The Sea Dane

This Week’s Prompt: 125. Man abandon’d by ship—swimming in sea—pickt up hours later with strange story of undersea region he has visited—mad??

The Prior Research:Under the Sea

The fishermen did not know what to do, when they pulled their strange haul onto the deck. For it was not often that a man in mail and byrnie. He took ragged breaths as he came to on the ship, his fingers gripped tight around a well worn key of finest gold, his beard so long it reached down to his waist. It was only after some effort he managed to stand and speak at all. And all he would ask is if the sun was still in the sky.

The Dane of the Sea, as the Bretons called him when he was out of earshot, was taken in to gather warmth and wits that day. His dress gave him away as a man a viking, but his state was strange for one—for he had no sword or axe or spear, and while he had rings to pay his stay, they had a strange cast about them of green-gold. What drew him, more than the strangeness of his voyage.

The Dane of the Sea was one of many who had sailed along the coasts of the mainland, laying pillage to the abandoned fortresses of Romans and cloisters of monasteries by river and sea passage. It was after ransacking one such monastery that the storm came.

The waters churned and the waves crashed against the long ships, the sky as dark as night. It had come with such speed that the crew did not have time to go to shore until it was upon them. They turned and rowed with the waves towards the shore, aiming away from rocky coasts—but misfortune had more in store for the Dane of the Sea than just the surface could offer.

No instead, the waves battered on and on—and some great force pulled down at his legs and arms, the darkness coming over his vision, fearing he died a drowning death as he struggled. Something coiled about him and down he plunged.

The Sea Dane awoke in a room with heavy furs and a crackling fire. He was on a great bed with heavy wools.  A window covered by animal hides, although what he saw seemed to be the glimmering scales of fish as big as a hand. As he stirred, he door opened and a maid greeted the Sea Dane.

“Ah, the good sir yet lives.” She said, in her hands a wooden tray with a cup of painted peach wood and a meal on a platter, a  smoked fish mixed with rice and pasta and strange fruits.

“Do I? And where, pray chance, do I live?” The Sea Dane asked the maid as she laid his meal before him. The maid smiled as she stood.  “Last I recall, I was embraced by dread waves and soon to be nothing more than memory.”

“You are on the Isle of Ker Is, in the hall of the great lady Dahut. She will tell you more, when you have the strength to see her in her hall.”

The Hall of Lady Dahut was bedecked with perfumed candles. The Sea Dane was struck at once by the lanterns hanging from the ceiling and the candelabras that lined the walls and were born by youths and maidens around the hall, light dancing on the dark blue tapestries. The play of light and shadow gave the serpents and warriors and boats a life of their own. Most impressive was the singular ruby that hung on a chain of iron above the high seat, for it gave off a red light like the sun as it set over the sea.

And beneath this crimson light sat the Lady Dahut herself, a woman of beauty that surpassed any woman the Sea Dane had seen. Her hair appeared like fire in the red light, the straw blonde playing against the piercing red of the ruby as she shifted. A cloak of dark blue wraped around her dress, a crown of studded silver rested on her brow, intertwined serpents of gold worked across it. The light caught on the crown and spread over the hall, illuminating every shadow the candles and ruby did not reach with it’s radiance.

And her voice, as she greeted him, was like a radiant song.

“We see you have recovered from the worst of the sea, stranger. We had worried you slipped through to the land of the dead.” She said with a smile.

The Sea Dane bowed and greeted her in turn.

“If it were not for your blessed isle, I perhaps would.” He said as he rose. “I admit, the sea took quite a bit from me.”

“We would be remiss to turn a guest from our home while they are still groggy from the depths—although, we do object to calling our isle blessed.” She said, rising from her seat and walking down the hall, beckoning the Sea Dane. As stepped out from the crimson light, he saw the carved rings on her fingers, coated with gems—and she lowered from her hair a vail of emeralds  the size of raindrops. She went down, taking a candelabra where each branch was a carved warrior, their spear rising out of the candle and purple smoke rising from the tips of their weapons.

And he beheld a great city of stonework, paved roads like the romans laid and towers rising with gilded rooves. The riches of the city were cast in night, illuminated only by lanterns—and at a gesture to the sky, the Lady Duhat told him why.

“Our Isle is far from blessed—Ker Is was, when I was young, cursed.” She said, and the Sea Dane saw the heavens darker than the night—for there were no stars or moon, nor the subtle shades of clouds. An endless dark rising forever up, an abyss without end. And distant from the city, it came down to earth. There were great whirling shapes, winds of horrific might that snarled light itself as the swirled.

“A lecherous priest came to our land, and tried to persuade my father to wed him despite my will. When I rejected his proposal, in his spite he cursed our isle to never see the sun again. And so, a storm has assaulted our shores in the years since. We survive by means of my wisidom, and many scholars who know how to yet draw life from the ground and fish from the waves and storms.”

At the time, the Sea Dane believed the curse was nothing but storms and winds—he did not see the churning mass that the so called winds pushed. He did not at the time wonder how seamless the sky overhead was, without fault in the clouds—except when some vast shape seemed to shift and churn close at hand.

“Well, when I regain my strength, perhaps I can set myself to finding a wiser man to lift the curse.” The Sea Dane said, stroking his beard. And here perhaps the audience would jeer some, that Lady Dahut’s beauty was what drove him—and not, as he protested, his hospitable nature. For when one is taken in from near death, offering a service seems only fair.

“Perhaps, when your strength is yours again. But there is no need to rush things—the sea and storm will wait for any man.” She said with a smile. “And it has been long since we have entertained a guest from afar—surely you have tales to tell.”

And so the Sea Dane spent his days in the halls of Lady Dahut and her court. He was provided a harp, and played it well as he sung the songs he knew. At this point in his tale, the Sea Dane told the people of the Bay a different story every time—and how Lady Dahut adored it, and her court applauded the tales he wove. Often they were of family and feuding and oaths and tragedy. And this was the bulk of the difference in each telling, that story the Sea Dane told Lady Dahut in her cursed city.

Each time he told the tale, the Sea Dane would sigh and say he told many more than he had time that night, and that the true matter was yet at hand. For the Sea Dane had spent many nights—or he took them for nights—in the halls of Lady Dahut, and yet he felt none the stronger. He suspected something was amiss.

One night, when all else went to sleep, he slipped from his chamber—hoping in the deeper darkness to find some clue to his predictiment. He moved with practiced skill, out into the halls—he avoided the guardsmen with their fish-tailed helms, making his way out of the hall and into the streets.

The city was full of riches, palaces of pearl and coral. There were large stone works, like the churches of Romans he had heard of but not yet seen—or perhaps those of Greeks, farther afield, and the old temples they once worshipped in. These were well lit, although the carved faces on their insides were unfamiliar to the Sea Dane.

But it was when he approach the storm that he grew suspect—for here was a line of those candles commonly held in the palace. Around the so-called storm, there were rocky walls that had been smothed over, and clouds of incense rising upward and back. The winds must be terrible, the Sea Dane thought—but he was curious. So he reached forth and put his hand against the wind—and felt the rush of water, the freezing cold of the bottomless deep.

Starting back, he stared upward and saw, for the first time, the shape of a dread leviathan against the waters. A serpent, a vast one as long as two boats from tail to head, that coiled in the water and watched him with golden eyes. The Sea Dane was a brave man, but the sight of such a creature—drawing close, lowering it’s head through the waters into the air, chilled his soul.

It’s jaws opened, revealing teeth like knives, and out poured gold and jewels, vomited forth in front of the Sea Dane. And as it withdrew, the Sea Dane looked down at the green marked gold. And no longer did he wonder at how the nobles lived so richly here, with so little visits from the world above.

It was on the return to the palace, however, that the Sea Dane learned the truth of his imprisonment. For it was while skulking through the courtyards that he found the Lady Dahut and her maid walking in the darkness.

“Why let him live much longer, your grace? He is of those that in the past we made prey of—if we had but said the word, serpents would have dragged down the whole of plunder from that ship, and we would yet rejoice.” The maid said, as her mistress walked ahead. Lady Dahut hummed as she examined a thorny rose bush that grew at the base of an apple tree—both nourished by unseen powers.

“A few more gilded trophies would bore us swiftly.” Lady Dahut said, examining the apple before plucking it. “And none of that haughty priest’s bones were aboard the vessels—whatever magic his kind have learned that so enscroll their bodies with immortality, it was out of our reach. So, instead, we have now an exotic pet. And he is not so harsh to look upon, nor is his voice unpleasant.”

“Still, do you not fear he will grow restless? He was a wanderer.”

“Let him.” Lady Dahut waved her hand. “If we bore of him, he will drink an enchanted Draught and become a new man, forgetting all else. And we have not had a new member of our court in some time.”

The Lady produced a dagger from her dress, shaped like a snake’s fang. She dug it into the apple, slicing it carefully and handing it to her maid.

“Be certain he eats three of these—any less, and he may find strength to swim away from our shores into the abyss.”


And there we must cut off the Sea Dane’s tale. It is late on Tuesday evening, and I wanted to  ensure this part at least was finished. The idea of a gothic horror series struck me with stories of mermaids beneath the waves and a reversal of the normal animal bride affair—not an entirely original notion, but I thought one that was potentially horrific and fitting the genre. We might return to the Sea Danes tale next time, as we come now to stranger islands and the rare flora that grows on them—perhaps the Sea Dane encountered other places before washing into the fishermen’s nets!

Or perhaps his escape from Lady Dahut’s clutches will wait until a later date. We will see. See you next week, with more research at the ready!

The Foundations

This Week’s Prompt: 122. Horrible things whispered in the lines of Gauthier de Metz (13th cen.) “Image du Monde”

The Prior Research:Mapping the World

The lady at the front desk looks at me funny when I hand her some cash instead of a card. Probably waiting for my nightly company to show up or something, but she doesn’t say a word about it. Wonder if the scuffed suitcase helps.

I pop it open on the desk and start sifting through the papers, setting up my own little computer lab as best I can. Being faceless if not nameless has become a necessity in my work. You see the world-famous detectives fall off the wagon or off a bridge enough times, you learn to leave justice blind. That said, this isn’t anything quite as big. Right now anyway.

Juan Albert. Went missing near a new construction site—the latest, biggest exhibition of Andrew Doyle. Doyle building another eyesore in the middle of fuck off nowhere wasn’t that weird—state money ended up in his projects, the projects made cheap and quick. Never worked, never turned a profit, but Doyle tended to walk off with a cool pay out.

Of course, things get shady all the time with Doyle. People go missing, yeah. Regulations get flouted, people get hurt in construction, unions get busted by private investigators who are looking for a paycheck. Probably living more comfortably. Striking back costs your face, first, then your name. Then probably your life.

Juan’s family, though, caught me on step two—my name got passed along to them as someone who wasn’t too worried about consequences of tussling with rich men’s guard dogs.  After looking over everything, I pack up. I place a few small recording devices under the bed and desk, in case it’s searched. It’s never been searched yet.

And I head out, to have a word about what’s gone wrong around this town.

Juan’s sister doesn’t meet me at her home address. Town like this, everyone knows everyone. And while some gossip might start about talking to an out of towner, worse would come up if I was seen at her house. Plenty new people coming in to build Doyle’s new structure—a review of the project calls it some sort of broadcast station or something. No one bothered explaining why it was in the middle of the desert, about an hour even from here.

So she met me at a mostly abandoned mom-and-pop café. It smelled more like tobacco than coffee, and that tainted a bit of the taste, I won’t lie.

“Never talked about any trouble at work.” She said. She looked exhausted, and given the weird hours, this was probably a between jobs meeting. “You know, normal ‘wish got paid more’ and ‘working long hours’ stuff.”

“No one outside of work who might have…taken an opportunity?” I said, tapping my chin. “Any fights before or people who might have a grudge?”

“Not that he talked about.” She said, shaking her head and stirring the sugar in her coffee. “I mean, I guess I never know right?”

I nodded and looked over the notes again.

“Did he talk about…hm. How to say this…” I said tapping my chin. “Did he stay out late or talk about meeting someone? Things can go bad after hours, especially in construction work.”

She thought for a moment after that. Took a sip of her coffee—it’d gone cold already.

“There was a meeting or two he went to. Apparently they were organizing a soccer thing after work or something. Blow off steam you know, there’s always someone pushing for everyone at the office to be a team.” She said, looking at the cup a bit more.  “I don’t think he’d get killed over that though. I mean, folks get heated over that stuff but like. Not that heated right?”

It probably wasn’t soccer. I mean, they might have played soccer, but if there was a meeting that got him murdered, it wasn’t a soccer league. Murders like that, they happened yeah. But there wasn’t a clean cover up, and usually there was a bit more pissing and moaning. If I wanted to get to the heart of the matter, it was time to take a look around the last place he was seen.

The concrete monument rises about an hour outside town. Hexagonal rooms jut out form the side, the wall not yet wrapped around them. It was like looking at the cracked core of a giant bee hive, all around the pale concrete bone of some giant. The sky was dark grey, the clouds dimming even the bright lights of the sunset.

I had tried figuring out what this was, before I set out to poke around. But even parking my car and looking over it—guards mostly gone for the day—I still had no idea. It was supposed to be offices, but this many offices in the middle of the desert was nonsense. More likely, Mr. Doyle had placed some research or monitoring out here. Something that needed peace and quiet.

I walked in through the back, moving through the unfinished skeleton. Passed the iron fence, there were deep pits into the ground—given the iron girders that spiderwebbed in them.  I peaked down a few and well. They were weird. All pointing inward, not cross hatching at all. Looked like a giant iron toothed worm had died trying to escape the ground.

I’m not an architect, but I don’t think those are meant to be like that. The lack of any sort of…anything really to stop someone from just falling in felt off. Yeah, OSHA was a joke when it came to men like Doyle—that wasn’t news, he probably had an automatic withdraw to pay the fines when they came up. But this seemed dangerous, wasteful, and weird—usually you only get two out of three.

That said, no body, no bloodshed, nothing that seemed out of the ordinary. So, clicking my flash light on and tapping my camera, down into the deep I went. Past the silent mixers and looming crane, past the packed up drills and machines, scanning the shadows for any signs of life or light. It had been days. There wasn’t likely to be much here. But you have to check…just in case someone missed something.

The insides weren’t finished, although they were far enough along that you could see the outlines of familiar places. Front desk, elevator shafts bare and open, restrooms without doors or toliets but shaped like restrooms. It was all mundane, all the same as you’d find in a hundred other business parks.

It made the center stand out.

There was a wide hole in the center of the room, around the bare concrete and tiling. It was lipped, probably to hold some corporate seal. But there was wooden 2X4s over the thing…and tapping it, it rang hollow.

Ripping up the floor of a building under construction is…well, it’s the sort of thing that blows your cover wide open. I paced around the edge, looking for any bits that were loose enough—until I realized the easy option. The elevator.

Now climbing down an elevator shaft at night is not safe. Climbing down an unfinished one is even less safe. Climbing down an unfinished one in hopes you’ll find something incriminating is down right dangerous. Still, down I went.

It was a long climb, down past the unfinished parking lot and storage areas—all empty, identical rooms, the elevator doors not even put in. No, the first set of closed doors was all the way at the bottom—and crowbarring those open took some work. Still, I got into the long and empty room beneath the seal.

It was some sort of office, or workshop. Lots of measuring equipment, papers pinned to walls—papers I took a quick pick of, circles and measurements and so on. There was some…well, weird equipment too. Scalpels and gem cutting tools, a set of microscopes and magnifying glasses at the center. Sheets of gold leaf and silver and copper. Some weird coins hanging from the ceiling.

I took pictures of all of it, as close as I could. And it was in the flashes that something else caught my eye. It was the reflected flash in a ruby—a ruby set in a pushed aside model, of a city surrounded by a circle.



So this took forever, and not because it was good nor because the story in question was particularly hard to work with. It’s been sometime since I worked on a mystery, and frankly it was a bit too ambitous and placed in the wrong point in a story to work in 1500 words. That and the holiday season really extended this much longer than it needed to.

I will see you next Wednesday for the last bit of research for the year!

Bird of Old Feather

This Week’s Prompt: 120. Talking bird of great longevity—tells secret long afterward.

The Prior Research:Birds of Pray

I admit, I was surprised when Uncle Ronald died. He was old, sure—I wasn’t exactly sure how old until he passed. He’d joke he’d been forty for fifty years. I mean, he didn’t  look older than forty but age is a strange thing? And now he was dead.

I wasn’t surprised what he’d left me, though. I’d always liked Becky. She was some sort of…parrot, with really long tail feathers. Uncle Ronald kept her in a big, fancy cage—took up a whole wall. She was probably as old as him, maybe older. Her feathers faded in color, and many were long gone. Still, there was something noble about her. I’d taken care of her a few times, when my uncle had business elsewhere. I’d learned to love her song, even when I was young.

Of course, my house was…humbler than Uncle Ronald’s. But I managed to make enough room for her in the yard. I wasn’t worried about her flying off—after all, there were hardly any feathers on her wings. The real trick, honestly, was finding out what she ate. The vet I called to look her over—after confirming she’d been in bad health a while, probably because at the end Uncle Ronald couldn’t feed her—she suggested that Becky would like insects, and probably fruits.

She didn’t sing much those first few days, even as she ate the seed and fruit and insect mix—dried at first, because she certainly lacked the energy to chase them down. I’d spend time with her, taking time off from driving around to talk to her at home. She’d squawk and sometimes I thought she smiled.

I wonder, can even an old bird go senile?

It was a week before the first shimmering feather returned. It was bright red, with streaks of orange, sprouting like a tongue of fire among ashes. I remember, because that was the first day she sang again, whistling a tune through the yard.

“…Is that Wonderwall?” Jenna asked, frowning as the sharp whistles came through. I paused and frowned.

“What kind of bird sings Wonderwall?” She laughed. Looking out the window—yeah, there was the bird. Singing along happily, a single tuft of bright red feathers on her head like a crown. She hopped to the top edge of the cage, her head and body swaying as she sang. She even flared out her wings, tattered and broken as they were.

“Apparently old ones.” I said with a smile, going back to the coffee boiling.

*

Becky’s taste in music did get more refined, as she got more feathers. Bit by bit she recovered, and would sing musicals in her chirpy voice, humming tunes in the morning. She sometimes even gave…unsolicitited advice.

“Too much salt! Too much salt!” she squawked, more than once, when steam came out of the kitchen window.

“Plants need more, yes, plants need more!” She said, hoping along in her cage as I took my morning walk.

“No good, no good!” she helpfully chimed in, when I tried on a new jacket.  An old bird, she had many many opinions. Some were a bit old fashioned I think—at least one bit of advice was in old German and I think was about the proper application of a codpiece or something. For a bird such as her, having a memory that went so far back was…well, a little comforting. Someone remembered all that.

And while I did not appreciate her thoughts on my new car—“Too loud! Too loud!”—some of her advice was useful. She was right about the salt, and even started listing off a recipe or two when I was writing groceries. Not a recipe I could understand, but I kept a little notepad of what she’d said in case I ever ‘cracked’ it.

Which…well, okay, I didn’t. I was chatting with my neighbor, Miss Kovac—I’m sure I spelled that wrong—and while we were talking about the weather and her flower garden, Becky chimed up with another recipe. And there was this light in Miss Kovac’s eyes, just this pure delight for a moment.

“Oh, who said that?” She said, shocked and looking around. When I told her it was the bird, she demanded to see Becky. She told me, as she looked at Becky’s marvelous red-orange plumes—which were still punctuated by dead black and grey feathers then—that she knew that recipe. Her grandmother, when she made sweets, had used that recipe. She was sure of it. She thought it had been lost when her mother and her left for the States, but she was sure that Becky had remembered it.

The sweets were delicious.  Really all her recipes, once got them…as down as we could were delicious. Some of them were in German, some in Latin, some in Old Russian. But she gave good cooking advice, old Becky did. And she sang songs—I know a few where church hymns, and others were school yard rhymes. She must have had a number of owners, to move so easily between children school yard songs.

It was a bit…disconcerting sometimes, my lovely bird. She sang in different voices—all filtered through her squawk. But you could here the rhythm of dozens of voices. You could tell the pitches. And even during the middle of the day, hearing an angry dispute in another language, the sing song of distant long dead children, or the humming tune of a church choir from your backyard—often suddenly, and without warning—was pretty creepy. I didn’t try and think of how old that must have made Becky—or how many owners she must have had, how far she had traveled.

Sometimes she would say…strange things. Usually once a month, she’d stop singing and dancing and sort of just stare on the horizon.  She’d say numbers or words, in a flat voice. Sometimes she’d swear at the moon, perching up on a tree, spreading her red-orange wings and clawing up at it.

Sometimes she would lean very close to the edge of the cage—raising both her wings up to hide her head, flaring out her long peacock like tale. And she’d say things quickly, in a quite voice. Conspiratorially.

Too many of these were in plain English.

“It will rain tonight. Leave out candles. Things live in the rain. Worms come out from the ground. Worse things come up for worms.”

She chirped this one for a big storm. I mean, it did rain—the weatherman had said that much. But what she meant by candles—that night the power went out. So I lit some candles…and let one outside, just in case. Why not, right? In this day and age, why not?

The house across the street, it had some sort of accident. A sinkhole or something, ate up most of the road and severed a lot of powerlines. Just barely missed mine. Which, I thought was conicdence but…there was a nagging thought I just couldn’t let go of.

*

One night, as I was washing dishes, she squawked up another suggestion. Place a jar of dirt outside, and bury it. Bury it with a spare key. I blinked at that. She then went back to singing American Idiot. Which, was almost a more unsettling experience, compared to that strange droning song she sang earlier or the odd chirps of advice.

I had a mason jar, and got some compost. Dropped a key in. I don’t know when exactly I started listening to Becky, but her recipes worked. And this was harmless. Who was going to go to my backyard to find a spare key anyway?

It took maybe thirty minutes to bury the thing. I went to bed after a warm shower.

The screech of tires woke me up. A glance at the clock. Three o’clock in the morning. I blinked and lazily, not entirely awake yet, pulled myself to the window. There was a car outside. Lights off—someone was standing at the edge of the yard.

He was pacing. There was crowbar in his hand. As I blinked awake, I saw him try and walk over the line, towards the house—but stop. Step back. He took a deep breath and stepped forward towards the house again and no, turned back. He did this for five minutes as I watched—and recorded it with my cellphone.

And then he went home.

The police said what you’d expect. No victim, no damages, no crime. Keep an eye on it, but they’ll deal with it later. I was still shaken up about. How had she known? Had she known? Twice was just conicdence after all.

She hoped to a branch close to my window. She sang a nice morning carol as I made an egg recipe she suggested a few weeks ago.  She was content, it seemed, to sing along and through the day. I began to relax, to hum along with her. Nothing else happened that day. I got to working on a new design for a client and sorting through more property for Uncle Ronald.

It wasn’t until sundown that she acted strange again. She got silent, staring at the setting sun—I wonder if she was hoping to catch a glimpse of that green flash people talk about. She didn’t blink, like she was daring the sun to pop it’s head back up before going to bed. And then she made some anxious squawks in my general direction.

She’d knocked her food thing over. It was one of those hanger things—I got a flash light, opened the cage to go and rehang it from the ceiling like I’d done a hundred times. And then she jumped on my shoulder.

That was startling but not new. I mean. She’s a parrot…thing. It was like being a pirate. She did it while cooked sometimes—although a bird chiding you like a disapproving parent was an uncomfortable experience for sure.

She watched as I put the thing back up, hooking it around the mesh ceiling. And then whispered in my ear, quick clicking and purring—or something like purring, like a tongue trying to roll its R’s in a low comforting way. She shook a little, the last of her ashen feathers, a small tail feather falling away.

Becky had a plan, smart bird. A plan that had to be hidden from the moon and sun—only on new moons could anything be done about it. What it was I wasn’t sure, and what exactly the plan did wasn’t clear. She needed me to find a rock she’d buried near my Uncle’s house—it was a special rock, one of those rocks made when a thunderbolt hits sand.

She needed seeds, from an old tree—a really old tree. She needed a jar, a clean but old jar with a silver lid. She needed string, twine, she need something made of metal. Things had to be measured. Dates consulted, she needed me to go to the library and find the dates. It would be slow. But she had time. And she needed it to work properly this time.


I knew this was going to be a strange story from the start, and drew some from an older story here https://undeadauthorsociety.com/2019/05/22/after-the-funeral/. You could consider this a spiritual successor.

The week delay was to put some finishing touches on it, but next weeks research has already begun! See you then!

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

The Empty Windows Part 2

This Week’s Prompt: 119. Art note—fantastick daemons of Salvator Rosa or Fuseli (trunk-proboscis).

The Prior Research:Temptation

Part 1:The Empty Windows, Part 1

I spent the afternoon clearing off the window. It was an exquisite work, really. Along its frame were carved distorted statues and cut outs—when the sun shone down, they cast long and wide shadows down, acting out some play along the walls. Sadly, they had been damaged beyond recognition. I couldn’t tell a knight from a knave, nor a man from a goat among the shapes. But a clever bit of artistry all the same.

The glass of the window was more a shade than anything else. There was an attempt, I think, to guide the light not only over the rotating images, but the window itself. Portions, small lines, were lighter than the rest. To cast an image in lighter shadows perhaps…too small to be entirely successful. But still! I wondered what I might find, in this new window. After it was cleared, I gathered my things, looked upward into the dark.

It was like a looming eye looking down on me, a slumbering giant that dwarfed the house.  As the sun shifted across it, I stared longer. I waited for some vision or sight beyond. I waited for a world in the dark glass—but I saw nothing.

Not quite nothing.

I saw myself in the glass. Reflected, distorted. The curves stretched by body, my face and body—it was like a grotesque flower formed of my features. The thin lines looked like abandoned strings falling off my face. Like my reflection hanging from the ceiling, by thin fibirous puppet strings. So perfectly cast, I could feel my own weight above me. It was…disorienting, to see an empty shell of yourself, staring down from a dark and starless sky. Even at noon, there was no color to my reflections skin.

I am not surprised such a window was covered…but I held out hope that day that, in my work, this would open a new insight. A new window into the world beyond. After all, it was so finely made and so opaque—once my vision could pierce it, what wonders would I find behind? What worlds waited?

That night the wind was heavy. The storm was gone, but airy nymphs danced in its wake. Sleep thus so far away from me, I decided to do as I had in the past. I would survey the worlds again, from that sacred seat, with naught but candle, moon, and star.  The room was dark and heavy at night, and I sat to record poetry of Verta, who now sung songs of Gladwing’s endevors. Or so I thought, the images seemed to be of that great hero.

Studying that window, with a candle at it’s base to illuminate the figures, I felt some small comfort. But as I wrote, I felt something else. Long shadows were cast by the candlelight. The moon and cold starlight were enough to cast that pantomime of broken gargoyles…but they seemed less clear. Shapeless, dim masses against the light and dance. They lacked the stark, crisp lines that separate puppets from men.  

I pushed on though, writing. Writing and writing. Even as the darkness felt heavier and the dancing shadows grew more unsettling, while the winds howled and battered at the walls. It was after recording the third stanza—in a tongue I still didn’t know—that I knew real fear.

Because I could not stand.

It was as if a great weight was sitting on my back. It could crush me. It would crush me, if I tried to stand. Only by remaining hunched over, working away at the visions beyond, could I keep the weight off of me. The wind felt cold on my neck, unbidden from some window left agape elsewhere.  

The air pushed in to my lips as I wrote. My limbs were tightened, gripped by unseen iron centipedes, hundreds of small iron pins down. They stabbed, my arm twitched up and tightened, dragging lines across the page, cutting across text or sliding to underline words of warning. Scuttle, scratch, stab. I feel wounds. I bleed but my blood is invisible on the page, it leaves no stain. I write and write and cannot see that I bleed. Even as something coils round my crown. Even as my eyes sting and I taste iron in my mouth. I cannot see that I bleed.

*

The burning heat of the sun woke me the next day, shinging through the skylight. My head was burning as I dragged myself down for water. Despite the ache, I prepared for another day—today I would relax, and recover from the hell of last night. My stomach felt like something had coiled up inside and around it, holding it hostage.

I was determined, however, to write outside that night. To go out amongst the plains, where I might see the vistas with my sharpened vision.  I went then among green plains and forests, to visit the amphitheater of red gods with twin heads. I wondered under the sky, completing my sketches and studies.  

It was while I sat among the seas of memory, watching another investigation of the scholars there—they were fishing up a lost marriage from the deep currents below. It was a broken, sad thing—fins spread out with rainbow colors, reflecting the violet light poking through the clouds. Tender moments carved apart by deep and buried scars. It was on those fins that I saw something strange.

It was like a stain, a shadow—a shape reflected on the scales. One I had never seen before.  It was like a drop of oil paint unfurling on the water of the scene. At first, I thought the shape was a malformed tumor on the memory. A horrible, illict act of violence, remembered in the world beyond. But as I drew close, the fin folded—and the stain remained on the new scales. Perhaps it was some unreal sickness, but such no. It was too flat. It was something in the scales.

It was in the fields behind me. It was shapeless, dark and alien against everything else. A heavy shape, long thin limbs probing out on the grass. It moved with some uncertainty, on thin legs that barely supported its great and terrible mass. One limb rose from the rest. A probuscius dripping with inky darkness, gleaming with stains of light.

I had no desire to follow such a story with a monster like this. But no matter where I walked—to red or green or yellow lands, to listen to songs or poems or witness great wrestling matches, among towers and amiptheatres and zigguarats—it followed. It followed, and slowly made the most dreadful of its own noises. Dissonant unsounds, that were heard by all I saw. Pipping of the most dreadful sort. Dancing limbs, with all the elegance of a spider weaving her web.

That is what it most resemble. A spider, with limbs of thin glass and a body of sludge and fungus and rot. And it moved with such ease, even as the land around it shifted—it paid no head to anything else.

Except, as I reckoned when I closed the door, me.

It would not enter my abode. Perhaps it could  not. Perhaps it chose not. It sulked, like a dog left out in the rain, outside my window. I wished for rain. For some flood or heaving river to well up and wash the stain away. It sat, uncaring, atop even my greatest visions. It was hard to record the wonders beyond with this impish demon, lurking in the shadows and emptiness of the world. The others, my beloved knights and poets, did not see it.

As the day grew longer, however, it grew larger. And it grew company.

I saw it swell like a boil, thin layer of skin holding back a most foul inky bile. Spidery limbs punctured out, spilling dripping bile over the land as a new swarm of self-same demons, with their trunks and crawling limbs ushered out. They two roamed over the landscape. They drew near to my door in packs, clawing at the windows, and revealed mouths with of shadow.

And they would not leave.

They would not leave.

I could not make out the shapings and happenings of Glimmerwing and his kin, because these bestial gnats got in the way. Their buzzing, for they made such monstrous buzzing like each drop was an angry cicada, droned out the philosphers. They darted around the golden fields. And every day there were more, leaning on the edge of stones. They extended their long trunks down, like fishers of men in the most crude of ways.

I saw them catch a man of the red lands once. They pulled him up into nothing, and devoured him whole in their darkness. They devoured up my hope of leaving my old manor. For they were waiting there.

*

I did not answer the cold wind that called me to write at night, when darkness would be thick on the grass. I ignored the sounds and calls of monstrous things. The weeping, the chortling, the sound of pigs crying out at slaughter.

I stayed in my bed, and stared at the ceiling. I had locked the door to my study—for I knew that strange things now lurked beyond the window. Strange things lurked from that dark glass. Hungry and numerous things, waiting all about me. What they wanted, I did not know. But they had nothing but ill intent for me now.


This story was delayed greatly by healthy issues and work. I’m not happy with the result, especially with a delay. I like the idea of a window that looks in on the artist as the final twist, with strange demons coming through over time. But it’s not refined enough, frankly. These two stories together will make a good idea to revisit in a year or so.

Next time! We return to some avian friends.

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or feel generous, please check out our Patreon here.

The Family Business

This Week’s Prompt: 117. A secret living thing kept and fed in an old house.

The Prior Research: The Beast Must Feed

My childhood was blessed. While my older brothers had inhabited more of my father’s industrial, entrepreneurial spirit of wanderlust, I was more than happy to be at home with my mother and my tutors. When they returned there would be festivities, with stories of extravagant parties that my mother hushed or amazing sights that she loved. And I would keep rapt attention, because despite all the comforts they provided, I still did not know what the family business was.

I attended school with other boys and girls, who all had homes of equal splendor. And while children do not often discuss the finances of their mothers and fathers, I was a keen young man. I learned, with time, the signs of every source of revenue. The ones who owned farmland were concerned with bad storms—even if they themselves never tilled it. The ones who’s ships sailed the seas went on long voyages, yes, but were superstitious about weather and returned always with exotic gifts. And drank. Often.

Those who owned mines often had some piece from their mind on hand, and talked often of good fortune and a sense for things. Vinters always wished to own a bottle of the land they had. Those who squeezed money from houses often had exceptionally wealthy tenants over for dinner or lunch. Bankers, lawyers, and bueracrats often met at each other’s homes, their children becoming somewhat familiar. With this accumulated second hand knowledge, I strained to review what work my family did.

It was quite profitable work, whatever it was. I wanted for nothing, except perhaps company. Whatever it was, it required a good deal of travel. Some of my brothers, I recognized the signs of sea trade. Others vinters, others wandering merchants without any interest in particular wares. But despite my observations and innocent questions during celeberations, the beating heart of the family was still obscured.  

I had hoped to gain some understanding from my father, when he lingered in the house. Sometimes he would have an accountant over for dinner to discuss matters of business—but never what business. Only that this and that deposit was in order, that this and that would be available then. Where theses sums came from, no, never. Not a word.

That was, until one summer morning. My mother woke me early, my grumbling bringing more sure shaking of me awake.

“Get dressed. Today is a very important day.” She said quietly, perhaps earnestly afraid of startling me. I yawned and looked up in confusion.

“What’s today?” I asked, my tired mind cycling through a calendar of tests and holiday’s and appointments.

“Today is the day you’re father is taking you to work.”

I wore my finest clothes. We rode on two fine horses for two days—up into the hills, where our old family estate was. We rode through fields I had seen from my window and woods my brothers hunted foxes in. I never had the taste for hunting, it was a cruel and one-sided game. At the least, hunting a boar or bear in the older days put one at risk. What might a fox do to a rich man surrounded by friends? Bit him with needle teeth?

We spent our first night in a traveling house in the woods. The innkeeper, a smiling woman who’s eyes never fully opened and exuded a warmth that reminded me of freshly cooked sweets, was familiar with my father. Despite their difference in character, they greeted each other like old friends. She smiled at me, and spoke to me.

“Oh and look at how big he is! Are you sure he’s not your brother?” She said, patting my shoulders and laughing. “Still, not too big for chocolate I hope, I’ve some homemade—let me go get it for you, you’ll love it.”

My father waited patiently for her to return. Not one word until she returned with some slightly mishappen sweets.

The room was smaller than mine at home, even smaller since it was shared. My father removed an old book to read and sat in the corner, a pair of half-mooned glasses from his suit. I had tried asking questions—where we were going, what was expected of me when we got there, who we might meet with, what we might see. But he stayed silent, reading his book through the night.

I had studies to do. I sat at the desk, facing into the darkness of the woods, reading my book. Looking up, I thought I saw a fox, staring at the window with envy from the underbrush. And then it was gone.

The next day’s ride was deeper into the woods—past people who stared at strangers, but averted their eyes when I glanced at them. Carts heavy with logs passed us by—one seemed intent on running us off the road, hurtling down towards us. I pulled horse to the side, but my father stayed still and resolute—and sure enough, the blind horse slowed. Perhaps the driver, face red and eyes glaring, lost his nerve and pulled the reigns while I was not looking. Perhaps my father new some trick with horses. The attempt wasn’t a surprise to him.

Despite being our ancestral home—the home my great-great grandfather had built by hand, using only local lumber—I had never been to this wood. The trees felt familiar, probably because they were kin to the hunting forests of my brothers.  The stone paved road wound its way through ancient trees—a mighty expense, for only one home. Even overgrow with moss and cracked with roots, the stones shone in the sunlight like a river.

The silence my father had as  we rode up the hill stifled any wonder the sights could have presented. At last we came to the end of the road—an iron wrought gate, with a heavy chain around it and verdigrised lock.

“We walk the rest of the way.” My father said, his voice sudden as he came down from the horse. “Not much farther now.”

I was too stunned to ask what he meant. He pulled his coat up,and opened the gate with a small silver key.

We walked a bit farther. Maybe it was a mile. And then it appeared, like a storm suddenly rising on the horizon.

Peeling paint and plaster revealed the brick and stone work below. The roof had a faded coat of arms on it, five flowers blooming in a star. A pair of knights reclined at either side, their spears ready to defend the door. Ivy encrusted lions flanked the stair case, to the heavy, oaken door. Wrapped around it too was a heavy chain, with a shining silver lock. My father wordlessly produced a small gold key—one that seem bent and twisted. But the lock opened with a click, and the heavy chain was removed.

My father ignored my inquiries—what work brought us to such a decrepit house, even if it were our own? There were no clients, no offices, no way of attracting patronage. He merely gestured I follow into the dust and cobweb strewn house.

The distance between doors stretched farther than between our home and the iron gate. The silence was so heavy, it was as if a third had joined our party. Their footsteps interjected between the creaking of old panels, the sigh of slanting supports and tarnished silver. They kept pace with my father, and his occasional mumble or murmur—only faintly made out as ‘a little further yet’—were always to this unseen third. Never to me.

Until we came to the basement door. The chain of silver around the handle, free of times touch, seemed unreal amidst the decay. My father paused, a crude iron key in his palm.

“I think its time we talked business.” He said, turning to me. I nodded silently. Words would not come to me at the sudden focus.

“Down there…down there’s the real family business.” He said, pointing with the key. “And it’s all going to be yours. Your brothers, they’ve got a knack for the little stuff. For wandering and buying and selling—they’re good at what they do. But without what’s down there, it’d all have fallen apart a long time ago.”

The door rattled violently. My father glanced over as I started back.

“I’m going to open the door. Someone is going to fall down the stairs.” He said, turning back to the door. “Whoever it is, they won’t come back home. “

“Wait, what do you—” I started before he held his hand up.

“Who ever doesn’t fall down the stairs is going to travel around for a bit. Maybe go and drink themselves silly.” He said slowly. “Then go home and tell your mother that something terrible happened—like what I told my mother. And what I guess my father told my grandmother. And then, they’ll spend a year doing…whatever it is. And then they’ll come back here, with someone else, and someone else will fall down the stairs.

“And if no one falls down the stairs,” He said, seeing the dawning horror in my eyes. “Then things will fall apart. Money will dry up, fortune will twist and bend, and whatever’s down there will get hungry. Some families, they make their fortune off the sweat of a worker or the blood of a farmer, the tides of the sea. We make ours, our business, with these stairs. And when we can’t have enough of it anymore, and we find someone else to take on the job…well. This is where we exit.”

He turned back to the door.

“I’m going to open the door. And someone is going to fall down those stairs. Only one person will know if they were pushed.”

He reached down. The lock clicked open. A noise was made, like a howling wolf. Teeth and eyes were seen shining in the dark. Was there one figure, bent over in the darkness, mishappen claws peeking into the light? Were a hundred eyes owned by a singular mass? Or was the darkness filled by a hundred hungry limbs?

My father’s body struck the floor with a dull thud. The doors were slammed shut. The locks were clicked shut. I found my way in silence.


I like the basic premise of this story–I’m not sure it quite works, and probably the twist is a bit predictable. But overall, I’m happy with it. A good one to revisit on the Patreon. I’ll add in more links about current events when I get a better handle on them. Until then, next time! We see strange images from a different old manor!

The Old Castle on the Hill

Police violence and systematic racism has resulted in the death and imprisonment of countless innocents, the destruction of properties and futures, and produced irrevocable damage. Protests have continued for a month and show no signs of slowing. You can find links to donate at the end of the research, in place of our normal Patreon link.

This Week’s Prompt: 116. Prowling at night around an unlighted castle amidst strange scenery.

The Resulting Story: Ghosts, Presences, and More

Nobody wants to live in an old castle. It’s cold, drafty, dusty. In summer, the heat of the sun sinks into the stones, in winter the snow falls through the holes in the roof. You think exploring it would be fascinating, but at my age, I’ve wandered every hall, battlement and servant’s passage. Even the great bat hates it here. On nights when the moon is obscure, he takes flight and goes down to the town, to bother people with comfortable homes. I watch him soar over the church from the window, one of the rotted curtains pulled across the window so that I can see out, but they cannot see in.

I used to sleep more, I feel. It is harder now. Exhaustion comes, but sleep will not follow—and by the time rose fingered dawn arrives, I find myself refreshed somewhat. Maybe this is that Old Age the poets warn me of so often. Am I at last now ancient? I had expected it to rot my bones and muscles, but perhaps restlessness is it’s own decay. Perhaps my proportions are not the only oddity in my nature.

When dawn comes I retire from my steadfast watch—the sun has always been too harsh and hot for my constitution. I withdraw deeper into the rubble and ruins, to the old study I’ve collected. It was at one point, I believe, a place to store food for siege—but the mice have eaten away all the food, and the only vermin now are dust bunnies and ants that try my patience.

That is not entirely true. There are some supplies. Many, many bags of tea from my younger days, and from perhaps some companions I once had. When I was young and spritely, I would go down under the cover of night to town—I would bring the old change I had scrounged or a broken knife from a knightly suit in the catacombs, and I would barter and beg and bandit for tea and bread. With my treasure, I would make my way home in the night—or sometimes, when I was especially bold, I would take my plunder and sleep away in a barn’s roof. On those fantastic days I’d while away in the rafters with the cats, until night came again and I returned homeward.

Of course, I didn’t only barter for beverages. The books that lined my walls were proof of that. Yes some where here when I first…well, when I first was I suppose. I devoured them quickly, and while they are still among my favorites to revisit, my hunger for more is insatiable. Many of the others are borrowed or stolen. A few pamphlets and journals I gathered when guests came to visit. Well. I thought them guests at first. Many I learned where scholars and students, thinking the history of this keep of mine lost. Often, the great bat scared them off or they were frightened by my wanderings at night. Some simply slept and I, like Robin Hood, stole from those rich in knowledge to give to the poor of thought. Rather, myself.

But I have grown old, and the castle is called haunted by those who live not far off. They see me  at my window sometimes—I wonder what they suppose I am. Do they whisper I am a banshee? A dead lord? I rather like the thought of being a dead king, still pacing his old hold where there were once feasts and revels. A ghastly Arthur, surveying a land he would protect where he not mortally wounded. It is better than demon or sorcerer or murder—such ghosts are common and grotesque.

Some still come to study the castle. Many are young and eager to prove their bravery—and they have strong sticks or painful spray or rocks, and so I avoid them. Some are especially bothersome, calling out names to speak with the dead, however, and these I delight by arriving in the night like an unseen lion. And they often leave some scrape of cloth or note books behind, and from these I learn more of the village and its struggles. A small note there, and observed backwards glance here, mutterings and rumors told while waiting for the dead to arrive. This was the sum of my direct knowledge.

Sometimes I received other visitors though. Ones who came to the castle alone, to hide—perhaps unawares of the stories of the great bat in the roof or my own…less than homely visage. They were sometimes chased here and seeking shelter—and I knew enough of hospitality from old texts to leave them be, and not trouble them with my presence. Others came here of their own will, often hiding as well. One or two seemed aware someone else dwelled in these halls, leaving a little gift or two. One, ah I remember her, she would leave a basket of bread in the doorway for me. She was a slight thing, I suspect she needed it more than me. It was a kind gesture.

And from all this I have learned very little about how I am thought—except as the owner of my own castle, which I find fitting—but a good deal on the bat.

The great bat, who’s wings span a small hovel. Who’s form in it’s fullness only emerges in the darkest of night, and feeds on cattle and unruly children. The bat, a most infuriating house guest who age seems not to touch. Who steals from farmers and is only driven away by the ringing of church bells—although I must admit, the presumption that it is some diabolic nature that drives him away and not the simple scale of the noise is…well amusing to say the least. I believe biology not theology is at the root of this aversion. Certainly, the beast has no particular aversion to the remains of what I assume is the castle chapel. Although perhaps without a proper priest, and after so much rot and wear, the chapel is no longer holy.

Such was my life—wandering halls, watching through windows at the lives of others. Observing the bats habits, avoiding the pools of blood it left when it made off with a cow. Reading and guessing at the world beyond. The town was more architecture than inhabitants by the time I was awake—few people moved about at night.  And this continued for years, decades perhaps.

And then, when I stood watch, I  shapes on the horizon. Unfamilair ones, on distant hills. I knew the sihloutte of horsemen, vaguely. And as they rushed down, I knew that transcendant fear that all men have of the calvary charge. I saw the moon flash on sabers drawn.

I could see then, in that moment, what would unfold. If none woke, death and flame would come. I did not, could not, know their purpose. No news came to my old castle. But the arrival of horsemen by night, with flashing sabers silently drawn, never changed.

As they crested the hill, a terrible sound rose in me—a scream of warning that rang through out the valley. A scream that shook the trees and stones, as I pushed my decrepit, pale form out the window, the white whisps of hair flowing behind me. 

And with that the village awoke, as I felt weary. My lungs were not as strong as they once were. My head felt light as I rested against the wall. I did not know, as I took short breaths, if I had roused the city to save it’s life or merely face its death.


This story was actually rather enjoyable to write. The ending and the beginning don’t quite jive–and it ends rather suddenly from an earlier, more methodical pace. I think it might have been better to just…allow a sort of slowed, relaxed horror ending instead of a sudden threat on the horizon. I’ll keep that in mind for revisions later.

Next week! Something hungers!

Please consider helping if you can.

1.BLACK LIVES MATTER: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_…

2. LOVELAND FOUNDATION: is committed to showing up for communities of color in unique and powerful ways, with a particular focus on Black women and girls. Our resources and initiatives are collaborative, and they prioritize opportunity, access, validation, and healing. https://thelovelandfoundation.org/

3. COMMUNITY BAIL FUNDS: Donating through this secure platform is an easy way to support protesters nationwide. The site equally divides your donation between 38 community bail funds or allows you to allocate a desired amount to each fund. https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bai…

4. THE EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE: is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society. https://support.eji.org/give/153413/#…

5. THE TREVOR PROJECT: Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award®-winning short film TREVOR, The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25. https://give.thetrevorproject.org/giv…

6. THE COMMUNITY BAIL FUND: Protests mean arrests, arrests mean bail. Bail threatens the economic security of those fighting for justice. Help ensure safety of those arrested and donate to the community bail fund here: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bail_funds_george_floyd

7. THE NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. is America’s premier legal organization fighting for racial justice. Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans. LDF also defends the gains and protections won over the past 75 years of civil rights struggle and works to improve the quality and diversity of judicial and executive appointments.

Between Two Waterfalls

Police violence and systematic racism has resulted in the death and imprisonment of countless innocents, the destruction of properties and futures, and produced irrevocable damage. Protests have continued for a month and show no signs of slowing. You can find links to donate at the end of the research, in place of our normal Patreon link.

This Week’s Prompt: 115. Ancient castle within sound of weird waterfall—sound ceases for a time under strange conditions.

The Prior Research: Waterfalls

Castle Rurneck abuts a great cliff-side. From its towers, Sernae could see both rivers that flanked the castle, like loyal lions at the throne of a god. The twin waterfalls roared, clouding the base of the castle in perpetual mist and fog. Sernae had never ventured into the fields of the island—she had crossed the bridges in a carriage before, but the mist shrouded shores were unknown to her.

They were moss covered, her friend Ahura told her. Perpetually muddy and full of life. Ahura would go down to fetch water, wash clothes, and gather herbs. Not that Sernae had seen even a scarp of mud beneath her nails or on her fingers. She appeared always immaculate, no matter when Sernae found her.

Sernae today sat and stared out the window, listening to the roaring crash of the waters, watching the trees and wind sway away from the impact. It had a calming effect—when she was abroad, she missed the gentle thunder of the water. It was an old friend, always there and ready. Like a kindly lion, eyeing any who approached her.

And then it stopped.

Sernae didn’t notice for a moment. Like a fish who finds itself in a boat, still trying to swim but struggling, the vanishing of the ever present sound seemed too impossible to register completely. She frowned, felt her head, a sudden panic starting to grow in her throat. The world still swayed but the music was silent. She began to her shouts of confusion, unsure if they were hers as she leaned over—and saw the water fall still crashing against the river, silent as the grave.

*

“No, my lady, nothing peculiar.”  Ahura said, as she helped brush Sernae’s hair. “The river perhaps had more frogs than average, but it is the season for such creatures to multiply.”

“Hm…perhaps I’m in need of a doctor. I swore, the falls went silent for a time.” Sernae said, her face scrunching up. She knew others heard it—how had Ahura missed it?

“Perhaps my lady. I’m sure you’ll get to the bottom of whatever it is you heard.” Ahura nodded. “Or, perhaps, didn’t hear.”

It was as she combed that Sernae got a sight of Ahura’s hands—and saw thin lines along her fingers. She snatched her wrist and pulled the surprised girl’s hand in front for a better look.

“And what are these! Don’t tell me you tried and catch some spiney fish in the river? You shouldn’t be fishing with such sharp lines  either!” Sernae said, examining the thin lines that ran across Ahura’s fingers. They were sharp lines, crisper than claw marks.

“It was a fishing net, my lady, that got caught in wash. “ She said, rubbing her fingertip against her thumb. “It will heal, do not worry.”

Sernae…frowned at the net marks. They were thin, straight lines but didn’t nets curve and bend and wrap in the water? She had never known Ahura to hide things from her, not since she was a girl. Still, perhaps it was a surprise. Maybe Ahura had taken up weaving with more diligence than Sernae suspected, or had been focused on practicing the harp—the lines were straight across, like harp chords would be.

But after Ahura left, curtsying in her plain red dress, Sernae’s mind wandered as it was want to. On days like today, when thunder’s rolling sound joined the roar of the waterfall in a symphony, her mind could not sit still. Something about rain and wind and thunder aroused the darkest suspicions in her mind. Perhaps, she thought, perhaps Ahura was practicing some of the Old Faith. Perhaps she was weaving a web to capture something deep in the falls.

But it was done and gone. Whatever art it was, it had reached is conclusion, and the falls were restored.

*

Sernae busied herself the next day with her own weaving, by the windowside. The clouds were thick and dark, the mists a shadow cast by them. The rain pattered on the glass relentlessly, making the details of the land even more difficult to perceive—dissolving the image of the island into a muddy shape. The rivers would flood, but the castle was built on deep stone foundations laid long ago. The fields, she was sure, had their own ways of surviving storms.

She was inspired by the weather to work on a cloak—one to be worn by someone venturing into the cold and damp weather outside the castles walls. With threads chosen, tightly knitted—ah how that word sounded so close to knighted—to keep out water, to swell when wet and form a barrier against the downpour.

The weaving and knitting was so consuming, she almost missed it—but again, a subtle silence. The cacophony of wind and thunder and rain had lost its fourth voice. The roar of the waterfall vanished—and the elements felt hollow and unreal without it. Like they floated above and apart from the world.

Sernae gripped her needles and went to the window of the tower, thrusting it open—she had to be sure it was no fluke of madness. She stared out onto the island, the silence heavy as the clouds. The mists was disturbed and whirling—the rain made it hard to see the edges of the river. But the absence cut deep. And in the dark, muddy wash of the world, she made out a single bright and clear streak—a red cloak, running along the edge of the water. Could it be?

She tried to call out, but her voice seemed to catch in her throat. That bright red, seen in the flashes of thunder—darting now, to avoid being seen, towards the deepest of the mists and fogs. That bright red seemed oh so familiar. Ahura, perhaps? But what was she doing in such dread weather—what was she doing, when the most unnatural of silences fell on the land?

And closing the window, Sernae made up her mind. She would learn all she could about her servants dark deeds—and her mind wandered, as it was want to on such days, to all manner of bargains and rites that might be preformed in complete silence.

*

Ahura had been surprised by the gift—a cloak, with an elaborate crest on the back. A glimmering sun set on the back of a red field. Sernae had insisted she wear it.

“You are always out and about near the river and fogs. It must get cold, especially with the rain as it is.” Sernae said, holding the cloak out. “I cannot bear to think my friend, with her common constitution, will become ill.”

Ahura could not refuse such an offer of compassion, especially from one in such a high station. Sernae knew this. She had stitched it with that very intention. She had woven it carefully, to shimmer just so against the lightning and in the mists. Even from afar, she could make out the pattern on the cloak.

She had herself woven a second cloak—one that was dark as night, with streaks of blue and purple. While a pure darkness may be recognized, a shadow cast by no one, her cloak was woven to resemble cloud cover and inky shapes in the mist—the sort that might be forgotten or ignored by those in a hurry.

And so, her gift given and her cloak prepared, she set out to witness the schemes that silenced the water fall.

*

Sernae found both useful as she followed Ahura outside. She had little for her defense but a heavier than average distaff and a knife she stole from the kitchen. The air outside the castle was cold and heavy, but not as sharp as Sernae had feared. She could feel the ground greedily gripping to her shoes—shoes not meant to walk such paths.

Still, she had to know. Ahura’s attempts at playing dumb did not fool her. She had to know for certain what was going on. She moved in the mists, along the muddy road and past fields unfamiliar despite their closeness. Most of the common people were sensible—they either had taken shelter from the still roaring winds, or they had the sense not to draw attention to a noblewoman trying to hide herself.  

She followed the light of Ahura’s cloak, hiding herself among the reads as Ahura whistled. The basket rattled, as she approached the roar falls. Never before had Sernae been so close to the vast, bellowing falls. The mist were thickest here, around the pools that were the beating heart of the rivers.  Where the storm above ended and the mists and fog began was unclear—everything was unsure and uncertain, the edge between muddy shore and marshy pool.

But the sun she wove of such shining silk, that she could see clearly in the fog. She followed it quickly , her own cloak heavy and wet. She stayed near the tall reeds as she approached, following the furtive Ahura—closer and closer to the falls.

Ahura stood stalk still, on a large rock leaning out to the pool. She sang a song—barely audible over the roar.  And then there was that dread moment of silence—As Sernae had thought. And through the silent waves and rushing waters, two thin, sharp lines appeared. They swelled, slowly growing outward into long, segmented limbs. Out of the parted water, a head as big as the castle windows emerged, framed by long flowing white hair, and with glittering eyes. It sang back softly to Ahura, the same song. With spider like grace, the creature revealed itself—a great spider atop a web of harp strings, plucking and pulling each to make the most delicate music.

And it was then that Ahura realized she had been followed. For she turned and Sernae felt her eyes on her dark cloak.


I’m afraid this story ends at the start. I had a bit of sickness this week, and was having trouble getting into the groove of the story. I think the concept, of investigating the silence and the image of a castle flanked by waterfalls is good—but I think it might have been better to reverse the rolls, or move away from the more isolated nobility.  Next time we will be returning to strange castles  and the family lineages they imply.


Please consider helping if you can.

1.BLACK LIVES MATTER: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_…

2. LOVELAND FOUNDATION: is committed to showing up for communities of color in unique and powerful ways, with a particular focus on Black women and girls. Our resources and initiatives are collaborative, and they prioritize opportunity, access, validation, and healing. https://thelovelandfoundation.org/

3. COMMUNITY BAIL FUNDS: Donating through this secure platform is an easy way to support protesters nationwide. The site equally divides your donation between 38 community bail funds or allows you to allocate a desired amount to each fund. https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bai…

4. THE EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE: is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society. https://support.eji.org/give/153413/#…

5. THE TREVOR PROJECT: Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award®-winning short film TREVOR, The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25. https://give.thetrevorproject.org/giv…

6. THE COMMUNITY BAIL FUND: Protests mean arrests, arrests mean bail. Bail threatens the economic security of those fighting for justice. Help ensure safety of those arrested and donate to the community bail fund here: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bail_funds_george_floyd

7. THE NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. is America’s premier legal organization fighting for racial justice. Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans. LDF also defends the gains and protections won over the past 75 years of civil rights struggle and works to improve the quality and diversity of judicial and executive appointments.

The Lives of Sam Dedric

Police violence and systematic racism has resulted in the death and imprisonment of countless innocents, the destruction of properties and futures, and produced irrevocable damage. Protests have continued for a month and show no signs of slowing. You can find links to donate at the end of the research, in place of our normal Patreon link.

This Week’s Prompt: 113. Biological-hereditary memories of other worlds and universes. Butler—God Known and Unk. p. 59.

The Prior Research: Lives Well Lived

Sam had always insisted there was something special about him. We’d known each other since primary school, and he insisted that, really, he had to be a faerie child. That some day, his parents would take him aside and reveal that he was secretly the magical prince of England or something. Because in those days, England was about as fantastic as fairy land. When he gave that up, he fell into the idea that he was actually some long lost heir to one or another obscure noble post—he even became fascinated, when the Romanov’s perished, with the idea that somewhere in his family tree there was some trace of blood that would grant him the Russian throne. That such a claim was…irrelevant given present circumstances wasn’t a concern of his. He was sure that some lineage of his had destined him for a higher position than a bank clerk.

“It really is a phenomenal science.” Sam told me one day, gesturing to a freshly printed book—Researches in Reincarnation and Beyond. “There’s entire worlds of knowledge we might be missing out on.  All of those secrets locked up in here.” He tapped the side of his head for emphasis.

“Mmm. Sounds…well, sounds like some nonsense. When your dead your dead, Sam.” I said frowning. “Till God calls you or something like that.”

“Oh, that’s an old-fashioned way of looking at things. I’ve got the journals from France if you want to read them. They’ve found mediums everywhere, and in fact there’s a demonstration coming to town soon. We could go, find out our spiritual history. Why, I just read a case where a woman’s fear of spiders was explained by her last life having died to a black widow bite!”

“Fearing death by spider doesn’t require psychological necromancy, Sam.” I said, dropping two cubes of sugar in the coffee.

“Alright, but I read another account—this woman, she refused to speak to men with red hair. That’s strange isn’t it?”

“A bit.” I said, mixing the cubes.

“Right, well, it turns out, in her life as a queen of Ireland, her husband had red hair and cheated on her, and the resentment stayed with her! Isn’t that amazing? She even spoke Irish! And she’d never been to the island!”

“That is…impressive.” I had heard there were parts of Ireland that still spoke Celtic, but reciting it from nowhere was incredible. “So, you want company for your visit to the traveling circus?”

“Oh no, not just that. I have a better way. Many of these books, they focus on the new state—but you don’t need a doctor to enter another state of mind. In India, they would drink a liquid or smoke a pipe to do it.”

“Opium and cocaine exist, yes.”

“Yes, well, I’ve come into the possession of a substance—it took some finding, some asking after and some trips abroad—”

“Ah, so that was why you visited Europe last year.” I said, taking my first drink, the coffee accelerating my mind in tandem with the thought.

“Yes, and to see of course the wonders of Rome. Anyway, the substance, it has properties—it allows one to expand their awareness into their past, as a hypnotist does. And I need someone to be with me, to record what I see and say, so I do not forget when I come out of the trance.”

“…”

“I am of course willing to compensate this volunteer handsomely for their time.”

*

And so I arrived at Sam’s apartment that evening, fresh from working from one madman to assisting another. The stairs rattled and creaked as I climbed up them. At least for Sam, the price was better.  I stopped on the third landing, and rapt my knuckles on Sam’s door.

Sam was dressed in…well, I assume a bathrobe and a heavy towel on his head. There is a very slim chance the turban was genuine, somehow. He was sluggish as he looked into the hall.

“I doubt anyone followed me, Sam. Now…did I get the time wrong?” I asked, looking at my wrist watch before looking back at him. “I hope I didn’t interrupt anything.”

“No, no, come in, come in.” Sam said, leaving the door opened as he turned around. “I’ve been purging my system—refining my internal chemistry so the substance has the greatest possible effect. I’ve also been doing practices to open the mind, meditations to avoid any unnecessary clutter.”

Sam’s apartment smelled of steam and sweat. There was a coat of incense to cover the smell, and windows open to the rainy weather outside. The discordant smells, the heat mixed with waves of cold hair outside, and Sam himself sitting down in a chair, slumped over in self-induced illness, drove home my second unspoken role. While yes, I was to write what Sam rambled and raved during his hallucinations, I would also be on hand to call for help should the worst happen or witness if Sam failed to recover.

“Now, the solution will last three hours at most.” He said, taking a small vial of liquid from his robe. “I hope you have a steady and energetic hand.”

“For the agreed sum, my hand might as well be a type writer.” I said, taking a seat at a round coffee table near the window—one of the few places conspicuously clear of clutter and books and notes and charts. I sat down, with my pen at the ready to transcribe, nodding for Sam to begin.

*

The substance took approximately thirty seconds to fully effect Sam—early symptoms, such as an increased lethargy, and his fingers tightening around the arm of his chair, began after two seconds. Still it took thirty seconds, more or less, for him to begin describing scenes. He saw first terraced fields of rice, flooding—he saw a family, his father an ailing old man that he cared for, his mother long go, and his own son a lazy fool who meant well. But the splendor that Sam had hoped for evaded him—he seemed to be a simple farmer, even as he peeled back the layers of a life time in East Asia.

He recounted then a life time as a sailor on the monsoon winds, riding along the India Ocean.  He saw many women and men at ports of call, he saw great wealth trade hands, pirates fended off. He saw cities that stood proud along the shore with temples unknown to him except in his texts by reputation—but he and his new ‘memories’ disagreed on what they meant, which was Buddhist and which was Hindu and which was Muslim. He left that life and continued downward greatly disgruntled.

And found himself recounting an old life, a life longer than the prior two combined, living as an old painter in Greece. He lived a quiet life in a monastery—he painted icons and images carefully, with Byzantine colors and techniques. His master piece, an icon of Revelation, where the dragon descended down in crimson colors. He was serene in his age, but as he remembered his youth, he grew in exuberance—he entered the monastery late in life, his youth spent fighting and drink in the countryside. But still, no golden circlet.

History was glimpsed through his lives, although rarely could he tell when and where—wars and plauges and famines flew around him, but with only one set of eyes at a time, he could not piece together where he was or which they were. Somethings he didn’t even understand—he perished from unseen blows, illnesses that escaped his understanding and diagnosis. Some lives a man, some a woman, some neither, some both, some long, some short.  But over thousands of years, of seeing wonders and arts, in worshipping a hundred ways, in the fullness of time, he was not yet a king.  Each of these spans took approximately three minutes or so, with Sam speaking faster as time went on.

Thus with frustration he took a second dosage, determined to delve deeper—having passed the first farms in some river valley that spirits took kindly too. Places the rain was common, and the crop came in well.  He hurried across steppes, his mind traveling to plains and forests and savannahs, to hills and icy peaks. And it was then that things began to change. His coherency began to decay, and motions and sections began to drift together. He mentioned red lights, red foxes, or strange sights—but the details were unimportant to him it seemed.

Sam found cities again, but far from the lands he knew. He described great windows of diamond, looking out onto green seas that seemed like flowing jade. There were ships as black as night that sailed, crewed by him and his four-armed brethren. He had sailed to distant islands, past gates of red gold. He had warred with a monster with blood ren skin and iron armor, who swore to find and slay him in a future life, when he saw him again.  Sam had scoffed, not believing in the past what he thought now. Still, for his heroism, he received victorious sacrifices—but no crown. So, he plunged further down.

And it was as he continued downward, recollecting and refining through time, seeking his sense of royalty, that I noticed a shift in the air. The smoke from incense grew thicker, the room grew warmer. Sam began to sweat, the incense dying his sweat deep red. I ran to the windows and tossed them open as he no longer formed words, just syllables. A heavy cold wind rolled in, and I turned to see it toss and coil around Sam, the candle lights glowering at me as the wind roared. It began to rain outside.


This story ended up drawing more on the Frank Long story Hounds of Tindalos then my original research would suggest. I had at first an idea for a story that was about multi-life grudges, hypnotism revealing that a patients phobias were in fact from fear of multiple enemies oaths of revenge coming true. I think I prefer this version, even if the ending is a bit rushed. Definitely one to return to for Patreon.

Next time! Lights on the marsh!

Links: Please Consider donating to one of the following causes

Please educate yourself if you can. Protests are not spontaneous. Read more on what Black Lives Matter means here https://blacklivesmatter.com/what-we-believe/

1.BLACK LIVES MATTER: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_…

2. LOVELAND FOUNDATION: is committed to showing up for communities of color in unique and powerful ways, with a particular focus on Black women and girls. Our resources and initiatives are collaborative, and they prioritize opportunity, access, validation, and healing. https://thelovelandfoundation.org/

3. COMMUNITY BAIL FUNDS: Donating through this secure platform is an easy way to support protesters nationwide. The site equally divides your donation between 38 community bail funds or allows you to allocate a desired amount to each fund. https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bai…

4. THE EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE: is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society. https://support.eji.org/give/153413/#…

5. THE TREVOR PROJECT: Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award®-winning short film TREVOR, The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25. https://give.thetrevorproject.org/giv…

6. THE COMMUNITY BAIL FUND: Protests mean arrests, arrests mean bail. Bail threatens the economic security of those fighting for justice. Help ensure safety of those arrested and donate to the community bail fund here: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bail_funds_george_floyd

7. THE NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. is America’s premier legal organization fighting for racial justice. Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans. LDF also defends the gains and protections won over the past 75 years of civil rights struggle and works to improve the quality and diversity of judicial and executive appointments.

Nightrider

This Week’s Prompt:106. A thing that sat on a sleeper’s chest. Gone in morning, but something left behind.

The Prior Research:Terrors in the Night

This story in part brought to you by our patrons on Pateron

Regina was having the worst day in a long time. She was running on fumes, caffeine replacing at least six to eight hours of sleep. The tram was packed, people chatting and buzzing about. She slowly blinked as the doors opened and the wave of people exiting collided with the people trying to enter. There was shuffling as someone tried to push a wheel chair through.

There. A seat. Regina moved quickly, sitting down against the window before anyone else had a chance. It was only two more stops, but having a seat was worth a few angry grumbles and curses from passers by when they realized they missed their chance. With a chime, the tram began underway, trudging along.

One of the seats across from her opened up—she noticed when the kid and his dad got up for the next stop. Somehow, no one caught it until the next crowd pushed in. Regina wouldn’t have cared—more annoying chatter. And, oh, this one had an unhappy baby. Wonderful.

What did catch her attention was when someone took the seat. And started looking…at her? Some guy in a business suit, tie askew, hair starting to gray. Scuffed up shoes too. It took a moment to register if he was looking at her, or if he was looking out the window. But now. He was…leering at her.

The tram’s chipper automated voice called out her stop and she pushed her way out, glaring at the asshole. Later, Regina wasn’t entirely sure if she flipped him off or really wanted to flip him off. But whatever. She got home, almost an hour past sundown, and had some ramen, and collapsed on the bed after making sure the windows were closed. It was  humid and cold, and Regina barely noticed the fading handprint on the window.

*

“It was how big?” Carol asked. Regina held up her finger—and pointed at the approximate length of the glass shard that had cut her cheek when she woke up.

“No idea how it got there.” Regina muttered as she prepped the first batch of coffee for the day. “But yeah, not a great gash. Tossed it—don’t even remember breaking that bowl.”

PillowNightrider

“How do you forget shattering a bowl? Like, I know your house always looks like a hurricane hit but still.”

“It didn’t shatter—just like, chipped? That’s what its called right?” Regina muttered tapping the edge of the coffee pot. “Just a bit.”

“Yeah, but how did it—You know what, who knows.” Carol said, waving it off as the doors opened, and the first few customers drifted in. “Probably just weird.”

*

The day was exhausting. Her back hurt the entire time, she’d managed to pull something in her sleep apparently, and she felt her mind drifting out the back of her skull half the time. Coffee shop to call center, Regina felt herself wilting away. She barely had energy to eat when she got home. And then she tried to sleep.

There was something about her bed. Something that made her hands shake when she peeled back the covers. Suddenly alert, Regina searched her pillows for any other random bits that might have gotten there—she checked her jacket that she had tossed on it when she got home, she checked her shirt for any thistles or needles or pins. Nothing. She breathed in and out, and lied down to sleep.

*

There was something on her chest—something heavy as she struggled to open her eyes. As sunlight started to shine down from the window above her bed, she felt it shifting. Something heavy, her arms and legs numb. It was moving, it’s legs pushing beneath her ribs. She could barely breath, even as she felt something sharp.

It was stabbing in, stinging pain spreading up her side. Her hands were shaking as the warmth of the sun spread up her feet, up her legs, and slowly up her chest and hands. The weight and the pain faded, and Regina opened her eyes. For a moment she caught sight of a great shape, a leering grin of smoke vanishing into the night. She felt at the pain—nothing but a bruise. It as numb to touch at first, felt like hundreds of pin pricks when she tried to move.

And then she found it—a thumb tack, sitting there, point up. If she’d rolled the other way out of bed, it’ would have stabbed her.

Thumbtacks

*

It was a really ordinary thing, the mystery tack. Top was a bit rusted, and she knew she’d checked for this sort of thing before she went to bed. And that thing—that grinning lumbering thing in her bed. It was like a dog with people’s teeth.

“I—you know, I think I’ve heard of that.” Carol said, looking at the tack. “Yeah. Mom said Aunt Morgan had some trouble with that sort of thing, I think.”

“Oh yeah? What fixed it? Should I eat garlic before bed or something?” Regina asked, clicking the coffee machine on, as the loud grinding of beans began.

“Hey, that got rid of the cold, didn’t it?”

“Okay, fair enough, it did.” Regina sighed, rubbing her temple. “Sorry, no sleep sets me on edge. Did she say what it was?”

“Well…yeah. I mean. Aunt Morgan thought she was being cursed or haunted or something like that.” Carol said, scratching the back of her head. “I can probably give her a call for some remedies or something.”

“Cursed?”

“Yeah, or haunted, or something.” Carol said slowly, drawing out each word. “You know. Someone didn’t like her, sicced some sort angry cat ghost on her, nearly killed her, so she got some stuff together to—”

“Wait what? Nearly killed her? Go back, go back.” Regina said blinking. “I mean, a bruise and a small cut aren’t great but killed her?”

“I mean, Mom made it sound like she got stuffed full of stuff and couldn’t breathe.” Carol said, eyes locked on the sweets that were being put out. “I’m sure it’s you know. Something more like a panic attack or something.”

*

Regina still didn’t trust the…stuff Carol had brought over. Her mom swore by it though. One was…one of those dream catchers she’d had as a kid, over the door. Which she was pretty sure didn’t work like that? Then a fishing net to cover the curtains.  Some water to help her sleep, and at last some salt.

“Salt? Really? How is that supposed to help?” Regina asked, looking at the small jar.

“Ghosts don’t like salt. Neither do curses and other stuff, you know. C’mon, even TV gets that right.”

“…alright, so I just scatter the salt, and then it won’t get close.” Regina asked, frowning. “Assuming it gets through the nets and stuff.”

“Well, not quite. You’ve got to push the jar over it.” Carol said, shaking the salt. “Um. Well. Mom said you’ll wake up, and see it. And you’ve got to push the jar over it, then close it. Should trap the thing.”

“What’s going to wake me up?”

“She didn’t say, just you would.”

Regina sighed as she lay down in her bed to sleep. She’d scattered the salt all over the room, and the nets were all up. And so, nervously, she fell asleep.

*

She vaguely heard something snap in the darkness—but returned to sleep, too dream-addled to care. Regina woke again, a bit later, when she heard something like tearing cloth napkins. She’d always hated that sound.

It sounded like someone choking on their own phlegm. She woke up to the gurgling howling noise, and saw it there in the moonlight. Net torn around it’s shoulders, bubbling like a slug in the salt. It was slimey, mold thing, like rice vomited up. It saw her. It howled and stumbled towards the bed. She saw the flash of a knife in it’s hand.

She grabbed the jar and pulled herself up. The knife missed her wrist, barely, as she forced the jar on its head. It howled, but slid in, pulled itself in. Bits of it got on the edge of the jar, even as Regina forced it to the floor. Squirming green-black bits that a bit of salt burned off.

She put it on the shelf, after sealing the jar with the lid—there was something written on the underside of the lid, Regina didn’t know what. She put it on the shelf and stared at it in the dark. It squirmed, small and hateful. Yellowed eyes now blood shot stared back at her from the mass of rot.

Eyes in the Jar

She left it in the closet, and tried to forget that she’d ever seen it. Still there, every night, leering from behind the glass.



If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or feel generous, please check out our Patreon here.

The Flood

This Week’s Prompt: 104. Old sea tavern now far inland from made land. Strange occurrences—sound of lapping of waves. [“Vacancy at the Fenrick Inn” by F. Omar Telan]

The Prior Research:Dutch Tales About the Sea

This story brought to you by our patrons on Patreon.

The light house of the Shellburg family was the only famous thing they still had to their name. Old sea charms still hung from the poor family home, occasionally jostled by the playing children. Joseph and his brother, Maurice, remembered the jade statues from China, the gold from the New World, and ivory chess pieces from India. But then they killed the sea.

The children of the town often wonder at the lighthouse now, miles and miles away from and jutting out of  a church, a looming steeple. No light shines from it anymore, but a dolling sound is heard every hour, ringing from its sturdy foundations. They don’t rember that the rocking outcroppings they play on were once buried beneath the ocean waves, who’s shore washed over their school. When their older they learn such fanciful things, when the world feels more certain.

And when the sea died, the sailors moved with it. For the most part, they went with the tide, towards new docks and ports, where their trade was still of worth. But Captain Shellburg was growing old for the sea, and the work of a farm seemed to his liking. When the new land was laid, he set up home around the lighthouse his brother manned, and bought land from the Livington family.

Lighthouse1

Joseph Shellburg cursed his grandfather’s memory. For the Captain, as he was known among the family, knew little of land and was perhaps swept up in romantic memory. He bought land worth little, marshy land on which little grew. Nothing of worth, the Livingtons boasted in the bars, ever came from Shellburg soil.

And so fortunes dwindled, portion by portion. At last, they had to sell the land, retreating up into the great lighthouse that now looked over farmland for miles around. Joseph had protested the last indignity by the Livington family, who had asked that the house be scrapped. It was an unsightly thing, they said, and served no real purpose. The new church needed a steeple, they said, and there was plenty of stone to be found in the old light house.

It was the priest, Edward, who suggested otherwise.

“We perhaps do not need a new tower—rather, could we use the lighthouse itself? Build round it. It has such a lovely few of the town.” Father Edward said, his constantly shaking hands stroking his chin. “And of course, we are called to be fishers of men. The tower once lead ships to shore, perhaps its bell will call souls to salvation.”

Joseph was thankful, especially when he secured work for his son as the bell-ringer—he himself had found employment with the little food that did grow on the land. Still, he loathed that bell as it woke him from his recollections every hour. An ultimate charity, yes, but a reminder of what had been lost with the sea.

The bell tolled five times, as Joseph looked up from the field. The sun was still high in the sky. But he had worked the agreed amount, and collected his share from Coreman. The Coreman’s farms were not the best off, but Joseph would rather work to aid a poor man than beg for scraps from the Livingtons. He already had to see them at the inn, he would loath to see them during the day.

At Roger Coreman’s request, Joseph brought in some water from the well for the evening. And it was then, while walking to the well and the tree, that Joseph saw something strange. A gull circled over head, landing on the top of the well and squawking.

Seagull

“Run along, little bird.” Joseph said, tossing a stick at the gull. “There is no sea here, no fish for you.”

The gull fluttered away but stayed a moment longer, squawking defiantly. Joseph threw a stone to frighten the creature off. It would starve, Joseph thought, among the farms so far from the shore.

He lowered the bucket down into the well, deep into the fresh water. After a moment he raised it back up—and the rope shook violently. Staring down, Joseph saw…a shape in the water dark, moving and shaking the bucket. He frowned as the bucket came up—and found a squirming scaly fish within. Carefully, Joseph removed the fish.

“Ah, did he drop you in here? What a strange present from an old gull.” Joseph said, frowning. “But you need not suffer like me. Let me set you back, into your little sea.”

And he gently lowered the bucket back down. When he came up again, the water was clear and clean as it ever was.  He brought it back to Coreman, who thanked him and paid a little extra for the small favor.

Joseph set back towards the town center now, ragged and worn. He met Maurice at the entrance, as a toll rang out from the old light house. His younger brother was wideshoulder and prone to smiles—and had found an old sight in the town. A black cat, purring as he scratched beneath its chin.

“Ah, they’ll be calling us witches again if you do that.” Joseph said shaking his head.

“Oh, but look at the poor thing.” Maurice said, reaching behind the ears. “Remember, when there were dozens of these?”

“Yeah, two for a ship, catching rats and the like.” Joseph said, admiring the cat, it’s white star chest born proudly. “But people talk.”

“Let them talk.” Maurice said, waving his hand. “There isn’t any witchcraft in cats, no more than there was in our knots and charms from the ships, nor in the old driftwood we played with.”

Joseph nodded. The Livingtons liked cats—everyone in town liked cats. But black cats brought storms, and witches. Joseph had a hid a few wild ones as a child, but they all eventually vanished.

“Fair, fair. Keep it out of sight, I’m hitting the old Mermaid.” Joseph said, waving him off and holding up his extra pay. “Enough to make the place tolerable.”

“I’ll catch up.” Maurice said, the cat having settled and curled up on the barrel.

The old Mermaid had once been a rickety wooden tavern, but in the generations since the Captain, stone had been laid around it’s foundations. It was an impressive building now, pillars on the front, a carving of a twin-tailed mermaid atop the entrance. The lights inside were still warm, and the bartender still fond of the Shellburg family. Inside, it hadn’t changed at all. The tables were the same, some cracked and wobbly. The booths at the edge were new, but little else.

Joseph even heard the tide sometimes, sitting with his drink. A dull rumbling, sloshing sound beneath the floorboards. He took a drink and sighed, waiting for Maurice to come back. No doubt smuggling in the black cat.

He blinked at the taste of the beer, staring down at the cup. The taste of seaweed in it. And a salt-smelling wind battered on the doors and windows. As the bell tolled, he even heard…a dull roar. Foam rose from the cracks for a moment, a fog out of the floorboards.

FloodWaters

Joseph stood up, as the room seemed to rock. A roar grew outside. Louder and louder. He reached the door, the ground sinking beneath his feet. His shoe nearly stuck in the new muddy stone. The sound, the dreadful sound—there it was. Growing from the North, like a roused lion. Transfixed, he barely noticed Maurice pulling his jacket back, black cat around his back.

“Flood!” Maurice shouted, as he ran, to drunken patrons and confused  passersby. “Flood! Get to high ground!”

“Flood?” One of the Livingtons said, and laughed. “Don’t you know, boy—the sea is dead!”

Maurice was frantic in pulling his dullard older brother up and up to their only home, the tolling light house. He shouted and railed, but none would believe him that a flood was coming. Even as seagulls circled and settled atop the roofs. Even as the ground heaved and sank and slipped. Even as the darkness of night settled over the land, only the rounding bell to guide them up.

The sea roared to life, swallowing field and home, waves crashing over roofs—only the lighthouse remained.



This story is one of my favorites, even if I think it’s half finished. I think at the moment, its a bit too slow and not quite odd enough–the tension doesn’t build appropriately, and the ending is a bit sudden. But it has more promise than most! Next time, a return to a common topic of our research–the hungry dead!