St. Andrew’s Day

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

The Prior Research:Romanian Vampires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TeaKettleBoiling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh that’s—”

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

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

Demeneted Wolf Skull

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stone Coffins

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

Geoffrey nodded and stood, adjusting his coat slightly.

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

Without a word, he vanished like dissipating mist.

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



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

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

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

 

 

Romanian Vampires

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

The Resulting Story: Forth Coming

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

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

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

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

Deaths Head Moth

A deaths head hawkmoth

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

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

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

Solar Eclipse

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

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

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

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

St. Andrew

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography:

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

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

 

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

The Last Will

This Week’s Prompt: 102. Corpse in room performs some act—prompted by discussion in its presence. Tears up or hides will, etc.

The Prior Research:The Testimony of the Dead

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The first two cars arrived for the reading of Mr. Melane’s will at eight o’clock am. The last of the four cars arrived at half past eight. I was obliged, by prior arrangement, to wait until all six surviving members had all the gathered to read the will in full.

“Can’t you just…you know, skip to what’s mine and get it over with?” Mr. Melane’s son, Arthur Melane, said, peaking over the podium.

“I’m afraid not.” I said, shaking my head. I had taken the liberty of reading Mr. Melane’s will ahead of time—at his request, a number of things had been prepared. A pile of envelopes, labeled for each item on the will or collection of items. His own cascket, which lay next to me, his’ feet towards the audience. And a list of photos with names, in case I got confused.

“I just don’t see why we have to wait—listen she’s always late, no need for the rest of us to wait along for her nonse—” Arthur said, his cousin Shelia squirming in her seat a little. And then the eponymous she arrived, Katrina Melane. Not the same hair style as the photo, but the same color and face. And her associate, Mr. Leonard Alphonse. I was fairly certain that Alphonse was a first name, but who am I to ask.

There was grumbling as they sat. The wife of the deceased, Georgia Melane, and the last of the relations Jordy Melane, had stayed silent and upright the entire time. Patient and somewhat cold gazes.

As they took there seats in the chapel. I started to read the will.

Chapel Exterior 1.png

“Dear my remaining family and friends. As you know, during my life I devoted myself to true and honest virtues. A portion of my estate has been set aside already for the furthering of knowledge and understanding among mankind, in the form of donations and contributions to scientific research across Windgift proper—”

There was another small set of grumbles.

“However, I have not forgotten the most timeless and nurturing bonds of kinship—”

There was a suppressed cough, I believe from Katrina.

“And as such have appropriated the remainder of my estate for my relations, with a caveat. As a believer in the value of merit first and foremost, and of the importance of great deeds, I have allocated these to the most worthy—those who have achieved things that are in needing of such reparations. My executor has been given all the evidence I have for my suppositions of who preformed these deeds—however, he has been asked to not hand over the property until the perpetrators stand forward for their own actions.”

More shifting. I peered over them, and steeled my heart.

“A sum of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds was, over the course of three years, misplaced from the family funds. In particular, a considerable amount of scholarship money set aside for Katrina’s art classes and collegiate studies went missing. At the time of its disappearance, I was greatly ill and not able to correct the imbalance. I am sure you all suspect as much. Whoever, however, removed the funds and confesses as such—to you I bequeath the estate on the moor, which I am sure you are all familiar with. The one with the lovely grove of trees.”

“I knew it.” Katrina muttered, frowning. “I knew someone was making off with—oh just give it to mother dearest. I’m sure she knows where it’s all scattered.”

“I didn’t touch those funds and you know it.” Geogria said, rubbing the bridge of her nose.

“It isn’t mother’s fault you drank away half your fund.” Jordy cut in, leaning to look at Katrina.

“Do you think I failed my math classes?” Katrina growled, her hands balling into fists. Mr. Alphonese rested his hand on her shoulder.

“A grudge that long ago isn’t worth a house, Kat…” Sophia muttered. “Just fess up and take it.”

“No, no its fine. If she’s so insistent to throw away her father’s last gift, than its fine. Yes, I misplaced the fund. It wasn’t like it was doing much good at university anyway.” Georgia said. I tapped the envelop with the peach grove on it, and cut it open, pouring out the first letter, and nodded slightly.

“Very well. Onto the second matter. As some of you are aware, as my health declined, my esteemed wife Georgia became close to a man by the name Ludwig Birding. Mr. Birding was a charming man, by all accounts, and quite the successful businessman. His import and export operations were growing rather well, and my accountant Roger suggests they will be valued at over a million pounds or more within the year. “

Georgia sharply inhaled. Katrina looked to the aside. Sophia muttered something to Arthur.

Chapel-LudwigPortrait.png

“An exceptional man, who’s life was tragically cut short by his own bottled demons according to a police report filed the 3rd of November. While none of my family drew the knife on the man—certainly, confessing to murder would be improper at a funeral. But who was it that gave him that poisoned cup? To them I leave my associated properties in Windgift, the dozen tenanted houses and associated businesses.”

“Always so long winded, even past the grave.” Arthur sighed and looking over. “Well, that’s two I can’t take. I never met old Lud until his face was plastered over the dining room hall.”

“He was…infuriating.” Katrian muttered. “But that’s just Mother’s taste. I didn’t even think he was pushed off the wagon instead of fell.”

“I thought he was quite kind.” Sophia said, tapping her chin. “He seemed a bit too friendly though.”

Georgia was silent.

“I knew Ludwig took…But still. Pushed off…” She said, tears running down her cheek.

“Well, that is the way of the city sometimes.” Jordy said, giving his mother a comforting hug.

“Pushed off by my own kin though!” She hissed, glaring around. “Which one of you did it? He’d been fighting for years to get off that damned drink. Years!”

“Mother, you knew him scant nine months…”  Katrina said a bit softly. Mr. Alphones stroked his mustache.

“I think I knew Ludwig…he wasn’t too uncommon back in the day…a shame his abstinence didn’t last too long. The man seemed pleasant.”

“Well, that’s all good morning a man dead for half a decade.” Sophia said a bit louder. “But we still don’t know who gets the property.”

“…Jordy.” Georgia said, turning to the youngest of the Melane’s and pushing off his hand. “What’s this about the way of the city?”

“Sometimes charming men fall back on their vices.” Jordy said, shrugging.

“Oh God in heaven Jordy…” Georgia gasped. Katrina clicked her tongue.

“Charming men sometimes fall, hm?” She said. “Sometimes favorites get jealous?”

“Nothing of the sort.” Jordy said, looking down at his feet. “I-I didn’t know he had a problem. I was being…friendly? Hospitable.”

“Oh that’s bull, you hate the drink like a cat hates water.” Arthur said, sitting upright.

“I knew he liked it, I didn’t know he was an alcoholic.” Jordy said. “Perhaps it was for the best then.”

“You killed him…” Georgia muttered, moving a seat.

“I didn’t kill him! I didn’t trust him.” Jordy said, shaking his head. “He was too kind, and I knew he was hiding something. I got him drunk, to let the truth come out—find out whether he was dangerous. To find out if he was taking advantage of you.”

“I am your mother.” Georgia said standing. “Since when do you look out for  me?”

“What about that man in Belgrade! Where did all that money for his charming little business go, mother?” Jordy said, standing up. “Or the dress maker from Paris, who was going to give you a career as a model and muse? Where did all of his funds go?”

A silence hung in the air. I reached over the sarcophagus, and took the letter up, and held it out. Jordy snatched it from my hand.

“At least father appreciates my service.” He muttered.

I took up the final section.

Chapel Interior 1.png

“And the final section of my will and testament, given in my right and aware mind, I allocate to the member of my family that perhaps has preformed the most grievous and influential act upon my livelihood, perhaps barring my death. Two summers before the writing of this will, there was a dispute between two persons in my library, in the summer home on the coast. Neither of you were permitted on the premise at the time, but such things are marginal compared to what happened after. I was informed, that evening, that a fire had broken out in my library—and that several key items to my research, my truth seeking, and my works. To whoever confesses the cause of the fire, I will relinquish the rest of the estate.”

Arthur laughed.

“Of course. That’s what he’s shaking his fist at from beyond the grave. Not murder, not undermining the family name, not affairs…” Arthur gasped for breath. “No. For burning some books of long forgotten lore. Of course.”

“Well who—” Georgia began.

“I did.” Sophia sighed. “Me and Arthur were visiting to find some old books and…and we found some writings from Uncle Melane’s private life.”

“Some writings? Yes, well. We found quiet a few writing, by my memory. Father had gone deep into things that were too deep for me to let stand.”

“It was a bit extreme but we did not expect the fire to spread.” Sophia protested.

“Yes, fine. But we confess to—” Arthur began—until there was a loud scraping sound. A hand, long thin skeletal hand, reached from the sarcophagus, open a jar. It reached up and seized the final envelope. And slowly, to the horror of us gathered, retracted back down into the coffin. And the coffin was sealed shut, the last will of Mr. Melane trapped within.

I wonder if they dared open it later.



This story needs more room, I think. The idea, the conceit of a will dependent on confessions, seems appropriate. But I think peppering it with revealing flashbacks–I’ve heard the movie Knives Out has done something like this–or by expanding the conflicts between the family members some. I think the middle one, with Jordy, is my favorite. I think at the end, the characters aren’t…set up enough for this plot. Not in this version anyway.

Of course, if you like the idea of seeing a revision of this story and others, you can join our Patreon here.

The Testimony of the Dead

This Week’s Prompt: 102. Corpse in room performs some act—prompted by discussion in its presence. Tears up or hides will, etc.

The Resulting Story:The Last Will

This Research Brought To You By Our Patrons on Patreon!

This prompt in a number of ways limits the story that goes forward. While there are some folklore models that we can draw upon here, I think I’ll start by discussing what form the story is likely to take first. The supernatural element, the key moment, is the destruction or hiding of a will by a dead person. The act is prompted by discussion in it’s presence, presumably discussion of the corpse itself or what is contained in the will. Now, it has been some time since I attended a funeral, thank god, and I have never actual sat for a reading of the will.  This is not terribly surprising, as a brief google search reveals that the dramatic heights of a reading of the will are in fact entirely fiction. Such events do not happen. Perhaps then, in some macabre way, we can place the body at the center of the scene anyway.

As it happens, then, we have a unique advantage. The horror of the grave rising up, one last time, to defy or scorn the beneficiaries of its will is written out in our prompt, but itself is not the core of the story. No, the story’s thrust is not in the moment but in the build up of family tensions, of schemes before and during, of arguing, of lying and truth telling. It is like a gothic Thanksgiving dinner, where all the family gathers and learns too much about each other but cannot leave. Because as they say, where there’s a will there’s a hopeful line of relatives.

CasketOpen1

Now, what folklore do we have examples of living corpses and haunting. We discussed the nature of some vampires to rise and feed despite lying in wait, and how recitations can drive them out here. These are especially notable in the context of a will, given the tendency of the vampire to feed on its own family. While not all of them have this chance, the looming spectre of lost family is hard to avoid.

We’ve talked about numerous, truly numerous numbers of the living dead and ghostly creatures here and here and here and here as well. The nature of the dead is strange, numerous, and plentiful in folklore and horror. However, there are a few more stories we can add to the discussion, particularly from the recent readings I’ve done.

One story that relates particularly well is that of the Biting Corpse—tale number ten of the twenty three. This story follows a motif common in the stories, of two quarelling brothers. One is rich but miserly, the other generous but poor. The Elder brother holds a great feast and decides not to invite his younger brother, so the younger brother decides to steal food from the elder brother’s storehouse. While doing so, however, he sees his elder brother’s wife taking some food out in the night. He follows her  until on some flat ground, behind a hill, he finds her again. She sits caressing and feeidng a corpse, or at least trying to do so—the corpse of her last husband.  She even leans down to kiss him—but the corpse bites off her nose instead. He escapes before being noticed, and waits for the next day.

The wife tries to cover her new injury by claiming it was her husband who inflicted the wound. The two quarrel over the matter until at last it reaches the khan, who is ready to sentence the husband to death. However, the younger brother appears and reveals the truth—and when the woman’s corpse-husband is found, she is put to death. Other tales, which I will discuss in more detail on the patreon, do present wives who revive their husbands—but this incident is not repeated or given further context.

The moral of this story lies of course in proper treatment of ones family more than the corpse itself—but I found it strange when reading that the body would except no food except the nose. The nose, one of the facial features that is most clearly not present on a skeleton. And there is something to be read here, about how attachment to a former husband drives a rift between husband and wife, such that the wife conspires to get the husband killed.

To touch on an example of living dead that we haven’t discussed, the dybuuk is another familial threat. A dybuuk is a Jewish ghost, one that cannot find it’s way to the afterlife and thus is trapped in limbo. In  order to escape this torment or perhaps to continue it’s wicked life, a dybuuk often possesses  a body—sometimes its own—and commits various transgressive acts, including blasphemy and murder.

Dybuuk.png

These sources stuck out to me among the other undead for their combination of both thinking or at least responding to the living and their corporeal form—while lacking the direct feeding that vampiric creatures possess. They are somewhere between the two—neither full blood sucking beast nor mere phantom hurling objects about. The only difference here is the singularity of the incident. The body’s sudden motion is its only act.

A more comedic set of tales comes from Indiana. Here a pair of stories related a hunchbacked man’s burial—due to his hunchback, the man could not lie flat in the coffin and so was held down by straps. In one story, a friend was watching the body when a cat snuck in. As the man chased the cat around with a broom, he accidentally struck his friend and caused the binds to break—the dead man shot straight up and the firend only said “Lie down, John, I’ll get the damned cat.”

In the other instance, the man stays down until the funeral. During the service, the minister passionately proclaimed that “this body will rise again!” And on cue, the dead man sat upright! The whole congregation fled that instant.

What is interesting to me about these two stories is the similarity to vampiric ones, in an odd way. In the Balkans, as we mentioned, a cat walking over the grave of a dead man could in fact cause him to rise—as a creature of the night, murderous and cruel. Likewise, the connection and antipathy vampires have for the holy and proper funerals is oddly similar to the reaction of the minister. While I doubt there is a direct connection between the stories, there is a strange resonance between them.

House of Usher2.png

When it comes to tales of Lovecraft and Gothic Lore, the dead are of course always nearby. But this story in particular reminded me ofthe House of Usher—a story that will return and return, I believe, in these prompts—and how it included the burial alive of a dear relative by an off-kilter brother. That the woman was only mistaken for dead does little to change the effect of her rising at the reading of a story in her presence, and rush out to her brother in rage.

Mr. Lovecraft’s story, In the Vault, deals with another vital corpse. Here the corpse is of a wicked man, and it’s motion is perhaps questionable. We follow a careless, lazy, and generally unprofessional undertaker who, because of the winds of April, is trapped in a vault of coffins. This vault, to store the dead during winter, when the ground is too dense to dig through, is of course a terrifying place to be. As the vault is sealed, and in a hill, the undertaker must make his own escape. He stacks the coffins, one atop another, and stands on their poor construction to break himself free. A moment before he manages to get free, something—either the corpse or the breaking coffins—savages his ankles, forcing him to crawl not just out of the vault but all the way to get aid. The doctor, however, recognizes the true source of the wounds and demands the undertaker never reveal them to anyone else.  That is not the full story of course, but I do enjoy the full twist myself.

The Gothic tale House of Seven Gables has a similar, haunting notion of a lost will buried in the walls. We’ve discussed this at length here, to elaborate on some of its plot points in inheritance, family, oppression, and communal guilt. For our purposes, its important that the will serves as a promise in the past for fortunes that could have been or that came into their own in the future. The will that is destroyed is not only a symbolic connection to the past, it also acts as an embodiment of a dream or vision of the future.  This is part of the horror of the story—not only that the dead walk and possibly talk, but that the dead reject or deny something to the living. Peace of mind at the most basic, of course, but more tangible things as well.

Our stories conflicts will then be two fold—we will have the living against the living and the living against the dead. This is, as I mentioned before, a story of relationships and their many forms, and how they change or come into new lights with someone’s passing. In particular, however, this can be the story of secrets as well—the sorts of secrets that only come to light when someone has died, and left their last act in the air waiting. The will is their last communication, the “truth” of their feelings and cares. And of course, a fight over that will be painful—especially if the prize is to be denied at the very end by the dead themselves.

Bibliography

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

Busk, Rachel Harriette. Sagas from the Far East; or Kalmouk and Mongolian traditionary tales. London. Griffith and Faran, 1873.

Epstien, Saul and Robinson, Sara Libby. The Soul, Evil Spirits, and the Undead:: Vampires, Death, and Burial in Jewish Folklore and Law. Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural, Vol. 1, No. 2 (2012), pp. 232-25

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My Father’s House

This Week’s prompt: 101. Hideous secret society—widespread—horrible rites in caverns under familiar scenes—one’s own neighbour may belong.

The Prior Research:Conspiracy!

After the fifth surveyor refused to go down to Elderbir, I just accepted I had to do it. I’d been down there already once this year—my pa insisted in being buried in the cemetery down there, with the rest of the Bulric family. It had been a bit harrowing, a lot of unfamiliar faces among the stones. Mom and I never really came back home. But they all knew me too—apparently my dad was proud of my practice. Talked all about it all the time.

That sort of reception made the first surveyor’s response a bit odd. They said they wouldn’t be able to complete the survey do to unexpected hazards. The next two just wouldn’t go out that far. Fourth sent me a bill for their trouble, and said it wasn’t possible to fully inspect the house without further payments. And number five just came clean with it.

“Yeah, listen, Bobby, listen. We went out there, started doing some measurements and such. And these guys—these guys started poking around. Asking questions. One of them was leaning against a truck, patting a hunting rifle. Another had a hammer—no a mallet, and was talking about some big holes they had dug to find a broken pipe. I’m not saying it was a dangerous situation. But I’m not heading back out there, no way no how.”

Which…okay. To be honest, as I pulled up outside the house, I had to admit. It was an isolated big house, atop a hill, nothing for a good half a mile. Not exactly a welcoming place. The survey info I did have—which was a bit old—said the entire place was on a limestone shelf. Which…well. Not a great place, all things considered.

I ran into Joe while I was going out for my second suitcase trip.

“So, finally moving back in?” Joe said, leaning over the wooden fence. “It’d be nice to have a Bulric back in the neighborhood.”

“For now, for now.” I said, sighing. “Just getting a feel for the place you know? Before I decide anything.”

“Decide anything…you’re not really thinking of selling it, are you? I thought those guys that came down worked for the bank.”

“Well, glad to know you gave them the Elderbir welcome.” I said, lifting the trunk out. “But I figure I’ll give it a try for a bit—I can work from home well enough, take a good hard look at it all you know?”

“C’mon Bob, wasn’t seven years a good enough look.” Joe said, laughing. “Remember that time you snuck into the cupboard and it fell down? Your dad and I had to both lift it all back up again.”

“Twenty years makes it tricky to remember.” I said.  And I was four at the time, Joe.

“You know, if your looking to sell…I think old Mr. Joneson would give a decent price.” Joe said, scratching his head. “Keep it in town you know.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” I said, raising an eyebrow. Mr. Joneson wasn’t exactly known for his generosity—I’d rather not sell to a miser.

HouseLimestone.png

 

The lights and gas and water were all still on—good for this brief habitation, although I wondered where the money was coming from. I hadn’t done the leg work of calling banks about…well. There was a few cable bills and advertisements in the mail. More awkward phone calls.

The wind battered at the window panes, and it was a bit hard to see outside. Most of the area was a field—the limestone around it meant the roots didn’t go too deep. Not great for farming, I understand, and even a brief walk around had found some sink holes and dips.  The entire house seemed to creak and moan under the weight of the storm. It was so bad, I could barely see the fence—and too loud to sleep well. An empty house is already far too loud.

The only thing I could make out that night was a small shape at the edge of the property—looked like a big dog poking at the fence. Too tired to really read, I focused on the shape for a bit as it prodded around. Poor thing was probably looking for shelter. I was sad the thunder scared it off.

 

I met with Mr. Joneson about his offer—about 15k for the whole place, which I politely said I’d consider. I mean, it was better than literally nothing. But a large quaint country house? I figured I could get more. Wasn’t like Mr. Joneson needed another house anyway. He and his owned like half the town even when I was growing up. I could cut down the price for someone needy but, well, he could do better.

Given the rain last night, I thought now was a time to get to know the land better. To walk about and see the newly formed lakes and dips that formed in the field. Not stuff to include when you sell a place, but you never know what you’ll need to know. Before I got far, however, I spotted a weird…color on the hill behind the house.

Not that weird, but…leaning down, it was a dull grey. The dirt had washed away to reveal a smooth gray—cement. I dug a little with my hands. Whatever it was, it was pretty big. I came back with a shovel and started clearing it out. It was a misshapen lump—about eight feet tall at the tallest. Tapping it, there wasn’t anything on the other side. There was a…well, something drawn on the front with faded chalk. I still have no clue what it means.

And well. Something beneath the house? That was something I needed to know more about.

“Doing some home improvement?” Joe asked as I took the heavy tool box out of the garage.

“Yeah, found some old planks that need to replaced.” I said, nodding a bit, and looking towards the cement.  “That and some rocks that need moving—hey, did pa mention anyone else living here? Do any improvements or the like since I left?”

There was something about Joe that had me a bit on edge. Something vaguely menacing about his stops…Maybe it was just this house putting me on edge.

“Not that I remember—I mean, he wasn’t toolsy, you know?” He said, shrugging. “Figure you’d know more than me, you know?”

“Yeah, well, he wasn’t always the quickest to talk about things.” I said, shrugging and heading back around the house. “Chat later, want to get this done while there’s still daylight.”

CaveEntranceHill1

 

It took twenty minutes of hammering—I’m sure someone noticed or heard the cement cracking as I hammered away. It two and a half inches thick, and I didn’t even clear out all of it. Just enough to get in and under, into an old limestone cave.

I remembered this, from when me and mom still lived here. I vaguely remember old caves in the hills, that I thought were full of dragons and treasure. I didn’t remember one beneath the house.

 

Taking a step in, I saw the remains of a wooden scaffold—probably what was used to hold the cement when dad poured it. But why seal up an old cave? I get filling it, I guess. You know, prevent a sink hole from forming right under the house. But this was…not that.

A bit of that childhood wonder took hold of me. Maybe there was treasure down here. Maybe some inheritance that had waited long forgotten. Maybe some old film reels covered in salt or books promising land somewhere far away. Who knows?

So I clicked on the flashlight, and began to go down deep. The tunnel was wide—and carved out in places, to keep it wider. Eventually the curves and almost organic appearance of the cave was chiseled away—and eventually, maybe five minutes of walking down the dark passages, I came across the arch.

The top was hewed from the rock—maybe from some huge broke stalagmite. The sides, though, were heavier and stronger—granite blocks. Carved on them were two great serpents, one uncoiling top to bottom, the other bottom to top. The snakes both ultimately emerged from the Janus like head at the top of the arch—a three-eyed figure, with a third eye between the two faces’ ears.

And from the room came strange smells, of burnt hair and alcohol. Walking through, I found wooden chairs arranged, and broken bottles of wine—mostly pushed or swept to the side. There was…a stone something there. I think. It was…porous to the touch. Felt almost like a big stone sponge…and as I touched it, I felt something sticky stained on it. Red…wine maybe?

Drawing Eyes

There were other tunnels from the big room—other carved arches. Along the walls were drawings in chalk—a few I think were portraits but others were just elaborate fractal shapes. So many looked like eyes…eyes in the great, dark, quiet place. I coughed a little—and heard it echo in all directions, bouncing around. It sounded like something growling in the dark.

This wasn’t old stuff. That meant someone had been here recently. And that therefore, someone had been beneath my house recently, and that someone couldn’t have left through concrete. So. Down into the echoing tunnels I went. Just me and the stone and the terrible echoes of my own footsteps. Always just behind me.

Two went nowhere. They went to just—more concrete…But the third. The third went to a big metal door. A big metal door that I heard sounds from the other side of. I think I heard Joe say something. I think it was Joe. It was hard to make out. It didn’t sound happy.

I heard something clatter behind me. Down back where I came. Some…maybe some wind had knocked something over. I slowly walked back down that cavernous route. I heard the crunch of broken glass beneath my feet, echoing out again. Echoing back, echoes in echoes. As I came back into the main chamber, with it’s  walls crowded in eyes and the sticky smell of alcohol and burnt hair. And there was…just a knocked over candle, dripping wax.

Dripping wax down…onto some squirming small shape. Something like a spider beneath the wax. A bunch of unfurling legs, pushing up against the wax. A breath of warm air in the deep…Something was here with me. Something was here, just out of sight, in one of the corridors, in the echoing. Something.

I don’t remember running out of the tunnel and pushing the concrete back into a crude covering. I just found myself forcing the layers of dirt onto the shards and chunks of concrete that I had piled at the exit. I locked the doors that night, locked the windows as best I could.

*

I turned all the house lights on. I couldn’t stand the dark. I still…there were these little patterns in the wall at night, that looked like they were eyes. They weren’t, just wears in the wall paper or tiles that had an odd crack. Just the normal shapes of an old house, that looked and felt like eyes.

I couldn’t sleep, so I just paced the halls that night. Still keeping all the lights on. I’d say I was going through some things if I was asked. I just couldn’t sleep. The storming outside had continued with earnest that night, rain pelting the roof and thunder shaking the walls.

It was while I was pacing, checking the window locks, that I saw something out back. There were five or six people down there, huddling at the bottom of the hill, around the concrete. That damned dog was with them too. I couldn’t hear them over the wind and rain. I could see one had a baseball bat slung over his back. He occasionally tested it’s weight.

They split up after a bit, and started walking around the house. I followed the one with the bat. He tested some of the windows, tapping them a bit. They marked a few spots with chalk. I followed them all the way around to the front, where they piled up into a truck. I think it was a red truck—maybe it was Joe’s? It was parked behind a big tree, branches and leaves covering their exit.

HouseLimestone2

I was at the local diner early that morning. I didn’t sleep after that little visit. I didn’t bother. I had showered, stretched, and in a haze made my way to get some food to ground me and some coffee to replace the lack of rest. As the waitress left, I heard the door chime open. In walked Joe, Mr. Joneson, and another guy wearing a black hoodie. I opened the menu to cover my face as they ordered—but I heard the other guy murmur something and some shuffling.

Sure enough, their they were in the booth across from me.

“Hey, Bobby. How’s the house going?” Joe said, smiling. His hair was still wet. Maybe he’d just gotten out of the shower.

“Going fine.” I said slowly, eyeing the other two for a moment.

“Yeah, Peter here says you were doing some digging out back.” Mr. Joneson said, nodding to the mystery man. “You gotta be careful doing that. Dig up too much, and you’ll hit the old limestone.”

“Dangerous, dangerous stuff.” Peter said, shaking his head. “Storms lately, that’ll wear down fast.”

“Might even open up a sinkhole or something beneath the house.”  Mr. Joneson said, nodding. “That’d be a damn shame really, costly too. Real costly, and a historic house gone too. Got to be careful what you start digging around town.”

I nodded slowly, bridging my fingers. I was too tired for this. Too tired to deal with any of this.

“Yeah.” I sighed. “Yeah. You know, I can’t be here keeping up with it constantly. And…well. Maybe it’d be best to leave it with someone who knew it as well as you do.”

“That quick a turn around?” Joe said, raising an eyebrow. I shrugged as I sipped my coffee.

“Fifteen thousand, it’s yours.” I said, waving my hand. “Can’t really sleep there anyway, and it might be falling apart. Sinkhole underneath the place would shatter the value. Take it off my hands, and were’ in the clear.”

*

I don’t know why Pa left it to me—maybe he didn’t know about what was going down there. Maybe he thought I’d never check…or maybe he thought I’d be thrilled. Maybe it was some sort of attempt at a patch up. I don’t know. It was a nice house. But frankly, I think if  I was there another week, I’d have gone missing. Hell, no wonder half the surveyors ran off.

I’ll be glad if I never hear about the house again. I’ll be glad if it never rains again—and I never think, for half a second, I see someone at the door on a rainy night. And those eyes…those eyes.



I’m mixed on this end to the decade story. On the one hand, I like the build up to the discovery of the cave–and I even like parts of the cave. I think the ending, however, is far too sudden and anti-climatic. If I had an appropraite second prompt, I might follow up the ending, and have the horror follow Robert home or trap him in the town–just walking away is simply a bad ending. But the story had been delayed long enough…Perhaps next year for Patreon, I’ll come back to Elderbir a fourth time. Speaking of:

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The House of Witchs

This Week’s Prompt: 99. Salem story—the cottage of an aged witch—wherein after her death are found sundry terrible things.

The Prior Research:Salem

I’d been house hunting for the last four days, when Alex finally agreed to take me to the house on 35th and Main. He grumbled and sighed the entire drive, before we pulled up to the slightly overrun yard. It was a nice, two story house—clean windows, nice door, fresh wallpaper.

“It’s just a bit pricey, you know, and there are better places.” He said, sighing as we walked through the house. “I mean, and you know, it’s got a history.”

“And that’s why we’ve got to check it out!” I said. The house was the exact same, top to bottom—okay, not quiet the same. The kitchen down stairs was the exact shape of the guest room right above it, the bedroom and living room perfectly mirrored each other.

“I mean, it’s not like this is the same house they hanged her in.” I said, flicking a light switch on.

“No…Okay, no it’s not.” Alex admitted. “Got rebuilt a few times after fires and the like. Last time was back in the 70s I think. Some freak earthquake or something broke the foundation and they had to fix it. And then there was a wave of renovations.”

I walked through the halls. I wonder how much of this place had actually stayed the same after three centuries—were the rooms always like this? Did they shift and change? The attic upstairs was entirely empty except some boxes—what had they once held? Was the living room the same one where they tried her, searched her entire body for where the creatures of the night drank blood?

“I think it’s the one.” I said, smiling as we left.

“Of course you do.” Alex sighed. “Of course the witch house halfway out of town is the perfect one—no, can’t be any of the ones down town or near a train station, nope, crazy house.”

Apartment Floor A.png

“So it really is the same, top to bottom?” Cheryl asked. She was at the desk across from me, peering over the screen.

“Yep.”

“Doesn’t that get…confusing?” She said, clattering away at the keyboard.

“Not as bad as you’d think—I mean, I’ve gotten mixed up once or twice when putting stuff away.” I said with a shrug. “You know, I’ll come home, get ready for shower and whoops! Walked into the walk in closet, bathrooms on the other floor.”

“Wow. I mean, that’s not too bad.”

“No, like—unless it’s late at night, it’s pretty easy to navigate around. When I’m like half asleep, it gets worse.” If I’m drunk it is an actual nightmare. I once spent an hour racing up and down the stairs, trying to figure out which one had the living room and which one had the bedroom, before just sleeping on the couch.

“Seen any…” Cheryl, pausing mid type. “You know. Last people that had the house left after a month.”

“No, nothing.” I said, clattering along. “I mean, I might ask someone to look at the walls.”

“What, blood leaking from them already?” Cheryl said with a nervous laugh. I didn’t mention that the walls had made a clicking sound at night—not loud enough to wake me up, but enough to keep me awake. Everything was so quiet out there.

Apartment Floor B.png

It wasn’t much of a conversation, really. I had a few like that, people surprised I was living in the old haunted house. Which—okay, yeah, a few people it turns out had gone missing in the place. But like, of the past owners—I checked, out of curiousity—none of them ‘mysteriously’ vanished, and even the ones that had a bad time were like, fifty to sixty years apart. The stories get wilder around the 1700s—everyone’s grandma has a story about my old house it seems.

It was kinda thrilling to live somewhere famous. I even gave tours to a few friends—some of them joked about breaking into it when they were teens. Looked different, back then. Run down, but same double floors.

“Yeah, its always been like that.” Jermey said, pointing at the ceiling as we walked down the stairs. “I mean, you know, when I was here it was like. Graffiti’d up and shag carpeted.”

“Shag carpeting?”

“Yeah, it was gross as hell. But the same, top to bottom. Weird that they didn’t like—like the bathrooms weren’t.” He said looking it over. “I mean, they kinda are—we figured that since they were on top of each  other, we’d drop stuff down one pipe and it’d go down the other but nope. Just pissed off the handy man.”

“Thought it was abandoned?” I asked, frowning.

Jeremey shrugged.

“I mean, no one lived here. But I remember once we got wasted and tore up one of the walls—freaked out, thinking we’d get caught.” He said, gesturing. “But it was all put together in like. A day. Someone had to do it. Never heard of ghosts patching up brickwork.”

Apartment Floor C.png

I did get used to the noise after a while. The little creaks and dings and shifting of moving papers stopped bothering me.  I dreamed about getting lost in repeating hallways more than once. I know I came home drunk and went to bed in my room, and woke up in the living room at least once.

I kinda got used to just staring ahead and counting whenever I saw someone on the sidewalk, a shape I couldn’t quite make out until the last moment. Once or twice, I caught someone following me—or well. I thought they were following me. They just lived nearby and I hadn’t seen them yet. No one was following me.

At least—well there was one time. I woke up in the middle of the night in the bedroom down stairs. I walked around, trying to get my bearings again, and looked out the window—and I thought I saw Cheryl. She was just walking…to the bus station, which was weird because I swear she lived on the other side of town. No reason for her to be around her.

*

“Oh, just went home and binged some shows.” She said when I asked what she’d been up to last night. “How about you?”

“Not much. Read a book.” I muttered.  I mean, it wasn’t a lie. I’d been reading some documents. The crew that came over couldn’t find anything causing the clicking sound,  probably something the construction crew before left in there. So I went digging for the construction crew for the current house—and couldn’t find one.

I couldn’t find the last one either. Not like, a shell company or anything, but like—there’s a newspaper article from 1970 about a fire destroying the house. It’s listed for sale in 1972. That’s the house I’m in. But no one built the house. The listing is in a newspaper, it doesn’t mention the company. And I don’t even know how to start finding that in a public record.

“I think it was built by OMN?” Alex said. I hadn’t given him a ring in a while. “Can’t really…huh. Can’t find a specific record, but they did a lot of construction back then. Hey, don’t worry about it too much. It’s probably just settling or something—get an exterminator if your worried its rats in the walls I guess?”

Or move out of the creepy house, like I said to was the unspoken bit there. But whatever. I couldn’t leave—unless I found another buyer, I didn’t have the cash for that. So exterminator it was.

*

“And he found nothing.” I muttered. I could feel the bags under my eyes, even if they weren’t there yet.

“Well, that’s good right?” Jeremey said, printing another few copies of…something. I don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention.

“I just…It’s been getting louder I think. More frequent for sure. He heard it, said there’s no animal he’d heard make that sound—left out some traps.” I waved it away. Just when I got used to the little noises, this one comes in insistent.

“I mean—maybe a plumber or something? Might be something rattling in the pipes.” Jermey said, tapping the papers. “Loose coin or something.”

“I don’t…maybe?” I said throwing my hands up. “I’ve got to figure out what it is—I swear, I’d never have bought the place if I’d known it was this much of a pain. Supposedly haunted historical house is one thing, this is…This is just maddening.”

Apartment Floor D.png

I just didn’t sleep that night. It was the first night I stayed awake all night—cup of coffee and ears listening for any sounds. I’d just, I’d catch this thing.

The ticking started earlier than I remember it starting before. One of the old paintings ticked up a few inches. As I watched, the face on the old woman’s painting peeled off. A small plate there, of some fibrous material, rotated.

I got up slowly…and the floor swam beneath me. I fell back down. The room rotated. The walls fell away, a labyrinth of crystal and glass shimmering in the moonlight. My bed fell through the liquid floor. I screamed and waited for a crash.

None came.

I looked up at the old house—shimmering like moonlight on the water. New stars shone down through the transparent roof. When I got up this time, I was on solid ground. I saw hundreds of miles beneath the house—hundreds of fractal rooms. Perfectly shaped, all with glowing like stars. Except one—down at the very bottom, there was something…something dull. Some small blob, a hundred feet away. The ticking was coming from down in the depths, and I was sure it was from that strange shape.

There was a shout form the window. Looking up, I saw such…wonderful places. I saw hills of sunlight, I saw sable sands with red rivers. I saw moons, I saw worlds outside. I saw them tearing and bending and wonder turned to horror. The ticking turned to skipping—the house…whatever it was, something was wrong. I looked down again, at the shape sitting their listless.

It was like a bug trapped in amber. A small shape but I saw the whole house struggling to break free  of it. It shook and seemed to crack. The floor gave in beneath me, and I went tumbling down. Before I could get up, it cracked and fell again.

Bruised and exhausted, I fell. I fell through house after house. I fell down centuries, down to the very bottom. I looked up, struggling a bit to catch my breath. The light was dim down here—I could barely see my fingers.

I looked up and saw her. Hanging there—not really her. Not her body, that was long gone. Her shadow? Something that was there but wasn’t. It wasn’t really there. It was there though. It was…the house was broken. It yearned up.

But she was there. Her body was there, jammed in the gears and light. She was glowing like a dim moon, soft and cold. The windows down here were all black seas and forgotten woods. The house shook and quaked. It glowed and ticked.

Apartment Floor A
I next remember waking up in the hospital. The doctor said there’d been an accident—freak fire while I was asleep. Most of the house was burned down—not all of it, but most. The fire department was just glad to have contained it—there were lots of old homes down there.  It could have spread uphill, caught some of the others.

It was really lucky it just burned mine. I guess.

Just like that earthquake back in the 70s, I guess. Or the flash flood that tore out the foundations in 1922. It’s a very lucky house, in a way.



 

I’m still unhappy with this story. I liked the idea of the house as some sort of mechanism, which was stuck trying to complete its task by the crime committed in the past. But I couldn’t find a strong A-plot to go in with, and interweave with, the haunted house. I think there might be some burn out on houses for now–and looking a head, we’ll be away from them for at least a few weeks! Thank you for your patience.

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Salem

This Week’s Prompt: 99. Salem story—the cottage of an aged witch—wherein after her death are found sundry terrible things.

The Forthcoming Story: The House of Witchs

This prompt continues our haunted and disturbed houses of New England—a tour that has gone on for almost a month now. Here, however, Mr. Lovecraft has grounded us in a very particular historical tragedy—the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. The story of the Witch Trials is an infamous one, but one where the details are sometimes lost. So I will describe the chronology in brief here.

The Witch House

The Witch House, former home of Judge Johnathan Corwin, is the last building standing from the Witch Trials .https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Witch_House

At the center of the witchcraft outbreak are two girls, Elizabeth and Abigail Parris, daughters of Reverend  Samuel Parris, and their mixed race servant Tituba. According to documents, Elizabeth and Abigail learned tricks from Tituba during the winther of 1691-1692. Other girls are documented as possibly being there. A time after this, it is reported that the children began acting strangely—they spoke in tongues, crawled into holes and walls, and others acted foolishly. The local doctor could not identify the cause of this behavior,  and proclaimed them bewitched. This of course attracted local interest, including a gathering of Ministers to determine who had bewitched them. Tituba and her husband offered their skills at finding witches—but were accused of witchcraft themselves by the children. Sarah Good and Sarah Osborn were also accused.  All were found guilty, and executed. Shortly after there were waves of witchcraft accusations in the area around Salem—A total of 151 people were accused, most but not all women. At least 20 were executed. Most of towns accused one to three individuals, and often only held one trial that year. Most of the accused follow expected trends—they were usually of low means, mobile, old and asocial. Those of greater means were rumored witches or accused before hand, and often new arrivals. After 1692, the hunt ended as the commission founded was dissolved. Numerous suggestions have been made for why—the targeting of less stereotypical

Recurring incidents associated with witchcraft and the trials are appariations terrorizing their victims, often to compel them to sign a book; the pricking or draining of blood; the appearance of people far from home; and the unheard speech of witches, often taken as cursing. This is not particularly new for witchcraft. In fact, one of the reasons Salem has attracted attention is not do to it’s bloodiness—it is far from the largest witch hunt—nor its symptoms—witchcraft symptoms, being based on witch hunting guides often enough, are very similar.  The only new notable symptoms is the betwitched cannot say the name of God, nor read the Puritan catechism, but can read it and say the Quaker and Catholic ones. Which indicates a curious and genuinely frightening notion for a community so defined by its religious convictions—that some force has compelled them into the hands of the enemy. But that is for the end.

Salem Trial.png

No, the primary point of interest with Salem is that it is very late in the history of witch hunting, and in a community that was not prone to it. Popular imagery of the story has suggest the Puritan Witchhunter as the most common participant in these massacres, but historically that does not bare out entirely well. The sum of Salem is a strange aberration in time and space, fitting into a common narrative of history during it’s era and until to this day—that as one moves farther in space, one moves backwards in time. So far from the continent, it is no wonder such barbarism occurred.

Certainly, the witch hunts have a character about them that lend themselves well to horror stories—they are a gothic horror for New England, remembered well by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s work. Here the witchcraft trials serve as a strange, spectral ghost that haunts the landscape and the characters. From the echoes of the accusations in the Scarlet Letter to the haunted images and manuscripts in The Devil in the Manuscript  and Edward Randolph’s Portrait. Given his admiration for Mr. Hawthorn, such an interest is not surprising for Lovecraft.

They are also a frequent stand in for the notion of a paranoid and superstitious community turning on its own—Arthur Miller’s The Crucible used the trials as an allegory for the MacArthur era of anti-communist witch hunts, for instance. Again, Mr. Lovecraft’s own lurking fear of tradition—his fear that the so called enlightened era of humanity was a mere moment, and soon darkness would descend in its old way—makes the connection rather clear. It is at times the use of authority to establish itself over the mob and quell progress—a line with more than some truth—and other times presented as the mob calling for blood and at best moderated by the priesthood.

Beyond these older sources, other media has of course taken on the notions of the witch trial in the new world—if not Salem itself, then certainly it’s presence. The Blair Witch, for instance, is also accused by children of her nefarious acts and haunts a nearby woods. The online series Catghost enters into these notions of magic and witchcraft—and even goes so far as Lovecraft’s witch house, crediting to the witches there some true knowledge of the universe beyond mortal ken. VVitch is a more direct example, featuring a Puritan family and being within a century of the witch hunts themselves.

MoreWeight

Giles Corey, one of the men executed for witchcraft, famously said “more weight” before dying by being crushed to death with stones.

What then should be done?  The prompt presents us with a rough timeline of events: A witch trial, followed by the search of her house, in which terrible things are found. This is a profoundly bad outline—there is no clear surprise, except to subvert the modern expectation that the victim is innocent. I do not believe we are in need of a story where the witch was really a witch. Alternatively, perhaps this is meant as a less direct version, akin to Dreams in the Witch House. Here, it becomes something again like a haunted house. And certaintly, there is a tradition of ghostly witches and associations between witches and necromancers. Here the history of the house comes to grossly manifest into the new inhabitants lives. And something could be done with that sort of horror.

One author suggested that the witch trials, and Salem itself, stand for the intervention of a spiritual evil in a material world. They are the imposition and manifestation of a very non-‘whig’ or modern sort of horror. They are the ancestral sin of the region—one of many perhaps. This then becomes a collapse of history in two ways. First, the most literal—the victims of the past refuse to stay dead and quiet literally disturb the modern world. Secondly, the means of this disturbance is not in the methods the modern world would permit—it is not an avenging family member descended of the witches, it is not some structural or biological secret lost from beyond the grave, it is instead a horror like those older horrors. It is a specter, a phantom, a shadow that lives.

If we wanted to go in a different direction then a simple Lovecraft haunted house, where ancestral guilt and fears stalk a new victim, we could play with the notions of memory and history that crop up in researching Salem. A major difficulty for those investigating Salem is the lack of proper documentation at times. Not all court documents are preserved, not all the accused have court documents, and so on. Things have simply been lost, some recovered in poems and stories, but most abandoned. Things that perhaps should not have been forgotten, for forgotten things still remain.

How would you approach a horror story about a witch’s cottage? Was she holding back something in the basement, now unleashed by foolish clergy men? Was there no horror before, but the tragedy has invited it in?

Bibligoraphy:

Latner, Richard. “The Long and Short of Salem Witchcraft: Chornology and Collective Violence in 1692”, Journal of Social History. Vol. 42, No. 1, Fall 2008. Oxford Universtiy Press.

Nevins, Winfield S. Witchcraft in Salem Village in 1692: Together with some account of other witchcraft trials in New England and elsewhere. North Shore Publishing, 1892.

Stock, R.D.. “Salem Witchcraft and Spiritual Evil: A Century of Non-Whig Revisionism.” Christianity and Literature Vol 42 No. 1, Autumn 1992.  Sage Publications Inc.

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