The Bowen Street House

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 Prior Research:Rhode Island Ghosts

Bowen Street was a bit nicer than I rememberd. The old pot hole was fixed—the bigger one, not the little ones—and the fences weren’t as rusty. Uncle Rodney had been a bit of a nutter towards the end. There were three locks, and a keypad. I remember when I was fifteen him showing off his security room—I’m still not sure if it’s legal to have that many security cameras peering out in all directions from your house. I’m sure it isn’t healthy to stare at monitors all night.

It was a stroke that got him.

Opening up the house, even with the keys and the passcodes, felt like breaking into some giant vault. There was a layer of dust covering everything inisde, and that was before I started going through the locked doors. Most of them were double locked, and the windows had bars on the inside. I don’t know what Uncle Rodney was worried about—he was just generally nervous it seemed—but he had made one amazing cage.

It really shouldn’t go to waste, I thought. It was his life’s work. And I admit, I didn’t feel like sleeping any time soon. The layers of dust made the air heavy, and I didn’t have time to clean. One night, with some beers, seeing what the old man was looking at all night. I’ll toss it out tomorrow, I thought.

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The house clicked to life at eight o’clock exactly. Camera’s whirred to life, screens flickered, lights shone down. And that was the visible parts. Webs of motion sensors were spontaneously woven over the yard, and I’m pretty sure the fence gained life electric. And I sat, drinking from a can, watching the screens. Trying to figure out what had made Uncle Rodney so afraid.

There was a bobcat that walked across the street, right up to the gate. I held my breath as it looked at the fence. It reached out a paw—I stared intently as it considered the jump.

And then, suddenly, it ran off. Scapered back where it came. I glanced across the screens, following the little angry furball until it got to a side walk and went down the street.

I mean, at that point, I kinda thought it lived across the street. There was another house there, although I didn’t give it much attention before. I mean, it was barely a house.

The roof was intact, and the doors, and the—I frowned as I looked at the windows. I guess the lights were off? They were completely dark—actually, zooming closer, it looked like the blinds were closed? No, not even that. They were tinted black. I sat back a bit. Was this whole neighborhood paranoid? I zoomed the camera back out, taking in the crumbling wreck. The porch had fallen in, the door looked worn and someone had stolen the door knocker, and–

There was beeping on one of the motion sensors. I frowned, and looked over at the other camera. My heart stopped for a moment as I saw a pale shape—some kid in a grey hoodie or with a blanket around their back—squeezing at the gate. I couldn’t quite make out what he was…I mean the gate was high voltage, maybe he had wire cutters or something.

I had dialed two digits before he was gone. I looked up as the phone rang, and saw him slip across and into the old house, turning back for only a second. I thought he looked into the camera.

*

“Mr. Barthet?” The voice came through on the other end after a minute of silence. “I don’t know how often we have to answer these calls before it becomes a crime, Mr. Barthet.”

“I’m sorry?” I asked, blinking. “This is the first time I’ve called.”

“Don’t tell me your memory’s going to, Rodney.” The officer sighed. “So what was it this time? Some rave across the street that no one else can here?”

“I’m—I’m not Rodney.” I said slowly. “My names Roger Barthet.”

There was a long pause.

“Oh. Well. I’m sorry for your loss Roger.” The voice said slowly. “Uh, well, alright—Your uncle had a habit of reporting on the old house. Don’t lose to much sleep over it. The place is condemned, should be bulldozed any day now. No one living there but some rats.”

“But I saw–”

“Probably some teen hiding there for a few days or something, you know how kids are.” the officer continued. “If he mucked up your fence too much, that might be something, but, well, we aren’t going out in the middle of the night to chase a kid down in a ghost house.”

And that was it. He told me to get some sleep, see if I felt better in the morning. I sighed, hung up, and went to bed. It rained that night, helped me sleep some.

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Not that I woke up feeling any better. If anything, it felt like someone had reached down my throat and dropped a bunch of needles in my stomach. I kinda staggered around most of the day. Took a walk down to the river, did some exploring.

The house across the street was definitely abandoned looking. I mean, the porch was rotting and missing all its paint—it had turned a weird grey brown of dead trees. A bunch of small live ones were growing in the yard. The old fence was pointy and green-black—I can’t quite tell with those old iron fences that have like, the tips you know?–and broken in a few places. The only really intact bits were the windows, which during the day seemed all the more strange. Seriously, why does an abandoned building have tinted windows?

I couldn’t get it out of my head, walking down the riverside. Someone definitely still used that house for…for something, I don’t know what. Maybe it was just a teen sex and drugs den or something. No wonder Uncle Rodney had cameras pointed at, must have been convinced they were going to try and rush his place in the night. I’m surprised I didn’t find a bigger gun-locker in the house. Yeah, I still hadn’t figured out how to get rid of that, I’m pretty sure Rhode Island’s strict about that sort of thing.

I didn’t go to bed that night. I stayed tuned in—the guy I called over said it’d be costly pulling out the all the wires, and he needed to check the house more, so I had a few more days. And I knew what I saw. If I could just see it again—If I could catch that kid—I think it was a kid. That thing in the night, I’d be able to sleep. I spent the afternoon after the work practicing the shutter function on the camera—a quick photo with a click. And so I waited. And waited. I waited as cars passed by, as drunk teenagers stumbled across the side walk, I wait until three in the morning, eyes fixed to the screens, staring out in all directions from this house.

I was almost falling asleep, despite the caffeinated heartbeat. And then I saw it. My finger moved before I did, clicking rapidly on camera six, the one facing the house. There it was—some pale ship leaning against the black windows.

It was pointing at the camera.

No. It was pointing at me. It held up a finger, a thin spidery finger, and curled it back and forth. Closer it said. Closer.

*

The police weren’t pleased to hear from me again. I swear I heard them mutter something about running in the family. But I know what I saw. And I brought the photos. Didn’t do a ton of good—they looked like photoshop or something. I don’t know. But they agreed, at least, to send someone over. Show me around the other house. Show me no one lived there.

“See, doors not even locked.” Officer Jones said, pushing the rotten wooden door open with one hand. “No one leaves doors open down here. Alright, lets look around, see if there’s any sign of a squatter.”

I grumbled at that—that wasn’t a squatter last night. But whatever. They didn’t believe me, that’s fine. They’d see. He clicked his flashlight on—the house was dark with the tinted windows, but not as empty dark as it was at night.

“Now, we’ll go quick. This place isn’t exactly hospitable.”

The wallpaper was peeling. There was almost half an inch of dust on the entire floor—hell, the carpet on the second floor seemed to be more dust then carpet. There weren’t any dishes, and only a few bits of silver ware. Most were to busted to be used. The walls upstairs had several gouges– “Twenty years ago someone looted all the copper they could,” Officer Jones explained—and most of the light bulbs had been smashed on the ground. There was a bathtub, stained and moldy. A bed. A few picture frames, although there had been more before. You could still see the marks on the wall were they used to be.

There was a chair by the window, where the figure had stood. I walked right up to the tinted window and squinted out—my house was nothing but a shadow from here, an inky blob you could barely call a home.

“Right, see? Nothing’s here.” Officer Jones said, gesturing around. “Nothing but cold damp floor boards, and broken things.”

I frowned and looked around. There was nothing but some broken things, some mold, and some dust. Why wasn’t there more? An old house like this, why not—why wasn’t there any graffiti? Why was no one living in this abandoned but…but stable house? Why hadn’t they for…who knows how long? What was keeping them out?

“Right. Nothing.” I said, as we walked out. What was beckoning me to stay, even in daylight hours?

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I stared out the window. No need for cameras this time. I could see that blasted house. I had seen something before. I know it, I know the cameras don’t lie. I’d locked all the doors, I turned on all the sensors. I had a hundred eyes wide open to see it again.

It was so small—behind the tinted windows, a breeze. It pushed gently against the door, pushing it open and outward. I stood and watched as the door opened, the trees rustled. It didn’t speak—it didn’t even seem..there. But the door slammed against the house wall. No breeze moved anywhere else. It slammed again. And I felt it’s eyes staring up into mine.

The police didn’t even give me a minute to explain. There was shouting, and a frustrated “then just stay inside!”. But I couldn’t. There was something there. Something in the house, that was watching me, that wanted something from me—or was offering something. I couldn’t tell. So I went out, into the night. I crossed the street, and went through the door.



This story is a bit rushed, but I like the pacing and I think the general idea of security and observation leading to paranoia. That both houses are in a way haunted.  That’s all for this Halloween–apologies for the delay, but things have been hectic.

Next week, we visit another very famous New England town. See you then!

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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 House on the Hill.

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 Resulting Story:

It’s been a while since we’ve indulged in Mr. Lovecraft’s poetry. The particular poem he references, which will provide a bit more guidance to our research, seems to be one of two by Edward Arlington Robinson. One is “The House on the Hill”:

They are all gone away,
The House is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say.

Through broken walls and gray
The winds blow bleak and shrill:
They are all gone away.

Nor is there one to-day
To speak them good or ill:
There is nothing more to say.

Why is it then we stray
Around the sunken sill?
They are all gone away,

And our poor fancy-play
For them is wasted skill:
There is nothing more to say.

There is ruin and decay
In the House on the Hill:
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.

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The other is along the same theme, is “The Haunted House”:

Here was a place where none would ever come
For shelter, save as we did from the rain.
We saw no ghost, yet once outside again
Each wondered why the other should be so dumb;
And ruin, and to our vision it was plain
Where thrift, outshivering fear, had let remain
Some chairs that were like skeletons of home.

There were no trackless footsteps on the floor
Above us, and there were no sounds elsewhere.
But there was more than sound; and there was more
Than just an axe that once was in the air
Between us and the chimney, long before
Our time. So townsmen said who found her there.

Both of these stories point us towards our ultimate topic—a haunted house on a hill, overgrown with time, in the United States. The term Colonial is a bit more limiting. I suspect Mr. Lovecraft was thinking of houses in New England in particular, but have expanded my research into the ghostly and and haunted to other house up through the eighteenth century. Not that the Americas have a shortage of haunted homes and houses.

Starting with the northernmost examples I have, we have tales of ghosts from Nova Scotia. A peddler murdered in a half-way house in Halifax haunts its top most room, and sounds of burial can be heard while sleeping there. In Digby, a local doctor’s collection of skeletons are haunted—and disapprove of a worker who set them up like dominoes and knocked them over. A ghost returned to his family, haunting them for three days before a priest compelled him to speak. The ghost then revealed he needed a shave before entering St. Peter’s gates.

In Indiana, there are number of old haunted homes. A number of houses are haunted by coffins not yet buried. A millionaire named Tess preserved the love of his life, even buying a fan to blow her hair and having a private generator keep the blue lights on in the room. Poor Tess seems to have lost his mind, hoarding coffins not only of his loved ones but of cats as well. In Medora, a similar story plays out with one Aseop Wilson, who’s mother insisted he not serve in the civil war. Aesop did, and of course died in battle—his body however was sealed in casket of charcoal at his mothers request, and not buried until a pyschic made contact with him years later. Despite the eventual burial, the delay appears to have attracted unseemly sorts as the house, as white wraiths still appear and moan in the old decaying ruin of the place.

TerreHaute

Downtown Terre Haute, the town home to the Preston House (well. Whats left of it.)

The Preston House has a number of ghosts ascribed to it. One is of a woman, who came with a man from New Orleans. When she refused to divorce him, she went missing on a trip to her family—the servants at the house were convinced she had been buried in the walls. Another group of ghosts came from the Underground Railroad—although the informant claims the railroad was literally underground. As a number of slaves were escaping, the tunnel caved in on both ends. The house’s owners tried their best to excavate the tunnel, but needed to move slowly to not draw the authorities attention. Sadly, all the slaves died—and their spirits still lurk in the house, chains shaking as they wait.

In Koleen, a rotten woman died when her hair caught fire—the product burned fast, and her shouting fed the flames to burn faster. To this day you can see her burn once a year, an event marked by increasingly ominous signs and weather until the day of.

The Hill House of Rockville is probably the most relevant of the houses in Indiana—and perhaps the most humorous. The owner, a wealthy man judging by the size of the house, passed on. And as they say, where there is a will there is a long line of eager relatives. His entire extended family came and spent the night before the funeral there. The next day they awoke and learned that all of their clothes had been removed, and placed in the high branches of the trees outside. Truly a terrifying experience!

The Shoals of Maine provide many haunted ruins as well. A pair of violent drunken pirates argue along the shore, in the burnt ruins of a home. A woman waits still for her husband, who left for the sea ages past. He promised to return, but alas, if legend is believed it was none other then old Teach, Blackbeard himself! She wanders on the shore still, her clothes flowing behind her and mumuring darkly at any movement on the waters. A hanged man walks the shore as well, in a bloody butchers apron and with a long knife. This set is made complete with a monk. The monk, a black robed hooded figure, only appears when the sea growls and the wind blows—a gale is coming, and he prays along the shore for those men who will join him in the here after.

In New York state, we have the Sutton house. This house fits our description almost perfectly, as a shambling house that cannot be seperated from the woods around it. The house was home to a family of three—the mysterious Mr. Sutton, his wife, and his daughter. They lived apart from the rest of the commmunity, and rumors persisted that Mr. Sutton abused his wife. Shortly after their arrival, Mrs. Sutton died of an illness—and had a closed casket funeral. Her daughter vanished, to live with an aunt in England (although others suspected she too had been slain by her father). Mr. Sutton persisted for some time, but he too vanished. The story continues, that as the place fell into ruin, women were seen walking the grounds with their throats slit. On the anniversary of Mrs Sutton’s funeral, Mr. Sutton’s form was seen digging a grave. A distant relation did eventually move into the house after the Revolutionary war. As the day was short, he stuffed all his belongings into a small room and went to bed. On his first night, his sleep was disturbed by the sounds of a great and terrible struggle. It sounded as if china was being shattered in a struggle between a man and a woman—but no damage had been done to his good. He learned, however, from some letters that the room his cookery was in was the room the young Ms. Sutton stayed—and at last the fate of the girl was confirmed.

the Schoharie hills

Schoharie village, from Wikimedia Commons.

In the Schoharie hills, New York, we have other stories of hauntings. One informants mother was asked to watch the house of a suspected murderer. The old man was accused of having done away with several peddlers and others. On her first night, a strange image of a dog appeared. Next one of the man’s victims appeared, headless. He demanded to be buried—his body was under the floor boards—and to see the man hung. This ghost had the decency to make his court date as well, and testify. Another house had a room of such fright, that any animal placed in there fled or perished.

For each of these I’ve mentioned, I’ve ommited about a dozen others. The tales of hauntings are very similar—doors fly open, loud sounds with no origin, sudden bursts of light and fire, strange headless apparitions. Often they are the sight of a heinous crime, other times merely…present. Some even occur before the death of their victims!

So we know what a haunted house looks like, sounds like, feels like. We know that sensation, late at night, on the edge of sleep, and hearing a strange creaking sound not far off. And it isn’t hard to build a story of all sorts around a haunted ruin—places of palatable dread and uncanny, that are somewhere between wild and constructed. That ruins are haunted is nothing new. Sumerian demons dwell in those great collapsed buildings unprotected. But the hill poem asks an interesting question. What makes us stop and pause?

The poem calls out the lack. There are no lights, no specters, no sounds. There is a profound nothing. No one is left, and we don’t even have the nature of these nobodies. Why then do we stop and stray, at this ruin on the hill? An answer might be for treasure buried deep or for thrills. Maybe to find shelter in a storm. There are many reasons to end up in a place we don’t want to be.

This doesn’t feel like a monster story. This doesn’t feel like a story with jump scares and shaking buildings. This is a more atmospheric piece. Perhaps, our narrators are looking for someone, something. Some closure at least. Who knows why one might end up, like the nameless Sutton, in an old family home.

And find no one there.

This reminds me of one other haunting—one I discussed here. I will have to think on it some, to build this one. What stories of the dead places have you heard?

Bibliography

Baker, Ronald L. Hoosier Folk Legends. Indiana University Press. 1982

Beck, Horace Palmer. The Folklore of Maine. J.B. Lippincott. 1957

Garner, Emelyn Elizabeth. Folklore From the Schohaire hills, New York. University of Michigan Press. 1937

Fauset, Arthur. Folklore of Nova Scotia. New York, American Folk-lore society, G.E. Strechet and Co. 1931.

Pryer, Charles. Reminiscences of an old Westchester homestead. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1897.

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The Wind Blew Out From Bergen

This Week’s Prompt:57. Sailing or rowing on lake in moonlight—sailing into invisibility.

The Research:Sailing Away

I sat on the great cliffs of Moher, staring off into the fading sea. I’d come in quiet contemplation of all that I knew, facing into the inevitable turning of the tides. The moon was large that night, casting a great pale shadow on an otherwise dark sea. It looked, from those great cliffs, that the world ended just on the horizon. Or rather, that it wrapped itself upward again, so that the moon in the sky was as much a reflection as the one on the sea. In a moment, I thought, the sky will churn like the sea, and the moon will be rent to pieces.

It lasted all of a moment, my apocalyptic thoughts. In the next, the caw of a raven restored a sense of present. The cliffs were solid stone, and I sat with legs over the edge looking below. All was quiet, except the washing of the waves. All was still, despite the churning of the sea.

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That was, until a curious sight caught my attention. It came up from the northern shore, first as a gentle cold breeze. Turning up, I saw the ripples on the water spilling onto the sea from some unseen source. At last, into view, came a vast sailing ship. Fog was round it’s sails, and flickers of lanterns lined it’s hull. Three sails full of wind pushed it on, but below I made out the motions of oars. It was as if a modern Englishmen had placed his hull on a ship of antiquity.

The Ship from the Cliffs

It recalled to mind, though, not the dread iron clads of this modern age. It was a wooden ship, moving at full sail. From afar, by some strange focus or unknown providence, I could still make out each hand and every sailor. My heart paused. For there, gambling on the deck, was Henry in his prime, his chest unmarred. No blood dripped on his uniform, obscured by royal red. His face seemed healed, both eyes still good and joy springing along his face.

And there, beside him, was William, drunk and laughing at some obscenity unspoken, waving his bottle like a cutlass. Recounting some half remembered story, of the Caribbean and pirates and smugglers and women. I leaned close, shocked further to see more of them. Brenard, reminiscing over the edge, laughing with Thomas. Robert had found William and the two were in each other’s grips. Oh, they all looked so young and well. Their skin was flush with color, no longer the pale and bloated things that floated to the surface of a stained sea.

More figures came into view. A crowd of Frenchmen here, a fallen German sailor there, a captain with fire in his beard, women and men alike. A strong man from the islands shared a pipe with a Frenchmen who, I sense, he may have beheaded. All seemed well. All was merry, there was drinking and dancing and revelry. Eventually I focused on the most peculiar figure. At the great wheel, he stood over six feet tall with skin the color of sea weed and hair as red as fire. Wildly he spun the ship’s wheel, and yet the ship stayed steady. Every now and then he would shout out a song, and half the crew would take up this shanty or another, a symphony of languages to the same tune.

But stranger still than that man was the thing that emerged from the captain’s cabin. A towering figure, with a single red eye, beneath a man of hair and above a beard that seemed to large to belong to a man. Like a large crab, with a wide brimmed hat dripping jewels, he stood surveying. And then fixed his eye on me.

The Cyclopean Captain.png

Reaching a gloved hand out, I felt his gesture calling to me. All of them, beckoning me as their ship began to go farther out to sea, shimmering in the breeze. Wordless sirens, they sang to my heart, already wounded. The promised calm seas and celebration, and green hills and isles of gold. I jumped out of my shoes, flew out of my body onto it’s warm deck. I was young again, my stomach full of fire and laughter as I stood upon the floor, music filling the air. Their singing my song, the band invisible is playing my rhythm, and Delilah is there waiting for a dance.

I mumble and try and to take a step forward. But something has caught my leg. I pull harder, as the ship beneath me is pulling away. As the rail hits my back, I cry out for them not to leave me, that I am soon coming. The crew don’t hear me as they fade away.

Again on the misty cliffs of Moher I sit, alone on darkened stones, staring into the pale sea. The black waters below smash with little fanfare along the shore and cliff face, leaving small traces of salt in open wounds along the rock. I get up, and turn to walk away. But somethings still fastened, lightly, to my leg. Looking down I see it fade. A pale white hand, back into the stones, lets me go at last as I head back to the road.

 

———–

I’m not terribly fond of this one. The hook of alluring memories of younger days occured to me two days before it was finished, and I don’t feel like I had the time or creativity to extend it longer than it was. It feels like a small scene in a larger story, which might be a good place for it. I am oddly fond of my illustrations this time though.

Next week, we stay in the British Isles to discuss a peculiar valley!

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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.

Dorthman Reshoot.png

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!”

Seance1.png

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.

HundredHands.png

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?

Odysseus Necromancy.png
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.

MayaBloodLetting.png

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.

BuryatShaman.png

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.

Spiritualism2.png
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.

TheWinchesterHouse.png

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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An Ill Fated Boat Ride

This Week’s Prompt: Phleg′-e-thon: a river of liquid fire in Hades.

The Research:River of Fire

The river was great drain down the side of hills, a bright reddish brown even on the best of days. A dead snake constantly inching it’s way down, Mel would never normally go down near it. But she and Donna had made the promise to go and see if it was really true. If past the old statues, through the bent woods, and right before the lake that had somehow kept it’s clarity, on a moonlit night with no clouds in the sky, you really could see the dead.

You know it’s a rock formation, right? There’s a bunch of those. Or some mist or something.” Mel said, putting a white mask on as she got aboard the boat with Donna. They’d considered renting one, but the only boat at night was run by Mr. Gills. And Mr. Gills had one eye, kept three barely tamed dogs, and looked at people like they were meat. Donna was convinced he’d killed someone before. So they “found” an old rowboat.

Or swamp gas, maybe. But come on, what if it’s not?”

We’ve traveled down a dangerous river of slurp and who knows what to see the dead.”

And that’ll be awesome. C’mon, I borrowed a knife and got a new can of mace for this.” Donna said from the old boat. “We’ll pull over on the lake and see the moon at worst, and then trek back, and you can blog about how we wasted a night on an adventure! Or seeing the dead, now come on!”

Mel frowned, looking down the sides of the river, checking for the tenth time that she had her phone and keys. And then the began down the river.

RedRiverCover.png

The moonlight seemed to foul on the water. When you could make out it’s reflection, it was an outline of rotting cheese instead of the orange disk overhead. Mel saw some distant lights over the hills, probably a summer camp bonfire. It was oddly cold along the river, the summer heat sucked into the porous earth.

And who’s that?” Donna asked, shining a light on a marble calvary man covered in moss, his head having fallen off.

Judging by the…colorful base.” Mel said, squinting at the layered graffitti. “He’s at the least had an eventful love life. Name starts with an H…Henry?”

Henry, huh?” Donna said, shining the light at where the head would be. For an instant there was a face in the branches, grimacing from with flashing eyes and fading translucent skin. The tree lines became veins of invisible wounds along a shadow of a face. Mel blinked, and it was gone.

What war did we have that’s got a statue these days?”

Plenty?”

Okay, but which one that people leave in the middle of the woods?”

Mel had to pause at that. Yeah, you’d think a place that could afford a statue would move it. But they were drifting into older parts of town, which were more wild than others.

Maybe they tried. I read about that, back in Spain, that saint statues went back into the wilds if you tried to bring them back.” Mel said, pointing her flashlight into the nearer woods. The sudden movement of the flashlight caught some of the branches and a few birds fluttered away, cawing at being disturbed from sleeping.

Yeah, I would rather be asleep too, Mel thought. But a deal’s a deal.

That’s dumb. It’s a statue. Just move it back again.” Donna said frowning, her light catching on glittering cans that poked above the river’s sludge surface. With a flashlight instead of the moon on them, the metal became rusty detrius again. Mel wondered if stars worked like that. If you saw them too clearly, were they no longer beautiful?

I think the idea was it was the saints that moved them.” Mel said. The river had carried them past the last of the statues now. The gray and red iron of the cemetery was coming into sight now. Probably, Mel thought, the statue was a grave not a war memorial. Probably, the idea was that the cavalry man buried beneath would stand in an unstained, well kept forest of stones and sarcophagi. Maybe even surviving family or service men would visit him.

The Old Town cemetery had been so thoroguly reclaimed by the forest that there was burial a tombstone that could be read. Some tomb stones and family lots were knotted together, moss layered over them like a blanket over a group of hiding children. Some of the longer stones had croaking frogs on them, large white eyes reflecting the light perfectly back at Mel and Donna, little lanterns on the edge. And of course there were spider webs. Spider webs from branches to roots, among graves that could still be seen, running as a second fence between the iron one. Some spiraled, some just ran straight, a net of silk to catch flies that no doubt had been plentiful from all the bodies once.

Maybe the reconstruction club should do something down here.” Mel said.

The reconstruction club?”

The Historical society, the ancestry commune, I don’t know. People who have money to fix old stuff.”

Huh. Wonder if anyone related to the old town still lives around here. They’d probably want their grandparent’s old stuff fixed up.”

Charon's Boat.png

Mel nodded, before glancing over the hill. A dim orange light was starting to rise in the distance. It couldn’t be sunrise already, could it? No, no they’d been out here only a few hours. It must still be that bonfire. Man, that was a long party.

There was a sloshing not far behind as they passed the graveyard. A black boat gradually pulled up along side them. Mel and Donna exchanged looks as the growl of an angry dog was heard from what was clearly Gills ship.

Well, row! Mace probably won’t reach that high if he’s gonna kill us.” Donna said in a panic.

Mel began as best she could to push faster along the sludge. The larger boat moved along, foot steps echoing on deck as their smaller shipped slowly pulled ahead. At last they seemed safe, a good distance established. Unless, of course, he had a gun.

If he had a gun, we’d be screwed anyway.” Donna muttered when Mel mentioned it.

Maybe we should land?” Mel said, looking to the side of the river. The coast was a thin outline of reeds, but she could still make it out from the pebbles on the shore.

No, no. No. He’d just jump us there.” Donna said, not taking her eyes off the boat. “Damnit, what assholes is he bringing out here.”

Maybe he just sails down river at night?” Mel said, still catching her breath.

What, in the midlde of the night in this–” Donna stopped as Mel gestured at their boat with her hands.

Okay, but we have a good reason.”

We’re chasing a ghost story.” Mel groaned.

Look, I just-Oh shit, he’s started again. Paddle!”

You paddle.” Mel said, lying back and looking at the handful of dim stars in the sky. “I’m tired.”

Donna groaned, but grabbed the oars and began driving their boat back away from the ceaseless march of the more proper river boat. Mel watched as a figure came out with a lantern in hand on the prow. It seemed extremely reckless to sail without anyone steering. Donna’s rowing pushed them ahead again, past the cemetery and far from the boat.

Is he still following us?” Donna asked, sighing.

No…No, he pulled off, seems to have run ashore.” Mel said squinting. The orange on the horizon was growing behind the ship. Mel now heard the hiss of steam. The smell of burning filth came down on the wind ahead of the stream of fire that was snaking it’s way towards them. Fire full of smoke and dancing shadows, tongues of flame licking the sky.

Oh god, oh god.” Mel said, pointing vainly over Donna’s shoulder. Gills boat sat in front of the fire, back-lit by it as he waited by the side. The thick smoke and fire was gaining steam as Mel grabbed the oars from Donna and started peddling towards the shore.

River Of Fire.png

Adrenaline was pumping the oars, giving Mel’s arms any strength. Furious movement away from the fire was the best she could manage some of the water splashing over and into the boat as Donna turned herself to see the encroaching light. As Mel felt exhaustion take its toll, as the boat bumped against rocks hidden in the river, ruins of some long forgotten damn and bridge, the flames seemed alive. A mass of red and green and orange and blue teeth teetering over the water through pumes of smoke that masked it’s true bulk. It was almost transfixing, fire having that special power that it does over terrified and desperate minds.

The boat hit a final rock and Mel felt it slipping out from underneath, rolling onto it’s side. The water tasted worse then it smelled as Mel tried to swim out from under, flailing vainly towards the shore. There was a brief, panicked comfort in the cold water, even as a branch clung to Mel’s leg. Kicking violent, Mel pulled herself free at last and pulled herself to the shore.

RedRiverCover1.png

Only then did she turn back to see the branch, slumped in the river, overcome and lit by the fire. The smell of burning flesh filled her nose as she saw the dead floating down the stream.

****

Midterms put a great deal of temporal stress on this story. I like the idea of playing with the reality of the horror vs the literal tricks of light and shadow, but the ending is rushed and to be honest it doesn’t have the symbolic resonance the story deserved. But it was either wait another 2 weeks perfecting it, or sending this out. I’m disappointed that the fiftieth isn’t my best work, but that is nature of things sometimes.

Next week, we journey to a strange garden with stranger shadows.

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