Through the Looking Glass

This Week’s Prompt: 118. Something seen at oriel window of forbidden room in ancient manor house.

The Resulting Story:

I think Mr. Lovecraft must have had a strange architectural road trip, given the number of stories that have focused on being stuck in a home and seeing horrible monsters and sights—and checking his timeline, March 1924 was when he moved in with his girlfriend to New York. Which is around the time this prompt is recorded.

Unlike the last few times of circling haunted houses and locked basements, I thought I would look into the specific nature of windows. Windows in many places act as points of entry for unbidden and unwanted spirits. Vampires and foul creatures fly into the homes here, and so they are often critical to protect. Some examples of strange windows that I found include a common architectural design in Vermont, the witches window.

This window, placed at an angle, was supposedly used by witches to fly out of…or to remove coffins from the second story. The windows are placed at an angle, to catch a witch flying—she can’t enter, because the windows would catch the broomstick. This example might be catch Lovecraft’s eye, given his interest in architecture and witches and New England. The validity of such a window being ‘to catch witches’ seems…unlikely, given that it is not the only window in the house. Likewise, a coffin going up the stairs is unlikely—it seems more likely a  body would be brought be back down.

A more fearsome example would be Black Annis—a hag, with a blue face and iron claws. Black Annis was known for eating pets, children, and sheep. She was entirely nocturnal, and would no doubt be a terrifying and fearsome creature. Except she had a habit of grinding her long, white teeth against each other.  This gave everyone time to bolt their doors and run inside—and in fact, windows in the area are too small for the hag to enter. Fire was often located near the windows for the same intention, as when fire was too far from the window she would reach in and steal children. And if both of these failed, the grinding could be heard from five miles away—giving time for farmers to place herbs and skins over the windows

A more fantastic story comes from Grimm. There once was a princess who every day would visit the top of a tower with twelve windows to look through.  From these windows she could see anything in the kingdom. From the first window, she could see more distinctly than any other human in the world. Further, each window made her window sharper and sharper until the twelfth window. Being a haughty princess of such supreme skill, she insisted that she would be married to no man unless he could hide from her view—and further, that if a man should try to hide and fail, he would be beheaded and his head stuck on a pike. Ninety-nine men took such a risk, and lined the castle walls.  Three brothers decided to try their luck. The first hid in a limepit and…well, was found instantly, beheaded, and stuck on a pike. The second hid in a cellar was seen from the second window, beheaded, and stuck on a pike. The youngest begged that he be given three chances instead of one—and he was so handsome and charming, that the princess agreed to his terms.

The brother meditated on how to succeed, and thinking of nothing else he went hunting. He spied a raven, raised his gun, and was about to shoot. The raven cried out that he would help the youngest brother if he was spared.  He went down to a lake saw a large fish—and the same scene repeated. And so on with a fox.

The next day, he set out to hide—and asked the Raven for help. And the raven thought for a time, and opened up an egg shell, and placed the youth inside it. And this went well—it took the princess until the eleventh window to see him. And she had the raven shot and warned the man that he had two more chances.

Then the man went to the fish. The fish swallowed the man and went to the bottom of the lake, and there hid from the princess. And this time, it took until the twelfth window for the princess to spot him. And she had the fish killed, and warned the youth again. One more chance, she said—no doubt nervous—that he had one more attempt.

And then the man went to the fox. The fox took the man to a spring, and bathed in it’s waters—and became a stall-merchant. The youth washed himself, and became a sea hare. And the merchant that was a fox took the hare that was a youth and displayed him to the whole town. And the beauty of the youth was carried over to the hare, and all the town came to see—including, in time, the princess. And the fox warned the youth—when she goes to look at the window, climb into her braids.

In case, like me, you’d imagined a sea hare as an adorable fish-bunny.

The princess did buy the sea hare, and took him up to the tower. And as she failed to see him in every window, she slammed the window shut with so much force that it broke every one of the windows and shook the castle. Feeling the sea-hare in her hair, she tossed it in a rage and shouted for it to get out of her sight. So the hare that was the youth obliged and ran back to the merchant that was a fox—and the two became themselves again. And the youth thanked the fox, that he truly knew how to hide. And came home, married the princess, and became king. Never once did he tell her how he accomplished all of this, so she believed he had done so by his own talents and respected him. A rather dastardly end, I suppose.

The Formorians, who’s king Balor had a baleful eye.

A few stories from Ireland caught my attention with windows when I went digging. Some are versions of stories I’m unfamiliar with—such as suggesting that Balor gained his evil eye from witnessing the creation of a poison by sorcerers through a window. The witnessed poison infected Balor’s eyesight. A host of dreadful monsters likewise seeks to enter homes through the west windows—ones that may be the restless and numerous dead or something far worse, depending on the origin. These Sluagh resemble great hosts of blackbirds, and seek at night to steal the souls of the dead before last rites. They were sometimes once people, sometimes merely monstrous fae. Their battles caused not only terror, but death and plague—they might sweep a mortal up with them to sow havoc and despair throughout the land. Clearly, not guests one wants to receive.

I know there is also a tale from Lorraine, France of a window that holds victims still…but sadly, I cannot find a translation of the story to know much beyond that (and I know that only from the myth motif index. That said, I think we have quite a bit to work with here. A window is something that lets eyes in and out, and has all the implications of ‘witnessing’ that implies.  And given the imagery of the prompt—an oriel window, looking out and over a plain, a street, or something else from above—I think that is the crux of the story. Something our narrator has witnessed.

Perhaps it is another place—another time. An alien world or a past time or something else that leaves a ghastly impression. The house or room sits on the edge and only the window can see into the other side. I have not yet read House on the Borderlands, but that seems a wide space to explore. The Aleph, by Borges, delves into the power to view far away vistas and strange places deeply.

There is of course the idea that seeing something changes you—that perhaps seeing something lets that thing see you. That vision is a two way process, and while God may have shut the door…perhaps he opened the wrong window. Things seeping in, leaking in through a window from the beyond seems like a fascinating story in it of itself.  

Windows are ways to observe the world, and I am fascinated by the idea of a set of windows that show something or somewhere more precisely—allowing one to see new and strange vistas, each it’s own little story. That concept is perhaps too long for what we are given here, but perhaps for another time.

Bibliography

Briggs, Katharine Mary. An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. Pantheon Books, 1978.

Spence, Lewis. The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain. Kessinger Pub., 1999.

“Grimm’s Household Tales, Volume 2/The Sea-Hare.” Grimm’s Household Tales, Volume 2/The Sea-Hare – Wikisource, the Free Online Library, en.wikisource.org/wiki/Grimm’s_Household_Tales,_Volume_2/The_Sea-Hare.

Noyes, Amy Kolb. “What’s The History Of Vermont’s ‘Witch Windows’?” Vermont Public Radio, Vermont Public Radio, 2017, http://www.vpr.org/post/whats-history-vermonts-witch-windows.

Religion, / Atlantic. “’Sluagh Sidhe’ and ‘Hidden Folk’ – the Host of Souls.” The Atlantic Religion, 9 May 2014, atlanticreligion.com/2013/08/17/sluagh-sidhe-and-hidden-folk-the-host-of-souls/.

Spence, Lewis. The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain. Kessinger Pub., 1999.

The Family Business

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

The Prior Research: The Beast Must Feed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He turned back to the door.

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

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

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


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

The Beast Must Feed

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

The Resulting Story: The Family Business

This prompt resembles another prompt we covered some time ago, about secret rooms in castles and homes. There might be some overlap in what we discuss here and what was touched upon there. There is the creature of Glamis Castle we discussed then—a monstrous, vampiric or amphibian offspring that was kept in a secret chamber apart from humanity. There was the strange beast that guarded the castle Orlando fought. Both of these strange monsters lurk in secret around the castle, but they are not so often described as being “fed”.

For that, the first creature or entity that came to mind was  a spirit from Chinese folklore—a gu . This is a creature, often a centipede, that is created by trapping a number of poisonous insects and animals in a jar, and waiting to see which one emerged victorious. This creature is the most venomous, having absorbed the venom of all the dead creatures it has killed. These creatures could appear, disappear, cause lights to appear, infect food and drink, and in some cases control the souls of dead victims. They resemble all sorts of insects and toads and serpents. More pressingly for us, they were able to shift a victims wealth to the sorcerer who created them. In many stories, this monstrous spirit had an appetite that had to be maintained, so that the family’s prosperity could continue.

Symbols for the Gu poison and Jincan (Golden Silkworm, a related creature)

A comparable sort of spirit was documented in Wales. Some of them are more akin to ghosts, but one knight by the name of Sir David Llwyd had a familiar spirit bound in a great book. He once left home without taking the book with him, and realizing his mistake, sent a servant home to fetch the book. The child, curious as young boys are, opened the book after which the spirit appeared and demanded orders. The boy, in shock, told the spirit to go and toss stones into the river—and the spirit obeyed, filling the air with stones the boy had to dodge, until the river was full. Then, it came back demanding more orders—and so the boy in desperation asked the stones be thrown back where they came from. Luckily, this delay in the books delivery has caught Sir David’s attention and he arrives on the scene, commanding the devil back into the book, ending the chaos as he closes it.  While this demon required no feeding, it is in need of constant  supervision.

Sometimes, these hideous beings do not wait to be bound, but instead bind another.  A lady in the woods was apparently infamous for this behavior, bewitching a man named Einion with illusions such that his wife, Angharad, seemed a decayed old hag, and the spirit the most beautiful of women. He split their wedding ring in two when he departed with the spirit, taking half the golden ring with him. As he wondered under her spell, he by chance looked under his ring, and saw on the horizon that which he desired most. He decided then to put the half the ring under his eyelid to see that spot forever—and while he was trying to do so, a man in white with a staff rode up to him. Hearing his plight, the man offered to take him back to his wife. When Einion got on and looked behind him, he did not see the Lady of the Woods, but only vast hoof prints in the ground. The man in white asked if he wished to see the Lady of the Woods, handing him his staff with which to see the goblin. And the Lady of the Woods was a horrifying repulsive witch of great size. As he screamed, the man cast his robe over him, and took them both to the hill near Trevelir.

The Lady in the Woods, meanwhile, had taken on the shape of a young knight and made love to Angharad—having told her that Einion was dead. And they prepared to marry, as the Lady of the Woods promised to make her the most noble woman in Wales. At the wedding, where everyone had gathered, there was a contest to play  a harp that Einion had left behind, the best harp in Wales. None could play the harp, but at last Einion arrived—appearing to his wife as a decrepit old man—and offered to play. And this won Angharad’s heart, although she could not break the illusion—even with the ring restored. So Einion granted her the staff and she saw the goblin’s true shape. After she was revived from fainting, the illusion ended, the banquet and pageantry vanished, and they returned to happy lives.

A more classical beast in the castle story comes to us from Italy. Here, we have a lady with only one son. Oh how she loved her son. Once, while her son and his companions were out hunting, she was visited by a strange lady. The lady asked to put her horses up with the ladies—who refused, as her horses would mix with no others. As she turned to leave, however, her son and his companions returned. The mysterious woman was in fact a fairy—and she bewitched the entire company to become satyrs. Satyrs, brutish and monstrous until the lady could find one who would marry him as he was.  In the meantime, he and his companions had to stay in the stables away from home.

As  his mother failed to find marriage in the land, the prince waited in the stables for rescue. And espied one day, in the gardens near the stables, the daughter of a duke. With a hand he beckoned her over, because like most satyrs he had the upper body of a man and the lower body of a goat. She drew near, but seeing his form, was disgusted and ran off.

The next day the same pattern repeated, as he asked if she wished him well and she protested she did not despite her approaches. The narrator informs us that she cannot yet say she loves him, and in fact goes to her mother about the affair. The mother warns her daughter to stay away from the monsters, and she does so for a month—before at last returning. The prince entreats her so sweetly that she is moved—or perhaps it is his promise of suicide if she rejects him. At last, she say she wishes him well—and at last the fairy comes forth and breaks the spell.

Which I admit confuses me, as the fairy swore only when he was wed would the curse be lifted. I suppose the prince was especially fortunate his fairy was fickle.

King Zahak is a more royal example of a hidden hunger. A man of spectacular charisma, but little self control and wisidom, the devil Ahriman advised him to murder his own father and become king of Arabia. Then, the same devil became his cook—and an excellent one at that! For his service, Zahak asked the cook what gift he would want. And the cook asked only to kiss Zahak twice—on each shoulder. Zahak allowed it, and from the kisses sprang two black serpents who attacked and bit at Zahak. The cook took his leave, not seen again as Zahak struggled with this curse. The snakes could not be cut free—they simply regrew whenever they were cut off. Eventually, a doctor came—again Ahirman in disguise—and revealed to Zahak that the only cure for his affliction was to eat a dish prepared with the brains of two men. And so, Zahak turned to grotesque cannibalism.

Zahak, consulting about those snakes

In time, the Emperor of Iran fell out of favor with the people. Zahak arrived to them as a savior, and with a great army drove out the emperor, chasing him down and eventually executing him by sawing him in half. However, his hunger did not abate. His agents find two men each day to give him. Two heroic men, Armayel and Garmayel, seek to rescue these victims by becoming royal cooks and replacing one of the human brains with brains of a sheep. The saved man was sent away to the mountains to live.  In time, after centuries of tyranny, Zahak was overthrown—but that is a story for another time.

Comparable in some ways to Zahak, but also to Bluebeard, is the story of Prince White Pig. Here a boy traveling on a road insults an old fairy while traveling. For this, he is cursed to be a pig by day (although the most handsome prince by night, which…I’m unsure such curses work as intended). His father builds a stone enclosure for him to live in. The prince decides to marry, and a bride is found. Of course, when the pig-groom who has spent all day wallowing goes to kiss her, she slaps him back. The prince than devours her. And a second bride, who undergoes the same ‘trial’. The third bride is kind to him, and thus lives long enough to see his handsome princely nature by night. She must not reveal this fact about her husband, however, or she will need a steel dress and steel shoes to find him again.

Of course, to the surprise of none, the taunting of her mother becomes too much and she reveals at last the real nature of her husband.  Eventually, with the aid of fairies, she finds that her husband is back to being a prince and about to marry a princess.  With the help of a servant, she saves her husband from the princess who was drugging him every night. After they speak, they go to the king, who lets them leave as husband and wife.

Which, I mean, he did eat two other human beings for slapping him, I’m not sure he’s exactly husband material.

There is also of course the  ancient Minotaur. For those unfamiliar with the story, Poseidon once sent King Minos a snow white bull as confirmation of his king ship—on the condition that it be sacrificed to the Earthshaker. King Minos, however, found the bull to beautiful to sacrifice and kept it. In revenge, the god of the sea made the queen Pasiphae fall in love with the bull—and the queen had the inventor Daedalus devise a way for her to make love to the bull. The result of this was the Minotaur, half man and half bull.

The minotaur was a fierce being and, being neither man nor beast, had no natural source of nourishment. So he fed upon human flesh, and thus had to be contained. Daedalus was again employed to create a labyrinth to contain the monster, and every seven years offerings, Athenian youths were offered to the beast. 

There seems to be a common line with these monsters however. These creatures that demand blood and must be imprisoned give or are correlated to an ascent to power. Zahak receives power from Ahriman—and receives his hunger from Ahriman. The bull secures Minos’s kingship…and brings the Minotaur. The gu demon brings wealth but also threatens the family and is used to feed on the populace. Even the pig and satyr princes derive from uses of power and rudeness—and in the case of the pig, turn literally from man-eating monster into heroic prince like night and day. Sir David’s familiar granted him extreme power and knowledge—even if it cost him his curacy—and the lady of the woods took the shape of noble ladies and knights in her travels.

To keep the old power alive, the old monster must be fed sounds like the basis for a gothic horror story indeed. We will see what sort of monster dwells in the old house next time…but until then. What stories of beasts in the basement have you heard?

Bibliography

Busk, Rachel Harriette, 1831-1907. Roman Legends: a Collection of the Fables And Folk-lore of Rome. Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1877.

Carrière, Joseph Médard. Tales From the French Folk-lore of Missouri. Evanston: Northwestern university, 1937.

Pang, Carolyn. “Uncovering ‘Shikigami’: The Search for the Spirit Servant of Onmyōdō.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, vol. 40, no. 1, 2013, pp. 99–129. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41955532. Accessed 25 Aug. 2020.

Sikes, Wirt, 1836-1883. British Goblins: Welsh Folk Lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends And Traditions. Boston: J.R. Osgood, 1880.

St. Andrew’s Day

This Week’s Prompt: 105. Vampire visits man in ancestral abode—is his own father.

The Prior Research:Romanian Vampires

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

Robert Dellsworth nearly dozing when he heard the knocking at his door. A man of his middling thirties, overworked from his office in town, he was slow to answer. Donning whatever clothes were nearby, at three in the morning, he finally made his way to the door. The infernal knocking door.

“Coming, coming! What in God’s name—” Robert began, before the sight cut through his thoughts. His father stood at the doorstep, for the first time in twenty-three years. There was silence on the November air.

“Can I come in?” Geoffrey Dellsworth said softly. In a daze, Robert stepped aside, gesturing for the man to come in. The wind whipped behind him, closing the door.

“I’m sorry, but you…you resemble an old relation of mine. But that can’t be. Please, why are you waking me up at such a late hour?” Robert said, the fire in the chimney crackling to life as his father knelt near it.

“It is no mere resemblance, Rob.” The man said, sighing as he stood and looked around the old Dellsworth entrance. “You removed my portrait.”

“Again, that can’t be. I know, certainly, that you can’t be him.” Robert said, his voice shaking. “He is long dead—or best be. When my mother died, he was no where to be seen, and never once did I hear of his inheritance or advice for two thirds my life. It would be nonsense to come back now. No, no, please sir, do not maintain this charade.”

“Hm. You seem unwell. Perhaps we should sit, and discuss this over tea?” Geoffrey said, walking into the kitchen. “You know my favorite I hope?”

TeaKettleBoiling

The whistle of the tea kettle did little to the silence. Robert studied the man, his father. He had grown a longer beard, but his face was the same—as if wandering free from a dream. His eyes the same warm brown hue, details he’d forgotten but seemed to fit. A small scar on his cheek. A spot above his eyebrow.

“You can’t be him. But if you are Geoffrey Dellsworth, why are you here? Why now? Why not ten years ago? Twenty?” Robert said, voice straining. “Do you know what happened when you left? The rumors that went round me and mother? What it did to her?”

“It was better than staying around long.” Geoffrey said, another flicker of wind striking the ground, scattering dust. “It was better, I had hoped, for you for me to be gone some. I hope you have not made things too good for yourself.”

“Too good? Oh don’t worry about that now. Not now.” Robert hissed. “I’ve made things plenty good without you. I had to leave town for studies, I had to work long hours and burn what little inheritance I had. But I’ve made things plenty good.”

“Have you now?” Geoffrey asked with raised eyebrow.

“Go around and ask someone else at three in the morning what the Dellsworth name is!” Robert said standing. “Go and ask any of the business men I financed, the charities I’ve run, the poet’s I’ve given patronage, the people I’ve fought for in court. Go and ask them if it’s the specter of your sordid past that looms over this house! I’ve fought for that, making things too good for me!”

Geoffrey was silent. His ears seemed to prick up, and a slow sigh escaped his lips.

“So. Why. Why now?” Robert said, slumping back in the chair. “What do you want? Money? A place to hide from some new family you’ve made overseas? What?”

“No, Robert, nothing like that.” Geoffrey said, shaking his head. “No, no. I’ve come for you. For your own sake.”

“Oh that’s—”

“You’ve said your piece. Now I will say mine.” Geoffrey cut in. “I wish I could say I regret leaving your mother all those years ago. But I knew it wouldn’t be for the best. I am…not an easy man to get along with, even in the best of cases. That isn’t why though.”

A wind blew again…but this time, something flicked up by his father’s side. It was a strange shape, but gone in an instant.

Demeneted Wolf Skull

“No, no that isn’t why.” Geoffrey repeated, clicking his tongue against teeth—teeth that looked all the sharper. “My long shadow is more than a shadow Robert—It’s true, what they said. I killed my wife in Ellingston. And my daughter, and my son, and my brother, and my cousin, and my niece, and my nephew. And I knew, if I stayed too long, I might do the same to you.”

“…Is that…” Robert stood and pointed at the shape, gone in a moment. Geoffrey’s back seemed hunched, his head longer and his teeth like needles for a moment—and then it was gone.

“So I left, without warning, hoping to spare you that fate. But I knew as well that one day I would have to come back. You’ve got the same blood. That is how it is with us.  We live our lives, as best we can. But the old blood, the hungry blood, it wakes up eventually. If we are lucky, like I was, it wakes when we die. But not always. It wakes, it feeds, it sleeps, it wakes. And it will wake in you.”

“…You’re a vampire.” Robert said, staring at Geoffery. “Is that it? You left because…what, because you thought you’d attack my mother? Attack me?”

“I left because I knew I would. I could feel it. Growing, more and more demanding. You’ll get used to it, you’ll learn to keep it under control and leave when you must.” Geoffery said, nodding. “That’s why I came back. You need to leave, soon. Walk the world. Learn how to handle yourself. I had hoped…but I hear others breathing here.”

Robert’s face went pale and his blood became ice. His wife and two children were upstairs—they were heavy sleepers, as was he usually. But the last few nights he had trouble sleeping, waking often and early.

“You’ll hurt them if you stay.” Geoffrey said calmly. “Worse than I could hurt you—you’ll kill them if you stay. For their sake, Rob, you should leave.”

“There’s got to be another way to…even if what you say is true, there’s another way to deal with this than running off, ruining everything I’ve had. I’ve already done better than you once, I’ll fix this mess to.” Robert said, voice shaking.

“You can try.” Geoffrey said standing. “You can fight, you can struggle—but you’ll only make it worse. Wolves must feed on sheep—and that is what you and I are, Rob. Wolves and worse. It hasn’t come yet—I can see in your eyes, its still sleeping. It’s there, the old blood never fails. Never has.”

Stone Coffins

“You think-you think you can just come in here and tell me what I’ll be? Get out of my house!” Robert said standing up. “Get you and your so-called advice out of my house! I have worked to hard and long to scrub your stain out of the family name to believe this, any of this!”

Geoffrey nodded and stood, adjusting his coat slightly.

“Well. It will come soon. And when it does, I will be waiting in Ellington. We can drink to ease the pain.” He said, with a toothy grin. “Enjoy your fight—every inch of ground you’ll end up giving. Every twitch, every glance, every drop of blood. It’ll be worth it, I’m sure.”

Without a word, he vanished like dissipating mist.

Robert was alone again. Shaking to pour a cup of tea—a bit splashed onto his hand. He hissed and impulsively brought it to his mouth. Had his teeth always been that sharp?



This story took a number of revisions to get right, both in character and in structure. It ended up getting into some potentially heavy subjects—but that seems to be the nature of horror stories about family and folklore. I’m fond of it and unlike most of my stories I don’t think it needs much expansion—refinement, rewording, and so on but no really extra scenes or the like.

Next week, we’ll be returning to the classic night terror, and discussing why you can’t sleep at night! See you then!

I’d be remiss not to mention that we discussed the fate of a very different vampire—a blood drinking dragon who could appear as a man—here on my Patreon, for 5 dollar patrons. You can get monthly research and stories, for five or one dollar each starting today!

 

 

The Old Castle on the Hill

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

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

The Resulting Story: Ghosts, Presences, and More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Next week! Something hungers!

Please consider helping if you can.

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

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

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

Ghosts, Presences, and More

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

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

The Resulting Story: The Old Castle On The Hill

This weeks research brings us again into dark and unknown places that are at once somewhat familiar—the castle at night, being navigated perhaps by a mere lit candle. The stories of hauntings are numerous, and we’ve covered similar stories before here and here and here.  Today, we will be looking at a bit more of an eclectic set of stories that strike me as relevant. Haunted houses and castles are, to be frank, rather rote. So what caught my attention this time?

Mongelvin Castle

Well one such story, perhaps the most mundane but most striking, comes from a penny paper in Dublin. Here we are told about an old castle that is haunted—the specifics of the haunting are recorded as the result of superstition. We are told that a young man came into employment of Mongelvin castle, in County Donegal. The paper notes that, one winter, he was told by a passing fellow that the house was haunted. Specifically, strange forms moved in the night and screams of pain and agony were heard in the night. Every movement in the castle and every sound then became to signs of the supernatural to the young man. Every breeze over the broken roof, a howl of pain. Every play of the light or shadow, a phantasm or monstrous figure. At last, he went home one morning and begged to leave his employment.  His family thought this was an excuse, and sent him back.

Sadly, the fate of the young man is predictable. Perhaps he too now haunts that castle. There is something to the nature of ghosts, driving men mad and thus perhaps multiplying their numbers.

Taking a step to the more fantastic, in Clare county a number of ancient fortresses are haunted by shapeless forces. These forces are sometimes called horned, and unlike the madness ghost of Mongelvin, they take a more direct approach to murder. These creatures often are active in winter nights (as our ghost or superstition above was, perhaps a common trend when nights grow longer).  Clare county also has haunted castles—some that have divisions of yellow dragoons (which! Might be the source of Lovecraft’s Yellow Dragons that I discussed…here. God, where has the time gone?) still running their practice drills. Rosslara Castle is haunted in an eerie way, with strange shapes that fly out at night, whispers and laughs and rustling in the hedges.

Carriagholt Castle, where the yellow dragoons and Lord Clare have been seen.

An inhuman inhabitant lurks in another house on the island of Wallasea. This house was supposedly commissioned by the Devil himself, who hurled a beam into the air and declared the house to be raised where it landed. A witch’s familiar called this place home, and showed its displeasure with new inhabitants by beating its large wings to frighten them off. It’s favorite room it made freezing cold, and often it took on a variety of appearances to scare it’s victims. Once it appeared as a great ape, and drove a man to suicide with its harassment. Another time, it appeared as a mere mouse.  The house was destroyed in World War 2, and to my amusement appears to have belonged originally to a man named Daville.

Moving to the more fantastic, there is a story from Japan regarding Minister Kibi. Minister Kibi is sent from Japan to China as an envoy to the Tang. However, the Chinese grow jealous of his intellect and talent and seize him. They lock him in a great tower, where prisoners die over night, hoping to put an end to his career. It turns out, the cause of death is an oni—one born of the dead and restless soul of Minister Abe no Nakamaro, who was starved to death in the tower under similar circumstances. The oni, however, simply wants to know the fate of his descendants in Japan. Minister Kibi no Makibi informs the oni, and gains knowledge of the Chinese’s coming tests and aid in fooling them in exchange. Eventually, he wins his way home after the oni appears to devour the sun and moon, and the living minister threatens to keep the land in darkness.

Abe no Nakamaro,

Why have I focused on haunted places? After all, this story merely requires a castle, darkness, and strange locales. Why not some of those locales that change places or move across worlds? Like Brazil, an island I’ve discussed here that appears and disappears depending on the season, or the many lands of fae. And the answer is—well, partially the answer is I am reserving those for inevitable discussion of other dimensions and invasions from unseen worlds. Those are still coming, if I recall correctly. The other reason, however, is that this does remind me of a specific Lovecraft story. A story of a man who knows nothing of the world beyond his decrepit manor, except what he reads in books. Until he finds a collapsed opening in the ceiling and climbs outside—to arrive in a graveyard, from below.

The castle that is dark and full of strange locations, prowled by some strange and unseen force, feels closer to that place of darkness and the dead than most places of wonder. It reminds me, yes, of another very specific building, but let’s leave that house behind. Focusing on the present, the ghost stories I found attracted my attention not just for their spread, but because of their often inhuman or uncertainty human inhabitants. The oni and familiar and “strange things” stick out to me as still hauntings, even if the nature of the haunting thing is unclear. The overlap between worlds here seems perhaps more than just the past back to haunt the present as a concrete and human figure.

We are, after all, going to see strange and alien sights. Why not strange and alien dead? Often ghosts, and I admit this approach is common here, are confrontations with past traumatic events. Usually ones that stain a place, a community, that are violent and terrible that they are metaphorically and literally felt decades or centuries later. But I think we can postulate further, into the fear and uncertainty that is death—that is dying. Less on the scars that dying leaves, but more on the nature of death as a lurking, heavy thing that follows us steadily through our lives. A thing that is ultimately unknowable, who’s form is mutable, and which resists our attempts to make it like us and therefore make it knowable.

I read a comic (here) that once presented a similar fear of death. That death, unlike many spirits and forces of the world, resisted being woven easily into stories and thus resisted form and understanding. And when it did appear, separate from fear, it appeared not as a man but as an insectile thing, small and dark. Resisted the becoming something that was easily discussed or cast away. I’m not sure that is truly the case—it is hard, with the Grim Reaper such a strong symbol and one of many many such symbols in the world, to call death formless.

Our story, I think, will follow someone trying to make sense of this home they live in. This home that they cannot open the doors of, but that sheds light onto many strange and sometimes wonderous places. A home they are not alone in, but who’s other inhabitants they cannot see—I considered “who cannot see them” but that seems to lean strongly towards the twist of the Outsider, which I’d rather avoid—but that they can precieve by other mean. Sounds, moved objects, odors even, reflections of the uncanny. Why are they here? Why can’t they leave? What is this palce, this perverse and morbid Aleph, this place between places?

Those are all questions we will answer…perhaps…next time.

What hauntings by the inhumane do you know of?

Bibliography

J. A. H. “Mongevlin Castle, County of Donegal.” The Dublin Penny Journal, vol. 4, no. 186, 1836, pp. 240–240. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30003540. Accessed 11 Aug. 2020.

Maple, Eric. “Witchcraft and Magic in the Rochford Hundred.” Folklore, vol. 76, no. 3, 1965, pp. 213–224. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1258588. Accessed 11 Aug. 2020.

Reider, Noriko T. Seven Demon Stories from Medieval Japan. University Press of Colorado, 2016. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1g04zg4. Accessed 11 Aug. 2020.

Thos. J. Westropp. “A Folklore Survey of County Clare (Continued).” Folklore, vol. 21, no. 3, 1910, pp. 338–349. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1253861. Accessed 11 Aug. 2020.

Please consider helping if you can.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between Two Waterfalls

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

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

The Prior Research: Waterfalls

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

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

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

And then it stopped.

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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Marshlights

This Week’s Prompt: 114. Death lights dancing over a salt marsh.

The Prior Research:Death Lights on the Marshland

My mother told me this story, which her grandmother told her. The fens on the other side of the wood, down the hills from us, have never been lived in. Everyone asks, when they get old enough to ask questions but still young enough to expect answers, why we avoid the fens. Surely, going through the old marsh would be faster than around. Especially in the Summer, when it was dried out.

They would tell us then of George, Geffoery and Gerald—three hunters that were out in the woods near the fens. They were well off men, the kind who could afford to spend their summer chasing a stag through the woods. It was a lucky day, despite the fog. Gerald had consulted an almanac for the weather before, and George had asked a local woman how the winds would be. So they set out into the fogged wood, with their hounds and their guns, looking for a stag or dear or bunny.

Yet they found nothing as they searched—not even a sparrow was in the woods for the day. The dogs were confused, barking and chasing shadows. Still, the three persisted in the woods, and out onto the empty fen. And it was there, among the grasses, that the dogs started barking—and soon gave chase into the high grasses and bleakness.

The three hunters turned to run another, and raced after their hounds. They had not seen such eager dogs on the dry fens.  There was little that lived there, except rabbits and birds. But they followed the dogs, chasing and shouting after them encouragingly until at last they saw a deer running ahead, their hounds darting behind it. The creature’s horns were the most beautiful ivory white, like someone took down the moon and put it around its head like a halo.

The white-eared deer ran in circles round the fen, round and round. Round and round. But they could not catch the starling beauty, and night was fast upon them.  So the three paused, alone on the fen that night, and turned to one another.

“I will go home—the stag is fine, but we have lost her.” George said, lighting his lantern.

“No, no I can hear the dogs barking—we are not far yet from the stag. And think of those horns!” Gerald said, shaking his head and lighting his. “I will chase it, if I have help. The fen is not so big that we could get lost.”

“Ah, I will help then.” Geoff said, taking up his lantern. “We can follow the strange thing across the fogs and mists until morning—then we must retire. I cannot spend two days hunting one deer, no matter how wondrous.”

And so, they parted ways, on the misty marshland—two chasing the strange deer, one wiser and heading home. But it mattered little—for through out the night, the mist grew in every way. The sky grew heavy with clouds as Gerald looked for a way home. The rain began to rumble as George and Geoffery found their prey. And at last, the fen flooded—faster and with greater vigor than it had ever in the past. And all three men were swallowed, their dogs too, leaving only their flickering lanterns to float on the waters. On misty nights in the fens, you can see the three men still sometimes—Gerald trying to climb the hill to the forest for safety, Geoffery and George still racing in the marshland, the sound of dogs still barking.

And that was the story I was told about the fen. As a child, I at first could never dream of someone walking in such a haunted place. But as I became a teen, and less likely to believe my elders, I wandered into the woods and marsh on mist-filled nights. It was a rite of passage, marking the end of pre-teens, to go and see the lights. Or rather, the lack there of.

No one I knew saw the lights, the deer, or anything of the sort. Some saw fire flies, some saw rabbits. But it was an empty fen. So, when it was my time, I had little to fear. I was coming back from a trip the next town over, and with some ceremony I said I’d take a short cut through the foggy fens. There was some laughing at my dramatics as I headed out, tipsy and confident, to see cross over back home again.

It was a full moon that night. There was nothing but the sound of grasshoppers and the small flicker of fire flies. And the sound, the squishing sticking sound, of mud sticking to my steps. I stumbled home, torch in hand and coughing from the effort of walking in something like a straight line. It was then, on the edge of the fen, that I saw it.

It was bigger than I thought it ought to be. It was big for a deer, like a moose more than a little scared thing. An elk I guess, red as blood and with sickly glowing horns. Now I’ve not seen many a stag or elk. I don’t hunt, I stay from the woods usually, and their skittish things. But I know horn. And those were so smooth. Looked like someone froze milk into a steel mold.

It stomped a foot at me, spooking me back a bit. I know people who get punch happy with some liquid courage, but that isn’t for me. Thing was tall as me, and horns looked dangerous. I stumbled back, held my hand up as it watched me. Kept my hands where it could see me as I shuffled and tripped over a rock. I heard a thud of bounding legs, and for half a second expect the thing to trample me in a moment of weakness. Yeah, I know elk or deer or moose or whatever, big horned things don’t eat meat. But still, out of it like that, I swore it would take an arm off. I mean, you know horses think fingers are carrots, right? What do I know.

Hands around my head I shouted, and felt a shadow over me—like walking through a cold patch. When I opened my eyes, I turned about to see what I’d been missing.  I stared down into the mists, where the horns still shone, dancing away as it bounded. I knew then and there I could chase it if I wanted—and maybe, if I was quick, I’d catch it. And they were amazing horns.

But I saw them then. Two at first, then three, then four—then a dozen or more, dancing lights, flickering in and out of view. They chased after, dancing from place to place. Only one stood steady, far away—small like a star.  I stumbled and tripped and chased that stationary solitary star.  Up I followed it, up and up to the hill and then the forest—and there it stopped, and fell back into the mists, sinking away.

The woods was long shadows and sharp winds, leaves rustling and snaking across the ground. Dark and empty except the street lights filtering from home. Sometimes the fog was thick, and the light seemed dim—maybe that was the lights I saw, that I imagined where men and dogs in my drunken haze. When I made it home, I didn’t understand what I’d seen—I scribbled on a scrap of paper what I remembered, so I could tell Josh all about it. It was crazy, I thought.

The next day, when we were all together again, everyone asked how I’d made it—did I see anything? How’d I get around the fen? Josh thought he saw my torch going off on the edge of the water when they got there.  A bit after I left the rain started coming down, cold enough to shock even a drunk like me to my senses.

It was then that I remembered the bright red dear with the dreadfully pallid horns, like someone stole the moon. Though I laughed with them over the idea of haunts and hunters, I will never set foot in those fens again.


This week’s story fell a bit victim to deadlines. I decided to go with more a ghost story and feel like the narrative could have been expanded some—layered, so that you, the reader, were diving into these various folktales about lights on the fens. It could create a sort of patchwork feeling, but unfortunately I ran out of time to expand on the idea. Aw well, that’s what Patreon is for!

Next week, waterfalls and castles!  

Death Lights on the Marshland

This Week’s Prompt: 114. Death lights dancing over a salt marsh.

The Resulting Story: Marshlights

Strange lights floating over wild places are well accounted for in Northern Europe and beyond—the dancing will-o-wisp or Ignis Fatuus is a rather common trope around the world. A number of countries ascribe their origins to the dead stuck wandering the world—they are in Sweden the dead who have left unfinished business, in Denmark they are spirits of unbaptized children seeking baptism by leading to water. In parts of England they are torches carried by lantern men or by the famed Robin Goodfellow. Stories of their origins however are varied.

One from England tells us of a man named Will who spent a life time of wickedness as a smith—yet when a traveler was in need of a new wheel for his cart, Will quickly repaired it. As luck would have it, the traveler was none other than Saint Peter, who granted any wish Will wanted. Will asked to live his life again and—instead of repenting—lived another life of debauchery and wickedness. Having now finished two lives of sin, he expected hell’s gates to open for him. But they were barred. The Devil told Will that, with his experience in sin, he would easily overcome the Devil were he let in. So he was sent back. Of course, such deeds barred him from Heaven as well—and so Will now wonders the world, with only an ember of Hell to keep him warm on the swamp lands.

A comparable tale—traveling Saint Peter, blacksmith given wishes, banned from Hell—comes from Thuringia, Germany. This time, Saint Peter granted him three boons—as long as he didn’t “forget the best”. The man asked for two magical powers, that none could enter his house without his permission except through the keyhole and that any who climbed his pear tree couldn’t come down without his permission. And for his third wish, rather than eternal happiness, he asked for a never ending bottle of schnapps that granted eternal youth. And with these, he trapped both Death and the Devil and lived happily. That is until all his neighbors and friends died. He then went to Heaven’s gates, but Saint Peter rejected him for not asking for the Best—that is, eternal happiness. This smith then dwells under the mountain with the Emperor, shoeing his knights until they return.

In Wales, a man named Sion Daffyd made a deal with the Devil, on the condition that if he could cling to something successfully the Devil could not take him. The Devil eventually came and seized him—but Sion begged he be allowed to taste an apple to wet his lips for hell. The Devil consented, and predictably Sion clung to the tree for dear life. The Devil relented. Heaven however still banned him, and so Sion became a fairy.

A similar Jack exists in Nova Scotia, Canada—perhaps unsurprising given the colonial origins. Here, notably, the Devil is the one to grant the wishes instead of Saint Peter. Still, the effect is the same—the devil is bound first to a spot, then up a tree, and then told to transport sand from one side of the counter to the other, one grain at a time. At last, he gives up in frustration and casts out the all to clever Jack.  He gives him a lantern to roam with, ever after.

In Cambridgeshire, in the Fens, there is a particular kind of will-o-wisp. This apparition appears to be a man on horseback, running and holding a lantern aloft. We can find also a strange fiend here called the Lantern Man. While it’s not specified that this particular marsh fiend glows, his name associates him with the other foolish lights. Hunters keep some distance from the creature, as whistling for dogs will attract him and the only way to escape his wrath is to lie face down and fill your mouth with mud so that the fiery fiend will pass you without incident.

In Nova Scotia, there are stories of strange balls of fire—flames of unknown origin, more often then just the dead. A man walking home once saw a rabbit on his foot, and when he kicked it, it erupted into painless fire. The man was then struck by an immense weight until he managed to get home.

The Lantern Man connects us to a more distant group of ominous fires. In Trinidad, we have a variant of the demon tree story, associated with local witches. These witches, as we mentioned here when discussing swamp creatures of Louisiana and the surrounding region, shed their skin at night to take the form of flying balls of light and gather blood for their patron held in a tree. Louisiana itself has another strange swamp creature, Nalusa Falaya whose young are said to resemble children and float glowing in the swamps to lead travelers astray. They manage to float by removing their innards, allowing them to be perverse balloons. The Nalusa Falaya’s face is so dreadful that, if seen, it will knock a grown man unconscious. And while they are fallen over, the fiendish shadowy creature will put a curse on them to spread to all they meet.  

The Choctaw also tell of the Hashok Okwa Hui’ga in traditional stories. This being can only be seen at night, and even then only its heart can be seen. It lives near swamps, and attempts to lure people astray. In order to avoid being trapped, one must look away immediately upon spotting the glow. Otherwise, you will wander in circles without end.

Back to Wales, we have another swamp light—a creature called the Ellylldan. This creature lives on the edges of swamps, and glows with light. As it passes, nearby swamp creatures grow silent—and its light fades as one approaches, reappearing brilliantly as one moves. Often these creatures dance in the marshes and put men to sleep, and at least one account claims they are the same as the Pooka. This creature appears often in stories, mischievous and cruel. For our purposes, he too carries a lantern and leads travelers astray—often to high cliffs, near rushing rivers, where they nearly fall in before he escapes laughing.

One note I came across that interests me about these lights is the gradual decline of the creatures, as bogs and swamps are drains. In Wales and Manx, the cultivated field of the farmer explicitly made the region difficult or impossible for the fires to survive in. They thus have something of a tragic quality, as their environment is consumed. In Cambridgeshire, an observer noted that the loss of the bog and the increase in light pollution meant there were less and less will-o-wisps seen these days. There is, perhaps, a metaphor for the retreat of magic from modernity in that image. The fools light was dangerous and mischievous, but perhaps missed in the current times.

But beyond that, the nature of these lights from European lore seems durable. They are alluring lights, often of dead men but not always, who strive to lure you away from your path and often to your doom. Many are nefarious, wicked creatures—some the remains of men so clever and wicked that even the devil himself couldn’t match them. They live in swamps and often traveled but uninhabited places, and are often knowledgable in some way. Very few stories, strangely, mention actual deaths resulting from the lights. They are a nuisance more than a menace, which means drawing horror from them might require some stretching and creativity.

I have excluded two other mysterious lights for now, as not being exactly, well, marsh related. One is St. Elmo’s fire, a sea born anomaly where parts of a ship appear to be aflame. More extreme and out of my normal study—although not too far out—is the appearance of lights as UFOs. Most famously, there are the Foo Fighters (ah, not the band) who were sighted by World War II bombing crews. The idea of fairy concepts being repurposed into alien imagery is not without precedent—there has been research and discussion of how alien abduction and changeling or other fae stealing stories are markedly similar in details and distribution.

The other thing is the phrase “death lights” and the alluring, transfixing nature reminds me of Stephen King’s It, where the Dead Lights preform a similar role. In It they are of course more malevolent, consuming forces instead of mere tricksters—they drive men mad and consume their soul! There is also one of the most famous lights in Lovecraft, that haunts a blasted heath—the Color Out of Space, which is dangerous to have contact with and behold.

Bibliography

Bushnell, David I. “Myths of the Louisiana Choctaw.” American Anthropologist, vol. 12, no. 4, 1910, pp. 526–535. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/659795. Accessed 7 July 2020.

Cashen, William. Manx Folklore. Published by Douglas Johnson, 1912.

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

Sikes, Wirt. British Goblins: Welsh Folk-Lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions. James R Osgood and Company, 1881.

The Lives of Sam Dedric

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

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

The Prior Research: Lives Well Lived

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A bit.” I said, mixing the cubes.

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

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

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

“Opium and cocaine exist, yes.”

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

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

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

“…”

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Next time! Lights on the marsh!

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