Settling Down, Setting Free

This Week’s Prompt: 89. Lone lagoons and swamps of Louisiana—death daemon—ancient house and gardens—moss-grown trees—festoons of Spanish moss.

The Prior Research:Swamp Men and French Werewolves

There was an old rotting property at the end of Leeman Lane, that had it not been for one particularly pick lawyer, would have been demolished years ago. The house belonged to my great uncle’s family—a family I had only vaguely visited once or twice. Hated it, honestly. There was a nice backyard, and a cool patio I think, and a chest of old toys. But well, it was on the edge of the swamp.

I guess I remember Uncle Todd dying. No, I probably just remember a funeral sort of. I was like eight, and the house at the end of Leeman Lane vanishing beneath a bulldozer wouldn’t have made my family news. We weren’t close.

But then, a lawyer calls me up. Says I’m the next of kin—not of Uncle Todd, but my second cousin (or is it cousin once removed?) Jerry. Jerry died with the house in his name, passed it on, and well no one wanted it.

I didn’t want it.

It was cheap and far away from the folks and who knows, putting something back together might be healthy. Left over student loan money would be able to get me started, rebuilding it anyway. I closed the car door at the end of the road, the creaking and condemned buidling looming over me. Home sweet home.

My first visit of the old house was dire. There was water dripping from a whole in the roof down to the basement, where it made a mosquito infested pit., most of the furniture was already gone. The porch was covered in mold, it’d have to all be replaced. The wallpaper had all been pealed back. There was no way I was sleeping there for at least a months of work.

House Louisiana.png

The motel was cheap and didn’t look that bad, all things considered.

A whole month?” the old woman behind the counter said with a raised eyebrow. “What, you shooting a documentary or something?”

People do that often out here?” I asked, handing over the card for her to scan. Reception wasn’t great out here, things took a bit.

Course they do! Nature stuff in the swamp, people looking for moss men, that sort of thing. Not your lane though?” she said, handing it back. “Well, you might see something out by the old Leeman house. Room 2b, ice machine’s down the hall.”

I lugged my pair of suitcases up and got to studying. I had…a vauge idea of what I was doing, but not really? Not in practice. I mean, demolishing the whole thing and starting from scratch seemed expensive and a bit…pointless, really. Wasteful, I guess?

So that meant figuring out how to replace waterlogged, moldy walls. How to saftely take down walls, how to tell their load bearing. What sort of tools to get, which were rip offs, which were for professionals, what you could get by with;what materials, what kinds of plasters, where to buy them, that sort of thing.

Looking it over, there was no way this was a one man job.

Hey Frank.” It took a couple calls to get through. “You still need a job? Still got that old truck?”

Truck Louisiana.png

Frank’s a big guy, a nice guy. He’s done some construction work, but even he was surprised at the size of the damage.

Man, this whole wall’s gotta go. Like, are these…there are mushrooms growing out of this.” He said, reaching out and flicking the sprouting shrooms. I nodded, and tapped it with an axe.

The whole thing? Edges seem pretty good.” I said, drumming the wet but not moldy corner. Frank leaned over to look and frowned.

They might be fine, we’ll see when we get the rest out of the way. Their might be mold inside.” He said, heading over to the back. “And—okay, yeah, you were right. House first, backyard second. I can’t tell if that’s a pool or a lake.”

Tree looks nice though.”

Yeah, I guess. Spanish moss kinda looks like a curtain.” He said, shrugging as he walked around to the front.

The rest of the tour goes as better—there’s a lot of work to be done, but its not impossible. Just intense and expensive. I wave my hand at that, money’s not a real issue at the moment.

Really?” Frank says looking around the stairs—some would need to be replaced, but the structure was mostly fine. “I mean, I know–”

We both stood stock still. Rustling, and another splash. Frank held up a hand, and slowly walked over to the hole in floor, peering over. He frowned and shrugged, gesturing for me to come over. There was something floating in the water—holding a cellphone light over the hole, a small bit of wood came into view. For a moment I sighed with relief. Maybe it was just a bit of the roof that fell. But the light caught on something with color—a bit of red and blue. I leanded over a bit, careful not to fall in.

It’s carved.” I said slowly. “Some sort of…doll?”

Maybe something left on the roof?” Frank said, looking up. “Though…seems strange for the wind to catch.”

Yeah…maybe a rat or something?”

Do rats play with dolls?” Frank said, frowning more.

Well, no, but…maybe a crow dropped it? It looks kinda shiny, nest material?” I said, standing up and looking around.

Yeah, maybe. We should take a look, just in case.” Frank said. “This place gives me the creeps, and I’d rather not get a heart attack from a stray cat jumping at me from its home.”

The basement wasn’t…exactly safe to get into. The stairs creaked, and I felt one breaking as I went down with Frank. It was a big basement—shelves still against the wall, with cans that might still have some good food in them. No furniture, but some piled up lumber and a rusting heater.

The walls had some holes. And there were, of course, insects buzzing around the small still water pool. Mosquitoes loved it. I wish I had worn gloves, they bit my arms like crazy.

No rat holes…not that I can see.” Frank said, shining his phone light around on bare concrecte and wood.

Might have gotten out?” I said, peaking behind the lumber.

Sure, sure. Oddly tidy down here.” He said, shining his cellphone light about.

Well, must not have had much use for–” I stopped and grabbed Frank’s shoulder. A shadow covered the water. My eyes rose to the floor above. No one. In the silence I listened for another breath. The roofed creaked, as the shadow grew—and then shifted back again.

Thank god you live in a hotel.” Frank said as he breathed again.

The hell was that?” I said, slowly walking over to the pool. Picking up the wood carving, I looked up—and the hole in the roof a bit bigger than before.

I don’t know, but let’s not find out. Could be…I don’t know a bear or something.” Frank said, gesturing to leave.

Are there swamp bears?” I asked. Frank didn’t answer as we left.

I looked back as we got in Frank’s car—there were some broken branches around the roof.

Hotel Louisiana.png

At the hotel, I did try and you know, find an answer. It couldn’t have been a person. I mean, I don’t think so. The branches were broken, and I think we would have heard someone taking that high of a fall. I don’t think someone could have crawled up the walls, and there wasn’t a ladder or rope.

There was a black bear. It could have been an extra-ordinarily friendly one, who thought the house was his. Or I guess, I don’t know. An escaped zoo animal—no that would have made the news. Sighing, I considered that it could have been…an exceptionally big bird or crow. Whatever it was, me and Frank had agreed: we’d see this through.

I mean, yeah, if we had the cash we’d hire some folks but honestly I think you’re right to try it on your own for now.” Frank said nodding. “Raw materials will eat up a lot of it, but you’d be amazed what the internet can teach you these days.”

We’d keep an eye out for…whatever that thing was. That, Frank admitted, was not something we should handle with a Youtube tutorial. Thinking on it, I couldn’t help but laugh a bit.

What’s so funny?”

Oh, nothing. The hotel lady, she mentioned—people shoot big foot documentaries out here. Maybe this is where he’s been hiding.” I said laughing.

Your family’s the bigfoot protection program. Of course, you look just like him.” Frank said, chuckling a bit as we pulled up to the hotel.

Swamp1 Louisiana

We didn’t see it again when fixing the walls—God that was costly and exhausting. We patched that hole up, as soon as we were sure that the wall wasn’t going to break and send the whole thing falling down. Clearing out the moss was unpleasant work, and it took a week to get all of it off. Another week to replace most of the rotten wood, patching the few holes.

It was about three weeks in, when we went outside, that things were strange again. Frank had finished asking me about what sort of crazy stuff I had gotten into during my brief college experience. I made some shit up about getting drunk at parties and smoking weed, heading out back to avoid further questions.

That’s when I saw the new hole. It was smashed in, and there was bits of black fur stuck on the edges. Inside, a rusted metal lock box—and digging. Something had either dug up…or been trying to bury this box. Picking up the fur, I felt a chill down my spine. It felt…lacquered. Greasy, like it was stuck in a shower drain oil was poured down. I flicked it off and took the box in.

Hey, Frank…you got a screwdriver or hammer or something.” I said, holding it up.

The box wasn’t actually that hard to force open—the lock was easy enough to knock open with a screwdrive and hammer. I didn’t ask where Frank learned that trick—probably googled it, honestly. Anyway, inside was a small set of diagrams that I took out and folded open on our little workbench—we hadn’t quite gotten the new furniture in yet.

I started sorting through the stuff, placing the contents of the box out. There was a floorplan of the house, with X’s drawn on some of the wall spaces.

Buried treasure?” I asked, handing it to Frank as I unloaded the rest.

No…no, I think…Lemme check something.” Frank looked around the room for a bit and passed off, tapping part of the wall and then moving to the next room. There were some scraps of paper and painted leaves, and then…photos.

Old photos, of the backyard. Flicking through the nights recorded in the little windows, there was a growing pattern. It was in the corner of shots, on the edge of the light. A black furred limb—sometimes an arm, sometimes a paw, sometimes something bent and strange. Little eyes, red eyes, stared out from some of them. They were perfect pinpricks, they followed as I turned the picture under a light.

Frank…You need to see this.” I said, laying them out on the table.

Gimme a sec, just one more room to check!” Frank shouted.

There was a dull rumble from the living room, and as I turned it sharpened into a cracking sound. The wood bent upward, the old hole opening up again. And then it cracked apart, black claws flickering out of sight. I ran up to the hole, and stared down at a pair of fierce red eyes.

***

The next thing I knew, Frank was talking to someone on the phone about how “and he just like, he just passed out. I don’t know I think he had a stroke? Is there an age limit on strokes?”

Frank?” I said, getting up slowly. Frank looked at me.

And um. He…he got up. Yeah, yeah okay. Hey man, what’s your name?” Frank said, still on the phone.

Daniel Jordan.” I said, sitting up a bit.

Hey, take it easy. Alright, Dan, what day is it?”

Tuesday..” I said rubbing my head. “Why, what’s going on?”

You took a bit of a fall. Now, where are we?” Frank asked seriously.

The house at the end of Leeman street…the old mossy one Uncle Todd owned.” I said slowly, starting to stand.

Alright.” Frank went back to the phone. “He…he seems fine. Uh, I’ll bring him in.”

Bring me where?” I sad, standing—good my legs hurt. “Frank, we’re not going to a hospital.”

Thanks again.” Frank hung up on his cellphone. “Dude, you were out for like twenty minutes. You need to see a doctor.”

I’m not going to a hospital for a concussion—that’s gonna eat up what I’ve got left, man.” I said, shaking my head. “We can get to a minute clinic or something. There’s gotta be something like that around here right?”

Frank frowned and started to say something before I held a hand up to cut him off.

Dropping out didn’t void my student loans, and the last thing I need ontop of working those off and rebuilding this house is a hospital’s worth of lawyers chasing me for using their emergency room, alright?”

I grabbed some of the loose stuff in the box, and head for the truck.

Swamp2 Louisiana.png

Frank was uneasy the whole ride, but I kept myself busy reading through the journal. He didn’t believe me about the red eyes, not until I showed him the pictures and the guy at the minute clinic confirmed I was fine. I mean, of course I was fine. It cost a hundred bucks I kinda had, but I was fine. He got real quiet then.

Its messed up man, like. This is stuff we call a priest over.” Frank said, shaking his head. “You know, this is ghost stuff or something. Call the local news.”

I don’t think so.” I said, thumbing through the book.

I mean. Maybe that’s what the map was about?” Frank said, as we turned a corner. “The X’s, they were marking spots were there was mold before. And there was mold around the hole you found…”

Yeah, it doesn’t like the house, that’s clear. But Todd and Jerry lived here, so it wasn’t here forever. Or they figured out how to deal with it.” I said, thumbing a bit farther along. “God knows I don’t need a free loading room mate who knocks me out when I look at him.”

Very funny,” Frank said with a grimace.

Thanks.”

And then I found it. It was over a few pages, but there it was. Answers.

The house hadn’t been doing well—business at Jerry’s shop was declining, and travelers were down. Story of the century, small family business failing as everyone moves to the big city. Except, I guess, Jerry had a screw loose or something. He’d found out there was something living in the swamp—it had some Spanish or French name, I don’t know—something that was big and scary. And he figured, it might be handy to bind this terrible spirit of the swamp to the family. That way, he could rot out and devalue local property to buy up, maybe have it steal stuff or find things lost in the swamp. It was all a bit panicked excitement, really.

So your telling me ‘run off half sure of yourself, and try a dumbass thing’ isn’t just you?” Frank said, as I read along. “It’s like, genetic?”

When have I–”

You’re currently trying to rebuild a swamp house to get away from your family, and the fact that there’s a monster in the house didn’t get you to run immediately.” Frank said, waving. “But please, carry on.”

Right, first of all, harsh. But yeah, so…he tried to cobble together some sort of spell to catch the thing. As you do.”

As you do.”

And well…it kinda worked?” I said, frowning. “I mean. It caught the thing.”

But…”

Well, it caught a wild animal, it didn’t like. Control it.” I said, sighing. “So its a wild animal, stuck in the house, trying to get out.”

Why didn’t he just…let it out?” Frank asked, as we pulled up to the motel.

You luck a dog up in a cage, and it starts biting at you and shaking the cage—you let it out and it might run away. Or it might go for your throat.” I said, shrugging. “But…I think Jerry got it wrong.”

…You think it’s smarter then that.”

It dug up the book, and dropped the doll thing.” I said, nodding. Frank put it in park. “We should head back tomorrow and…”

Please do not tell me your going back down there, and gonna muddle with stuff we don’t know about and hope it goes okay.”

…and yeah, muddle with stuff we don’t understand to free a thing we can’t really see and hope it just leaves.” I said, sighing. “Like you said, this is specialist work, but we don’t have the budget.”

We went over the plan the next day. There were two rings we needed to get rid of—one was in the basement, beneath the lumber pile. Jerry apparently thought that would stop that thing, and was convinced it’d eventually calm down. The other one was out by the pond thing—where he caught it.

You take the basement.” I siad, point to the diagram. “Just. Just go to town on the circle. I’ll go to the pool—I’m not gonna be able to move the lumber very well. If the thing shows up, don’t look at it. Jerry says it’s eyes are messed up, and you know, I think he was right about that.”

The one by the pool?”

I’ll handle that. It’s some stones, I can just…knock them over.” I said, shrugging.

Frank insisted on bringing a gun. I told him not to bother, that it’d be dangerous. But whatever, his deal not mine.

I started walking out the back door. The grass was fresh. We hadn’t worked out the backyard yet, not even close to the pool. The moss was still hanging like a curtain, from the branches around the pond. The wind rustled as I got closer.

I’d noticed the stones, but really I’d thought they were just some kids dicking around. Circles in stones, wrapped around and around. Like a labyrinth not. Jerry worked really hard on it—I wonder if that’s really why he didn’t break it. There were little wooden dolls around it, facing towards the center where a crude bit of drift wood was.

BackyardLouisiana.png

Something was in the air—it felt like I was walking silk, sticking to my hairs and pulling them on end as I got closer. I felt little legs crawling down my arms, like spider legs with baby fingers. Soft, but unwelcome.

I picked up the first of the stones, and tossed them—and the web vibrated, the air twisted around. It rippled as it fell into the pond. I felt the snares, pulling at me slightly with each stone I through around. It hurt, I don’t know why it hurt to tear it apart, but it hurt. My chest ached, my limbs felt tired, my eyes burned.

When I was done, I slumped against a tree. Moss hung down to my shoulders, and I saw a glimpse of it. It was tall, dark, and had bright red eyes. It looked like something—like a crocodile, I guess, or like a person with a thrown out back. Stood up right, and I closed my eyes and sighed. It left whistling on the wind, and I haven’t seen it since.




This story was one I knew from the start had an obvious metaphor, like last time. Repairing an old house seemed like an obvious direction to take it. And the idea of repairing your life, metaphorically repersented by repairing a house—with a monster and a dark past mixed together to create an external version of internal struggles seemed also basic. The writing isn’t quite as tight as I would like, and the ending is a bit rushed I think—I ran out of time again, and space frankly. This is already a very long piece, and I didn’t want to push my luck to far.

I tried again to stay grounded for this one, as next time we will be dealing with another fantastic and strange monster. Come and see these!

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Swamp Men and French Werewolves

 

This Week’s Prompt: 89. Lone lagoons and swamps of Louisiana—death daemon—ancient house and gardens—moss-grown trees—festoons of Spanish moss.

The Following Story: Settling Down, Setting Free

This week we are going to zoom in on a specific geographic local, one that looking ahead haunts Mr. Lovecraft. To Louisiana! Land of good food, interesting folklore, Voodoo, and crocodiles! However, this week, in particularly, we will look into some of the monstrous creatures that haunt the swamps—the Loup Garou and some strange monstrous creatures more recent!

The Loup Garou is a creature or at least name of French Extraction. In France, it resembles many werewolf legends—the creature is associated with witchcraft, and often blamed for natural disasters. Occasionally, the creature was the result of someone skipping Lent for seven years straight—a trait that survives in the Cajun version of the legend, as the Loup Garou hunts children who don’t observe Lent. The French werewolf, especially the Canadian version, was relatively easy to cure—a few drops of blood spilled would deliver them.

LoupGarou1.png

The Loup Garou migrated to Louisiana, were some changes occurred—its association with witches grew, as the curse of the Loup Garou could be inflicted on someone by a witch. The curse was transmittable, but only within one hundred and one days of acquiring the curse. The Loup Garou had a number of strange weaknesses—it could not count higher then 12, and so was confused by coins numbering roughly thirteen.

The creature is reported in one case to attended a witches sabbath, riding on the back of large bats into the night to go to a masquerade ball. This isn’t terrible new news to us, but is worth noting as both a rather terrifying visual and something distinct from the modern image of the werewolf as an entirely savage and unthinking creature. Infact, in several French versions, the werewolf is actually a cursed nobleman—a curse inflicted, of course by stepmothers and wicked wives. Save your surprise. This is again different from the folklore notion, where the Loup Garou is the result of a failure to confirm with rituals, such as Lent or Easter.

LoupGarou2.png

The Loup Garou has a comparable modern cryptid or creature—the Honey Swamp Island Monster. This creature, standing around seven feet tall, has been occasionally sighted by fishermen in the area since the nineteen sixties. While the reality of the creature is, let us say, questionable, it is interesting the level of detail it has gathered. Plaster copies of footprints have been made—and these are strange webbed feet instead of the more common humanoid feet of the Sasquatch.

According to one source, Louisiana has a number of strange apes. The Missouri Monster Momo has been sighted there, little more than a large and frightened ape. More ancient is Nalusa Falaya from indigenous tales, which approaches humans on it’s stomach. It’s stooped gait maybe awkward, but it is incredibly fast. It comes upon hunters when their shadows grow long, and whispers in the voice of a man. Looking upon it sometimes causes men to fall unconscious. While they are unconscious, the creature places a thorn in his victim’s foot. This thorn allows the creature to do evil through the hunter, infecting others as well. The children of this creature can become willowisps, removing their innards to float around the swamp.

Honey Island Swamp.png

The Kashehotapalo is another swamp man of native origin, who like the Nalusa, dwells far from human settlements. With a small, evil looking face and the legs of a deer he is quiet the sight. When approached, he cries out with the voice of a screaming woman—never harming the hunters but distracting and frightening them.

While reading on these, I came across the Okwa Nahollo—a group of people with skin the color of a trout who live underneath the water. When people swim in their pool, the Okwa Nahollo will attempt to seize them and draw them into their home. After three days, the people captured become Okwa Nahollo—before this, a friend singing near the pool may lure the victim to the surface. After three days, however, they have become fish like and can’t come to the surface without dying. The horror potential of these creatures is…immense to say the least. Honestly, I wish I had found them earlier for stories of lakes.

There is one last creature here. The term demon invokes a creature named na losa chitto(Nalusa Chito in other sources). Reported in a story from the 1990s, the creature resembles a cow with great red eyes and horrible odor, black as day. As approached, the creature grows in size and darkness—however, if one becomes afraid of the creature, it inflicts seizures on them. Other stories say the creature is fast enough to seize a wagon, and resembles a large furry man—it chased one man down and stole his wagon with some effort. The creature’s unclear nature, and its preying on fear
Then there are the slightly further afield creatures. The soucouyant is a creature like the night hag that resembles an old woman by day—by night, however, she sheds her skin and becomes a fire ball. Her skin, according to one source, is hidden beneath a stone and her breasts serve as wings for the fire ball, as she lights up the sky. In this form, she can enter any home through any crevice. They then suck blood out of their victims—however, unlike most vampiric creatures, this isn’t for sustenance. Instead, they trade this blood for favors from demonic powers of the Silk Cotton Tree. One source identified a demon named Bazil, who was trapped in said tree by a clever carpenter building seven rooms on top of each other. What Bazil does with this blood is unclear, but tales of black magic indicate any number of things can be done with blood.

White Silk Cotton Tree.png
Like many demons and foul creatures, the soucouyant has a compulsion to count—and so can be caught by spreading rice around her house. This she shares with vampires, fae, and demons. Otherworldly creatures seem to have an obsession with mathmatics. This again ties to the Loup Garou(the soucouyant is sometimes called a Loogaroo, adding to some confusion), who is confused by high numbers as well.
So we have a whole host of monsters—and for what? Well, the notion presented by many of these creatures is the tenuous line between man(and it does seem to always be men with werewolves) and beast. That has always been a part of the werewolf, even the noble werewolf: an embodiment of the notion that of man as monster and man as civilized person. This isn’t a new horror observation, nor are the ties to sexuality and other less savory aspects. The Swamp Monster is likewise a creature that is human but not quite—a strange creature that resembles in many ways the Wild Men we discussed a while back. There is then an angle of the horror that plays on the Southern Gothic tone of the description. Abandoned houses, moss covered and decaying. There is an air of the ruined castles of Gothic horror. As a genre, Southern Gothic has a rich tradition that I am admittedly not very familiar with. The most I’ve tasted is, frankly, a song by Yelawolf. Which, I’ll note, touches on another nature that the Loup Garou and the other monsters have: the fear of becoming this sort of monster.

There is something terrible about the notion of becoming a monster, an infection agent that slowly turns someone into something more horrible. When we deal with the death demon notion, the Loup Garou seems less applicable—not entirely wrong, but not as clear as the others. The Nalusa Falaya and the na losa chitto are more like demons, in that sense. Strange, unearthly creatures that live in the wilds and have powerful knowledge to deploy. The Nalusa Falaya can convert victims into unwitting agents of destruction, and its children are somewhat disturbing willowisps. The na losa chitto seems to be an excellent monster for simple monster stories. And of course the soucyouant, as a witch, has an entire host of potential.
The best of course would be intertwining the drama and stalking horror of the night, the haunted landscape and strange shapes, with the more visceral terror. Supernatural scares to exaggerate or reinforce other failings is the best use of horror. The swamp gives a visual and a feel of horror that is downright Lovecraftian—it is, unlike the gothic castle covered in cobwebs, very much still full of life and vitality. It is wet and the air is thick with humidity. It is a buzz and alive…and what might live in there yet?
We’ll find out next time, I’m sure.
Bibliography:
Eberhart, Geroge M. Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. ABC-CLIO (December 2002)
“History of the Rougarou: Louisiana’s Werewolf | Pelican State of Mind”. pelicanstateofmind.com. Retrieved 2019-05-28.
Mould, Tom. Choctaw Tales. University Press of Mississippi, 2004.
Nickell, Joe “Tracking the Swamp Monsters”, Skeptical Inquirer Volume 25 No. 4, July/August 2001.
Ransom, Amy J. “The Changing Shape of a Shape Shifter: The French Canadian Loup-Garou”, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts Vol. 26, No. 2 (93) (2015), pp. 251-275

 

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After the Funeral

This Week’s Prompt: 88. Lonely philosopher fond of cat. Hypnotises it—as it were—by repeatedly talking to it and looking at it. After his death the cat evinces signs of possessing his personality. N.B. He has trained cat, and leaves it to a friend, with instructions as to fitting a pen to its right fore paw by means of a harness. Later writes with deceased’s own handwriting.

The Prior Research:A Witch’s Best Friend

Dani’s house was a small and sorry thing, light blue turned grey and overgrown grass. I had already gotten half the boxes into the car when her orange-black friend started mewling at me, sitting in his bed atop some plastic boxes. I sighed and gave him an ear scratch. I don’t know how to explain to a pet that their mom’s not coming home.

If it wasn’t for Tigger, I probably wouldn’t be here. Not because there’s a lot of stuff. For someone who rarely left home, Dani kept very few things. It was a mostly spare building, and after she was diagnosed three years ago, it had started getting emptier and emptier. It was like she gave away another ten percent of what she owned whenever she went to the hospital.

cat1.png

It was visit number three that she got Tigger. He was an angry little cat, but Dani swore she saw love in his eyes. She had a few scratches, and broken glasses to prove he was an ass even as Tigger purred innocently in my lap.

But he’s calmed down a lot. Especially when he plays with the light.” She said, pulling out a little laser pointer. Tigger’s eyes immediately followed the light that flickered back and forth on the floor—his tail brushed against my arms as I felt him prepare to pounce. He stared for a time, head moving back and forth, back and forth.

Most cats start lunging really quick, but Tigger takes a moment—he waits for it to–” The red light stopped on the floor. I groaned as the cat left off with full force, clawing at the red menance. “Stop.”

She laughed a bit as Tigger looked around confused and frustrated that his prey is gone. I reached over and gave him a little ear scratch in compensation.

Bit mean.” I said, as Tigger purred and nuzzled my arm.

I guess. Good for playing though. Besides, he knows it’s not real.”

***

The last ten percent of Dani’s things was a back breaking amount of books and unfinished papers, and small box of stuff for Tigger. Some toys, a bed—which I put in the front seat—and a small pen box. Tigger himself moved between the seats with familiarity—I wonder if Dani took him on drives? People did that with dogs, maybe cats liked it to. I’d have to keep that in mind.

There really wasn’t anyone else for the cat. I mean, I guess there was a foster house but…Even if Dani hadn’t left him to me in her will, I would have picked him up. He didn’t have any grandparents to go to, Dani never married, and while her neighbor and the local barista knew of her they didn’t really know her that well.

***

Oh, she…well, I was wondering why she hadn’t gotten the mail.” Her neighbor said, after stopping me from unloading the another box of handwritten letters from the house into my car. “That’s…that’s a shame.”

Yeah.” I said, pushing the cardboard box in. Tigger was sitting there, watching the neighbor intently.

Well if you need anything, let me know. I, uh…” His voice trailed off as I glanced up. He wants to say that he thought she was already dead. Or he wants to say he thought she was moving. Or when is the house going up for sale. Or something. Something he knows he shouldn’t, I’m sure. So he leaves.

Tigger glares after him as he goes. Solidarity cat, I didn’t like him either.

***

The first few days with Tigger are odd. He wakes up really early—six o’clock in the morning, every day. Worse, he wakes me up at six in the morning every day, on the dot. We sprung forward, and he still woke me up at six in the morning without fail. Which, well, it was an adjustment.

And even then, he was really picky about the food. I haven’t heard of cats begging for food, but the way he looked at my cheese and onion omlette was pretty close. It was…really weird, honestly. He curled up on the side of the couch, watching the tv and at first I thought it was in my head. But he was hissing at bad jokes like Dani would, and glared at me when I switched away from cooking shows.

cat2.png

When I thought about it, he had picked up a lot of his owners habits. Not just waking up early, and liking cooking shows, but he even tried to drink green tea. And she did like omlettes.

Probably just Dani rubbing off on him. They spent more time together than Dani did with…anyone, so I guess some bleed over was to be expected? Or maybe he was missing her too, and trying to play along.

It’s just nice having a really good listener around, you know?” Dani said, as I tried balancing the phone and cleaning the dishes at the same time.

I guess.” I said, catching a loose plate. “How’s the new meds working out?”

Oh fine, yeah. Tigger’s a bit annoyed that I’m up and about when he’s trying to sleep, but he’s a cute grouchy cat.” Dani said. “He’s gotten better—he definetly knows when I’m talking to him.”

How do you know? I mean, does he talk back?” I said laughing a bit.

I mean, how do I know anyone’s thinking?” she said. I could hear her unblinking gaze. “And yes he does thank you. Particularly if he’s hungry.”

cat3.png

Talked when he was hungry was right. He’d walk up, sit on his rear, look at me for a moment. And then, indignant that I hadn’t conjured food for him on the spot, he’d rear his head back and yowl. Follow me around yowling too, eyes closed until I replaced the food or at the least reached down and let my hand’s get examined.

He’s a picky eater, but I knew that. Dani complained about needing to buy him food a few times—something about how the cat ate better then her. Or maybe that was what I told her, and she said it back mockingly. I grumbled about it out loud and Tigger walked up and started yowling at me over it. Guess he had figured out what some words meant.

The last call we had was actually kind of hopeful. She’d started a new treatment, things were improving, she was back to writing her philosophy of the mind stuff. Which…which always seemed kind of grim, given the circumstances.

It’s just fascinating—like, how do you explain people? Is it memories? Is that all we are?” she said, after a minute of discussing an instance of a woman being apparently possessed by her great uncles ghost. “I mean, it’s not perfect—there are a lot of fraudsters out there and stuff, but people think their under the control of some strange otherworldly forces! And how does the mind trick itself that thoroughly?”

I was more than happy to nod along, even if I only kind of understood her ideas about the mind as a pattern replicating in itself or something. I’d given up asking about doctors and tests by then. She’d tell me if something had gotten better, she always did.

After that, we still…kind of talked. But more with letters then phone calls—she wasn’t feeling well enough to call. She’d send letters instead, letters that. Well. They hurt to look at. The handwriting’s decay is rapid, really. Crisp at first, complaining about a head ache and rambling a bit about authenticity. And then, in three letters later, it’s barely legible doctor scribble.

While unpacking her stuff, I found the note, with my name on it. There was some torn tape—it was attached to a package at some point. A small set of instructions, in barely legible writing—and a picture of a weird little glove for Tigger. He was nuzzling my leg as I read. It was…okay, well, who was I to say no to Dani’s last request?

I opened up the old penbox—there was a pen, with a small attachment, like a glove, for Tigger’s arm. A small button on the side turned on a slightly off frequency. Dani’s letter mentioned a light. At the sight of it, Tigger sat perfectly still, raising his right paw up. Making sure not to break the line of sight, I slowly placed slipped the pen on. Tigger tapped the table expectantly. I blinked as he tapped again, facing straight ahead.

I put a piece of paper down. Tigger slowly began to write.

And I started to cry, hand over my mouth.

Hi Leslie, its Dani. I know I probably look a bit different, but its me.”




 

This story was…interesting to write. Its conceptually very…grounded. Or aims for it—there aren’t any supernatural monsters, there aren’t any ghosts, and the mood I intended was a sort of weary melancholy. The idea to me was instantly one of the most captivating, and I think could serve as a solid start of a strange and some what sad story about grief. Unlike most stories, I think 1500 words roughly was the appropriate length. Dani and Leslie are rather thin characters, and certiaintly could have been built more, but with just the simple plot the length seems about right.

Next week, we go somewhere a bit familiar and a bit foreign, a place Mr. Lovecraft no doubt feared and a place that is full of conflicting folklore. Come and join us then!

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A Witch’s Best Friend

This Week’s Prompt: 88. Lonely philosopher fond of cat. Hypnotises it—as it were—by repeatedly talking to it and looking at it. After his death the cat evinces signs of possessing his personality. N.B. He has trained cat, and leaves it to a friend, with instructions as to fitting a pen to its right fore paw by means of a harness. Later writes with deceased’s own handwriting.

The Following Story:After the Funeral

Well this story just makes me sad. We’ll go over the full implications of this as a narrative at the end, but I’m almost touched by the notion of a friend finding their dead colleague still persisting in their pet. I half wonder if this is meant as a horror story at all. We’ll discuss that a bit later, after going over the ideas of horror.

The use of hypnosis is an interesting note, one we will go over in more detail when we can—the power of the gaze and hypnosis was often invoked during Lovecraft’s time to explain magical powers in the world. The philosopher here is therefore somewhat in the vein of a wizard or witch, albiet more scientific. The use of it on a cat is more fitting then—not only to continue the legacy of the familiar but because hypnosis was for a time known as “animal magnetism”. It’s also worth noting we did discuss cat’s before (here).

The animal familiar of a witch is a common feature of magic stories, often possessed in someway by the genius of their witches. One of the most famous non-cat examples, in my research, was that of a serpent. In particular, there was a large rattle snake that supposedly attended the Queen of Voodoo during her life—the creature slinked off into the swamp after her death, and had not been seen since. At least one informant claimed his magic came from the skin of said serpent, but whether this was honest belief or blustering and boasting for a credulous writer is difficult to say.

Louisiana RattleSnake.png

The same book—and the issues of researching Vodou/Voodoo/Hoodoo will be discussed at a later time, believe me—refers to one wizard making use of a crocodile to work his magic, marked by a read handkerchief. Both creatures have stories of being sources of magic themselves—tools by which their owner cast spells as well.

In Scotland, we can add the toad to this set of wicked beings that aid in witchcraft. The toad is said to have been perhaps of more value dead then alive, however. The head of the toad supposedly contained a stone, and as we discussed in our witchcraft article, there are multiple rituals in Scotland and Nova Scotia that rely on feeding a toad alive to an anthill. One exception is from the end of the sixteenth century in Flanders. Here, a man tried to escape his threatening landlady by boat, but found the boat could not move. When he asked some soldiers for help, they too could not move the boat. At last, they suggested checking under the vessel—and there was a massive toad with fiery eyes. The soldiers stabbed the creature and threw it out. When the man asked after his landlady letter, she was found near death from unknown wounds.

The cat in Scotland has some significance—most prominently when it has a large white star on its chest. One source named these elfin cats, and claimed they were witches in disguise—not, as might be guessed, simple faerie cats. Others take the form of great tigers in Orissa, red deer in Cumberland, and in many parts of Europe a hare. Beyond this, Scotland has superstitions regarding cats as prognostics—washing their heads to indicate fair weather for instance—or as potential witches. In the same way that the earlier toad could be possessed by the mind of a witch, so too was there a story of a cat possessed by a witch. A rancher had lost a number of cattle, and determined he was bewitched. Seeing a cat nearby, who had been following his cattle, he hurled a red hot iron at the cat. By chance, a neighbor broke her leg that night.

Cat Sith 2.png

In North Germany, to tie in a way back to the witches sabbath, a miller became convinced that witchcraft was being done on his mill—every year, on Christmas Eve, the mill burned down. At last he convinced a solider to stand watch. As he makes a bowl of porridge, in comes a long troop of cats—and they discuss where to sit, as they plan to burn the mill down again. The young man hurls the porridge at one of the cats, and cuts off her paw with a saber. The rest vanish—and the next morning, the millers wife is found to be missing one of her hands.

A strange Flemish story of a man who went to tell his mother that she was now a grandmother follows. The grandmother already knew by some means, and on his way home he was swarmed by cats. Not just swarmed, the determined felines stole all his silver and pushed him into a brook! A local priest learned of this and warned him to not give anything to anyone who begged at his door. He held out for a time, until a piteous old woman with child begged for bread. When he gave the bread, both his wife and child died in…rather gruesome ways.

Japanese Bobtail

I couldn’t find Ainu art of a cat, so I present the Japanese Bobtail, one of two cat breeds native to Japan.

Ainu lore places the origin of cats, sometimes, with a strange demon. The demon conspired to kill a mole god, by tossing him in the fire. He ingratiated himself as a guest, and then tossed the god into the hearth. However, as he left, the god appeared at the entrance. Before the demon could speak, the mole god seized him and tossed him in the furnance. The mole god stopped him from becoming smoke or breath—but the demon’s life could not leave his ashes. So instead out emerged the first cat and fox to escape, and live on to do ill in the world. (For those interested in the power of dead shamans and demons emerging from burnt corpses, it is a reccruing theme in our research on mosquitoes and ticks you can find here on patreon). In a strange reversal of this story, there is a notion among the Ainu that ghosts of dead cats may possess their murderers. They slowly drive them to imitate the cats, wasting away their bodies until they die. Mewling.

That is, frankly, horrifying.

Of course, there are ways to avoid such things. One is to eat a part of the cat killed—this will keep the spirit at bay. Another is to find, kill, and eat an unrelated cat—this helps with cats that are simply lurking around and sending strange visions and manipulations to their victim.

The Black Cat has some saving graces—for instance, they were considered to be insurance by sailors wives. This made them very valuable indeed—and often stolen or wandering into homes on their own. Connected to this, throwing a cat overboard was considered a way to provoke a storm by sailors. The works on witchcraft by King James also note a ritual using a corpse and a cat to provoke storms by witches in Scotland.

But that seems rather far a field from our intentions—we are after all dealing more with possession, transformation, and transference then we are with black magic. So, what sort of story do we have in this prompt? The first thing that is apparent to me is the description of our philosopher—they are lonely. A lonely scholar kept company by their cat. They aren’t friendless—they have a friend who takes care of their cat afterwards. A cat that, I’m sure, would already be a living reminder of a departed friend. A new pet with new habits, new routines, used to the old owner in many ways.

And then, it starts making motions towards the pen. Or paper. Pawing at it. And the friend examines some of the contents of the box, and finds a curious crude contraption—a pen fitted for a feline leg. And then…its as if his friend is writing again, on the paper, starting to explain things.

I’m not sure what sort of story this is—while perhaps Lovecraft meant it as a horror story, of animal intelligence or of possession or the like. But honestly, given his love of cats and the general tone of this prompt, it feels more like a tale of wonder. A bit of magical realism, instead of terror.

Bibliography

Campbell, John Gregorson, Superstitions of the Highlands and the Islands of Scotland, J. MacLehose and sons, 1900.

Henderson, Williams; Notes on Folklore of the Northern Counties, The Folklore Society, 1879 

Hurston, Zora; “Hoodoo in America”, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol 44, No. 174, (Oct-December 1931), pp 317-417. 

King James VI and I, Demonology, Gutenberg Press. June 26th, 2008.

Batchelor, John. Ainujin Oyobi Sono Setsuwa. KyoÌ Bunkan, 1901.

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Ashes to Ashes Dust To Dust

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

The Prior Research: Restored And Resurrected

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

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

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

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

Vials.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Crowe House

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

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

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

I paused a the corgi panted in my lap.

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

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

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

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

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

Well…” He looked at his ruined shoes.

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

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

…Alfred, you didn’t…”

Alfred looked at his hands.

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

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

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

I kept staring.

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

I nodded.

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

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

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

CroweHouse2.png

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

Purple prose to the end.

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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The Bird Book

This Weeks Prompt: 86. To find something horrible in a (perhaps familiar) book, and not to be able to find it again.

The Prior Research:a book

It was either Borders or Barnes and Noble. Yes, I know one closed ages ago, but this was ages ago. Yeah, their two separate companies, but they have the same vibe you know? They’ve got the same big sign, the same letters, the same rows of books arranged in the same categories, all of them new and fresh. It’s not like a Bookmans, where the books are sprawled and it takes a bit to piece together the categories. It’s not a university store, with it’s basement and maze, and categories you didn’t realize people made a living writing books on.

I started there because it was easy enough. Again, easy to navigate. Easy to find. Easy even to check online to make sure they had the book I was looking for.

The notion had come to me, like memories usually do, when I was at work. I was doing inventory again—in one of those parts of the office where inventory hadn’t been done in years. Wouldn’t have been done in years, if it weren’t for an oncoming audit. I had been going through the supplies, finding all sorts of strange things—board games, for instance, based on President Obama’s election. Did you know there were two of those? They made two whole educational board games about it. Several hundred unsold CDs by local artists that were friends of the office. DvDs, mostly of the same educational video.

I had found two stranger things, however. They really were innocuous—eight envelopes. Three labeled “Numbers”, five labeled “Words”.

They felt important—I could feel paper shifting behind them. Probably, honestly speaking? They where flash cards for little kids. That was it. Just. Just flash cards.

But okay, if they were flash cards, I wouldn’t be here, looking for that book. Moldovi’s Ancient and Classic Stories: Tall Tales and Exciting Adventures from Around the Globe. It had a leather cover, gold lettering on the front, and a wonderful print of the globe with little monsters coming off the side. Well, mine did. The new edition did that terrible thing, where it was just a picture of a single ominous image—a globe held by a contemplative statue.

Anyway, I loved the book as a kid. Adored it, read it constantly. But I remembered this weird page—it was page after the story of Brandmante. A reprint of Bulfinch’s Mythology’s section on Charlemagne. There was this page, and I couldn’t quite remember what was on it honestly. Only I didn’t read the book again after that. I think it involved a bird.

I flicked through the new introduction, glossy paper feeling sharp on my fingers. They’d kept some of the original illustrations in the new version, but not all of them. Some had been replaced by a picutre of an archaeological thing. You know, a Greek vase for going over the story of Hercules, some Philippine art for Maui—no, that’s Polynesian. It jumbled the text sometimes, but eventually I reached the end of Bradmante’s bit and reached—Byrnhild.

I flipped back and forth. No middle page. Frowning, I checked the editions listing. I knew something was missing, might have gotten lost in an edit—it had editions from 1920, 1935, 1950, 1980, 1991, 1995, reprint in 1996, an updated edition in 2005, and then this one. Maybe it had gotten lost in the shuffle. I slipped the book back on the shelf, and hoped no one really noticed me as I left. I know Borders and Noble “isn’t a library”, but when you need to check one thing…whatever.

Falcon 1 Diving

Tracking down an older edition of a book is relatively easy, if you want to actually own it. Finding a place that will let you, you know, just quickly check a page is a bit harder. Luckily I knew a place that tended to accumulate books. I did look before—the cover of mine was a 1935 copy. Second printing, had the gold orb with the little people sprouting off of it. Looking at the cover on my screen I realized that, huh. The people were in costumes. I hadn’t noticed it as a kid, but the little boy sticking out of the US definitely had a cowboy hat.

It was a dense store. Shelves up to the ceiling, with just enough room for you to slip in between them. Towards the back, there was an opening into even more shelves, more books, and that way was a maze of the strange. I’d found centuries old books here. I’d felt like I lost centuries wandering around in here. So I thought this time, I’ll just check the front.

Hey Phil.” I said, walking up to the counter. Phil sat on a stool, glasses nearly falling off his nose as he looked over a small crate of new arrivals. His hands only had color relative to the pale yellowed pages that he was looking over carefully. “Hows the catalog going?”

Its wo going along fine. What do you need?”

I’m looking for an older book.” I said, drumming my fingers. A crow screeched outside, as Phil nodded slowly.

I might have a few books that are old.”

Right, duh. I’m looking for a copy of Moldovi’s Ancient and Classic Stories: Tall Tales and Exciting Adventures from Around the Globe. Older the better—First Edition if you have it.” I said, holding up a picture of the cover on my phone.

Lemee see…thats a new name.” Phil said, turning over to his computer. He’d spent every day I knew typing into the computer—name, title, edition. A growing record of what he’d inherited from the old man, what he had bought from collectors, what he’d sold to other collectors, libraries, and more. A few clacks later, he nods and gestures for me to follow.

So, Jim had a second edition—that’s as old as I’ve got. That sound right?” Phil said, descending into the depths of the musty cellar. I shrugged. Might be.

The second edition had a similar cover—not exactly the same, but a globe, people popping out of it. I automatically skimmed to the page after Bradmante. There was a brief poem, about a bird—the Awal bird.

Up and Down it goes

The sound grows and grows

The Awal Bird catches and drops

The Mouse screams as it squawks

As the rodent’s heart gives out

the Awal Bird eats the mouse.”

Bird 1 Diving.png

The poem was familiar. Yes, I’d read this before. It was next to the picture—a picture of the Awal bird and the Mouse. There was a footnote—a redirection to the introduction, for the second edition. Back through the pages.

The first printing of Moldovi’s Ancient and Classic Stories: Tall Tales and Exciting Adventures from Around the Globe contained a number of misprints and factual errors or outright forgeries. After some considerations, and much conversation, a number of pieces have been removed. Major alterations include: The Awal Bird* illustration, misprinted in one in three instances; the Jala dog*, which was determined to be a derogatory tale from local Spanish authorities and having no real basis in tales of the area; the Womi-tali*, a combination of nonsense syllables that again, appears to be an English invention of little providence; the illustration of Typhon, misprinted in one in four cases; an instance of the Grootslang* misprinted in one in five cases; the picture of the Faerie Queen, misprinted in six out of ten cases; the story of the Wandering Sword, rewritten after a second translation; and lastly the image of the dying Medusa, misprinted in one of five1*. In cases where originals could be found, they were printed. In cases where they could not be located, sadly, omissions had to be made. These are marked with a * above.

The introduction rambled on more about the responsibility of editors and parents in these trying times to monitor the stories of the youth to prevent a descent into insolent barbarism. Whatever. Missing page was a misprint was the problem. Which meant either spending ages looking for a first edition that maintained the misprint—a one in three chance—or finding the one from my child hood. And that meant going home.

SwarmSwans.png

Home is a rambling place. Home is a fetid place. I didn’t know that word, really, until I heard some author use it to describe the house I lived in, between the trees. The driveway’s perpetually marred by bird crap. Mom never bothered get rid of it, and the birds—the white birds, leaning over with their long legs and necks. They loved our home.

My car pulls up on the overtake driveway—cracks and dents from time rattling the tires. The birds all watch me—the pale ones look like a cat licked them slick. Feathers flicking out at the end. One ruffles its feathers with its needle beak. I hate them.

They only seem to come into this part of town—no doubt someone’s escaped pets. One of them squawks at me.

I fumble with the keys, cursing a bit. They haven’t changed the lock yet. Maybe they’ll forget to. When I final managed to convince the door its me, I open into the bare interior. The wallpaper is mostly gone—there’s a strip of a flur de les in the upper right corner of the living room. There’s a few chairs there. Ones no one would buy cheap, ones that would take too much effort to donate. Ones that were sick with mold.

I didn’t dally long. Well, no. I had dallied. Mom’s library was what I was supposed to clear out. Honestly, I hadn’t gotten to it yet. I would have but, but well. Books are heavy, in both the literal and cheesy way. Taking them out felt weird. And then things happen, things continue to happen. It was weird.

An impatient bird squawk comes from outside. The stairs creek beneath my weight, unaccustomed to a somewhat healthy adult presence. Much better for children, or potsmoking teenagers, or whoever actually came here anymore. The grafitti on one wall suggested they fucked—but who knows. Kids lie.

Still, the second story den door was shut. Still locked even. Immaculate. A persian rug, grey with dust. Some fungus growing out of one of the pipes. The bookshelf wore its age well, shelves like creases in some preserved brain. No, thats not right. Like ribs. If I’m going to compare it to a body, it was a like wooden, rotting, putrefying ribs.

I brushed away the spiderwebs with a stick, and then struck the floor a few times to keep them away and dead. Then I reached up—up—to the upper right. The red book, with it’s gold cover. Faded with time, yes. Pages feeling like crisp cloth, delicate and sharp at the same time. I carefully thumbed through it.

My heart stopped.

Six eyes. Seven eyes. Fractal eyes. Fractal, screaming mice. Rising and falling. Each instance, a hundred iterations. All of them—all the bird eyes, bird wings, flapping, falling, soaring, diving.

All looking at me, blended together into a single circle. Time had rotted parts of the page. The spaces in the ink were more eyes. It stained my fingers as I ran over it—it stained and stuck. The holes my hands left became more birds. More eyes.

I didn’t scream.

Last Swarm.png

I stumbled back to car. The birds start flying, circling and then taking off. But the circle stays overhead for a second. Just a moment, an empty circle as the car starts.

The Awal Bird

A curious bird, sometimes called the yo-yo bird reported in a few mountain areas, particuarly in the Rockies. The awal is said to grip its prey, and fly high into the air. Unlike most birds, however, it does not tear into its food. Rather, it drops the morsel from a great height and dives after it. The awal bird does this many times, until the poor mouse—or larger creature—suffers a heart attack and dies. Then, the awal bird feasts on the perfectly preserved remains. Stories suggest that a larger bird, or that flocks of them, will seize small children for meals.

1This image in particular horrified some of our younger readers. It appears the image of the medusa misprinted to look as if she had a second set of eyes in her mouth and mouth beneath—we apologize for the distraught.

 




The above story still feels off. It feels too settled, and like the vestige of another, more intricate piece. The premise of the birds is a story I remember, but honestly can’t place. I think it might be from  Borges, fittingly enough–but I didn’t check too deeply.

Next week, we resume a more normal programming, with the ways to raise the dead with ashes and even organs perhaps! Come and see the essential salts!

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Sun and Snake on the Isle

This Week’s Prompt: 85. “For has not Nature, too, her grotesques—the rent rock, the distorting lights of evening on lonely roads, the unveiled structure of man in the embryo, or the skeleton?” Pater—Renaissance (da Vinci).

The Prior Research: She’s a Viper

Chasing Austin’s invitation to his new studio-home—several miles away from a small island town several hours away by boat from his well our old home—ended up costing me an third of my rent for the month. Perhaps it isn’t surprising, then, that I was in something of a bitter mood. Austin had been insistent I come out to see him. I had convinced myself that it was only to save on postage that I was visiting, but it had been almost a year without seeing him or sharing a coffee.

The boat ride was calming at least—the sea has that effect on me. It is too vast for concerns and anxieties to stand in it’s presence. Austin and I had tried with both our arts to capture that vastness, but it defies capture. It is too big for words and pigments, except in the hands of a master. Still, it was a nice image to wake to in the morning, enjoying coffee on the misty deck.

There was only one other companion out to greet the morning sun. He was an old man, Patrick Seoriseson, who would strum a guitar at the dawn and hum some song I’d never heard of. We didn’t talk much—not that he was bad company, but he was…well. Strange. He looked in his sixties, but his hair was bright blond, and his face and eyes looked young. Like someone grafted a twenty year old’s head, fresh before college, onto the body of their own aging grandfather. He had a beard, but it was blond too—not scraggly hay blond, folded and woven silk blond.

Apollo.png

As unnerving as he was, another presence on that chill morning, as the island rose from the fog, was a welcome one. We had, turning back to see the homeland, made it just in time. Behind our ship, dark clouds had formed. A storm was roiling, and I was suddenly glad to have no pressing business for several weeks.

It was getting dark when I finally set foot on the land—my sea legs taken three steps to return to their land-bound cousins. I bought a large bottle of water, and set my phones secondary charger—the house was a good five miles from town, a nice hour or so walk to gain my composure. Austin had been very clear about getting to his house as soon as I could—apparently whatever he had couldn’t wait. And while small coastal towns are welcoming to some, to me they are always a tad unearthly. They all feel drenched with age by the sea.

The road to Austin’s house was a somewhat paved, at least the first half. As the sun began to set into twilight, I was walking on more rocks and dirt. The shore had splits and crags, streams of salt water rolling inland. Eventually, I saw his house come into view—two luminous lights, shimmer on the horizon.

I thought it was his house, anyway. I didn’t check my phone, and well. I nearly walked into the tide and rocks.

And saw the lights in four different directions.

Whatever was going on in the atmosphere, my GPS hadn’t failed. And that I could follow, cold from the wind, back to the path. And at last, I found his house. A collection of lights from the house—square, instead of the lying spheres I’d seen on the way. It was a nice looking house. As I got closer, I saw the paint was peeling. There was something acrid in the air. As I walked up to the house, I saw someone shuffling inside—their back was bent pretty far but when I squinted they were walking fine.

I rang the door bell, but there was just a fizzle. Austin probably forgot to fix it. So instead, I gripped the knocker—an lion headed one, old iron—and rapped on the door. There was a bustle, papers unseen falling to the floor as Austin came to the door.

He was a bit thinner, still catching his breath as he held out his hand.

“Jeffery, come in, come in. Gods I thought you’d abandoned us.” He said, stepping out the way after a brief shake.

“It is a bit out of the way.” I said, looking around. The walls were nice—the wood floor was oddly smooth. “And there’s…some sort of rave outside…I think. Have you had problems with lights?”

“Lights? Oh, come now Jeffery. A will-o-wisp never hurt anyone who had their wits about them.” Austin said, laughing. I didn’t laugh as he lead me to his study up the stairs. The house creaked as it settled, and the steps spiraled at a bit of an incline.

“You have a cat out here, Austin? Seems more like dog country.” I said, looking down at the steps. “This groove to drain water or something?”

There was a foot long indent along the stairs, running down the middle. Perfectly even at a glance.

“Oh, no, no, old owners lived here a long time. I think they might have evenly spread it–”

There was a crash, first of thunder then of a dropped pans from the kitchen. Austin’s face went pale for a second.

“Its quite alright, I’m sure!” Austin shouted after me. I had already rounded into the source, the kitchen—door half open. I threw the door open and–

And she nearly put me through the wall. I felt claws on my shoulder and saw dozens of enraged and startled serpent eyes. As she held me on the floor, I heard the warning rattle from an unseen scaly tail. My eyes were distracted by her fangs bared at me.

“Its alright, it’s alright!” I heard Austin shout. “Dear, please, your both high strung! Storms do that.”

“Austin, I think you forgot somethings!” I shouted, eyes fixed in hers. Her face was hidden by a veil of snake skin.

“Did he now?” The woman said—with all twenty snake mouths that made up her head, her face unraveling and rem-emerging from the masses. It was when she moved that I realized my legs were trapped—feeling slowly returning to my feat, little bites marring my pants.

“Well, dear, how would you explain it.” Austin said defensively.

“…You better think of a quick way to explain it Austin.” I said, slowly pushing my self up into a chair.

MedusaHeadSwarm.png

Austin’s explanation was full of poetry and phantasms and whimsy. I will abbreviate it here, as I was not in a whimsical mood. He had acquired the house from a man in town, at first to rent but then bought outright. The house was the man’s great aunt, and something about it’s perpetual disrepair had spoken to Ausitn. Fallen age of man, decay of empires, Adam’s sin, artists of his type always seem to love decaying bodies.

Never seem to ask why the place is full of dead things, and maybe that dwelling on such things is dangerous.

Of course, Austin, the fop he is, found the notion of a haunted place alluring. He loved the idea of will-o-wisp, of changelings, of entertaining morbid faerie guests. I’ve never found a reason to want such things—stories rarely make them pleasant. Had I been Austin, the strange rustling outside, the flash of scales in the bed room, the sight of dozens of serpentine eyes down the hall? Those were signs to flee.

But fly he did. Into her arms. Well, not at first. There was some back and forth. She hadn’t had someone react quite like Austin did. Asking her name—Tengra Dudana They became friends the way most people did. Shared food.

Of course, she asked questions. Why was he here, what was he doing. The two became fast friends, once they started talking. She enjoyed his artistry, he enjoyed her singing and laughter—he insisted that a hundred serpents singing was a choir I’d have to here.

Austin had a knack for friends. His art improved also—her rippling serpents inspiring thoughts of the sea more perfectly realized then before. Austin elided if they had ever left the boundaries of friendship—but he grew sheepish enough for me to decide.

Thunder continued to boom outside as Austin talked. Thunder and storms put her on edge—she was suspicous of everything on dark nights like this.

“It was not a typical romance.” She said, encoiling her body around the chair. “But a pleasant one.”

I nodded, nervously sipping the tea.

“Well, I—I imagine.” I said slowly.

“Yes, well, I had…hoped to show you the gallery first.” Austin said. Tengra rolled her eyes.

“He thinks pictures are a good start. They are wonderful paintings, but…they are not good preparation.” Tengra said, unwinding herself and sinking to the floor, then reforming as a singular woman—a rather tall one, her skin only rippling slightly as coils found their place.

“I would not oppose seeing them.” I said, placing my tea down. My nerves were slowly waking up from their stunned silence.

The paintings were…good. Yes, good. The paintings were acceptable, they captured some of the motion of their subject mater that, without first hand experience, would have seemed unbelievable. Tengra seemed fond of many forms, but there was something in the shape of the cliffs and moors that carried her image as well. By day, I’d have to see the originals nature had carved—whether she had woven Tengra into the hills, or whether that was some inspiration of Austins I cannot say.

There was one picture, however, that I paused at.

PerseusandAndromeda.png

“Austin, who is this?” I said. I pointed behind the cross of interwoven snakes, to a man on the hill. There was something about his shape I recognized—his golden wave beard and hair.

“Oh, some vagrant I think.” Austin said, shaking his head. “Well, a rather well off one maybe. He’s been around once I think.”

“Did you talk to him much?” I asked. Austin frowned, and I noticed Tengra seemed to be paying more attention.

“I…don’t think I did. It’s strange I hadn’t considered him much, but I think I talked a decent amount with him. He’s some sort of musician I think? He’s from across the sea though, I didn’t think it much important.” Austin then paused again. “No…no, not across. He said the strangest thing. He’s from the ‘other side’ of the sea.”

Austin raised a finger upward, imitating the memory.

Tengra hissed a bit.

“He is a strange man. You should have pointed him out to me, he might have been squawking.”

“You mean gawking?”

“That as well.” Tengra said.

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The next morning, me and Austin had arranged to have coffee on the porch—Tengra was sunbathing somewhere, warming her scales.

“So…so what do you think?” Austin asked, sipping his coffee slowly. I put down mine, steam still rising from it.

“The house needs work. The fence is rusty, I’d start there.” I said, flatly. Austin blinked.

“I meant about–”

“I know, I know. Uh. Well.” I said rubbing my head. “Your in love with a swarm of snakes. I…Look, I don’t have the tools to process this at the moment. Like, I’m assuming she’s not holding you hostage right? Not hypnotizing you with her eyes, like that Disney movie?”

“…the Jungle Book?”

“Yeah that one.” I said, scratching the back of my neck. Austin burst out laughing.

“No, no, she’s just a wonderful person.”

“Made of snakes.”

“Made of snakes.”

“Well. I, I guess there are worse things?” I said, sipping my coffee. “She’s not French or a fascist, so a plus all around there.”

“She can sing in Gaelic.” Austin piped up.

“Talented. Creepy, I’m not going to lie, but talented.” I said with a laugh. The storm hadn’t cleared yet, but in the distance I saw the sun rising—the ship back wouldn’t have a problem. I’d need to make my exit politely, this needed some thought.

It was while I was mulling this over and talking a bit on art with Austin that something caught my eye—like those will-o-wisps, a flash of light. But this was bright, metalic light. Turning my head, I saw a car rolling up the road. There was a boom of thunder, a flash of lighting in front of the sun as out walked the man with the golden beard.

Apollo and Python.png

“Hey is that…” I said nudging Austin—and then I saw it flash, briefly. A long backward curved blade, that he was examining beneath his coat. “Austin, we…we should get inside.”

Austin took a moment to register—maybe sleep still lingering on him, but he saw where I pointed. Across the way, Patrick waved. He was smiling, perfect white teeth catching the sunlight.

“Oh, yeah, its…that guy. Come on, Jeffery, lets get some more coffee. Ask him what’s happening.”

“Austin he has a–”

“Hello there, fine sailor and artist too.” Patrick said. He’d…moved fast while we where talking.

“Oh, well…Hello.” Austin said. Patrick laughed. His laugh was surprisingly deep—his slightly higher pitch giving way to a low rumbling laugh. “Can…Can I help you?”

“Serendipity says so, yes. I’m looking for something old among the cliffs—older then will-o-wisp and banshee and them.” He said, gesturing behind him to the road way. “Something with fangs and scales, an old something.”

“Well, there aren’t snakes on islands.” I said, standing up a bit.

“Adder, smooth snake, grass snake, corn snake, and viper all round the King of England’s crown.” He said, as if that explained anything. “Only emeralds really snake free, my friend. Only emerald, and that’s at least part from me. Now, have you seen it?”

“No.” Austin said, getting up. “I haven’t seen–”

The man held his hand to Austin’s face, tilting his head. He hissed behind his teeth.

“Nevermind that, never mind me.” The man said, turning now to the hills, hand reaching in his jacket. There he held that knife. “You stay here, I’ve got business. I think I can enjoy myself from here.”

I reached out to grab his arm—Austin reached for his back. The next moment I was against the wall—his fore arm was under my neck, while Austin had been tossed onto the roadway. His knife was drawn, blade facing away—it was was curved somewhat, with a straight edge on the inside, away from me.

“Friends, this seems unbecoming of men of art and wonder. Lying in the underbrush like savage hunters to catch the noble deer—very unbecoming.” He said, pushing back against my neck. I gripped his wrist—I couldn’t breath, and I felt the wall behind me cracking. My entire back was bruising—and then he dropped me on the floor. I slumped over, breathing heavy, eyes closed from sudden exhaustion. When I opened them, he was walking after a scrambling Austin—who, god bless him, was shouting a warning for Tengra.

I pulled myself up—my legs and back were not fond of the predicament. His hat flew off as the wind picked up, the storms weeping overhead. It was strange. I thought the man’s coat had looked pitch black before—now it seemed to be roiling gold and white and red. He had so many eyes. Why did his coat have so many eyes?

I threw the door open and stumbled inside, sitting behind the door frame. I heard thunder rolling, and hissing outside. I didn’t look, so this I cannot report on directly. The sun had risen only a finger when I was able to rise again— and see an empty roadway, no sign of Austin, Tengra, or the man. I hobbled out, calling Austin’s name along that cliffside road.

“Jeffery, Jeffery is that you?” a shout came from a large stone on the edge. I ran to it, and found him there—slumped against the back, holding a long snake skin to his face, sobbing.

“Austin, God in Heaven, your alive.” I said.

“Oh, not in heaven, and how alive? She is gone, Jeffery, she is gone!” He said, batting away my outstretched hand.

“Gone? As in gone or gone?” I asked, looking around. “And that man…is he gone with her? We need to leave Austin.”

“Gone, both gone! Oh the fire, the eyes, it was like Apollo wrestling Python! Oh it was dreadful–”

I decided that was enough and pulled Austin up. This time, he didn’t resist. He just kept up his mourning, about how she had vanished, how that strange man had seemed so much larger, how helpless he felt when he’d been thrown against the stone—thrown, yet lived! The man has no taste for practical miracles—how could he face the dawn without her, how could he paint without her and so on.

“Well, you have some of her scales.” I said, sighing as I lowered him on the porch. “So that’s something.”

It was apparently only a small consolation. Austin swore, swore as he lay there, holding to the skin tight, that he would find her somewhere—somewhere, in earth an heaven, or whatever was on the other side of heaven. I nodded politely—and reminded myself to never again agree to any of Austin’s wild adventures.




If there ever was a story that warranted more writing and expansion, it was probably this one. The central mystery needs more time, and the final confrontation with the Apolloian hunter needs more build up. I’ll file it away for next year.

Next week, however, we return fully to our horror roots. It’s time to go inside a book, into an old house



 

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