatively, it might be better to have the garden by a place of confrontation with some spiritual force. This could call on a Lovecraft theme of seeking forbidden knowledge (And oh, wouldn’t that have a western parralel in Christianity!), and the shadow is often an uncomfortable thing to confront.

Said gardens, especially those that have been trespassed before, have guardians. The Hesperedies have the great dragon, and the Garden of Eden has the four headed cherubim, an angel of truly terrible appearance and power with a flaming sword that strikes in every direction. The Lovecraftian equivalent is an embodiment of time, of Yog-Sothoth, who guards the sleeping ancient ones. In the story of Death’s Master, Tales of a Flat Earth points to another sacred garden guarded by many fierce beasts.  So too will our garden be guarded by dreadful things.

Ezekiel

Pop Quiz: Are these four-headed winged warriors from Lovecraft or Ezekiel?

But then we have a new problem. What is in the garden that is so valuable. We could do well with fruits, I think. Fruits of immortality are common, but something interesting might come of using the apples of an odder sort: the golden apples of Perun. These are not tools of eternal life but items of ultimate destruction. Of course, perhaps there is a connection between the two concepts. Lighting and diamonds are often connected as symbols of enlightenment, power and durability. But that is secondary to the goal.

So our story will be of an expedition. I think at least two maybe three individuals, climbing the mountains in some far off land, to find the garden. The second portion will be the confrontation with the guardian, perhaps at the cost of life for one or two members. And then in the garden, they will find the shadows of those unseen. Perhaps hidden masters who have already partaken of the fruit, perhaps new guardians and gods enraged at being disturbed by mortal hands.

Or, perhaps, hunters in their garden surprised at new prey. We shall see.

 
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The Mansion of the Moon

This Week’s Prompt:30. Strange visit to a place at night—moonlight—castle of great magnificence etc. Daylight shews either abandonment or unrecognisable ruins—perhaps of vast antiquity.

The Research: THE MOON

“Why do we go on these walks?” Rene asked, as he and Soren continued down the dirt path. The forest was awash in a sea of mist that night. The moon was large and luminous overhead, a bright yellow harvest sigil.

“I go on them, because the poets talk about fog and futures and truth coming on long walks in nature,” Soren said with shrug as she continued onwards, “You come along to ruin the mystery.”

“You don’t need cold evening walks to find stuff like truth.” Rene moaned. “We could come here during the day. Or during the summer. Or we could go to somewhere warmer, like a nice coffee house. You could find your sublime there, or at a pub, or not in the woods filled with fog after a rainy day.”

“The sublime suprises you! You can’t find inspiration in the terrifying and wonderful at a pub.” Soren said waving her hands around.

“There’s terrifying stuff at pubs and coffee houses. Writers and drunks, and drunk writers. If this sublime is everywhere, it can be in comfortable places.”

“We’ll go to a pub later. For now, just enjoy the change in scenery.”

“It’s the same woods as in the morning.”

“The lighting changes everything. Like, that! Look, never seen that on this track before.” Soren said, poitning in the distance. A couple miles away there was a pale shining light, a small moon amongst the trees.

“No…we haven’t.” Rene conceded. As the drew closer, the light seemed to cyrstalize into a large manor. Pillars rose from the dirt, covered in well kept ivory. Statues held the platform’s atop. The windows shone like stars in the night sky. Wolven gargoyles lay at the gate, guarding it against intruders.

“But how didn’t we?” Rene asked, looking about.

“Maybe we took a different turn this time.” Soren said with a shurg. “We should go inside.”

“I…I think that’d be trespassing,” Rene said, reaching out and touching the iron gate around it. Despite the shimmering light around it, it was solid to the touch.

“True enough. I guess we should come back during the day.” Soren said, stepping back and staring at the manor. Not a single thing seemed to move in it’s windows, not a bit of bright ivy shook in the wind. Instead it stood stoic and solid, a pale pillar beneath the brilliant yellow moon.

“Yeah. Wonder how they got it to glow like this.” Rene said, flicking the gate again. The iron gave a satisfying ring as they turned and left down the stone road, into the foggy night once more.

As promised, the two met the next day at noon. It was silent, as the birds long ago went down with the winter. The snow on the ground was more expansive, a vast white plain stretching on either side of the dark brown dirt road.

“Are you sure this is the right fork?”

“It’s the same road.”

“But the lights different! Things look different at night.”

“Well, we’ll know. If we picked the wrong trail, we can go on another one later. Its not like it’s a big woods.”

“No, there,” Soren said, pointing, “there’s the hill it was on.”

“I don’t see the light though.” Rene said, moving swiftly toward the spot. And sure enough, there was nothing glowing. Rather, there were the remains of of a wall, some bricks stacked on each other. Easily stepping over, the two investigated the remains. Here, where once pillars proudly stood were the remains of cracked bases. Where windows once gleamed, now there were shards of glass. The hand of a statue was buried under some of the snow.

“How…” Rene said, leaning over the hand, examining it closely.

“Who’s to say? It must have been a trick of the night.” Soren said, looking about. “The sublime comes once, like lightining is glimpsed and –”

“It must be only at night,” Rene interrupted, looking around.

“What?”

“The missing condition. At night. Let’s try again tonight.” Rene said, frowning, crevases forming on his brow.

And they did. It was again foggy that night. The sun was pale, lacking it’s old yellow. And they went along that trail. But ruins still remained. Rubble and the crumbling corpse of the original building. Rene paced it’s perimeter carefully, occasionally kicking up the snow.

“Must be full moons only? Or maybe, once a week?”

Soren frowned, but agreed again to come back next week to the same spot. And agreed to try again at the next full moon. And then on the same day the next month, then on the same number of moons since the start of the lunar year, then the next day equa-distant form the solstice or equinox, then on the day that was next in the cycle from the full moon, the next harvest moon, then the next full moon after that harvest moon and so on.

Rene started digging deeper and deeper. The house burned down decades ago, it seemed, although how many times was unclear. It was abandoned. Not a single ghost trail mentioned, not a single traveler besides Rene and Soren claimed to have ever seen it late at night, decked in the moonlight. But Rene kept digging deeper and deeper.

Time passed, and each time the ruin remained. Soren confided in her friend that the house was gone forever, but could tell it made no difference. Rene would head out at the same time, although according to different measures, every night. Even during the day, he would spend hours without Soren, staring into the iron gate. Waiting for it to return.

Soren tried other routes, but Rene twitched and grew irritable when taken from the moon lit path. When Rene told the story of the mansion, Soren heard a longing in his voice. As if he were describing a lost pet or dead friend. Something mysterious and magical that slipped through his finger, and if only, if only Rene said, he knew the combination he could get back again. He could see that pale moonlight in the woods again.

Well, I can’t say I’m proud of this one. The vague outline might have worked as a b-story in another work, but I couldn’t quite get a conflict going. The characters are also a bit flat. Despite the extra time being finals free has given me, it just didn’t click. What about you? Did you achieve greater success with your stories?

Next week, we will discuss pre-humanity, the starts of humanity, and the preservation of the past in icy tombs!

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