Between Man and Beast

This Week’s Prompt: 129. Marble Faun p. 346—strange and prehistorick Italian city of stone.

The Resulting Story: FORTH COMING

This is another prompt that lead a few odd places. To begin with, I was unaware at the time that Marble Faun was in fact a Nathaniel Hawthorne story–and so a good deal of the research I share with you has the Marblehead character of being related but not necessarily directly intended. Nonetheless, it is interesting material. And the Faun or Satyr’s character does play an important role in the Nathaniel Hawthorne story, and we will come back to that concern in a moment.

When discussing fauns or satyrs, we must acknowledge that they occupy an unusual place. They are creatures that are both men and beast, partaking in parts of civilization but not the whole of it. In Roman Legend, there is the story of the prince who becomes a satyr–we discussed that here. The attachment of monstrous half-beast men and women is not uncommon in the world of folklore, particularly folklore written outside of rural settings. At least one of my sources made this distinction between the folklore wild man and the wild man recorded by artists.

The Satyr or wild man recorded by people outside artistic circles are variable in shape–sometimes very large, sometimes oddly small. They are not universally men either. Wild women are also found, often shapeshifters who’s breasts hang low enough to be thrown over their shoulders. They live in places far from human habitation, on mountaintops–often specifically the highest part of the Alps in Europe, for instance. The appearance varies–hair is a common attribute, but how long and if it is even is unclear. European wild men are known to eat people frequently, a trait that is less universal elsewhere.

And when discussing the medieval wild man, things are different. The wild man in medieval art is not just an inhabitant of places beyond human habitation, they dwell on the border between men and beast. The folklore wildman lives on a mountain, unreachable by most–the medieval art wildman lives in the forests nearby. The wildman is also strongly associated not only as wild but as feral, an exemplar of man in a state separated from the Church. The wildman is also in these cases always larger, and usually ‘dark’–the implications of this to me seeming obvious. That the sexual angle of the wildman is repeatedly stated with wildmen in these contexts is notable as well, and it does seem likely the story of “fallen man who is more like a beast but can be redeemed through civilzing light of Christianity” played a roll in depictions and colonization of Native Americans.

Most wild men have a few notable supernatural traits–ones the Satyr does not share, I’ll note. For instance, it is typical for a satyr to speak. And while strong, the supernatural and ogrish strength of the other wild men isn’t present among satyrs. They do share a wild man’s tendency towards alcohol and sexuality and even kidnapping. Satyrs and Fauns are often blended together, although some differences remain–the image of a satyr as a goat-man instead of a hairy man with donkey tails is do to this bleed together, and the Satyr is largely a wise if dangerous presence, while a Faun is foolish while frightening.

This sort of foolish wisdom comes up in the parable of the Satyr and the Traveler. A satyr comes across a traveler, and seeing him lost, invites him back to his home. The satyr is perplexed when the man blows on his fingers, and learns that this is how a man can stay warm. This causes trouble when, at home and with a hot meal, the man blows on his soup to make it cold. This enrages the satyr, for how can the same action make one cold and another warm? And so he drives the man from his house.

There is also the story of Pan and Apollo, a pair of competing deities of music. Pan played a tone that was full of joy and laughter and wildness that drove one to dancing–and in fact all the wild things and fauns danced. Apollo, the joyless daystar, played a tone that hushed the air and was somber. It was full of sadness, like saying farewell to one’s own mother and father. And all those listening proclaimed Apollo the winner–except, sadly, King Midas. Midas had been asked to judge, and thus judged in favor of Pan. Apollo in turn, to reward Midas’s bad taste, gave him the ears of a donkey to match his decision.

Satyrs and Apollo crossed paths again, symbolically, when Orpheus was wed. For at the wedding of Orpheus and Eurdicye, a drunken satyr attempted to assualt Orpheus’s wife. When she attempted to flee him, she fell into a literal nest of vipers and perished–and thus Orpheus’s despair set in. The satyr’s monstrous nature is here apparent–he is drunken, sexual, and violent. A wild man, devoid of his comic talents.

Yet, there are times when Satyr’s approach something more divine. In some Midas stories, Midas has a spring that satyrs enjoy coming to. There he lays a trap for them, and in some stories succeeds in trapping them. According to Aristotle, he even learned dark secrets about human life from the satyrs–namely, the opinion of the satyr, sometimes the immortal Silenus, that human life was best unlived. The forest god was thought to be a prophet and wise in many ways, and such foreboding declarations from him are…disconcerting.

Let us briefly leave these behind, and discuss the actual Marble Faun. I sadly don’t have a copy of the text to which Mr. Lovecraft refers. I worked off the Internet Archive in this case–which lead me to a summary of the story. There are references in the summary to sections that fit “strange and prehistorik”–I admit, freely, that I did not have the time to read the entire story, but the suggestion that one of the main characters, Donatello, is actually a satyr or a faun is important. So I think is the history that Italy suggests–the author calls attention to the layers of ruin in the countryside; Roman, Medieval, and Renaissance structures. The antiquity of Roman sculpture is repeated suggested through observations, and the specters of the past haunt them–whether in image or in form of stalkers lurking in the catacombs, promising dark secrets. There is a sense of mystery about origins, both in the main cast and the stranger parts.

The Satyr and faun are very, in a way, Lovecraftian characters. They are the sort of thing that Lovecraft, from all we know about him. The satyr moves between social spaces, between animals and men, between past and present. They are associated further with the oldest (sometimes) of Greek Gods, Pan–and of course, the horror story The Great God Pan, by Arthur Machen. This story, which follows the results of a terrible medical experiment to open the third eye of his patient, to her ultimate death and the revelation she is a supernatural being. Their association with drunkenness and wine connects them to Dionysius, even when other stories do not (and several stories do! The Midas one for instance!). And as we have discussed elsewhere, Dionysius is himself a Lovecraftian nightmare as the breakdown of reality itself.

The Marble Faun in question. Several versions of this statue exist in Italy.

Now, this gives us a good ground for a horror story–the collapse of boundaries between ‘wild’ and ‘civilized’ is ripe for horror. The Satyr or Faun has the additional aspect as a bearer of madness and panic. The satyr cannot be contained–to be captured, he must be drunk and his wisdom is terrible. The command of the wild animals falls into this almost ‘pre-Adamic’ nature of the Satyr.

A story here then might be about, yes, a Satyr haunted ruin of in Italy–or the city of the Satyrs, before they became Satyrs as we know them. Such a place would be of interest to many people from artists to archaeologists to bored college students to local farmers. What might be found in the haunt of the Satyrs, who can say?

Bibliography

Forth, Gregory. “Images of the Wildman Inside and Outside Europe.” Folklore, vol. 118, no. 3, 2007, pp. 261–281. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30035439. Accessed 4 June 2021.

Scott Horton, on October 16, et al. “Aristotle – The Wisdom of Silenus.” Harper’s Magazine, 15 Oct. 2012, harpers.org/2010/10/aristotle-the-wisdom-of-silenus/.

Sorabella, Jean. “A Satyr for Midas: The Barberini Faun and Hellenistic Royal Patronage.” Classical Antiquity, vol. 26, no. 2, 2007, pp. 219–248. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/ca.2007.26.2.219. Accessed 4 June 2021.

Metamorphosis

This Week’s Prompt: 128. Individual, by some strange process, retraces the path of evolution and becomes amphibious.

The Prior Research: Back to Tadpoles

It started with my fingers. They’d swollen to about…I think two inches. No, that’s too big, isn’t it? That’d be…I’d have realized something was wrong a lot faster. I think.

But it started with my fingers, they got swollen and sweaty. It was hard to type. That made work hard, because even when I could type, it was not…the keys. I’d hit too many at once if I wasn’t careful, and they got gross. So I had to take breaks. I wore gloves, took my time. But it was annoying. It annoyed other people too.

And everything was itchy. I was really itchy, it was so dry. So dry. I took two or three showers a day and it was still…even when I took four, I was really itchy and dry.

I thought it was the shampoo, maybe. So I stopped that.

But then my hair started falling out. Lots of it. And my arms, it hurt to lift my arms—wait no, it hurt to lower my arms. To put my arms at my side. To bend them like…back, so that my hands were where my knees were. If that makes sense. It kept my hands on the keys, I’d press to many keys—no, no, past that.

My hair was falling out. I took pictures to prove it. We went to a doctor, asking about the aches, the hair. I remember being frustrated when he just…didn’t have much to say. He sent us to another doctor, I think a skin doctor. And he was confused, but said it shouldn’t be too bad.

“So that’s it? Just take some pain pills, rub some oil, hope it goes away?” I asked…someone. We were going down a road, home I think. They nodded, and said something about it passing. I want to remember how long they said it would take, for this to pass. How much longer until this passes.

That’s how my memories are. Little snippets, floating to the surface, dropping away. I don’t know how long, but I can feel…like ripples on a lake, when you drop a rock in. I can feel where the rock used to be. I wonder if it will come back up, skipping across. If I look down and check—if I dive down to find that rock could I tell it apart from the other rocks?

We got home and the oils helped, and medicine helped. In a way, I mean. I hurt less. I itched less. But my fingers were swollen, and my feet hurt. My knees ached, when I tired to get up—but not how my grandfathers, ached, where bending even a little made him groan. No, my legs…they wouldn’t go straight. They jerked a bit but…

“Its nothing. We’ll make an appointment…until then, just lean on me. Did you send those reports in?”

“I don’t think…their next to the laptop, just need to organize them.” I remember saying. My throat was so dry, I rasped and croaked more than spoke. Barefoot I sat down, hunched over my latop, breathing strained. I managed to get…stuff written. I got it done. I could get it done then, even if the gloves were strained.

That was the last one I remember. The last one I remember finishing. The light of the screen hurt my eyes, and my back—it wasn’t good for me. Being hunched over the whole time. It was making things worse, we were sure. We were pretty sure.

We did go to doctors. We used to go to doctors. Now doctors come to us. Or maybe I just…fall asleep when we go. It’s hard to say.

The second time, things were worse. There was shouting. There was confusion. The doctors put me in a heavy vest, in weird machines to take pictures of me. They held them in front of me, they had bones on them. I think they were my bones, all bent and fused and strange.

“You can’t be ser—there’s got to be something wrong with the machine.”

“—never seen anything like it, I don’t even know where to begin—”

We saw less doctors for a while. The ones we saw did poke me frequently. And we met with other people, usually by going to places with big crowds. The doctor, I think he was a doctor, would shout a bunch from his wooden hill. And everyone would shout with him.

There were other people on the wooden hill. They were sick too, I think, and then they were better. But we never went up there. She thought that would just…that would be a bad idea. Something bad would happen if we went on the wooden hill.

Instead, after everyone was leaving, we would go back behind it. We’d talk to people, and talk to other people—and then the doctor would hold his hands over me, and say something. Sometimes they asked me to say things back, but my ears were not as good.

I did my best to say the words back, the words that would fix everything.

Maybe I needed to say more things. Maybe I needed to try harder.

But it was hard. My tongue didn’t sit right, my teeth weren’t shaped write. My head was bent and squished—I think I used to have five fingers, now only four. My nose had nearly fallen off, and that made it—that made it harder to make the noises you need to make to say the things you want to say.

I had to be wheeled—I couldn’t sit right. She made me a bed on wheels, because sitting hurt my back worse than standing.

I don’t think I had a job anymore. I don’t remember the bright light of my computer that much around then. I didn’t type.

There was a part where I had a thing that made my words into lights and text. I could talk, with effort. I could write reports. I could write friends. I was getting used to that, when my voice gave out. I couldn’t speak…right, not for long enough.

Then it was my eye—somehow, I could use my eyes. I think. I’d move my eyes, this way and that, and it would make words appear. It took getting used to. But I managed. And I could do it still, with the box in front of me.

The problem was…the problem is, I think. I think it is a problem. The problem is my muscles ache and my thoughts are a muscle.

“Right here, see if you can—yeah, there you go. See, you can still…I mean, it’s a living right?” she said when we got the first piece and I managed to write…something. I can’t even remember what I wrote. It was important, wasn’t it?

“Okay, so lets try—the quick brown fox jumps…”

It was important, writing about that…fox wasn’t it? It must have been.

It must have been. I worked hard to write that sentence, two or three times. So many times. When did I forget why that sentence mattered?

When did I forget what those small dark spots on the white field meant? When did I forget? I remember, I remember—I drop rocks in a lack, hoping to drain it, to remember to remember, to see beneath the dark water. Is it deep? It is dark, it is wet, it is cold, it is still until a rock drops in it.

“The oil’s helping, yeah? So that’s a start. And hey, you don’t look too bad bald, if I—”

I drop a rock in the lake, I drop and hope it bounces back, it skips, it passes by the pond lilies, it moves, it builds an island. Build an island in the water.

“—she thinks we need a vet, not a doctor, but that’s not right that’s—”

A rock falls, it ripples, thing stir, scents and colors I can’t see. I can’t remember them all. It drops away, and maybe it will wash near me again. It’s gone.

“—okay—”

“Tomorrow we—”

“—at the end of the week—”

“Next month we—”

“—a year or so—”

“—twice—every other—three times—”

“Okay.”

The rock sits, a bit above the water. Stacked high and higher. One rock sits on the top, just above the water.

“Now can you write your name?”

Was it when I wrote with hands? When I could use my voice? My eyes?

It doesn’t matter. I cling to the rock in my head.

And don’t remember the answer.


The original version of this story was a bit…off target I felt, focusing too much on the ‘burden’ of care in a way that could be read as ableist. I rewrote it as such, and I still think I missed the mark–the sort of Kafkaesque story that it is attempting requires a more finely tuned bit of editing and revising than I had. Next time! We will discuss Fauns and Satyrs!

The Bird House

This Week’s Prompt: 127. Ancient and unknown ruins—strange and immortal bird who speaks in a language horrifying and revelatory to the explorers.

The Prior Research:Birds the Likes of Which God Hasn’t Seen

It was perched like a bloated dead spider on the hill, waiting for its children to well up and devour it. Sprawling gardens and forgotten mazes, hedges long dead and fountains over grown with mold and moss, formed its stone web. The baths that once bubbled with mineral spring water were now entirely consumed. Even the wolves gave it distance.

The only wholesome thing we saw, walking up in the night with our flashlights, were the birds. Nests of birds across the abandoned rooves and long collapsed balconies. Well, wholesome might be the wrong word. There were sparrows and robins and such, birds that sang in the morning and all that. I never was good with telling birds apart without bright colors. But I know ravens and crows, and the sound of owls in the night.

Place was full of vermin—mice, rats, insects, all of them flocked to its walls. Course they lured in birds. And in a few years, when the ceiling gave way, the bird’s lure in something bigger. What, I don’t know.

“My uncle says grandpa use to come here.” Jordan said, shining his light through the front gate. There is flicker of a fox moving away from the light. Had something with feathers in its mouth.

“Yeah? Like as a butler or something?” I said, looking around. The trees were full of dead leaves. Jordan’s clipers break the rusty lock.

“Nah, before that.” He said, pushing open the gate. “When, yeah, some rich guy owned it—that guy who always watered down his food? Apparenlty apart from running workshops and stuff, he opened up a bunch of baths. Cured every sort of ache.”

“Huh. You’d think that sorta business would’ve kept it open.” I said, as we walked down the broken cobblestones. You could still see the baths, rising in rows down the path to the backdoor. What had been a pool of water was both dead and oh so alive, the water mostly sunken into the very bottom, but moss and mold growing up the walls. Only the uplifted hand of the statue was visible. A confused crow was pecking at it.

Renovating a new wing onto the manor took time. During the day, the dolorous toll of hammers and cranes drove all life from the place. Even the owner, Gerald Copperson, retreated upward  and away, in an isolated study from the clamor. There he studied heavy books and answered letters as his designs for the building were carried out. It was only at night, when silence fell over the structure like a curtain, that Gerald ventured out to survey the work.

Slowly, the new wing was rising—by summers end, it would be finished. A whole new set of rooms, including a parlor for entertaining more properly. A spare kitchen perhaps. He walked along the currently bare walls—ones that would be filled with engravings to memorialize the effort. He had even found the perfect statue in an Italian graveyard—once the purchase was finalized, the Renaissance marble.

On such a nightly walk, in the warmth of a summer night around the bubbling fountain with its angel statue, that Gerald felt the chill of a passing shadow. The owls of the surrounding wood sometimes came to pass over his well lit home, and as an avid bird watcher, Gerald instinctively turned to catch a glimpse. And sure enough, there was a bird—but not an owl of any kind he’d seen. It had wide wings like a condor, with thin feathers flayed out, and a heavy tail as it descended down. It circled for a moment before affixing itself to the lance at the top of the roof. The knightly statue, placed over where one day his children would slumber, seemed to sag ever so slightly with the weight of the bird.

*

Each of the baths had been an effort to make.

“We should be able to get six baths.” Sheryl muttered, drawing out the locations on the map under the gaslight. “It’s not exactly the Hanging Gardens or Bath, but its more than enough I think.”

“I was hoping to get some of the water to the gardens.” Yohan sighed. “But there isn’t a convient spring—not with those minerals.”

“The water and the vegetables might not mix well anyway.” Sheryl said tapping her chin. “I mean, whats good for the outside isn’t always good for the inside.”

The aquafir beneath their feet went into a number of local springs—with some effort and piping, the water was funneled into baths and fountains. A rare, dare Yohan say it, unique mixture of minerals was just beneath the surface—fed by rain water and underground rivers, the aquifers water was bountiful. It worked wonders on illness…or it should. Similair chemicals had been found down river—not the same, but similar. Bottles had been kept as household cures for a while now.

“Still, six baths for now. Maybe we can make more later.” Yohan said, rolling up the plans. “With a field for exercises, and a vegetable garden—I think we might be onto something here. The sort of thing people really need.”

The inside of the building wasn’t any better than the outside. The wallpaper had peeled and cracked—the cheerful pink flowers faded away. Gashes and grafitti covered walls as we went down the alls. Doors ripped off the hinges. I’d say by some crazed monster, but probably by some idiot drunk teens. The smell of piss and the sexual history documented on the wall seemed more their work than Bigfoot’s.

Chunks of the upper floor had given in—rain broke the way for wind.

“You’d think, but you know—after  a bit, fads fall out of fashion, people stop having the money to go to a health club to get told they need to eat nuts and wear sackcloth.” Jordan said with a shrug as he stepped over some rubble. “Then you can’t make rent, and no one can buy it because you know. It’s a building this big, what are you going to do with it?”

“Make  a hotel?” I said, looking around, light catching on a nest of cobwebs. “Or maybe…like…a business park?”

“For who?” Jordan said, pushing open the door. “No one’s buying that sort of thing when there’s no money to go around. And by the time there is…well.” He flashed a light at nearest example of spreading mold, a cancerous growth along the walls.

“Anyway, its this way I think. Up the stairs, shouldn’t be too hard to spot.” He muttered, as we entered into the lobby, the dome over head as dark as the night—darker, because not a single light shone down.

*

Copperton was a simple man. He considered himself an appreiator of nature. He even enjoyed bird watching on occasion. But the nosies that came from the knight, whenever that strange bird arrived, were unbearable. A warbling song filled the room, and disturbed his dreams—dreams that once had been of fields and boyhood dreams where now stained with a familiar red.

He did not like his rifle. That was perhaps a peculiar thing to say, when the tool had been his most constant companion. Even when family faded, and friends perished, his rifle was ready at his side. It’s bayonet able to be fixed. His hands knew it’s shape and grooves better than his kitchen tools. Still. He did not like his rifle, as he took it outside in the dark of the night, stalking again through the bushes.

The Bird was there again—how had he known, this night of all nights? It had no rhythmn, it had no pattern he understood—but it descended down regardless. And then, as he raised his rifle—one shot, to frighten it off, one shot to get some sleep, one shot above those majestic wings—

*

“It has to be some sort of…Rodent?” Yohan said, examining small, but noticeable scratches on the top of the bath houses. “Right? Like, I guess a bat or owl might, but these look a bit big for that.”

“Well, whatever it is, we should try and stake out for it.” Sarah said, looking off into the woods. “Its scaring off the guests, making some sort of noise.”

“Are we sure that’s not exhaustion? Steam maybe?” Yohan said, stepping down the ladder. Sarah shook her head.

“Probably not. But even if it is, it’d be better knowing what is causing the steam to screech out of the baths. Figure out how to stop it, calm everyone down.”

“That’s fair, we don’t want them stressed here.” Yohan sighed. “That would defeat the purpose of our institution.”

So the two of them made plans, lantern in hand and with a bat ready. If it was just a large bird, some stones or the like should keep it away. Yohan brought a looking glass as well, to get a better glimpse of what was happening on the roofs that caused such a strange and disturbing noise.

The moon was high, when the shadow first moved across the ground. Wings spread wide, feathers trailing—the air shimmering as it spun into the world. The stars flickered as the bird danced down to the top of the bath—steam that rose from the spring wrapping around it, woven into dense bits of rain. In the veil of droplets, Yohan could make out the long neck of an ostrich rising from the plumage—plumage that became sharp under the light of the lanterns. And before he could cast his stone, it began to sing.

The stairs were creaky, walking all the way up to the office. The stairs were rotten as we walked up to the office. The stairs spiralled up and around and around the spine of the building, that nearly touched the concrete cranium, the dome overhead. And then the stairs stopped at the top, at the office.

The door wasn’t that broken. It’s hinges were rusty, it squeaked loudly as we opened it, but all things considered, it was in good condition. It was still a door that could be closed. There were the remains of papers on the floor, bureaucracy coating everything. The ceiling of the office had collapsed in, under god knows what weight—maybe nothing more than rain.

 I rested my crowbar on my back, looking around.

“How do you know its still here even?” I asked, shining on the walls. Graffiti was absent, but there was a crumbling corkboard. You could faintly see where paintings had been removed, where furniture had once been. The desk was gone, but there was still a chair sitting there. Apparently no one wanted it.

“Just trust me, I checked. Just need an extra hand getting it out.” Jordan said, walking to the wall and tapping along for a moment—the wood seeming to recoil from his touch until at last he hit upon something. He put down his sack and took out his hammer, striking away at dry wall. It was after the third whack that a shadow past over head—a vast shape plunging the room into darkness for a moment. And when it passed, we were no longer alonge.

There it sat, atop the chair, a grotesque parody of a bird. Its entire body was covered in knife like spines, crackling as it cut the air in it’s motions. Its long neck ended in a hardened beak, with holes running up the neck. And as I started back, and Jordan turned, it raised its beak and began to sing.

*

It sang and the walls fell away.

It sang and what we saw was rot and life, healing and hurt. We saw a thousand fold this building, this roost that it sang on once, but many times. We saw vibrance of life here, a rainbow that washed over the world. The stars, they no longer seemed so far. We saw each other—felt the rifle in our hands, felt the stone, the lantern, the crowbar, the fear, the joy, the brilliance, the memories of trenches, the memories of hospitals, the desperation, the smell of unfamiliar shores, things collapsed together as it sang. Its notes stiched across time and space, all at once, were we all speaking and seeing each other or was it a messenger bringing with it all those touched before? Was it here or there?

It sang it sang and the air vibrated with its song, refracted and spread and folded in on itself. It sang and then it was gone.

And we were left, unsure what parts were us and what parts were other.


This was along time coming. I found the idea of a song as the uniting element of revelation made sense–songs are after all a means of connection that, in theory, transcend language. I apologize for the recent delays, my burn out spat ran long than I expected. Still, I think this is a good story to come back to. If anything, I can think of ways to expand on this idea–drifting the stories together more at the point of impact, reflecting after the song has ended.

Next week: We discuss frogs and royalty.

Baqi and the Golden Fruit

This Week’s Prompt: 126. Castaways on island eat unknown vegetation and become strangely transformed

The Prior Research:Fruit of the Sea

The Sea Dane would tell this sailor’s tale, both in the humble halls he washed ashore in, and in the ruby lit halls of Dahut. He had heard it himself at a port of call in Iberia, from a sailor named Baqi. Baqi had traveled many seas, from the city of Caesars to the west coast of Africa to the seas about Arabia. He had many tales of strange ports and stranger things he had seen—but this story was the strangest.

Baqi and his crew were sailing towards the Pillars of Hercules, the great white cliffs that rose into the heavens. They had brought a fine hall from the coasts, to markets in the Mediterranean. Spices and ivory and gold from the coast of Africa—but as they sailed, a terrible storm rose from the great sea in the west. The ship was sturdy, but the darkness and wind overcame them, unseen stones cutting the hull to pieces, and casting them into the waves.

They awoke on an island with shores of golden sand and emerald trees. Of the crew, maybe a dozen survived. The wreckage that floated ashore was naught but drift wood and some rations for their journey. Baqi and his men gave thanks for surviving the storm—they prepared to burn the driftwood for warmth at night, and salvage what they could, bury those who had perished. And Baqi took his first mate, Alaric, to see what life might persist on this island.

They traveled sometime, before they found the center of the island. A lake, clear and placid, surrounded by large trees. And upon the trees grew a strange fruit, like an olive perhaps but as big as a man’s head.

“Do you think we can eat those?” Alaric said, scratch is head. Baqi frowned and considered.

“Who’s to say? It might be a dreadful poison.” He said turning to the lake and looking down at the fish that swam in it’s depths. “We have fish, though, and some supplies. We have wood a plenty.” He gestured around him. “We’ll wait to eat the strange plants until we have no better option.”

And so the crew set up shelter on the shores of that lake—the water pure and fresh and sweet, and the driftwood burned easy. The wind was calming and soothing in the night, as the moon came over head—except when it shifted direction. Then it made a terrible rustling, like a great cloud of locusts was going to rise from the branches and consume them all. It made it hard to sleep.

*

They ran out of provisions before they finished cutting trees for their ship. The great fire they lit on the shore lured none to harbor—although perhaps it was simply not seen. Only once did the nightwatchmen spy a ship passing over the horizon, and even that was from a great distance—and the sounds at night made many question his health.

The crew split in two on the matter—one group went out, armed with what weapons they had to repel pirates to hunt boar or other animals of the island. The others would draw lots, and see who would try the new fruit. Boar or berry might claim one or two, but might sustain them longer.

Thus, Alaric  climbed a great tree and cut free one of the sweet fruits and Baqui went out into the forest with spear in hand. It was on this venture, moving far from the lake, that Baqui found strange sights. He found piles of stones, aligned as if great walls—but within their borders, he found naught but more trees. Before he lingered long on that outcropping, he and his men spotted a small deer—and the chase resumed.

When they returned, they found the rest of the crew seated in a circle, observing the young man who drew the shortest lot. There was a fruit in front of him, with a sliver cut from it by his knife—the flesh of the fruit seemed to be a shinning white like an apple’s interior.

“It’s sweet…savory too. Like cattle made of honey.” He said, cutting another slice and eating it. Alaric looked over at the arriving hunters, with their own catch—a pair of small deer they had found. Baqi chuckled.

“Well, if it tastes better and is easier to find…how much has he eaten?” He asked his first mate.

“This is the second fruit—nothing strange has come over him yet.” Alaric said. “We’ve watched closely—not even the slightest sign…”

“Then it seems safe enough for now.” Baqi said—although later he regrated his eagerness. “We can hunt and build, but this will make good reserves. Plant some of the seeds, and perhaps we will be rich from them when we return to friendly and familiar shores.”

*

They did find, in time, that there was good timber for building boats—but there was little eagerness to leave the quaint island. For the lake and fruit kept them fulfilled, and each found their own entertainment. It was like a paradise, and they told themselves surely the wind was still foul and the waves still treacherous. They had best give it a season or so before trying the waters.

Alas, Baqi mourned that time—when the gates were open for any to leave. And he recalled to the Sea Dane, the night they were closed forever. For one night, not even two weeks past when the first fruit was eaten, a man woke the whole camp. He had seen a shape moving past the fire. It looked much like a man, but without a head and with long limbs. The sailor was convinced that they were not alone on the island—that this was the source of the rustling sounds at night and other strange things.

Now, it is no secret that sailors are superstitious folk. Any who rely on the vagaries of wind and wave are prone to beliefs in all manner of fortunes. So they made plans that night—they stayed together, and appointed their bravest, including Baqi, to keep an eye out for the strange shape the next day.

That night, the wind rattled the leaves worse than before, filling the night with hoarse laughter. Baqi, days staying on the island, was still unused to the sounds of the nightly winds. He stood about with his fire, watching the darkness for any strange sights or shadows.  Any wild dogs or deer, as he privately thought the shapes must have been.

And then the arm darted across the tree line.

He and the men instantly rose up, and moved quickly, silently as they could—the shape was large, like a bear but walking on all fours. It fled from them, quick as a deer—but they were used to hunting deer. At last, they chased it to the shore of the sea. AS they drew close it turned—two golden eyes like a great lions shown in the moon light. Baqi felt a primal terror come over him as those eyes stayed fix as the head rotated away—and the beast leapt into the sea.

*

They built walls of wood to keep the beast at bay. They made wind chimes and trap wires—for they did not know what the beast desired, but it seemed fearsome and ill tempered. They sharpened spears for their defense, and laid  pointed sticks around the places they planted new fruit trees, hoping to keep the creatures away from their prized plants.

They did this in vain.

*

They did not wait until night to descend upon the camp of the sailors—oily scaled skin and eyes like a lion. They came with a roar that sounded of death and put fear into every man’s heart, sending them fleeing from the walls they crudely made—carrying only a dozen or so of the golden fruits. They came and a mist of darkness swallowed the land behind them, as if the sea rose up.

The sailors fled up the island, behind the stone walls Baqi found long ago—where it seemed the strange beasts were loathe to go.  They lit torches, and as night fell they stationed guards to see that the strange beasts did not overwhelm them.

“We cannot hold for long.” Baqi said as he walked in front of the flames. “At any moment, they might come upon us—and they are far more numerous then us. Still—we have trees in these walls, ones that might be of use. We can build a raft in the night, and flee before they come upon us stronger.”

“Flee? While they hold our gold?” Alaric said, standing up. “No, no, they cannot be allowed to keep it. We have arms—stones and slings we can make, and strike them down from this fortress, recoup our losses, and take back that grove!”

His response was met with cheers of the others among the grovesmen, although the hunters remained unsure.

“We have tools for hunting deer, Alaric, not for killing beasts bigger than a man.” Baqi countered. “We have a few spears and knives—”

“We have courage and will—and fire!” He said, gesturing at the bonfire. “And those can more than startle and scare away monsters of the night! If we aim true and with care, we can do so without our gold igniting!”

“Who cares for the fruit, our lives are on the line!” Baqi shouted. And when Alaric looked at him with rage, Baqi saw his eyes had taken on a gold shine.  He did not remember what Alaric said, with those leonid eyes. But he felt them call to his blood—to the fruit he had consumed.

And then he knew he must flee in the night, or he too would be consumed.

“Do what you will.” Baqi said, stepping back, cutting through the haze of Alaric’s speech. “And I do what I.”

*

Baqi confessed he didn’t stay for the fight—he gathered those who were sane, and as the others heated spears and stones to make tools of war, they built something like a ship. Some drifted away from their work—eyes taking on a bronze or gold hue whenever they left.

As Baqi set the raft to shore, he turned to his fellows.

“If any of us are gripped by that madness, we must tie him to the raft and hope for the best.”  He said solemnly. And then he inhaled sharply and sighed, and confided to the Sea Dane—he was the first to lose himself to that golden sound. It was like a great bell resonating in his ears. It was a thirst that couldn’t be slaked, a fire in his stomach that threatened to boil through his skin. His comrades restrained him, bound him to the crude mast.

At last, they came to friendly shores. And there, he told the Sea Dane, he began to recover—but the fire never really ended, and still he dreams of those stone walls and strange beasts.


I decided to tie this story in with the prior one (here) slightly, as a framing device. The story concept I think could be fleshed out much more, and I probably took on a longer narrative then needed. Next time! We return to the birds!

Fruit of the Sea

This Week’s Prompt: 126. Castaways on island eat unknown vegetation and become strangely transformed.

The Resulting Story: FORTHCOMING

This weeks prompt points to a very classical inspiration—that of the witch Circe and Odysseus’s crew.  While Odysseus was sailing back to Ithaca, his ship came ashore on Circe’s land. She invited the crew to a feast, offering them many dishes. And after partaking, the crew are transformed into pigs while still possessing the souls of men. Now, the prompt refers merely to “vegetation”—unknown vegetation at that. This implies an intended raw food experience, instead of the intentional preparation of the meal. So we’ll be an examining both here, when feasts and food cause a transformation.

The Circe Episode is not the only episode of the Odyssey that comes to mind.  There is also the Lotus Eaters, an island where eating lotus’s causes forgetfulness and bliss. This is an island that Odysseus must drag his crew away from, in order to continue going home. This image has become exceptionally common in stories ever since, with places that lure in the trouble with promises of forgetting their cares and responsibilities only to consume them being a particularly common trope.

There are other consumptive plants. Hungry grass, for instance, occurs in parts of Ireland. This grass does not just consume persons—rather, they ensure whoever steps on them becomes hungry for the rest of their lives. These plants would bring about strange transformation, certainly—at least one author has suggested the stories began during times of famine.

Other stories of island plants include the legends of the coco de mer. This nut has an…unusual shape, and a few unusual stories. A particularly common one is that they are actually grown under the sea, on great trees that sometimes rise to catch boats. When the trees catch the boats, a great bird emerges to devour the sailors and ships.  This creature was sometimes referred to as a garuda, a terrifying bird that has other mythic roots we discuss here. The trees are so large they even rise above the water with their branches, and the area around these trees pulled at ships as they passed. Sadly, I can’t dig much into this particular form—the only source I could find on it is a newspaper article from 1906.

Of course, strange foods transforming the eater are not limited to witches. We have, for instance, the food that binds the seasons in Greek Mythology. For those unfamiliar, Persephone was wandering out in the fields when Hades erupted from the earth in a chariot and kidnapped her, at the suggestion of his brother Zeus. After this, her mother could not find her—and grew inconsolable, refusing to allow the green of the world to grow. This became unbearable, however, and so Persephone was sent back to the world by her husband—but not before eating six pomegranate seeds, ensuring that she would remain below for six months. And thus the seasonal shift from spring to winter is established.

Now eating the food of the dead or the underworld often has strange effects. We read last time of an undersea land in Donegal Bay where eating the food would trap one among the fae for all time, and it is hardly alone. Off the shores of Bofin there lives a very lovely fae who will kidnap beautiful girls, and if they eat food while held in his castle they are prisoners until the end of time.  Another place, illuminated by rainbows and suns, bound its prisoners for seven years—and nearly overcame it’s hero, when a woman flew from Donegal bay to save him.

The dead in the Philippines, the ghouls, also have a tendency to share their food. By this means, they turn others into ghouls—a process of spread cannibalism that we discussed more here.  These creatures of course are kept at bay by other foods, and we discussed more of the aswang here.

Moving from the land of the dead, there is of course the eating of food at the beginning of things. The most obvious story—one that lacks a sailor but was transformative—is the Garden of Eden myth. The actual result of the eating of those fruits varies.  One of my preferred versions is the change in shape from the first couple—the loss of sharp, horn-like skin and a cloud of glory that covered their forms. Adam shrunk from being as tall as the heavens to merely being three hundred and seventy-five feet. The serpent went from king of animals, upright like humans and capable of finding all manner of wonderous stones, to the lowly and cursed creature we know today, the moon was darkened, and all manner of cosmic changes occurred.

While not exactly the same, there is a story of misfortune on a cosmic scale, brought on by feasting. This comes from Maori stories. Here Maui fished up the first of the islands, having grown tired of living conditions on the open sea. He instructed his brothers to not eat any of the food on the island until he returned—and yet like Odysseus’s crew they proved incapable of listening to basic orders. As a result, the perfect island was distorted—great mountains rising from the ground and land becoming rough. Such is sadly the way of the world.

There are other strange plants to consider. There is the Zaqquam, the devil tree, who’s fruit resembles devil heads. Those that partake in this fruit, often sinners, have their flesh ripped off and their bodily fluids spilled out. Others have their stomachs boil, while others suggest that the tree itself is grown from the seeds of evil deeds.

Further afield there are the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. The exact nature of these nymph tended and dragon guarded apples varies—they  are attributed as being both the apples that distracted Atlanta and the source of Eris’s apple of discord. These apples were given to Hera, in many legends, as a marriage gift by Gaia herself and planted near where the sunsets.

The apples of course remained there for most of history, stolen supposedly only twice—by Hercules and Perseus. They were deployed in other myths, but where inevitably returned to the island even after the dragon Ladon was slain. I haven’t found other stories that follow the strange island, but they presumably still remain there at the Western edge of the world.

Setting aside the cosmological for a moment, many of these islands not only  have strange fruit, but fruit that traps those who consume it. Whether as a metaphor for the dangers of luxury on a journey, distracting from the actual end goal, or as the dangers of losing your connections to your home while travelling long distances—in case we forget, food is what brings people together in many places—the fruit ties those who eat it to where they acquired it.  

The fear of becoming someone different in your travels—worse, of a wanderer becoming hostile and strange to those they love—is at first glance a rather conservative fear. However, I think it’s roots are not in xenophobia perse, but in the fear of loss of identity. Certainly, being changed by new experiences, especially travel (as rare as it is in current conditions) is overall for the better. But at the same time, it is becoming something unknown, other, and unfamiliar. It is becoming in away a part of the places you see.

Of course on the other hand there is some simple B-Movie fun in a castaway story where the local fauna or flora in this case are more than they seem. That alone is a horrifying idea, and the idea of being overtake by moss and fungus and other decaying horrific things is enough to write a story on.

What stories have you heard about the food of the sea? The fruit of the sea? Besides seafood, of course, which we have in abundance.

Bibliography

“Most Famous of All Palms Coco de Mer” (PDF). New York Times. January 28, 1906. Retrieved 2010-04-28.

Grey, George. Polynesian Mythology, and Ancient Traditional History of the Maori. Whitcombe & Tombs, 1974.

Westropp, T. J. “A Study of Folklore on the Coasts of Connacht, Ireland (Continued).” Folklore, vol. 32, no. 2, 1921, pp. 101–123. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1255238. Accessed 19 Feb. 2021.

The Sea Dane

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

The Prior Research:Under the Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sea Dane bowed and greeted her in turn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Under the Sea

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

The Resulting Story: The Sea Dane

This week’s prompt returns us to familiar waters for the Undead Author Society: Strange and terrifying sights beneath the sea. We’ve touched on undersea creatrues, regions, and even peoples before. We talked about the most famous, Atlantis, here. We discussed undersea bishops and mermaids here.

Now, this recalled to my mind another flooded ancient city of Northern Europe—specifically, Ys. When I first heard the story of Ys, I was traveling in Ireland. The tour guide told a version that said Ys was sunk by druids to protect it—and if anyone found the golden keys to the city, they would inherit its power and it would rise again.  The key was under an unmarked grave in Ireland, and hadn’t been found yet!

The version I was able to find more documentation of is slightly different. Ys is found off the coast of Brittany. The King of Is or Ys is Gradlon, with his daughter Dahut. The city is built on reclaimed land, with the golden keys to the dykes holding it fast during the day. Gradlon’s daughter Dahut takes the keys, in most versions, and opens the dykes to flood the city. The reason she does so varies—in many versions, she is impressing a flatterer or lover, and drunkenly mistakes the dykes for her palace. In others, a man with a red cane and beard has come to the city and stolen the keys to flood the city. As the city floods, a saint or holy man comes and tells the King to flee—offering his horse to escape with. As he flees, his daughter jumps on the horses back, and the horse stops. And only be throwing her off does he escape.

Some versions suggest she in turn became a mermaid, bringing us to a full circle of our story from the Netherlands. To this day, at low tide, the ruins of the city can still be somewhat seen. The ruins are again attributed to Roman builders at times, at others to ancient sources. At least one suggests the devil danced on the dykes, mocking the king with his keys. A source I couldn’t confirm (it is in French) has Dahut build the city with korrigan aid and command sea serpents to serve every citizen of the city, building wealth with raids and oceanic diving. This wealth made them cruel, and soon they drove beggars and others out of their homes and streets. And so they were buried by the sea. It is said, in some versions, that that Is or Ys will rise again, and the first to hear its bell toll will become king.

A comparable Welsh tale modifies things somewhat. The drunkard is now the steward, and there are references to an overflowing well instead of the sea that creates a lake around the city. Still, the King escapes and is the sole survivor.

Bomere pool was likewise formed from a flood. The village that once stood there turned back to idolatry and the worship of Norse gods, only mocking the Christian faith. When the priest warned them of God’s wrath, fish bones were sewn to his cassock and children pelted him with stones. This did little to dissuade the priest, and his endurance won over a few back to the faith. However, in December the rains began to fall.

The priest, walking one day, saw that the dykes were about to burst. He ran down to warn the feasting pagan people, but was dismissed for his kill-joy croaking. One might expect, when the flood came on Christmas Eve, he and his followers would be safe on their hill. But no—the waters hit them first, rising over the altar, and washing away the entire village. You can still, they say, hear the ringing of the Sanctus bell over the pool.

A variant of this story exists, however. It was placed back in the Roman Empire’s reign. In this version, the warning comes from a Roman soldier, sent by God to the town. However, only the daughter of the governor will listen to him. The rest of the town beat him and mock him, as they did the priest in the other story. The soldier would have married the Governor’s daughter, but it was not to be. On Easter, devastation came to the city—a flood so massive it wipe the city out entirely. It is said the Sun rejoiced and the cattle prayed to God in thanksgiving. The solider was spared, but his love was not. He can be seen when the church bells ring, rowing a boat looking for his lady love to this day.

Amusingly to me, one version of the story sets an even pettier reason for the flood—that a farmer was harvesting grain on Sunday.

There are stories in Shropeshire where greed is the ultimate cause: Ellesmere was once a great meadow, with a well of pure water in the center.  People came from all around for the drink, until a churlish man purchased the land and demanded payment for the water. The next day, his wife found the meadow turned into a vast, worthless pool. And the price the man had to pay was kept high, for his poor conduct. 

Donegal Bay has a number of tales of sunken and undersea cities as well. A castle, with fields of cattle, is said to be visible in the morning—and that its inhabitants dress in old and strange clothing. When a marquis went to reclaim some land, he found the sight and ceased all work on the project—if it was due to the beauty of the city or something else we don’t know.

Another nearby castle emerged for reasons that are by now familiar. The local chief was holding a feast and advised by a saint to invite the poor as well as the rich into his hall. When he refused, the saint cursed him and the waters flowed up from the well and over the city, drowning it—in another case, the wicked chief held the saint prisoner and the well water rose up to over take them.

Another Donegal Bay story tells of a visit to the undersea, but not how it came to be. A man was riding at sunset towards a lake, when he found himself on a mirrored surface. He continued until he came to an underground room, and was asked by many hosts there to eat and drink. However, for once, our hero remembers his folklore and flees—seizing a bottle as proof. He emerged onto shore and was so frightened by what he had experienced he died within the year—but he had proof.

Another hero did not listen, however, when he pursued his sheep into an undersea kingdom. Here he married a red headed woman and lived a happy life—before deciding after three days to return and tell his family. Sadly, he learned that time is different under the sea—and he had been gone three thousand years.

Moving away from the British Isles, we can find underwater kingdoms farther abroad in Nubia. Here we have the Aman Naltah, river inhabitants who live in castles beneath the Nile. They will regularly, reportedly, drag persons down into their world and gift them with divining powers upon returning them. They also cause halluncinations or amnesia by dragging people beneath the river, aid in exorcisms, and so on. But they are not the only inhabitants of the Nile.

There is also the Aman Doger. These creatures also inhabit the Nile, but are much more tangibile. They have donkey like legs, log tails, big ears, and burning vertical eyes that are the only visible sign of them during sun rise and sunset. They do attack people, particularly women, to acquire gold for their taxes in their home country or to gain food. Robbery is not their only trick—they will lure people to the shore by calling their name, and then suck breath and blood from their nostrils, draining their strength. Being nocturnal and terrifying creatures, they prey on children of course. And most terrible of all, they will break vehicles and steal dates.

The more fascinating part for our purposes is the purported origin of the creatures. In one instance, a travelling sufi was rejected by pagan peoples. He cursed them to a terrible form as punishment, in a way familiar to the above. In some cases, this was the fate of all the original inhabitants of Nubia. Another, more modern-set origin says that when the British colonized Sudan, one tribe would not pay their taxes and rebelled. Sadly, they lacked gold and guns—so they made use of their sorcery to become river beings. Tragically, their sorecery was their undoing—they lost not only their wits and appearance, but became forever hungry and in need of wealth to pay their new overlords beneath the waves.

At least one story has such a spell lifted by a sword being cast through the Aman Doger, who afterwards retursn to Sudan to take up work as a merchant. It should be noted that, as a bewitched tribe, the sorcerers of the region have power over them. And as monstrous creatures, the appropriate verses of the Koran will disperse them.

Further from the Isles still is a tale from Micronesia. The handsome son of the chief of the Lugenfanu on Losap was on a boat to Truk when they came to a group of whales. However, these whales were actually girls in disguise and one of them, taking a fancy to the boy, knocked him overboard. The men on the boat did not notice, and so he was left swimming.

At least one text refers to them as dolphins, which is more reasonable and thus less fun.

He preformed some diviniation magic to learn which direction was preferable for him to travel. When it favors none, he asks if diving down would be best—and the magic says it is. So he dives down beneath the waves. There he found a clean and wonderful island, with a large pool in the middle, deep and wide. He hid in nearby bushes to see if anyone would come to the pool and bath. And soon the whales came, and each leaped into the pool from the salt water and removed their skin, revealing themselves to be beautiful girls.

Now, this story being an animal bride story (in a way), the boy finds the skin of the prettiest and steals it, for he is intent on making the prettiest of these whale women his wife. Unlike many such thieves, however, he quickly reveals he has the skin and that he hid it so the two of them could talk. After learning his story, she invites him home—sorry that she was the whale to knock him overboard.

At the home, her sisters arrive. The woman hides the boy, promising to keep him safe. The whale girl in turn ask why they can smell a foreign human in their home—with some agreeing to be his friend if he is a boy, others saying they will hate them regardless of boy or girl, and others promising to beat and murder him.  At least the first time—the second time they ask, they agree to be friends or even marry him.

So they all marry him, and agree that one will stay with him at all times while they are about. And in this time, the boy teaches them cooking for they did not know how to cook meals and hade been eating raw fruits. AT last, the prettiest girl’s turn comes again and the boy asks to be taken home again. The sisters are deeply unhappy, but they hold a feast to send him off and teach him how to revive dead whales, should they awash on his shore.

The undersea realms are thus places of many wonderous magics, where one can drift without being entirely aware. It is not surprising that shipwrecked sailors might dream of them—we have comparable cities in stories of the Flat Earth, where lineages of magicians have dwelt beneath the sea.

Our story would then follow the mad sailors story, their descent downward into this realm of magic and wonder, and their eventual return to the surface. Would it be a land of fish men, sorcerers, fae, or even the dead? What world will he return to? What treasure or proof will he steal? Come and see next time!

Bibliography

Doan, James. “The Legend of the Sunken City in Welsh and Breton Tradition” Folklore, Vol. 92, No. 1 (1981), pp. 77-83. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd.

Kennedy, John G. “Aman Doger: Nubian Monster of the Nile.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 83, no. 330, 1970, pp. 438–445. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/539665. Accessed 2 Feb. 2021.

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

Meder, Theo. The Flying Dutchman and Other Folktales from the Netherlands. Libraries Unlimited, 2008.

Meehan, Helen. “Underwater Worlds of the Donegal Bay Area.” Béaloideas, vol. 71, 2003, pp. 1–12. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20520823. Accessed 2 Feb. 2021.

Mitchell, Roger E. “The Folktales of Micronesia.” Asian Folklore Studies, vol. 32, 1973, pp. 1–276. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1177461. Accessed 2 Feb. 2021.

A Lost Limb

This Week’s Prompt: 124. Hideous secret assemblage at night in antique alley—disperse furtively one by one—one seen to drop something—a human hand—

The Prior Research:Left Hand Left Behind

Michel Donner rarely set foot outside his home in the wee hours of the morning. Even the small lights of dawn seared his eyes and made him break out in sweats. A pleasant sensation at sunset, when the intensity was fading, but in the morning it merely exaggerated his exhaustion. Still, last nights…peculiar gathering had forced him out into the light.

He paced down the alley, a one eyed stray hissing at him as he approached. Michel bought him off with a small bit of fish, tossed carelessly aside. They had been mostly silent, the strange men. He now could see, clearly, the strange symbols spray painted onto the walls of the alley. Circles and geometry patterns from school. Strange, kids these days. He amused himself at the dress up occultists of the day, before his attention was drawn by the familiar glimmer of gold on the asphalt.

It was a small band, pushing free of packaging paper. A ring, simple band—and it was as he lifted the package that Michel realized it was still attached to a hand.

Michel paused for a moment as he lifted the package, feeling the dense muscle and bone beneath it’s paper layer of skin. He hefted it for a moment, inhaling sharply.

And returned without a word to his home.

The Donner house was an abandoned building before its current owner, Michel, had arrived. It was secluded among the mostly forgotten old town buildings. There were people, but none that would be bothered by his activity in the depts of the night. None who asked many strange questsions or invited him away.

Michel carefully placed the hand on the kitchedn table, unwrapping it delicatel. It was a pale left hand, with a golden ring still on its ring finger. There was a red tattooed flower on the wrist, the edge of the stem with the letters “hen” in cursive on it. Michel retrieved a pair of tweazers and carefully removed the ring, examining it slowly. On the inside, good fortune had delievered him a name.

“Dorthoy Windsor.” He said slowly, placing the ring down and continuing his examination. “Assuming this isn’t pawned.”

A name was all he really had. Nails painted red, no blood or the like under them. There were…splotches of blood elsewhere. Sadly, she had not perished with her wallet or an identification card in her grip. Unsurprising.

That left examining the wound. Now, removing a hand is not the easiest of tasks. The tendons at the wrist had been severed, but the wound was not…clean. There were marks of hacking on either side of the incision—but the wounds were clean. She had passed before her finger hand was cut, although of hat was hard to say with merely a hand.

Someone might have advised Michel to call the authorities, and report such an atrocity in his own backyard. But Mr. Donner was a very private man, even without his condition. He never enjoyed when officers were involved in his affairs. So instead, he consulted the white pages—being one of the few to still regularly receive those tomes.

The name Windsor was luckily relatively rare. Locally, anyway.

Michel hated driving during the day. The bright light overhead were distracting—and it gave him such an awful headache. Still, he knew better than to ask for a private meeting in the late hours of evening. Such pains could be endured, with proper pills. They had been before, they would be again.

The Windsor house, unlike the Donner house, had a healthy and verdant lawn surrounding it. Even dandelions poked through the pavement on the way to the door. Michel had pried the ring free of the hand, leaving the gruesome trophy in the back of his car. Explaining that he found a gold ring was better.

Or would be, perhaps, if there had been an answer to his persistent knocking. After twenty minutes of silence, Michel took it upon himself to find the inhabitants of the home—or, judging by the contents of his car, the remains of them.

The lock to the backdoor was of poor quality. It was very expressive—the sign of someone who cared deeply about the appearance of security, but lacked the knowledge to appreciate actual security procedures. Michel’s method for opening such locks was not exceptional—any number of odd books on hobbies could uncover them. After about a moment, the backyard was open to him.

*

He was apprehensive at first, as he walked over the grass. The bright light of the sun was especially bad, reflecting off a pool below as well as from the sky above. There was a large tree, previously hidden by the house, branches hanging down over disturbed ground. It drew his eye, how the grass was so thin in this one spot.  

Lucikly for Michel, there was a shed nearby. Dorothy had been a gardener, and had a fine enough trowel and set of gloves. Her shovel was rusted and the nails holding it to the shaft were loose—well used, perhaps a handy me down. Still. It would suffice later on.

Gloves in hand, he surveyed the rest of the yard,straining to see in the bright light.  Nothing peculiar. Dog house, but no dog. A doll house being painted on the table. Or maybe a diorama. Regardless, Michel made his way to the back door—and found the lock already opened. Not just opened—the bolt, upon opening the door, had been removed.

Michel sighed with relief as he entered the Windsor home. The room closest to the back yard was a kitchen with a tile floor…and a shag carpeting floor adjacent to it, for a couch and living room.  Michel never understood the appeal of carpeting, it seemed all the harder to clean.

The kitchen was missing a few knives. That was something Michel checked on impulse these days—the exact number of knives present. Steak knives were missing, nothing terribly exotic. They made decent enough weapons.

The living room had a leather couch, and a pair of…connected seats. A couch for people afraid of appearing intimate, perhaps. Playing with a lever on the side, Michel ascertained they were recliners. Nothing stuffed in them.

Moving through the home, absent mindedly, he did notice a picture slightly ajar. A normal man or woman, or even child, would have passed it by without thought. But Michel was gripped by the paranoia of the night deprived. He removed it carefully, with gloved hands, looking to see what caused the slight change in weight. And there, presed on the frame, was a small rectangular piece of lead. Engraved on it was an eye, and characters unfamiliar to him at this hour. Characters and shapes he recalled dimly, like the writing one sees in a dream.

He stole that cursed tablet of lead. And he continued in the home that wasn’t his home.

*

There was a second floor to the Windsor home, a large loft and several rooms. Nothing of note, which itself was suprising. Michel was under no illusion he was the first to trespass here. No blood, no stains. No one had died here.

There was an office upstairs. He found a collection of business cards, Dorothy Windsor, private therapist. A number, an address for her office. He pocketed it. A list of patients. He took a photo of that, a small camera he had with him at all times in his jacket.

A through search, however, found a few other business cards. Intended to be discarded, it seemed. These had two names printed. Stephen and Dorothy Windsor. The office was the same, but of course a second number was printed. A lead then. He noted the pattern of a rose on this old card. The tattoo.

With that all gathered, he looked down at the yard from the office. The strange patch remained.

*

Michel was exhausted even before he began digging. He dug a few feet, until the metal of his shovel struck wood. A box, about ten inches by eleven inches. There was a loose chain around the lid, and a small lock. Lifting it out, Michel saw there were two—one lock on the chain, and one lock on the lid proper—a combination lock.

After placing the dirt back in the hole, Michel placed the box in the trunk, next to the box with the hand.  He’d have supplies to break it open at home. And he could use the rest. It took all his power to get home, and secure the boxes before collapsing onto the bed.


This story was difficult, and ends I think at the end of the first act. I had some personal issues crop up while writing this, and ended up scrapping an earlier draft that featured the hand at the midpoint. I think expanding on this story will be easy in the future—Michel’s strange condition and behavior is a bit of a joy to write.

Left Hand Left Behind

This Week’s Prompt: 124. Hideous secret assemblage at night in antique alley—disperse furtively one by one—one seen to drop something—a human hand—

The Resulting Story: A Lost Limb

This story has a number of potential prompts. First, of course, there is the secret assemblage gathering in an ancient alleyway–each member leaving, and one leaving with a human hand they drop. The first thing that comes to mind here is we have borne witness to the careful dismemberment and scattering of a body by a group of strangers. We will go into what purpose this might serve in a  moment. The second thing to note is that it is a hand that is left behind. Something we can examine in detail as well, as there are one or two uses for a hand that come to attention.

In general, it appears that these strangers have murdered someone and departed with various pieces of him for their own purposes. It hardly takes a leap in imagination to suggest that they have done so for occult purposes, whether magical or scientific. We have discussed various uses for the dead before–relics here, the hand of glory here for instance–but there are many more that remain. 

In the more disgusting is the Bezoar, a concentration of human hair that forms within the body. Bezoar’s were collected as a cure for any poison, instead of an ailment or tool of murder. The strange, almost rocky things, were believed to somehow filter out the toxin as it passed. Alchemists further described various rituals as the bezoars of celestial bodies, and in Goa there was a business of manufacturing such objects. Using hair, fossils, teeth, and gems, they were used for much the same purposes.

We did discuss, in our work on cannibalism, the idea of monstrous bandits eating hearts of children for occult powers. They are not the only ones who sought power through cannibalizing human beings. The idea of criminal organizations harvesting organs can be found throughout the world–particularly the organs and eyes of children in the 1980s to 90s in Latin America. And we have talked about cannibals here as well. 

On a mythic level, eating the body of the holy monk Xuanzang during the journey to the west supposedly granted numberless boons–including immortality for the one to do so. Of course, the result of a demon devouring a divine personage was never seen in the story–the monk made his way across in safety. The threat remains, however, and reminds me of a Japanese story about eating Ningyo–by eating one, a given person might live forever. The most famous example of this is a buddhist priestess who lived to be 800 years old before taking her own life. Perhaps this congregation in an alley was dividing up leftovers?

One of the more esoteric and surprising suggestions of uses comes from the Magus, Book 1. This book of magic instructs that, by using a Grimoire called the Book of Pluto, one might generate animals from the bodies of animals. While it does not specify generating something from the body of a man–although it does generate a man from a hen’s egg–it is not beyond the realm of possibility to do such things. These creations have unique and potent powers–said man is a mandrake, a creature with an infamous song. The virtues a full grown mandrake might have were sadly not listed in the Grimoire in question. Still, we might imagine that the parts of a man might create something particularly potent and ghastly. The body parts of gods, in the Classic of Seas and Mountains bring forth their own divinities. 

The hand in particular is interesting, going back to an iteration of the Bluebeard narrative. In a version recorded by the Grimm Brothers, The Robber’s Bridgegroom, a woman marries a man only to see him and his comrades beat and dismember another woman at night. They leave behind a finger with a wedding ring still attached–and this becomes the incriminating evidence against the robber. This of course gets the robber slain by her brothers. A number of Bluebeard myths feature the grizzly dismemberment of the body.

There are also cases of the Hand of Glory. We touched on this here, but I’d like to expand somewhat from that. For those unfamiliar, the hand of glory is the hand of a thief, where one finger has been replaced with a candle made from the fat of a hung man. Its powers are many–it opens locks, it opens heavy doors with ease, it cannot be extinguished except by milk, and it can put to sleep entire households. In more than one case, it is lit by the fire place of the house the thief intends to rob–perhaps subverting the traditional power of the hearth.

Each light represents a sleeping member of the family.

In Germany, there are stories of thieves lights–similar criminal tokens but made from the fingers of unbaptized children. These light at the thief’s thought, and are visible to him only–everyone else sees only darkness. Further, anyone sleeping in the same room as a thieves light will not be woken, even by heavy storms.

In Poland, the finger of a hanged criminal preserved in a jar will bring about successful businesses. Sadly, he was caught by his own servants and arrested for possession of such a grisly device. His business did not survive him afterwards. Perhaps it was the lack of magical prowess…perhaps instead it was the rumors that a finger was preserved in his basement and the very public arrest. Who can say, precisely?

Another grizzly example of dismemberment comes from a Pope. Pope Sylvester II supposedly, as discussed here, made a deal with demons for his position or for his knowledge. The condition of a long life and knowledge was he not set foot in Jerusalem. When he fell ill after giving Mass at the Church of Jerusalem in Rome, he asked that after death his body be cut to pieces and scattered throughout the city. Why is unclear–I briefly wonder if something about an intact body of a pope that made a compact with the devil would have left it open to possession. Another version leaves out the dismemberment–instead Pope Sylvester simply had his body taken out of the city by a cart, and buried where the horses stopped.

I would love dearly to now pivot to a story by Lovecraft that features this strange and ghoulish gathering–but sadly I cannot trace this story to its fruit. The closest I can find is a story about an alleyway where, eventually, a group of Russian communists plan a coup on Independence Day. That story…is so terrible, that I don’t think it makes for particularly compelling material.

So instead, I shall point to a better writer. Tanith Lee’s ghouls meet underneath the ground, every now and then, and feed on the bodies of men like ours do here. They also scheme and plan, and hold something comparable to a witches sabbath. Those too were marked by murder and canniblaism in stories past, which could leave behind a hand or eye for someone to find. 

The meeting here then has a number of gruesome implications. There are notions of ghoulish cannibalism, perhaps, but also perhaps occult attempts at preventing the living from returning from the dead. The construction of ritual objects of dark power. The prosperity of business at the expense of lives. 

Our character is no doubt an unintended observer–someone who one night stumbles upon this scene of terror. Perhaps they see it out their window, or maybe they see the alley when they are walking home. Given the phrasing, it is in an old part of town. I am inclined to think a mostly abandoned part of town–and given they leave one by one, and seem somewhat confident in their efforts. 

What can be done with a hand however? At best, at the very best, one might extract identity from finger prints. Maybe a ring or glove left behind, that is especially notable? But how to go about finding out who this victim was, without the authorities? And if it is with the authorities, how to involve them without them taking over the stories? Perhaps the sign isn’t entirely unknown ahead of time.  We will have to see.

Bibliography:

Burnell, F. S. “The Holy Cow.” Folklore, vol. 58, no. 4, 1947, pp. 377–381. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1257194. Accessed 13 Jan. 2021.

Samper, David. “Cannibalizing Kids: Rumor and Resistance in Latin America.” Journal of Folklore Research, vol. 39, no. 1, 2002, pp. 1–32. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3814829. Accessed 13 Jan. 2021.

“The Hand of Glory.” Hand of Glory Legends, University of Pittsburgh, 19 Jan. 2019, http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/hand.html. 

A Night At The Museum

This Weeks Prompt: 123. Dried-up man living for centuries in cataleptic state in ancient tomb.

The Prior Research:On Display

Fisk locked the museum door behind him. The curator had placed a notice outside, that do to a recent incident, the museum was closed for the day. The News reported an ongoing investigation into a robbery.  Of course, to Fisks’s chagrin, they mentioned that the exact items stolen were not disclosed—meaning speculation ran rampant.

“Last thing this place needs, a new round of theorists.” Franklin said as Fisk passed him a coffee.

“To be fair, Frank, this is a new kind of problem.” Fisk said, as they walked back to the Lost Treasures exhibit. The two of them looked over the crime scene, such as it was. The case for the new exhibit was open, sarcophagus closed. There was another body, the mystery mummy, fallen on its back near the door.

Well, mummy was a bit much.

“Look, I hear cocaine rots you inside out. Maybe he’s on some new shit?” Fisk said, scratching his head as he walked around the body. The body was wearing a black t-shirt, a light jacket, some gloves to stay warm and a hankerchief. The baseball cap that was a foot away—knocked over when the body fell over—was probably his too. The problem was  the body itself looked like someone freeze dried an entire person. The skin was stretched tight over bones and muscles were atrophied, eyes shut against the floor, hands crumpled where they’d hit the ground.

“Right okay.” Franklin said, walkinga round the body and up to the open exhibit case. He pointed at the carefully opened plexiglass latch. “So, this—this seems like someone tried to lift the thing out of here. Right? Opening the case at night, and cameras all bugged out.”

Fisk walked over to the rotating security cam. It was a cheap thing.  Probably didn’t actually get good image anyway.

“That adds up.” Fisk said, waving at the security guard.

“So he breaks into the museum, comes in to lift some stuff and then…what? Suddenly paralysis?”

“Heart attack?” Fisk said, walking back to the body. “I mean he can’t have been in good health, looking like that.  Here’s a cat or something, and bam!” Fisk clapped his hands together. “Drops dead. No exit wound, nothing.”

“…seems strange, just dropping dead like that.”

Not that there was much such gentlemen of the law could say. They took their notes, and had the body sent away to men who’s work was dealing with the dead instead of creting them. Morticians are well versed in the art of preservation and decay, to determine and ascertain the most probable cause of the end of their fellow man. And Douglas considered himself one of the finest in such a regard.

Which made the mystery of the exterior exceptionally frustrating. As the police had suspected, not a singular exit wound was left in place. Nor entrance wound. There were some scratches made by nails, but they seemed like the itches made by fidgeting not struggling. The fingers were brusied, and their tips were even smashed—but that was due to the other, frustrating fact that Douglas struggled to explain.

Douglas, before working as a coroner, had spent some time as a mortician. And he would never imagine such a well preserved body would exist outside such professional circumstances. The skin was dried, the insides had long lost their moisture as well. Which was unusual during a cold, wet winter season.  Perhaps, Douglas considered, the man had taken some preparations for his demise. Or maybe it was the result of a freak diet.

It made the incision somewhat more difficult process—the skin being tough and leathery, instead of smooth and easy to cut. The mysteries of the surface could be solved by going underneath…he thought. Until he found the organs.

He almost admired the handy work. It took skill to preserve them this way. Perfectly still, resembling dried fruits stuffed into a leather bag. Even their flaws were there—the mar of regular smoking on the flattened lungs, the build up around the heart valves. It was like the entire body was filled with fermaldhyde.

That was one thing, however, that felt even more out of place. The smell. There was a certain smell corpses have. Rot, decay, even preservered they smelled disquieting. This one, this one smelled sweet. Almost like lavender or honey.  Douglas did take a sample of a strange, light golden substance forming around the throat—perhaps a toxin—and wrote off the strange smell to that.

As he scraped the maerial into a vial, he felt the first twitch. The spiderweb of nervs around the neck twitched back—muscle long too stiff to respond to the pulsing attempt at movement. As Douglas sat upright, he saw it again. Another twitch, a flicker of light down into the arm. It wouldn’t be until the afternoon that he confirmed it—despite all odds and sense, there was something alive on his desk.

A museum at night is a particularly eerie place. A home has familiar shapes in the darkness—chairs, couches, moonlit windows. But a museum lives on the unusual silleuhette. On the strange shape that even a child can tell is not of this time. In a normal home. Finding such a compression of history would be alarming. In the halls of the Geogrestown museum, stepping through a doorway and finding yourself back a century is part of the appeal.

It isn’t exactly a hard to place to get into. You’ll see movies, with laser tripwires and pressure sensors and people rappelling down from the ceiling. Its all very fancy, very expensive to film, has room for tension and comedy all of that. And there’s some museums that can drop enough cash to actually install those things. Really, it’s a locked door—which exists to make things a modicum more difficult—a security guard—granted, they don’t let folks who signed up day of cover night shift—and a trip alarm. Maybe a motion sensor near the big exhibit. Some cameras for the guard at the control desk.

No, what stops most robberies at museums is probably the logistics. Its pretty hard to get an ancient bronze shield out of a building without anyone noticing—not because there’s tons of eyes on it, but because we sadly don’t live in an age where you can walk around with a giant bronze disk and not get asked strange questions.

The other added layer is what is actually on display. A lot of what you see these days are replicas—specifically to prevent people like me from reaching in, grabbing something, and ducking out.  Which, well, sucks because your stuck with a cheap copy of something you can’t even really sell unless you find a dumb as hell pawn shop owner. Not that those are exactly in short supply but…

Luckily, the odds of the Georgestown Museum faking an entire mummy are rather low. I mean they could, but I’m pretty sure no part of town has enough money for that on a dime. I put my duffle bag on the floor and looked over the body. The security had, I admit, been a bit of a hassle to work around.  A cruder sort would’ve just conked him hard on the head. A smarter sort might have hacked the cameras or something.

Me? I just dropped something in his drink, let it run its course. Walked in, turned off the cameras, walked out. Kept my mask on just in case I show up on the news.

It was cold, probably an extra layer of preservative or something. The sarcophagus looked small on the news—it wasn’t like any that I’d seen before. It was only about four feet long, two feet wide, looked like some sort of big egg. Unscrewing the top of the glass took some special tools—and that wasn’t accounting for clicking the motion alarm underneath.

I figured the thing was pretty solid, pretty heavy. I’d considered trying to pop it open and moving just the mummy—but probably that’d break in the bag. Still. I had to check, before I made off with it—if the sarcophagus was just an empty box, well. That would be bad for any follow up work or pay.

The lid was a thinner than I expected—but I got a good grip on the cold stone, and with some scratching managed to lift it up. And there he was—curled up like a babe, thin as a chicken. His hands were clasping…something close to his chest.

It was shiny, whatever it was. Looked like some sort of…emerald maybe. I leaned down to get a better look at it. That’s when I realized it was looking at me.  Empty eyes, staring at me.

***

This story hit the actual drama towards the end. I realized too late that something like the Autopsy of Jane Doe—a film I forgot until writing this—would actual serve much better than a crime procedural.  If or when I rewrite this, that’s probably the direction I’ll lean into more. Next time, we delve into secret gatherings seen at night—and what they might leave behind!