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.

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.

The Foundations

This Week’s Prompt: 122. Horrible things whispered in the lines of Gauthier de Metz (13th cen.) “Image du Monde”

The Prior Research:Mapping the World

The lady at the front desk looks at me funny when I hand her some cash instead of a card. Probably waiting for my nightly company to show up or something, but she doesn’t say a word about it. Wonder if the scuffed suitcase helps.

I pop it open on the desk and start sifting through the papers, setting up my own little computer lab as best I can. Being faceless if not nameless has become a necessity in my work. You see the world-famous detectives fall off the wagon or off a bridge enough times, you learn to leave justice blind. That said, this isn’t anything quite as big. Right now anyway.

Juan Albert. Went missing near a new construction site—the latest, biggest exhibition of Andrew Doyle. Doyle building another eyesore in the middle of fuck off nowhere wasn’t that weird—state money ended up in his projects, the projects made cheap and quick. Never worked, never turned a profit, but Doyle tended to walk off with a cool pay out.

Of course, things get shady all the time with Doyle. People go missing, yeah. Regulations get flouted, people get hurt in construction, unions get busted by private investigators who are looking for a paycheck. Probably living more comfortably. Striking back costs your face, first, then your name. Then probably your life.

Juan’s family, though, caught me on step two—my name got passed along to them as someone who wasn’t too worried about consequences of tussling with rich men’s guard dogs.  After looking over everything, I pack up. I place a few small recording devices under the bed and desk, in case it’s searched. It’s never been searched yet.

And I head out, to have a word about what’s gone wrong around this town.

Juan’s sister doesn’t meet me at her home address. Town like this, everyone knows everyone. And while some gossip might start about talking to an out of towner, worse would come up if I was seen at her house. Plenty new people coming in to build Doyle’s new structure—a review of the project calls it some sort of broadcast station or something. No one bothered explaining why it was in the middle of the desert, about an hour even from here.

So she met me at a mostly abandoned mom-and-pop café. It smelled more like tobacco than coffee, and that tainted a bit of the taste, I won’t lie.

“Never talked about any trouble at work.” She said. She looked exhausted, and given the weird hours, this was probably a between jobs meeting. “You know, normal ‘wish got paid more’ and ‘working long hours’ stuff.”

“No one outside of work who might have…taken an opportunity?” I said, tapping my chin. “Any fights before or people who might have a grudge?”

“Not that he talked about.” She said, shaking her head and stirring the sugar in her coffee. “I mean, I guess I never know right?”

I nodded and looked over the notes again.

“Did he talk about…hm. How to say this…” I said tapping my chin. “Did he stay out late or talk about meeting someone? Things can go bad after hours, especially in construction work.”

She thought for a moment after that. Took a sip of her coffee—it’d gone cold already.

“There was a meeting or two he went to. Apparently they were organizing a soccer thing after work or something. Blow off steam you know, there’s always someone pushing for everyone at the office to be a team.” She said, looking at the cup a bit more.  “I don’t think he’d get killed over that though. I mean, folks get heated over that stuff but like. Not that heated right?”

It probably wasn’t soccer. I mean, they might have played soccer, but if there was a meeting that got him murdered, it wasn’t a soccer league. Murders like that, they happened yeah. But there wasn’t a clean cover up, and usually there was a bit more pissing and moaning. If I wanted to get to the heart of the matter, it was time to take a look around the last place he was seen.

The concrete monument rises about an hour outside town. Hexagonal rooms jut out form the side, the wall not yet wrapped around them. It was like looking at the cracked core of a giant bee hive, all around the pale concrete bone of some giant. The sky was dark grey, the clouds dimming even the bright lights of the sunset.

I had tried figuring out what this was, before I set out to poke around. But even parking my car and looking over it—guards mostly gone for the day—I still had no idea. It was supposed to be offices, but this many offices in the middle of the desert was nonsense. More likely, Mr. Doyle had placed some research or monitoring out here. Something that needed peace and quiet.

I walked in through the back, moving through the unfinished skeleton. Passed the iron fence, there were deep pits into the ground—given the iron girders that spiderwebbed in them.  I peaked down a few and well. They were weird. All pointing inward, not cross hatching at all. Looked like a giant iron toothed worm had died trying to escape the ground.

I’m not an architect, but I don’t think those are meant to be like that. The lack of any sort of…anything really to stop someone from just falling in felt off. Yeah, OSHA was a joke when it came to men like Doyle—that wasn’t news, he probably had an automatic withdraw to pay the fines when they came up. But this seemed dangerous, wasteful, and weird—usually you only get two out of three.

That said, no body, no bloodshed, nothing that seemed out of the ordinary. So, clicking my flash light on and tapping my camera, down into the deep I went. Past the silent mixers and looming crane, past the packed up drills and machines, scanning the shadows for any signs of life or light. It had been days. There wasn’t likely to be much here. But you have to check…just in case someone missed something.

The insides weren’t finished, although they were far enough along that you could see the outlines of familiar places. Front desk, elevator shafts bare and open, restrooms without doors or toliets but shaped like restrooms. It was all mundane, all the same as you’d find in a hundred other business parks.

It made the center stand out.

There was a wide hole in the center of the room, around the bare concrete and tiling. It was lipped, probably to hold some corporate seal. But there was wooden 2X4s over the thing…and tapping it, it rang hollow.

Ripping up the floor of a building under construction is…well, it’s the sort of thing that blows your cover wide open. I paced around the edge, looking for any bits that were loose enough—until I realized the easy option. The elevator.

Now climbing down an elevator shaft at night is not safe. Climbing down an unfinished one is even less safe. Climbing down an unfinished one in hopes you’ll find something incriminating is down right dangerous. Still, down I went.

It was a long climb, down past the unfinished parking lot and storage areas—all empty, identical rooms, the elevator doors not even put in. No, the first set of closed doors was all the way at the bottom—and crowbarring those open took some work. Still, I got into the long and empty room beneath the seal.

It was some sort of office, or workshop. Lots of measuring equipment, papers pinned to walls—papers I took a quick pick of, circles and measurements and so on. There was some…well, weird equipment too. Scalpels and gem cutting tools, a set of microscopes and magnifying glasses at the center. Sheets of gold leaf and silver and copper. Some weird coins hanging from the ceiling.

I took pictures of all of it, as close as I could. And it was in the flashes that something else caught my eye. It was the reflected flash in a ruby—a ruby set in a pushed aside model, of a city surrounded by a circle.



So this took forever, and not because it was good nor because the story in question was particularly hard to work with. It’s been sometime since I worked on a mystery, and frankly it was a bit too ambitous and placed in the wrong point in a story to work in 1500 words. That and the holiday season really extended this much longer than it needed to.

I will see you next Wednesday for the last bit of research for the year!

The Last of His Kind

This Week’s Prompt: 121. Photius tells of a (lost) writer named Damascius, who wrote “Incredible Fictions,” “Tales of Daemons,” “Marvellous Stories of Appearances from the Dead”.

The Resulting Story: Seeking Wisdom

This is another citation that, with some work, can be directly sourced. Photious provides a catalogue of books, including the following entry under Damascius:

Read a work by Damascius in four books, the first of which, in 352 chapters, is entitled, On Incredible Events; the second, in 52 chapters, On Incredible Stories of Demons; the third, in 63 chapters, On Incredible Stories of Souls that have appeared after Death; the fourth, in 105 chapters, On Incredible Natures. They all contain impossible, incredible, and clumsily invented tales of wonderful things, foolish and worthy of the impious and godless Damascius, who, while the light of the true religion spread over the world, remained steeped in the thick darkness of idolatry. The style is concise, clear, and agreeable, which is not usually the case in such stories.

This is the only information I could find on these texts—although I’m amused at the fact that genre fiction was listed as a writing reference even a millennia past. So instead, I turned to Damascius’s own writings. Looking over Wikipedia, there were a few routes to pursue. Damascius himself was a Neo-Platonic writer—and one who was “irreligious”, neither mystic nor paying head to holy texts. His summation of God then was as an infinite and indivisible being—and thus an incomprehensible one. The traits we attribute to the divine are only made by inferences from its actions, not from understanding its true nature.

Damascius’s life highlights a few other interesting facets. He was the last head of the School of Athens, before being fleeing to Persia to escape persecution by Justinian the First. He spent a year in Persia before returning as part of a peace treaty between the two emperors of the known world. Much of his work is lost, of course, and while he taught students, he did not found a school outside of Athens. His commentaries on Plato seem to deal with, from the excerpts linked on Wikipedia, the inherent immortality of the soul as a source of light—comparable to how fire is a source of heat in Platonic thought.

He also briefly met with a politician, named Severianus of Damascus. This man is mostly know through Damascius, and lead his own varied life in politics—as a governor, a strict and draconian one at that, then returning to Athens. Emperor Zeno offered him a high post on the condition he convert. Instead, he helped a pagan  murder plot on the Emperor, which failed.

Pseudo-Dionysius

This alone is enough for a cosmic horror story—but I wanted to go a bit further. Wikipedia notes that one researcher has suggested Damascius is the author of a collection of works called the Pseudo-Dionysian corpus. This collection of works has import to the history of the church that drew my attention for further investigation with this quote from Wikipedia:

“All names and theological representations must be negated. According to pseudo-Dionysius, when all names are negated, “divine silence, darkness, and unknowing” will follow.”

Creation and definition by lack—the void itself as divine, empty of anything but silence, ignorance, and darkness was a striking image counter to popular descriptions of the divine as a light from heaven, a source of revelation, and heavenly choirs. Reading through his descriptions of the Celestial Hierarchies, we see that this isn’t precisely the case. Angelic minds have something of a knowledge of God—and they in turn seeking deifying knowledge, so they may better imitate God’s nature.

He describes these hierarchies as dancing around the center throne of god, in a way that reminds of me the image of Azathoth around whom elder gods and musicians dance. He goes on to note that the comparison of angels to flame is due to the presence of flame in all things, moving between all things easily, hidden for most of it’s existence—here we must note that there is flame and there is fire, and that flame appears to mean the elemental flame that might erupt from any moment. Heat might be a better, more modern term for the sensation and energy he describes.

He enumerates natures of various implements, and their symbolic meaning—angels have human heads to indicate they are thinking, they where geometric garbs to show both wisdom and the foundations of creation, they wield weapons to divide, they hold scepters to unite. Each of these are key symbols in the perception of the divine.

So we have the last of a pagan school of philosophy, discussing either an incomprehensible god or, if we grant the Dionysian corpus, a god that is defined not by the heraldry of angels but instead the darkness of night. And one who’s interest lied, at one point, in the Platonic theory of the immortal soul that goes through cycles of reincarnation. This covers, I think, the appearances of the dead, but what of the notion of demons?

A daimon of good fortune in the shape of a snake.

Demons in this context perhaps better refers to the Greek daimon, which acted as an intermediary between gods and men. The meaning of this term of course changed with time, but it was generally understood that they were not divine exactly—nor were they visible. Demons were thus forces at play, invisible intermediaries and divine presences. In some works, the constructions of shrines were done so that they would not wander far—and they would keep their blessings nearby. Other cases posit them as the souls of dead men from the Golden Age, now guiding humanity—a characterization that resembles, in part, the fate of the Nephilim in some rabbinic texts—and thus positive. In royal cults, whether Alexander the Great or Augusutus, it was this daimon, this numen, this divine nature or spirit that was revered as opposed to the specific person (although the distinction blurred often).

The change into demons as we understand came from translation of the Septugaint from Hebrew to Greek—and thus changing the word shedim to daimon. This connected the name with wicked spirits, and this in turn lead to the quite literal demonization of such beings. Still, in some texts we see that the idea wasn’t entirely new. In Pythagoren works, they prove capable of infecting others with dieseases and misfortune, while the Platonic ideals gave them a moral character—that some were allotters of wicked fortunes, others good fortunes.

The stories of Damascius then would draw on a tradition of invisible spirits, allotters of fortunes, both wicked and wonderful. Or perhaps of a lost age of heroic peoples, now wandering the world at the will of Zeus. Either way, of beings invisible and ancient—although, unlike Mr. Lovecraft, not altogether malevolent. Indeed, one suggestion for daimon’s popularity in Plato is to bridge the gap between the unintelligible Divine Forms and stars, and mortal person experience with divine. So, what do we do with this?

Well there are a few routes I think. One is to center on the lost works themselves—in the same way that art in Lovecraft is often a window into secret knowledge with the paintings of Pickman and the play the King in Yellow, so too could these lost works be gates to powerful and forbidden knowledge of some dangerous sort. Of course, dangerous knowledge itself is…not a trope that I am exactly fond of. It needs more elucidation.

Another path is to take up the idea of invisible spirits that act as messengers for an incomprehensible being—servants and whisperers of the universe. They might bring messages to our character, stir up fortune or misfortune, acting like a living curse or blessing for those that disturb their shrine or home. The fact that some daimons remained at shrines as a sort of home leads me to consider the destruction of such an ancient place, unleashing an angry and powerful invisible spirit. Not one that is mortal, or mortal as we understand it, but from some bygone time out of time.

Knowledge of such things then might become the cure. A man hunted by a spirit forgotten by all must seek out these lost works, to learn how such a thing can be appeased or dispelled even as it harrows and haunts him. That I think gives us a better grip for how to use the knowledge angle of this prompt then the cursed knowledge.

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The Empty Windows Part 2

This Week’s Prompt: 119. Art note—fantastick daemons of Salvator Rosa or Fuseli (trunk-proboscis).

The Prior Research:Temptation

Part 1:The Empty Windows, Part 1

I spent the afternoon clearing off the window. It was an exquisite work, really. Along its frame were carved distorted statues and cut outs—when the sun shone down, they cast long and wide shadows down, acting out some play along the walls. Sadly, they had been damaged beyond recognition. I couldn’t tell a knight from a knave, nor a man from a goat among the shapes. But a clever bit of artistry all the same.

The glass of the window was more a shade than anything else. There was an attempt, I think, to guide the light not only over the rotating images, but the window itself. Portions, small lines, were lighter than the rest. To cast an image in lighter shadows perhaps…too small to be entirely successful. But still! I wondered what I might find, in this new window. After it was cleared, I gathered my things, looked upward into the dark.

It was like a looming eye looking down on me, a slumbering giant that dwarfed the house.  As the sun shifted across it, I stared longer. I waited for some vision or sight beyond. I waited for a world in the dark glass—but I saw nothing.

Not quite nothing.

I saw myself in the glass. Reflected, distorted. The curves stretched by body, my face and body—it was like a grotesque flower formed of my features. The thin lines looked like abandoned strings falling off my face. Like my reflection hanging from the ceiling, by thin fibirous puppet strings. So perfectly cast, I could feel my own weight above me. It was…disorienting, to see an empty shell of yourself, staring down from a dark and starless sky. Even at noon, there was no color to my reflections skin.

I am not surprised such a window was covered…but I held out hope that day that, in my work, this would open a new insight. A new window into the world beyond. After all, it was so finely made and so opaque—once my vision could pierce it, what wonders would I find behind? What worlds waited?

That night the wind was heavy. The storm was gone, but airy nymphs danced in its wake. Sleep thus so far away from me, I decided to do as I had in the past. I would survey the worlds again, from that sacred seat, with naught but candle, moon, and star.  The room was dark and heavy at night, and I sat to record poetry of Verta, who now sung songs of Gladwing’s endevors. Or so I thought, the images seemed to be of that great hero.

Studying that window, with a candle at it’s base to illuminate the figures, I felt some small comfort. But as I wrote, I felt something else. Long shadows were cast by the candlelight. The moon and cold starlight were enough to cast that pantomime of broken gargoyles…but they seemed less clear. Shapeless, dim masses against the light and dance. They lacked the stark, crisp lines that separate puppets from men.  

I pushed on though, writing. Writing and writing. Even as the darkness felt heavier and the dancing shadows grew more unsettling, while the winds howled and battered at the walls. It was after recording the third stanza—in a tongue I still didn’t know—that I knew real fear.

Because I could not stand.

It was as if a great weight was sitting on my back. It could crush me. It would crush me, if I tried to stand. Only by remaining hunched over, working away at the visions beyond, could I keep the weight off of me. The wind felt cold on my neck, unbidden from some window left agape elsewhere.  

The air pushed in to my lips as I wrote. My limbs were tightened, gripped by unseen iron centipedes, hundreds of small iron pins down. They stabbed, my arm twitched up and tightened, dragging lines across the page, cutting across text or sliding to underline words of warning. Scuttle, scratch, stab. I feel wounds. I bleed but my blood is invisible on the page, it leaves no stain. I write and write and cannot see that I bleed. Even as something coils round my crown. Even as my eyes sting and I taste iron in my mouth. I cannot see that I bleed.

*

The burning heat of the sun woke me the next day, shinging through the skylight. My head was burning as I dragged myself down for water. Despite the ache, I prepared for another day—today I would relax, and recover from the hell of last night. My stomach felt like something had coiled up inside and around it, holding it hostage.

I was determined, however, to write outside that night. To go out amongst the plains, where I might see the vistas with my sharpened vision.  I went then among green plains and forests, to visit the amphitheater of red gods with twin heads. I wondered under the sky, completing my sketches and studies.  

It was while I sat among the seas of memory, watching another investigation of the scholars there—they were fishing up a lost marriage from the deep currents below. It was a broken, sad thing—fins spread out with rainbow colors, reflecting the violet light poking through the clouds. Tender moments carved apart by deep and buried scars. It was on those fins that I saw something strange.

It was like a stain, a shadow—a shape reflected on the scales. One I had never seen before.  It was like a drop of oil paint unfurling on the water of the scene. At first, I thought the shape was a malformed tumor on the memory. A horrible, illict act of violence, remembered in the world beyond. But as I drew close, the fin folded—and the stain remained on the new scales. Perhaps it was some unreal sickness, but such no. It was too flat. It was something in the scales.

It was in the fields behind me. It was shapeless, dark and alien against everything else. A heavy shape, long thin limbs probing out on the grass. It moved with some uncertainty, on thin legs that barely supported its great and terrible mass. One limb rose from the rest. A probuscius dripping with inky darkness, gleaming with stains of light.

I had no desire to follow such a story with a monster like this. But no matter where I walked—to red or green or yellow lands, to listen to songs or poems or witness great wrestling matches, among towers and amiptheatres and zigguarats—it followed. It followed, and slowly made the most dreadful of its own noises. Dissonant unsounds, that were heard by all I saw. Pipping of the most dreadful sort. Dancing limbs, with all the elegance of a spider weaving her web.

That is what it most resemble. A spider, with limbs of thin glass and a body of sludge and fungus and rot. And it moved with such ease, even as the land around it shifted—it paid no head to anything else.

Except, as I reckoned when I closed the door, me.

It would not enter my abode. Perhaps it could  not. Perhaps it chose not. It sulked, like a dog left out in the rain, outside my window. I wished for rain. For some flood or heaving river to well up and wash the stain away. It sat, uncaring, atop even my greatest visions. It was hard to record the wonders beyond with this impish demon, lurking in the shadows and emptiness of the world. The others, my beloved knights and poets, did not see it.

As the day grew longer, however, it grew larger. And it grew company.

I saw it swell like a boil, thin layer of skin holding back a most foul inky bile. Spidery limbs punctured out, spilling dripping bile over the land as a new swarm of self-same demons, with their trunks and crawling limbs ushered out. They two roamed over the landscape. They drew near to my door in packs, clawing at the windows, and revealed mouths with of shadow.

And they would not leave.

They would not leave.

I could not make out the shapings and happenings of Glimmerwing and his kin, because these bestial gnats got in the way. Their buzzing, for they made such monstrous buzzing like each drop was an angry cicada, droned out the philosphers. They darted around the golden fields. And every day there were more, leaning on the edge of stones. They extended their long trunks down, like fishers of men in the most crude of ways.

I saw them catch a man of the red lands once. They pulled him up into nothing, and devoured him whole in their darkness. They devoured up my hope of leaving my old manor. For they were waiting there.

*

I did not answer the cold wind that called me to write at night, when darkness would be thick on the grass. I ignored the sounds and calls of monstrous things. The weeping, the chortling, the sound of pigs crying out at slaughter.

I stayed in my bed, and stared at the ceiling. I had locked the door to my study—for I knew that strange things now lurked beyond the window. Strange things lurked from that dark glass. Hungry and numerous things, waiting all about me. What they wanted, I did not know. But they had nothing but ill intent for me now.


This story was delayed greatly by healthy issues and work. I’m not happy with the result, especially with a delay. I like the idea of a window that looks in on the artist as the final twist, with strange demons coming through over time. But it’s not refined enough, frankly. These two stories together will make a good idea to revisit in a year or so.

Next time! We return to some avian friends.

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Temptation

This Week’s Prompt: 119. Art note—fantastick daemons of Salvator Rosa or Fuseli (trunk-proboscis).

The Resulting Story: The Empty Windows Part 2

This week from Lovecraft we receive one of our most precise and artistic visions—with a bit of effort I was able to track down the exact painting by Salvator Rosa that inspired this prompt, and while Fuseli proved more difficult I found plenty of monstrous art there. I’ll give my commentary on his work towards the end, since it deals with material we are already familiar with in this society.

Rosa’s Elephantine Demon

The image in question, above, is of the Temptation of Saint Anthony. Saint Anthony has two instances of temptation, one on ground and one in the air, and both are regularly represented in fantastic and surrealistic art. His first temptation began when he was young and set about the monastic path—arguably the first such monk in Christendom. The devil, envying such behavior, set about his temptation in the usual way at first. He whispered of the riches of the world, of the love of women, of the importance of family, of the difficulty of the task, of the infirmity of the body—but these trusty weapons failed. So instead, he assaulted him by day and night. So vicious were these assaults that they were visible to all who watched. But the constant attacks, even when the Devil came as a woman, were not enough. And this shamed the Devil’s pride, that he who claimed to be greater than god was rebuked by a simple man. After all of this, the devil confessed defeat, appearing as a small boy.

Later in life, Anthony sought further to conquer himself. He went out to live among the tombs near his village in Egypt, and settled there for the night. He asked that his friend bring him bread in the morning, but otherwise not disturb him. The Devil, already alarmed by the discipline of the man,  was afraid he would bring discipline to the desert. So he assaulted the saint with an army of demons and cut him to ribbons, such that his friend assumed him dead when he came to deliver the bread.  He was carried back home and there was a funeral—but he was merely sleeping. He awoke and asked his companion to return him. His wounds were real, however, and he could not stand. So he prayed as he laid on the ground.

The demons, frustrated, shook the earth and attacked the tomb from all four walls in the shape of many beasts and crawling things. But Anthony mocks them, for both relying on such great numbers and such dreadful forms. And as they gnash at him, the roof opens up and he is healed by a golden light. (As an aside, I can’t help but notice that the demons come from the four directions, but the divine aid comes from above. The symbolism to me reads as the demons being the entirety of the world here…but more on that later).

Next he takes residence in an abandoned fortress—the mere arrival of St.Anthony drives out all the reptiles. With six loaves of bread, each lasting a month, and water from the well.  Here, demons assailed him and cried out for him to leave what was theirs. His acquaintances, who came to visit, heard the sounds of violence and were afraid—but St. Anthony was unafraid and told his friends to make the sign of the cross and nothing shall harm them.

Much later in life, he ventured to a new mountain—called the inner mountain in my texts. Here he remained, and began to farm so that those who guided him there would not exert much effort in order to help him.  And here again demons assaulted him—those beyond heard the crashing of arms and saw that the mountain was full of wild beasts. First hyenas were sent, but they were repulsed. Then a beast like a man, with the legs and feet of an ass came and assaulted him. And he was repulsed.

Saint Anthony preformed other acts of healing and exorcism through out his life—leading to the promotion of monasticism through out the land. There was incident that I couldn’t find in my copy of the Life of St. Anthony, but is recorded in the art of Micahelangelo—here demons assault him again, but this time as he is carried through the air by angels instead of when he is in the desert or fortress or other place of desolation.  The story is the same as the variants above, for the most part.

Saint Anthony’s stories reflect a number of folkloric truths about wicked spirits—that they often take the forms of beasts, they dwell in places of the dead or forgotten places where nothing grows. And they have no power of men protected by the Divine. The artistic imagery of the demons is more fantastic, as the images I’ve included no doubt shows—the lives I have includes at best “the crawling things” and the man with the legs of a donkey. Still, invisible and angry demons serves as fruitful ground.

The story also calls to mind stories from India of Sidhartha’s last meditation. Here we encounter not the Devil but Mara, who attempts to dissuade Sidhartha from meditation and enlightment.  He sends three or five daughters to attempt to seduce him—but he remains mediating. Mara dispatches vast storms of rain and stone, frightening away the gods that had gathered around the Buddha—but this was to no avail either. Then Mara dispatches a great host to destroy him, and he remains untouched. Mara then called out that Buddha’s seat belong to Mara—and his whole host agreed with his claim. When asked for his witness the Buddha touched the earth—and the Earth cried out that she bore him witness. And Mara and his hosts vanished.

While this is the most famous text, it is not the only story of Mara attempting to seduce the Buddha. We find Mara in one text exhorts Sidhartha to go and live, to gain merit, for he is gravely thin. His path is too difficult, too rough to bear. And so he is rebuked by the Buddha for being what he is—and the Buddha counts and numbers his ten hosts that stand before him. Other texts have Mara attempting to lure Buddha away from preaching, either to keep it to himself or to abandon the path of preaching. One amusing temptation has Mara bringing letters from the Buddha’s princes, supposedly, that demand he give up preaching.

The similarities of these stories lead me to wonder if there was some influence on St. Anthony’s story from India. They aren’t the only temptations stories—there is the famous Temptation of Christ, where the devil came to Jesus in the desert, and offered him food and power and proof of his divinity. He rejects these temptations and resumes his preaching with citations from scripture. The idea, however, of being assaulted by demons does not feature in the Gospel story. Only in the stories of Anthony and Sidhartha. And the fantastic creatures are also missing. Given that what drew Lovecraft to this narrative was the image of a elephantine creature, I think the idea of a terrorizing demon serves best.

I think it’s also worth noting that the symbolism in Anthony and Buddha’s narratives paint the evils as deeply rooted in the entirety of the world–while they dwell in places of wilderness, the demons that attack Saint Anthony come from all quarters. They take the form of “baser” things–beasts, not men or scholars or intellectually cunning angels. Likewise, the daughters that approach the buddha are named for temptations, and Mara’s callings point to worldly responsibilities. One divergence I noticed is that, while both appeal to how hard the monastic life is, Mara appeals to the Buddha’s royal obligation, while Anthony has no such appeal that I could find. Perhaps because he never held any office?

Artistically, both works cited by Lovecraft have very physical, monstrous, and bodily feelings. They aren’t as abstract as Dali, but rather concrete and monstrous and menacing things. The piece by Fuseli I could find that closest fit what we have here is this one, of a snake devouring a rider. A consumptive, monstrous thing that was very much made of flesh, not dreams.

Before discussing where I intend to take this, I thought it’d be wise to mention that this is another story where the “result” is easily found in Lovecraft’s own work. Well, not his work. Chaugnar Faugn is a creature that resembles an elephant with a trunk that ends in a leech like mouth. A repulsive creature imprisoned in a statue form, or perhaps hibernating, it arrived and shaped life on this planet millions of years ago. When awake, it drains the blood of those that draw near. I haven’t read his original story—Lovecraft featured him in the Horror in the Museum, as an aside, but he comes from  Frank Belknap Long. Reading a summary the story is…bizzare, featuring strange rays that send creatures back in time, hidden cults, inorganic life, and the brothers of Chaugnar Faugn.

Our own story will of course be picking up from last time, with our artist having found the final hidden window. There are a number of strange things that might occur—the demon perhaps is literal, descending on this lonely and isolated man form the empty plains. Or perhaps it will crawl from the new window—or merely observe. Something tangible, devouring, and menacing–something there “in the flesh”. Let us see what lonely and fantastic horror awaits, next time!

Bibliography

Athanasius, St., and Robert T. Mayer. St. Athanasius: the Life of St. Anthony. Newman, 1978.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Māra.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 20 May 2013, http://www.britannica.com/topic/Mara-Buddhist-demon.

“The Buddha’s Encounters with Mara the Tempter: Their Representation in Literature and Art”, by Ananda W.P. Guruge. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/guruge/wheel419.html .

St. Andrew’s Day

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

The Prior Research:Romanian Vampires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TeaKettleBoiling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh that’s—”

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

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

Demeneted Wolf Skull

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stone Coffins

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

Geoffrey nodded and stood, adjusting his coat slightly.

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

Without a word, he vanished like dissipating mist.

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



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

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

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

 

 

Ghosts, Presences, and More

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

The Resulting Story: The Old Castle On The Hill

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

Mongelvin Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abe no Nakamaro,

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

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

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

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

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

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

What hauntings by the inhumane do you know of?

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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Death Lights on the Marshland

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

The Resulting Story: Marshlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

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

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

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