Hold Fast!

This Week’s Prompt: 68. Murder discovered—body located—by psychological detective who pretends he has made walls of room transparent. Works on fear of murderer.
The Resulting Story:
Dr. SuSan and…

The prompt this week brings us to something of a genre these days: the detective with supernatural or near supernatural capabilities. Pysch, The Mentalist, Monk, the BBC’s Sherlock, and so on. All these shows feature uncanny detectives who pretend to have psychic or unnatural powers, or in the case of Monk, Columbo, and Sherlock they use less conventional modes of thinking to achieve similar ends. The detective in reality possesses only human faculties, but these faculties are exaggerated to the point of unfailing power.

From a literary perspective, this prompt reminds me of one particular story by Edgar Allen Poe: The Tell Tale Heart. Poe’s influence on Lovecraft as a horror author is indeed vast and in need of reconciliation. Here the fear of the murderer is the greater force. The noise of the imagined heart still beating in the floor boards drives the murderer to madness and compels him to confess his misdeeds to the officers of the law. This story likewise plays on the fear of discovery—of more than the murder, of course, since the body is located early on. The detective must suggest that he has seen more by making the walls transparent then merely the body.

From the perspective of folklore and other traditions, the detective has an intreasting lineage. A common capabillity of sorcery and magic is the location of the unseen or the lost. The abillity to find and retrieve missing objects or to ascertain unseen causes can be found in various places around the world, often as the cause of illness or despair. For instance, among the !Kung, shamans locate unseen arrow heads that cause illness among the living. Shamans of the Netsilik deal with invisible casues of illness as well, from extra souls sapping life force to the strange tupilaqs.

More elaborate attempts are also recorded. The Key of Solomon supplies one spell, which deploys the rope of a hanging and sieve to locate a thief that has made off with an object. The Lesser Key gives three demons who can find those things lost or hidden (Foras, Kimaris, and Vassago, pictured below). The Book Pow-Wows or Long Lost Friends is a grimoire of more recent origin in the United States which supplies ways to imoblize thieves and compel them to return stolen goods, as well as locating hidden treasures beneath the earth such as water and iron.

Demon Sigils.png

The detective interacts in a similar way here—despite the fact that his magic is a farce, he is playing off the world of the unseen. While fear has physical symptoms, feelings and experiences, they are rarely considered the root of the emotion. Like a shaman or magician, the detective plays off the hidden world to reveal things about this one. Psychology’s connection isn’t that far fetched—the term quite literally refers to the science of the soul after all—and so might be an intentional allusion here. Especially in the era Mr. Lovecraft was writing in, psychology’s exact meaning and fate were contested.

For instance, the spiritualist movement we discussed before was a significant part of psychology for a period of time. The science of the soul for a time included things that now are frankly the occult—the sort of beliefs that are more akin to New Age than clinical psychology. We can include here the works of Sigmund Freud and his camp, who’s school of psychoanalysis may not be as credited now as it once was, as well as works such as Mesmerism which sought to use powers of the mind to affect the body—for instance to work healings. Mesmerism and other hypnotists engaged in occult experiments as well, in some cases attempted to glean information on other worlds or past lives from the hypnosis. These ideas often hinged on vitalist theories of life—that there was a cosmic and measurable life energy that permeates the cosmos. This energy is often associated with heat, electricity, and other phenom on. Other examples of vitalism include Odic forces, which produce bio-eletric fields and is referenced in dowsing(and were delightfully used in an Atomic Robo story here); elan vital, which contains the bedrock for consciousness and gives rise to evolutionary changes; and Orgone, which is past Lovecraft’s time, but which supposed that everything from illness to weather could be effected by these internal forces of the body.

Orgone Cloud Buster

Wilhem Reich’s Cloudbuster, a device based on Orgone to manipulate the weather.

Other works that blended the understanding of the body and the soul, to unfortunate results, was phrenology and race “science”. The discredited field tried to explain the nature of the soul by examining physiological differences in skull size. Given Mr. Lovecraft’s proclivities and racism, we can throw it on the heap of more bizarre uses of psychology.

I pursued this line of reasoning further, as the field of pseudo-science and strangeness is interesting to me. According to Wikipedia—a good resource for my cursory research—there are a number of pseudoscientific theories I was unaware of: graphology, the analysis of handwriting to determine the psyche of an individual; primal therapy, the idea the individuals are most effected by prenatal experiences; and the law of attraction, that by thinking on a thing we draw it closer. These various pseudosciences and discredited theories do place the idea of a psychological detective as essentially supernatural or magical detective as plausible or believable.

So, with all this in mind, how should our story proceed. The prompt has the detective deduce the murder, but drive the criminal to confession by pretending to be magical. We thus begin the first act with the discovery of the body. We would then go on to examining the house searching for evidence. Three instances, I think, of ‘finding’ hidden evidence and then the confrontation. Now, I think this particular drama could end one of two ways. Either it ends with the murderer and the police being lead to where the detective found the body, and thus the murderer confessing. Or, the murderer is driven by fear to lash out against the authorities and attempt to flee or kill them. Either ending could work, and I’m not sure which is better in this case.

I recently concluded that our psychologist might not be the best character to take as a point of view–rather, a more interesting character would be an associate of his. A Watson, a character who like the audience is unsure of what is coming and going, but nonetheless curious. As written, it seems our detective knows the murderer, and that seems far less entertaining of a story then one where the audience and one of the characters is partially in the dark as to the proceedings.


Now I know this is normally the end of things, but today I’d like to draw your attention to the Patreon account we’ve created. If you would like to help support our excursions into horror and folklore, are interested in our work in RPGs that we’ve alluded to, or are generally in a good spirit, we encourage you to donate here.

A Certain Preponderance of Witnesses

This Weeks Prompt:64. Identity—reconstruction of personality—man makes duplicate of himself.

The Prior Research:It’s Alive!

The day after Orem was hung, there was a collective sigh of relief. I sipped tea as I read the report in the paper. A fraudster, who baited men and women into a world of drugs and prostitution, Orem’s sentence came down in the courts after he stole a well of woman’s gold chain for a spell of his. The chain he returned that was ‘enchanted’ a week later was a forgery of iron with gold plating.

It was, in all honesty, not the most impressive theft of his. He had made off with more in a month before. But the daring had roused enough attention that at last, I had the pleasure of laying hands on him and seeing him brought before learned judges. I had not seen the hanging, but like many things in life, once a sufficient mass of witnesses and reports emerge, the matter can be considered settled.

My office was lined with paraphenelia of the case, even a year later. A small set of ring-circuits were beneath my name-plate, little jeweled metal rings that reflected the electirc light directly overhead. When the mood struck me, I’d examine the small quartz stones, with carefully painted cracks. Orem was no madman, no distant lunatic who had lost touch with reality. Such exquiste and elaborate lies require a certain mindset and planning to be made real. One that I had assumed was unique to Orem.

So, imagine my suprise, when a new edition to my collection was brought to me by a nervous widow. She had found it in her floor board, she explained quietly. Years ago, she had been one of the women to bring testimony regarding Orem’s activites to the jurists.

Is it…one of his?” She asked hesitantly, as I examined the small circlet under a glass. “I thought, once, I saw him in a crowd. Or someone like him once, with his eyes.”

The ring is similair in make…but do not worry, miss. It’s fairly well documented what became of Orem. If this was planted at your home, its the work of a copycat. Someone trying to intimidate you.” I said, looking over the engravings on the rings. Thin painted lines on the small coppr ring, and a carefuly polished black stone—not actual onyx, but a forgery style that was familiar.

Are you certain? A sorcerer such as him, maybe he sent a ghost from beyond the grave.” The widow said shifting. “Ah, I knew it, I knew talking about it was a mistake.”

Orem’s forgeries are just that—forgeries. He was a showman, an actor, and a swindler. Not a sorcerer.” I said as reassuringly as possible. “I will look into whoever planted this—emotional terror is a tool of cowards.”

I had put that aside,when another report drifted in. Someone had seen Orem, near a graveyard outside town. He had a shovel and his old ragged jacket and scarf with charms sewn into it. Another woman came in, with pictures of her ceiling covered in markings that only Orem had made. At last, I set out from the office to the graveyard to investigate for myself. Once a certain numbr of witnesses reliable report an event, it comes dangerously close to true.

Moroco Graveyard 2.png

The graves rippled out from larger mauselums, with broken stones and crumbled remains poking out of the dust. Between the graves were those praying for fortune or paying respects. My eyes scanned the dirt for footsteps as clouds gathered over head.

No, I didn’t see him exactly. Just someone out in the graveyard…it could have been a jinn for all I know.”

The first man I’d asked had found the notion of Orem’s return as unlikely as I did. But he had seen someone out in the yard, he couldn’t deny that someone had been out there in the morning mist, moving among the stones. Searching, maybe, for some buried talisman that Orem had used on them long ago. I pressed him to who had reported, before finding near the gates one of the witnesses.

I couldn’t look away. Someone had driven nails into my feet, and filled my mouth with cotton. It was his eyes in the night that did it.”

His eyes were wide, he whispered fearfully to describe the strange presence. A shadow on the moonlight. After the first, the second came unbidden.

It was him! I saw his scarf in the night winds, blowing back. And he walked with a limp—Orem had a limp, of course you remember. And he had that laugh, that laugh like a hyena.”

She was certain and frantic. The shape in the night had been Orem, and she would not enter the graveyard until an exorcist came. I was less patient, and went ahead. He had been seen in the western part of the cemetery. He had been seen where he was buried. My hand felt the small silver ring in my pock, its smooth onyx top.

GraveYardMoroccoAltered

Orem had received a proper burial. He had been given a good set of stones, at his feet and head, with his name written beautifully in swirling calligraphy. I walked around the body, looking carefully. If the new con man was stirring up fears, he would have left tracks. If he intended to dig up the old master, then there would be markings on the grave…and sure enough there are.

The soil’s been disturbed, recently too. The surface was slightly darker, and the marks of being packed by shovel were still visible despite the wind. Faded over the body were footsteps, boots that had left an imprint. There was, covered in some dirt, a small drop of wax. A candlit grave robbery. Not exactly what I had expected…but it confirmed that someone was rummaging in the rubble of Orem. And I knew where they’d go next.

Orem’s place of buisness was not far from the graveyard. From the outside, the building was unassuming. It was bare, even. The sort of thing you’d pass on the street and wonder if it was for rent. It was also therefore hard to find, hard to find again after you’d visited, especially if you went home in a daze of drugs.

Abanonded Hotel Morocco.png

The door had a knocker, but I didn’t bother. On the sides of the frame, visible only from within the doorway, were strips of paper with blue ink scrawling down them. They’d decayed with the lack of inhabitant, curling and warping slightly with the weather so that the script was no longer legible. I pushed the door aside to find the workshop within.

The front room was clearer now then when we first took Orem. The incense was no longer burning. There was no chanting playing through speakers. The maps of the body, with each of its paths outlined carefully, still hung from the wall. An elaborate serpent wound its way along the wall facing the the door, its curves and curls highlighting eyes.

Around the room were various tools of Orem’s trade. Metal bars with sets of dice for geomancy, an apparatus of crystal and metal that he used to “speak with the jinn”, by focusing the energies of the invisible. A brass horn was abandoned, one of many gathering dust that glimmered in the sunlight. It was a more convenient way to “hear” those unseen spirits. But the true horrors were not in the front, were business was conducted.

Parting the beads, I went into the back room…or rooms. The wall seperating the sections had been smashed apart, leaving bits haging from the ceiling. Looking down I saw the chalked scribbles on the floor that I took pains to step over, my flash light shining across for hazards or signs of entry. There were metal cans of dirt, with the skulls of rats and burns nailed down to hold them in place, sewing needles out of their eyes. Small chimes dangled in front of the only window, dust settling gradually over the entire place.

In the center of the rooms was a large pot, one of those industrial pots for feeding hundres of people. Dolls of woven cloth and plant matter hung from it’s rim by piano wire, crests burnt into them and more than one having a cigarreete butt for a head. Walking around it, I saw the cauldron was also full of…well, dirt. It wasn’t quite dirt. It was, but there was a deep crevass carved down it’s center, and stains that were still almost viscous and bright red marred it. Wine, rotted from within, somehow bursting out. The smell of rotting eggs hunger over the wound, my light catching the tattered remains of an elaborate paper cover. Metal bolts were driven into the earth, catching the light ever slightly. Striations and veins marred it, carved after this mass had hardened into something stable.

The wind came in, and the chimes caught my attention back upward, away from the broken metal skull. There was the shelf, smashed open, shards of glass scattered on the floor. Inside were trinkets, books with pages sealed by honey and oil in order to maintain their secrets, and ensure the curses he’d bound inside never escaped. Photos of the shelf had helpedin the trial, but the books and strange bugs covered in careful paint had been left behind. They were too heavy, I remember. Not worth the trouble.

Someone stealing the books was expected. Orem wasn’t the only charlatan out there…and true beleivers would want a taste of that power. Being able to brandish the tools of an old terror was in it of itself worth it. Carefully counting the books, I noted sure enough a few missing. As I leaned down to examine the breach, I heard a rustle of the beads parting. My heart racing, I went back behind the shelf and clicked the light off.

In the twilight of the room all was still and silent for the next eternity. I hoped it was just the wind and nerves. A shadow slinked along th wall, with a small flickering light. The face was turned away from my hiding spot, a hand running along the walls and gently tapping it for something. His hand stretched to the ceiling, searching idly, before rolling his form around.

His face was full illumined as he examined the cauldron. His face, it’s lower half covered by a surgeon’s mask, was stained ever so slightly. The eyes searched the room slowly, reflective like a cats eyes. Yellowed, familiar eyes. Eyes that did not meet mine, as they again turned away, examining one of the dolls hanging from the pot. But eyes that still haunted me as my breath stopped for, that floated there without body in the air, small yellow flames flickering.

I took a step forward, unsure if I should bolt for the door or take my chances and strike him hard in the head. Strike good and hard and send the ghoul back to his grave. Strike, and send this cunning ruse back into the night. Strike, and be done with it. I rushed, and swung away, I heard the crunch of metal on the back of a soft head.

I never mentioned that visit to anyone. I don’t know which thought worries me more at night, when I look at those old rings. The nagging worry that maybe, maybe it wasn’t him. It was some looter, or a homeless man, and I’d killed them or knocked them out in cold blood out of supersitous fear. Or…if Orem had returned.


Adding this to the list of ones I think could be meaningfully extended. Honestly, I had scheduling problems this week, with finals coming up, and so am a little disappointed I couldn’t give this more attention. I tried to capture the uncanny sense that can exist around the dead and, in ethnographic and biographic accounts, around the sorcerer.Next week, we stalk the graves again with stranger creatures–fearsome undertakers await!

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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!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What makes you think that?” Liza asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Out Of the Lake

This Weeks Prompt: 44. Castle by pool or river—reflection fixed thro’ centuries—castle destroyed, reflection lives to avenge destroyers weirdly.

The Resulting Story:By the Lake

So, we have here a prompt that reminds me very much of a couple of past prompts. Rather than review the notes from those, I’ll just briefly list them here:(Mirror Mirror On The Wall, The Storm Comes. The Dragon Roars.,THE MOON ).

I can’t, at the moment, recollect any folklore that relates to this sort of prompt not already covered in the above. I will note that this prompt reminds me more clearly of some sort of architectural version of The Picture of Dorian Grey, a book I find…tedious and don’t recommend. The basic notion, of a image of something preserving it’s beauty is the primary component at work here, albeit in reverse.

The reflection on a lake unchanging is an image that has appeared recently, in Dark Souls 2’s opening sequence. What exactly is meant by the still intact reflection is not known to me, and beyond a visual cue, we don’t exactly have the reflection itself seeking vengeance upon the destroyers of the unknown structure.

In general structure, it isn’t hard to think of the general outline. We can begin with the destruction of the castle by the named characters. The owners themselves are of little import, although the motive for destruction is. Given that the reflection is fixed through the centuries, presumably from before the castle’s destruction, it would not be unreasonable to say it’s builders and perhaps it’s lords are a tad fae.

Such nature might be the cause of the castles fall, or it might merely be an after thought of the real cause. Magical and mystical power is something that can be terrifying, and terror often prompts eventual reprisals. I doubt the unchanging reflection is, in it of itself, terrifying to the assailants. It is no doubt proof of what they feared.

Thinking on that, how would a reflection go about seeking it’s revenge? It does so in a ‘weird’ way, but to be honest, and with all due respect to Mr. Lovecraft, I fail to see how a castle’s image could achieve vengeance EXCEPT weirdly.

There are a few venues I would like to close off for the moment, however. The first is the image ‘haunting’ its prey, and damaging their reflection, their by damaging themselves. This feels a bit too slasher-mystery to me. In my time working with these corpses, I have learned that mysteries are hard to maintain in a reasonable word count. They simply need more time.

In this case I’ll also note that, despite having multiple characters to achieve vengeance on, the vengeance is better in a single act that afflicts all of the destroyers rather than hunting each indvidually. Mainly this is for space as well, although it also encourages a bit more creativity with the act. It has to be something that disturbs and drags down the lives of all involved.

Narcissus.png

There is the option of obsession, Narcissus style. The castles beauty might lure the destroyers into the lake, deeper and deeper, until they drown themselves trying to reach false halls and parapets. Or lure them towards the sorts of creatures that live down in that lake, long basking in the magic of the castle and it’s lords. Either is as deadly.

An alternative is the reverse. The castle’s reflection seeks vengeance by creating something and sending it out into the world. Something that, by strange means, destroys the lives of the destroyers. A living thing or inanimate object could both be desctructive in their own ways.

The trick with a living emergence would be to make it something besides a monster. Vengance via simple murder does not seem strange enough, or that horrifying in my opinion. Thinking on it for a bit, a living thing that bound them in some sort of prison, perhaps in the reflection itself, might be better. But that runs a risk of being too strange to properly be terrifying. Most people do not fear being trapped under a lake, and while claustrophobia or the like could work, that would center on the aftermath of the vengance, not the act itself.

Perhaps the castle’s agent could act as a lure. Not for the initial destroyers, but instead luring those dear to them, slowly pulling them towards an untimely end or ultimate sorrow. There is a more clear fear there of someone growing distant, of being unable to help a loved one or friend, and of the past coming back to destroy present relationships in unexpected ways.

Castle Lake Cover

The form of the creature of the reflection should, to a degree, be malleable therefore. I think some shining thing would serve it best. Unearthly in it’s color and appearance, it should be bewitching and yet frightening. The form of a child strikes me at the moment, partially for it’s apparent innocence, partially for it’s potential in the store (mistaken as the last heir of the castle, and spared out of mercy), partialy for it’s means of afflicting many (as a child grows, it can slowly worm its ways into hearts), partially for potential warning in ausipocus physical markers (third eyes, speaking too soon), and so on.

A child as a means of vengeance, slowly unmaking the fearful destroyers, seems like a fine tale. But I worry it will run too long. At best, the story should be broken into three parts. Each part is roughly five hundred words, and each would mark a stage. First would be the introduction of the cursed child, shortly after the ruining of the castle. Next would be the initial vengeance, as the strange child bewitched playmates and makes his way into the hearts of the destroyers court. The third act would be his final revenge, mutilating or driving out those who destroyed his kingdom or perhaps leading his devoted followers into the lake, where the foemen cannot follow.

I’ll have to think of how to do all these succinctly, but I think there is promise in this story. The outline is vauge for now, but that is what the remainder of the week is meant to refine!

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In The Closet

This Week’s Prompt: 37. Peculiar odour of a book of childhood induces repetition of childhood fancy.

The Research: Childhood Dreams

My home was much as I remembered it. The old house was still there, with the same squeaky rickety stair. My brain added the missing hollering at dad to fix it for once in his goddamned life, and the perplexity over how exactly out here in the desert there could be something so moist as to squick. When I was little, used to wonder if it was worm guts or ant insides crushed against the nails.

It’s been several years now since we left the old place. I spent the better part of my childhood years here, and even when it became my dad’s house instead of our house, I’d still visit over the summers. Now that he’s gone, having found a way to drown in the brittle bone wastes of Arizona, it was mine again. It was eerie, how well kept everything was. How meticulously well kept everything was. It was a curiosity over such antiquarian tendencies that led my feet clacking up the stairs towards my room when I was little.

There is something cliché in the parent maintaining perfectly the state of nest once it’s emptied. It was some relief then, that the bed was so broken and beaten. No doubt a raccoon…no, that’s upstate talking. Coyotes then, or javelinas or gila monster or I don’t know. Some sort of small animal. Maybe an imported raccoon.

The place was an absolute wreck, books strewn across the floor and blankets shredded and sheets wrapped into strange bundles. Still, there was one book that seemed mostly intact. The Watsons Go To Birgmingham. Never liked it much, too serious. But as I thumbed through the pages, the smell of rotting cod wafted up and out, and I saw the bones stuffed between the doodles.

When I pushed the bones between the pages, back when I was only approaching the first decade of my life, I didn’t know dead cod would smell like. That came with the move up north. But I knew what it smelled like. It was the nightly creature that would come scuttling into my room and the house, make off with a few things, move a few things, and then go back.

I had three friends back then, Tami, Chris, and George. They didn’t believe me at first when I told them that I had seen four sets of glowing eyes in the night. It’s limbs were like a MR. PLASTIC ™, stretching out to pull its skittering form forward. It was gross and slimy and squirming and ick ick ick.

“Right, but it’s not hurting anyone, so who cares?” Tami asked, tossing a rock at a cactus. “Sounds like a neat pet.”

“Yeah, but what if later, it gets hungry?”

“Then bring it a shaking cactus?” Chris said, letting another rock fly. It hit an adobe wall and a dog barked at us irritably. “I mean, a kid in Phoenix, he goes to my school. Says that a kid he knew had one of them, and after a few days it burst into a bunch of spiders. Had to fumigate the place.”

“Ew, why would I want that?” I said, playing with the stones.

“Well, then it’ll eat the spiders. Problem solved.” Chris said with a shrug.

“But wouldn’t it run out of spiders?”

“Yeah, but see, you’d move already. Because even grown ups don’t like spiders. At least, not that many. And maybe the fumigators would kill it.”

“Guys,” George said with the uptmost childhood sincerity, “I think your missing the obvious here.”

“What?” Tami asked, tilting her head.

“We catch it.” George said, eyes all a glitter. The three of us should have laughed, but now the prospect seemed tangible and real. We could actually catch it. Maybe.

“How would we?” Chris asked, having stopped throwing stones to consider.

“Well, it does crawl about. Maybe we could steal some mouse traps?” I asked, thinking to the scurrying noises on the floor.

“We’ll need more than mouse traps.” George chimed in, waving his stick around. “Monsters fight back, don’t you know? We’ll need some bats or big sticks and a blanket.”

“Why a blanket?” Tami asked, frowning.

“Because, you know, birds fall asleep when covered by a blanket right?” George said. There was a general nod of consensus. “Right, so I bet this things like them. Or like a dog, and it’ll get real confused, and that will mean we can whack it before it rips our eyes out and eat them.”

There was a general hiss of disgust at the mention of disfigurement and anthrophagy, that died down after a bit of nervous laughing. Tami mentioned that she could swipe some of her dad’s golf clubs and George and I agreed that that would do nicely for beating in the things skull. So we began that day to set our fateful trap, for the thing lurking in my house.

It had to be at a sleepover, to get us all over to my house. My parents were surprised and pleased that I was having friends over, having grown used to an almost pathological avoidance to admitting relation to the house. They thought it was because it was old and squeaky. Because they didn’t know that no kid is inviting their friends over to get eaten by monsters.

The next trip was staying up late, with the lights off and all of us ‘asleep’. We figured noise might scare it off, or maybe draw its attention. In a kids mind, the line between ‘thing we’re going to beat up’ and ‘thing that will eat me’ is a flexible, blurry one. So we carefully measured our breathing and tried not to jump with excitement or fear when a coyote howled outside. A coyote walking the streets, you must understand, was quite the event.

But we strained our eyes awake. Well, okay, George and Tami did. Chris fell asleep, despite the efforts, and I was on the verge of dreaming when the scurrying in the living room jolted three of us up. George held a finger to his mouth and Tami slowly handed out supplies from the gym bag she had brought her stuff in. Sadly, they were mostly baseball bats. She said golf clubs were too big.

So we quietly opened the door, Chris having the blanket as punishment for being a little kid sleepy head who couldn’t stay up late for a monster hunt. I had the flashlight, since it was my house and I’d be damned if we were going to hunt a thing blind and groping in the dark. So we went out carefully, a flickering column of light running head of us. Slowly we made our way to the pantry, where there was a scurrying hissing noise of the most awful sort. And sure enough, there we found it.

It was like a newt with a spiders face and the mouth of a gila monster. It’s gaping toothless maw was surrounded by dozens of blank, empty eyes reflecting back my light, a sudden candelabra. It swallowed up our screams like fish rushing into the hungry jaws of a bear, but Chris was quick as a whip and tossed the blanket over it’s face. Fear turned to adrenaline and we shot ahead swinging. Battered and bruised, it belched and groaned and almost roared until we stopped an eternity later.

Newt Cover

Body disposal had been briefly discussed, but temporary storage had been arranged. We dragged the body back, and with careful work propped it up on a close iron in the mouth. A few fish bones fell out and, to hide them, I shoved the bones into whatever book I could find.

And in the room, I wondered if I had ever taken the thing down. Never named it. Bragged about it for years, but when we left I kinda forgot it happened. So, with a dulled curiosity, I opened the door and was struck immediately by the smell of rot. But there it hung, like meet on a hook, its eyes swollen and dried out. There was something glimmering there, some little flash of light as I closed the door again. But I’m not that worried. After all, its dead.

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Black Sun, pt. 2

This week’s prompt: 25. Man visits museum of antiquities—asks that it accept a bas-relief he has just made—old and learned curator laughs and says he cannot accept anything so modern. Man says that ‘dreams are older than brooding Egypt or the contemplative Sphinx or garden-girdled Babylonia’ and that he had fashioned the sculpture in his dreams. Curator bids him shew his product, and when he does so curator shews horror. Asks who the man may be. He tells modern name. “No—before that” says curator. Man does not remember except in dreams. Then curator offers high price, but man fears he means to destroy sculpture. Asks fabulous price—curator will consult directors. Add good development and describe nature of bas-relief.

Read The Rest Here: The Black Sun, pt. 1,Black Sun Finale: The Account

The Research: Part 1,Part 2,Part 3

The board of directors and there various associates agreed to meet on Walpurgisnacht. Mr. Derelth’s complaint (or as he preferred it, concern) was not as it turned out unique. The various associates confirmed to him the date must be Walpurgisnacht, because no other time was amicable to all the directors and yes, sadly, all of them would be necessary. The meeting would be held in Germany, per the old meetings, and because the location was of easy access to the majority of the directors.

After all, many were buried in the Teutonic forests, and dragging them any great distance would be a hassle.

Derelth thus found himself in a small carriage (the directors found the booming of a combustion engine intolerable and bothersome), dressed as best he could manage and quite terrified. He had never attended such a meeting. The board had spoken to him after the Great War, briefly, to inform him of some of the relics he had and to ensure he knew what signs to beware. And then, it had been through an agent who seemed only dimly aware of his purpose.

The meeting place was a large house atop a hill. It was built, from Derelth’s best understanding, before. Before what was a hard fact to nail down. Certainly before the Great War. Likely, by all accounts, before the unfortunate business at the Bastille. Possibly before the British lost their colonies. And after that accounts drifted farther and farther, with on deluded attendee that traveled with Derelth asserted it was nothing less than older than the forest itself.

Derelth arrived at the cyclopean stone structure. Outside was a man dressed in the old manner of a manservant. He was a tall balding man, almost pale blue around his veins. He bowed greatly as Derelth stepped out.

“Mr. Jonas Derelth? Is that you?” The man said, standing up right with a tedious clik-clik-clik noise. Jonas Derelth nodded slowly, taken aback by someone knowing his first name. It was a secret he had made some effort to keep, avoiding even public records where he could.

After all, even he knew that in the secret places of the world, names are powerful things.

He was lead into a room lined with veiled portraits. The tall footman stood beside three hundred others, each leading a new guest gripping some package or another. They were shown seats, a long a great black wooden table. On the otherside of the room, an identical desk stood. And behind it, the directors.

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A number of them were grim visages, men dressed in hides of beasts and adorned with antlers and skulls. They seemed for a moment to be mere smoke, shaped like men as they sat. Some were women wearing helms of battle, some were almost child like if only they were not so terrible to behold. And a host swirled behind these, phantoms with swords and spears and staves.

In the center of the directors, on the greatest seat, was a man eight feat tall. He had a long beard, kept in orderly curls. He’s skin was bronzed, and his suit was green with gold ornamentation. Attending him were forty nine other men, dressed in long robes and veiled. Their eyes flashed like lighting from behind the robes. When Derelth and the others got seated, he was the first to speak, with a voice that boomed and shook the seats.

“We are gathered here to see this proof, that something troubles our great woods and shakes the cedars again. Show us what has come, that we might render judgement upon you.”

The procession was quickened by fear. Derelth saw great statues of seashells brought forward, with scorpion men or many headed dragons. His own great disk stood beside numerous others, each featuring that strange black spiral sun. All looked erratic, irregular shapes, unfinished ideas that still seemed real. Like the worst of a Bosch painting, or the troublesome drawings of a half sane man.

Each told the selfsame story, of some strange and half awake artist bringing in dread drawings of cannibalistic cadavers or crawling criminal crocodiles or other worse creations. All they said from their dreams. And this troubled the directors greatly. Particularly the man in the middle who’s voice was akin to thunder and who’s glare was like lighting.

But it was another man, one of the ghastly host on the periphery, who first spoke.

Annuaki2.png

“This is…troubling. The border between dream and reality ought to be more sure than this. Why, I know this stone,” he said fluttering over to one of the dark stone sculptures, “and it is found in those deepest of dreams, that come perchance once a century. The dreams of deep things that know this sort of slippery stone. The dreams of deep and wide-eyed sharks and that kind. Dreams that no mortal man should see.”

“Something has dredged it all up, then,” another director with bark skin and branch fingers said. “Dragged up all this to the mortal mind. What of it? We saw the sun rise and set over these very woods in the minds of men. Veles comes, Veles goes. The winds rage for a time, but all is gone by the end except perhaps a new scar.”

“No, no,” the man in green said, standing again, “no, my good Leshy, these things do not rise. This sable sun, this pitch colored star is an omen of old. Before the forests where trees, back when they were the Great Mother’s hair and when the lakes still ran with her blood.”

“The earth turns all things back again,” the Leshy said, standing tall, taller even then the man in green. “What of it? Why call this conclave to speculate?”

“We are not speculating, you indignant sprite!” the man in green boomed. And the room shook. “No, no, mere speculation would be welcome. In the hazy realm of possibility and chance, things may change and perfect. But this? No, no, I know these signs of old. The Black Sun across the sea, that dread fertile mother is rising again to zenith. The father flame, from which all terrors spill, it rises once more from the embers.”

“Your talking nonsense. What is this of fathers and mothers? Dreams have been bent by other calamity.”

“Once,” the man in green said, suddenly calm, “there was a mother-father, who dearly loved her children. For he-she had a thousand fold a thousand children. Each a different face, a mind of its own, cleaving and tearing at the skies and seas. For you see, in those days, there was no earth. But in time, some of her children got the mind to slay others. There was much fighting. And the mother-father, torn at the devastation, slept, and was content to sleep until the blood stopped flowing.

“And so it was for many a millennia. Most of the children died. The others built halls out of their bones, made their skin into lands and their hair into trees. The children taught the animals, the plants, and eventually the men and women of the world their arts. How to fight as they did, how to write as they did, how to bend fire as they did. In time, the squabbling children came to accord. But there was still the matter of the mother-father. For should she stir, again she would have children in multitudes. And again they would tear at the world, until all was naught.

“So they taught the world how to lie to it’s mother-father. To make mock battle, to wage war in the ways he-she expected. And the children rested. But in time, they too died. Most anyway. Children rarely live long. Others left, to find new places and new homes. Such is life, that the men, women, plants, and animals forgot or fought those ways. The last few trickles of blood ran dry perhaps four centuries ago.

“Not that war has been forgotten, but war as the children fought it? No, it has been lost. And so he-she has begun to wake. First he-she comes in dreams, an echo of the world primeval. We must gird ourselves for battle, for soon he-she will come as the doom of thrones and crowns. And their will be new children born, and the world will break and bend if nothing is done.

“But what perplexes me,” the man in green said, as all stared stunned, “is why no more such shapes have come? What has silenced them, who perhaps lulled her back to sleep?”

For part 1.

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The Fall of Ziegera, pt 1

This Week’s Prompt:24. Dunsany—Go-By Street. Man stumbles on dream world—returns to earth—seeks to go back—succeeds, but finds dream world ancient and decayed as though by thousands of years.

This Week’s Research:The Fantastic Fae From Faraway!

I was but a boy when I first ventured past the fields we know. It is domain of children and innocents, that land of imagination that every youth and maiden is familiar with. Ask any of them of the wonders they saw, the adventures they were on, their great companions in that last gasp of freedom. It is an old, ever shifting land. Chaotic and full of ogres.

Adulthood lies to us, and insists that this world, this waking world of skyscrapers and certainty, is the real world. That distant Allnar is no such thing, that the castles beneath the sea cannot possibly be real. And some change comes over us in time. Some shift in the chemistry of the mind, some dilation of the eyes. And we can no longer see that beauty that bewitched us. The world robs us of naïve light.

But some of us, some us will not go quietly. There was a man in the former colonies who shrugged off the chains of this earth long ago. In Ireland, tales persist of those who are ‘whisked’ away. And I, for a time I was such a man. The doors into that great place lay open to me.

Even into the end of college days, I would lie in bed content. I sailed on the great river, which casts it shadow on the world as the shrunken and feeble Nile. With a large red sailed boat I sailed on to Allnar, that city by the sea. Its shining spires and great clock towers. I remember I would dance for days within the courts carved in crystal, with the ladies all dressed in lace.

I rode on the back of black horse to the west, to Ziegera, where the fields were gold with wheat and metal. Where the mighty mountains of iron feed furnaces of the people, to raise glorious ziggurats and temples of steel to idols of bronze. I bowed to priests as I passed, who knew the hidden words of the world.

The north of Ziegera was a wild place, a wood ruled by the King of Bears, a comrade in arms since I was a boy. He was as old as a mighty oak, and as fierce as a thundering storm. There the bears make war against the forces of the north, the whirling wind spirits that would blow the world away. And with them I made jolly pacts and feasted to their victory.

Returning to the world that we know was painful though. The priests at Ziegera told me it must be so. For centuries might pass between our meeting, but to speak with shadows was how it must be. Down into the cave, to be held with iron chains I was sent.

The world we know was always so drab. What man can make his fortune in London these days? Yonder Windgift boasts often that it has jobs to spare, a hungry Moloch looking to consume a helpless flock. The sea sings another song still, that young men might lose life and limb to the treacherous monsters that call it home.

And I believed this even in when the world was calm. When the great guns of war were unknown, when the battery of mighty canon did not echo off the shore of Britannia. When we feared ghosts conjured by suspect spiritualists, shadows of shadows, are delusions of meaning in a monstrous world. I bore the reality of existence as a yoke bears its masters load. Not happily, but not moaning under it either. After all, Allnar awaited in yawning dreams.

I was thirty when I found a route easier than mere sleep. For sleep bought me a few days, perhaps, on the coasts and in the woods of glory. But when I was in that twilight of life, I found something most amazing.

I was walking  down an old path through my families woods, when such things were still respectable. The moon hung full and a light in the sky, shining it’s pale glory down as I walked. There was, to my knowledge, nothing peculiar about my behavior that night. No solemn prayer to pagan gods, no deep mediation. I was walking, can in hand, down the forest street when I came to the river.

There was always a creek in my woods. Since boyhood, there had been but a simple bridge across, and I had paid it no mind in decades. It was maybe two hands wide, barely capable of slowing down even a small child wading through.

But some strange fae light had fallen upon my boyhood creek, and now it looked all the grander. It was a river, mighty and sure, so wide that I could not see the other side. The bridge was still there, stretching out to eternity. But while before it was naught but wood, it now was of brilliant diamond and emerald.  Green and glittering beneath the light of Diana, it waited for me to cross.

The Woods

Perhaps a wiser man would question it. Perhaps a smarter man would have stared more deeply, inspected it’s construction. Perhaps. But I am more a man of foolishness and bravery than any such man. Despair is Wisdom’s handmaiden, and it is misery’s sweet kiss that shows one the secrets of the world. I walked across trembling at first, then with greater haste, until at last I was sprinting and full of wind.

And then I was in that land again, that wonderful city of stars, that crystalline castle. And there I remained for months, laughing again. My limbs were young, my spirit alive. It was as if I went out into a garden after being sick for ages, as if I was blind and now I saw the wonder of the Sophia. I saw the seasons come and go, the kings of winter riding on horses of clouds. I traveled to new lands yet unseen, distant Cathay and the realm of the evergreens.

For a time, I settled, though were is lost to me. It was stolen, long ago, from my mind. But I recall the joy of life in that cabin or house, entertaining friends and farming soil. But it could not last. One night, they came dressed in iron robes and with eyes of fire.

The priests of Ziegera, with great golden staves and silver knives gathered around my house one night, years since I had come. I was out hunting when they arrived, and when I returned nothing of my hall remained but ash. Flame bleched from the priests mouths upon my fields, and there silver knives were stained red.

I drew my steel, my mind remembering a hundred wars in this world of Allnar, a thousand victories over demons and spirits of the sky. I was, since boyhood, the triumphant hero of creation. Some shambling priests could not stand before me.

“It is not the place for shadows and fancies to linger this long. We warned you often, Jahpeth, we warned you well. Bodies as frail and mortal as yours are not meant for this place.” The high priest said from his throne of sure silver. His mouth and eyes flicker as he continued, his fellows glaring down upon me. “Had you any piety for this place, any obedience to it’s laws, long ago you would have cross that emerald. But you stay, and that we cannot allow any longer. Your presence, you old decayed man, invites your attendants. Look! Do you not see them, swirling about your footsteps, etching themselves into the songs of the world?”

I paid them no heed, a brave fool still. But I forgot that one great word of the Greeks: Not even Hercules may best two. So homeward I was sent tossed into the river against my will. The priests began their solemn chants as I floated along still.

Find part 2 here.

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Mr. Jared Jahpeth

This Week’s Prompt: 23. The man who would not sleep—dares not sleep—takes drugs to keep himself awake. Finally falls asleep—and something happens. Motto from Baudelaire p. 214.

This Week’s Research: Insomnia and the Infernal

Windgift is not a place for lost souls. If you ended up lost in my fair city, it wasn’t by accident. The gird would guard against it, and the constabulary was always on the alert for misplaced workers. And when someone wanted to find you in the fog and cloud, beneath the factories churning light, they came to me. Typically, it was over money or marriage. But rarely, ever so rarely, it was to find out why you ran in the first place.

You in this case was Jared Jahpeth.

“He’d been erratic. Kept getting up in the middle of night, staying out late, and then just vanished. Muttering to himself a lot too. I caught him mixing something into his coffee, some pills. He even admitted to taking them at night, to keep himself working through the night. We were going to see a therapist that day, but he never made it to work.” Mrs. Jahpeth said, staring into my eyes. It was a tad unnerving, her eyes staring straight ahead as she talked. I don’t think she blinked.

We went through the more standard line of questioning after that. What did he look like, any enemies, any hangouts, friends, and so on. All out of town. Jared must have deep debts if he had to jump ship. She left a little more than an hour later, and I packed my things to make my way out onto the sky lit by the crimsons sun and steely clouds.

There was a chance that Luke, down at the pharmacy, had heard of him. There were only three pharmacies in town, and if you’re aiming to stay awake for more than a few days, you’ll need some memorable stuff. Coffee can only carry you so far.

Luke was a portly old man with only a few grey hairs left. He felt out of place in the slick and clean pharmacy, full of plastic cases and pills.  He always reminded me of a candy store salesmen from another world, more than happy to sell things that help people go on living.

“Martin! What are you in for? Anti-depressants? Tums?” he asked with a smile. Luke liked to pretend I was a regular for legitimate reasons. Poor guy.

“Nothing of the sort. Listen, anyone strange come in lately?” I asked, leaning on the white counter.

“Strange?”

“Yeah. Unusual new customers or the like.”

“Not that I can think of. Few kids trying to scam fake doctor’s notes by me, but that’s hardly new. Who’s the suspect this time?” He asked with a sigh.

“Guy named Jared. He’s getting something to keep him up. Anyone like that come by? Might have a doctored note. Kinda lanky, bags under the eyes, skittish.”

“Muttering to himself?” Luke asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Yeah. Probably carrying some coffee.”

“Guy came in a few hours ago. Can’t say much past that, patient confidentiality and all.”

“ Did you get word where he was staying? Just in passing?” I asked, leaning over the counter.

Luke shook his head. A dead end. Well, there were other sources. Outside of Luke’s and across the street there’s a timid old lady. Mrs. Wilcox, poor thing thinks the world is out to get her. Her paranoia makes her sharp, however, and a few years back I convinced her I was a double agent for the nefarious powers that be.

“He went east, looked awful. They’ve gotten to him, clearly, they have. Poor man,” she said through her peephole.

“Gotten to him how?” I asked, scribbling on a note pad.

“His limbs, they’ve injected them with some of the chemicals from their homeworld. They want to see if people can survive. You can tell, his limbs were twitching all the time.” She continue, her eye darting about.

“Thank you, Mrs. Wilcox.” I said, noting to confirm it when I found Jahpeth. Waking drugs will do that.

“And your end? What’s the latest you and your partner have found?” she whispered.

I got halfway through rattling off a list of local politicians that ‘were actually lizardmen’ before stopping.

“Partner?” I asked, turning around. The street was empty.

“Yeah, your partner. He’s in the alley, isn’t he? He’s been walking with you since you left the pharmacy.”

I nodded a bit, finished the tin foil hat wearing nonsense, and walked down the street for a bit. I waited a few blocks before turning around. Sure enough, I saw a shadow dart behind a building. It was a glimpse, but it was there. Sprinting down toward it, I began reviewing a list of possible enemies.

The alley was empty when rounded the corner. The alley only had one exit, and was completely bare. Past that, however, was Main Street. I continued the chase and looked about. I hadn’t caught a good enough glimpse to spot him by appearance. But behavior? No one was running, or looking over their shoulder. Just, vanished.

I retraced my steps with Jared. Wilcox said east. East was easy. There was a common hidey hole out east. See, the coal plant wasn’t in use any more, but it was still burning. There was a gas leak that caught, and well, the fire kept going.

It was evacuated not long after. Eternal fire isn’t exactly a habitable place. Past the warning fence was a preserved town, untouched and uninhabited for twenty years according to official records. Most of the time they were right. The odd squatter got the idea to hide out here for a month or two before leaving. Place almost radiated a sense of unease.

The dust brushed against my feet as I walked through ashen streets, listening. There was a breeze billowing broken doors and a growling flame still deep in the ground. I walked carefully down the streets, scanning for the remains of tracks before the winds washed them away. There wouldn’t be many, but if you looked closely, you could see shifts in the bigger piles of debris.

Eventually, the little impressions and shifts lead me to an small store front. The door was open, either because of the wind or negligence. I closed it slowly. I could hear someone breathing the stairs, hasty gasps, like he was had just run a mile.

Running up the stairs, I stop to see a single room with a bed. There’s a man, Jared, lying there. There are some packages on the desk next to him. A couple books were scattered on the floor. I stepped over them to get a closer look.

“Mr. Jahpeth?” I asked as I approached. His head bent back a bit, and his mouth fell open. And there was a loud, heave, followed by a rustling sound. And then, out it poured. His lung’s, his entire chest collapsed and ash spewed out of his eyes and mouth. His skin greyed and cracked, broken clay revealing an on rush of darkened blood. His bones were charcoal, an unseen fire burning him up.

I gripped the door frame as, after only a few moments, Mr. Jahpeth was naught but dust and bone. That insatiable curiosity of my profession, however, that demon of dark ambition bit my brain. I hunched over to look at the books scattered on the floor.  The ink was splotched, hard to read, but there were diagrams. A drawing of a horned figure, a thing rising out of a skull. I picked through a few more.

The writing was more legible, at first.

“There is a thing ticking in the back of the mind. There is a thing that I see in window panes in the alleys of my dreams. In eyes of distant mountains, in dark places growling things lie. Something is wrong in the skies.”

But the vague poetics began to decay. No doubt his ability to write decayed with Jared’s health. Sleep deprivation does not refine the motor skills.  Gradually, the ink bled into drawings again. Eyes in the ‘o’s, little trees out of ‘t’s.

But then, as I sat scanning book after book, great diagrams of trees full of fire and great birds with many eyes, I noticed something strange. The process seemed to be reversing. Letters were returning, although not English characters. Nor Greek or even vaguely Eastern letters. No, it was strange blockish script, dotted and swirled within it’s confines.

I collected all of it, all the books I could carry and began to leave the ashen place, the fiery pit beside the city roads. But at the door, I noticed some small impression in the ash. A set of tracks entering the house beside my own, visible only a moment before the wind swept them away.

I followed there general direction as the moon rose, yellow and worn. Starlight showed shining hoof tracks, a goat.  But I never found anything. What took Jared I can’t say. His wife didn’t show up at the deadline to hear what happened. When I got to the station, they denied ever hearing of him. Mrs. Wilcox didn’t open her eyehole after that, and a few weeks later her house went up in smoke.

I’m still trying to make sense of it all. I’m grasping at straws and chasing shadows. I’m lost, and the red high noon sun seems to be mocking me for it.

I am not proud of this story, to be honest. I feel it is truncated, missing an underlying horror, and doesn’t properly exploit the fear in dreams and devils. But perhaps it provided some fright or inspiration for your own work? What did you dredge up from the graveyard of dreams?

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Insomnia and the Infernal

This Weeks Prompt: 23. The man who would not sleep—dares not sleep—takes drugs to keep himself awake. Finally falls asleep—and something happens. Motto from Baudelaire p. 214.

This Week’s Story:Mr. Jared Jahpeth

This prompt is a strange one. Like last time, it refers to a text I do not have (that is the poetry of Baudelaire), and while certainly the poems are preserved (we will get to them shortly), there is the problem of determining a motto from the manifest works.  Before that, we have insomnia for some dread reason.

Insomnia, especially self imposed insomnia, has echoes in other existing stories. In fact, I do believe this prompt to have been fulfilled in the story Hypnos written some five years after this prompt. That in mind, I will endeavor any way to see where this seed goes. My own mind is not, after all, that of Mr. Lovecraft.

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The best beginnings of the plot are with Baudelaire. Baudelaire was a translator of Poe and a poet of no little skill in his own write. My research to narrow his wide catalog relied on letters between Mr. Lovecraft and a friend, bringing me to three of said friends translations: L’Ennemi,Au Lecteur,Remords posthume. Now, the prevailing theme of this poetry is a familiar Lovecraftian one. Decay, time, and the eventual destruction and ruin of things.

But where Baudelaire stands a part is in two precise areas. Unlike Mr. Lovecraft, Baudelaire presents the most important aspect of decay as it’s slowness. Gradual, barely noticeable changes culminate in the dead and desecrated world we now have. This is not unheard of in Lovecraft, but the subtle movements are hard to do in horror literature so focused on the current activities of the character.

The other area is more rich with lore and story. That is, there is in Baudelaire, an active agent of decay. An Enemy, a Devil. Mr. Lovecraft’s personal beliefs on such matters are complex, as while an avowed atheist, the role of devil is occasionally played by the ever valuable Nyrlanhotep. Yet, I think this raised corpse of Howard does it well.

I am intrigued then, in the notion of making a religious horror story from this seed. The motto in this case would be the simple one “The Devil’s in heaven, all is wrong with the world.” But what is the nature of the Enemy?

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If there is any character who looms as large as God and Christ do over Western literature, it is the Devil. Even the irreligious can recognize his features at times. But the features are vary…variable. That is a topic of such vast consultation that I will only do in broad strokes, and only in western lore, what the nature of Evil may be. Needless to say, from a popular culture perspective, there are two major works that provide the template of the modern devil. Folkloric works vary greatly, however, and from region to region.

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Look At the ANGST! Look At It!

Modern conception, however, draws from elsewhere. Namely, from the works of Milton and Goethe. Here the Devil or at the least, his representative, are portrayed as wily rebels, tempters supreme, and as possessing good, or at least artistic, taste. Here we have the origin of the soul bargain and contract in blood from Faust, and the notion of a sympathetic devil from readings of Milton that were common in the Romantic period (Though, not universally agreed on). These traits, rebellion and temptation, were always to a degree present but both Faust and Paradise lost thrust them to the fore and burned them forever into certain forms.

Neither of which are conducive to a horror story. The deal with the devil perhaps is, especially unwittingly, but that hits many beats of earlier tales on this site, including the Damned Spot. But the devil plays into our themes of Baudelaire especially well. Yes, even better as a simple devil.

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Tales of tricking the devil abound in Ireland and Irish influenced lands (such as the south), but the tale of Ysyr also invokes the devil as a trickster who leads to the destruction of a golden land. There in, he deceives a wicked noblewoman and her ogre helpers and leads to their sinking. Some say the key to the kingdom still sits in Ireland, under an unmarked grave.

Stories from Cambridgeshire tell of a man who met the devil on the road, and found his body turned into a burnt skeleton the next day. His hounds, large black canines the size of horses, occasionally hunt across the sky. In other regions, he arises as the source of local ills and dark powers. Salem I will leave untouched, until again witchcraft crosses our table. Needless to say, the great malicious spirit than maintains in folklore only that.

Folklore provides that ghost story aspect, a simpler character. And while in a longer tale, the monster may have many facets, many meanings, works as short as ours need something simpler. Something a bit baser. So folklore, in structure, might serve us better than lengthy novels and epic poems.

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I’m not saying basically this. But basically this.

As I said, neither popular culture icon works well at the start. The tempter is a tad horrifying, but overdone. The rebel is an excellent hero for a war story, a fantasy epic even, but would be difficult in a horror tale (unless as in Hypnos, the rebel attempts to recruit the hero). But! The Rebel victorious? That has potential. Particularly if he is as petty as the devil of some folktales, an impure creature that delights in small suffering as well as lofty goals.

Keep in mind the nature of dreams. They are often where divine visions or ghostly apparitions emerge. The devil, as arch-divine rebel and bringer of discord to the realm cosmic, then works well in the disruption of dreams and the cause of nightmares. The devil is in Heaven after all, and thus all is wrong in the world.

I will not dwell long on the horrors a successful revolutionary can inflict on the world. History provides enough of that, and I wish to avoid politics. Oh, the fates of the Muses who once inspired. Oh the Graces who brought virtue. The heavens under hellish reign are never better off. The rebellious prince of sin, if victorious, would be a terror indeed. If such visions pursue a man, no wonder he doesn’t want to sleep.

But! But our story ends when our troubled sleeper rests. This is difficult, since a terrible fate that sudden is hard to betray from the first person. Perhaps, we might structure it to resemble an investigation. After all, the rapid and large number of drugs needed to stay awake for a long period of time might attract attention. This would push much of the above research into subtext, as our investigator (true to form) is unlikely to know the cause of the erratic behavior until the end.

Still, it keeps suspense longer. Odd nightly behaviors can be ascribed to numerous things, a number of strange phenomena. And investigation is one of those knowledge seeking professions that, most often, lends itself to horror.

We likely then will have a number of characters as the investigation proceeds, though perhaps backwards from what the prompt has proposed. We perhaps start from when he wakes and piece together what went wrong.

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The Shack by the Shore

This weeks prompt:22. Mermaid Legend—Encyc. Britt. XVI—40.

This Week’s Research:The Siren Song

Almost fifteen years since I last was south of the border,a little envelope floats in from Uncle Guiles asking if I can come down to coastline to the shore. He needs help managing his fishing business, it says. Only descendant not to call the police on him, it says.  Normally I wouldn’t give it a second thought. Living alone with a slightly paranoid septuagenarian surrounded by rotting fish was a childhood nightmare.

But there was a pressing argument to leave town at the time. I had made a few promises I couldn’t keep, and had perhaps thrown my end of them into the sea out of some instinctual spite. And while that was understandable to myself, the other end of the arrangement wasn’t too happy.

It was an opportunity, I reasoned as I packed my bags and began the thousand mile southern drive. A chance to go to a foreign country and remote location, where the only person who knew me well was a loon with a gun who trusted non-family as far as he could through him.  So in my borrowed car, I parked at the nearest entrance.

Locals told me that Uncle Guiles(or Rabid Rob, as they called him) lived off between some cliffs. The place wasn’t reachable by car, sand was too wet. You had to go at low tide by foot, and carefully so as not to slip into the sea. It was a far cry from his hillside house when I was little.

It hurt the eyes to look at for starters. Big house made of cobbled together concrete blocks and sheets of metal riveted on. There were some hunks of driftwood arranged into something resembling a patio, but it looked like whoever made had heard of houses, and perhaps dimly glimpsed on through a broken telescope, and then set to work. That fool of man came hobbling out to greet me almost as soon as I rounded the corner.

“Davey! There you are. Was worried you’d gotten lost along the way. How’s the States?” he said gesturing for me to follow him through a sheet metal door that had a red circle spray-painted on it. The inside was surprisingly cool, although the entrance shook with every step. The hallways were occasionally line with “artful” bits of driftwood spray painted primary colors and with seashells hanging from them on fishing line.

“As always, tearing themselves a part. You build all this yourself?” I asked as we entered what the living room. I admit, I was surprised it had real furniture.

“You know it. Can’t let anyone know the layout who isn’t living here. When it all comes crashing down, they might break in.”

“Right, right, makes sense,” I said putting down my bags down. “So, fishing giving you trouble?”

Before he could speak, there was a groan from the floor that shook the house. It wasn’t a pleasant sound, girders grinding down. Uncle Guiles paused for a moment, listening careful to the noise, his eyes drifted up to corner. It stopped after a bit, and his eyes slowly falling back.

“Oh don’t mind that. Tides and waves, they sometimes slip under the sand near the basement, shake things around. Doesn’t break the rock and foundation just shifts it around,” he said, waving his hands to shoo away any questions. “Must just be tide changing is all. Anyway, fishing, sort of. I need someone to go into town for me, errand you know? I got a nice bit saved away, but someone needs to collect the paperwork and the groceries and the like.”

I nodded along. Simple enough it seemed.

“Anyway, that’s what I need mostly. A go between with me and the  main land. But that’s enough business for now. We got until low tide comes back in the morning to work that all out. Let me show you around some.” He said, gesturing. The groaning below got louder.

The rest of the, dare I call it, house was in various states of disrepair or mid-construction. There was a thin layer of sand everywhere. But kitchen was something like clean, with clay plates and some store bought knives. The table was impressive, in that a couple hunks of scrapeyard metal resembled a proper dinning apparatus. Still, Uncle Guiles’s pride in it all was contagious.

The tour ended with the upstairs, where to my delight the bed was more than some piled together straw. I nearly collapsed on the mattress, and probably would have fallen asleep at Uncle Robinson’s chuckling if it weren’t for the still audible groaning and moaning from the walls. It seemed almost louder with more wall to resound off of.

Uncle Guiles again assured me it was just some shifting girders, nothing much to worry about. The foundation was secure and solid stone.

We stayed up a bit late that night, drinking the moonshine Uncle Guiles called beer. It was nice, for a moment, to enjoy a beer and only hear the crashing of the waves against the cliffs. In a drunken stupor, Uncle Robinson gestured for me to follow him back into the living room, to “see his treasure”.

Laughing all the way about the numerous innuendos that phrase has, I stumbled into the clattering room. It was barely lit by a lamp Uncle Guiles carried as he stumbled with the little lock. With a scrapping creak it opened up.

“What you have, some more seashell art?” I asked peering around. And then I saw them.

Behind a set of fishing nets, jewelry like you wouldn’t believe. Golden combs with inlaid pearls, necklaces with coral woven into the gold. I’ve seen lots of jewelry in my former line of work, I honestly have. But this was something else, something amazing.

“Christ, what are you doing hiding in a shack like this?” I said blinking, a moment of soberity installed by the wonder of it all.

“What, and part with it? There so beautiful, I couldn’t bear it, couldn’t bear it if they were anywhere else. Maybe when I’m gone, I’ll leave’em to someone else.” He said, reaching through and gently stroking one of the combs. The now constant hum seemed to drop in pitch a bit as he did so. Some part of me thought the sea felt him, and disliked him for it.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I could still hear the groaning, only now I faintly made out words, and pitches. A melody. I got up and paced a bit. The noise continued though, and peering through what passes for windows. The tide was going out again, seashells piling along the sides. Strange, the song was still coming from within.

It was then I realized I hadn’t seen the basement yet. Carefully stepping down the stairs, raising my foot to avoid making any more sounds. The sound grew louder and louder. But beneath it I heard someone murmuring something. I stood perfectly still on the last stair.

“That’ll do for tonight, my little fish, that’ll do. I’ll see you in the morn.”

I heard Uncle Guiles foot steps, heading into the kitchen. Quietly, I slipped around and saw the basement door open a jar. The noise, now a clear multi melody song. Deep and high, and pained. I found a lantern hanging beside the door, and gripping it, I opened the door slowly.

The flames reflection flickered back at me in a hundred eyes, a flickering multitude of pitiful forms. They resembled women of a sort, with the lower half of seals. Their teeth, needle like, showed as they made their strange song. Some had flickering blue lights along their hair and tails, some had spines like a lionfish. And …things, things like children with smooth eel skin peaked out between them. Little bits of fish and bones were scattered on the floor and hanging out of their mouths. And all their eye stared into mine.

I stumbled more than stepped back.  The lantern swung and I felt it slip. As I frantically reached out to catch myself, I saw its little flame and oil splash about as it fell. The glass shattered, and the fire spread across it. The drift wood ornaments began to catch, making torches. The metal was heating up too, I could feel sweat running down my brow.

In a short while, there was shouting from the kitchen. Uncle Guiles, well, there was no saving him I decided. He’d either sort himself out or suffer the price of building such a shoddy place. That being sad, the second thought that ran through my head was the gold. I leapt over flame and between netting to get to it. The iron closet, the jewelry. Uncle Guiles was shouting something, I couldn’t make it out over the now angry song and his own constant coughing.

“Sorry it didn’t work out, I’ll meet with you later, thanks!” I shouted, pocketing all I could carry and running out. The tide had retracted, but I was exhausted. I tripped, I hate to say, I tripped and the gold fell into the see. And then came the most awful sound.

Locals will confirm this part of the story, but even without them, I know what I saw. The sea roared, roared with an angry dirge. A wave rose, over a dozen feet tall, right in front of the now blazing house. AS I pulled myself to my feet, I saw Uncle Guiles running from the house, screaming. Hundreds of hands waited for him in the waves, grabbing and tearing at his skin.  A thunderous voice, a chorus coming to Holt’s Neptune the Magician came bursting from the crowd.

Later that morning, it will be found, the newspapers reported a particularly large mass of metal and concrete washed ashore without explanation. I made my peace with his few dependents, and took possession of a safe box with a little over a hundred American dollars. I decided that perhaps a remote mountain peak would serve me instead.

Well, the corpses ill gotten gains had a tale to tell. What did you find dear brothers and sisters?

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