Lights Away

This Weeks Prompt: 96. Unknown fires seen across the hills at night.

The Prior Research:The Hills Are Alive

I told Ron to stay away from the hills that night. I told him, I warned him that there was something not right up there. But he didn’t listen. I guess I didn’t really listen.

It was the fifth or sixth time I’d seen those lights. C’mon, he said, there’s gotta be a party or something out there.  We have to go see, they’ve done it every few months.

I said no.

They were fucking creepy rave lights. I mean. They weren’t strobing, so maybe they weren’t like as bad as they could be. Maybe just colored headlights behind the hills or something, I don’t—I didn’t know.  So Ron went off with out me.

Ron was the third to go missing—and you know, one’s an oddity, t­­wo’s a coincidence, three’s a pattern.  The lights were gone that night. And the night after that. I even went out to the hill—took me two tries to work up the nerve, but I went out behind that old hill to see if there was anything back there.

Nothing. A bit of a damp spot. That was it.

The cops stopped—well, I thought they stopped—looking after about a month. Nothing. It was a stir, they even printed him on milk cartons. I didn’t even know they still sold milk in cartons…what? Oh right. Next.

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Well, I—I kinda assumed he’d run away upstate or something. Or met some folks at a party, drank something wrong, and was now in a shallow ditch missing a kidney. I keep going back to the hills, look around for any trace. Tire tracks from the head lights, or even just…just something he’d dropped maybe.

Nope. Yeah, nothing. All he left was a pen. Small gel pen he gave me in class that day. He left clothes and stuff in his house, but nothing on the hill. Not even like a busted button or bit of string. That’s when I started getting—okay, yeah, getting a bit weird.

His parents let me borrow one of his jackets. I mean. They didn’t stop me. I started going out from the hill. I’ve got—I’ve got this map of the area, and I figured he’d have to have left something right? It’d been weeks, and nothing but still. People can’t just vanish into the ground. He had to have left something.

So I went out. I started going for walks, walks pretty late. I’d just…just walk to the nearest spot from the hill. Where he might have wandered off. There was a tree, I found a campsite near a tree. It was a big one, looked kinda like a two tiered umbrella.  I got excited, I found stuff. You know. People stuff.

But that was a boyscout camp that had forgot to clean up after itself.

I tried the other direction, and found some litter about two miles out. I started marking all these little places on my map, so I didn’t double take. And, about three days ago, I noticed it. There’s a mile around the hill, in all directions, where there’s no one. Or nothing.

HillsMap

Like. There’s the old abandoned mill, and some of weird red silo building in the wood. But those are a mile and a half out. There’s Mr. Ottar’s farm. But again. Mile out, and right on the mile, stops. There’s no litter over the mile line. Perfectly clean, perfectly kept grass.

People lost toys in the woods. Things died on the road that past by. The old railroads even gave it a wide breadth.

That’s weird right? I don’t know. I mean. No one ever talked about it. I know on Halloween, kids went to the old Gretch home, to see ghosts. I went once, just got a scare from Ron and a big dog. I mean, not Ron’s dog…never found out who’s dog that was actually. You’d think a big one like that would make a lot of noise, but maybe he’s well trained.

Anyway. There’s other weird places. Again, woods is full of ‘oh I saw a gorilla out there’ or ‘oh my dead grandpa visited me’ or ‘once I heard a woman screaming at midnight’. And, and alright. Fine. Cool. But the hill? There’s nothing.

I asked Mr. Ottar about it. He said some teens were setting off fireworks out there—had been since he moved to town in the fifties. Which, obviously, is impossible. But I kept at it, and he said he’d never found anything out there—never looked too hard, said it was a pretty boring spot. But he’d seen people out there, and lights, and heard music, so he knew what it was.

But no one’s been there. No one’s been out behind the hills, and Mr. Ottar said they’d been around since he moved—and that was in the fifties. And that’s not his memory! I checked, I went to the city hall and checked and he’s been there since 1952.

I checked. I checked twice. I asked everyone I met, as normally as I could, if they’d ever been to a party out in the hills. A few asked if I was hosting one, and mentioned it seemed like a boring place. A few mentioned the freaky lights.

The lights hadn’t come back yet.

That I—Okay, it took me a bit to start trying to map the lights. I knew that, like, that nothing came within a mile of the place. That there were lights since 1952. But not constantly? And the disappearances. The disappearances were connected with the lights. I don’t remember them happening before. I don’t remember a bunch of high schoolers vanishing but like.

Would I have noticed?

Could I have noticed?

I mean, I was ten. I didn’t notice you were there, did I? Ten years old, high school kids like. They can just go to college, like a dog going to a farm. How long—I mean, someone would have noticed? They noticed this time. They checked. We aren’t a big enough town for someone to go missing every few months and no one notice, we’re not like fucking New York or something.

But I went on with it. I marked and plotted the dissapperances and the lights. I asked about the lights, if people had seen them. A few had driving, one or two had walking late at night. A few saw a big dog around there, but that seemed…probably wrong. I mean. A big dog would have made noise, and there weren’t any tracks up there. Nothing left of a dog.

Anyway. I got something like a pattern. Finally. I had a few days to figure this out. What to bring, who to tell, where to wait. I mean. I said I was going out stargazing for a project, and my parents just sort of shrugged.

I heard music. I heard a thumping, thudding music. I thought it was some party down the road, but as I started down the path, no. It was from the hills.

Lights shinging soft but bright over the hill—blue, green, yellow, orange. They were so much…more than before. Much warmer. Much more inviting. I mean. I was heading there anyway. It didn’t matter much.

But still.

It was different, having a beat to walk to. I mean sometimes I listened to music when I went out, but paranoia kept me on edge. What if something snuck up on me? What if whatever it was caught me? Bouncing along to a beat was something different.

I got to the mile mark. The grass was so green, and there was something…sweet in the air. It smelled like strawberries. It—I could see people over there. Waiting.

I was holding Ron’s coat still. I saw him there. It had been ages. He was right there. There were dozens of people there. It was such a …it was so alive. So full. There were so many…so many things.

I almost made it across. I almost stepped over the other side.

Just. I was. So close.

And then. I was here. I was in a room. This is a room right? I was in a white room, with a white light, a red chair, and a small table. Someone came by, gave me some water, and left.  Then you asked about Ron. I don’t think you came into the room—I’d remember that I think. But you’re in the room now.

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How did I get here?

 



I ended up rewriting this story from scratch 3 times, and I’m still not entirely satisfied. I don’t think I ever reached a satisfactory idea of what it was about, except the vague notion of people being lured off by a fire. Which…I think my best work is a bit more than that.

Next time, we go into forests plagued with strange and dangerous things!

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The Hills Are Alive

This Weeks Prompt: 96. Unknown fires seen across the hills at night.

The Resulting Story:Lights Away

The hills have eyes of fire. The strange shapes on the edges of towns and building up to dread mountains attract a great deal of attention, both nefarious and wondrous—why is perhaps for another to speculate. They are clearly demarcated landscape features, and often can hold springs, metals, strange stone formations, and hiding behind them lies lord knows what.  At night strange things can happen in the hills. By day great fortresses rise to their defense. Sometimes these are intertwined, such as in Tyrol, Austria.

In Tyrol, there is this story. An old lady visited the castle, and found its courtyard full of nobles and servants. One of these servants granted her a gold coin, and the scene vanished. As she left, she was met by a solider with a single match and holding his own head at his side. The solider warned her—tell anyone of this, and evil would befall her. The woman tried her best, until a magistrate learned of the gold she had. When the magistrate pressed her on the matter, and forced her to speak, she is whisked away and never seen again. Later, a young nobleman heard this tale and decided—being a knowledgeable sort—to see for himself what was atop the mountain. As he and a servant ascended, six times an unknown voice told them to desist. The solider was there again, and demanded to know who came—the nobleman declared “It is I!”. When asked who “I” was, the nobleman asked for his sword. But a terrible horseman with no head rode out, seized him, and vanished with him into the country side. The solider drove away the servant with his sword.

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In County Durham, England, there is another haunted and wretched hill. There is a strange story of a hill in Scotland, named after a dread worm. There was an heir of the Lambton family, some six hundred years ago, who ignored his obligations to God and humanity alike. Every Sunday it was his habit to go out fishing, and one such day he was raving about his woes to the local servants when his line was tugged. Thinking he’d caught a grand fish, he pulled and pulled—only to find a horrific, pale worm with many hooked teeth and eyes. Horrified, he fought with the thing—which would not let go of his wire. At last, after speaking with a stranger, he tossed it down a well. Where it grew.

And grew, and grew, until it was too big for the well. The worm rose out and grew so large it was able to circle a nearby hill three times—the hill thus named Worm Hill. The creature then laid waste to the countryside. The household of the heir worked hard to find a solution, the heir himself having repented and gone to wage some foreign war—perhaps service in the crusades.  The creature cannot be stopped until seven years later the heir returns. Taking advice from a local sibyl, the heir places a suit of armor filled with spears near the great worm. The sibyls only demand was that he promise to kill the first thing he came across on his way home, or a curse would lay on his family to never die in their own bed for nine generations.

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The heir did so and the serpent assaulted his armor. But the spears struck into its pale flesh, even as it wrapped tighter and tighter.  At last, it bled so the entire river ran red, and the heir struck the creature dead. He sounded his horn in victory, and his father ran out to greet him. The heir was struck, and could not bring himself to kill his father. So he sounded again in terror, and killed the hound that ran out. But the curse held true.

Another hill in the Northern Counties held a poisonous winged creature, that frequently flew out and wrapped itself around Wormington—hence the name. This creature lived in a cave in a hillside.  The panic the creature inspired was so great that villages ten miles away considered abandoning their homes.  At last a champion stepped forward, and after his normal weapons failed, took some peat covered in pitch and shoved it down the beasts throat. The worm suffocated and its death contractions still mark the hill with spiral patterns.

A mountain in Italy bears lights for a terrible tale—one that I feel ought to have been exhumed from our work with the devil. Pietro Balliardo is the origin of this strange flame on a hill. This man had gained divination powers and command of the devil from a small bookshop. One of the first things he does is get revenge on a woman who refused him—she is found one night, burning atop a Mount, and all who pass by must stir the flame regardless of their will.  He did other outrageous acts, a small Faustus of Italy who in his time repented his ways.  I am sad to say he does not typically die, although he does beat his breast with a stone until he bleeds

Spook Light Hill in Indiana is a particularly haunted hill it seems, with strange ghostly lights. One source of these lights is an old man, looking for his daughter’s head—his daughter took a nasty horse-and-buggy crash a while back, and her head was cut clean off. Another explanation, related, claims it was a farmer who fell off his plow and somehow cut his own head off on the plow. Yet another story says it a ghost of a father from the 1800s. He wouldn’t let his daughter date, until one night she convinced him to let her date a solider. The solider apparently killed her, as her body was found outside the next day and the man is still hunting.  Another story says instead it is from an old couple. One night they went out looking for a lost cow and her calve. The next morning the woman fell into an open grave and died—years later the man died of natural causes. And yet they are still seen looking for the old cow.  The lights, however, remain and won’t say why.

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From Cambridgeshire, we have hills formed of a dispute between the giant Gog and the giantess Magog. Every day they quarreled in their cave until Gog declared he would kill her. Magog fled at once, and out ran him easily. Gog then took up some nearby earth and threw it at Magog. He missed, creating the first hill. He missed again, making a larger hill. But the third struck home, and buried Magog alive—this made the highest hill yet. Similar stories in Shropeshire tell of giants who made the hills by hurling stones and dirt at each other across rivers and the valley.

From Herefordshire, the story of the creation of Robin Hood’s Butts relates to the old trickster Satan. Having learned the people of Herefordshire were building churches and cathedrals and leaving his way of life, he gathered up a number of stones to level the city of Hereford. A passing monk, however, came across him on the road and learned of his intent. In disguise, he taught him all about the corruption of the church and priestly offices—and convinced the devil to go home, abandoning his stones to from the two hills.  Some versions replace the devil with Robin of Loxely, who has set out to destroy the monks of a monastery with Little John. They come across a cobbler, who tells them that the monastery is too far to ever reach. Little John and Robin Hood give up, again leaving the stones to form the hills.

In Ireland, a number of old forts were believed to be inhabited by fairies, or perhaps at one point by the Danes—whether these Danes are from Denmark or are simply named the same is unclear, as they are recounted as diminutive red-headed men and woman, something like dwarves. It was said that when these forts were inhabited, and they wished to communicate across long distances late at night, they would light great fires to signal from far away. In at least one circumstance, leveling of an ancient fortress on a hill resulted in the sudden death of every workman who participated in the leveling. Later rumors of great tunnels underneath, where oxen could plow, began to spread. This cemented it as a fairy home.

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To end our collection of tales, a more happy, less horrific fire on a hill comes from Kenya. Here we are told a man with a beautiful daughter promised to marry her to anyone who could spend all night in the nearby cold lake.  The lake was not only cold, but apparently the gathering place of man eating creatures and animals. A young man decides to go, despite his mothers pleading—for he is in love. So he goes and sits in the cold water. His mother, however, followed him. On a small hill, forty paces away, his mother placed a pot and started a fire. The light frightened away the animals. When the son saw it, he was glad for his mothers love that saved him. The man, however, tried to refuse the marriage since he claimed the fire had warmed the pot. A brief ruling by a judge, however, settled the matter.

The fire on the hills story then is the source of many strange creatures and activities. I have not even begun to discuss what first occurred to me with fires on a mountain—great and ancient shrines and revels, from Zoroastrian to Celtic in origin. The ghosts and monsters here, the strange fairy fortresses, even the unknown Danes provide us with something uncanny. As I said, hills are often associated with power. What is going on up on that hill? Can you bear to see what is lighting on that strange hill?

Bibliography

“The Fire on The Hill : African Folk Tales : Fable : Animals Stories.” English for Students, http://www.english-for-students.com/The-Fire-on-The-Hill.html.

Andrews, Elizabeth. Ulster Folklore. E.P. Dutton, New York. 1919

Buck, Rachel Harriette. Roman Legends: A Collection of Fables and Folklore of Rome. Estes and Lauriat, Boston 1877

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

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

Leather, Ella-Mary. The folk-lore of Herefordshire. Jakeman&Carver, Hereford. 1912

Henderson, William. Notes on the Folklore of the Northern Counties of England and The Borders. W. Satchell and Peyton Co. 1879

James, Maureen. Cambridgeshire Folk-Tales. The History Press. 2014

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The Pale Hound

This Week’s Prompt: 58. A queer village—in a valley, reached by a long road and visible from the crest of the hill from which that road descends—or close to a dense and antique forest.

The Research: The Severn Valley

In the days leading up to incident of September 1st, 1859, there were a number of sightings around the world. Spiritualists and visionaries recorded, perhaps in retrospect, the warnings and signals from the sky. Perhaps one of the most enduring of these, for those who have delved into the tales around the event itself, is that of Joesph Cormac.

Joesph Cormac’s regular travel, as accounts of the incident all make clear, ran from his workplace down an old road and along the Svern river bank. The road is famed for it’s demonic owner, who rides in the dead of night to steal away sinners. Further, the woods that surround it like skin on a serpent are known for there flickering lights that lure men into the hands of ghostly robbers. Others have been swept up onto mountain tops by the whispers of unseen maidens.

But Cormac had a peculiar banality to his life. While few report such things without a good deal of prodding, Cormac only revealed further layers of dead normality. Even those who regularly saw the fae denizens of the world invisible said that the world seemed to loose it’s fog around Cormac. That lines were crisper, nights brighter. Cormac himself attributed this to his simpleness, having spent much time observing things as they were, not as he would have them be. It was, he said, from working with stone so much. It left little room for the bizarre, if one only focused on the geometry and carvings of rocks.

So it is no surprise that on September 1st, at ten o’clock, he was not too worried at the sight of a large dog digging in a bush. Some tellers maintain the bush had thorns, and that Cormac should have been more wary for the lack of blood. Others say it was just a large creature, and that approaching strays is always a bad idea. Both are correct. Cormac himself confessed on a few occasions to feeling a bit sentimental towards dogs and animals of the woods. This fondness moved him to approach the wild creature, which seemed to have stuck it’s head in the thorn bushes.

As he called out, however, the dog showed no signs of recognition. It simply dug deeper into the bush, making a small pile of dirt. Cormac pressed on, encouraged by the lack of growling as he drew near. He put his hand on the canine’s back, petting it’s fur and whispering to it to get it’s attention. When his hand touched the dog’s back, which he maintains was cold and wet, like a fish with fur, it turned to face him.

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Cormac objects often to this terminology, for the dog had no face. No head at all. There was a neck that ended in a gruesome wound, smoke rising from it like a fire was in the dog’s belly. The noise it made, according to Mr. Cormac, was a deep gurgling sound, like a drowning man gasping for air. It held him transfixed for but a moment, punctuating it’s noises with gasps of silence before Mr. Cormac’s sense returned and he bolted away.

Mr. Cormac’s fear did not lead him back to the road, however. Rather, called by perhaps a sense to hide or recalling the geography of his home and seeking a short cut, he ran further into the woods, away from the road. And as I said, Mr. Cormac had no fear or experience with the supernatural or unseen. He had no reason, even in his primeval soul, to fear that in the woods worse things waited. Such was the confidence of his banality.

After an approximate thirty minutes of flight, Mr. Cormac recovered his breath leaning on tree, no longer hearing the dreadful footfalls of the dog in pursuit. There was a silence in the air as he walked. His steps made no sound on the August grass. In the distance, he saw lights faintly on the hills, that he reasoned were lost travelers or robbers. He tried then to understand what the pale thing was, lurking in the bushes. By his own account, Mr. Cormac then and there swore off all alcohol for the rest of his life, reasoning that a forgotten pint now haunted him. He then carried on, until a slight movement caught his eye.

The silence was in fact its herald. For there, up ahead, was the pale dog, perched down and facing him. There were no eyes to see it’s expression, no teeth to bare. Nothing but the vacant hole that dripped smoking blood onto the stones. It sat, and raised it’s neck, smoke wafting up into signals in the night sky. A distant shape on the mountains came into clearer focus, small sigils floating on high. A silent howl to the moon.

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This time Mr. Cormac found more fight then fear, tossing stones at the dog to scare it off. But it’s fur, so cold and wet, held fast to the stones he hurled, giving the beast a hide of gravel. It did stop its smoke, and bent low, a beast ready to pounce on its prey. Mr. Cormac stopped as the thing rippled down the stone outcropping and with a hungry gait approached him. Cowering, he promised the insensate thing that he meant it no harm, that he would play fetch. He seized a random tree branch, and gestured it to the non-existent eyes of the creature, before tossing it off in the distance, and running the other direction.

Mr. Cormac got a good distance before he heard the sound of footsteps behind him again. The hound was not far off it seemed, and so Mr. Cormac sprinted faster and faster. He reached again the old Roman road, and cobblestones having zig-zagged through the trees and bushes. Now, in his panic, a host of sounds roared towards him. A pack of hounds, it seemed, followed just behind him and on his tales. The galloping of a horse thudded behind them, a horn staggering them. Something old awoke in Mr. Cormac, something wise enough to keep his head away from the host he heard.

At last his breath ran out as he collapsed beneath a common beech tree, it’s canopy sheltering him from the sky. Gasping for air, he heard the sounds of the hounds and huntsman fade away into the night, no doubt having found another fool to chase. It was now well past midnight, and the lights on the hill seemed to be fingers reaching up into the heavens. At last, Cormac thought, he could rest.

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He drew long, sharp breaths as he rested, staring at the hill side. And there he saw a pale shape running up, coming to a full stop on the top of the hill, and tilting upward. And then another, familiar smoke rising from them into alien shapes. At last, a light was seen, rising from those hills. Cormac thought for an instant he’d run all the night away, as shining lines appeared on the hillside, dancing lightly between the fae hounds and their towers of smoke. It transfixed him until a pale hand gripped his shoulder. The fae had found him, their hunt growing quieter the closer they drew. The hounds were upon him, immersing him in smoke and shade. Mr. Cormac, in terror, recited a rote prayer.

The sudden onset of the aurora appears to have save him, although Mr. Cormac attributes it to his prayer. At the rising light, the hounds vanished and the hand let him free. It seems they mistook the coming flare for the sun itself, which they may never see.

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