The Black Mass Gathers

This Week’s Prompt:75. Black Mass beneath an antiquated church.
The Prior Research:Witches Sabbath
Part 2:The Fire Breaks

The road to Elderbir was relatively smooth, even if circuitous. While a horse might have once navigated the streets with ease, the buggy struggled to make each ever tight turn. As we reached about half a mile from the small town, the path was too dense to continue for the driver. With a quick wave, I departed with my things the rest of the way.

BlackSabbathElderbir
Elderbir was a small town. It was far away from the city, and I hoped it would give me a chance to breath. English books in hand, I dragged my suitcase up and smiled at the young woman setting up a banner over the bakery. The smell of bread washed away a number of my cares, glancing at my slip of paper for the address I was staying at. I’d negotiated a place to stay with an agent in town—apparently this was a busy time of year, what with Midsummer approaching.
The house was a two store, square building, with a nice awning to protect from the ever threatening rain. I give the old wooden door a knock, rustling the pslams that are nailed to either side of the door frame.
“Ah, Peter yes?” A deep voice asked, as a broad and heavy man with a mustache down to his chin came into view from behind the door. “Auntie said you might be coming. Big city lad, here to work at the school?”
“Yes, yes, that would be me. You must Mr. Lorain. Yes, I’ll be instructing in English in a few days. Is my room ready or should I—”
“Is my room ready? Haha, listen to this guy. Yes, yes, of course it is ready. Clean and neat, thick walls and everything.” Mr. Lorain said, taking my shoulder with one firm hand and my bags with another. “Dinner will be cooked by my lovely wife and daughter, but that is a few hours from now. Let us get you settled, and then you can explore the town. Or sleep, I guess. It must have been quite the travel from Windgift to fine old Elderbir.”
I haplessly followed along, to a rather bare room with a small bed and desk, a half bookcase carved of dark wood against the wall. All in all very comforting, truly. Spartan, yes, but that left the mind able to be properly furnished.
“Thank you very much, Mr. Lorain.” I said, pushing my things slightly. “Think I’ll go look over my school at the least—I’ll be sure to be back for dinner.” With a smile, I made my way out of the house and back down the street. Distantly, I heard a clock dole out the hour mark—three dull resounding marks for the hour.
A gaggle of children came running down from the small foot hill the school squated on. A rectangular, unobtrusive building, with a bright red bricks and blue painted shutters. The children came toppling down, the younger ones rushing ahead laughing, while the older ones taking their time in small little clusters.

School Brick
By the time I was at the front gate, my soon-to-be coworkers were emerging. A woman and man—married perhaps?–who were a bit older than me descended down the path. Not the generation of my parents, but between them and me. The gentleman stopped at the door to secure it a moment.
“Oh, hello!” I said, walking up with a hand extended. “Peter Dorman.”
“The new literature teacher?” The woman asked, shaking back and smiling at me. There was something slightly curious about her eyes—one seemed larger than the other, by a hair at most.
“Yes, ah, Miss?” I asked,dropping my hand to my side awkwardly.
“Mrs. Tarney, and this is Mr. Tarney.” The woman said, nodding over her shoulder. “He teaches geometry, I think.”
“Oh, only the fundamentals and essentials. Most of the students benefit from a bit of logical thinking.” Mr. Tarney said, catching up. “Afraid the school is locked for the day—You can poke around a bit later. Already have a place to stay?”
“Oh, yes, with the Lorains.” I said, pointing over my shoulder and turning half around. There was a pair at the door actually that gave me a bit of pause—a woman with a bright red dress and hair done up in a net of braids, with little ribbons hanging off them.
“Oh the Lorains…there a good family. Mrs. Lorain’s cooking is amazing.” Mrs. Tarney said, smiling as she walked down past me, arm in arm with Mr. Tarney down the street. I watched after them for some time, before shrugging. Regardless, I could at least become familiar with the grounds for a bit before the sun dipped too low.
The school was a small building—only three or four rooms. There was a small fence, separating the bigger hills from this one. Of course, one of the kids had broken the beam, allowing a few children to slip out. The entire remainder of town could be seen from here, and beyond them the towering mountains. Mountains no longer distant, but almost breathing presences down my neck. The mountains that seemed to have dim letters scrawled on them, in long pale chalk lines.

*

I spent most of my days near the school house. Before classes, I would arrive early to speak with the Tarneys about the latest comings and goings. The next few days were a source of any number of rumors to share. Apparently, as autumn came, the rooms grew stranger. I had seen a woman with a heart shaped thing in a jar, that seemed made of human hair, somehow stuck together. Another man, living two blocks away from my own temporary residence, had arrived with a bright red hat, a bronze statue head, and small crowd of hangers on.
“Oh, well, we get all sorts. Lots of folks who move away come back this time of year.” Mr. Tarney said, as I told him of a woman with a black cat that I swore had thumbs.
“And do they all come back so strange?” I asked, laughing a bit as I wiped down the chalk board. The children were learning fast—faster than expected, really. I wondered if they knew more then they let on at first, but as long as a few were struggling a bit of review wouldn’t hurt.
“Well, one doesn’t often leave a place like Elderbir without being a little odd—small towns make interesting folks.” Mrs. Tarney said, shrugging her shoulders. “Are you staying late again?”
“I have trouble thinking with Mrs. Lorain’s cooking wafting into my room—and papers must be graded.” I said, nodding and taking the keys from Mrs. Tarney’s outstretched hand. Truth be told, I preferred to give some distance to myself—a cramped upstairs room affords a man little privacy with his thoughts. The school wasn’t private itself, but at this hour at least I could pretend to be alone.
Mister and Misses Lorain were a fine couple—and most of the other boarders were kind if eccentric. The most egregious cases did seem to be regulars—they spoke to Mrs. Lorain with a familiarity that now made some sense. Most were staying only a week or so, or so they said. The gentleman with the white snake around his arm said he made a yearly pilgrimage here. It was rather strange, none of them resembled many of the other towns folk. Truly at some point, Elderbir had played host to people from around the world—all within the last few decades.
Scribbling along on tests, I fancied what might have actually attracted so many visitors. Mrs. Tarney may say it was simple family reunions, but so many to fill almost a second city? Perhaps an army regiment once trained out here, and it became home over generations—first the soldiers return, then they bring families to visit yearly, and after they die, their children feel the pull like everyone before and so on. It was a remote location, but affairs of state have a strange way of transpiring all over the country.
While ruminating on these thoughts, something caught my eye out the window. An intense, but brief light—almost like a small orb of lightening in the distance. After glancing over and seeing nothing on the mountains, I wrote it off as nothing more than a delusion from overwork. But it came again. A small pulse of blinding light. Frowning, I walked over to get a better look—and then I saw it. On the mountain side and top, some how both brilliant as stars but barely visible as the sun set, were arrayed an army of multicolored fires.

Black Sabbath Mountain 1


So this week, I am afraid we will have to stop before the story is entirely finished—I simply didn’t have time to finish the story, and wanted to have something for Halloween! So, consider this a primer to the full story, out next week. What will Peter uncover about the strange guests, the strange lights, and this strange town? And what will he do with this new information?
Stop by Part 2 to find out! The Fire Breaks

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Witches Sabbath

This Week’s Prompt: 75. Black Mass beneath an antiquated church.

The Resulting Story: The Black Mass GathersThe Fire Breaks

The Black Mass is an intriguing part of folklore. It is hear that we come again to the explict religious fears of Mr. Lovecraft perhaps—while his fiction is angostic, the Black Mass is a fear in the folklore of Europe, particularly among Catholics. The concept of a Black Mass is rather simple: The Black Mass is a pervision of the Holy Mass by the agents of the devil, an anti-thesis to right and good churchly behavior. Thus, it is at midnight, it involves sexual acts and violence—sometimes cannibalism and human sacrifice, often poison and orgies. It is a night of witchcraft and Satan himself may walk at that dread hour.

The earliest accusations of something like a Black Mass—although not using that phrase—is leveled against the Gnostic sect the Borborites. The accusation includes tropes that are common throughout later accusations—the consumption of bodily fluids, sexuality, child abuse, and cannibalism. Like later accusations, Black Mass here is equal parts folklore and political attack. The Borborite accusations resulted in 80 people being expelled from the city of Alexandria, and the suppression of Gnostic texts since then has made determining the veracity of these claims difficult to say the least.

Witches Sabbath 2.png

The most famous Black Mass is the Affair of Poisons. The incident is detailed here in a translation of several recorded interrogations. Included is the mixing of the blood of a white dove with holy water and sulfur, the brewing of love potions of a duke, the invocation of three demonic princes, an abortion and the use of the dead infants in consecrations. To continue on in more detail would be a bit more grotesque then I am willing to do for this blog.

The result of this Black Mass was the arrest and execution of over 36 people. The dead included the mistress of King Louis X, Madame de Montespan, and a number of soothsayers, diviners, and alchemists. The chief witness was interrogated while intoxicated, however, and evidence of the supposed thousands of dead children is non-existent.

Witches Sabbath 3.png

However, it was far from the only Black Mass accusation to be leveled. Earlier works gave similar debauched and carnal descriptions of Black Mass, where the devil appeared as a great talking black goat. Witch hunters, comedians, heretics all in the twelfth and thirteenth century provide texts for Black Mass.

Another famous accusation was levied against the Knights Templar. While not accused of a specific Black Mass, the Knights Templar were accused of spitting on the Cross, denying Christ, worshiping idols, and of encouraging homosexual practices. Compounding accusations of fraud, secrecy, and corruption, these accusations eventually lead to the disbanding of the Knights Templar and the seizure of their lands by other states and the Knights Hospitaller. In addition, the accusation papers are the first time the now famous demon Baphomet is described. However, the demon has not taken its form as a black goat yet. Instead, it is described as : a dead cat, a severed head (sometimes with three faces), sometimes as a piece of wood with Baphomet upon it. The nature of this accusation is…difficult to find credible—the articles on Wikipedia document the strangeness of the name, the accusations specifics, and the theories around it. The idea of Baphomet as a demon was revived later for attacks against Freemasonry, and finally Baphomet’s shape became more concrete with Eliphas Levi’s satanic temple.

Witches Sabbath 4.png

In the folklore of Germany, Walpurgisnacht takes a similar role—or more properly, Hexenacht, the Witches Night or Witches Sabbath in the Brocken mountains. Here, on a night of a saint, the witches gather by flying goats. They trample crosses, are baptized in the name of the Devil, receive gifts from him, and have grand orgies—rather banal by standards of Black Masses. Spell preparations were also made—the unguent that allowed witches to fly was brewed, great spells were cast with the aid of other witches. And of course, copious amounts of human flesh were devoured. The location varies—while the Brocken is common, the mystical island of Blockula in Sweden also plays host, as do other mountains.

A slight variation on these masses, which resemble grand inversions of the order of mass, is the Mass of Saint-Secaire. Recounted most famously in the Golden Bough, the mass is a means of assassination. A corrupt priest and his lover go to a deserted church at eleven at night. He recites mass backwards, ending at midnight. He then devours a mass of three cornered black bred and drinks a cup of water, from a well in which an unbaptized child has died. Then, making a cross with his left foot, the priest proclaims the name of the victim. The victim then simply dies, rapidly wasting away.

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More innocuous inversions of Mass include the Feast of Fools phenomenon. A celebration among the subdeacons and lower clergy, the Feast of Fools traces its roots back to similair Roman celeberations. The Subdeacons took reign as the overseers of the cathedral for the day, and partying on a grand scale commenced.

In the folklore of the Balkans there is a recurring trope of devils gathering in the woods at night. Unlike the others described, these dark gatherings are regular reports of their mischief to their superiors, and get beatings when they fail. In folktales of unfortunate or poor heroes, these meetings provide ample opportunities to eavesdrop on the problems and solutions the hero can provide for riches.

A German folktale of a conclave of corpses has an implied diabolical aspect. The doubting monk discovers them buried in a forgotten vault at night—their hearts are ringed with fire, and all of them sit at attention. When inquired to their fate, the corpses reveal that they are being punished by their victims nightly, until judgement day. The conclave warns the monk of this truth—that hell is real, and coming for him. At the end of the gathering, the monk repents and devotes himself to the church.

In Shropershire, the Stiperstones are reported as the gathering place of ghosts and witches to elect their king—and the mysterious place Hegmoor’s End is an island where witches gather. Not much regarding these gatherings is recorded, so we must presume they are sabbaths like any other.

In Rhode Island, Goose Nest-Spring is where the witches hold carnival, and have Sabbath at Hell Hollow or Kettle Hollow, depending on the teller of the tales. African American folktales in Rhode Island report that those who see witches brew—made frequently by groups of witches in graveyards—will crave nothing else, and thus starve even if they escape.

A Celetic folktale gives a more somber occasion—from the Isle of Man, one Mrs. Peacock claims that the devil occupies churches on All Hallows Eve. There, he takes the form of a somber priest and blasphemies against God for the night, while invoking the names of those who are to die and be damned in the coming year. If one listens, one can hear their fate—and perhaps even escape with their life. (Celtic 328).

With this foundation of diabolical tales, I think we can start working on the outlines of a story. I think this is a prompt that is more a scene then a full story—the climax or midpoint, rather then a whole outline as is the case elsewhere. With the idea of getting to a witches sabbath, I think we can play with the notions that this Sabbath occurs yearly, in the same place. Something like a grotesque yearly convention. And with a convention, we can imagine that a community has grown around it, in the same way that pilgrimgae sites foster the growth of communities around a trail.

Given the associations with secret knowledge and plans at play here, I think a story about discovering the Witches Sabbath that is at the heart of the economy of a small village or town either as a small child or as new arrival in town. The mystery of strange people arriving and treated as welcome guests, the sights of early fires and sacrifices in the nearby hills, and the inevitably doomed venturing into those hills one night, to see the secret ceremonies. I think that as a story might work well.

The exact character of the Sabbath is another question however. As mentioned above, Black Sabbath’s are often gruesome and needlessly dark affairs. Scores of dead children might be shocking to write about, but in the space of only fifteen hundred words—three thousand if I’m being generous—the image is more tacky then effective I feel. On the other hand, making the Black Sabbath a merely ordinary event is dull. Walking the line between serious horror and schlock—a line I willingly and eagerly cross at times—is a difficult affair.

Bibliography

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

Nicoloff, Assen. Bulgarian Folktales. Assen Nicoloff, 1990.

Jackson, Georgina F. Shropshire Folklore. Edited by Charlotte Sophia. Burne, 1883.

Rhys, John. Celtic Folklore. Wildwood House, 1983.

Tibbits, Charles John. Folk-Lore and Legends, Germany. J.B. Lippincott, 1892.

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The Wound

This Week’s Prompt: 74. Italian revenge—killing self in cell with enemy—under castle.

The Prior Research:Revenge Most Cruel

CW: Suicide

“I had forgotten you still had this, Ottobuno.” Venerio exclaimed as we arrived at the lone castle to my families name. It was a stone edifice, bare of most adornments within and without—sacrifices to be made to keep the walls themselves.

“Is the village still there, where we once played?” Venerio asked, peering from the hill off towards the seashore.

“More or less, although the fishermen have mostly left.” I said, smiling. Oh those golden halcyon days, when we were young. Running side by side, having slipped away from lessons to steal fish for ourselves. Summer days that seemed they would never end. They tasted bitter now in my head.

Italy CAstle.png

“Well, that is a shame. I hope someone still collects their fish.”Venerio said, gesturing for my servant to open the door. “Never was their tastier ones.”

“We may not dine on them, but certainly from the balcony we could see the sea.” I said, walking down the hallway steps, checking my belongings.

“Ah, the balcony…a day such as this, with an evening breeze would be delightful.” Venerio replied. We moved through the halls, and up the stairs—past parapets that had not seen shot nor arrow in almost a century now. So remote was this place, that time and war had forgotten parts.

“Hold one moment.” Venerio said, pausing before a tapestry. I turned on my heel. He was dragging this affair out almost intolerably. The painting he had stopped to look at was an old one—on it was St. Michael, driving his spear into the twisting serpent of hell. The spear’s cross-guard was a crucifix, and at the other end Christ reached down to carry forth a mass that had been trapped beneath the serpents head. Vernon’s eyes traced the spear’s shaft into the winged archangel’s hands, his own almost touching it.

“Is this one of Ricardo’s pieces?” Venerio asked slowly. “It has some of his…wonderful imagery to it.”

The Archangel Michael.png

“Yes, one of the older ones we commissioned from him.” I said, nodding and taking a step to the side to appreciate the site. “He’s quite capable of capturing the wondrous in his work, isn’t he?”

“That he is, that he is. Did you see the new piece we commissioned? It was just finished, third in the set. It’s of Paradise, but with mother and father as Adam and Eve.” Venerio said, nodding.

“…Then that leaves to you Cain or Abel?” I asked, eyes narrow some. Venerio laughed. How I hated that light, high laugh. Small needles in my skin.

“Ah, no, I do not feature yet. Perhaps I will be a frolicking child or take on one of the Judges faces. Do you think I would make good Gideon?” Venerio asked, puffing out his chest, hands on his hips.

“Perhaps, if not a Samson.” I said with a chuckle. “You have the face for it at least. A jawbone would look strange in your hands though.”

“Maybe two, if the trades east are good—spices for pigments after all.” Venerio said, lightly wrapping an arm around my shoulder. “Why, maybe we can get one of you—a Solomon or Absalom, with such hair.”

I laughed, my eyes fixed as he burst. He looked so innocent when he laughed—as if he didn’t know I would have had a picture of a saint already if not for him. If those spices came on our ships, we would be dining at a villa, not a dusty castle. If we had been but five years, not a decade, earlier, Ricardo would be painting my parents again. The laugh is an opaque mask, but certainty of purpose lets me see clearly.

Medieval Wine.png

He attended me on the balcony, where we drank wine in celebration of the coming spring. He had entertained me only a month prior for Christmas—a misbegotten act of charity. That night, that horribly night when he offered me—me! Who’s ancestors were Senators of Rome!–charity. He told me that hard times were upon me. He confided in me that night that, he knew a fine heiress who might value my name and pity me. Pity enough, perhaps, for an arrangement or marriage while I still had my youth. He told me, me that he could not bare to see me decay away in my old family homes.

I felt the knife in my pocket to cool my nerves. It’s blade, its hilt, its carved crest of his wretched thieving family. It was set. It was all set for this night.

“Ah, the gods,they have forsaken us! There is no more wine!” Venerio said, turning the bottle upside down. A drop of red wine fell to the table, staining the white table cloth.

“Not yet, not yet. I have an old cask down below, filled to the top.” I said, raising my glass. “And who better to share it with, on this night. No finer wine exists in my line.”

“The best wine? Why, we are already drunk! You’ll waste it.” Venerio laughed again, cutting my ears.

“Ah, no, a man only truly appreciates wine when drunk.” I said, standing with exaggerated pauses. My mind was, in truth, clear as day. A great lens it made, bringing the world into greater focus. I wondered, did my blood have warmth still? Or if he touched my hand as we caroused down the stairs, did it feel as cold as the Northern Sea?

The cellar was down several rows of stairs. It was only with the guidance of my deft hand that Vernon did not meet his fate at the hands of the stone stairs or walls. Drunkard and fool. But death would not come so swift. As he stumbled into the room, nearly collapsing over the wine, I shut the door—and locked it with an iron key.

“This…this the wine?” Venerio asked, striking the barrel with an open palm.

“Yes, the best in the family.” I said, drawing the knife and walking over. I paused. There was still one last step. He was trapped here—the servants had seen him and me enter, alone. Venerio’s habits were no secret—the power of alcohol over him was second only to God Himself. All was set for the final, fatal step.

I drew back the knife before Venerio eyes and drove it into my side.

KnifeMedieval.png

“Christs wounds what are you doing Buno?” Venerio said, staggering back in shock, as I pushed the blade across. It was warm, my blood was warm as I staggered forward, dropping the knife on the cask.

“Not…rotting away…” I said, with a laugh. His face at that laugh—did he still pity me? No, no I wouldn’t have him pity me.

“Don’t you see, you fool? Your all alone—with me and the knife.” I said as my head began to ache for the lost blood. “They all saw you, drunk as ever, come down here with me! Run and hide, it doesn’t matter—when they find me, they’ll know who it was that did the deed!”

Venerio backed away slowly, the knife clattering to the floor.

“Buno, I-I don’t, what is wrong–”

“And then.” I said, smiling. “Then they’ll hang you from the rafters—you and one day your thieving parents and your whole wretched house. The knife was your knife, they’ll know what kind of cut-purses and villains you are.”

My voice began to dwindle, curses half formed on my lips as blood pooled on the floor. I saw him run, but I am not afraid. Here in this forest, I wait—I know he’ll be down here, down in the frozen wastes.


So…this story.

I’m going to write a bit more on the writing of this story then normal. The story’s initial pitch is tragic over the top Edgar Allen Poe horror. It’s a story of vengeance that is literally self destructive. But it’s also about suicide.

I’ve had several friends who were suicidal—and several who actually took their own lives. That fact was true when doing my research, but the impact of it only became clear when I sat down to try and write the story. And…well, it made writing the story more taxing then normal. While the story was delayed some so I could finish the Patreon rewrite of Demophon—which was delayed because of moving in Morocco and other work—it was also delayed because writing a suicide scene was…well, almost too much. Almost.

I usually say if a story I’m writing scares me, it’s a good sign. The Muse story still unnerves me, for instance. But this…this was a bit much.

With that said, next week we return to more lighthearted affairs. Black Mass beneath a church’s ruin. It’s gonna get witchy.

 

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Polished Silver Distorts The Eye

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

The Resulting Story: All Hallows Night

This prompt brings a few easily linked pieces of lore and understanding—mirrors, faces, and Halloween. We’ve discussed some of these before, mirrors notably here, but there is more to discuss then one post could entirely cover.

The role of the mirror in folklore is often one of truth revealing or deception. A mirror provides a clear reflection, or the clearest we can have, of the world around it. In times of antiquity, these mirrors were rare as well—and often made of silver, making them signs of wealth and the supernatural. It isn’t surprising then that many mirrors were in fact used in scrying and other magic for knowledge.

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The Yata No Kagami

One of the most famous instances in particular of a mirror for truth is the Yata no Kagami, part of the Imperial Regalia of Japan. The mirror, dating back to to before 690 A.D. was used to lure Amaterasu back from her retreat into a cave. Like the other elements of the Regalia, the mirror was gifted to Amaterasu’s grandson when he set about unifying Japan and becoming emperor.

Not far from Japan, the mirror has a special role in Buryat and Mongolian shamanism. The Toli is a specially prepared ritual mirror that is capable of interacting with the supernatural. The mirror is circular, and among the Daur people has notable qualities of purifying water, contacting spirits, and healing wounds. In some cases they even contained the horses of the shaman, and might be layered as symbols of power—the more mirrors accumulated, the stronger the shaman was.

In more mundane uses, mirrors have been used as ways of contacting the beyond. One mirror was carefully made for the purpose as a part of the spiritualist movement—a movement we’ve discussed a number of times—that involves allowing the mirror to face nothing but a black ceiling so the dead may enter. By holding a candle close, users may see their dead loved ones.

Another folklore blog has noted a New England tradition by which one would discover their true love by walking down the stairs and looking into a mirror. Reciting words over the mirror while doing so reveals in it the image of one’s true love—or a coffin, which means they will die soon and alone! Of course, given falling down the stares because your focused and chanting over a mirror…well,I imagine it’d be dangerous for spell casters. 

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An Aztec Illustration Of A Mirror

In more ornate cases of mirror divination, various Mesoamerican cultures made use of obsidian mirrors to contact the world of the dead. The Maya depict their mirrors as tools of kings, and often hand held (although some larger illustrations show mirrors held by dwarfs and servants). The Aztecs believed the god Smoking Mirror observed all the world through his mirror of gold (his idol was made of obsidian, implying perhaps that all mirrors were his eyes into the world—a horror concept if I have heard of one). Spanish forces and authors attributed more to the fear and superstition of mirrors. Bernardino de Sahagun described the following occurrence:

The seventh sign or omen is that waterbird hunters caught a brown bird the size of acrane, and they brought it to Moctezuma to show him, he was in the room they call Tlillancalmecac. It was after midday. This bird had on its forehead a round mirror in which could be seen the sky and stars, especially the Mastelejos near the Pleiades. Moctezuma was afraid when he saw this, and the second time he looked into the mirror that the bird had, there he saw nearby a crowd of people gathered who came mounted on horses. And Moctezuma than called his augurs and diviners and he asked them “Don’t you know what this means? That many people are coming.” And before the diviners could reply, the bird disappeared, and they said nothing.”

One of these obsidian mirrors made it into the possession of famed occultist and astrologer John Dee—and is still in the British Muesum to this day.

Obsidian Mirror John Dee.png

John Dee’s Mirror

Another famed folklore mirror is in the one on the wall in Snow White. Here again the mirror serves as a vehicle of truth and vanity—it does not give the answer desired, but the honest one. The other major mirror I recall from folklore—and more accurately, from an original fairy tale—is the one crafted in the opening of the Snow Queen. This mirror is again related to sight, but this time is related to the distortion of sight. The mirror, upon shattering, splinters the Devil’s work across the world. The mirror causes cynicism and despair in those who’s souls it penetrates.

Mirror Snow Queen.png

Another story from Granada deals with revealing of the truth by a mirror—the mirror is held by the barber, to find a potential wife for the king. The mirror will reveal blemishes of the soul on the silver of the mirror, helping the barber find a proper wife no matter rank or birth. This of course has the intended effect, and a proper but lowly wife is found. You can find the story here.

Delving a bit backwards for a moment, and dealing with a mirror that effects apperances and horror, we can consider Perseus. Danae, Perseus’s mother, was cast to sea after giving birth to him—long story, involves Zeus and a prophecy about Perseus murdering his grandfather—and upon washing ashore in Serifos, they were taken in by a fishermen and brother of the King. The King of Serifos desired Danae, but Perseus was a danger to his advances. At a party, Perseus rashly promised the king anything he desired—and the King asked for the head of the Gorgon Medusa, who’s form was so frightening that she turned men to stone with fright. To abbreviate the story, Perseus slays the monster with a mirror shield, avoiding directly gazing on the gorgon. Placing her head in a satchel, and ignoring the two creatures that spring from her neck (Pegasus and Chyrsoar), Perseus heads home to complete his story—which bears little relevance to our prompt.

Perseus.png

The prompt does remind me of a particular Lovecraft story—The Outsider, a Gothic horror story of a man who has spent all his life in a castle. The story follows his escape from isolation and entrance into a world that was naught but stories to him. The story’s conclusion and final twist I’ll not spoil (you can find the story in full here). Other instruments of viewing—such as glass of Leng—stick to the theme of revelation and truth.

The story here more reminds me of the child hood activity of dares—daring someone into the cellar on Halloween night, to gaze upon a mirror in darkness. It’s comparable to the idea of Bloody Mary, who appears by gazing into a mirror in the dark by candle light. Or the Blue Baby story, which poses another legend of a haunted mirror. I think that some combination of the two–the revelation of identity in the mirror and the dare of children–could make for a compelling case.  

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A Prodigal Son Returns

This Week’s Prompt: 71. Man has sold his soul to devil—returns to family from trip—life afterward—fear—culminating horror—novel length.

The Prior Research:Dealing With The Devil

I was on the porch, watching and waiting for Rinaldo’s return. My elder by a few years, he had gone to Germany to learn his letters and then to Russia following a scholar of theology and her child-sciences. I had feared I’d only see him again by chasing after him into the wilds, an idea I wasn’t necessarily opposed to. I was understandably delighted with mother and father when we received the message that he was coming home.

Our village was small—only the priest knew letters and numbers well. Rinaldo had managed to go abroad only after living in town for months and working himself to the bone while learning. They seemed magical, the scraps of paper and marks of the quill that transformed our misty covered home. With one hand they took, the other hand they gave, marking the words of the King and God as they went.

When Rinaldo broke the morning mist His sallow skin and bagged eyes gave that away as he walked down the path to our farm. My good brothers back was bent some, as if a rock bent him over. He came back wearing a fine red cap and dull cloak, a bag of belongings in his hand as and a iridescent feather sticking from his brow. Not waiting for him to get close, I rushed down to hug him close.

There was a pause on impact—a moment of uncertainty. That was to be expected—my brother had been slow even as a child, and no doubt exhaustion had made him slower. What I did not expect was for him to remain stiff as a board before resting a hand on my head and pushing me back.

“Off.” He said, his voice with none of the playful teasing I’d expected. When I took a moment to move, startled by his demeanor, he growled and pulled me back by the hair. “I said off.”

I stared as he continued down the path to our parents, who looked on a bit confused. They told me when I came in not to worry much on it. Rinaldo had been away for a long time, and was no doubt quite tired—travel and exhaustion change people, and no doubt after a good meal and rest Rinaldo would be back.

He stayed in his room for most of dinner—when at last he descended, he didn’t speak a word and took his plate with him to his study. My parents comforted themselves—exhaustion might have eaten at him, or perhaps he was in no mood for conversation. His absence at grace was troubling too. He had been a very prayerful person before his departure. Very talkative as well.


The next day, I went out as always to gather flowers on the hill before helping in the field to cheer him up. I was certain that would cheer him up—buttercups were an excellent cure for almost anything. It was almost harvest time, and mother and father needed all hands to keep the rodents away. When I ran up the field, I felt something crawl on my back. I turned around, and saw a single eye staring from Rinaldo’s room, barely illuminated in the twilight. It was uneasy, that eye—it seemed to clear and large to be Rinaldo’s, but it had some semblance. My body trembled and I felt as if my courage was shaken from me like dust from a cloth. Whatever the strange look from his room was, I had lost all desire to go near my home for the day. Maybe I’d stray into the fields, but the house gave off an unwelcome air.

EyeHouse

Instead, I gathered my flowers and stayed in the field, watching the roads and waiting for the harvesting to start. I gathered a variety of flowers—buttercups, dandelions, all sorts of bright yellow flowers. I made my way towards town, away from my house. Dealing with Rinaldo, in his poor state, was beyond me this early in the morning. It was on the road that I saw her.

Lady DeFronte…I had known her as a highly respectable woman of the town. Dressed in her finery, she was walking alone the other way, all in green and red, with a strange look on her face. She barely noticed when I called out to her and waved—at first I took this to be the airs of a well off woman, who were wont to ignore children. But as she drew close, I saw a serene smile on her face, her eyes fixed ahead.

“Oh, Rinaldo’s younger. Is he returned yet?” She said when I got close enough to wave more pressingly.

“He came back yesterday. But he’s in a sour mood for now, I wouldn’t bother seeing him.”

“Oh, well, I will see what I can do about that.” She said her eyes fixed at some point past me, still smiling. She walked off before I could reply. I watched her walk off, her gait a bit stilted and strange.

I continued down the road to town, and saw a young bakers wife coming up the road with the morning’s bread. She had that same peaceful serene look, and waved passively back as I went along my way. I tried to warn her too about Rinaldo’s temper and mood, but she ignored me and carried on with her walk.

In town, nothing seemed amiss. I had meant to stop at the bakers to get bread, but that seemed pointless now. So instead I went about looking for a present or trinket for Rinaldo—something that might help anchor him back home. I looked around the market a bit, for some little thing, when a bit of movement caught my eye. I hadn’t seen the culprit clearly, but the size of the shape convinced me a stray cat had slipped down a corner. Forgetting my prior quest, I chased after the shape, and caught sight of it more clearly when it stood perched in the window sill.

It was like a rat in shape, the same thin hairless tail. But it was the size of a cat, with hands like a monkey. Its head, which appeared like a man, was tilted down to better fix its goat eyes upon me.It stared at me intently, and I felt that same disdain as at my home—a mixture of revulsion and fear that held me in place and nudged me back. It bared it’s mouth open at me, showing snake’s fangs along side a host of others, and made a low hissing noise when I tentatively took a step forward.

Strange Rat

And then it was gone, into the house on which it was perched. I stared at the space it had left behind, before retreating. I lingered around town a bit more, visiting the smith’s son and the carpenter’s children. But even as we played in the streets, tossing stones, fighting with sticks, and other games, I felt that unease. That pair of eyes lurking on roofs or behind doors, staring hatefully. Animals do not look like that.

Eventually, I decided to head home. I knew mother and father would be cross by now, but I hoped I could explain it away. On the way back, I felt a sigh of relief. The road was free of the strange eyes that shown. Night was coming soon, but that merely painted the sky red instead as the stars began to shine. I had discarded my old flowers—most had wilted by now, except one I kept behind my ear. It was sturdy and fresh, until the house came into sight. I felt it wilt into a sickly shape as I stepped onto the door and slipped inside.


The house was dark. And almost silent, save strange scrapping and settling sounds. My courage again fled, as I crossed the threshold. Turning into the kitchen, I saw mother and father seated in their chairs, eating quietly—but the thing on the table was a fowl I’d never seen before. It was colored wrong—almost bronze and with flesh that smelled slightly.

Fearful of punishment and of the strange meal, I slowly walked to the table. Neither greeted me when I sat down. I reached out slowly to cut a piece of the strange meat, but felt an smack on hand. I recoiled and glanced around. Neither of my parents had moved. I tried again, more cautiously this time, but the pain on my hand returned. Terrified now at the invisible force, I pushed back and left the table.

My parents didn’t say a word.

It didn’t matter where I went in the house—there was that feeling in the air of something rotten and wrong. My heart raced, and my brain filled with terrors that refused to take on a good shape—that something lurked just out of sight, or beneath the chairs and floorboards. The roof of the attic shook, and I heard moans and the scraping of furniture on the floor above me.

I decided to flee then and there. Even as young as I was, I knew something unholy resided in our house—and looking out the window it wasn’t hard to find. Our crops, our harvest, had been carved strangely. A may pole had been driven into the field, with ribbons running down. Letters ran along the ribbons, which at the end had a pack of strange creatures, visible only slightly by the moonlight. Around and around they went, carving strange rings and spirals into the ground. I felt the strange pressure in my brain, as if the pole were working its way through my skull, carving into my thoughts with a deadening nail. It was not a pain like a slap or a sore, but an ache, like a bruise that was pressed insistently. I saw other figures in the field, drawing closer—a knight clad in red, with a winged shape on his shield, in the distance of the field, with a woman dressed in purple on the back of his monstrous horse. I knew, somewhere in my soul, if I stayed much longer, the pole would fix me in this place.


So I slipped away into the night, back to the road. I knew of one man who knew letters besides Rinaldo, and might know the cause at our home. The priest found me pounding on the chapel door.

“Child, what has you out at this hour?” Father Tabris asked, staring at me.

“Something’s wrong with my brother.” I said, staring up with wide eyes. “He’s…something’s wrong since he’s come home.”

“…come inside, I’ll put some tea on.” Father Tabris said, nodding.

I will give the good Father this—he was very patient with a girl that no doubt seemed mad at first. I hadn’t the forethought to bring proof with me. I had seen the strange goings on by night, and what could I have gathered? The strange rat? A bloody parchment with my brother and the devil’s signature? The poultry? They all repulsed me, and at least one would bite me. Still the Father took it all into consideration. At first I thought it was humor, but I saw in his eyes that something simalir was ruminating.

“I had…concerns about your brother’s arrival. I found a dead cat in the sanctuary, dragged to the altar—and stained on the floor were small hand prints, like it was taken by a violent child or dwarf.” Father Tabris said, looking at his tea. “It wasn’t long before I went and found the creature responsible—at a glance I thought it was a particularly large rat. I drove it off with a stone—or so I thought.”

“Do you know what’s happened with my brother?” I asked. Father Tabris seemed unable to hear, continuing on.

“It was strange, too, that your brother came so soon. I remember, his letter, it seemed so calm in handwriting for a boy coming home to his family. I took it as discipline well exercised—that he had maintained such a hand only after years of penmanship. But perhaps that was another missed warning. Perhaps, I should have seen those shapes in the morning mist—small, mayhaps, but fateful in the end.” Father Tabris said, looking at his silver cross, running his fingers on it.

“Do you know what–”

“Yes, I know what happened to your brother.” Father Trabis said, standing and going to his desk, rifling through his papers. “He has made, I fear, arrangements with a power I cannot compel. Exorcism, sadly, was not much of my teaching. But I am aware of some folk that still lurk abroad…”

“Abroad?”

“Abroad…Not far, but away. I had intended to leave this night alone, but if you too haven’t fallen under his spell—it is best we go together, there is safety in numbers at night and along on the road.”

“Wait, we can’t—leave now? Your a priest!” I said dropping my tea, the clay cracking and the tea running over the floor.

“I am, yes.” Father Trabis said nodding.

“Priests defend their flock from wolves!” I protested.

“Yes, shepherds fend off wolves. But we are not dealing with wolves. We are dealing with bandits in the night—and for that we need a different man of God.” The priest said, shaking his head. “I will not make you come—but your brother’s depredations will only grow.”

We left that night. I hope to return soon.


I am…not happy with this story. I had planned it to be longer (the third act is missing, and the first act/section goes too fast for my liking). It’s a shame that I spent a lot of these last few weeks moving and getting used to a new place–I really think the basic concept here could be a great horror story. Aw well, I suppose that’s for the Patreon next year. Speaking of…

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And Off Fell His Mask

This Week’s Prompt: 69. Man with unnatural face—oddity of speaking—found to be a mask—Revelation.

The Prior Research:It’s a Masquerade!

The King Hyperion sat on his golden throne, a glimmering pyramid of radiance. His fingers drummed on the heads of carved lions of marble. The crowd was silent, the air a nice cold breeze wafting on the summer day. His nose twitched at the thick smell of wine in the air, as he settled his gaze upon the man with the strange eyes.

“Your royal majesty, I present the apprehended felon.” The captain of the guard said, yanking the chain of the hunched over fool. “Loratian, disturber of the peace and decency.”

King Hyperion2

Loratian was hunched over, the many chains that hung from his back and limbs. He had a vulture neck and a mane of white hair. His brow had growths, small hills of flesh poking between his hair. Between two of these bulges, was the most striking feature of the prisoner. A crimson eye, with a blue pupil and purple iris, gazed out unwavering onto the king.

“Do you know what cause has brought you into our royal presence?”

“You have men with spears and chains, and they made a compelling case that my attendance was required.” Loratian said, grinning with broken and yellowed teeth.

“Yes, we suppose that is one reason. Our men were sent to bring you to our presence, for crimes against our person that you commit incessantly and daily.” Hyperion said, his fingers no longer drumming.

“Good king, had I committed crimes against your person, I do not believe it would be necessary for you to bring me here.” Loratian said, straining at his bonds.

“Do you deny your crimes then? We hear no end of your proclamations against our crown, and against our house, and calls for all manner of ignoble behavior.” King Hyperion said, his voice rising slighty. “You gathered riotous masses to assault our winery, our granary, and our stores of food. You struck down a man of the temple and spat in the face of a holy oracle.”

“To much applause, if I recall.” Loratian said, nodding.

“So you confess then, to these actions and worse—the murder of bulls on our streets, the declarations of kingship against our person, and the demands for royal revenues and tithes?” King Hyperion said, leaning forward.

“I cannot confess them.”

“And why is that?”

“For they are not crimes. And to confess them would be to confess to breathe, or to confess that I too am under the sun’s rays. A god among men, I have done no wrong.”

“…We take that as confession then. Your crimes cannot be passed without judgment—without punishment. As you show no interest in appeal or supplication, then you will be rendered unto God for judgment.” Hyperion said, waving his hand. “And cast into the wilds to suffer as beasts do in the wastelands without our grace.”

Grinning Loratian was taken back in bonds, to be held for the night. The crowd called out and clamored, some cheering, some begging for mercy and appeals to the heavens for mercy and forgiveness. Hyperion continued his business for the day, the face of the madman haunting him as lions fought for his amusement, gifts from distant provinces were offered, and entreaties to judgment maid.

At last, he retired to his counsel, seeking his trusted wife and adviser. The two had guided his hand faithfully for years before, through war and plague and famine. Surely they would know the source of this trouble in his vision.

“It it some enchantment he has.” The Queen Hellia said. “He is, no doubt, some sorcerer or occultist, who has dealt with spirits of the hills. Throw him when he came, and he will regroup there and plauge us anew.”

“Enchantment mayhaps, but there are arts to memory that are less harrowing then these.” The Vizier Corinth said, after a pause of thought. “Still, he has grown to mighty to merely be tossed aside. No, if he is sent to the wastes, he may stir bandits and treasonous farmers to heights of violence. We ought do more then put him to the wrath of God. We should instead escort him directly, with as much circumstance as he warrants.”

“Hm…Yes, there is a festival coming. If he is brought to the sword then, there will be no doubt of his fate. And we shall have not to fear of rallies—a martyr he may become, but martyrs can fade, and the mob is less organized without its head.”

*************************************************************************************

The execution was announced, by crier. In a weeks time, Loratian would be beheaded—the King Hyperion intended first to let him hang, but the thought of more words escaping Loratian’s lips removed that idea. No, the royal mind was set to see first his face sliced off, the wretched eye removed, and then the head cut from its stalk. With such thoughts in mind, he opened his court again to grievances the day after the announcement. What came in first did not surprise him.

They were a ragged crowd, murmuring as they approached his throne. From their midst came a woman, in dregs died purple and red with wine and sacrificial offerings, her hair wild and matted. In one of her hands was a staff tipped with brass pomegranate. As she took another step forward, a snake uncurled from her hair and around her neck.

“Lord Hyperion, I’ve heard that you plan to execute our leader for his deeds.” The woman said, standing tall.

“We have.” Lord Hyperion. “He has shown no wish to repent his deeds, and confessed to us all his actions.”

“Then we, his flock, ask he be released to us. We will take him far from a land that does not want his words and deeds, and will trouble you no more.” The woman said, gesturing with her spear.

“Our judgment is passed, and his fate we have ordained.” Hyperion said, waving his hand aside. “We send him as his sovereign on earth to the sovereign hereafter, our brother beyond the mists. That is our mercy—for our wrath, we may do worse while he still lives.”

“We insist, as his flock, he be returned to us—as it is, you delay his judgment for no purpose greater than your own sadism and fear. Release him, and we and him shall take our delights elsewhere.”

“His judgment is passed, his doom we will see carried out. If he wished to live, he would not have behaved in such an outrageous way.” The King Hyperion replied. “His blasphemy alone condemns him.”

“You are right on one account.” The woman said, frowning. “His judgment is passed—and now it is sealed. Doom comes for you soon, king of men, who has chained a god.”

“We have made our judgment. Leave, and thank the Lord that we have mercy in not speaking it against you.” Lord Hyperion said, rising in his throne, the lions at his side taking on a more fearsome aspect.

The guards saw the crowd driven from his throne room, and a new messenger brought in. An old man in the red of the country squires, he bowed lowly to the King. Hyperion sighed with relief at some decorum returning to his court after so many interruptions of squalid and unkempt agitators.

“Lord Hyperion, Sun upon your brow,gracious in victory, your squire comes with news from the hills and dales of your hold.” The Squire said.

“Let us here then, our good squire, what has become of our more distant lands. Are they prosperous and obedient yet?” The King said.

“Prosperous perhaps, but obedient I cannot say. A frenzy of signs emerged not long past—a great black goat was seen, with seven limbs and three eyes; purple and red lights were seen in the woods and in fog between the hills; and laughter took hold of half the people for seven days.” the Squire said, rising to a knee.

“Such oddities are not unknown in nature—strange beasts and lights are the work of many things. What of these?” The King said slowly.

“ Wise in your many ways, King Hyperion, you see that these are not but coincidences of the seasons and tides.” The squire said, bowing again. “However, the people, in their superstitious ignorance, have taken these as omens and now proclaim that a new god comes—they roam the country in costumes of straw and fur, and many have taken to celebration and debauchery. One of your wise and well appointed governors tried to approach the crowd—and among them, he saw his own wife and daughter, their silk in tatters and their crowns abandoned. He tried to lay hands on them, but the crowd assaulted and screamed at him, leaving him sickly and frail.”

Battle in the Hills.png

“This is not…pleasent news.” the King said slowly, his knuckles white in rage. “Send forth for my general Balivar, and let him lead a host against these rebels. The gods have assembled long ago, and their hersey has become riotous.”

“Are you certain, my lord? Might not letting the loose–”

“Has our crown slipped from our brow? Are the lions no longer beneath my hands? I have given the command—Call Balivar to our side, and send him with sword and spear and shield to crush those who stay yet in defiance.” The King said, standing slowly. “Do so at once, or our wrath will turn upon you next.”

The Squire made haste to leave, scampering bent over and shamed. The King breathed deep and sat upon his throne, imprints of his grip visible on the gold lions mane. Breathing deep, he calmed himself. He considered breifly the calm that would follow this storm—the end of these chaotic rumblings and sorcery in one strong stroke of the blade. Resuming his poise, he awaited a final guest.

She stood tall as she entered, dressed in finery of white and silver and gold, her headdress of scarlet feathers sweeping just beneath the top of the entrance. A masked servant held her dress as she stepped before the throne, bending her head ever so slightly. The Lady Nodens did not yeild easily, and even in royal presence, deference was hard won.

“Hail His Majesty, Thrice Blessed by the Morning Sun.” The good Lady said as she bowed. “Have we heard true that you will be bringing novel entertainment to our festival?”

“Novel? There is nothing new to it, save the victim.” Hyperion said, breathing calmly. “Nothing novel at all to the death of a man at my hands. This one may ramble and agitate more, but to cleave his head from it’s trunk is as old as the throne on which I sit.”

“Might it not be? For he has the novel face—that loathsome eye we hear of often. Bright red like a ruby against his twisted forehead.” Lady Nodens said, raising her finger to her own brow. “We covet it—a memento of your good will perhaps.”

“My good will? Tis a strange wart and nothing more. Still, in these trying times, it is a request I grant, that it shall be done.” The King Hyperion said, nodding. The Lady bowed and curtsied, taking her leave with her message done.
The King was restless the day on, even into night. When he lay beside his wife, he murmured in slumber. At last, his loving wife woke him.

“What troubles you now? Is some nightmare haunting you, riding you as a steed in battle?”

3EYES.png

“Perhaps.” The King murmured, sitting in his bed. “When I sleep, I see him. That foul sorcerer in the dungeon. I see his toothy grin and wretched eye. I fear he has some hold on my mind now, by some enchantment—as he does on my distant provinces and the poorest of my citizens.”
“Do you think you have judged wrong?” His wife asked, resting on his arm.
“What if I have? Nothing can be done of it now. Thrice I have condemned him. Should I free his chains, what then will be my strength? No, no the crown does not err, even in mistep. To release him now would be as to bow before his power—and that I will not do.”

*********************************************************************************

The palace courtyard was alight with music, on the day the sorcerer saw light again. He was dragged between crowds of masked faces, grinning cloth and feathers and furs. Hyperion, his adversary, sat on a wooden throne—the pauper king, overseeing the execution of his rival for the throne. Hyperion watched as the four men in furs, with wooden wildmen faces, dragged Loratian in chains to the chopping block.
As they made their way closer, there was a rumbling in the earth. The King paid it little head. The decadence and depravity of those rebel provinces—many now depopulated and extinguished in their time—had caused the gods to cry out. The shaking was not uncommon, when the earth sighed at her feast.
They took to the stone steps, to the platform that had been prepared. The King Hyperion rose, with his crown of oak. Loratian was laid next to his disciple—a woman who’s face the King had chosen to forget, her hands and teeth bloody with her kin. Loratian took the steps himself, his old sword at his side.
“In the name of the Heavens and Earth, speak now before condemnation.” the King said from his black hood and well cut rags. “Let the gods here your pleas, that they might part the heavens for your soul.”
“Strike me first, fellow. I must lead the way and unlock the gates of my house.” Loratian said, turning and smiling at the King with that forever frozen grin.
The King strode forward to grant the wish, over the cries of Loratian’s disciple. The crowd stared, as the earth shook again. There was a shout from the courtyard gates—glancing, the King saw a great light shining into the sky, a ray of red and purple glowing smoke. More tricks, he murmured. More false signs and omens. There could be no doubt for the crown.
The King raised his blade, and brought it down on the head of Loratian. As it swung, the air screeching around it, the king felt a tug in his chest. None the less, the blade struck. None the less, it did not strike true.
“Come fellow.” Loratian said, his head bleeding and dripping where it had been broken by the sword. “You must have conviction. Where is the iron will of the crown now, in your time of need?”
The King stared, transfixed. The blood grew as roots down Loratian’s face, his hair now like leaves, his face like stained wood. There were murmurs from the crowd at the sorcerer’s bravado. Sounds, not far off, of some great hunting horn. So the King, now in fury pulled the sword up again. And brought it’s flat against the usurper’s neck.
There was a crack like thunder as the blade struck the neck—and was broken.
“Ah, no use no use. That was long anon hardened in the forges of the sun. Your doubt knew better. To slay me, remove my mask, fellow. And then you shall be rid of my gifts and boons.”
Hyperion drew back his blade again, and this time he brought it clattering down on the face of gibbering prophet, slashing down to carve his brow to his chin clean off. And hear, his blade went with ease—it slid as if through water, the face falling off onto the platform cleanly.
The King did not see what lay behind that mask, only heard the outcry of the crowd. Turning he saw Lady Nodens faint in terror, and the guards scatter. The gates of iron bent as the strange smoke drew close—within Hyperion saw a horde of beggars bedecked with claws and spears and roars. Looking down, he saw the blade splattered with blood. He tried to lift it, but the blood had rooted in the ground and to his hand, growing beneath his skin.

The Beheading Of Loratian.png

The Prophet stood, holding his broken face. From the hole where his mask once was, now grew branches and vines of a great tree, reaching anon unto heaven.


 

I wish I had more time with this story. As it stands, I think it is acceptable. It follows the Bacchae, but not to the letter–and is in fact missing the central climax, although the character beat of ‘woman of noble birth joins the madness’ is still present.  I didn’t get enough or as much editing time as I hoped for, and the result is in my opinion less than it could have been. I think a first draft would have been twice as long before first edits and so on.  I do like the ending, and the middle section is my favorite structurally, with three different portions.

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It’s a Masquerade!

This Week’s Prompt: 69. Man with unnatural face—oddity of speaking—found to be a mask—Revelation.

The Resulting Story: And Off Fell His Mask

This prompt is a fascinating one. Partially because, again, it calls to mind a specific pulp story that inspired it. Partly because masks are such a fascinating thing to me—masks and personages and disguises are so strange. This corpse has a good deal of promise, I think, especially in my reading between the lines that our man with a strange face is a stranger arriving—a form that has some folkloric resonance with revelations.

The first unwelcome and amazing guest I can think of in the realm of Folklore is the Green Knight. The Green Knight is a variant of the Wild Men we discussed long ago—however, he is a more civilized sort. He dresses in knightly attire—all green, with a great green axe, a green shield, and a green horse. His most famous incident is the tale of Gawain and the Green Knight. Arriving on Christmas, he offers to play a game in King Arthur’s court. The game is simple: someone strikes him with the ax, and he returns the blow in a years time.

Gawain and the Green Knight

The Green Knight after his game.

King Arthur initially rises to take the challenge, but Gawain steps in. Gawain reminds the king that without him, the kingdom is naught, where as without Gawain it is…well, probably going to last longer, but that’s another story. Gawain steps up and takes the ax, and lopes the Green Knights head off, presuming that the lethal blow will end the game there.

The Green Knight, a poor sport, takes his head, wishes everyone farewell, and rides off. The rest of the story, including the final confrontation between the Green Knight and Gawain can be found here, and is an interesting read if you are interested in English Poetry.

Moving our folklore away from the British Isles, let’s consider the Popul Vuh. Here, the Hero Twins are our guests of honor. After their first death at the hands of the lords of Xibalba—they got better, don’t worry—the hero twins became traveling magicians. They burned down buildings, and then used magic to restore them. They slew animals, and used magic to resurrect them. And then at the end, one twin slays the other, and restores him to life.

HeroTwins Preforming Thier Act.png

The Hero Twins doing their favorite trick, on the left.

It was this last trick that drew the attention of the thirteen Lords of Death. Intrigued, they invite the two magicians to preform. At the end, the Hero Twins invite One Death and Thirteen Death to partake in their greatest feat of slaying and raising the dead. Of course, on this occasion, the Twins do not raise either of the Lords, and force concessions from the other eleven to restore them.

We can also consider, with the element of a mask that resembles a face, the story recorded as from the Pima Indians, regarding the masked man and the turtle. The masked man, Nahvahchoo, travels the world unearthing treasures and dangers in every direction, learning the might of the winds in each of the four directions, and meeting a powerful bow at each part of the sky.

Bals De Ardents.png

Then there are more absurd or strange instances. The Ball of the Burning Men—Bal des Ardents—was a masquerade ball held by Charles the VI that ended in rumor, fear, and death. The masquerade included a performance of various members of the court, including Charles, dressed in wild men outfits and, according to contemporary chroniclers, baying like wolves and shouting obscenities at the audience. A celebration of a lady-in-waiting’s marriage, the ball became gruesome when Charles’s brother brought a torch to close to the five dancers. All but two dancers died in the ensuing fire, as the costumes took light. The dance’s wild nature, and the gruesome result, lead to public outrage and rumors of sorcery in a decadent court. Fear of revolt drove the king and his brother to offer penance at Notre Dame Cathedral shortly after.

The king’s brother Orleans is of interest here, to me anyway. He was accused of sorcery at this event and later ones, and was considered to have made an attempt on the kings life. The event itself is fascinating in consideration of our prompt, as the wild man costume resembles a man with a deformed or strange face. Here, however, it was a guest without a mask that started the terror, instead of one of the masked men.

Masque of the Red Death

It may have, however, inspired a famed horror story that keeps to the idea of mask and revelation: The Masque of the Red Death. This classic tale of horror sees the nobility sequester themselves off from the rest of the populace as a plague—the titular Red Death—sweeps the land. As the prince Prospero celebrates in his castle, decorated with seven rooms for the seven sins, an uninvited guest arrives. Dressed in all red and with a strange mask, the strange guest worries the party, until at last he is chased through the halls by the Prince Prospero. After his arrival, the plague strikes all the members within dead.

And then there is the play that is both before and of the mythos: The King In Yellow. A short story collection that predates Mr. Lovecrafts own work, the King In Yellow is a collection of horror stories that feature the recurrent element of a play. The play is normal, until the second act. The second act is maddening and terrible to read or witness, driving others out of their wits.

King In Yellow Book Cover.png

The play is, for a feature of the mythos, suprisingly detailed. We know, for instnace, it features a kingdom called Carcosa, features at least 3 characters (Cassilda, Camilla, and the Stranger). It deals in one way or another with a place or thing called Hastur, and the arrival of a guest who’s mask it is revelead to be his face. The play is given vague description in Repairer of Reputations:

He mentioned the establishment of the Dynasty in Carcosa, the lakes which connected Hastur, Aldebaran and the mystery of the Hyades. He spoke of Cassilda and Camilla, and sounded the cloudy depths of Demhe, and the Lake of Hali. “The scolloped tatters of the King in Yellow must hide Yhtill forever,” he muttered, but I do not believe Vance heard him. Then by degrees he led Vance along the ramifications of the Imperial family, to Uoht and Thale, from Naotalba and Phantom of Truth, to Aldones, and then tossing aside his manuscript and notes, he began the wonderful story of the Last King.

The end of the first act, in the same tale, ends with the terrified Camilla’s line “Not upon us, oh king! Not upon us!”

The King in Yellow is a reccuring symbol in the Mythos for one of it’s most peculair entities: Hastur. Hastur to me is of especial intreast for a few reasons. One, Hastur proceeds the mythos as a body of literature—he appears first in an Ambrose Bierce tale as a god of shepherds and is rather benign. When he appears in the King In Yellow, Hastur is again strange and an entity of uncertain providence. Mr. Lovecraft and Derelth later rendered him more malicous in later works, a sort of rival of Cthulhu. Later still, AD&D’s Manual of Divinity gave him another strange aspect—Hastur’s capacity to be summoned by reciting his name three times in a row.

Now, what’s interesting to me in all this—and a portion of Hastur and the King In Yellow that is not often discussed in my opinion—is an odd parallel. We have here a deity, ancient and vast beyond compare, who is fond of shepherds, passes judgement–”not upon us oh king!”–and is served by strange servants. The usage of this being’s name infuriates it, it detests and wars with another old being in the sea, and its judgment leads to the end of the world. Why, I have heard of such a god before.

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The Climax of the Bacchae

Well, I’ve heard of two. One that I will mention here, returning again to Greece, is the tale of the Bacchae. Here, Dionysus returns to his home to conquer it. He is seized by his brother, Pentheus, and not recognized—Dionysus has disguised himself as his own priest—and then imprisoned. After breaking free, as gods are want to do, Dionysus unleashes fire and earthquakes before confronting Penetheus. At this confrontation, shepherds come and tell of strange madness afflicting women in the hills. Some are tearing animals to shreds, or braiding their hair with serpents, or suckling on wild animals. Included among these revelers is Penetheus’s mother. The farmers tried to seize them, but were in turn torn to shreds by the women’s bare hands.

Penetheus, alarmed at the madness, plans first a massacre. Dionysus, however, persuades him to instead spy on them to learn their secrets. As he dons his disguise, Penetheus begins to see strange visions—two suns overhead, and horns emerging from Dionysus skull. Convinced of his limitless strength, he goes out to spy on the cult. He is found and murdered by his own mother, convinced he is a mountain lion. Cradling her trophy, Penetheus’s mother comes to her sense at the words of Cadmus. She and her followers are driven into exile for their crimes, and Dionysus turns Cadmus into a serpent before leading a barbarian horde to conquer the city.

This has the elements that clearly resemble the King in Yellow—there is madness, royalty, fear, and the end of a dynasty. As Hastur evolved, he too acquired a reputation for debauchery, although more of an upper crust decadence then the more barbaric and countryside madness that Dionysus seems to specialize in.

I think a retelling of the Bacchae is the most interesting route to take. It deals in many ways with the themes that are common in Lovecraftian horror—the arrival of an other, the terror of madness and affliction, the decay of societal norms (perhaps for the better, perhaps for the worse), and with the victory of the unknowable over the known. We also have a handful of roles or characters at the center of the drama—Penetheus, Dionysus, and the Maenads, with a few nominal characters. Of course, there should be some alterations. As is, it might read that the Other, the outsider, the non-authoritative is the dangerous and thing to be feared. And while that might be the intent of Mr. Lovecraft at times, such phobia of the powerless is hardly the work of fiction.

What about you? What masks do you fear? What revelations to they hide? What horrible things wait?

 

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