The House of Witchs

This Week’s Prompt: 99. Salem story—the cottage of an aged witch—wherein after her death are found sundry terrible things.

The Prior Research:Salem

I’d been house hunting for the last four days, when Alex finally agreed to take me to the house on 35th and Main. He grumbled and sighed the entire drive, before we pulled up to the slightly overrun yard. It was a nice, two story house—clean windows, nice door, fresh wallpaper.

“It’s just a bit pricey, you know, and there are better places.” He said, sighing as we walked through the house. “I mean, and you know, it’s got a history.”

“And that’s why we’ve got to check it out!” I said. The house was the exact same, top to bottom—okay, not quiet the same. The kitchen down stairs was the exact shape of the guest room right above it, the bedroom and living room perfectly mirrored each other.

“I mean, it’s not like this is the same house they hanged her in.” I said, flicking a light switch on.

“No…Okay, no it’s not.” Alex admitted. “Got rebuilt a few times after fires and the like. Last time was back in the 70s I think. Some freak earthquake or something broke the foundation and they had to fix it. And then there was a wave of renovations.”

I walked through the halls. I wonder how much of this place had actually stayed the same after three centuries—were the rooms always like this? Did they shift and change? The attic upstairs was entirely empty except some boxes—what had they once held? Was the living room the same one where they tried her, searched her entire body for where the creatures of the night drank blood?

“I think it’s the one.” I said, smiling as we left.

“Of course you do.” Alex sighed. “Of course the witch house halfway out of town is the perfect one—no, can’t be any of the ones down town or near a train station, nope, crazy house.”

Apartment Floor A.png

“So it really is the same, top to bottom?” Cheryl asked. She was at the desk across from me, peering over the screen.

“Yep.”

“Doesn’t that get…confusing?” She said, clattering away at the keyboard.

“Not as bad as you’d think—I mean, I’ve gotten mixed up once or twice when putting stuff away.” I said with a shrug. “You know, I’ll come home, get ready for shower and whoops! Walked into the walk in closet, bathrooms on the other floor.”

“Wow. I mean, that’s not too bad.”

“No, like—unless it’s late at night, it’s pretty easy to navigate around. When I’m like half asleep, it gets worse.” If I’m drunk it is an actual nightmare. I once spent an hour racing up and down the stairs, trying to figure out which one had the living room and which one had the bedroom, before just sleeping on the couch.

“Seen any…” Cheryl, pausing mid type. “You know. Last people that had the house left after a month.”

“No, nothing.” I said, clattering along. “I mean, I might ask someone to look at the walls.”

“What, blood leaking from them already?” Cheryl said with a nervous laugh. I didn’t mention that the walls had made a clicking sound at night—not loud enough to wake me up, but enough to keep me awake. Everything was so quiet out there.

Apartment Floor B.png

It wasn’t much of a conversation, really. I had a few like that, people surprised I was living in the old haunted house. Which—okay, yeah, a few people it turns out had gone missing in the place. But like, of the past owners—I checked, out of curiousity—none of them ‘mysteriously’ vanished, and even the ones that had a bad time were like, fifty to sixty years apart. The stories get wilder around the 1700s—everyone’s grandma has a story about my old house it seems.

It was kinda thrilling to live somewhere famous. I even gave tours to a few friends—some of them joked about breaking into it when they were teens. Looked different, back then. Run down, but same double floors.

“Yeah, its always been like that.” Jermey said, pointing at the ceiling as we walked down the stairs. “I mean, you know, when I was here it was like. Graffiti’d up and shag carpeted.”

“Shag carpeting?”

“Yeah, it was gross as hell. But the same, top to bottom. Weird that they didn’t like—like the bathrooms weren’t.” He said looking it over. “I mean, they kinda are—we figured that since they were on top of each  other, we’d drop stuff down one pipe and it’d go down the other but nope. Just pissed off the handy man.”

“Thought it was abandoned?” I asked, frowning.

Jeremey shrugged.

“I mean, no one lived here. But I remember once we got wasted and tore up one of the walls—freaked out, thinking we’d get caught.” He said, gesturing. “But it was all put together in like. A day. Someone had to do it. Never heard of ghosts patching up brickwork.”

Apartment Floor C.png

I did get used to the noise after a while. The little creaks and dings and shifting of moving papers stopped bothering me.  I dreamed about getting lost in repeating hallways more than once. I know I came home drunk and went to bed in my room, and woke up in the living room at least once.

I kinda got used to just staring ahead and counting whenever I saw someone on the sidewalk, a shape I couldn’t quite make out until the last moment. Once or twice, I caught someone following me—or well. I thought they were following me. They just lived nearby and I hadn’t seen them yet. No one was following me.

At least—well there was one time. I woke up in the middle of the night in the bedroom down stairs. I walked around, trying to get my bearings again, and looked out the window—and I thought I saw Cheryl. She was just walking…to the bus station, which was weird because I swear she lived on the other side of town. No reason for her to be around her.

*

“Oh, just went home and binged some shows.” She said when I asked what she’d been up to last night. “How about you?”

“Not much. Read a book.” I muttered.  I mean, it wasn’t a lie. I’d been reading some documents. The crew that came over couldn’t find anything causing the clicking sound,  probably something the construction crew before left in there. So I went digging for the construction crew for the current house—and couldn’t find one.

I couldn’t find the last one either. Not like, a shell company or anything, but like—there’s a newspaper article from 1970 about a fire destroying the house. It’s listed for sale in 1972. That’s the house I’m in. But no one built the house. The listing is in a newspaper, it doesn’t mention the company. And I don’t even know how to start finding that in a public record.

“I think it was built by OMN?” Alex said. I hadn’t given him a ring in a while. “Can’t really…huh. Can’t find a specific record, but they did a lot of construction back then. Hey, don’t worry about it too much. It’s probably just settling or something—get an exterminator if your worried its rats in the walls I guess?”

Or move out of the creepy house, like I said to was the unspoken bit there. But whatever. I couldn’t leave—unless I found another buyer, I didn’t have the cash for that. So exterminator it was.

*

“And he found nothing.” I muttered. I could feel the bags under my eyes, even if they weren’t there yet.

“Well, that’s good right?” Jeremey said, printing another few copies of…something. I don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention.

“I just…It’s been getting louder I think. More frequent for sure. He heard it, said there’s no animal he’d heard make that sound—left out some traps.” I waved it away. Just when I got used to the little noises, this one comes in insistent.

“I mean—maybe a plumber or something? Might be something rattling in the pipes.” Jermey said, tapping the papers. “Loose coin or something.”

“I don’t…maybe?” I said throwing my hands up. “I’ve got to figure out what it is—I swear, I’d never have bought the place if I’d known it was this much of a pain. Supposedly haunted historical house is one thing, this is…This is just maddening.”

Apartment Floor D.png

I just didn’t sleep that night. It was the first night I stayed awake all night—cup of coffee and ears listening for any sounds. I’d just, I’d catch this thing.

The ticking started earlier than I remember it starting before. One of the old paintings ticked up a few inches. As I watched, the face on the old woman’s painting peeled off. A small plate there, of some fibrous material, rotated.

I got up slowly…and the floor swam beneath me. I fell back down. The room rotated. The walls fell away, a labyrinth of crystal and glass shimmering in the moonlight. My bed fell through the liquid floor. I screamed and waited for a crash.

None came.

I looked up at the old house—shimmering like moonlight on the water. New stars shone down through the transparent roof. When I got up this time, I was on solid ground. I saw hundreds of miles beneath the house—hundreds of fractal rooms. Perfectly shaped, all with glowing like stars. Except one—down at the very bottom, there was something…something dull. Some small blob, a hundred feet away. The ticking was coming from down in the depths, and I was sure it was from that strange shape.

There was a shout form the window. Looking up, I saw such…wonderful places. I saw hills of sunlight, I saw sable sands with red rivers. I saw moons, I saw worlds outside. I saw them tearing and bending and wonder turned to horror. The ticking turned to skipping—the house…whatever it was, something was wrong. I looked down again, at the shape sitting their listless.

It was like a bug trapped in amber. A small shape but I saw the whole house struggling to break free  of it. It shook and seemed to crack. The floor gave in beneath me, and I went tumbling down. Before I could get up, it cracked and fell again.

Bruised and exhausted, I fell. I fell through house after house. I fell down centuries, down to the very bottom. I looked up, struggling a bit to catch my breath. The light was dim down here—I could barely see my fingers.

I looked up and saw her. Hanging there—not really her. Not her body, that was long gone. Her shadow? Something that was there but wasn’t. It wasn’t really there. It was there though. It was…the house was broken. It yearned up.

But she was there. Her body was there, jammed in the gears and light. She was glowing like a dim moon, soft and cold. The windows down here were all black seas and forgotten woods. The house shook and quaked. It glowed and ticked.

Apartment Floor A
I next remember waking up in the hospital. The doctor said there’d been an accident—freak fire while I was asleep. Most of the house was burned down—not all of it, but most. The fire department was just glad to have contained it—there were lots of old homes down there.  It could have spread uphill, caught some of the others.

It was really lucky it just burned mine. I guess.

Just like that earthquake back in the 70s, I guess. Or the flash flood that tore out the foundations in 1922. It’s a very lucky house, in a way.



 

I’m still unhappy with this story. I liked the idea of the house as some sort of mechanism, which was stuck trying to complete its task by the crime committed in the past. But I couldn’t find a strong A-plot to go in with, and interweave with, the haunted house. I think there might be some burn out on houses for now–and looking a head, we’ll be away from them for at least a few weeks! Thank you for your patience.

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The Bowen Street House

This Week’s Prompt:98. Hideous old house on steep city hillside—Bowen St.—beckons in the night—black windows—horror unnam’d—cold touch and voice—the welcome of the dead.

The Prior Research:Rhode Island Ghosts

Bowen Street was a bit nicer than I rememberd. The old pot hole was fixed—the bigger one, not the little ones—and the fences weren’t as rusty. Uncle Rodney had been a bit of a nutter towards the end. There were three locks, and a keypad. I remember when I was fifteen him showing off his security room—I’m still not sure if it’s legal to have that many security cameras peering out in all directions from your house. I’m sure it isn’t healthy to stare at monitors all night.

It was a stroke that got him.

Opening up the house, even with the keys and the passcodes, felt like breaking into some giant vault. There was a layer of dust covering everything inisde, and that was before I started going through the locked doors. Most of them were double locked, and the windows had bars on the inside. I don’t know what Uncle Rodney was worried about—he was just generally nervous it seemed—but he had made one amazing cage.

It really shouldn’t go to waste, I thought. It was his life’s work. And I admit, I didn’t feel like sleeping any time soon. The layers of dust made the air heavy, and I didn’t have time to clean. One night, with some beers, seeing what the old man was looking at all night. I’ll toss it out tomorrow, I thought.

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The house clicked to life at eight o’clock exactly. Camera’s whirred to life, screens flickered, lights shone down. And that was the visible parts. Webs of motion sensors were spontaneously woven over the yard, and I’m pretty sure the fence gained life electric. And I sat, drinking from a can, watching the screens. Trying to figure out what had made Uncle Rodney so afraid.

There was a bobcat that walked across the street, right up to the gate. I held my breath as it looked at the fence. It reached out a paw—I stared intently as it considered the jump.

And then, suddenly, it ran off. Scapered back where it came. I glanced across the screens, following the little angry furball until it got to a side walk and went down the street.

I mean, at that point, I kinda thought it lived across the street. There was another house there, although I didn’t give it much attention before. I mean, it was barely a house.

The roof was intact, and the doors, and the—I frowned as I looked at the windows. I guess the lights were off? They were completely dark—actually, zooming closer, it looked like the blinds were closed? No, not even that. They were tinted black. I sat back a bit. Was this whole neighborhood paranoid? I zoomed the camera back out, taking in the crumbling wreck. The porch had fallen in, the door looked worn and someone had stolen the door knocker, and–

There was beeping on one of the motion sensors. I frowned, and looked over at the other camera. My heart stopped for a moment as I saw a pale shape—some kid in a grey hoodie or with a blanket around their back—squeezing at the gate. I couldn’t quite make out what he was…I mean the gate was high voltage, maybe he had wire cutters or something.

I had dialed two digits before he was gone. I looked up as the phone rang, and saw him slip across and into the old house, turning back for only a second. I thought he looked into the camera.

*

“Mr. Barthet?” The voice came through on the other end after a minute of silence. “I don’t know how often we have to answer these calls before it becomes a crime, Mr. Barthet.”

“I’m sorry?” I asked, blinking. “This is the first time I’ve called.”

“Don’t tell me your memory’s going to, Rodney.” The officer sighed. “So what was it this time? Some rave across the street that no one else can here?”

“I’m—I’m not Rodney.” I said slowly. “My names Roger Barthet.”

There was a long pause.

“Oh. Well. I’m sorry for your loss Roger.” The voice said slowly. “Uh, well, alright—Your uncle had a habit of reporting on the old house. Don’t lose to much sleep over it. The place is condemned, should be bulldozed any day now. No one living there but some rats.”

“But I saw–”

“Probably some teen hiding there for a few days or something, you know how kids are.” the officer continued. “If he mucked up your fence too much, that might be something, but, well, we aren’t going out in the middle of the night to chase a kid down in a ghost house.”

And that was it. He told me to get some sleep, see if I felt better in the morning. I sighed, hung up, and went to bed. It rained that night, helped me sleep some.

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Not that I woke up feeling any better. If anything, it felt like someone had reached down my throat and dropped a bunch of needles in my stomach. I kinda staggered around most of the day. Took a walk down to the river, did some exploring.

The house across the street was definitely abandoned looking. I mean, the porch was rotting and missing all its paint—it had turned a weird grey brown of dead trees. A bunch of small live ones were growing in the yard. The old fence was pointy and green-black—I can’t quite tell with those old iron fences that have like, the tips you know?–and broken in a few places. The only really intact bits were the windows, which during the day seemed all the more strange. Seriously, why does an abandoned building have tinted windows?

I couldn’t get it out of my head, walking down the riverside. Someone definitely still used that house for…for something, I don’t know what. Maybe it was just a teen sex and drugs den or something. No wonder Uncle Rodney had cameras pointed at, must have been convinced they were going to try and rush his place in the night. I’m surprised I didn’t find a bigger gun-locker in the house. Yeah, I still hadn’t figured out how to get rid of that, I’m pretty sure Rhode Island’s strict about that sort of thing.

I didn’t go to bed that night. I stayed tuned in—the guy I called over said it’d be costly pulling out the all the wires, and he needed to check the house more, so I had a few more days. And I knew what I saw. If I could just see it again—If I could catch that kid—I think it was a kid. That thing in the night, I’d be able to sleep. I spent the afternoon after the work practicing the shutter function on the camera—a quick photo with a click. And so I waited. And waited. I waited as cars passed by, as drunk teenagers stumbled across the side walk, I wait until three in the morning, eyes fixed to the screens, staring out in all directions from this house.

I was almost falling asleep, despite the caffeinated heartbeat. And then I saw it. My finger moved before I did, clicking rapidly on camera six, the one facing the house. There it was—some pale ship leaning against the black windows.

It was pointing at the camera.

No. It was pointing at me. It held up a finger, a thin spidery finger, and curled it back and forth. Closer it said. Closer.

*

The police weren’t pleased to hear from me again. I swear I heard them mutter something about running in the family. But I know what I saw. And I brought the photos. Didn’t do a ton of good—they looked like photoshop or something. I don’t know. But they agreed, at least, to send someone over. Show me around the other house. Show me no one lived there.

“See, doors not even locked.” Officer Jones said, pushing the rotten wooden door open with one hand. “No one leaves doors open down here. Alright, lets look around, see if there’s any sign of a squatter.”

I grumbled at that—that wasn’t a squatter last night. But whatever. They didn’t believe me, that’s fine. They’d see. He clicked his flashlight on—the house was dark with the tinted windows, but not as empty dark as it was at night.

“Now, we’ll go quick. This place isn’t exactly hospitable.”

The wallpaper was peeling. There was almost half an inch of dust on the entire floor—hell, the carpet on the second floor seemed to be more dust then carpet. There weren’t any dishes, and only a few bits of silver ware. Most were to busted to be used. The walls upstairs had several gouges– “Twenty years ago someone looted all the copper they could,” Officer Jones explained—and most of the light bulbs had been smashed on the ground. There was a bathtub, stained and moldy. A bed. A few picture frames, although there had been more before. You could still see the marks on the wall were they used to be.

There was a chair by the window, where the figure had stood. I walked right up to the tinted window and squinted out—my house was nothing but a shadow from here, an inky blob you could barely call a home.

“Right, see? Nothing’s here.” Officer Jones said, gesturing around. “Nothing but cold damp floor boards, and broken things.”

I frowned and looked around. There was nothing but some broken things, some mold, and some dust. Why wasn’t there more? An old house like this, why not—why wasn’t there any graffiti? Why was no one living in this abandoned but…but stable house? Why hadn’t they for…who knows how long? What was keeping them out?

“Right. Nothing.” I said, as we walked out. What was beckoning me to stay, even in daylight hours?

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I stared out the window. No need for cameras this time. I could see that blasted house. I had seen something before. I know it, I know the cameras don’t lie. I’d locked all the doors, I turned on all the sensors. I had a hundred eyes wide open to see it again.

It was so small—behind the tinted windows, a breeze. It pushed gently against the door, pushing it open and outward. I stood and watched as the door opened, the trees rustled. It didn’t speak—it didn’t even seem..there. But the door slammed against the house wall. No breeze moved anywhere else. It slammed again. And I felt it’s eyes staring up into mine.

The police didn’t even give me a minute to explain. There was shouting, and a frustrated “then just stay inside!”. But I couldn’t. There was something there. Something in the house, that was watching me, that wanted something from me—or was offering something. I couldn’t tell. So I went out, into the night. I crossed the street, and went through the door.



This story is a bit rushed, but I like the pacing and I think the general idea of security and observation leading to paranoia. That both houses are in a way haunted.  That’s all for this Halloween–apologies for the delay, but things have been hectic.

Next week, we visit another very famous New England town. See you then!

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George and the Generous Tree

This Week’s Prompt:97. Blind fear of a certain woodland hollow where streams writhe among crooked roots, and where on a buried altar terrible sacrifices have occur’d—Phosphorescence of dead trees. Ground bubbles.

The Prior Research: Growing On Trees

The river had turned bright. The three farmers it touched stared in disbelief as the flickering water ran along its way, occasionally lurching to a halt. Grass around it had started dying.

“So. This. This is it right?” Johnson said, looking at everyone. “This is proof that God hates us, right?”

“Johnson!” George said.

“Bad harvest, bunch of rats break into the granary, and now there’s glowing star water killing everything.” Johnson said, waving at the water. “I want you to tell me, in the short time I still have land to stand on, how this is not proof positive this year is cursed.”

“Strings of bad luck happen.” George said, scratching his head. “I mean, long string but…”

“Maybe it will pass?” Gwyn said, stroking his considerable beard. “Came sudden, might be gone suddenly too. Things work like that sometimes.”

“I’m going to get what I can stored up.” Johnson said, shaking his head. “Water like that—that’s fairy nonsense or worse. Give it a week, and everything’s gonna be sludge and rot.”

So the three parted. Gwyn put old nets down from his time by the coast, hoping to catch the muck and keep it from his fields. Johnson went to accounting their belonings, in case the worst happened. He sent a letter down the road, to his brother in Alberdam. But George. George followed the river.

The river had its roots in the woods. Most things do. George knew pigs once lived in the woods, he figured cattle did too. So he followed the river back, through rotted roots and muddy land. He walked ahead, seeing what he might find among shivering trees and bald pines. For as the river wound its way down, the trees turned pale. The ground became soft and pallid. And animals made such dreadful sounds.

At the end of the river, George found it. Over the spring, a great tree with a glimmering brass trunk. No fruit sprang from the tree. No leaves. It’s roots, manifold and black, dripped luminescent sap into the river. Each drop sizzled as it touched the spring.

George was not a terribly wise man. But he knew clearly something about this was wrong. He rushed home and returned to that shuddering, sickly tree with an axe. Raising it high, he struck it hard—and it rang out like a bell in protest.

“Stop, stop, what are you doing?” A voice came down from the empty branches. “What are you doing, cutting me down with crude tool of yours?”

George was startled by the voice, but persisted. It again rang out like a bell, higher pitched this time. His axe blade looked a tad worse for the strike, but the bark had bent in.

“Stop that, stop that what are you—”

“You are spreading poison into our lands.” George said, reading a third swing. “I cannot lose it.”

“Wait wait! How much is it worth, this land?” The tree said, vibrating and shifting its bark about. George stopped his axe just before it.  “Perhaps we could trade.”

“And what could you offer, tree?” George said, resting his ax for a moment. “While I catch my breath.”

“Oh many things, many wondrous things. But perhaps most simply gold.” And as it spoke, an apple of shining gold grew from it’s branch, bending down in front of George. “Leave me be, and gold I can give every day.”

George took the gold, a small snap as it broke from the brass branch.

“Every day, gold like this?”

“Every day.” The tree’s voice said. George was a simple man. And while speaking trees were strange, far stranger existed in the wood. So he returned home without another blow.

Demon Tree One.png

And so he continued for sometime—about two months, coming to collect the gold, and letting his fields fall fallow. He never revealed the source of the apples he brought—in fact, when possible, he hid his travels down to the town to buy goods and food from distant farms. George was a simple man, but even he knew not to flaunt his gold.

Still he paused when he saw the carts outside Johnsons farm, the children swining legs from the seat.

“Nothing to be done. Lands cursed.” Johnson said, shaking his head when George asked leaning on the fence. “I mean, the grain that lived was inedible. But we’ll manage, we’ll manage. Probably won’t get much for the acres, but it’ll be something before the bank gets it.”

George nodded solemnly, and went for his axe. He hadn’t meant to ruin Johnson too. So out into the forest he went again, passed the twisting trees and mewling animals. The woods was quieter, the trees all had left shed broken coats of bark on the ground. The exposed insides were full of holes. Some times sap bubbled out of these, as the ground became muddy near the great tree. Its roots now dug deep into the ground.

“What now, little one? I gave you your gold for the—” the tree spoke, before George’s axe struck. A dull groan resonated through out the woods, the dying noises growing low and loud. The tree shrieked in it’s crown of twisting branches.

“What in the sweet—what do you want? More gold, is that it?” The tree shrieked. George saw his blow had left a large dent in the side. “I can provide more gold! Stop with that ax!”

“Gold will not help now.” George said, striking again and leaving a heavy cut. “Johnson already lost his farm. Gwyn will lose his. Gold can’t help that.”

“Are you—” A scream cut off the tree as the third blow struck, sluggish glowing sap leaking from its side. “Buy the farm yourself, you ingrate!” It bellowed. “You have piles of gold! Give some and buy his land, if you care so much! Its not like you need to worry about farming while I’m here!”

George paused, resting his axe on his shoulder, and stroking his chin. He had not considered that. Hiding his wealth had seemed so…vital. But it wouldn’t matter if Johnson and Gwyn were driven out already. The farms were just land then.  He shrugged and left the tree with it’s new wound, heading back to his farm.

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And so it came to past that George and his family were alone in the farmlands. The fields did not grow properly there—they grew in small tufts and strange colors that year. Johnson and Gwyn had both long gone—George made no effort to maintain their fields. There was little to maintain, as the ground turned gray and then pale yellow. It was swampish and bubbling, the forest slowly sinking from George’s view.

“Its not natural.” His wife said as she looked out. “Its getting closer to town now—that poor boy, he drank some of it and…”

George nodded, staring out into the woods. The river was like moonlight now—cracks and springs up sprang up on the farmland. It wasn’t natural. But few things were in he woods now.

He had gone hunting once, and found not a single living thing. No birds sang, no deer ran. He saw a pale shape moving in the trees. He thought it was a cat, but it had too many eyes.  Too many legs. Or he thought as much.

The shivering trees—the ones that were pale and tall and thin like grain, but stung to touch—had grown where grain once rain. The land was sick. Perhaps it was always sick, George thought as he walked through the silent and shivering woods. There was no wind, but the trees still bowed and swayed as he passed.  And at last, he found the tree.

He had seen it daily, growing bigger and bigger. It’s roots were as wide around as a saucer. Its branches were knotted like a boat’s strings, and thicker then rope. A web of shimmering shapes made up its top. Two great cuts were on its side.

Demon Tree 2.png

“Have you come again with your ax, George?” The voice said solemenly. “Have I not been true and good to you?”

“The land is dying.” George said. A bit of regret remained on his voice. “You have been true and kind, but the land is dying.”

“It has always been dying.” The tree said. “It was dying a year past when we first met. What has changed? Have I not given you gifts, to stay your ax?”

“The land is dying faster now. Down in the town people are dying.”

“People are always dying, George. Dying is the way of things.” The tree said, unmoved.

George shook his head, having no more of the trees words. He took his ax and struck the tree’s trunk—and again it resounded like a gong. But the bark did not budge.

The ax swung again. The tree was unmoved.

The ax swung. The tree shook with laughter.

“George, I have been good to you.” The tree spoke. “And you have been good to me—so I tell you this. If you wish to quarrel with me, leave now. For I have grown too deep to be overturned by an ax or flame. The time for such has passed. Run now, and I will not pursue you for scaring me so.”

George stared as the tree’s branches unfolded—revealing glimmering fruit, brilliant like stars. He dropped the ax into the gray mud. And soon he too left the land by the river. So the rotting tree came to consume the land along the great river. Nothing wholesome remains in that woods.



While this might need one or two more editing passes–and could certainly be improved by more character interaction–I’m actually rather proud of this one. I think the basic idea of a parasitic but wealth producing tree growing monstrous and uncontrollable when allowed to flourish by human greed is a decent enough idea. Giving more character to George would be the first addition–at the moment he’s rather blank as a person, except a bit greedy and a bit simple.

Next time we return to a particular haunted house and the cold touch of the dead!

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Lights Away

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

The Prior Research:The Hills Are Alive

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

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

I said no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HillsMap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lights hadn’t come back yet.

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

Would I have noticed?

Could I have noticed?

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

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

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

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

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

But still.

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

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

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

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

Just. I was. So close.

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

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How did I get here?

 



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

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

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A Long Night

This Week’s Prompt: 91. Lost winter day—slept over—20 yrs. later. Sleep in chair on summer night—false dawn—old scenery and sensations—cold—old persons now dead—horror—frozen?

The Prior Research:A Deep, Cold Sleep

The buzz of cicadas near the rivershore will always be the sound of summer to me. Even if I’ve never seen one, the near constant buzzing in the trees keeps the season clear—just like up north, the drifting of fall leaves announces autumn and the dreary blanket of snow makes winter all the clearer.

C’mon, I got a jar and everything!” Jordan says, holding up a glass jar with some very tiny holes poked in it.

There floating over the water, a little light show. With a sigh, I let myself by pulled down—against a dark sky, we chase the stars. Its a hokey little memory, I think. The kind I’ll write about when Jordan’s older. The kind that’s bleeding innocence. The kind that a Pixar movie would use for the good old days, before adult hood made everything complicated. Its nice, is what I’m saying.

River Forest.png

How often do you get fireflies down here?” Leslie asks, as we pace down the riverside. Jordan’s running a head, waving his jar around and trying to catch them on the sand.

Every now and then, but we only come down to the river like once a year.” I said, a fire fly landing in my hair—and for a moment I worry Jordan’s gonna bash me on the head with a jar to catch it. It flies off before that becomes a problem.

We caught a dozen—although half figured out where the hole was and slipped out of the jar. Neither of us had done this before, and I’d been too lazy to google how.

Think they’ll glow all night?” Jordan said, holding up the small collection. On cue, firefly number seven slipped out the top of the jar.

Maybe—we might need to get more tomorrow.” I said as we walked back to the cabin. “But a few might. If you get up early, you could probably still see them.”

Hmmm…” Jordan weighs the notion of waking up early—with the understanding of going to sleep now—against running around more.

I’ll make pancakes.” I promise.

Fireflies

I got the batter ready in advance after Jordan went to sleep. It was my mom’s old recipe, which she said she got from her grandfather—but honestly, I’m eighty percent sure I’ve seen it on the back of a box of mix.

You’ve got to know the fireflies will be gone by the time he gets up.” Leslie said, sitting at the counter.

Well, sure. But that’s fine, we’ve got another night up here and he’ll catch more. Besides,” I held up a mixing spoon. “There’s no misery that pancakes can’t cure.”

So, hows he doing in school?” Leslie asked, getting up and starting a pot of coffee behind me.

Fine, fine really. He likes math, which is a godsend I think. Math and science and in a few years, he’ll be off to the races in college.”

I mean, in ten years maybe.” Leslie said, rolling her eyes.

Ten years, a few years, eh.” I waved it off as I mixed. “Point is, I think he’s got a scientests brain. Maybe biology, what with how much he loves running around in the woods. He could make some good money that way.”

Sure, I mean…that’s pretty far away though.” Leslie said shrugging. “He might change his mind.”

Yeah, kids do that, but I really think he’s onto something.” I said, placing the batter in the fridge. “And, I mean, I’m working on his junior high already—thats where stuff can really get out of hand. But I’ll work something out for him.”

Leslie shrugged again and looked back outside. A small flash of a shooting star went by, and she sighed. She always thought it was weird for me to talk so much about how great Jordan was going to be, but it never came to much.

River ForestComet.png

Its funny. My grandparents had a cabin like this—I mean, not exactly like this. Prescott doesn’t have a river, just some creaks. But…places like this always feel nice.” She said, watching the stars between the trees. “I blame Diseny—there’s something about cabins that makes the whole world seem to stand still.”

The coffee pot beeped to break the silence.

Which cup?” I asked, opening the cabinet.

Leslie grabbed a blanket as we went out onto the patio.

Oh c’mon its July! It’s nowhere near that cold.” I said, rolling my eyes.

Speak for yourself, I’m freezing.” She grumbled as she leaned into the armrest.

Its getting warmer every year…” I said, sipping my coffee. “It’s going to be sweltering soon. God, can you imagine the mosquitoes?”

They’ll be the size of airplanes.” Leslie said with a laugh. “And the fireflies are gonna be bigger than Jordan.”

Oh, God, he’d try and ride one away.” I said, laughing and nearly spilling the coffee on the floor.

…hows he doing. In school.” Leaslie asked, looking up at the yellow’d harvest moon.

I mean, he likes it, his grades are good, like I said he loves math–”

Yeah, but you know. What about hobbies? What’s he do when he’s not catching fireflies?”

I stopped a bit and shrugged.

I mean, he does puzzles and stuff.” I said, frowning. “I’m thinking he’ll do debate in a few years, he’s got the mind for data and that’s important. Or robotics and coding.”

What about now though?” Leslie said. I shrugged.

I think he hangs out with a kid named Jeff?” I said, frowning. “Doesn’t come over much, but they had snacks and played games once.”

We talked a bit after that, about travel and college. I went to bed, feeling a bit chilly—not that I’d say anything. A bit of a wet wind had come off the river, that was all.

I stirred a little in my sleep. Something cold and freezing went over me, and lights danced outside. An aurora rising in the window, a cool and strange light. For a moment, the woods loomed large. I was half awake, half dreaming as I saw them. Half formed shapes of fur and tusk, lumbering nameless about the house. The river was bubbling, many colored gas rising out and off of it. I sighed a bit, and lay back down, breathing slowly to sink back to sleep. I didn’t think much of it—I thought it was a strange dream, half remembered. The sun didn’t rise that early, I thought—and the woods were too thick, too thick to be real.

I jolted awake later, a drop of water hitting my head—and as I stretched, my limbs felt exhausted. I saw the sun high in the sky, and a moment of panic struck. I’d forgotten to make breakfast! I got up and—and as I stretched, I felt a sudden chill. Looking outside again, I saw…white snow. Snow running up the window, all the way down to the shore.

The hell?”

It had snowed before in summer. I think. I mean, we weren’t far enough north for that to be normal, but freak weather wasn’t out of the question. But still, it was—well, I guess no fireflies would be caught.

Jordan! Jordan!” I shouted. He was going to love this. But the entire house was silent as I walked into the living room—a thin layer of frozen dew over the window. Looking out onto the patio, the wind rocked the chair back and forth.

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Someone was in the chair. Leslie! She must have slept in. When I pulled the screen door, there was a horrible sound. The edges were pretty rusty—I’d have to call the maitence guy about this. I mean, he might write it off as a freak blizzard but—and then I paused again, looking out from the patio. The frost on the window had obscured it but there were more trees then before. Not many, but saplings that had crept up from the shore. Not just saplings, no. The undergrowth was thicker, rising from the snow. Bushes and rotting brown moss growing on dead wood.

How long had I slept?

I turned slowly at the chair and caught a glimpse. A glimps of skin tight on bones, a face full of terror, a blanket full of holes and worn down. I slammed the door shut and ran back inside. I couldn’t look at it. I couldn’t look at that face, hair frozen where it was. How long had I slept? How…

Jordan. Oh no. Oh no.

 



I’m…not fond of this story. I really couldn’t get the twist ending into a cohesive narrative in my head, and when I had something I had little time to finish it. This might be one that, in a few years, I might rewrite for the patreon (linked below). Next week, we come back to a common staple of horror, and delve deep into a regional variant that started this entire blog! Come and see, when the dead walk!

 

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The Body of Veled

This Week’s Prompt:90. Anencephalous or brainless monster who survives and attains prodigious size.

The Prior Research:Lose your Head!

Bodies lay strewn like scattered grains across Peridun’s field. The men who had thus far survived the fighting, the rebellious folk of the mountains and the riders of the Thunder King, waited on bated breath. The rebel, Veled, dressed in fine cotton clothes and with a serpent headed spear, dons his horse hair helm. Across, the King of Thunder, his meteor charms heavy on his head. A crown of thunderbolts crackled in the air. The King of Thunder holds his blade, that crackles as it cuts the air with each blow.

The two rush forward, and the melee is fierce. The blade slides off the clothes of Veled, the spear can find no hole in the meteor born metal. Rebel and loyalist watch, each holding breath as sparks and strikes fly. Later men tell of how the earth shook and the wind roared. And then the first crack—the spear of Veled, rent in two. In the pause, the blade found a gap—and off went Veled’s head, his horse haired helm clattering on the ground.

The King of Thunder told this tale many times as he returned, Veled’s head in his banner. Peridun’s people were scattered by the hurricane of steel—those that did not flee, watered the fields in blood. And all was silent on those fields for a time, as feasting and murals were made.

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Until Veled’s body stirred, abandoned and naked on the field of war. It was a lumberjack wandering the roads that saw the body first—hunched over and crawling. At first he thought, in it’s scarred and awful shape, that some strange tiger was feeding on the bodies of the dead. Yet as he drew close, he saw the furs were mere clothes—the hands not clawed, but with the long finger nails of a corpse. The body made no sign that it saw or heard him as he approached—but the horrid look of it’s neck stump caused the man to shriek in panic and flee.

It was from this fleeing woodsmen that the body of Veled acquired its first tool. The bodies that lay in Peridun still bare the marks of its first depradations—hunks of flesh and bone rent by tireless nails and arms. But axe in hand, the ghastly corpse began to butcher it’s fellows bodies. It would drop the chunks of meat down its throat. The lands around Peridun are sparsely inhabited, and such sights were deemed the work of a local exorcist or priest, unworthy of national concern for sometime. Its grim dances atop the boides, laughing madly with chortling hoots and screams from fractured vocal chords, were unnerving and unwholesome. But in such a land that resisted rightful law, it was of no note or surprise.

After some time, however, the sight grew tiresome—and indeed an exorcist was called to deal with the ghosts of rebellion. A woman of some skill, who knew many of the arts of casting back spirits and was attended always by the smell of divine incense, the exorists went out with her retinue in the night. She came with a wooden sword and carved silver bell, that would sing sweetly. Many dark creatures she had banished from the night, who at the sound of her bell fled the authority of the heavens.

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So she descended into the plains, where the beast held its dances. Oh how terrible the body of Veled was! It stood now eight fall tall, the woodsman’s great ax and a broken platform of shields trampled under foot. The exorcist’s retinue stood back with horror. But she presisted forward, sending them to their stations, with their implements. Here a brazen thunderbolt. There a lit candle. Pure water. The beast feels the heat and motions of the wind, the unsettled body of Veled turns and paws about—its dancing has stopped, for its throat tastes something living in the air. And then the exorcist drew her sword, and spoke her prayers.

She recounted not just the Thunder King’s triumph, but his fathers, and fathers fathers. She recounted the divisons of heaven and earth, that had assigned to her the authority over spirits. She, with the fire of a holy preacher, recounted the torment of the rebellious, and promised a swift and merciful dismissal if the body returned to the grave.

The body made no reply—as it lacked any sense of hearing, as a thing that stood outside the law. The exorcist then made to strike the body, her sword digging deep into it’s swollen stomach. The ministers of the depths sent a missive to summon the body down, as they had a hundred rebel spirits and ghosts before. This missive, however, was ignored—for the senseless corpse could not hear it. Instead, it felt the pain of the sword, and in a rage, slew the exorcist and her retinue.

The terror of this report was sent to the Thunder King and his authorities—as well as reports of a swollen, mishappen corpse marching towards his mountain castle. The body of Veled was now ten feet tall, and proofed immune to swords, spears, and slings. Worse still, the beast’s hunger continued—it consumed and devoured men and women without hesitation. Arrows and axe heads had been stuck in it’s sinew, but the flesh of it’s victims renewed it every year. Such outrages moved the Thunder King—he assembled his companions.

“This beast is unlike others we have seen—it defies sense and death, and will not yield to the demands of gods and men. We must overcome it’s strength, and hold it still. Then, we will affix a head to it, carefully made. Once it has regained a head and sense, the ministers below will lay their hands on him, and take this twice dead Veled down below.”

And his companions agreed with his wisidom, the ten of them armed with bolas and net, with tridents and harpoons. These, they believed, would fix themselves into it’s wounds. Even as the beast healed, the chains would wrap and bind its bones and muscle. The weight of imperial iron would hold it fast, with effort.

So they rode out, the eleven riders to meet with the great terror. Now it stood twenty feet tall—towering over hills as it crawled up the mountains. The body dimmly felt it’s old head, still hung from the banner of the Thunder King. It hurled stones as the riders appraoched, battering their path with boulders the size of men and horse sized clods of dirt. One struck a companions chest, smashing bones asunder. Another hit a companion’s steed, stumbling the horse over and killing both. Yet the nine remaining pursued the monster, who continued it’s howls of broken voices and danced as it had on a hundred fields of corpses.

They cut at the body. They drove nets of steel around its flesh. Whirling bolas wound around and around its limbs. The peakless mountain came tumbling down, limbs flayed and woven together. Yet still it pulled forward. It’s dance done, its hands climb the ground, its axe a great lever to heave it’s form. A companion drew close with a lance, but the hands of Veled caught it’s tip and pulled him screaming into his gapping maw. The remaining eight riders withdrew for a moment, content in having slowed the creature.

“We must move swiftly,” said Thun, wisest of the Thunder King’s riders. “I fear the nets are not as firm as it’s spirit. Mountain the head on a spear and drive it onto the neck—impose thought on the creature, before it turns its cage into armor.”

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So the Thunder King and his companions each took a spear. And each removed it’s tip, and replaced it instead with the head of a great statue, the stump facing forward. They made off without their horses—who were tired from the fighting and afraid of the great beast. So slowly, the four men and four women descended, each drawing closer to the clawing body of Veled.

Assaulting such a creature, who could not see or here, was difficult with. But ambushing them was remarkably easy. The first spear, by Thun, struck between the limbs and hit the throat. But it was too small! The idol’s head was swallowed whole, and Thun gave away his presence with the spear tip. So there was only seven companions as the body slunk up towards the Thunder Kings halls. Each in turn made their assault—but the heads of gods were ill fitting something so lawless. Some too small, some too big, some swallowed and some ignored. At last, only the Thunder King remained—and to him came a novel idea.

He discarded the head of stone he had brought, hurling it with great force. It came down on the back of Veled, startling it. The Thunder King fetched Veled’s old head, with it’s long hair and embalmed flesh. He wove the hair around the spear tip—making something like a mace as he approached. He swung it slowly, letting it whirl in the air. The body had grown vast—it was fifteen feet tall now. The head had shrunk with rot.

Still, he bounded forward, and brought flesh to flesh—the body knew the head. And as they became one, the chorus of summons from the underworld. They laid there hands on the life of Veled’s body, and pulled it down. And so the terror was ended, and so execution by beheading prohibited in the land of Peridun.



 

This story is back to the more mythic structure–I’ll figure out one day how to write a story that moves between more grounded and more fantastic, but for this prompt the mythical seemed more accurate and fitting.

Next week, in the heat of summer, we venture to the forgotten and dread time of winter–of frozen bodies and trapped times. Come and see what’s stuck under all that ice.

 

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Ashes to Ashes Dust To Dust

This Weeks Prompt:87. Borellus says, “that the Essential Salts of animals may be so prepared and preserved, that an ingenious man may have the whole ark of Noah in his own Study, and raise the fine shape of an animal out of its ashes at his pleasure; and that by the like method from the Essential Salts of humane dust, a Philosopher may, without any criminal necromancy, call up the shape of any dead ancestor from the dust whereinto his body has been incinerated.”

The Prior Research: Restored And Resurrected

I stood outside the old adobe building. A dust devil rolled by, the windows and door trembling as it passed. They seemed more commonly lately, but that could be just my mind betraying me. The old Crowe house had always been a bit windy, even when it’s owners were alive.

I checked the vials in my hands and took a deep breath. Three. I had three to pull it off—three bits of glimmering dust and oil. I tapped the aluminum baseball bat on my shoe, testing my nerves a bit before going in. The gate wasn’t locked—not that surprising all things considered. It wouldn’t need locks anymore.

The Crowe family got me and Alfred’s attention five years ago. You study enough medical folklore, looking for lost cures and bits of genius that the modern age had swept up, you start to come across patterns. Patterns that take you from wizard to drug dealer to old grandma. And one of those patterns brought us to the Crowes.

There’s a trend—a common one, you can probably found it around the corner—of supposed doctors who have miracle cures. Cancers a really common one. And in those cases, before you ask why isn’t in the news—well, because the good doctors don’t do it for money, and won’t share with companies that would. Most of the stories are crackpot nonsense. The Crowe’s were one of the more extreme though. They didn’t cure cancer—they cured death.

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Eliza Crowe has two obituraries, one from 1932 and one from a 1968. Printed in the same small paper, the two obituaries have the same details up for the first twelve years. That gave the stories of Louis Crowe having some sort of miracle cure more grounded—it spread around the house, and was easy to follow when we got here.

The fountain in the courtyard is covered in moss—stagnated without proper care. The water company had cut it off a while back, in preparation for the planned demolition. Electricity out too. As I walk up to the door, I hear glass crack. Looking up, I saw the shattered skylight, bit of glass still there. So, it was still here.

The door was locked—given it came and went from the ceiling, that wasn’t so surprising. Fortunately, the Crowe’s were predictable. Spare key in the potted plant. I mean, I guess a potted cactus is more secure then under the doormat. The heavy double doors open, and the remains of the living room are apparent. High ceiling, sitting area a small stair walk down. Couch was torn, some by a dog or coyote that’d wandered in, some by the actual issue. Four fan blades shot up from a shattered light.

There was stained cotton all over the floor, some giving away it’s footsteps. I listened for any movement in the house.

Nothing. I walked along the wall, passing the dining room towards the steps—there was noise. I turned quick, bat ready—and only flies. Flies buzzing around the dishes in the kitchen and on the table, some wasted away parts of food.

The Crowe’s didn’t keep much of their great grandfathers work, but they did know what we were on about. We talked for a bit, and the older Crowe says its all true—his mom not only died, she died in a fire. Louis Crowe was able to restore his mother from just ashes using a family secret. Of course, when asked why his mother had died anyway—albeit later—he shrugged and said his mother was a very righteous woman. She wanted to see her Lord in Heaven.

Of course, when we left, they hadn’t told us the secret recipe. I didn’t mind—odds were, it was some snake oil or something. That sort of selfless honesty—well, I could believe it of one or two generations of people, but a family? That never sold out a secret? No, not these days. You could make bank with that sort of thing, some black helicopter would have swept it up, surely.

Alfred didn’t think so. I really shouldn’t have been surprised, when he had that look in his eyes, that there was a break in to the house in another three weeks—and that the family vault had been broken open. Nothing missing, but the Crowe’s medicine book was open.

The stairs creek as I walk past stained and broken pictures of mountain landscapes. There’s a smashed imported tile scattered on the hallway threshold, the door still open. I have to be quiet now. Three vials and the bat is all I have. Three strikes, and I’ll be out. Hell, two and it’ll be over.

It sleeps during the day. Or at least, it doesn’t hunt in the light. People made it out during the night, the calls came during the night. The strange long limbs, the occasional eye, the crouching gargoyle that wasn’t on the church before.

One kid even told me that it spoke—the kid knew some old Greek, and thought he heard someone whispering old Homeric verses around the house one night. The kid followed the sound—the road was well lit, and he saw a tall man in an illfitting jacket and looking away, a hat on. The kid didn’t get close—smart, really, when the thing turned to face him.

All the kid would say was that he ‘didn’t look right’. The man’s face, looked weird. Droopy and strange.

The Crowe House

I didn’t see Alfred for six weeks—and he didn’t look good when he knocked on my office door. I looked up to see a haggard man standing there, bags under his eyes and skin now sickly pale-green. Before I said a word, he held a hand up.

Hey, long time no see, brought someone by,” he said quickly—and I heard the thwapping of a tale on the door. A small snout poked out, and then a jubliant ball of fluff jumped into my lap. I impulsively pet the corgi as Alfred took a seat and slumped down.

Great isn’t he?” Alfred said, cutting me off again. “He’s just as lively as when I was a kid.”

I paused a the corgi panted in my lap.

What do you mean when you were—Alfred, is this…?” I said, holding he’s head up in my hands.

Rocket, yeah.” Alfred said nodding. “Crowe’s formula works—its a miracle.”

…And he’s not like, a zombie? He seems…really friendly.” I said frowning. Rocket for his part titled his head at me and licked my nose.

No, no, nothing wrong with him as far as I can tell.”

…so what’s keeping you up at night? Took six weeks to make the formula?” I asked slowly. “I mean, why are…not calling me or emailing or…”

Well…” He looked at his ruined shoes.

Alfred, you look like shit, not like someone who solved the problem of dying.”

There’s a clay vase in our house.” He said slowly. “It’s old—like, before my grandparents came to the States old. No, like, before my grandparents grandparents moved to Greece old. I don’t know how old. It’s got some ashes in it, and I…I always wondered who’s they were. There was a picture on the top—they’d layered it over a few times, but it was portrait. I thought, you know, why not? Why not find out who this was?”

…Alfred, you didn’t…”

Alfred looked at his hands.

Well, see, I thought it might go wrong. Brought a few buddies over first, got everything ready, and figured five of us could take a startled and newly reborn person down. I hadn’t asked though, about the ashes. If they were human ashes.”

I stared as Alfred pulled out a handful of vials and a few pages.

I…I think it recognizes me. I know it does. I think it followed me, Andy. It followed me, and after me it’s going to try and find the book. I didn’t take the pages—I made photos. But I think it can read, and if it can read, it knows where I took those photos.” Alfred rambled, putting the crumpled papers and the vials on the desk. “I’m…I’m going back to the Crowe house tomorrow, with some things—some things that Louis said would put a man down. Down for good. But if I don’t do it, if I fuck it up, Andrew I need you to do it.”

I kept staring.

Keep Rocket safe, he’s a good dog, I just—I fucked this up and I need to get things sorted okay.”

I nodded.

You should get help if your in a bad place.” I said slowly.

A bad place? A bad place? Listen—I gotta go. If it knows I’m here, it might go after you, and—look, keep Rocket, I’ll be back for him if I can.”

Alfred didn’t come back. The police came by my apartment the next day—Rockets barking let me know. Alfred had been seen, of course, leaving my office at the university. He’d shown up, body badly mangled. A week before his funeral, someone broke into the Crowe’s house. When I got back down to the desert, cats were going missing every night.

CroweHouse2.png

I wasn’t completely clear on what Alfred had woken up. But his writing, panicked at the end, made it clear he was worried it’d find the formula Louis had made…and that it would wake more of it’s kind from ashes around the world. That “a once long lost horror might again walk the world unawares”.

Purple prose to the end.

It’s lying on the bed at the end of the hall—a nest of piled beds. Up close, the sunlight illuminated stretched flesh that shuddered and shivered. Its limbs changed—folding into and out of each other, blurring together. A squat head on top of it, like clay crudely molded into a human form. Two eyes, then four, all resting. It looked peaceful, as I opened the first vial.

The eyes burst open as I poured the vial out on its torso. It let out a howl and started to move—I swung the bat, again and again. It screamed. It aged, skin tightening and tearing.

I opened the second vial with my mouth, as the thing struggled to wake up and shake off the blows to the skull. The noise grew worse with the second vial—its flesh sloughing off as it howled. Organs pulsed beneath a thin paper veil of flesh. It was close, it was fading—it was pitiful really. Feeble hands reaching up to stop me.

I beat them down with my bat, and smashed the third vial.

I watched as it, howling and groaning, turned to ash and dust. Leaving not but a few small cat bones in the middle.


 

This story went through a few drafts, and I’m happy with the current set up. I never was able to nail down exactly what the monster was, or even what it looked like–and so the ending kind of falls flat I feel. Still, I am proud of the idea of reviving an alien horror unintentionally–in a longer story or with more time, I think it could have been delievered more effectively.

Next week! We begin looking at the folklore and horror found in one particular US state!

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