The Black Mass Gathers

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

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

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

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

*

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

Black Sabbath Mountain 1


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

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Squeaks in the Night

This Week’s Prompt:73. Rats multiply and exterminate first a single city and then all mankind. Increased size and intelligence.

The Prior Research: The Rats Are Closing In

I’ve never liked the city at night. I blame television—the crime shows are always in cities, and the crimes are almost always at night. So when you walk in those precious bits of not absolutely brightly lit street, your hair stands on end. Is that a leaf billowing in the wind or foot step. Is someone following you or just walking the same way? What about the shapes in front of you, that you can’t quite make out? Are they people, or is it just a shadow from a passing car? Was that little bit of motion a cat on the prowl?

Of course it was. Of course it almost always is. My heart stays in my chest these days, along well worn paths. Sure, every now and then I eye someone with undue suspicion. But that’s all it ever is. And sure, I make a point of walking places where there’s more bright lights when I can—it helps to be safe, and i’ve never had that particular strain of paranoia that thinks everyone on a street might be scheming against me. Not frequently. The odd squeak or sound of a horn was easy enough to ignore.

Squeak? Hm. That was new. I fumbled with the keys at the front door, trying to brush it off. Rats were uncommon along 53rd, but they weren’t impossible. And it probably was a bicycle tire or something similar.

But then I heard another. And another. I turned my head as the lock finally clicked open. There, lurking beneath a bush, were eight eyes that seemed to faintly glow, packed ontop of each other. Staring at me.

I went inside quickly, making sure the door closed behind me. Flying up the flights of stairs, panting at the top. I barely noticed the small shreds of a spider web in the corner—I’d get rid of that later with a broom. Spider season was coming late it seemed.

Rat Dance.png

I woke up when my room mate slammed my window shut, my air conditioning crashing down three stories onto the back alleyway.

What the hell?” I said, jumping up from my bed as I saw Rob hammering nails into the window sill. He held up his hand to shush.

Your hammer away and telling me to sush what’s gotten–” I started before he put his hand on my mouth.

Shush means shush.” Rob said, glancing at the window. “We…we have a bit of a problem right now.”

I batted aside his hand and looked out the window. And I nearly vomitted. Down in the alley, I saw the broken remains of my AC—and a pool of blood coming from it, hundreds of small eyes staring up in a mass of fur and tails.

Rats. Hundreds of rats, filling the alley.

Jesus Rob, what the hell are they–”

I have no idea.” Rob said, walking out of the room. “I’ve nailed up most of the windows—a couple got in the kitchen door, but–”
I followed, still in light pajamas, and saw the remains of a few rats on the floor, little blood stains and broken skulls.

–There seem to be more. News says there’s a surge of them across town. Gotta imagine that there’s no pest control reaching us for a bit.”

The kitchen door was sealed with duct tap layers, and rubber cement. We’d lose the security deposit for sure with stuff like this. I mean the cleaning bill will cost a fortune, and a rat infestation—well, I mean it was the whole city so…my train of thought stopped when I looked out again. There was a dozen rats on the tree branch, crouched and baring their teeth. A number of small dents on the window indicated a few had jumped across already, trying to get in. One of the rats was nibbling on some shoelace.

Rat Council.png

Wait, they’ve shut down the whole city? Why not just run cars over them or something?” I asked, gesturing outside. “Or the trains?”

Did they scatter from the AC?” Rob asked, not looking up as checked the kitchen windows.

No.” I said, frowning.”

Then I don’t think their going to scatter from cars. Who knows, maybe they would, but do you want to take that risk? You run over a few—who knows how many, and then what? You park, and get jumped by hundreds of them on the sidewalk.” Rob said, shrugging. “Don’t know if they can stack high enough to get up the walls, but they can bite ankles pretty badly.”

At least we’ve got food.” I said, popping over the fridge and trying to keep the impending freak out down. “I mean…we’ve got some.”

A carton of eggs, some brocolli and onions, some carrots. Three pounds of ground chicken, because Rob refused to buy quality meat. And rice and pasta in the cupboards. More than enough food to last us a week…okay, five days. But still. That was a good amount. The rats wouldn’t last that long.

The lights flickered in the kitchen.

Shit.” Rob muttered, and ran out to the stairs. “Hey, Ashley, your lights acting up?”

Y-yeah.” Ashley’s voice came up from the second floor. “AC’s down too.”

Alright, I’ll test the pipes.” Rob said. “Tim, you check the place across the hall—don’t worry, I already nailed it shut. If the lights there work, then half the place has power. If not, the rats got the main line.”

I nodded, and ran over to the empty apartment across the hall—the door was unlocked, in case Mike found a buyer who wanted to see it that day. It was almost identical to ours—three bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen. But utterly barren, not even scarps on the wood floors.

It didn’t get any brighter flicking the switch back and forth. I went into the kitchen, and tried the same. Nothing. As I went to check the fridge there was a thud. Looking up, I saw a pair of paws gripping to the windowsill. The rat puffed itself up as it emerged, hissing. I slowly backed out of the room, not breaking eye contact, as another rat thudded on the window. And another.

They were hissing and clawing at the window as I scampered out.

RatBig

Lights down. And a couple got on the window.” I said as I heard the faucet turn off and a few stray drops fall. “Hows the plumbing?”

Well, we got water.” Rob said. Rounding the corner I saw the rust brown stain on the steel of the sink. “But don’t drink it. I don’t know if they’re rubbing in the water, or if the actually messed up the pipes.”

No power, almost no food, no water…” I said slowly, as Rob turned at another thump at our window. “We’re fucked, aren’t we.”

Not yet.” Rob said, thinking. “Down stairs I’m sure someone has water bottles. I mean, these rats are smart, sure, but it’s not like we’re in any trouble as long as we can–”

There was another ding on the window. Not the dull thud of a rat’s skull smacking on the glass, but rather a small tick of a stone striking glass. And then another. We both stared at the rats on the tree, sitting up on their hindquarters—tossing stones at us from the tree.

Yeah. Yeah we’re fucked.” Rob said, as the window started to crack.


This story is a bit rushed, and a bit silly. I went with an isolated and human level case, and wrote it with B-Movie notions in mind. If I had the time, I would have probably watched the classic movie The Birds for some inspiration regarding a massive of animals taking over and menacing a small town. As it stands, this story got interrupted by my own moving plans and a general problem of energy this week.

Next week, a story of revenge!

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All Hallows Night

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

The Resulting Research: Polished Silver Distorts The Eye

The autumn wind was cool on my face. The grinning faces of the jack o lanterns weren’t enough for warmth. It was that most wonderful night of scares and sweets. The most wonderful night of the year. I went to the old haunt of my ghastly crew—the iron gate near the graveyard, where it had been agreed we’d all meet.

Jordan and Lamark were the first to arrive. Jordan had painted his face green and had two cardboard ‘bolts’ sticking out of his neck—Frankenstein, I think. Or the monster from Frankenstein? Or Frankenstein’s monster? The scary dead man. Lamark was in a black and white skeleton costume—Did they meet up and decide to both go as scary dead people? Maybe. Maybe.

Halloween 1.png

“So, we’ll circuit around the Renolds and then to the Prices.” Jordan said, gesturing at the hand drawn map in his hand. “The Renolds have the most candy, but everyone knows that. If we don’t hit them up early, they’ll be out by the time we get there. And the Prices are nearby, but Mr. Price goes to bed early, so we need to go there next.”

“But the Prices give out those hard candies!” Lamark protested.

“Right, but my cousin loves those. We can trade them for some chocolate coins he finds somewhere.” Johnny said, nodding.

“Your cousin’s weird.”

“The weirdest. Alright, and then after the Prices, we…” Johnny said, continuing along the route through town. I nodded, walking the route in my mind as I clutched my bucket.

“…and then we all meet up back here. Now, where’s Phil?” Johnny said, rolling up the map. I looked around for Phil. He was always late, every year. If he was very late, he might cost us the Price’s candy. Lamark started tapping his foot impatiently, until at last Phil’s heavy breathing could be heard. Wrapped in rags—again with the scary dead people, was that all they could think of?–Phil came up the hill, wheezing and staggering.

“Sorry, sorry. Had to—had to get around the Collins house.” Phil said waving his hand. “Took longer then…then expected.”

“You could’ve just walked past it. House is harmless.” Johnny said shrugging. I nodded in agreement. I’d been to the Collin’s house a few times, and there was nothing wrong with it. It was just old.

“Harmless? I’ve seen things there, man. It’s haunted, I swear—there’s lights in the middle of the night, and Luke saw someone digging around in the yard, but there weren’t a hole there in the morning.”

“Yeah, because you fill up holes after you dig them, moron.” Lamark said, rolling his eyes. “I mean, he’s probably looking for the Collin’s gold.”

“The Collins what now?” Johnny said, turning to Lamark.

“Their gold. My grandpa said the Collin’s great granpa—uh, well great granpa when he was a kid, so great great granpa I think?—got rich off something in China, and were paid in tons of gold. Buried it near the house, in case he needed to find it and to stop the government from taxing them over it.”

“And it still there?” Johnny asked, thinking a bit.

“Course it is. I mean, if it wasn’t, we’d hear about it right?” Lamark said.

“…Right, what if—hear me out—what if we just gave the place a quick look on the way back? I mean, we cut across there between the Avery’s and the Johanson’s. Just a quick stop, you know, see if we can find anything.” Johnny said, unrolling his map to point. I frowned. If we stopped, we might miss some of the candy, and then what was the point?

“Tonight? You want to go tonight? If it’s haunted, it’ll be haunted tonight!” Philip protested.

“What are you, five? There aren’t any ghosts there. Just an old house that might have some buried treasure.” Johnny said, waving his hand. “Sides, if there are any ghosts, we’ll just scare’em off.”

“…Fine.” Phil relented.

I sighed and took the back as we walked down the sidewalk, heading towards at least the first candy.

*

The Collins house looks old, even nearby. The roofs look heavy on bent wooden walls. The panels have swollen with rain and paint. The yard is over grown, more weeds then grass. In the spring, dandelions and bright yellow flowers bloom. But in the fall, its brown and marshy and dead. The fall had gotten rid of any buzzing mosquitoes, or weaving spiders. Orange leaves pilled around the single lone, bent over tree. There were strange colors along the bark where lighting had struck not long ago. The wind ruffled the dying grass.

“Right, not that hard see?” Johnny said, unlatching the gate with a stick and walking over the drive way, broken by roots.

“Yeah, but a stop with no candy still seems stupid.” Lamark said, shivering a bit. I had to agree—we had a good haul so far, but it could have been bigger.

“Who knows, we might find some souvieners.” Johnny said, shrugging. Phil was to busy cowering to complain. Well, to complain loudly. I heard his mutterings of how foolish it was to be wandering this far out, at this hour, on this night, to a haunted house.

“Or maybe something to trade for candy or something. Besides, what if we get to see a ghost?”

“Thought you said ghosts weren’t real.”

“Probably, but I mean, it’d be cool if they were right?” Johnny said, walking up to the rotted door.

Halloween 2.png

It gave when he pushed, the knob worn and rusted. The floor creaked in as we followed, the dust thick on the ground and the tatters of cob webs spun over the stairs. A starved spider dangled from the rafters, swaying in the wind. Our flashlights fanned out faster then us, checking for a glimmer of silver or gold.

We were quiet as the grave as we walked, each plank creaking or crunching. The house was bare—no chairs, no tables, not cups, no food, nothing. Utterly hollow inside, even the wallpaper peeled away to leave barren gray planks.

Johnny wanted to go upstairs, but there was no way Phil was going to cross the ruins of arachnid civilization. He was convinced spiders were lurking as ghosts right there, unseen and unheard. Not that what Lamark found next was much better.

“No. No no. No no no. Not the basement. Come on, I don’t even go into my basement.” Phil said, staring at the small stairway down.

“Won’t go in the attic, won’t go down the stairs…Come on Phil, if you were gonna stash something, you’d put it down there right?” Lamark said. “We’ll just go down, have a peak around, and come right back up, then off to the Vernon’s place for more candy.”

“No, no way. I’m not going down there.” Phil said, shaking his head. “Nothing good’s down there.”

“Fine, if your gonna be that way, you can stay up here alone as look out. Lamark and me will go down, see that there’s nothing, and come right back so you can get some sweets. Or, better yet, you can just run home.” Johnny said, descending back down, before Phil could respond. Lamark shrugged and went down as well, with me nearly knocking Phil over as I followed behind.

The basement was mostly empty. A few tarps, a broken smatterings of wood. Lamark sighed with relief—until another light shown back at us. Johnny laughed when he shouted, putting his hand on his shoulder and pointing.

“Well, we found something.” Johnny said. It was a small sliver of mirror, under a tarp—barely shining the light back at us.

“We could probably take it back.” Johnny said, walking up to it. It was small-ish, maybe as big as a small pillow. “Think it’ll look neat.”

Frankenstien.png

“Heh, like you need to see your face more often.” Lamark said nervously, still scanning the room with his flashlight. “Well, we looked around…Better head back up.”

“Yeah, yeah, just let me see this.” Johnny said, removing the tarp from the mirror.

And then he saw me. I waved, and he made a horrible noise.

And then Lamark made the horrible noise when I tried to stifle Johnny’s noise, his fake bolt hitting the mirror. Lamark ran up the stairs as I pushed Johnny against the mirror. I don’t know if he saw me, but I heard the door slam shut. I turned after him, forgetting that I left a bit of a red claw mark on the mirror. I got up the stairs in no time, and saw Phil standing there. Staring at me, red dripping from my fingers, candy fallen on the ground. Phil, to his credit, didn’t run this time.


This story was fun to write, even if the climax was a bit rushed. The writing was delayed some by moving, but actually came fairly naturally. It’s a bit of a common of a ghost story, and  I think the ending is broadcast rather clearly. Still, even if a few months early for the great holiday, I enjoyed it!

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A Prodigal Son Returns

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

The Prior Research:Dealing With The Devil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

EyeHouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strange Rat

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

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


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

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

My parents didn’t say a word.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you know what–”

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

“Abroad?”

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

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

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

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

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

We left that night. I hope to return soon.


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

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And Off Fell His Mask

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

The Prior Research:It’s a Masquerade!

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

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

King Hyperion2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I cannot confess them.”

“And why is that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle in the Hills.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3EYES.png

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

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

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

The Beheading Of Loratian.png

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


 

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

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Dr. DuSan And The Case Of The Walled Up Rat

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

The Research:Hold Fast!

The moment I heard the car pulling up to my small country house, I knew that Dr. DuSan had arrived at last. It had been sometime since a case of any sort had come to the pair of us—a time of quite on the eternal front, I thought. Surely, this was the sun rising to reveal the latest offense on common decency. I opened the door just before he knocked, pack ready and supplies on hand, face flush with excitement that comes with calamity.

Shall we be off?” I asked, smiling with my coat half on and my umbrella in hand. Dr. DuSan looked a tad startled behind his old glasses, but smiled almost reluctantly.

Well, if you are in such a hurry, I suppose we can get the necessary hospitality from our guests…” Dr. DuSan said, stepping back as I made my way to the familiar black car.

So, what have they found this time? A body with no finger prints? A stabbed man, in a locked room? Some ghastly butchery with a surgeon’s eye?” I asked, pen and pad ready to take note of any and all unusual behaviors or markings that had been discovered.

They? What they? Oh, the police. No, Mr. Leeman, this is not an official consultation.” Dr. DuSan said as we wound down the roads of the countryside off to London, the oldest hive and grandest of diabolical hives. “We are going to make a house call for a dear associate of mine, of no intreast to any member of law enforcement.”

A house call?” I asked, blinking at the page. I knew Dr. DuSan kept a private practice, knowledgable as he was on the many ills and maladies of the body and mind. Still, his clients were more often friends in the fields then those in town.

A friend, one who I have not heard from in some time.” Dr. DuSan said, with a nod. “Mister Cornelius Gorgian is of course not the most frequent of my correspondents, but I hope this meeting to be quite informative.”

Ah, and you came to my house because…?” I asked, resigned that there was no great marvel to be had on this excursion.

My dear Leeman, I took you as the curious and learned sort. Mr. Gorgian is quite the curiosity, the sort that is invaluable to the able and intelligent mind. You will find his company most enlightening I hope.” Dr. DuSan said.

London1-altered.png

Our conversation the rest of the drive avoided the topic of this ambiguous Mr. Gorgian. Instead, as we came into the city of London proper, politics and its many slanders and scandals occupied the discussion with a brief diverison into some strange notions regarding Puck in Midsummer’s Night Dream. In the end, we arrived at the relatively small house—for one Dr. DuSan’s friends anyway. Clattering the iron gate open, the good doctor hooked the brass knocker on his cane and rapped three times.

A young man came to the door, his office uniform partially unbuttoned and his tie loose. He smiled nervously, and extended a hand.

Hello, um, can I help? Morgan Mandrake at your service.”

Ah! Yes, yes, Mr. Mandrake. Mr. Gorgian spoke of you.” Dr DuSan said, returning the hand shake. “Quite the careful student, I hear. Or at least enough that the good sir sees you daily and nightly. Is he around?”

I’m afraid Mr. Gorgian is out for the day on business.” Morgan said, moving to close the door. “I can take a message–”

No, no, I believe I will wait for our meeting. It was quite important. Does he still have that green tea, in the blue tin?” Dr. DuSan said, putting his foot in the doorframe and moving past Morgan with a second step into the house.

Um, well, he has some yes, but like I said—” Morgan said raising his hand in objection.

Wondrous! A cup for me and for Leeman here.” Dr. DuSan said, looking around a bit. Confused, Morgan went to the kitchen, and Dr. DuSan gestured for me to take a seat. A wry look came over his face for a moment.

Ah, to the left—left—there you are sir.” Dr. DuSan said, hearing the shuffling of various items in the pantry.

I beg you pardon?” Morgan said, after starting the kettle.

Hm? Oh, it is a gift of mine—most useful, truly. It was the topic of our meeting today. You see, to me, the walls of a house are like rolling water—translucent and almost transparent. With a bit of focus, I can make out anything within or behind them.” Dr. DuSan said, smiling, before walking over to the north wall and tapping it’s top. “Here, for instance, you will find a poor rodent that was trapped and has died of starvation among the pipes.”

Truly?” Morgan said, tilting around the corner to get a better look at the sot to which Dr. DuSan pointed.

Get yourself a hammer, and you’ll find him back there. Or rather, forget the hammer. Come, Leeman, get a stool and take my cane. A good sharp blow should find us the poor soul.” Dr. DuSan said, gesturing over. I picked up a stool, confused as I took the cane in hand. It was weighty on the top—in more than one case, it’s shillelagh like construction had saved our skin. Standing atop an ottoman, I struck the wall hard and fast, the wood cracked and splitenerd.

Astounding…” I muttered as I removed the small dead rodent from the wall with the cane. “Truly astounding.”

Yes, testing the limits of my capacity was to be our subject today. And still will be, I hope, for he cannot be too far off.” Dr. DuSan said, taking his tea without sitting down. I stared down for a moment before hoping to the floor. It was a most peculair talent—I had no idea as of yet how Dr. DuSan had known the rat’s presence, or why he persisted with the ruse, but for now I played along.

Hm, well, that is a fascinating quirk. But as I said, Mr. Gorgian is out for the day, perhaps longer, and I can take his–” Morgan said, grimacing at the sight of the dead rat.

Nonsense, we’ll take our time. Don’t worry, my good friend, we won’t bash down anymore walls.” Dr. DuSan said nodding, along. “Just finishing our tea, and see if he returns.”

My good sir, please, I have studies to read and I cannot attend to both them and you today. If you wish, I will inform Mr. Gorgian of your visit.” Morgan said, more insistently this time.

Well, I know when hospitality has been retracted. Me and Mr. Leeman will finish our tea and take our leave…But please, I left some belongings here last time I visited. Allow me to collect them, and we shall be on our way.” Dr. DuSan said, gesturing up the stairs. Morgan took a sharp breath and a sigh, before gesturing in the affirmative, albiet with an implication of impatience.

Dr. DuSan gesutred me up the stairs, tapping the walls occasionally with his cane, whistling as he went. We collected a bag and some books he had left behind, Morgan watching us irritably. Every now and then. Dr. DuSan glanced over his shoulder to meet our former host’s gaze while walking about, in no hurry to accede to his demands that we leave the premise.

LondonHouse-altered.png

After about an hour of touring the upper floor, in search of his remaining bags, Dr. DuSan at last left. We packed into the car, tipped our hats to Mr. Mandrake, and thanked him for the tea. As we drove down the city streets, a single question eventually came over me.

The point of all that, Leeman, was to confirm a suspicions. Now, with some accuracy, I can inform the authorities of Mr. Gorgian’s murder.” Dr. DuSan said.

Murder? What on earth has you say that?”

Listen, Leeman—Mr. Mandrake assured me that Cornelius Gorgian had left town for sometime. A fact I do not doubt. However, he did not contend with my claim that we had arranged a meeting—no doubt by then he was more focused on vacating our eyes from the premises. Further, he was greatly concerned at our topic matter—the discovery of a dead rat. Tell me, Leeman, who knows the inside of a house better than a rat?”

Well, no one I suppose.” I said, thinking for a moment.

Very likely no one. For a rat to die the way it did, it was not happenstance. No, rather, the walls had been altered lately, such that it’s preferred pathway was blocked. I had my suspicions when I noticed the wall thinner at it’s point of entrapment—there were small marks along the ceiling, as if some creature were struggling to get out.”

Of course…”

Now, then, determining were Cornelius’s body was, that required a bit more work. My first clue was his calmness in greeting us. He was convinced we would not locate it—so I reasoned the body was well hidden already. Now, in London, a burial at night would be difficult to hide and there is little room for such things. So, I tested a theory. The location of Cornelius’s teas are well known to me, as are the difficulties of his kitchen. Thus, I set the first test of my memory.

When he returned, I saw the nerves of Mr. Mandrake—he grew more insistent after a display of my ‘abilities’. So I made sure to check his expression at every turn. The face, and the eyes, my good Leeman, are in fact windows into the soul. And so, our Mr. Mandrake gave away his guilt. For I saw, as I approached the hallway wall, his eyes dilated like a doe caught by the huntsman. Now, I did deduce more of the case from the blows of my shillelagh. The wall resounded slightly off in a number of places. I concluded that the mangled body of Mr. Gorgian was in fact scattered through the walls—as the authorities will discover no doubt.”

Ah, so that was why you kept—”

Yes Leeman. A bit of psychology, biology, and wit can uncover even such a cunning mind.”

It did not occur to me, not until Dr. DuSan was explaining himself over the phone, that one questioned remained unanswered. How had he known to make the house call at all? Certainly, I reasoned, he might have noticed a lack of correspondence. But if this Cornelius Gorgian was gone long, so would have others. A creeping unease came over me, as Dr. DuSan returned, having left his anonymous tip with the constable.


 

This story I think veers more into something of a mystery more than a true horror story. There is something unsettling about it I hope, but it is more in the delivery then anything else. All in all, I enjoyed writing it, and think the ending question could be expanded in later works.

Next week, we join mad revelers and don terrible masks as we see to startle and reveal!

 

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The Ruins of Dimov

This Week’s Prompt: 67. An impression—city in peril—dead city—equestrian statue—men in closed room—clattering of hooves heard from outside—marvel disclosed on looking out—doubtful ending. [“DISSIPATION?” by Dan McCoy]


The Prior Research:The Dread Horsemen

The days of clattering horseman outside the walls were the sort of days that cannot last forever. Raids either break upon the walls, or settle down as a moat of flesh before receding into the hills. Or so I had always thought, for the great hills of Dimov had never broken before. Now, I slipped through the streets, dressed in a stolen set of servant’s clothes as the smoke of the city settled away. Past the proud statue of Saint Alorium on his mighty steed and beneath the strong spear pointing at the setting sun with defiance I slipped, towards a small secret door at the side of the grand temple I had used in my younger years. While a more through army may have found it by now, I suspected that the city guard and the temple authorities employed greater scrutiny then the stragglers of hillmen on their red steeds.

St. Alorium.png

The door is still locked, but the familiar triage of serpents circle the knocking place. I rapped softly, hoping some member of our esteemed order still has survived. Clattering hooves went by, not far off, with none of the enthusiasm of the richer raiders. No, vultures now circled the city, the greatest of the host already sedate with it’s gluttonous feast. I was quiet, holding my breath, until at last the door opened and a pair of heavy hands pulled me inside.

My rescuer was, by account of his clothes, a smith. He had the heavy apron, the gloves, and the tired eyes. Not far into our hidden lodge was a younger man in tattered green and black robes, with a gold chain capped with an emerald, amulets and robes of the old scribes, who shut the door behind me and resealed it’s locks. Ah, to be back in a passage of celebration at the end of Dimov.

Were you seen?” My new host asks, looking over my shoulder as the last lock clicks.

No riders were outside, so beyond the unseen eye, our hiding hole is safe.” I said, nodding.

Safe? In this age? No, no we are not safe. We are merely alive.” The man of learning said, turning back around and looking about. “And maybe not long. One entrance of spies is sealed, but who knows what rats and roaches have snuck in through the windows and frames.”

I blinked a bit at the man of lore. The smith shrugged.

You must forgive Raam. A scholar does not outlive his university with his mind entirely intact.”The smith said, leading me along through the barricaded basement and past a table overturned. “But there is an enlightenment to his madness. We must secure ourselves, lest a spy of the hillsmen has slipped in. My name’s Dominic.”

Darius. What convinces you such spies are among us?” I asked, letting the false name roll off my tongue.

Walls do not fall to horses. Good walls do not fall to spears. Dimov’s walls did not fall to boulders. They did not fall. They had to be opened. And so there are spies, there are eyes of the hills among us, from those lost heaths.” Raam said, moving along after securing the door ahead.

The smith explained that, while they would simply hide in the lodge, the lodge lacked rations forever. Far greater stores were in the old offices above us. The three of us each took some lumber and tools of the smith—his old hammer and a few nails he had kept hand for repairs—in case we needed to board them up. The church kept stores frequently, and while the hillmen had yet to pierce them—being fearful of the great statues outside no doubt—we could make use of them with impunity. Not to mention oil to burn for warmth at night.

Three entrances, right?” I asked, pointing in the directions. “West, East, North.”

Should be. The glass is still there.” Dominic said, pointing at the gallivanting images of saints ascending from the depths and the glittering form of Saint Alorium with his serpent slaying spear. The three of us went to work. Raam’s garb belied his strength: he carried more than his share of the pew. It was while we were lifting one to the door that I noticed strange caluses on his hands.

But that aside, we got the three doors secured, piles of pews against their doors. The stores themselves were smaller than we hoped. Still, we made do with the bread we had, gathered beneath the stained glass in case the raiders looked within and spotted us.

Raam, I must admit, I’ve not seen a man with such might beneath their robes.” I said smiling. “Was the house of scrolls your second trade?”

Hm? Scrolls? You want to know of scrolls? Scrolls are weighty, especially in gold. Work, hard work, can lift the burdens and chains invisible that wrap around the neck and anchor the arms.” Raam replied.

It is like apprentice fees at the forge. You have to work some time to pay them off, although I did not know hard labor was a good trade for earning a good deal of money.” Dominic said, taking a bite from the bread.

You’d be surprised. I’ve not known a footmen who knew so much of scribes, so small people, rummaging about around bloated corpse royal.” Raam said slowly. “Flies and maggots all of them.”

Well I never–” I began, standing with my voice raised, silenced by Dominic’s hand. He pointed to his ear. Outside, there was the clatter of hooves. Dominic removed his apron to smother the fire as I darted to peek out the window. There were five of them on horse back, quivers at their side and lances in hand as they road around the statue, searching with torches in the moon light.

Silent, silent.” Raam whispered, crouching behind a pew. I nodded, slumping beneath the window so as to be unseen.

How many?” Dominic asked from his hiding spot. I held up an open palm. The five horses circled again, the rotating torchlight flickering through the stained glass, illuminating each preserved scene in sequence, the wall opposite showing a silent play of saints, rising from birth and falling on the spears and swords of the hillmen of old.

At last the circling stopped, and a few clattered off. I peeked over the edge, and saw one of the hillmen in his leather armor. In his hand was a bucket, with a dark pitch inside. In his other hand was a torn standard of the guard, wrapped into a mop of many colors. With a word to the other rider that remained, he dipped the standard in the pitch. Then he rode about, and slammed the stained glass with his spear, coating the colors in darkness. The other rider did the same, and one by one the saints along the side were subsumed by the waves of darkness.

Stained Glass Pitch.png

Darkness, darkness gathered by eyes…” Raam whispered, crawling about. “We’ve been discovered. They’ve discovered us now, because of you, you treason!” He hissed pointing at me.

Me, treason? You’re the one pretending at being a scholar! How can we trust a man of letters who couldn’t make a summer living as a scrivener or scribe?” I hissed back, jabbing a finger.

I was within when the city was taken! Only you and Dominic without! One of you, one of you let them in! Lead them here!” He muttered standing up tall now as the pitch covered half the windows. We had boarded ourselves in, and the fire at the doors would be more than enough to smoke us out.

If I was the spy, would I have stayed with you! Why? To die in this house of God in paupers outfit?” I asked, almost shouting. We were doomed, we were doomed.

Spies betray for a hundred reasons! Perhaps you wanted death, or sought penance! Zealot or despair alike!”

It was then that we realized Dominic was gone. We stared across at each other, the embers dying low. Outside, we heard clearly now, a hundred horsemen or more. Even through the pitch we saw the low light of torches gathered.

The front door.” I said slowly, turning about. “We might be able to force our way through there.”

And die to their lances?”

We die in fire or we die to a hundred spears, which will be faster?” I ask, rushing over to the door and pulling a pew down. The west entrance begins to crackle as smoke flows in. The back two glass windows crack with heat before shattering, scattering downward like a rain of multi-colored arrows. As we pulled aside the pews to make room, the wind rushed in. While the wind was cooling, and bought us time from the smoke, me and Raam heard carried on it the cheers and shouting of thousands of horsemen, come for the final demolition.

And then, as the final window shattered, as the fire spread from the eastern and western doors down towards us, we heard great hoof beats and sudden panic. Shouting and roaring of battle as at last we pushed open the front door, to make our feverish escape.


St. Alorium2.pngSt. Alorium stood on his twenty-foot tall steed, his spear bright and bleeding. Around him the hillmen roared as he stared with his maned helm, his eyes like glimmering stars. Fire behind us, death before us, me and Raam stood trapped at the threshold transfixed. The saint raised his spear and the slaughter began in earnest.


 

This story was tricky to write–I almost started it over again a few times, but ran out of time.  The statue coming to life seemed obvious if effective. The paranoia needs I think more time to actually develop, and more leads. At the moment it’s a bit arbitrary. And I think this is about half the story. The opening is strong, but more middle tension between the survivors over fear of spies or the looters outside is necessary.

Next time, we go more explicitly psychological, and visit a concept as old as modern horror genre itself–the mind of a killer.

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