The Dark Room

This Week’s Prompt:  103. Sealed room—or at least no lamp allowed there. Shadow on wall.

The Prior Research:A Lightless Room At Night

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4/20/2017

First day in the new apartment. Man, moving in never really get’s easier—but this should be the last time for a while. It’s a nice spot—I can walk to Uni. but I’m not being priced out too badly. Seems like most people around here have been here for a while. Met the landlord and my roommate—I think it was the landlord anyway. Same last name as on the ad, but he looked a little out of it. Excited to get everything done, but kinda zoned out.

Jim’s nice though. He’s working on some sort of photography masters or something, so he’s got some darkroom set up. Which makes the place a bit more cramped, but its not like I need more than a bed and bathroom at this point anyway. The photos look good though, and he’s been in some gallery’s nearby or something.

So, landed on my feet, got a decent gig starting tomorrow, things are looking up all in all.

The Dark Room

5/07/2017

God my knees are killing me. Three flights, without a working elevator, isn’t too bad but it hits hard after walking a mile a day. I’m sure it’ll level out though, build some strong leg muscles or something. Builds character, right?

Guy at the bagel place knows my name and preference now though, which is…well, a bit nice and a bit awkward. Will make it hard to change things up I think, but hey, its nice to have a somewhat friendly face outside the house. Work’s been a bit of a pain, to be honest, but data entry’s never exciting. I think I’m developing a hunch and staring at a screen all day isn’t helping me get sleep. Eye strains real I guess.

Oh yeah, there was some sort of…rally thing on campus today. Wasn’t clear about what, kinda focused on getting home and it was late, but there was someone taking signatures and stuff outside for volunteer work.  Kinda weird, I’d think college kids had less time than most to volunteer. God knows I didn’t have time to go door to door, but maybe the internet’s made that faster too.

5/13/2017

So I don’t know how to say this. But I think there’s something…weird about this apartment. I was walking home, a bit buzzed, but like. Attentive buzzed. And I think—okay, I did the layout of the apartment, and who has a darkroom facing the outside? That seems…weird. But okay, focus. So I’m walking home, checking every now and then because I’m sure there’s a coyote somewhere around here. And I see—the windows open to the darkroom—there’s a bit of red light peeking out from the curtains. Bright red light, in the middle of the night? Yeah, that got my attention. So I’m squinting at this weird red spot, and I swear something tugged the curtain.

And at first, okay, at first I was like you know what? Maybe there’s some secret to like. Fresh air helping photo’s develop. I don’t know, there’s all sorts of weird stuff in arts schools. Like once people made paint out of mummies—there were enough mummies you had a whole color made out of ground up mummy. I shrugged it off, even if it bugged me for a bit. But then I got up here.

And I had this thought. I’ll go see if Jim can tell me about how fresh air helps photos. He’s smart. And he’s kinda into talking about how photos work, what this and that thing does. I mean, I think he is. So I stumble up three flights of stairs, walk into the room—and its all dark. Whole house has it’s lights off. And I figure, maybe he needs it extra dark.

I knock on the door, and nothing. Nothing from the dark room, except a dim red light on the bottom. Which I shrug off and go back to slump down. But then I start thinking…And I start writing this. What is going on in there? I don’t know maybe it’s just like. A bird got stuck in there or something. But that doesn’t seem right. There aren’t owls here… Maybe a rat or something.

Keep having weird dreams of like…cattle being melted into guts and sausages. Somethings in the house, I think. Must be a rat, there’s this weird clicking tick sound in the walls, keeps waking me up.

Apartment Windows Exterior At Night

5/15/2017

Okay, I finally finally got a hold of Jim about the window thing. Finally. He said that yeah, the curtain gets caught on stuff sometimes, and that was it! That was all he’d say about it, nothing to worry about, but he was developing photos there tonight so fuck off basically. Such a headache.

And if that wasn’t enough, I passed another busted up building today. Cop cars and an ambulance outside. Don’t know if someone shot up the place or what, the glass door was shot up though. I don’t usually see cops that spooked either, and the guys in the ambulance were bringing out some buckets. I don’t think it has anything to do with the curtain, probably. I mean, the window was open when I got home. The curtains were shut tight though. I don’t know. I’m probably over thinking—I mean, nothing really going wrong in that room. Just some twitching curtains and ominous red light—which I think is normal? They have red lights there in the movies all the time.

5/20/2017

I know I’m supposed to be keeping this daily now. It helps keep things focused, right? Like a long anchor, or a memory back up or something. But I’ve been so tired lately, just utterly worn out. There was a weird noise Tuesday, kept waking me up. Not all the way up, but enough to just sort shamble around, meant I got like no sleep Wednesday. Someone’s doing some piping or something, it was this weird sucking sound. Like a drain or a garbage disposal left on. Maybe someone’s making some shitty new electronica or something, I don’t know.

I went into the kitchen, and there wasn’t anything. Then I thought I saw a big spider or something hanging from the ceiling…but that was just the fan. Still. Couldn’t sleep, kept thinking of giant spiders. And course finding a door back lit by red is comforting when your half way to dream land already.

Although I’m pretty sure the cats and coyotes would have gotten one by now. Last two days I’ve seen like…a dozen stray cats. They gave me the stink eye. I mean. More than cats normally do.

Haven’t seen those volunteer folks around uni lately…wonder what happened to them. I chatted with one of the kids that signed up—he said they wanted like, a full time jobs worth. Can’t afford that sort of volunteer work these days. Sounds exhausting, and with my sleep problems, can’t lose any rest.

Red Room Door 2

5/19/2017

Something lives in the room. I saw it. I saw it’s shadow on the curtain walking home. It was raining heavy and hard today, but there was a lighting bolt. A big flash—and I saw it. I saw it, just swaying there. I locked the door to write this. What else is Jim hiding in there? Why do the cats keep staring at me, watching me, all of them are watching me when I walk down the street I can feel it.

I’ve got to see what’s in there, right? I’ve got to see what—it had big wings. Big wings, like that spanned the window, but a fat body I think. Like some sort of owl bat thing. I’ve got to get out of here, I’ve got to get out of here.

6/11/2017

It found me. I woke up and I couldn’t move all night—and that thing…it only comes out at night. I can’t get a good look—big wings, and a long tongue. It stays in the dark, flicking it’s tongue on my chest or down my throat. When I had energy, I’d grab that fucking tongue, but it’s like it’s made of needles, its worse than a fucking cat.

I’ve tried running away during the day, I’ve tried, but my legs don’t seem to move right. Well, that’s not right. I’m so tired. I’m so tired, I forget it’s there. I just slump home and fall into bed. Sometimes I forget to eat. Jim doesn’t believe me when I remember to tell him—bastard’s probably in with it. He’s making dinner now, he makes most of the food now. I can barely sit up right and write.

I think it’s watching me in the corner. I think I saw the apartment listed again. God.

I’m going to die here.



I like this story. The idea of a dark room, as in one to develop photographs, seemed like an easier approach than the thunder storm. I struggled with how to end it, and I hope it’s not too sudden. If I was going to change anything, I’d try to play in the weirdness of the goings on around town more instead of just offhand messages.

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A Lightless Room At Night

This Week’s Prompt: 103. Sealed room—or at least no lamp allowed there. Shadow on wall.

The Resulting Story: FORTH COMING

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This prompt is an interesting one—and one that has a number of routes we’ve covered before. The most apparent to me is the hidden rooms of Eros and Bluebeard—often here, the bedroom of the husband or some other secret room is forbidden. In the case of Eros and Pysche is even specific about the oil lamp that wakes and frightens off Eros. We’ve also discussed Balkan Vampires—ones that in fact do fear light or are kept in secret places and pits. However, there is no shortage of strange and monstrous creatures in the night. And one I would like to go over tonight is a vampire from another part of the world: The Philippines.

The creature in question is the aswang—a vampire like creature that has a long tongue with a sharp tip, which it uses to suck blood or viscera from a victim. There are other sorts of creatures called or compared to the aswang in the Philippines, which we will discuss further on. The vampire, however, has some key and common traits. Vampiric aswang are often foreign husbands or wives, who feed on their partner or use their partner as a home base from which to work their havoc. The vampires that are dead returned to the living live in distant forests by day, and come to feed at night.

Viscera Sucker

The viscera sucker, sometimes called naguneg in Iklo and kasudlan in West Visayan, like wise has a long mosquito like proboscis or long tongue—but this isn’t sharp. At night it’s arms become wings and it abandons its legs to go hunting. It leaves these in a closet, on a bed, or hidden in a banana grove—if they are disturbed or salt is tossed on them, the creature will die. The viscera sucker targets pregnant women and the sick, drinking phlegm or feeding on internal organs using it’s straw like mouth. They may live in a jungle, hanging from the trees or in small huts, but a number live as wives in villages. Unlike the vampire, their fears are clearly documented—spices, light (as our prompt requests), big crabs, sting ray tails, salt, fire, guns, and knives.  I find these last three fears to be well founded in general, frankly. Salt of course is a weakness of the creatures—and marine life reminds them of that dangerous mineral. Lastly, a bamboo stake in the back of such a creature will kill it instantly. One becomes a vsicera sucker by either eating food spat up by another viscera sucker, or by eating a creature that emerges from a dead viscera sucker’s mouth that resembles a black chick.

A comparable creature, with the same fears, is the weredog. This creature resembles a man during the day, but at night becomes a large dog or cat. It sets upon people in their homes and—perhaps a bit tellingly—on youngsters who are too loud. The weredog and the witch however especially fear the sting ray whip—wounds it suffers from the whip appear again when it becomes a man. Villagers suspect wandering salesmen and laborers on government projects are suspected of being weredogs often.

The next creature of the aswang variety is a witch. The witch is a vindictive man or woman—usually woman—who slips cursed items and talismans into people’s orifices to get their revenge. Witches are described as having eyes like a cat or snakes, which reflect images upside down. They therefore avoid eye contact. They are also shy and live on the edges of town, in abandoned houses. They employ insects as agents to spy on victims or plant curses, and some cases argue they also make use of dogs for this purpose.

The last of these creatures is a ghoulish one. These creatures have long nails, fetid breath, and sharp teeth. They can hear the groans of the dying miles away, and eagerly gather at night around trees in cemeteries to feast on the corpses within. If they come across a funeral, ghouls freely make off with the living and the dead. Loud noises and fire frighten off the creatures, however, so proper celebrations keep them at bay. If they manage to get the corpse, they will turn it into a pig and make off with it—and try to feed it to another human being, turning them into a new ghoul.

The aswang first came to my attention from an episode of Grimm. I don’t remember any of the other elements of that episode, but the image of the long tongued creature horrified me. I don’t believe it separated its body as it does in these stories, but the distinctive appearance and feeding habits have made the aswang famous. There is even a resource on Philippines folklore and mythology, the Aswang Project, named for the creature.

A story from nearby Java also caught my attention. Here two men are lead to a cavern, to marry a magical serpent. They went to a spirit gateway, and after burning incense and making offerings, they were told to close there eyes. One obeyed, the other kept his eyes open. The one who closed his eyes waited until told to open them—and found the cavern replaced by a great palace, the dirt road a grand highway. He was invited in and asked to choose a princess to marry. They were married and agreed to meet Monday and Thursday, and she would give him money each time until she ran out. After that, he would return to serve in the palace.

Candi Naga

The friend who kept his eyes open saw none of this—just a cave full of large snakes. He of course didn’t have the heart to tell his fellow about the illusion. Here the revelation isn’t dangerous itself—rather it denies one the benefits and luxury they might have had.

Our story is thus about finding and revealing secrets, although the sort that are perhaps not disclosed in full. The prompt mentions a shadow cast on the wall, which calls to mind an onlooker. Crouched near the opened door frame, looking into this forbidden room. Another has come into the darkness. A light is lit—and their familiar silhouette appears on the wall. Only, moments later, something horrific wakes. Perhaps a winged shape emerges, or perhaps long clawed appendages reach out. And the intruder is gone.

There is a Lovecraftian creature this reminds me of—the Haunter of the Dark. This creature, associated with the artifact the Shining, can go anywhere abroad at night. It cannot emerge during light, and thus modern electrical lights leave it trapped in an abandoned church. Yet when the power grid comes out, it seeks the one who freed it—on black wings, with three eyes, on a whirlwind it arrives. This creature has since been viewed as an embodiment of the great Nyarlathotep, which then possessed the body of the viewer. He and it perished luckily when lighting struck.

Haunter in the Darkn.png

This Lovecraft story is situated between two other stories by Robert Bloch, which feature an invisible vampiric creature that rides on cold winds to devour a man from Providence after being summoned and a Doctor Ambrose Dexter being possessed by the lord of a thousand forms. While working on nuclear weapons, which of course is a horror all its own. The details of this creatures functions can be found examined on Lovecraft Science here.

Our story could be instead arranged around this as a midpoint. The discovery of a strange monster in the darkness of a room—one that, drawing upon the Bluebeard stories and Vampire ones, wants its presence hidden—could serve not as the rising climax but as the discovery that incites action. In the middle of the night, you might see strange shapes coming from the older house or the abandoned churches, down from the hill in between flashes of lighting. I do think Lovecraft’s idea, a blackout in a modern city allowing it free and a thunder storms lighting bolts revealing the creature for mere moments, before it flees and moves away. That’s a strong way to build tension in a very visual way—one that I think can be communicated in writing, albeit in a way that would be more clipped than my normal writing.

Oh the terror.

What creatures of the night do you know and dread? What things fear the light or despise it’s presence? Comment below!

Bibliography

Ramos, Maximo. “The Aswang Syncrasy in Philippine Folklore” Western Folklore, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Oct., 1969), pp. 238-248.

Wessing, Robert. “Spirits of the Earth and Spirits of the Water: Chthonic Forces in the Mountains of West Java” Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 47, No. 1 (1988), pp. 43-61.

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The Last Will

This Week’s Prompt: 102. Corpse in room performs some act—prompted by discussion in its presence. Tears up or hides will, etc.

The Prior Research:The Testimony of the Dead

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The first two cars arrived for the reading of Mr. Melane’s will at eight o’clock am. The last of the four cars arrived at half past eight. I was obliged, by prior arrangement, to wait until all six surviving members had all the gathered to read the will in full.

“Can’t you just…you know, skip to what’s mine and get it over with?” Mr. Melane’s son, Arthur Melane, said, peaking over the podium.

“I’m afraid not.” I said, shaking my head. I had taken the liberty of reading Mr. Melane’s will ahead of time—at his request, a number of things had been prepared. A pile of envelopes, labeled for each item on the will or collection of items. His own cascket, which lay next to me, his’ feet towards the audience. And a list of photos with names, in case I got confused.

“I just don’t see why we have to wait—listen she’s always late, no need for the rest of us to wait along for her nonse—” Arthur said, his cousin Shelia squirming in her seat a little. And then the eponymous she arrived, Katrina Melane. Not the same hair style as the photo, but the same color and face. And her associate, Mr. Leonard Alphonse. I was fairly certain that Alphonse was a first name, but who am I to ask.

There was grumbling as they sat. The wife of the deceased, Georgia Melane, and the last of the relations Jordy Melane, had stayed silent and upright the entire time. Patient and somewhat cold gazes.

As they took there seats in the chapel. I started to read the will.

Chapel Exterior 1.png

“Dear my remaining family and friends. As you know, during my life I devoted myself to true and honest virtues. A portion of my estate has been set aside already for the furthering of knowledge and understanding among mankind, in the form of donations and contributions to scientific research across Windgift proper—”

There was another small set of grumbles.

“However, I have not forgotten the most timeless and nurturing bonds of kinship—”

There was a suppressed cough, I believe from Katrina.

“And as such have appropriated the remainder of my estate for my relations, with a caveat. As a believer in the value of merit first and foremost, and of the importance of great deeds, I have allocated these to the most worthy—those who have achieved things that are in needing of such reparations. My executor has been given all the evidence I have for my suppositions of who preformed these deeds—however, he has been asked to not hand over the property until the perpetrators stand forward for their own actions.”

More shifting. I peered over them, and steeled my heart.

“A sum of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds was, over the course of three years, misplaced from the family funds. In particular, a considerable amount of scholarship money set aside for Katrina’s art classes and collegiate studies went missing. At the time of its disappearance, I was greatly ill and not able to correct the imbalance. I am sure you all suspect as much. Whoever, however, removed the funds and confesses as such—to you I bequeath the estate on the moor, which I am sure you are all familiar with. The one with the lovely grove of trees.”

“I knew it.” Katrina muttered, frowning. “I knew someone was making off with—oh just give it to mother dearest. I’m sure she knows where it’s all scattered.”

“I didn’t touch those funds and you know it.” Geogria said, rubbing the bridge of her nose.

“It isn’t mother’s fault you drank away half your fund.” Jordy cut in, leaning to look at Katrina.

“Do you think I failed my math classes?” Katrina growled, her hands balling into fists. Mr. Alphonese rested his hand on her shoulder.

“A grudge that long ago isn’t worth a house, Kat…” Sophia muttered. “Just fess up and take it.”

“No, no its fine. If she’s so insistent to throw away her father’s last gift, than its fine. Yes, I misplaced the fund. It wasn’t like it was doing much good at university anyway.” Georgia said. I tapped the envelop with the peach grove on it, and cut it open, pouring out the first letter, and nodded slightly.

“Very well. Onto the second matter. As some of you are aware, as my health declined, my esteemed wife Georgia became close to a man by the name Ludwig Birding. Mr. Birding was a charming man, by all accounts, and quite the successful businessman. His import and export operations were growing rather well, and my accountant Roger suggests they will be valued at over a million pounds or more within the year. “

Georgia sharply inhaled. Katrina looked to the aside. Sophia muttered something to Arthur.

Chapel-LudwigPortrait.png

“An exceptional man, who’s life was tragically cut short by his own bottled demons according to a police report filed the 3rd of November. While none of my family drew the knife on the man—certainly, confessing to murder would be improper at a funeral. But who was it that gave him that poisoned cup? To them I leave my associated properties in Windgift, the dozen tenanted houses and associated businesses.”

“Always so long winded, even past the grave.” Arthur sighed and looking over. “Well, that’s two I can’t take. I never met old Lud until his face was plastered over the dining room hall.”

“He was…infuriating.” Katrian muttered. “But that’s just Mother’s taste. I didn’t even think he was pushed off the wagon instead of fell.”

“I thought he was quite kind.” Sophia said, tapping her chin. “He seemed a bit too friendly though.”

Georgia was silent.

“I knew Ludwig took…But still. Pushed off…” She said, tears running down her cheek.

“Well, that is the way of the city sometimes.” Jordy said, giving his mother a comforting hug.

“Pushed off by my own kin though!” She hissed, glaring around. “Which one of you did it? He’d been fighting for years to get off that damned drink. Years!”

“Mother, you knew him scant nine months…”  Katrina said a bit softly. Mr. Alphones stroked his mustache.

“I think I knew Ludwig…he wasn’t too uncommon back in the day…a shame his abstinence didn’t last too long. The man seemed pleasant.”

“Well, that’s all good morning a man dead for half a decade.” Sophia said a bit louder. “But we still don’t know who gets the property.”

“…Jordy.” Georgia said, turning to the youngest of the Melane’s and pushing off his hand. “What’s this about the way of the city?”

“Sometimes charming men fall back on their vices.” Jordy said, shrugging.

“Oh God in heaven Jordy…” Georgia gasped. Katrina clicked her tongue.

“Charming men sometimes fall, hm?” She said. “Sometimes favorites get jealous?”

“Nothing of the sort.” Jordy said, looking down at his feet. “I-I didn’t know he had a problem. I was being…friendly? Hospitable.”

“Oh that’s bull, you hate the drink like a cat hates water.” Arthur said, sitting upright.

“I knew he liked it, I didn’t know he was an alcoholic.” Jordy said. “Perhaps it was for the best then.”

“You killed him…” Georgia muttered, moving a seat.

“I didn’t kill him! I didn’t trust him.” Jordy said, shaking his head. “He was too kind, and I knew he was hiding something. I got him drunk, to let the truth come out—find out whether he was dangerous. To find out if he was taking advantage of you.”

“I am your mother.” Georgia said standing. “Since when do you look out for  me?”

“What about that man in Belgrade! Where did all that money for his charming little business go, mother?” Jordy said, standing up. “Or the dress maker from Paris, who was going to give you a career as a model and muse? Where did all of his funds go?”

A silence hung in the air. I reached over the sarcophagus, and took the letter up, and held it out. Jordy snatched it from my hand.

“At least father appreciates my service.” He muttered.

I took up the final section.

Chapel Interior 1.png

“And the final section of my will and testament, given in my right and aware mind, I allocate to the member of my family that perhaps has preformed the most grievous and influential act upon my livelihood, perhaps barring my death. Two summers before the writing of this will, there was a dispute between two persons in my library, in the summer home on the coast. Neither of you were permitted on the premise at the time, but such things are marginal compared to what happened after. I was informed, that evening, that a fire had broken out in my library—and that several key items to my research, my truth seeking, and my works. To whoever confesses the cause of the fire, I will relinquish the rest of the estate.”

Arthur laughed.

“Of course. That’s what he’s shaking his fist at from beyond the grave. Not murder, not undermining the family name, not affairs…” Arthur gasped for breath. “No. For burning some books of long forgotten lore. Of course.”

“Well who—” Georgia began.

“I did.” Sophia sighed. “Me and Arthur were visiting to find some old books and…and we found some writings from Uncle Melane’s private life.”

“Some writings? Yes, well. We found quiet a few writing, by my memory. Father had gone deep into things that were too deep for me to let stand.”

“It was a bit extreme but we did not expect the fire to spread.” Sophia protested.

“Yes, fine. But we confess to—” Arthur began—until there was a loud scraping sound. A hand, long thin skeletal hand, reached from the sarcophagus, open a jar. It reached up and seized the final envelope. And slowly, to the horror of us gathered, retracted back down into the coffin. And the coffin was sealed shut, the last will of Mr. Melane trapped within.

I wonder if they dared open it later.



This story needs more room, I think. The idea, the conceit of a will dependent on confessions, seems appropriate. But I think peppering it with revealing flashbacks–I’ve heard the movie Knives Out has done something like this–or by expanding the conflicts between the family members some. I think the middle one, with Jordy, is my favorite. I think at the end, the characters aren’t…set up enough for this plot. Not in this version anyway.

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The Testimony of the Dead

This Week’s Prompt: 102. Corpse in room performs some act—prompted by discussion in its presence. Tears up or hides will, etc.

The Resulting Story:The Last Will

This Research Brought To You By Our Patrons on Patreon!

This prompt in a number of ways limits the story that goes forward. While there are some folklore models that we can draw upon here, I think I’ll start by discussing what form the story is likely to take first. The supernatural element, the key moment, is the destruction or hiding of a will by a dead person. The act is prompted by discussion in it’s presence, presumably discussion of the corpse itself or what is contained in the will. Now, it has been some time since I attended a funeral, thank god, and I have never actual sat for a reading of the will.  This is not terribly surprising, as a brief google search reveals that the dramatic heights of a reading of the will are in fact entirely fiction. Such events do not happen. Perhaps then, in some macabre way, we can place the body at the center of the scene anyway.

As it happens, then, we have a unique advantage. The horror of the grave rising up, one last time, to defy or scorn the beneficiaries of its will is written out in our prompt, but itself is not the core of the story. No, the story’s thrust is not in the moment but in the build up of family tensions, of schemes before and during, of arguing, of lying and truth telling. It is like a gothic Thanksgiving dinner, where all the family gathers and learns too much about each other but cannot leave. Because as they say, where there’s a will there’s a hopeful line of relatives.

CasketOpen1

Now, what folklore do we have examples of living corpses and haunting. We discussed the nature of some vampires to rise and feed despite lying in wait, and how recitations can drive them out here. These are especially notable in the context of a will, given the tendency of the vampire to feed on its own family. While not all of them have this chance, the looming spectre of lost family is hard to avoid.

We’ve talked about numerous, truly numerous numbers of the living dead and ghostly creatures here and here and here and here as well. The nature of the dead is strange, numerous, and plentiful in folklore and horror. However, there are a few more stories we can add to the discussion, particularly from the recent readings I’ve done.

One story that relates particularly well is that of the Biting Corpse—tale number ten of the twenty three. This story follows a motif common in the stories, of two quarelling brothers. One is rich but miserly, the other generous but poor. The Elder brother holds a great feast and decides not to invite his younger brother, so the younger brother decides to steal food from the elder brother’s storehouse. While doing so, however, he sees his elder brother’s wife taking some food out in the night. He follows her  until on some flat ground, behind a hill, he finds her again. She sits caressing and feeidng a corpse, or at least trying to do so—the corpse of her last husband.  She even leans down to kiss him—but the corpse bites off her nose instead. He escapes before being noticed, and waits for the next day.

The wife tries to cover her new injury by claiming it was her husband who inflicted the wound. The two quarrel over the matter until at last it reaches the khan, who is ready to sentence the husband to death. However, the younger brother appears and reveals the truth—and when the woman’s corpse-husband is found, she is put to death. Other tales, which I will discuss in more detail on the patreon, do present wives who revive their husbands—but this incident is not repeated or given further context.

The moral of this story lies of course in proper treatment of ones family more than the corpse itself—but I found it strange when reading that the body would except no food except the nose. The nose, one of the facial features that is most clearly not present on a skeleton. And there is something to be read here, about how attachment to a former husband drives a rift between husband and wife, such that the wife conspires to get the husband killed.

To touch on an example of living dead that we haven’t discussed, the dybuuk is another familial threat. A dybuuk is a Jewish ghost, one that cannot find it’s way to the afterlife and thus is trapped in limbo. In  order to escape this torment or perhaps to continue it’s wicked life, a dybuuk often possesses  a body—sometimes its own—and commits various transgressive acts, including blasphemy and murder.

Dybuuk.png

These sources stuck out to me among the other undead for their combination of both thinking or at least responding to the living and their corporeal form—while lacking the direct feeding that vampiric creatures possess. They are somewhere between the two—neither full blood sucking beast nor mere phantom hurling objects about. The only difference here is the singularity of the incident. The body’s sudden motion is its only act.

A more comedic set of tales comes from Indiana. Here a pair of stories related a hunchbacked man’s burial—due to his hunchback, the man could not lie flat in the coffin and so was held down by straps. In one story, a friend was watching the body when a cat snuck in. As the man chased the cat around with a broom, he accidentally struck his friend and caused the binds to break—the dead man shot straight up and the firend only said “Lie down, John, I’ll get the damned cat.”

In the other instance, the man stays down until the funeral. During the service, the minister passionately proclaimed that “this body will rise again!” And on cue, the dead man sat upright! The whole congregation fled that instant.

What is interesting to me about these two stories is the similarity to vampiric ones, in an odd way. In the Balkans, as we mentioned, a cat walking over the grave of a dead man could in fact cause him to rise—as a creature of the night, murderous and cruel. Likewise, the connection and antipathy vampires have for the holy and proper funerals is oddly similar to the reaction of the minister. While I doubt there is a direct connection between the stories, there is a strange resonance between them.

House of Usher2.png

When it comes to tales of Lovecraft and Gothic Lore, the dead are of course always nearby. But this story in particular reminded me ofthe House of Usher—a story that will return and return, I believe, in these prompts—and how it included the burial alive of a dear relative by an off-kilter brother. That the woman was only mistaken for dead does little to change the effect of her rising at the reading of a story in her presence, and rush out to her brother in rage.

Mr. Lovecraft’s story, In the Vault, deals with another vital corpse. Here the corpse is of a wicked man, and it’s motion is perhaps questionable. We follow a careless, lazy, and generally unprofessional undertaker who, because of the winds of April, is trapped in a vault of coffins. This vault, to store the dead during winter, when the ground is too dense to dig through, is of course a terrifying place to be. As the vault is sealed, and in a hill, the undertaker must make his own escape. He stacks the coffins, one atop another, and stands on their poor construction to break himself free. A moment before he manages to get free, something—either the corpse or the breaking coffins—savages his ankles, forcing him to crawl not just out of the vault but all the way to get aid. The doctor, however, recognizes the true source of the wounds and demands the undertaker never reveal them to anyone else.  That is not the full story of course, but I do enjoy the full twist myself.

The Gothic tale House of Seven Gables has a similar, haunting notion of a lost will buried in the walls. We’ve discussed this at length here, to elaborate on some of its plot points in inheritance, family, oppression, and communal guilt. For our purposes, its important that the will serves as a promise in the past for fortunes that could have been or that came into their own in the future. The will that is destroyed is not only a symbolic connection to the past, it also acts as an embodiment of a dream or vision of the future.  This is part of the horror of the story—not only that the dead walk and possibly talk, but that the dead reject or deny something to the living. Peace of mind at the most basic, of course, but more tangible things as well.

Our stories conflicts will then be two fold—we will have the living against the living and the living against the dead. This is, as I mentioned before, a story of relationships and their many forms, and how they change or come into new lights with someone’s passing. In particular, however, this can be the story of secrets as well—the sorts of secrets that only come to light when someone has died, and left their last act in the air waiting. The will is their last communication, the “truth” of their feelings and cares. And of course, a fight over that will be painful—especially if the prize is to be denied at the very end by the dead themselves.

Bibliography

Baker, Ronald L. Hoosier Folk Legends. Indiana University Press, 1982.

Busk, Rachel Harriette. Sagas from the Far East; or Kalmouk and Mongolian traditionary tales. London. Griffith and Faran, 1873.

Epstien, Saul and Robinson, Sara Libby. The Soul, Evil Spirits, and the Undead:: Vampires, Death, and Burial in Jewish Folklore and Law. Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural, Vol. 1, No. 2 (2012), pp. 232-25

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My Father’s House

This Week’s prompt: 101. Hideous secret society—widespread—horrible rites in caverns under familiar scenes—one’s own neighbour may belong.

The Prior Research:Conspiracy!

After the fifth surveyor refused to go down to Elderbir, I just accepted I had to do it. I’d been down there already once this year—my pa insisted in being buried in the cemetery down there, with the rest of the Bulric family. It had been a bit harrowing, a lot of unfamiliar faces among the stones. Mom and I never really came back home. But they all knew me too—apparently my dad was proud of my practice. Talked all about it all the time.

That sort of reception made the first surveyor’s response a bit odd. They said they wouldn’t be able to complete the survey do to unexpected hazards. The next two just wouldn’t go out that far. Fourth sent me a bill for their trouble, and said it wasn’t possible to fully inspect the house without further payments. And number five just came clean with it.

“Yeah, listen, Bobby, listen. We went out there, started doing some measurements and such. And these guys—these guys started poking around. Asking questions. One of them was leaning against a truck, patting a hunting rifle. Another had a hammer—no a mallet, and was talking about some big holes they had dug to find a broken pipe. I’m not saying it was a dangerous situation. But I’m not heading back out there, no way no how.”

Which…okay. To be honest, as I pulled up outside the house, I had to admit. It was an isolated big house, atop a hill, nothing for a good half a mile. Not exactly a welcoming place. The survey info I did have—which was a bit old—said the entire place was on a limestone shelf. Which…well. Not a great place, all things considered.

I ran into Joe while I was going out for my second suitcase trip.

“So, finally moving back in?” Joe said, leaning over the wooden fence. “It’d be nice to have a Bulric back in the neighborhood.”

“For now, for now.” I said, sighing. “Just getting a feel for the place you know? Before I decide anything.”

“Decide anything…you’re not really thinking of selling it, are you? I thought those guys that came down worked for the bank.”

“Well, glad to know you gave them the Elderbir welcome.” I said, lifting the trunk out. “But I figure I’ll give it a try for a bit—I can work from home well enough, take a good hard look at it all you know?”

“C’mon Bob, wasn’t seven years a good enough look.” Joe said, laughing. “Remember that time you snuck into the cupboard and it fell down? Your dad and I had to both lift it all back up again.”

“Twenty years makes it tricky to remember.” I said.  And I was four at the time, Joe.

“You know, if your looking to sell…I think old Mr. Joneson would give a decent price.” Joe said, scratching his head. “Keep it in town you know.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” I said, raising an eyebrow. Mr. Joneson wasn’t exactly known for his generosity—I’d rather not sell to a miser.

HouseLimestone.png

 

The lights and gas and water were all still on—good for this brief habitation, although I wondered where the money was coming from. I hadn’t done the leg work of calling banks about…well. There was a few cable bills and advertisements in the mail. More awkward phone calls.

The wind battered at the window panes, and it was a bit hard to see outside. Most of the area was a field—the limestone around it meant the roots didn’t go too deep. Not great for farming, I understand, and even a brief walk around had found some sink holes and dips.  The entire house seemed to creak and moan under the weight of the storm. It was so bad, I could barely see the fence—and too loud to sleep well. An empty house is already far too loud.

The only thing I could make out that night was a small shape at the edge of the property—looked like a big dog poking at the fence. Too tired to really read, I focused on the shape for a bit as it prodded around. Poor thing was probably looking for shelter. I was sad the thunder scared it off.

 

I met with Mr. Joneson about his offer—about 15k for the whole place, which I politely said I’d consider. I mean, it was better than literally nothing. But a large quaint country house? I figured I could get more. Wasn’t like Mr. Joneson needed another house anyway. He and his owned like half the town even when I was growing up. I could cut down the price for someone needy but, well, he could do better.

Given the rain last night, I thought now was a time to get to know the land better. To walk about and see the newly formed lakes and dips that formed in the field. Not stuff to include when you sell a place, but you never know what you’ll need to know. Before I got far, however, I spotted a weird…color on the hill behind the house.

Not that weird, but…leaning down, it was a dull grey. The dirt had washed away to reveal a smooth gray—cement. I dug a little with my hands. Whatever it was, it was pretty big. I came back with a shovel and started clearing it out. It was a misshapen lump—about eight feet tall at the tallest. Tapping it, there wasn’t anything on the other side. There was a…well, something drawn on the front with faded chalk. I still have no clue what it means.

And well. Something beneath the house? That was something I needed to know more about.

“Doing some home improvement?” Joe asked as I took the heavy tool box out of the garage.

“Yeah, found some old planks that need to replaced.” I said, nodding a bit, and looking towards the cement.  “That and some rocks that need moving—hey, did pa mention anyone else living here? Do any improvements or the like since I left?”

There was something about Joe that had me a bit on edge. Something vaguely menacing about his stops…Maybe it was just this house putting me on edge.

“Not that I remember—I mean, he wasn’t toolsy, you know?” He said, shrugging. “Figure you’d know more than me, you know?”

“Yeah, well, he wasn’t always the quickest to talk about things.” I said, shrugging and heading back around the house. “Chat later, want to get this done while there’s still daylight.”

CaveEntranceHill1

 

It took twenty minutes of hammering—I’m sure someone noticed or heard the cement cracking as I hammered away. It two and a half inches thick, and I didn’t even clear out all of it. Just enough to get in and under, into an old limestone cave.

I remembered this, from when me and mom still lived here. I vaguely remember old caves in the hills, that I thought were full of dragons and treasure. I didn’t remember one beneath the house.

 

Taking a step in, I saw the remains of a wooden scaffold—probably what was used to hold the cement when dad poured it. But why seal up an old cave? I get filling it, I guess. You know, prevent a sink hole from forming right under the house. But this was…not that.

A bit of that childhood wonder took hold of me. Maybe there was treasure down here. Maybe some inheritance that had waited long forgotten. Maybe some old film reels covered in salt or books promising land somewhere far away. Who knows?

So I clicked on the flashlight, and began to go down deep. The tunnel was wide—and carved out in places, to keep it wider. Eventually the curves and almost organic appearance of the cave was chiseled away—and eventually, maybe five minutes of walking down the dark passages, I came across the arch.

The top was hewed from the rock—maybe from some huge broke stalagmite. The sides, though, were heavier and stronger—granite blocks. Carved on them were two great serpents, one uncoiling top to bottom, the other bottom to top. The snakes both ultimately emerged from the Janus like head at the top of the arch—a three-eyed figure, with a third eye between the two faces’ ears.

And from the room came strange smells, of burnt hair and alcohol. Walking through, I found wooden chairs arranged, and broken bottles of wine—mostly pushed or swept to the side. There was…a stone something there. I think. It was…porous to the touch. Felt almost like a big stone sponge…and as I touched it, I felt something sticky stained on it. Red…wine maybe?

Drawing Eyes

There were other tunnels from the big room—other carved arches. Along the walls were drawings in chalk—a few I think were portraits but others were just elaborate fractal shapes. So many looked like eyes…eyes in the great, dark, quiet place. I coughed a little—and heard it echo in all directions, bouncing around. It sounded like something growling in the dark.

This wasn’t old stuff. That meant someone had been here recently. And that therefore, someone had been beneath my house recently, and that someone couldn’t have left through concrete. So. Down into the echoing tunnels I went. Just me and the stone and the terrible echoes of my own footsteps. Always just behind me.

Two went nowhere. They went to just—more concrete…But the third. The third went to a big metal door. A big metal door that I heard sounds from the other side of. I think I heard Joe say something. I think it was Joe. It was hard to make out. It didn’t sound happy.

I heard something clatter behind me. Down back where I came. Some…maybe some wind had knocked something over. I slowly walked back down that cavernous route. I heard the crunch of broken glass beneath my feet, echoing out again. Echoing back, echoes in echoes. As I came back into the main chamber, with it’s  walls crowded in eyes and the sticky smell of alcohol and burnt hair. And there was…just a knocked over candle, dripping wax.

Dripping wax down…onto some squirming small shape. Something like a spider beneath the wax. A bunch of unfurling legs, pushing up against the wax. A breath of warm air in the deep…Something was here with me. Something was here, just out of sight, in one of the corridors, in the echoing. Something.

I don’t remember running out of the tunnel and pushing the concrete back into a crude covering. I just found myself forcing the layers of dirt onto the shards and chunks of concrete that I had piled at the exit. I locked the doors that night, locked the windows as best I could.

*

I turned all the house lights on. I couldn’t stand the dark. I still…there were these little patterns in the wall at night, that looked like they were eyes. They weren’t, just wears in the wall paper or tiles that had an odd crack. Just the normal shapes of an old house, that looked and felt like eyes.

I couldn’t sleep, so I just paced the halls that night. Still keeping all the lights on. I’d say I was going through some things if I was asked. I just couldn’t sleep. The storming outside had continued with earnest that night, rain pelting the roof and thunder shaking the walls.

It was while I was pacing, checking the window locks, that I saw something out back. There were five or six people down there, huddling at the bottom of the hill, around the concrete. That damned dog was with them too. I couldn’t hear them over the wind and rain. I could see one had a baseball bat slung over his back. He occasionally tested it’s weight.

They split up after a bit, and started walking around the house. I followed the one with the bat. He tested some of the windows, tapping them a bit. They marked a few spots with chalk. I followed them all the way around to the front, where they piled up into a truck. I think it was a red truck—maybe it was Joe’s? It was parked behind a big tree, branches and leaves covering their exit.

HouseLimestone2

I was at the local diner early that morning. I didn’t sleep after that little visit. I didn’t bother. I had showered, stretched, and in a haze made my way to get some food to ground me and some coffee to replace the lack of rest. As the waitress left, I heard the door chime open. In walked Joe, Mr. Joneson, and another guy wearing a black hoodie. I opened the menu to cover my face as they ordered—but I heard the other guy murmur something and some shuffling.

Sure enough, their they were in the booth across from me.

“Hey, Bobby. How’s the house going?” Joe said, smiling. His hair was still wet. Maybe he’d just gotten out of the shower.

“Going fine.” I said slowly, eyeing the other two for a moment.

“Yeah, Peter here says you were doing some digging out back.” Mr. Joneson said, nodding to the mystery man. “You gotta be careful doing that. Dig up too much, and you’ll hit the old limestone.”

“Dangerous, dangerous stuff.” Peter said, shaking his head. “Storms lately, that’ll wear down fast.”

“Might even open up a sinkhole or something beneath the house.”  Mr. Joneson said, nodding. “That’d be a damn shame really, costly too. Real costly, and a historic house gone too. Got to be careful what you start digging around town.”

I nodded slowly, bridging my fingers. I was too tired for this. Too tired to deal with any of this.

“Yeah.” I sighed. “Yeah. You know, I can’t be here keeping up with it constantly. And…well. Maybe it’d be best to leave it with someone who knew it as well as you do.”

“That quick a turn around?” Joe said, raising an eyebrow. I shrugged as I sipped my coffee.

“Fifteen thousand, it’s yours.” I said, waving my hand. “Can’t really sleep there anyway, and it might be falling apart. Sinkhole underneath the place would shatter the value. Take it off my hands, and were’ in the clear.”

*

I don’t know why Pa left it to me—maybe he didn’t know about what was going down there. Maybe he thought I’d never check…or maybe he thought I’d be thrilled. Maybe it was some sort of attempt at a patch up. I don’t know. It was a nice house. But frankly, I think if  I was there another week, I’d have gone missing. Hell, no wonder half the surveyors ran off.

I’ll be glad if I never hear about the house again. I’ll be glad if it never rains again—and I never think, for half a second, I see someone at the door on a rainy night. And those eyes…those eyes.



I’m mixed on this end to the decade story. On the one hand, I like the build up to the discovery of the cave–and I even like parts of the cave. I think the ending, however, is far too sudden and anti-climatic. If I had an appropraite second prompt, I might follow up the ending, and have the horror follow Robert home or trap him in the town–just walking away is simply a bad ending. But the story had been delayed long enough…Perhaps next year for Patreon, I’ll come back to Elderbir a fourth time. Speaking of:

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Conspiracy!

This Week’s Prompt: 101. Hideous secret society—widespread—horrible rites in caverns under familiar scenes—one’s own neighbour may belong.

The Resulting Story:My Father’s House

Here we entertain another one of Mr. Lovecraft’s fears or tropes of paranoia—the widespread secret society that spans the globe and conspires against the existing world order. This topic, include it’s particular note that the rites are done underground, comes up in the story of Red Hook among others. We addressed some of Red Hook’s more egregious problems here with our writings on the Yazidi. Beyond that, the nature of secret societies is a difficult one to navigate.

I happen to have purchased a book entirely on secret societies, cults, and conspiracies last year, almost precisely for these sorts of prompts. And in reading a rather extensive catalog of them, the results are often far less fascinating and arguably more horrific than one might expect. Broadly speaking, a secret society tends to only form for a few reasons: it is an extension of a criminal operation, it is a resistant movement among a minority group, it is an exclusive club of wealthy men and women looking to secure their fortunes, or it is an outgrowth of a mystery cult of some sort. These are not exclusive operations, of course, and frequently intermingle. The 1356 reports of what the British would later term the Thugee cult, for instance, are both criminal operation and mystery cult.

KGC

The cover of a 1860s tell all history of the Knights of the Golden Circle

Instead of replicating all the secret societies and criminal organizations and cults that dot the world, I’ll focus on a select number of these groups that struck me as interesting. The first of these secret societies is the Knights of the Golden Circle—an organization founded to promote a slave holding empire over Texas, Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America. This would make a 2400 mile circle with Havana at the center. This society made news all over the North: warning of incoming terrorist attacks on New York, efforts to fund sabotage with Copperheads—Democrats who wanted peace with the Confederacy, and folklore and rumor claimed both John Wilkes Booth and Jesse James. Of course, this society failed at every turn. No terrorist attacks emerged. The two invasions of Mexico the group funded in 1860 failed. The Copperheads did little to dissuade the North. Jesse James and John Wilkes booth did in fact perish, and there is no mysterious golden reserve hidden away for the Southern states. The organization first came to my attention in a comic series, Atomic Robo. As villains, they almost seem like stories of Operation Werewolf, or the Garduna.

The Garduna were a group of bandits in Andalusia who targeted Muslims until the Reconquista was finished and had its origins in the remains of an army that resisted the invading Moors. After completion of the Reconquista, the Garduna took on the role of the Inquisitions hit men, targeting suspected Jews and appropriating their property for the Inquisitors. The Garduna met their end in 1822, with a mass execution in Seville. In addition to the arrests, the police seized records dating back 147 years, that accounted for over two thousand assignments from the Inquisition. These included not only murders, but thefts, abductions, and robberies.

La Petit Journal.png

Another group of robbers in Europe were the Chauffeurs. The Chauffeurs lurked in France, and were famed for putting their victim’s feet to the flame in order to locate their valuables. In some stories, they held their own religion and had a unique language for their communications. The reality of the group was that, while France saw an uptick in banditry during the Revolution and while there were mores and language commonalities in the underground, there was no unifying conspiracy spanning the whole of the underground.  Their story was told by Francois-Eugene Vidocq, who inspired Edgar Allen Poe and Victor Hugo’s works.

Having covered some criminal groups, I’d like to examine or at least honorably mention one rich men’s club that might work here. Hellfire Clubs were gentlemen’s clubs through out England in the 18th century—young men with money gathered there for all variety of pleasures and discussions. Of these, the one most relevant here is the Order of the Knights of Saint France of Wycombe or the Monks of Medmenham (when they moved to a leased a 12th century abbey). The group had the motto “Do what thou wilt” engraved over the door. Further, they repurposed a nearby chalk mine with Gothic carvings and furniture. Down here, the club held masked revelries and supposedly conducted Black Masses. Some authors asserted pagan revivals, which seems unlikely given the founder’s work on The Common Book of Prayer.

Agartha.png

Setting aside these grounded beliefs, lets examine some more fantastic ones. One of my favorites is Synarchy, an alternative to democracy conceived of by one Joseph Alexander Saint-Yves d’Alveydre. This system would be a pan-European government, ruled by three councils (an economic, a judicial, and a spiritual one). After an encounter with a man claiming to be a “the Guru Pandit of the Great Agarthian School”, d’Alveydre became convinced that the real rulers would be a race of supernatural subterranean beings, the Argathians. These beings were refugees of Atlantis and Lemuria, and were ruled by a council of symbolically important individuals. These may be related to Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s race of vril users, who used manipulation of atmospheric magnetism to control the weather, to control minds of men and animals with animal magnetism, and to control odic forces. These masters of electricity were compared to the romances of the great mystics.

A more entertaining story comes from the Cult section of the book—specifically, one Koreshanism. This religion was founded by David Cyrus Teed. A former Union Solider, from a “burned over” region of New York, David suffered a severe sunstroke and had to be hospitalized do to nerve damage. Later, when working with his uncle’s practice in Utica, David electrocuted himself during an alchemical experiment. Then he beheld a woman, who revealed a cosmic truth—that we are already inside of an earth! Teed took this notion into a new religion, crafting an internal cosmology and a belief that this knowledge was direct transmission by an intersex God. He even constructed large measuring instruments to determine whether the earth was curving concave or converse. After confirming to himself the truth of his belief, he moved from community to communities.  He opened a number of medical practices, he  lived with the Shakers. He was accused in a few places of impersonating Jesus Christ and having affairs with women. At last, in 1894, with some four thousand followers he had gathered, he founded New Jerusalem.

This community was a socialist utopia, clean and ecological. They manufactured mattresses, hats, baskets, and bread and put on plays to raise money for the community. There was absolute gender equality, and most of the community were educated women. Sadly, conflict arose when they attempted to incorporate themselves to receive road taxes. In the end, David was injured in a street brawl and died two years later—despite his promises of a return, he was buried after nothing happened. A small core faithful remained there for fifty or so years.

These cults and secret societies I mostly selected because they seem fanciful—I have left off ones responsible for Sarine gas attacks in living memory, mass suicides, and other monstrous activities because during this winter season I am not in the mood for them. That said, this is a horror story of paranoia. The fear mentioned, that even one’s own neighbors could be a part of the secret society, is clear on that. It’s a paranoia that has often gripped the country—that anyone could be a foreign infiltrator or, in the McCarthy era, a communist. They Live plays on the same sort of fear, replacing the fear of secret communist infiltrators with the secret and monstrous forces of greed and consumerism. The book series Animorphs from Australia features terrifying slug creatures that live in underground pools. These creatures, Yeerks, control the bodies of others by worming their way into their brains and mastermind a campaign of infiltration and control over the entire world. The fear that everyone around us is planning against us in someway—that there is a secret club ordering the world, for whatever purpose, is common. And perhaps comforting.

So, what to do with this notion in our story? The answer I think depends on how we approach the society. Is our character someone in a community, who is now learning the terrible secrets the community has and the things it does in the dark? Or are they new arrivals, and thus targets for induction into the cult? Or potential victims of it? We have to tread carefully here. Stories about secrets sometimes get lost in translation.

 

Bibliography

Goldwag, Arthur. Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies: The Straight Scoop on Freemasons, the Illumanati, Skull and Bones, Black Helicopters, the New World Order, and Many Many More. Penguin Publishing, August 9th 2009.

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Out Through The Back

This Week’s Prompt: 100. Subterranean region beneath placid New England village, inhabited by (living or extinct) creatures of prehistoric antiquity and strangeness.

The Prior Research:In The Depths of the Earth

Tonight was the big night. After breaking curfew three times, tonight we’d finally have a go at the underground. I’d packed everything I’d need in my backpack: some saved up rations, a metal water bottle, a knife and another set of clothes. I’d stuffed some other stuff in my jacket—flashlight, health mask, keys and phone if I ever decided to come back. Which, I wouldn’t. But just in case something went more wrong then we expected.

Officially there’s no one out after lock down. Well, no one who’s not supposed to be. The streets go quiet, the only noise the gently roar of the Atlantic. The whirr of a patrol car or cycle. The occasional shout of someone else getting caught out and scattering. Sometimes a gunshot.

Everyone around town knew one way below.  Our parents showed us when we were kids, or our friends showed us if we were new in town. The caves ran through the entirety of the underground, layers and layers of curved stone.

“They haven’t found this one yet—probably will soon though.” Jake had told me. “It’s now or never if we wanna make a run for it.”

They started just putting patrols outside the big one in the center of town. Then there were outposts watching all of them, especially on the coast. Big tunnels into and out of town were a hazard, a security concern. We were still allowed in, and they ignored the smaller ones. We could visit the old skeletal halls, the looming caverns where my parents said spirits walked.

Then, a month in, they covered it with concrete. There was a riot, there was a lot of noise—and a lot of gunshots. Even today, I can hear them pounding from the other side. Less now than before.

And then they started just dynamiting the rest. I watched one, as the carved statues crumbled down over the entrance.

Cave 4 Back

Of course, tunnels under the town are a hazard. Spies could get in through them, or even enemy combatants. An entire fifth column could be built down there. And folks could get out.

This one was near the edge of town, a twenty minutes’ walk from the old railroad tracks. There was a big tree nearby, and the roots had covered most of it. It was…it wasn’t actually that big. Maybe four feet tall, and it down to three feet tall pretty quick. It was only three feet wide.

“Your sure this leads to the exit?” I said, gulping and looking down into the darkness. “Like, this actually connects with the rest?”

“Yeah.” Jake said, checking his own pack. “I did a test run—didn’t get all the way to the end, but hit tunnels I recognized. We’ll be fine.”

There isn’t much wind coming out of the tunnel—but there is some. I breath in, breath out, and look up at the searchlights.

“Alright.”

I have to bend my back pretty low to get anywhere—its cramped, and cold, and wet. Its miserable for a bit, before at last the cave opens up. I’d say how long, but I wasn’t counting steps. And time seems strange down there anyway. I don’t breathe easily till we get to the deep cave.

Cave1Back.png

The deep caves are the ones with the strange stones—they look like those terrible lizard things I see in text books. Not exactly like that, but long fingers in the stone. Small carvings rising from the ground Rib cages just poking out of the wall. And of course, this is where they are. We called them the friendly folk. They have their own name, but its—well, its not easy to say right, so they settled with friendly folk.

I’d grown up right next to them—but still seeing one out of now where in a dark cave was terrifying. Long limbs holding onto the wall, and its paper white face with red eyes smiled at me. It clicked and drummed its fingers. It thought all the ways in were closed.

“Not all of them.” I said, shaking my head. It clicked again, its fingers playing on the stone like drums. Sealing the doors was a breach of old laws.

“It—I mean, it doesn’t really matter if it’s legal does it?” Jake said shrugging. “They don’t care, they’ll drop a landmine down here if they get the chance. We need to get out while we can.”

“They’ll bury us all.” I said, shaking my head. “Look, we—we’re just looking to pass through, get out, before it gets too bad.”

It held out a hand, bending it’s face into a smile. I sighed and handed over one of those assembling cubes puzzles. They get bored in the dark, and puzzles that are more…kinetic are easier when you don’t have light.

It let out a high pitched giggle and drew an arrow on the wall, hovering just above the stone. Directions. Faintly glowing fungi grew from the wall—a glimmering trail out to the sea. Once we got to the beach, we could find a ship.

“You think they’ll demolish all this?” I asked, walking side by side now that the cave allowed it, careful to have the lights on the floor and ceiling. “I mean, these caves have been here longer than we have.”

“Probably not.” Jake said, frowning. “Probably expensive right? Loading up that much dynamite to smash out the foundations of an entire town.”

“Right, probably.” I said,  turning to look at one of the more elaborate drawings on the wall. Friendly folk had drawn it. You could tell, with the bumps and rivets—no light meant most of the meaning was in the feeling. You could see additions from later visitors. Fudgier lines from thicker fingers, but more color shining in the light. It was a wonderful sunset. Running a hand along it, you could almost feel the warmth on the water.

“Bet they just concrete over all of it, and call that that.” Jake said, nodding. “And when the war’s done, everyone will take sledgehammers to it, break it open, and it’ll be like nothing ever happened.”

“What if they win the war?”

Cave2Back

Then there was a boom. Then a crash of stones crumbling. The world shook.

We started running. Another boom shook and this time some stones fell down. I caught myself mid trip, as the small dark place began falling in.

“Not much farther!” I heard Jake shout. He wasn’t that far ahead, but he wasn’t slowing down—I needed to catch up. I needed to keep going, as I pulled myself and ran. I could smell the sea, and saw Jake round a corner—and then the ground shook again. The boom was ahead of me.

There were more lights. I heard Jake shout, and held myself against the wall. There weren’t any gun shots. But Jake didn’t come back around.  I turned my flashlight off. Sirens. Another loud boom from behind. I turned into the echoing dark—where could I run now? I stepped back towards the boom. Where could I—

And then I saw those old pallid faces, leaning from the cave. Long fingers parting the stone of the wall—a third path I ran down. As they closed it behind me, I heard the thud of boots running by.

I started to breath again in the dark. The boots passed, again and again. I could see them, huddled around. Pale faces of the friendly folk, looking up at me. Not smiling, not angry. Blank and waiting. Their fingers were curled, clutching objects. One crawled along the edge, holding that old puzzle box. And held out its free hand.

I shook my head. I had nothing to give.

It drummed on the cave and chirped like a bird. It wasn’t asking for something. It was offering. Something it wanted me to take away from here, before the thunder got any closer.

“Take where?” I asked, looking around. Anywhere, it said. Anywhere but here.

“If you can get me out of here, I can get it out.”

It presented a stone box, maybe six inches long and four inches wide. When I took it, I felt the waves and faces carved on its exterior. Friendly faces. The friendly folk rushed around, and deeper and deeper down we went. I’d never seen these caves. They were blur of moss and mold, green and red things, pale things hanging from the ceiling, laughing noises.

They took me down further and further.

Until, I heard the sound of the ocean’s tide, coming in. The dull roar of the waves.

The harbor stretched out for ages—a small boat sat there, piled high with boxes. No sails, but a number of little fins along the bottom. As I got aboard, the crowd retreated. They left little gifts, and shoved it off.

And that’s when the shock started to fade, as I drifted out to sea, colorful mosaics on the cave walls illuminated by my flashlight. Eventually the tide and fins would take me to open see, with a gift from the friendly folk—and who knows where to. Just not here.



 

100 stories. 100 research articles. I feel like I should have something more to say than that. I’m just boggled at the amount of work this website represents—over four years of work and 320,000 words. Thanks to everyone who has read this blog, retweeted it, and even supported our patreon!  This project isn’t even half way done  (that’s still a few months away), and yet it’s already grown so much. And I even wrote a story I’m kinda proud of for the occasion! I think with some of these prompts, just starting with the supernatural makes the consequences of the story more impactful—sort of the reverse of the cat story, that I also really enjoyed.

To another 100 posts and another 4 years!

And if you do want to support the site, for more content (3000~ words a month of stories or research, at least! Plus new RPG content as it’s done!) check out our Patreon! $1 dollar for new stories, $5 for new research, and at $10 you get to add a bit to the regularly stories here!