Dredged Up From The Depths

This Week’s Prompt: 60. Fisherman casts his net into the sea by moonlight—what he finds.
The Resulting Story: The Sacred Fish

We’ll need a bigger boat for what can be dragged up with this corpse. Ignoring the moonlight for a moment, fisherman have a habit of finding strange things, from the medeterrain to Japan, and everywhere in between. If we put on our symbolic lenses, the reason might be apparent. The sea is a chaos and potent place. It is where anything can happen. And so, sometimes, everything happens.

A common fisherman catch is, unsurprisingly, fish. However, strange and rare fish are easy to find. A tale from Albania tells of a golden fish, which when caught and prepared, made a woman and a horse pregnant. Both children had a star on their brow, and go on to be fantastic heroes, marrying a shape-shifting gender bending moor and a djinn woman, blinding armies with their star-marked brows, and eventually confronting the treacherous king. In Japan, a species of mermaid if caught and eaten provides immortality but misfortune. Probably because of it’s all too human looking face. In Ireland, the Salmon of Wisdom provides…well, wisdom if eaten properly.

JapaneseMermaid

A German tale, recorded by the Brother’s Grimm includes a fish that grants wishes for it’s freedom in much the same way a genie might. An older version has the Yugoslavia version, where the fish gets caught so many times it accepts its fate and instructs him to cut it into six pieces, giving two to his wife and two to his horse and burying two in the ground after granting him a castle and gold. The result is two golden boys, two golden foals, and two golden lilies. A Greek version changes it to trees. The one brother goes out to make his fortune, the other stays at home. The adventuring brother pretends to be a robber and woos a maiden, and gets married. Then, he goes to hunt a stag and asked a witch for direction. The witch claimed to know where the stag was, but turned the man to stone. The other golden child came to rescue him and had his dog eat the witch up.

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Fish also have a knack for swallowing important things. Solomon once lost his ring to a fish, and with it control over his kingdom, which was destroyed bit by bit as he was helpless to watch. Another fish swallowed a wish granting treasure(the nature of the item is not specified in my translation of the Tibtean tales). While not swallowing it, a fish does guard the sword of Wild Edric who we covered last week.

Ainu stories, recorded granted over a century ago, include the notion of fish that contain magical properties and must be proprieties after they are caught. They share this notion with the Netsilik of Northern America. Further, fish caught may belong to a creature recorded as Konoto-ran-guru, and must be returned. A creature lurking in the middle of the sea, given to him is power over all sea devils and ill currents. He prefers his subjects, the malformed fish of the sea, be returned to him.

More malicous creatures arise from the sea of course. In the Maori story of Tawaki, a race of amphibous creatures kidnap and enslave the heroes mother, spending most of their time in the sea, and sleeping on land. When dawn comes, they must return to the sea or they will die. Tawaki slays them by decieving them about the time, with help from his captive mother.

And then there are the objects that are dredged up from the sea! In another story relating to King Solomon, a bottle containing a djinn is tossed into the sea and fished up later. The poor fisherman who dragged that up died of fright when the djinn emerged. This occurred in the City of Brass story mentioned last week as well, where it was a rather regular occurrence (funnily enough, those djinn thought Solomon still lived).

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Maui, that great Polynesian super man, washed onto the shore after his mother tossed him out. He, a fisherman in his own time, brought forth the arch-typical island from the sea on a fishing trip after his wives bothered him about his lack of fishing. He warned his brothers not to eat anything on the island, and not to disturb the island. Had his brothers not disturbed it, all islands would be perfect. But they did, and the island shook irritably, generating mountain ridges. It was a titantic and terrifying effort, ruined by a bit of carelessness.

Comparable, at least in part, to the fishing trip of Thor, where the thunder god nearly lifted up his own doom, the Jomundur serpent. The fishing expedition was one of frightful experiences for the giant involved, to say the least, who then tried to kill Thor and of course failed.

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Then there are the things from the sea that come of their own accord. The sea has an odd tendency towards spirituality! First there are the sages of Mesoptamian myth, who rise from the fresh water of Abzu, bringing law and culture with them to human kind. These fish-like sages further saved humanity from the flood, before being banished back to Abzu by Marduk. Japan features the prophetic Amabie who can see when bloody war is coming.

Then there are those strange monks and bishops in Europe. The Sea Bishop was reported in Poland in the 16th century, and was held captive by it’s king for many days. After a time, however, a visiting Bishop came across the creature, and it managed to communicate it’s want for freedom. The bishops released it and, before going below, it made the sign of the cross. Another was captured in Germany, but died fasting for three days and three nights.

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The washing up of strange creatures, such as whales and giant squid, sometimes unearth terrible things in the real world. The sea, chaotic thing that it is, spits forth monstrous things every now and then onto the shore. And sometimes with horrific consequences (such as when a number of people learned not to dynamite a whale carcass, video here).

Of course, this mythology is reinforced by the reality that happens with shocking frequency. Fisherman pull up strange and bizarre catches, which make their way into museums or conspiracy theories. From ancient remains to modern technology, the sea holds many wonders strange and bizzare hostages. Again from Japan, there is a strange craft with a woman and a small box, which fishermen found in the early 19th century. They deduced that the woman was an exile from a foreign land, and as her health was failing, they returned her to her reconstructed craft and set her to sea again.

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A fascinating horror story, of things washing a shore from the depths of the seas, can be found in the story The Thing that Drifted Ashore, a short horror comic that I found here. It has some interesting notions that are often found with the sea: dreams, the dead, tragedy, and horror. I won’t spoil it here, but Junji Ito is an artist and writer that you should make a point to check out.

Our own story will no doubt begin with the discovery of the strange and sequestered item from the sea. The item or fish will have some mystifying effect, transforming the community that finds it in some subversive or disturbing way. And then it will be discovered, and perhaps suffer Innsmouth’s fate. Or alternatively, we will end with some ultimate horrific and tragic act.

Batchelor, John. Ainujin Oyobi Sono Setsuwa. KyōBunkan, 1901.
Chopel, Norbu. Folktales of Tibet. Ltwa, 2006.
Elsie, Robert William. A Dictionary of Albanian Religion, Mythology and Folk Culture. New York University Press, 2001.

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

Megas, Georgios A. Folktales of Greece. P, 1970.

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

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The Little People In Life

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

The Resulting Story: What Was It?

The nature of the invisible, the unseen and perhaps only barely felt, is so vast that we might have some difficulty. Demons, angels, ghosts, gods, jinn, giants, the entire genre of tales concerning little people are all examples of invisible things that may follow someone home. To ease our ability to work in this context, it would serve us well to examine a piece of fiction that Mr. Lovecraft had in mind when he wrote this prompt, one that he is known to have held in high esteem. I mean the French story, the Horla.

The Horla is an alien creature, or rather an “Outsider”. The novel does not detail it’s origins, but does give a good amount of description of it’s abilities. The Horla is a sort of vampire. It is an invisible presence that haunts the protagonist and alienates him from others around him. The Horla itself feeds on the life energy of the main character as he sleeps, and drinks water while remaining utterly invisible. The Horla’s arrival is eventually traced to a ship from Brazil that the main character happened to wave at as he passed it. This sort of little gesture with vast consequences is common in stories of invisible forces haunting ones life. The Horla renders the man’s life so intolerable that he schemes either to kill the horla itself, himself, or both if that is what it takes.

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From the Wikipedia Article on the Horla.

We’ve talked about the sort of insomnia the Horla generated before. But a better description, particularly when pared with a vampire, might be those creatures that are considered responsible for sleep paralysis. Jinn fall into this category, as do a variation of the witch who manifests as a cat in Italy. In old English, the term for this state is being “hagridden”, as one was…well, ridden by a hag while they sleep, leaving them paralyzed and drained in the morning. Hags of this sort can be found around the world, although a nice summary of them is here.

Other traditions from the Germans and Swedes assign this role to a goblin, the Mare, that sits atop someone’s chest as shown below. The Mare would ride non-human things as well, including even trees. In the early thirteenth century, there are accounts of a king losing his life to a sorceress’ mare that drove nightmares upon him.

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Nightmare by Henry Fuseli

Another variation in the northern European climes is the Alp. The Alp has the distinction of drawing it’s power from a magical hat it wears at all times. The Alp will drink the blood of sleeping children and men, while drinking the breast milk of women it’s preferred victims. The Alp in many ways resembles a demon, being able to shape-shift and driven off by the cross. The alp has one more connection that is of an interest: the term Alp is etymological cousins with the term “elf”.

It is often hard to remember that elves, as we know them, are a frankly rather strange conflation. The tall, beautiful, haughty race that we find in Oberon and Titania and the Lord of the Rings are drawn from the nobles of a lineage, while expunging the parts of elves and little people who spoiled milk, that waylaid travelers, dance with them until they died, or even stole children. Even Shakespeare maintains some of the awfulness and pettiness of elves, with Puck and Oberon enchanting a man to have an asses head and conspiring to have Titania fall in love with him.  The danger of elf shot, a chronic pain in the limbs, was quite real. The line between elf and vampire, now rather clearly drawn in modern fiction, was less clear.

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A variation of Nightmare, above. It is weirdly hard to find pictures of these guys.

A non-European example of such little people, one that is more pertinent to our invisible condition, is the Pukwudgie. The Pukwudgie is capable not only of invisibility, but also of sowing confusion, creating fire, becoming dangerous animals, inflicting injuries with a gaze, and damaging the memory of their victims. While their temperament seems variable depending on locale, the capacity to wreck such havoc on the life of a human being is considerable. Why, at this rate, all they need is the want to steal life energy, and their almost a horla!

The Netsilik people have two invisible people around them. The Taglerqet are shadows that resemble human beings in appearance and society. They are visible only when they are slain. The more standard ivigut are humans who, when seen, turn into stone to hide their appearance from others. They are rumored further to feed on the stones themselves.

With that in mind, do we have a direction for our narration? Do we have a place for our story to be going? The conflict no doubt should be the sudden attraction of this invisible thing, this nameless force that follows our protagonist and does…something. While the obvious answer is to make it a hostile power, akin to the forces that follow in a number of tales from disturbing tombs of elder civilizations, the means of harm should be more precise than that. The sickening of milk, the rotting of wood, the chronic pains, the fevers, and the headaches. An invisible force that drives someone to madness and ruin over a slight, perhaps unknown or unintended, is a good basis for horror.

To dive a bit into the nature of the fear of the invisible, it does partly relate to a fear of the unknown or a fear of the unseen forces that shape the world. There are economic owners, there are cultural institutions, there are unseen forces of society and humanity that do in fact operate in the world and can drive someone to ruin without any notice. These abysses aren’t completely mysterious, but the complexity of the world can often hide the true agent of harm.

But to me, the more relatable fear that can be exaggerated from this is the fear of well…How to say this in a way that is not silly? The fear of social mores. The fear of unseen rules of conduct violated. The fear that, without meaning to, you have made a powerful enemy or offended someone. It’s a fear of the unknown, I suppose, but more concrete than that. It’s not that you don’t know, it’s that not knowing will invariably lead to you coming to harm.

In this mold, than, our main character should have offended these forces in a way that is hidden in the narrative. No special attention can be given to it, or the offense and the anxiety of the unknown is too great. It would serve even better to hide the small offense that drew the invisible down by having the main character do some great insult to another power. The paranoia that could fester at chasing the wrong issue as the source of misery would be a good source of tension and gives the story some structure. We begin with the offense, then move to the consequences, then seeking remedy in the wrong source, more consequences, and the final revelation of the true source of the suffering.


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Kobolds, Goblins, and Demons Beneath Your Feet

This Weeks Prompt:43. Monsters born living—burrow underground and multiply, forming race of unsuspected daemons.


The Resulting Story: Invasion From Below

Well, this prompt has lead down some strange rabbit holes. The corpse specifically deals with creatures underground, burrowing in a method that reminds me of locusts or cicadas. The underground is full of strange creatures, but when it comes to sheer numbers and the sort of clamoring that forms indicates only a few key cases, from folklore and urban legends that is.

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First is the Kobold, who resembles a diminutive man, despite claims by Wizards of the Coast and Paizo. Kobolds dwell either in mines, aboard ships, or in houses, and are creatures of German extraction. We will be focusing on the mining branch, who have the most mixed reputation. These kobolds are reportedly expert miners and desirous of precious metals. They themselves can enchant metals, making fools gold or metals that cause a burning sensation. They are also responsible, it is believed, for the creation of cobalt. It is they who give cobalt it’s arsenic content and poisonous power.

Kobolds sometimes preform helpful deeds, debatedly. They get the name Koblod for their tendency to knock on mine walls. The knocking either marks a region that miners ought to avoid, as it is dangerous, or one that they should mine for a thick vein of ore. This knocking habit persists into the Kobolds relatives, the Coblynau. The Coblynau are, however, always malevolent and frequently cause landslides in their never ending mining.

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In South Africa, far yet close to the German Kobolod, we have another creature. A favorite of mine: The Grootslang. The Grootslang was the first creation of the Gods, when they were new to the work of making life. They made the Grootslang too mighty, and split it into two creatures (snakes and elephants). But one of the Grootslang escaped, and from it came the whole dread species. Grootslangs lust for gems and gold, akin to dragons. They are cunning and cruel creatures, but susceptible therefore to bribery.

There are less …demonic inhabitants below of course. We have the urban legend of ‘molemen’, groups of homeless and oppressed people driven into subways and sewers for their entire lives. There they form, according to myth, tribes and nations of their own, governed by their own laws. There are some…obviously uncomfortable implications to discussing those that society has suppressed as living in underground societies of barbarity. But that is the legend. There is something in this myth in particular that could be reversed, the rising of those condemned against those that would damn them. The oppressed gripping the oppressor by the throat…

But that might be leaving the prompt a bit.

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In more typical realms of genre, there is the field of Subterranean Fiction. Jules Verne is perhaps the most famous here, but given that his explorations do not deal with something intellgient enough to call demons, we will look instead to a few other authors in the genre.

It would be strange to leave out Mr. Lovecraft himself, with the world of K’n-yan. The underground of K’n-yan is ruled by people who resemble First Peoples and possess advanced technology. They can materialize and dematerialize at will. The command undead slaves of conquered races and are ruled by eugenically engineered men and women. Once they worshiped Tsathoggua, but learned his nature and abandoned him.

With them dwell the remains of the snakemen, who we discussed more here. And in the depths of the cavern is Tsathogua himself, dread great old one surrounded by living oozes.

Mr. Lovecraft then aside, there is the work of Edward Bulwer-Lytton. This accounts not for demons, but rather a race of ‘superior’ subterranean humans that manipulate life energy. This ties into the accountants by Theosphanists, a group who’s writings make fine genre work but are tinged forever by racist and white supremacist implications if not handled properly. Ironically, I wonder if the people of K’n-yan were meant as something of an insult to the work of Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Intriguing if true.

With all this in mind, what are we to do? Well, we have some compelling examples of complex relations between surface dwellers and those below. The idea of inherent hostility in the underground works well for horror, and the setting in a liminal place between above and below would work well. A subway, a mine shaft, a cave entrance. A place between the two worlds, perhaps the spot of their divergence.

The action of the story is probably the arising of the ‘demons’ whatever form they take, coming up from the underground. The analogy of locusts rising might be fitting here, a wave of death arising from below. There is some revolutionary undertones to that …well, phrasing. Revolutions often have horrors in them, either in the build up or execution.

The other solution, perhaps the one that can mesh into this as easily, is a stranger stumbling into the hostile world below. A journey into the literal underworld, as Dante and Aeneas have undergone. We’ve gone over such journeys elsewhere, but those where far more metaphorical journeys below. This would be tumbling into a strange, hostile land of demons waiting to overtake the world. Whether they are revolutionaries or conquerors, such a place could hold a host of horrors. It must have wealth, that much is clear from most myths. And that makes a fairly good amount of sense. The ground is where growth comes from and where ores are found.

It might be wise to blurr the line between conqueror and revolutionary, to make the nature of the demons uncertain and unclear. I would point the group as coming up from below, surging beneath some manor or castle, in order to begin either a revolt or a conquest. It is probable that the footmen do not know which the sudden surge of demons is. If that is the case, then there is horror to be found in being swept up in a terror that you bear little knowledge if not responsibllity for.

I will have to think this over, I don’t quite have a full story in mind yet. There is so many possibillities that I have yet to narrow them down in a meaningful way.

I will note one other obvious source of inspiration: the videogame Undertale. I…have not finished it, so can only recommend it by reputation and the little progress I have made so far.

In a similar vein, I’d like to call your attention to a horror contest that might interest you, as it’s themes resemble this prompt. You can find it here. My story here will, of course, not be an entry in that competition. </span

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