Rhode Island Ghosts

This Week’s Prompt: 98. Hideous old house on steep city hillside—Bowen St.—beckons in the night—black windows—horror unnam’d—cold touch and voice—the welcome of the dead.

The Resulting Story: FORTH COMING

This prompt was tricky—the experience of research in this case was very similar to a much earlier attempt to track down a specific name. A brief internet survey for a haunted Bowen Street turned up a restaurant in Texas—here we have  a rather polite ghost, who turns the lights off at around midnight when she wishes to be alone. Fittingly, the article doesn’t record any particularly nasty acts of violence or misery inflicted upon Mrs. Bowen or her family.  The timeline isn’t quite right either, so I began my search elsewhere.

There is another Bowen Street, that seemed more likely—Bowen Street, Providence Rhode Island. As the home  I first consulted my existing material on Rhode Island—which included a number of haunted places that I will go over in a moment—but found nothing on Bowen Street. Internet searches again revealed nothing on the street, except a ghost tour and a number of apartments. I did, however, find another haunted building and the Lovecraft story that this prompt is based on. And that is the ominously named Shunned House, on the Benefit Street.

The plot of the Shunned House is a plot based on obsession with a strange and unfortunate house. The narrator and his uncle attempt to discern the nature of the century old curse, bringing with them some exceptional weaponry and scientific equipment. When they spend the night there, however, they are visited by strange lights, ghastly faces, masses of mold, and other bizarre sights. I will not spoil the final twist of the story, but it is an unusual ghost story in that it lacks the blood, pale visions.

It is possible that our prompt instead served as the basis of The Unnameable or The House in the Mist. Either way, we are back among the lands of the dead, and the Shunned House begins us in a rather strange position.  We can find one of the historic sources of the Shunned House with the Stephen Harris House. The House was constructed over the graveyard of French Huguenots in the eighteenth century, a sure recipe for a haunting.

The actual Shunned House—the Stephen Harris House in reality—has a similar origin. It is built atop a Hugenot graveyard. A wealthy merchant, Stephen Harris, and his wife built the house, and afterwards became horribly cursed. Ships began to sink, children died, and other tragedies.  The legend goes on to say that Mrs. Harris eventually went mad, no doubt in part with grief. Most famously, when she was confined to the attic, she was heard shrieking in French—a language she didn’t know.  The house stayed in the family, falling into decay and decrepitude as the house failed to sell. By the 1920s, the street had become a slum with the haunted and crumbling house on the hill.

This is of course not the only haunted house in Rhode Island. As I’ve alluded to before, all places are haunted in the end. One along the ghost regards a Mr. Jackson. He was traveling with one Captain William Carter in the winter 1741, intending to take some furs to Boston. The captain murdered Mr. Jackson for his furs, and stuffed his body beneath the ice at Pettaquamscutt Cove. The body was eventually discovered by an eel fisher, and the good captain was brought to trial for it.

However, Mr. Jackson was not at rest. Nearby indigenous settlements were so harassed by the ghost, the village was moved to avoid him. The roads nearby then reported Mr. Jackson’s presence up until the mid 1930s—well into Lovecraft’s day.

More haunted locales, however, are also common. There is the story of the Ramtail Factory. A dispute between the owners and the night watchmen over pay resulted in the night watchmen threatening that to get the keys, they would have to take them from a dead man. Shortly after, the owners found the factory locked—and breaking in, found the watchman dead inside, hanging from the pull rope of the bell. The bell rang out every night at midnight from  that day forward. Removing the rope would not stop it—and removing the bell lead to stranger mischief, such as running the factory at full speed or turning the mill stone backwards against the water.

Smith Castle

Smith’s Castle, courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons

A house in Wickford, built by one Richard Smith in 1639 was reportedly more haunted then could be believed. Smith’s Castle, as it is sometimes known, has a long history. Among these many ghosts were a group of indigenous people—the exact nation is not recorded—who had been captured by the settlers. In a fit of drunken cruelty, one of the settlers cut the head off a captive, sending it tumbling into a clock. Another was tarred and feathered before dying. The house had further misfortune, being the site of a suicide later on and a number of other tragedies—a mass grave for forty soldiers is nearby, and one of the owners was beheaded and placed on a pike after King Phillips War.

A strange marker of the dead, attributed to indigenous people, are scrub pines.  Each scrub pine that rises, according to local folklore, represents an unnecessary death. One farmer swore to remove each and every one of these pines that grew up in his field every year—and was warned against it by the living. Pushing on, despite the miraculous growth of some pines over night, the farmer met his end when one of the pines collapsed and fell on him.

A number of places in Providence have specific hauntings, but I’ve yet to locate sources for all of them in folklore—the best list I found was here.  As always, a haunted place is often the site of violence or death. Murders, abuse, and others result in restless dead seeking redress. Cruelty calls to the dead. In our prompt we have a second layer of the dead—one that separates it from a number of these stories. For, from Mr. Jackson to the night watchmen, most ghosts want their domain vacated. They drive people out. But here we have the dead beckoning inward. The dead welcoming, if invisible. The dead are calling.

And nameless—and I think this is key as well to the horror at play here. Most ghost stories remember the name of the ghost. Names are sometimes repeated, represented, or changed but almost all are remembered. The dead here are not only nameless but numerous—perhaps recalling the Huguenots at the Shunned House, who are known as a mass but forgotten as individuals. If anything, the strange beckoning dark reminds me of another house.  A house…well. I have spoken on that house.

H Blue

I think for this story, weaving the weighted, overgrown and ancient house with the image of new life from the scrub pines might be the most fascinating route. The manifestation of ghosts and others in new life and new knowledge is a form of a horror we haven’t done yet—at least not exactly. Plant life in particular—or in the case of the Shunned House, fungus—has a clear connection to the dead. The underworld is often connected with cycles of seasons and other patterns. Persephone and Hades, as an archetypal story, connects food and vegetation with the land of the dead as does the Maya Hero Twin story.

The other bit of lore I find fascinating about the Shunned House, connecting it to a similar collapsed manor story we wrote, is the notion that the haunted house is trapped here, in this family. The curse cannot be gotten rid of, because no one will buy the land and there is nowhere else to go. Roots laid too deep to be entirely removed from the family line.

What haunted houses have you heard of or visited? What ghostly shapes have you seen, beckoning from the windows?

Bibliography

Bourgaize, Eidola Jean. Supernatural Folklore of Rhode Island. University of Rhode Island, 1956.

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The Old House

This Week’s Prompt: 95. Horrible Colonial farmhouse and overgrown garden on city hillside—overtaken by growth. Verse “The House” as basis of story.

The Prior Research:The House on the Hill.

I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t for the rain.

The rain started on the third day. A light drizzle, something to mutter and grumble about. George complained a bit about spoiling the clothes he’d brought. I shrugged it off. The two of them looked like they could find a dry cleaners easy, and a little rain wouldn’t damage much. The woman, Lisa, was quieter about it, but she’d been quiet the whole trip.

The drizzle grew insistent and heavy. The clouds turned dark overhead and slowly rumbled. The sky was ready to burst down. I looked around for shelter then. The hard ground  meant a flood was almost guaranteed. A flash flood like that was dangerous for me—exceptionally dangerous for these two. High ground was better. Of course, at the top was the best yet.

I sighed as I saw the old house.

AbandonedHouseCloudColors.png

“You sure no one lives there?” Lisa asked as we hiked up a bit, nearly tripping on some stones.

“I’ve made this trip dozens of times—never seen a car parked or a light on.” I said. Well. I had seen a light on. But if there’s an abandoned building that teenagers or homeless folks won’t repurpose for a night, well. I haven’t heard of it. It being so…unused meant there was probably a reason for that.

“Seems…fishy.” George said, looking at the old building. More whining. The distant rumble of thunder overhead settled the matter, however.  In we went.

The house wasn’t well kept. I mean it was better than I’d expected—most of the wall paper still there, and only a few holes someone had punched in, probably a vain attempt to find copper wire—a house like this thought? I’d be surprised if electricity ever ran through it. The stairs were intact. Still smelled like mold, even in a dustbowl like this.

As I went upstairs to find some blankets, tossing George a lighter to start a fire, the down pour began. There was a sigh on the wind and then a roar from the ceiling. Upstairs there were about…five rooms.  I did a quick check, make sure we hadn’t walked into someone’s business. There was dripping from one of the rooms. A leak to keep an eye out for, but there wasn’t a real bed in there so it didn’t matter.

As I paced back across to check another room, I heard them muttering down stairs.

“I’m just not sure—I mean, I love you, but your sure your cousin can set us up?” Liza murmured.

“Of course he can. I sent him that letter ages ago.” George said. I heard the frustrated clicking of the lighter and then the sharp inhale of a flame.

“That’s…that’s true. Do you have the one he sent back?”

“Don’t worry about it.” George muttered. I stepped carefully across the hall, forcing open an old locked door.

“I’d just feel better if—”

“Don’t worry about it.”

No one inside, but some pictures. Most worn down, with rusting metal frames and cracked glass covers. Someone had smashed it maybe—I don’t know how time breaks glass. Family of three it seemed. Must have been well off folks, with portraits like these. As I fold the old sheets, I noticed something a little odd. The pictures weren’t of the same folks in the room. I mean, I guess they were family. There’s never been a grove like that. Never been a field like that since well—well, I guess the house was old. Risky, leaving well off relatives behind to hit off on your own.

I thudded down the stairs, and could feel the silence between George and Lisa. I hated bringing over eloping kids and newlyweds. Making it across isn’t fun or easy, and slapping young love’s euphoria in the face makes them either unbearably happy or utterly miserable.

“Alright, bundle up at least.” I said, walking in. George was sitting on the floor, prodding a dim fire. Lisa was sitting on the couch, looking out the window. The storm was battering away, but the walls muffled the roaring. There was another boom of thunder, and a flash of lighting. The spiderweb cracks on the glass were sprayed back by the light.

FireplaceGhostHouse.jpg

I tossed Lisa the blanket and through the sheets over the window. Block out the rumbling as much as we could.

“We should get some shut eye.” I said, looking over at George, who grunted in reply.

“Shouldn’t someone keep watch? I mean, in case someone comes looking or—”

“No one’s coming in this weather.” George said, cutting Lisa off, and standing up. “Worst we have to worry about is the roof caving in or something. And I didn’t see any tree—”

There was a loud thud above us. We all stared at the ceiling, waiting and watching. Another thump, a bit softer this time. Then a crashing sound.

“I’ll go check it.” George said, holding a hand up to Liza. “Since I’m apparently so reckless.”

“George that’s not what—” Lisa said, sitting up a bit.

“No, no, it’s fine. Probably just a possum or something.” He grumbled, grabbing an iron poker and walking up the stairs. I glanced at Lisa nervously. But I held my tongue. No need to pry. Lisa was looking at the fire, pulling the blanket close.  There was another clatter, and I took the opportunity to escape the silence.

George was digging through the room with the dripping sound—looked like a small cupboard, with tin foods and such. Frontier house like this, must have been striking out new ground.  George was kicking a box to the side—some smashed plates next to it. He sighed a bit, looking at the rest.

“Not even a cat. Wind must have shaken it all down.” He said. “Damn. A stray might have been worth it.”

“Its not far to the other side.” I said, shrugging. “No need to worry yet, everything’s in order. I know a few guys who can make sure you two get across and—”

“Yeah, no need to tell me that.” George said waving his hand as pushed past. “I know we’ll be fine. Worst case, Joe didn’t get my letter—and that’s a really bad worst case—and I’m sure he’ll be happy to lend a hand. This isn’t the first time this happened. She’s just…” George waved it off again. “Is there like… a proper bed or something in here?”

“Uh, sort of.” I said, gesturing towards the bedroom. Later, I realized the dripping had stopped in the cupboard—never found out what it was. Maybe some dust had sealed the leak or something.  The wind was picking up a bit.

The rain clattered against the bedroom walls as we paced about. George found the bed felt…wrong. Layers of dust and the occasional tear from an animal—one long set running down that I noticed scratched down the floor. We lingered on the pictures some, the families.

“Bet these are hers.” George said, running his fingers along the edges. “They’ve got the same eyes, same hair. There are more of them. Probably worried about her…moving so far away, from all the green and coasts and such. Give anyone a fright.”

I shrugged. Never was one for sympathy with the dead you never met.

“Wonder why they left these behind.” George said, looking around. “It’s a nice house…You’d think they’d take it with them.”

“Not worth staying up here.” I said, looking around. No need to frighten folks with old stories of old houses. “The roof giving in could be a problem and…well, I guess if there’s an attic, this isn’t literally the worst place.”

“Basement?”

“Can’t build basements out here.” I said, heading back to the hall. “Ground’s too hard—won’t give that easy.”

Rain.png

Down stairs, we found Lisa staring at the curtains, frowning and still bundled tight.  The feeble glow of the fire barely reached her face. There was something in that room, unseen and for now unspoken. There was something tugging at us, something wrapped around my throat. Soemthing numbing and full of panic.

We didn’t sleep that night. I don’t remember much else from it—I sat alert in a rocking chair, watching the fire. I know they fought again, with a few barbed words. But honestly, that place was so loud. The rain was shaking the entire place, and even as it muted and muffled the thunder’s booming…That house was maddening. The wind and rattling metal—I heard arguing upstairs, shouting and smashing. Its no wonder no one stays long in that old house.

We left the next morning, not talking or stopping for breakfast. Not a word about last night. I made sure we left everything behind—there had to be a reason no one had stripped the pictures of silver frames. I didn’t want to know why.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

This story was…well. I like some of the ideas, but I think more strangeness at the house was warranted. I don’t think I had enough interaction to build a mood of hostility and dread and discomfort that would substitute the actual presence of ghosts. Perhaps more screen time to the couple, and cutting the third member? Using the remains of the building to reflect on the difficulties of the relationship or heighten tensions…aw well.

Next week, back to hills and dales! Come and see, the strange fires over yonder!

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All Hallows Night

This Weeks Prompt: 72. Hallowe’en incident—mirror in cellar—face seen therein—death (claw-mark?).

The Resulting Research: Polished Silver Distorts The Eye

The autumn wind was cool on my face. The grinning faces of the jack o lanterns weren’t enough for warmth. It was that most wonderful night of scares and sweets. The most wonderful night of the year. I went to the old haunt of my ghastly crew—the iron gate near the graveyard, where it had been agreed we’d all meet.

Jordan and Lamark were the first to arrive. Jordan had painted his face green and had two cardboard ‘bolts’ sticking out of his neck—Frankenstein, I think. Or the monster from Frankenstein? Or Frankenstein’s monster? The scary dead man. Lamark was in a black and white skeleton costume—Did they meet up and decide to both go as scary dead people? Maybe. Maybe.

Halloween 1.png

“So, we’ll circuit around the Renolds and then to the Prices.” Jordan said, gesturing at the hand drawn map in his hand. “The Renolds have the most candy, but everyone knows that. If we don’t hit them up early, they’ll be out by the time we get there. And the Prices are nearby, but Mr. Price goes to bed early, so we need to go there next.”

“But the Prices give out those hard candies!” Lamark protested.

“Right, but my cousin loves those. We can trade them for some chocolate coins he finds somewhere.” Johnny said, nodding.

“Your cousin’s weird.”

“The weirdest. Alright, and then after the Prices, we…” Johnny said, continuing along the route through town. I nodded, walking the route in my mind as I clutched my bucket.

“…and then we all meet up back here. Now, where’s Phil?” Johnny said, rolling up the map. I looked around for Phil. He was always late, every year. If he was very late, he might cost us the Price’s candy. Lamark started tapping his foot impatiently, until at last Phil’s heavy breathing could be heard. Wrapped in rags—again with the scary dead people, was that all they could think of?–Phil came up the hill, wheezing and staggering.

“Sorry, sorry. Had to—had to get around the Collins house.” Phil said waving his hand. “Took longer then…then expected.”

“You could’ve just walked past it. House is harmless.” Johnny said shrugging. I nodded in agreement. I’d been to the Collin’s house a few times, and there was nothing wrong with it. It was just old.

“Harmless? I’ve seen things there, man. It’s haunted, I swear—there’s lights in the middle of the night, and Luke saw someone digging around in the yard, but there weren’t a hole there in the morning.”

“Yeah, because you fill up holes after you dig them, moron.” Lamark said, rolling his eyes. “I mean, he’s probably looking for the Collin’s gold.”

“The Collins what now?” Johnny said, turning to Lamark.

“Their gold. My grandpa said the Collin’s great granpa—uh, well great granpa when he was a kid, so great great granpa I think?—got rich off something in China, and were paid in tons of gold. Buried it near the house, in case he needed to find it and to stop the government from taxing them over it.”

“And it still there?” Johnny asked, thinking a bit.

“Course it is. I mean, if it wasn’t, we’d hear about it right?” Lamark said.

“…Right, what if—hear me out—what if we just gave the place a quick look on the way back? I mean, we cut across there between the Avery’s and the Johanson’s. Just a quick stop, you know, see if we can find anything.” Johnny said, unrolling his map to point. I frowned. If we stopped, we might miss some of the candy, and then what was the point?

“Tonight? You want to go tonight? If it’s haunted, it’ll be haunted tonight!” Philip protested.

“What are you, five? There aren’t any ghosts there. Just an old house that might have some buried treasure.” Johnny said, waving his hand. “Sides, if there are any ghosts, we’ll just scare’em off.”

“…Fine.” Phil relented.

I sighed and took the back as we walked down the sidewalk, heading towards at least the first candy.

*

The Collins house looks old, even nearby. The roofs look heavy on bent wooden walls. The panels have swollen with rain and paint. The yard is over grown, more weeds then grass. In the spring, dandelions and bright yellow flowers bloom. But in the fall, its brown and marshy and dead. The fall had gotten rid of any buzzing mosquitoes, or weaving spiders. Orange leaves pilled around the single lone, bent over tree. There were strange colors along the bark where lighting had struck not long ago. The wind ruffled the dying grass.

“Right, not that hard see?” Johnny said, unlatching the gate with a stick and walking over the drive way, broken by roots.

“Yeah, but a stop with no candy still seems stupid.” Lamark said, shivering a bit. I had to agree—we had a good haul so far, but it could have been bigger.

“Who knows, we might find some souvieners.” Johnny said, shrugging. Phil was to busy cowering to complain. Well, to complain loudly. I heard his mutterings of how foolish it was to be wandering this far out, at this hour, on this night, to a haunted house.

“Or maybe something to trade for candy or something. Besides, what if we get to see a ghost?”

“Thought you said ghosts weren’t real.”

“Probably, but I mean, it’d be cool if they were right?” Johnny said, walking up to the rotted door.

Halloween 2.png

It gave when he pushed, the knob worn and rusted. The floor creaked in as we followed, the dust thick on the ground and the tatters of cob webs spun over the stairs. A starved spider dangled from the rafters, swaying in the wind. Our flashlights fanned out faster then us, checking for a glimmer of silver or gold.

We were quiet as the grave as we walked, each plank creaking or crunching. The house was bare—no chairs, no tables, not cups, no food, nothing. Utterly hollow inside, even the wallpaper peeled away to leave barren gray planks.

Johnny wanted to go upstairs, but there was no way Phil was going to cross the ruins of arachnid civilization. He was convinced spiders were lurking as ghosts right there, unseen and unheard. Not that what Lamark found next was much better.

“No. No no. No no no. Not the basement. Come on, I don’t even go into my basement.” Phil said, staring at the small stairway down.

“Won’t go in the attic, won’t go down the stairs…Come on Phil, if you were gonna stash something, you’d put it down there right?” Lamark said. “We’ll just go down, have a peak around, and come right back up, then off to the Vernon’s place for more candy.”

“No, no way. I’m not going down there.” Phil said, shaking his head. “Nothing good’s down there.”

“Fine, if your gonna be that way, you can stay up here alone as look out. Lamark and me will go down, see that there’s nothing, and come right back so you can get some sweets. Or, better yet, you can just run home.” Johnny said, descending back down, before Phil could respond. Lamark shrugged and went down as well, with me nearly knocking Phil over as I followed behind.

The basement was mostly empty. A few tarps, a broken smatterings of wood. Lamark sighed with relief—until another light shown back at us. Johnny laughed when he shouted, putting his hand on his shoulder and pointing.

“Well, we found something.” Johnny said. It was a small sliver of mirror, under a tarp—barely shining the light back at us.

“We could probably take it back.” Johnny said, walking up to it. It was small-ish, maybe as big as a small pillow. “Think it’ll look neat.”

Frankenstien.png

“Heh, like you need to see your face more often.” Lamark said nervously, still scanning the room with his flashlight. “Well, we looked around…Better head back up.”

“Yeah, yeah, just let me see this.” Johnny said, removing the tarp from the mirror.

And then he saw me. I waved, and he made a horrible noise.

And then Lamark made the horrible noise when I tried to stifle Johnny’s noise, his fake bolt hitting the mirror. Lamark ran up the stairs as I pushed Johnny against the mirror. I don’t know if he saw me, but I heard the door slam shut. I turned after him, forgetting that I left a bit of a red claw mark on the mirror. I got up the stairs in no time, and saw Phil standing there. Staring at me, red dripping from my fingers, candy fallen on the ground. Phil, to his credit, didn’t run this time.


This story was fun to write, even if the climax was a bit rushed. The writing was delayed some by moving, but actually came fairly naturally. It’s a bit of a common of a ghost story, and  I think the ending is broadcast rather clearly. Still, even if a few months early for the great holiday, I enjoyed it!

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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.

The Pale Hound1.png

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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Dreadful Tapping

This Week’s Prompt:52. Calling on the dead—voice or familiar sound in adjacent room.

The Previous Research:Calling Up the Dead

The four of us had heard of Master Dorthman’s services before the unfortunate accident. In that age, seances and masters of spiritual sciences were arising in a way that honestly spoke to either the authenticity of the science or the ultimate capacity for forgery and profit it presented to a bored elite. I will not say personally which I believe it is. In recent years, as my hair has greyed and age has slashed my face with a thousand daggers, it has become apparent that neither is forgery terribly profitable nor is the science as certain as once believed. However, this encounter of mine was at the heyday, and it is more of the certain then the profitable to record.

Master Dorthman was a medium that Timothy knew well at the time. Through some telegraphs and informal meetings, the Tim, Robert, myself, and Liza had agreed to seek out a medium for the upcoming anniversary of the departure of a devout spiritualist friend of ours. Drew had died in an ignoble way after a string of misfortune, and it was of our interest to see what had become of him in the hereafter. At the time, my curiosity was genuine.

 

Master Dorthman’s reputation was, according to Timothy, on the rise. We invited this up and coming man to meet us a few times before and he seemed charming enough. At the least, he would not be a bore if nothing came from his various devices for revealing letters of the dead in paper or hearing their sounds through a special silver horn.

So we sat in darkness, with the only illumination being a set of four candles at the corner of the board with letters. Dorthman, a lanky gaunt man with something of a goatee, all from his many prescribed ascetics, stared into space. The burnt incense formed a haze around his eyes as he hummed, to better receive the ghost of our dead friend before moving the viewing glass on the table. It was, Dorthman had explained, an old oriental trick to commune with the dead. The room was silent yet brimming with anticiation of some sign.

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And yet, it was still shocking when it came. We had expected Dorthman to open his eyes and proclaim something or in trance suddenly speak with dearly departed Donald’s voice. But no. It was a much smaller sign. From the hall outside, down the stairs towards the living room, came a tapping noise.

“Did you hear that?” I asked, turning from the cirlce.

“No doubt a rodent.” Tim muttered as Dorthman continued to hum.

“I doubted rodents made that sort of noise.” I said again, before the tapping resumed in a cascade.

“No, that’s no rodent.” Dorthman said, standing suddenly. “It is the spirit of the departed making his presence known. Right now, he makes clear his idenitity. The tapping, it is the way spirits show themselves and say who they are in their higher language, where the complexities of language are made more simple! Now, allow me to attend to you spirit!”

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And with that, he walked around the table his head held high, a candle in hand to descend down below into Donald’s ancestral home. The four of us sat in silence, unsure of our showman’s return. At last, Liza broke the silence.

“It did sound like a song I’d heard before. I hear out in the Americas, the mediums set up songs to lure the dead back.” Liza said, adjusting her dress.

“Well, that’d make sense. Music, it’s said, is the highest form of expression. The German barbarian might not understand much in his mechanical brain, but even he is susceptible to music. Why, in Africa–” Robert began, before I cut across.

“Yes, but Donald didn’t exactly have a knack for it in life did he?” I said, frowning. “He was rather unrefined in that–”

“I’ve found it yes!” Dorthman’s voice came up from across the hall. “I have found it, yes! Come and see, it’s wonderful! Though you will need a candle to see!”

“Don’t go down there yet.” I said, glaring at Tim. “Mere tapping might be many things. And I’m not so sure approaching a strange man in the dark is wise.”

“But if he’s found it, we ought to see!” Tim said, picking up one of the candles.

“What if it isn’t Donald? What if some robber has him by the throat, the tapping being some glass? Or worse, what if it’s some other apparition.” I said.

“What makes you think that?” Liza asked.

“When was the last medium who hollered at you to come down?” I asked.

“Perhaps he’s–” Tim’s discussion was stalled.

“Describe him!” Robert shouted, lifting a candle and nodding toward me. He slowly stood next to Tim.

“He has a long face, and lantern eyes! His left eye is a bit deformed!” Dorthman’s voice said. The gentlemen glanced at each other.

“Stay here. If it comes to something, we’ll come and get you.” Robert said. “The two of us, with these sticks between us, should be able to sort this out.”

And the two of them left us in the room. We could hear now the tapping from down stairs as they descended, thumping down flawless wooden steps. The tapping was a pattern, but not one we could determine. It was to music what glossolalia is to speech. Recognizable, but utterly divorced from familiarity.

“Maybe…Maybe we should try to finish the séance without them?” Liza asked, shuffling so she was across from on the spirit board after what I later gathered were about ten minutes passed. The tapping had decayed again into silence. With a shrug I joined her on the other side.

Liza had been to a séance before this, and so was more than willing to guide me along the process of the spirit board are erstwhile medium had left behind. Putting both hands on the piece, she gestured for me to follow suit. She closed her eyes and said something I couldn’t hear. At the first feeling of movement, I started my hands back, as did Liza. We stared at each other, expecting the other to confess to being the source of the motive force. Then slowly, we turned our gaze to the viewing piece, as it slowly began to move across the screen.

Some may ascribe this motion to a number of spiritualist tricks. Magnets and electricity are often involved in such deceptions, or perhaps subtle motions by some unseen mechanism that Dorthman had told Liza of before hand. But for myself, Liza seemed to startled to be implicated. Again, it is possible that what occurred was some forgery with which she was complicit. As she left the world in the sieges since, and never confessed any such thing to me, I am doubtful the truth will be known. Thus, I stress, I am only putting to pen what I myself saw.

For the small viewer began to move hesitantly across the table. It gained confidence as it did, finding its bearings and at last with precision began to spell out a phrase: Not Me.

There was a moments confusion, before we heard Robert and Tim’s voices from the stair well, and Dorthman’s from the ground floor.

“Its Donald! Come down, you have to see this! Donald’s back!” Tim’s said, his footfalls coming closer to the door. Recalling the promise the gentlemen had made, we wait. But there was silence as Tim stood before the door. No light cast from his candle inward. The door, held shut, betrayed nothing but darkness beyond.

Then, that dreadful tapping sound began on the door.It was more layered now, as hundreds of fingers rapping on the door, prodding it and testing it.

“Won’t you let me in?” Tim’s voice said from some far off distant cavern. I put my hand on Liza’s knee and shook my head in case she had not yet understood what danger we were in.

The rapping continued, and the voice did as well. Sometimes Robert, sometimes Tim, sometimes Dorthman. But never Donald’s. So we stayed there, vigilant as the night slowly faded into day. Then, when the rapping ceased, the door opened. For a moment, we saw a terrible Hecatoncheir, arms outstretched in a web of flesh and muscle around the door frame. But it was quick to become smoke before it could become anything too real.

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We found Robert and Timothy slumped on the stairwell, candlesticks still in hand. We roused them with some difficulty, fearing at first they had joined Donald in the here after. As for Dorthman, his location was revealed with the sound of the slamming of the front door. We last heard he had headed across the channel to seek more continental success. I wonder if this was his first encounter. I wonder also, how he awoke before the others.


 

I’m rather fond of this one. I think the basic presence of a seance gone awry is a good one, and allowing the iniatal contact to be a false ghost might be a good start. I think it could have been doubled in length, but finals week is upon me, so doing so was not plausible at the moment.  The images used likewise are not ones I am particularly proud of.

Next Week! We return to the dead, but not an entire corpse but rather a single dead hand, scrawling out its will.

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Calling Up the Dead

This Week’s Prompt:52. Calling on the dead—voice or familiar sound in adjacent room.

The Resulting Story:A Dreadful Tapping

Necromancy is upon us, fellows! Dark sorcerer at last revels itself! But perhaps you are confused…this is about only sights and sounds. How does this relate to Necromancy, which much of popular culture conflates with zombies, skeletons, liches, and the summoning of undead war engines or hordes?
Necromancy, at it’s base, is much simpler then all these things. A necromancer attains knowledge by communicating or contact the dead. The modern word has it’s roots in just that meaning (Necro meaning dead, mantiea means divination). This has a number of cultural ties to be discussed at length here, as it might give insight into the unsettled spirits above. And of course, we are necromancers here aren’t we?

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The first place to start, although not the oldest, would be the Greek conception. Necromancy here is most apparent in the works of Homer, specifically Odysseus’s voyage to the Underworld, where by blood offering he acquires the aid of a long dead sage. These could be elaborate rituals in later times, and often relied on the conjuring of specific shades for their precise knowledge.
Related to the Greek school of thought is the Jewish and Old Testament relations of necromancy. Necromancy, for a variety of reasons, is forbidden under the Law. It was a Canaanite practice, and further, it disturbed those God had claimed. The existence of shades to conjure was also severely questioned by later Christian critics. However, there is a noteworthy account of necromancy here as well. The Witch of Endor.

Ewoks

Wrong Endor, ya dolts.

The Witch of Endor episode occurs during the book of Samuel, where a Canaanite woman is asked by King Saul to conjure up a dead prophet and judge in order to learn his fate. This resulted in the King being roundly condemned for daring to disturb the dead in his quest for certainty.
Moving farther abroad, the means of contacting the dead are known in China as well as the Mediterranean. More often, mediums are used there to contact the dead then conjuring as we know it. However, the Chinese authorities have perhaps a more elaborate arrangement of the dead, divided into forms based on death (In the way that other faiths might assign punishments). The hungry dead, those derived of ritual, are the primary ones to be kept at bay, while other deceased relatives might provide comfort or aid to their descendants.

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Note the bowl of scrolls, which would have been stained with her own blood.

The Maya priests also engaged in a sort of necromancy, consulting the spirits of Xibalba by shamanistic or hallucinogenic rituals and blood letting. They contacted otherworldly spirits this way, in a manner that might seem familiar. Ancestors again were a protective force at times, and knowledgeable about many things.
In the Northern European climes, there are records from a seventeenth century poem of a mother being called forth by her son after death, in order to defend him and free him from his stepmother. The mother adds her son by casting a series of spells to defend him.

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Among the Buryat people today, ancestors are the primary group to be consulted by shamans. After almost a century of Soviet oppression, however, many of the names of these ancestors have been lost. And worse still, several have found the places they inhabited to become nightmarish, with ancestors killed in Soviet prison camps manifesting as tortured and angry spirits barely intelligent to the mortal sense. These ghosts all need appeasements, as the various ills that befall a Buryat household are often ascribed to angered ghosts and displeased ancestors. These rites might involve sacrificial sheep or promises made with a shaman as an intermediary.

I could go on, my fellow society members, but the number of ghosts in the world is vast indeed. The dead are often restless, sometimes manifesting in human forms, sometimes in frightening ones. But to close this portion of research, I might bring attention to the phenomena that Mr. Lovecraft was particularly thinking of : Spirtualism.

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Spirtualism was a movement in the late 18th century, brought on by speculated causes, of conjurers and contractors of the dead. Mediums and seances spread through Europe, claiming to speak with the long dead through various devices they had. Now, whether the craze was built upon the notion of invisible forces as revealed recently by sciences, or the sudden access Europe had to Egyptian, Buddhists, and Hindu manuscripts through it’s vast colonial empire can’t be said. What can be said is that the séance was a common occurrence.
And the remains of these séances are wide spread. The Winchester house might be the most famous. Built by the wife of the inventor of the Winchester rifle, the house was always being built. Why? At a séance, the builder Sarah Winchester was told that she would be haunted by all those who were killed with the Winchester rifle. The house was thus a never ending labyrinth to confuse spirits that sought to harm Sarah, so elaborate that even within the last year new rooms were discovered.

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The Winchester House

Another séance inspired the religion of Spiritism in a young Frenchman, who believed he had come in contact with the souls of ancient druids. While Spiritism proper might balk at being termed necromancy, Allan Kardac’s discovery was of the secret knowledge held by spirits that had past on. The religion spread across the Atlantic and took roots in many Caribbean and Latin American countries, as well as to the French colony of Vietnam. Recently, I read an article detailing how the French movement influenced moral teachings in Iran as well. The faith maintains a following to this day, with thirty five countries on an international council.
This is all to bring context to the scene we have hear. A séance, a contacting of the dead is by it’s nature a strange and uncanny event. But here, we have a contact that was actually achieved. A voice is heard or a familiar sound (in proper tradition, probably some musical notes). So, what is the horror and dread here?
This won’t be a story, I feel, of a great overt horror. No one is going to be dismembered in gory ways. No one is going to go mad in the overt, grand, Gothic sense. A séance may be dripping with Gothic forms, a Victorian melodrama that disturbs the barrier between the living and the dead. But the horror is going to be…different.
Atmosphere seems key to all horror, but I think with something as small as a séance, where the shift is merely a sound, it will be primary. The horror here will rely on who is attending the séance, and who is conjured. And maybe what they say. After all, the voice of the dead might be one full of knowledge. But in a Lovecraftian world….well. Who’s says knowledge is a good thing? Ignorance is bliss.

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