St. Andrew’s Day

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

The Prior Research:Romanian Vampires

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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.

The Lives of Sam Dedric

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

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

The Prior Research: Lives Well Lived

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A bit.” I said, mixing the cubes.

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

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

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

“Opium and cocaine exist, yes.”

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

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

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

“…”

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Next time! Lights on the marsh!

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Bath Bombs and Abandoned Houses

This Week’s Prompt: 111. Ancient ruin in Alabama swamp—voodoo.

The Prior Research: Ruins in Alabama

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

The forest was fog filled when we snuck past the security guard. I could see my breath in the moonlight as we went down the park paths. Marjane was leading the way, holding her hand up every now and then to signal a stop. We held fast and listened for a sound on the wet autumn grass. Once or twice we saw a patrol car, a tired volunteer in a golf cart with the headlights on. I clutched the bundle in my pocket—the first bit of magic I’d ever done, to not get noticed if I didn’t want to.

There were paths to where we were going. Nice and clear paved roads most of the way. But those were where security patrols were expecting people, we figured.  We had made charms to keep ourselves hidden, and mapped out a path of least resistance to get deeper into the old park.

*

“Are you sure you need to do this?” George asked Marjane, looking over the map I’d printed.  The baths were marked with a red pen, and we’d tied string to some pins. “Like, doing some palm readings and stuff isn’t exactly…this.”

“I’m sure. Who knows when we’ll have a chance to try this again?” Marjane said, biting the middle knuckle of her index finger in thought. “We’ve got to do it under the full moon, I’m sure of it.”

“It’s just…this is trespassing, on like. A place with actual security. Not breaking into an old house for a séance or something.” George said, scratching the back of his head. “Hell, this is vandalism on top of trespassing..”

I looked over the map again, thinking over what Marjane had said. The baths were old, ancient really. Who knew what secrets she’d be able to pick up there? What ghosts she’d be able to speak with? She’d had a knack for that sort of things since we were kids, and was only getting quicker at it.

Old Stephen Baths

The baths are a pair of large, rectangular cuts into the ground lined with stone. I guess they might not be baths—to night they looked kinda like big graves, but they were too clean to be ever used. Freshly dug out of the stone.  The fog was settled over and around them, like a witches cauldron.

My job was the easiest.  Marjane had given me some gems and featers to make my inner spirit sharper—it helped me spot guys waiting to jump in the hallway, or on the walk home. Now it was to help spot security guards. I had a dog whistle—Daniel and Marjane had sharpened hearing that could pick a dog-whistle out of nowhere. And there was my first sack, filled with some special stuff I’d kept hidden all my life. Now they’d keep me hidden, as long as I held them.

I looked over my shoulder as Daniel and Marjane poured out bottles into the baths—bubbling and hissing as they mixed. Marjane had her notebook open, papers stolen from old libraries stuffed in with sketches of what she’d seen in seances and dreams, packed into a leather cover she’d made herself—the old cardboard was long gone by now.

*

The Sycamore house was a lump of rotting wood sitting a mile out of town, sitting on a hill of weeds. It had been condemned by the town for about three years—it took two more for it to get the demolition stamp. Not that they every got around to demolishing it. No one seemed to care about the old house, no one wanted the land just yet—it was in a nice spot, honestly. I’m pretty sure the local realtor just…forgot about it.

Not that everyone forgot about it. I mean, we heard about it from some potheads, and Marjane decided that a house that kept attracting people despite being condemned and dangerous must have some magic in it. She didn’t listen when we pointed out that magic was probably privacy. I don’t…really remember how she talked the four of us into going out to the house that night, when she said the stars were right.  Something about the house of Aquarius.

So we opened the creaking rotten door, and found a room that was mostly lacking in graffiti—well, no. It just had a little less graffiti then the rest of the rooms. And the few patches of clear wall that were there, Marjane carefully drew over with chalk.

“That way, the door we make only lets the right ones in….oh I can’t wait to see what’s in here!” She said, stretching with a flashlight to finish the circle and weird letters around the edge. Or I think they were letters, one looked like a little dude holding a crescent moon. Finally, she got to the center of the room, drew a big circle—a really good, solid big circle.  Ashley put down some candles with George, on little Xs that  Marjane marked.

Old Stephen Woods

The big worry wasn’t noise around the baths. We could be pretty quiet, and Marjane’s whispering incantations hadn’t every really been noticed before. No, the problem was smell. Marjane’s concoctions had this…tang in the air, this sickly sweet smell, like a tootsie roll stuck in your teeth. The incense she burned, the candles, it made this tangible cloud of smells that didn’t belong in an old building, let alone a foggy woods at night.

The moment I got a whiff of it, I glanced back—a colored smoke was coming from the baths, and Marjane was sitting cross legged, holding hands with Ashely and Daniel, chanting their secret words. The smoke was heavier than normal, weighed down by the fog—it looked like a bubble waiting to burst through the surface of the sea, streaks of oily shapes in its substance.

We didn’t know if the security team had dogs that would catch the smell early—but now was my time to stay focused. I found a cool tree to hide behind, gnarled and old. Marjane said you could tell magic things just by looking at them, they felt different if you had refined your gift. And this tree…looked special. Knots placed in a way, I could almost make out a pattern. I sat there and listened to the wind and the patrols—waiting for one to turn this way.

*

The room in the Sycamore house changed when Marjane chanted. It got colder. Damp, heavy hair without any water.  Everything was quiet, oppressively silent. I turned as she spoke, so soft that even in an empty world I couldn’t make out a word.

But there was something there. She’d called someone there, and she was speaking to them. I knew in my bones, in that small room in the Sycamore house—something magic was talking to Marjane. Something that called people to this place.

No one goes to the Sycamore house anymore. If you ask why, they say it just seems dangerous or strange or cursed. I went back once—it doesn’t feel cursed.

It feels empty.

Abandoned House Alabama

The tires skidded down the road. I tilted my head to hear them turn—but they were followed by a crash. And then barking. I grabbed my packet of collected things and hesitantly walked after the noise. Under a flickering streetlight, I saw a tilted golf cart crashed. No dog though…no dog anywhere. There was more barking though—I could hear them, somewhere close. No security guard either.

As the light flickered again, I felt the fog get heavy. My breathing slowed, becoming a regular relaxing rhythm with my slowing heart beat. I heard a distant crack—a loud sound from the baths, as if a great bubble had just burst. I held tightly to my pack in my pocket as I slowly headed over, stifling a yawn.

Halfway back I leaned against a tree—all the running had taken something out of me. I needed to catch my breath, I needed to rest my legs. I somehow fell asleep there.

The sun woke me up…everything felt cold and damn, my jacket covered in dew. I looked around—maybe my magic had worked so well, I thought, they didn’t find me when they left. As my hearing came back, I heard the smouldering and the sirens. It wasn’t until I saw blue and red lights that I realize I had been color blind for a moment—my senses returning as I grip my pouch and crept closer.

And I saw them, still sitting there—holding hands around the bath, police officers looking around, an ambulance pulling up. Their heads were turned up, to look at something floating just above Marjane. Something that must have been horrible, or beautiful, to make their eyes go so wide and turn their skin paper white.


I like this story. It’s small, compared to others, and not as clear…but I had a good time writing it. Not much else to say, except that part of the notion for this story was from late research on the “Indian Baths”–now believed to be made by European settlers–at Old Stephens as an example.  I feel like I left very few traces of “Voodoo” in this story, but that might be for a rewrite with more time and space.

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The Island of Curses

This Week’s Prompt:  110. Antediluvian—Cyclopean ruins on lonely Pacific island. Centre of earthwide subterranean witch cult.

The Prior Research: Taboos and Makutu

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

The oars of Abasi’s trade ship cut into the wine-red sea, the boat heavy with gold from Egypt, destined for Ionia. It was a pleasant day, the wind at their backs and the sky clear of storms. A short stop in the southern coastal towns of the Hitites would perhaps be doable without losing too much time. Nestor, the quartermaster, was concerned they would be lacking provisions if they did not make the stop. He and Paimu got into a small debate on the matter, when there was a cry from the front of the ship.

No man aboard had seen such a thing. It resembled a great crocodile of the Nile, but with limbs that ended like a monkey’s, with claws that were as long as knives. Its mouth grinned and was wide like a shark, and its tail flicked about like a perverse lion. In a moment, it set upon them—first catching Yohannes between its jaws, then bounding to slash the throat of Menmu. Abasi himself drew his bronze khopesh, that had run red with pirate’s blood, and watched it bend and break on the armored hide. Nestor and Paimu, startled, rushed back as the beast dove, its head shattering the boards.  Nestor took his heavy club, for killing fish when he cast his nets, while Paimu took up an oar.

Both waited, looking over the ship for the beast—and then felt the ship shake. And slowly the water rise. As the two men realized what was happening, the beast remerged—smashing apart the boards beneath them, its claws grabbed their throat. Yet neither perished- the claws held back from slicing their necks. Instead, both felt the chill of the Mediterranean, and faded into unconsciousness.

trireme

*

When the two men came to, they found themselves in a large circular room, with a great hole in the ceiling. Paimu stretched his limbs, and found them sore—and as he started to stand, a sharp pain came from his neck. He traced a small wound on the nape of his neck with his finger. Shallow cuts ran down his spine, Nestor rising to check his own.

“Some sort of…brand perhaps?” Nestor murmured, looking around the room. Huddled masses slept against the walls, some asleep with eyes wide open.

“That doesn’t bode well…there, that man Nestor…does he not look to be from north of the sea?” Paimu muttered, pointing to a pale redheaded man. “And that woman…I have seen her kin in Babylon I think…and some of these people are from even farther shores.”

Nestor, for his part, walked down the step and looked around. There were no chains here, and it struck the Hellene very strange that none should be here. If this was a place of bondage, did they not fear some would try to organize an escape? None the less, his sailor’s eyes were drawn to the sky light. How the owner of this structure had built a perfectly circular roof, with a hole at its center like some sort of wheel escaped him.

The sight of the stars, however, were unfortunately familiar.

“That and this neither…those stars ought not rise until winter.” Nestor pointed upward. “I see the twins far too high in the heavens, even in autumn.”

Paimu heard the sound of steps first. They looked at one another—the two of them had been in such binds before, by pirates and thieves of the sea. Yet, so far from familiar shores, things might not be in their favor. Before the men could seal their fate, a great horn was sounded. And searing pain ran down their limbs, seizing them up in agony. The other prisoners in the room bolted awake, and the doors were thrust open. Each had a long wooden staff, tips lacquered with with strange swirling signs, and armor wrought of a strange dull silver.

They barked orders that neither Paimu nor Nestor understood—but like children, they imitated their fellows, who formed neat lines a followed the two men out of the building. They found themselves now on a path, carefully covered in stones—each seeping and glistening. Great mountains rose about them—or at first they mistook them for mountains. But to their shock, they saw the careful markings of  brick work and mortar. Columns rose of such craft that the tops of the mountains seemed to be floating island. And their summits were not shrouded by great clouds—no by mists that marvelous statues breathed into the sky. Through the mist, gardens could be seen.

Along the slopes, they saw more of those fearsome beasts that had stolen them away, but other wonderous things—men and women with avian aspects, who’s songs intermingled with distant screams. They stayed close at hand as they joined a greater throng, and marched out of the city—past gates with hundred headed guardians and spider sentries hanging from the ceiling, past cyclopean laborers carving great obelisks of stone, past the monolithic inverse mountain that was silent—to vast orchards.

At the entrance, there were piles of workman’s gloves, made of smooth leather, with wards written on their finger tips.  Both Nestor and Paimu followed the lead and donned the gloves, and watched as others all took baskets—and began the work of harvesting the delectable fruits of the trees. The two were cautious moving away from the others—who spoke to each other in a strange tongue, one that they stumbled or mistook, a tongue born of a hundred peoples trapped under one boot.

“Mere slaves…seems a waste to send such beasts to capture men only to work their fields.” Nestor said, the fruit coming free with ease. Paimu shook his head.

“Did you not see the wonders of this city? We are in some enscrolled place, who’s to say the logic of poisoners and their kindred? What if they have some pact that only people of certain nations may work their fields, to hold their power over death and spirits?”

“Perhaps. Still.” Nestor looked over the orchard and pointed lazily outward. “I see the sea. That at least is some comfort, that she is not too far away.”

Paimu followed his gesture but his eyes caught something else. He let out a gasp, and pulled the finger down. For there, they saw one of the other prisoners had stuck his glove on a thorn. As such, he laid a bare hand on the tree—and before their eyes, boils and blood ran up his arm. Shaken from his stupor, the man began to scream and stumbled—laying his bare shoulder against it’s truck. In a moment, his screaming stopped—the twisted and withered remains of his body fell against the roots and began to rot.

The two men were not total strangers to death, but the sight of one so painful and wicked was chilling to them both. Worse still when the scars along the man’s back—ones that no doubt mirrored their own—crawled free, a dripping web of blood and poison. In an instant it pulled low to the ground and then flew off—springing into the air like some horrific hawk or buzzing insect, back to unseen master of the orchard.

“…You are right, Paimu, this is a poisoner’s hold…more than one surely.” Nestor murmured.

“We must be cautious, if we have any hope of seeing Crete again.” Paimu agreed.

“But also, swift—I do not wish to be as dead eyed as the others here.” Nestor said, turning back to removing the fruits. “I do wonder how they taste.”

*

Inverse Mountain

Times came and went, seasons changed—or seemed to, as the great clouds over head shifted and the winds grew colder somewhat, the stars shifting slowly over the deep prison. They learned to speak some of the tongue of their fellows—some were from Athens or the Nile, and spoke some of the trade tongue that Paimu and Nestor knew. They learned that this isle, as far as others knew, was a great hold of hundreds of dread wise men—men who knew the secrets of making death into a metal, of working poison into every shape, of causing boils from afar and command spirits of ruin and power.

None had any hope of escape, only surviving past the coming day. For in a few months, there would be—according to the older prisoners—a great congregation at the upside-down mountain. There, sorcerers and witches from the world over gathered, having expanded the dominion of the island. They would have revelry and preform many offerings to their ancient spirits—the screams and blood of men and women would run deep, the gods of death and curses, the poisonous lizards and bleeding beasts, and other monsters would drink deep.

Paimu and Nestor, having some sense between them, resolved not to merely hope to survive. No, such a day when the bestial celebrants would descend on the many holds of the slaves was a day when they must escape. They learned from others how they might find the docks—for the sorcerers maintained many boats in secret places. Why they had need of such craft, when they might take to the wind, neither Paimu nor Nestor know—perhaps they enjoyed fishing.

Still, not all the knowledge had stayed among the sorcerers. Paimu had watched the guards closely, and listened to their speak. Nestor had paid rapt attention to the drawings on the gloves and arms. They knew little of hidden arts, but they knew enough to imitate them. With stolen rags and careful pricks of blood, they wove their own attempt at charms. Paimu knew some words he had heard priests say before, and they shared those secrets for good measure.

It was late in the day, when the march back to the orchard began, that they made their escape. They broke off from the marching order, past the dogs with serpents for colors and scorpion tongues. Paimu scattered ashes gathered from a dead man, confounding the watch-beasts’ senses. Nestor spoke words of reverence to secret gods he knew from the Myceneans, who wore helms of darkness and hid from men on the pass way. And with crude carved stones they found, ones that had no voices, they broke the locks on the old ships. The ships were strange, long and thinner than their old trading vessels—but the small ones were simple enough that they set sale, kelp sales catching an evening wind as they quietly rowed out.

Hope swelled in their hearts as they saw the light of the moon, shining on the blue waters. Nestor looked up at the familiar stars—there was no way to know how far land was from this blasted and twisted font of poison. But at last, the two sailors were on their old friend and foe the sea, and the strange beasts behind them.

Then smoke issued from their backs—smoke that smelled sweet, yet burned their skin, causing Nestor to fall over and grip his stomach. Paimu turned, and in a moment caught sight of what the smoke had called. When a drop of blood falls in the water, sharks swim across the ocean to the source—so to do the dread creatures of the isle chase those things or persons who try and escape the tight grip of their masters.

Taniwha A

An artist rendition of a taniwha, which looks more lizard like.

Paimu drove his oar into the water, yank the sail that always caught the wind to turn the ship to the side—hoping that the swerve would delay the chase as he ran to the front. Nestor, the old quartermaster, gasped out in pain but pulled himself upright. From the sides of the ship, he cast the nets he found—nets that cut his fingers when he cast them, boils spreading up his arm.  The sail suddenly clattered—the winds having heard some unspoken word, and now drove the ship to the shore, closer to the waiting jaws of the beasts. Paimu saw death before him. Nestor, feeling the end draw near, took hold of Paimu’s shoulder.

“Leave a sculpture of me in Knossos—and do me good with my kin, when you come to them again.”

And with those words, the old Hellene tossed himself from the ship—and as Paimu turned he saw the host of beasts set upon his thrashing form, the body of Nestor becoming a flotsam of pus and blood in glittering jaws. The ship crashed onto the rocky shore, shaking Paimu from his terror. He clambered onto the rocks, the beasts now devouring the boat behind him. Alone, he found his way to the great cliffs, paths marked with inscrutable signs—and there a cavern in which to hide. For Paimu had been told that the sign above the caverns prevented the beasts from entering, so that the stores of the sorcerers were not eaten. Among the strange blind fish, Paimu cowered and hoped this at least was true.

*

The sun rose over the shimmering sea, ships setting sail with unseen crews to harvest the glories of the sea. Guards dragged men and women to harvest from the orchards. Birds with brilliant feathers begin to sing. The smell of smelted iron and burning wood covered over the land. And the sorcerer Tane Baalbadur walked the shore, looking over the crashed and ruined remains of vessels from far off lands. His mount was a great red horse, with legs that bent like a spider and a serpent’s mouth. It hissed as it crawled over the cliffs. Baalbadur listened to its speech with amazement. Surely, the old sorcerer thought, no man had managed to hide in one of the treacherous caves and escape the demons of the sea. But his steed could not lie to him.

Baalbadur’s voice was what Paimu awoke to—the sorcerer in his finery, with a crooked staff of drift wood and many gems hanging from his jaw, staring down at him. The eyes of the sorcerer considered him, exhausted and with the scars on his hands from his flight ashore. Baalbadur clicked his tongue, his pallid fingers examining Paimu’s wrists.

“What we have here I believe,” Baalbadur said, in words that Paimu could not understand. “Is an error in accuquistion.”

Paimu struggled, mind blind by exhaustion and the aches of last night—his mind felt split by a great ax, his heart was pounding still from the terrors of the night. Still, he managed to strike out against the sorcerer, mustering every ounce of strength he had. The blow fell limp on Baalbadur’s shoulder.

“And a crass misunderstanding of our current condition.” The sorcerer continued—his nail jabbing into Paimu’s skin. Paimu felt a rush under his skin, as if his blood was replaced with the very wind. The sorcerer lifted his nail, and Paimu saw a knotted, tumorous mass hanging from it—like a fishing line covered with algae and blood. The burning in his back, from his poisoned brand, stopped.



 

I’m not happy with this story. It is, frankly, incomplete—it ends at what I intended to be the half way point. But after two weeks, the stress of the pandemic, of personal and professional issues, and of completing the story became too much. I’ve cut it off here—perhaps we will return to Paimu’s trials on the isle another time, under a different prompt.

Next time, we will return to Louisiana and discussions of voodoo!

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Taboos and Makutu

This Week’s Prompt: 110. Antediluvian—Cyclopean ruins on lonely Pacific island. Centre of earthwide subterranean witch cult.

The Resulting Story: The Island of Curses

 

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

For this week’s research, I decided to try and examine things as locally as I could—albeit I misremembered this prompt as specifying Polynesian, when it only says Pacific. Still, a vast region to examine, and one where zooming in on a specific culture can be greatly beneficial. This prompt to me seems clearly one of the many that lead to the Call of Cthulhu—although in this case, the Cyclopean Ruins are the center of the cult, and are there all year round instead of rising and falling into the ocean. To supply some ideas and inspiration on the matter, I decided to look into witchcraft and sorcery of the region.

Witchcraft and sorcery are topics that often have broad similarities across the world, and thus it is in the details that things grow interesting.  In the reports I have, witchcraft is again associated with lower class and elderly, often the feeling of envy. Shamans and traditionally knowledgeable members of the community also faced witchcraft accusations—although colonial authorities justified the criminalization of such acts not because of feared harm of witchcraft itself, but the belief that traditional medicine was leading to neglect and death in the communities who had few alternatives.

The sources I stumbled upon were focused on Maori descriptions of witchcraft, specifically makutu. Makutu is a form of magic that takes many familiar forms—often it is employed by those who have been wronged against others. One thing of particular note is that the practitioners of makutu can pass down these powers to others through objects—and that in some cases, secret societies are rumored to form around these objects and their usage. The topic is not one commonly discussed, by all accounts, meaning my most common sources were either old or very specific.

But more to our interest, is a report by one S. Percy Smith. Here we are told that the origins of witch craft—the various forms of which include death dealing lizards, gods of withering flesh, and more from the power (mana) of Miru. These powers included the ability to send invisible bullets with the tip of the tongue, the power to render objects and water sources taboo, and to render environments taboo. Those who drank from the waters made taboo or trespassed on islands were attacked by horrific sea monsters called taniwha. The natures of these creatures is unclear to me, although a connection to sharks was mentioned in one article. Some witchcraft could be passed on in taboo places, others were unable to be passed one at all.

Taniwha A

An artist rendition of a taniwha, which looks more lizard like.

A separate source claimed that the origin of witchcraft was with a defeated god, Tane, who wished to keep his mother and father close together and the world forever darkness. In order to wreck revenge on the world, he created all the ills of the world—he in a way poisoned it to make it inhospitable to human beings. He taught, as one of these efforts, witchcraft which is among the worst dangers.

Those who practice these spells do so with a proper incantation, and then let an invisible bullet fly from their tongue. Their victims die, sometimes in gruesome shriveling ways as their arms shrink or wither away. Sometimes in more sudden ways, as if quite literally shot. Afterwards, that it was a wise man who did so is apparent, although which isn’t for sometime.

But makutu is not limited to murder or invisible bullets. Envious sorcerers who are rejected by women may drive them mad in response. These women would tear their garments and go naked, able to see the sorcerer’s spirit and describe it to others. Other victims of sorcery could see the sorcerer in wicked dreams, and recognize him. I wonder if this had the effect of spreading dread, or dooming the sorcerer’s endeavors.

Taniwha B

A sculpture of a taniwha, from the side.

Objects could also work sorcery—particularly carved objects of stone or wood. A sorcerer might attack someone with a gift, which if not returned within five years, will cause untold suffering. Objects stolen from a sorcerer likewise attract the ire of a sorcerer, who may send the taniwha to retrieve it and murder the thief.  Carved stones and objects can be rendered taboo—and in some cases, those marker stones from ancient times have truly terrifying creatures guarding them. For this reason, these stones are left unmoved, least the creatures beneath murder those who would move them. Many of ancient places left such terrible wards behind according to an informant, infecting the whole world with wickedness that even plants might bight back against a man who picked them.

Perhaps the most destructive use of this sort of magic is when a sorcerer wants to kill a community. He first must find the ceremonial center of the community. By burying a prepared piece of wood in the ground here where none saw him, a makutu practitioner can murder an entire people if not stopped. Those first affected dream of the cause, and if they alert a healer, the object can be dug up and swallowed.  Those first afflicted will still die, but the community as a whole will live.

Other reports indicate that a star appearing visible during the day has been sent by a sorcerer to curse a victim. Some sorcerers instead dispatch the less visible bird to make their ill will known. In either case, reciting a proper prayer can reverse the harm, sending the doom back to the sorcerer.

Some of these are easily stopped—the use of lizard gods to cause illness, for instance, is relatively easy to end for priests who specialize in such matters. And charms to keep sorcery at bay are common knowledge for many. But others are more direct and harder to stop, moving to quickly to be caught.

Even death may not end these torments. Reports from the 1950s indicate that some practitioners could pass on their skills and talents, or even that such dead practioners still rode the wind. Whether these are exaggerations of practice or not is hard to say—the documentation reminds me of claims of witch practices in the countryside, and the language of the documentation is…of its time.

Location Ryleh

For those wondering where Lovecraft’s pacific island was, here are approximate locations of Ryleh.

So where does that leave us for this prompt? I think there’s something very interesting about the assertion of a house from which all evil things originate—one source even said that the first people to bring these powers into the world sacrificed one of their own to keep the powers permanent—that is considered by all taboo. The idea of ancient stones and places that are filled with something like a poison is fascinating.

The other notion that strikes me is the passing down of powers through generations to endow mastery and greater powers beyond. The writer of that section suggested the stories came from or were related to the old testament stories of Elijah and Elisha—and that may be the case. But for a narrative that traces itself back to a truly ancient time (antediluvian being before the great deluge that wiped the world clean), such notions of continuity are important. Which brings us round to what sort of narrative we are working with here.

We are given here a location more than a narration. The Cthulhu story has this strange island rising, and being stumbled upon by nearby sailors who interrupt the waking creature by ramming it. Yet, I don’t think I want to repeat that particular idea of just ‘stumbling across’ such a hidden and dangerous place. One idea is following someone to their first meeting of a horrific conspiracy—or perhaps being dragged back there, in a case of mistaken (or misplaced) identity by someone fleeing the conspiracy. The idea of vengeance or having wrong the witch or sorcerer in question is a common one that I think could also play into the idea. The question at the root then is what is the horror about: Being inducted into this conspiracy or being the victim of it, when one is dragged to this island of horror where even the trees try to bite at anyone who sets foot on them?

 

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Bibliography

Palmer, G. Blake. “TOHUNGAISM AND MAKUTU: Some Beliefs and Practices of the Present Day Maori”. The Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 63, No. 2 (June, 1954), pp. 147-163

Voyce, Malcom, “Maori Healers in New Zealand: The Tohunga Suppression Act 1907”. Oceania, Vol. 60, No. 2 (Dec., 1989), pp. 99-123

Smith, S. Percy. “The Evils of Makutu, or Witchcraft.” The Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol 30, No. 119 (1921).  Accessed here: http://www.jps.auckland.ac.nz/document//Volume_30_1921/Volume_30%2C_No._119/The_Evils_of_Makutu%2C_or_witchcraft%2C_by_S._Percy_Smith%2C_p_172-184/p1

A Difficult Conversation

This Week’s Prompts:

  1. Educated m***tto seeks to displace personality of white man and occupy his body.
  2. Ancient n***o voodoo wizard in cabin in swamp—possesses white man.

There is no Forthcoming story.

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Nothing is more essential to someone than their identity, a sense of self. Second, however, to a sense of self is a sense of community—both in time and in space. From community often but not always comes identity. It is thus no surprise than when understandings of self are threatened, many resort to their understanding of community, imagined or real, temporal or spatial. If these were secure communities, or places that were imagined more than real, there is a strong impulse to ensure they are authentic. That they are unchanged from what was once the font of identity. Sometimes this manifests in a want for fundamental restoration, other times as a culture of purity, other times as seeking real and living members of that community. There is a strong desire to return to apparent roots, even if they are buried deep in the ground and architecture. It is this want that animates the prompts above. It is also that want for community and identity in the face of oppressive adversity that gave Vodou in the Americas its power. It is a want that mobilized nationalizing forces in the Balkans cities, and a want that mobilized African Americans to enter into traditions of West Africa in the wake of the Civil Rights movement. It is a want that leads back to roots, and sometimes growth, sometimes death.

I have dreaded these two prompts since I began this blog. I hoped when I started out that by the time I got to them, I’d have some interesting or compelling piece to write. And what I’ve concluded…well, I’ll save that for the end. Today, lets talk about Howard Phillips Lovecraft, folklore, “voodoo” narratives of the 1920s and 1930s, and more. It’s going to be a long ride.

We will start with a discussion of Lovecraft’s relationship with folklore and folk culture. These will be more relevant to his approach to stories, and in particular some…connective tissue I see between Lovecraft and Voodoo that the man himself wouldn’t want acknowledged. And frankly, this is a discussion needed for a blog like mine, where folklore is almost more common than horror these days.

Lovecraft was as much anti-modern as anything else. A member of his local historical preservation society, an avid investigator in architecture when he traveled, fascinated by linguistic changes and traditional forms,  Lovecraft had a love of regional culture and history. Not only was he invested in the preservation of art forms and traditions, he was interested in their evolution over time. He commented critically on many revival efforts that merely brought back architectural features, not expanding on fundamentals. Mr. Lovecraft once criticized this as restoring a land that never was, an idealistic copy instead of a continuation. His interest in folklore often appeared in his stories—by using architectural features or local folklore of places he visited, he felt he helped ground his stories. His interest in a fluid form of storytelling and connectivity is why the Mythos has become a Mythos and not merely a small story off in the corner. This interest in participation in a greater story, a temporally if not spatially, appears as a source of fear and motivation in many of his works.

This interest in regional purity, of course, leads us back to Lovecraft’s racism. It is an uncontroversial and increasingly commonly known fact that Howard was racist, and racist to a degree that was shocking for his time. Howard’s fear, manifest in New York most prominently, was that the mixing of diverse and regional groups would lead to the dissolution of culture, tradition, continuity, and thus meaning. “Impurity” was, to Howard’s mind, synonymous with death.  And this of course also meant a fear of miscegenation, a fear of the other ‘infiltrating’ or ‘decaying’ the culture of an area. There are a number of stories that Mr. Lovecraft wrote that focused on this fear—where immigrants entered into an area and brought about “decay”. That Mr. Lovecraft for the most part did not perceive the value in syncretism or co-habitation and growth in a more fluid line speaks to some understandings of folklore—ones that around his time also strove, for instance, in the Balkans to demarcate the exact origins and national character of peoples under Ottoman rule.  Purity and traditionalism, especially in identity building, are common bedfellows.

One of the clearest examples, and most relevant to this prompt, is the swamp-cult in Call of Cthulhu. Here we witness a scene that must have haunted Lovecraft: a swamp ceremony, with wild dances around a strange object, where all sorts of peoples mix and mingle with death and passion. To the puritanical and chaste Lovecraft, this entire event is an abomination. The end of this encounter is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the use of violence by the white police department to put a stop to the child murdering cult, who’s conspiracy spread all over the world through distant dreams. It is the violent destruction of another terrible conspiracy that Lovecraft feared in large cities—we can examine Red Hook for a similar fear, including the strange immigrants and child murder.

This scene draws, I don’t doubt, from reports of Voodoo in Louisiana by journalists across the country. The emphasis on violence to women and children is a tell tale mark, as is the police raid and the dancing. These stories and articles were common during the Reconstruction all the way through the 1960s.  If you check the bibliography, you will find my sources are much more recent than normal. I have a tendency to rely on older works, especially folklore collections in the public domain or available through college libraries. This means many sources are from the 1800s to 1900s—although on many topics I will find more modern research (particularly if older sources have…suspect concepts or phrases), I don’t have the funds to purchase more recent collections of folktales. Such writings exist on Voodoo in Louisiana in abundance, but I consulted only two and cite none below. This is because writings from that period are, while telling and relevant for understanding these prompts, gross exaggerations to say the least.

These reports describe orgies, cannibalism, violence and human sacrifice, and other efforts to construct an image of blackness that is innately dangerous and primitive and infectious. Fear of miscegenation is clear with the many references of white women in particular being endangered—white men are rarely mentioned, and portrayed universally as low brow laborers. The image then becomes one of fear that white women will be stolen and children being murdered[1], and that the mixing of races is something that only occurs (if at all) among lower orders of society, who are too primitive to be considered.

But why?

To answer that question, we have to first answer what is Voodoo. In Yorùbá Influences on Haitian Vodou and New Orleans Voodoo:

 (a) Usually spelled V-o-d-u-n, it refers to the traditional religion of the Fon and Ewe people residing in today’s Republic of Benin, the former kingdom of Dahomey, West Africa; (b) spelled Vodou, it is the popular syncretic Afro-Creole religion of Haiti; (c) commonly spelled Voodoo (in the 19th century usually spelled Voudou), it addresses the Afro-Creole counterculture religion of southern Louisiana; (d) but as mentioned above, Voodoo is also the common term in American English for any African-derived magical or religious beliefs and practices, often associated with black magic and witchcraft.

Of these, b is the most common—and derives in part from a. The Vodun belief system of the Yoruba featured a number of divinities that had patron cities on the West coast of Africa. These divinities arrived in the Americas by way of the slave trade, often bought after being captured in war. These primarily came to Cuba. Vodou, as practiced in Haiti however, was not just the Vodun system of the Yoruba—in fact, in the 18th century, slaves from Yoruba were a minority. Instead, the Haitian system featured beliefs from the Kongo and the Yoruba’s often times enemies the Dahomey. The Kongo divinities often influenced Petwo. The Petwo include some particularly famous staples of Voodoo imagery—Baron Samedi (Baron Saturday) is the ultimate divinity of this court of the dead. Yoruba divinities, such as Legba-Elebga, appear with some frequency. Papa Legba stands as the ultimate spirit of the threshold, while Ogun (the lord of iron, blacksmiths, and warriors) becomes Papa Ogou and has his own cluster of smaller spirits.

There was a time when Haitian Vodou was considered the sole ancestor of Louisiana Voodoo, and a more spiritual form at that—antebellum New Orleans being more hostile than Haiti to the practice. However, recent work suggests Louisiana Voodoo had it’s own practices that evolved separately from Haiti’s, coming from neither Yoruba nor Dahomey sources but instead from the Kongo and Senegal basin. This resulted in comparable rites, but very different spirits. La Grand Zombi served here as the chief deity—the word zombi here not being the walking corpse, but rather a derivation from the word Kikongo nzambi (God, a term used in Bible translations). St. Anthony of Padua was also prominent—many of the enslaved already being Roman Catholic, and thus fond of the patron saint of the Kongo. St. Anthony is a common in other Yoruba traditions, especially associated with Legba. However, in Louisiana, Legba can be found as the only definite Yoruba divinity under the name Papa Laba and is associated with Saint Peter.

Haitian Vodou does have a more concrete connection to American Voodoo literature, however, than as origin. Haitian Vodou is often viewed as instrumental, by both detractors and proponents, to slaves in Haiti successfully overthrowing the existing plantation system there. This revolt, that defeated Napoleon’s armies, resulted in the Emperor of France selling Louisiana and other territories to Jefferson for an extremely low price. The fear of a similar revolt likewise informed antebellum Southern views of Voodoo—and in the post-war climate of New Orleans, fear that Voodoo and emancipation would permanently cast-off white male control of the country and the economy. The reports I mentioned earlier provided shocking imagery of what such a loss of control would mean—they painted an image of blackness as bestial and primitive, in order to define and justify white supremacy. These fears took on a sexualized nature in the post-war articles, instead of the more common police raid and political fears before. Hatian Vodou was an existential threat to the plantation way of life and understanding, for it granted power to slaves who many plantation owners believed were made powerless by God.

Voodoo was also, in Louisiana, a religion lead by women. The fear of a loss of control over women—particularly white women—was present in many of the reports that placed otherwise respectable women as bewitched or lured by passions into what was presented as primitive savagery. The role of these reports was then not only a violent assertion of white supremacy—and it was violent, playing into or advocating reprisals against imagined slights—but also of patriarchy. That women would leave the roles of society—even, perhaps especially, respectable women of class and means—was unacceptable. In a society focused on blood and purity, lest we forget the one drop rule that was common, loss of control of women was loss of control of the future.

Voodoo’s threat to the status quo then was granting the subaltern power and the ability to change the world, and by undermining the social structures of the existing governing bodies. As one writer put it “These religious practices and beliefs have provided practitioners with a way to ideologically order the world, negotiate bondage and exile, communicate with gods and ancestors, protect themselves and loved ones, solicit revenge or financial success, pro mote illness or recovery, influence love and desire, and challenge the exercise of white power in and over their lives.” As the modern state emerged in the late nineteenth and twentieth century, control over the populace—over the body and the future—was the growing preoccupation of culture. By the state, I do not mean just the overt functions of government. I mean the entire apparatus of social control. Vodou served a useful purpose, a subaltern group that could be kept at a distance and provide a definition of the community while at the same time justifying the expansion of state apparatuses. Stories of Voodoo provided justification for legal and violent assaults on African communities, in an effort to stamp out the emerging progressive movement.

One of the  articles I read while preparing this piece, however, drew me to a notion about Voodoo that I was unfamiliar with—the revival movement in the 70s and 80s, where a number of African Americans sought to reconnect with their roots in Africa to repair the damage of 500 years of active oppression. The logic and prospects are the same, on one level—Voodoo and traditional African religion provides a way to reconnect with an intentionally suppressed culture. These individuals rightly believed that securing political rights with the Civil Rights movement was not the same as achieving true equality, as their own cultural signifiers and traditions were not equal to the hegemonic white Christian ones. This scholarship that searched for meaning was often multi-layered—individuals would be initiated into multiple traditions, some in the Americas, some (finances permitting) in Africa. This was a search for a community and identity that was separate from the oppressive hegemony—one that was truly the members, that was authentic.

This search for self, for meaning and a sense of place in the world outside the current one, fascinates me in this context, because in a strange way it seems an echo of Lovecraft’s historical preservationist leanings. Now, let me be clear: the source of these anxieties is wildly different in scale. Lovecraft was not an oppressed minority, nor had he suffered centuries of deliberate cultural erasure. But nonetheless, part of his anxieties was the feeling that his regional identity was decaying—on the one hand, yes, by immigration but on the other hand by means of corporate expansionism and modernity. A modernity that sought to form a single hegemonic identity of “whiteness”, at the expensive of regional cultures and communities. One that to this day has such a dominance over popular imagination that it has to be combatted in the streets, where people very much like Lovecraft—who fear change and loss of place, and who have been socialized to blame the Other for their failings—persist in an almost pathetic way.

Lovecraft’s anxieties lead him to focus on purity and xenophobia, but it was an anxiety that worried about the fate later African Americans confronted—of having one’s own context stripped from them. In a way, Lovecraft was also looking for roots that he felt were dying. They resemble, to me, the movements in the Balkans towards nationalism in the eighteenth and nineteenth century—which sought a romantic and essential character to the regions, that could be revived and made pure and bring about a new dignity. These found resistance in country sides, often to their confusion. Nationalists from the cities bemoaned the lack of existing national pride in their communities. Given the involvement of such romantics in folklore studies, this comparison is unlikely novel, but the result of such investigations and promotions are far less positive than elsewhere I feel. I wonder if the response of purity seeking, as opposed to seeking a plurality of traditions, is what leads to nationalist responses and dreadful results.

I’ve been told on a few occasions that Cosmic Horror is truly a horror only possessed by privileged people. The argument goes that there is, for the oppressed, nothing revelatory about being told you are insignificant. That the fear of lack-of-power or relevance is one that only matters to those who are a part of the hegemony. For those already oppressed, there is nothing strange or even unusual about a hostile world order trying to extinguish you, unrelenting and uncaring in its malice. There is truth to that—but at the same time, I do wonder if the idea of death of meaning, the death of even artificial meaning in the face of either time or active suppression and opposition, doesn’t cross that divide. Cosmic Horror I think is overly typified as “the fear of being dwarfed by the Other”. That the terror is only the scale of Cthulhu, the sheer size of the cosmos. I’ve suggested elsewhere that Lovecraft’s fiction is better typified as “the fear of being consumed/assimilated by the Other”. That other often takes the form of the past, of superstition, of the foreign, of the novel, of the alien and the vast. The story that is in a way most typical is not the story of the rising elder god at sea—rather, it is of the slow change by foreign customs, it is the gradual transformation into something accursed in your family home, it is to look into a mirror and see that you are a monster. It is more Pickman’s Model and Shadows Over Innsmouth than it is Cthulhu. I think in these contexts, to paraphrase H.Bomberguy on a similar topic, the marginalized and oppressed do see that uncaring and hostile cosmos Lovecraft could only attempt to describe.

While reading these articles, I was reminded of a recurring thought I’ve seen online—the struggle for young white men to find a cultural identity that is divorced from white supremacy. The period in which Voodoo was demonized also actively, particularly in the 20th century, sought to erase the regional and cultural differences among white American’s to create a single racial block that could enforce hegemony. This hegemony has cracked over time, as it always does. And as it cracks, those who’s culture was hegemony in large part—who’s identity was tied very strongly to the old order, or  It is little surprise then, that young white men (particularly but not exclusively well off) resort to fascism when they feel their status is threatened—and that those same demographics sometimes feel crises of identity when they move towards more progressive stances, attempting to reject the social order and system they were socialized in. While again, not nearly on the scale of African American cultural erasure and suppression, there have been suggestions to follow the example of “returning to roots”—of going back to the cultural forms that the Modernist and related movements erased in order to support empire. To correct the decay Lovecraft’s…shall we say regressive mind did understand. We can see this in a variety of places—some see it in neo-pagan revival movements, others in genetic testing and genealogy services, others in historical preservation.

These suggestions, to be personal for a moment, have never sat well with me. They feel…insincere at times. Or perhaps overly optimistic about the failures of Modernism. To me, the erasure has always seemed far more complete than supposed. I am fortunate to know a good deal about my family history, and to have had a few brief visits to places my family is ‘from’. Yet I would hesitate to describe myself beyond “White American”. I haven’t ever felt the pangs that some have described to me, where there is an emptiness that needs to be filled. I suspect a better solution lies in the other end of Lovecraft—perhaps we need not just a return to roots, but an attempt to create a new tradition, a new meaning when one has been lost.

These thoughts slosh around my head as I sit here, thinking on the prompts. I have spent over three years now working on prompts, knowing these were hanging over my head. I have written over two hundred thousand words on these prompts, and we are only this year approaching the half way point. I’ve already discussed twice now Lovecraft’s racism, his crippling hatred of the poor, of the immigrant, of the modern. There are other personages that people draw inspiration from, who are frankly disgusting people. Sometimes in their personal lives, sometimes professionally. To take a simple example, Aristotle’s feelings on women are well known, Plato’s totalitarian leanings more so, Carl Jung has a history of right wing disciples.

For all that, there is something different about Lovecraft. Lovecraft is…well, apart from terrible in the ways that have been publicly and privately demarcated, he isn’t exactly good. His writing is often overly verbose, many of his stories—fantastic or horrific—avoid character growth or dialogue, his structure is antiquated. It is clear, as one author suggested, that Lovecraft is more comfortable with buildings than persons. I did once aspire to write like Lovecraft, but why? Certainly I’ve stopped trying to imitate his prose, his format, and to an extent even his mythos—or at least the form as it currently exists, in some cases far to systematized.

Perhaps why I’m still writing about Lovecraft’s prompts is that want of tradition—that his stories, and the stories that are around him ‘feel’ like mine. They feel more like my experience of the world than most folk stories I do read—a world that is at times hostile, uncaring, and increasingly doomed by forces I cannot control and can barely fathom. Perhaps Lovecraft’s great trick, of seeding other stories with his own works to give the appearance of a folk tradition, work in his favor. Writing in ‘the Mythos’ feels like writing in something much larger than one story, in a way that is increasingly hard with corporate control over media and independent works. Perhaps it was the sense of discovery and exploration, of finding and learning and glimpsing the illusion of a greater story. The idea that there was this vast, barely seen thing full of wonder.  Something vast, terrible, and immortal. Something infectious, in away—something that, to make contact with would move one beyond the mortal world.

Please pardon me, if my words have become absurd. Back to the topic at hand.

In this case, however, I have to draw a line. The prompts, it is…transparent that these prompts embody all the worst fears of the Voodoo reports. The fear of white supremacy being overthrown, the fear of loss of control and power, specifically by supernatural means (the same supernatural that overthrew white supremacy in Haiti). I could write a research article on similar tropes in folklore—but these would be more revisions of a racist fear, simply in older clothes. Exchanging these prompts to discuss stories of Romani shape shifters or the like would not exactly be more tactful or appropriate, and I try to avoid feeding into tropes such as these.

While I have notions on how to write stories like this in an acceptable way—one could write a story, for instance, where the horror is discovering the true horrors of the replaced white man’s deeds, or something—they would by their nature be stories about race. And while, perhaps one day I’d feel confident in writing such a story…Not in a week. Not in three weeks, not in a month, not in a season. That is a topic that I would have to practice considerable more editing, sensitivity reading, and more before I attempted.  So, no story this week, I’m afraid. I can recommend (from the first 100 pages), for those interested, the book Lovecraft Country, for an examination of Cosmic Horror and race. I have heard good things about Winters Tide but have not made it far into the book. There is, I believe, a wealth of literature on the topic that delves deeper into some of Lovecraft’s character—I did not have the time or ability to read multiple biographies, letters, and more that would be required for this article, even with the extended deadline.

We will revisit some voodoo/vodou/Vodun practices later, in a month when we come to a…slightly less racially charged prompt. Next time, we continue an examination of cosmic horror—this time the idea of a vast witch conspiracy centered in Polynesia.

Yes, no political issues that might be related to a global conspiracy of witches. None.

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Bibliography

Evans, Timothy H. “A Last Defense against the Dark: Folklore, Horror, and the Uses of Tradition in the Works of H. P. Lovecraft”. Journal of Folklore Research, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Jan. – Apr., 2005), pp. 99-135. Published by Indiana University Press.

Fandrich, Ina J. “Yorùbá Influences on Haitian Vodou and New Orleans Voodoo”. Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 37, No. 5 (May., 2007), pp. 775-791 Published by Sage Publications, Inc.

Gordon, Michelle Y. “ “Midnight Scenes and Orgies”: Public Narratives of Voodoo in New Orleans and NineteenthCentury Discourses of White Supremacy” American Quarterly, Vol. 64, No. 4 (December 2012), pp. 767-786. Published by John Hopkins University.

Mazower, Mark. The Balkan: A Short History. Modern Library 2002

 

 

[1] It is impossible to observe these obsessions and not consider the now infamous “14 words” common among white supremacists and fascists, as well as the Qanon and Pizzagate conspiracies. Somethings, it seems, do not change.

In The Walls

This Week’s Prompt: 107. Wall paper cracks off in sinister shape—man dies of fright.

The Resulting Story: FORTHCOMING

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This story  is one of the rare few that I believe can be traced directly to an existing inspiration. The Yellow Wallpaper  was published in 1892, and while it does not feature the exact prompt here, the detail of the shape of the cracking wallpaper calls to mind that story. The story itself deserves a full treatment, as it proves foundational to a number of horror tropes and notions—the unreliable narrator, as a start, but also malignant architecture and strange sights. The story itself has been interpreted as being a feminist work about the poor treatment of women, particularly the frequently suggested cure of the time of essentially ceasing intellectual activity to avoid hysteria. You can read the full story here.

CaskOfMonteEgro

The idea, however, of the walls containing something malicious isn’t unheard of past this story. Staying in the realm of horror, before venturing into folklore, we have Mr. Lovecraft’s own Rats in the Walls, where things lurking beneath the walls prove the maddening undoing of the main character. We have Edgar Allen Poe’s story of the Black Cat, where a woman’s body is buried in the walls after a murder, and the specter of his guilt manifests on the wall—and the Tell Tale Heart, where the thumping of a long dead heart.

In folklore, the idea of malignancy being placed within a building is an old one. We discussed, when talking about thepower of magic, the Tibetan death curse that must be planted in the roof of a building. We’ve also discussed how within walls, we canbury guardians to secure our fortune here. But today I’d like to examine a few more examples of how things hidden, just out of sight in our architecture, can spell misfortune. And how they can bring blessings.

Horn Tibet

A common example of this is found in witchcraft stories—one I’ve discussed on Patreoncomes from Basque country. Here a witch has afflicted a princess with a terrible, wilting disease, by placing a toad beneath a statue. Until the toad is removed from the garden, she cannot hope for a cure—and by this means the witch seeks to inflict untold misery on her victims. The day is saved by an orphan listening in and going out to undo the harm. We see similar uses of toads elsewhere, where their mere presence causes trouble as discussed here.

In the astrology treatise of Al Hakim, a number of talismans are noted—prepared properly, these talismans can work a number of magical wonders. They can destroy enemies, corrupt cities, prevent marriages, assure positions of power, end crops, and more. These talismans operate with the power of celestial spheres, which exert power over men’s lives and minds already. The power of talismans, utilizing these spiritual forces, is something almost divine. Of particular note are terrible talismans that bring enmity and hatred among lovers and friends. Placing these at meeting points can unravel relationships entirely. Many of these talismans require specific stones to be engraved at the right hour, to better call down the spirits and forces at work. Among Coptic talismans, many are aimed at the relationships between families—cutting marriages to achieve one’s love, transfiguring a woman into a horse, and so on.

Talismans Symbols

Talisman Scripts, from the above text.

Albanian stories of witchcraft suggest that with careful application of pig bones, one can bind an evil into a building. By creating a cross of the bones and hanging it outside the door of the building (particularly a church), this will trap them in the building and cause a panic. On the first of march, you can keep them from entering by driving horns into the ashes of a chimney, or hanging scissors at the door—a wise choice, as that is the night the witches gather.

Protection and curses worked into the foundations of the household or building are thus rather common in European folklore and practice, as well as in places beyond. The family in particular is vulnerable to madness by the house—something that perhaps ties back to the haunted houses we had discussed in the past. The house thus is the hearth, the home, the source of vitality. And there is not much more research I can say on that.

Except to discuss where we might take this as a writer. Now, the original story of Yellowed Wallpaper certainly features the decline of the domestic relationship in an almost gothic way. The unreliable narrator begins to see strange things, goes mad and even assaults her husband for her poor treatment, her mind gone by the end from being trapped in such a place. And most of our stories have played, perhaps, on a similar notion of madness in their own way.

If there is something archetypical here, in malevolent architecture as a conceit, I would suggest it is in fact the haunted and cursed house. But not the house that is haunted by necessarily a ghost—not by necessarily a precisely human and anthropomorphic phantom. Strange patterns on the wall call to mind the mathematical regularity of fractals and geometry that Mr. Lovecraft feared stretched to infinite. Terrible shapes here remind me of fungus, and the cracks in the wall from Edgar Allen Poe resemble a cat. A house that is wicked in its own way, terrible in-it-self, not by housing some other intellect. It reminds or suggests to me another house entirely, and perhaps a more sinister version of miraculous images that we discussed here.

Caanite Teraphim Gods

Household gods like these often served as protective talismans for the household.

We have also a prompt that is very much the climax of a story. This is not a full tale, but rather the ending or mid point of a story of domestic madness. We could follow prior writers here and suggest that this strange breaking shape is a product of an existing neurosis. An ill omen taken shape in the wallpaper itself. If these walls could talk indeed. This cursed narration I think should have an unreliable narrator—both because of the original story, the Yellowed Wallpaper, and the other story this reminds me of.

Writing an unreliable narrator is somewhat difficult, I find. If done well, it provides a layer of mystery to the events—it provides intrigue and a question of reality. But it is a device that, to me, always begs the question of why. Unlike a third person omniscient narrator, or even third person limited, with an unreliable narrator we are deep within the mind of our main character. The character needs a reason to be telling us this story. Attention needs to be drawn to “how did we come across this” in a way that other stories often lack.

Now, there are some reasons to tell such a story. One is part of a confession—a somewhat common reason, in many cases. While not a literal confession, this is the function that the Tell Tale Heart and the Shadows Over Innsmouth and even, arguably, Crime and Punishment. Here we begin with being told the guilty party justifying or explaining his crime, in someway as to make us sympathetic. However, there are other methods. There are stories like the Yellowed Wallpaper, where no justification is needed—the story is simply presented as is. Others function as a found manuscript—a story we were perhaps never meant to see, or one that has been restored by an outside agent…ah, I keep thinking of that house. It must be the weight of the plague on my mind.

So which will our story be? Well…I prefer the edited manuscript. It is perhaps from being too deep among the books this week in research, trying to find half remembered stories to fit this article, but there is I think something more horrific and mysterious about a manuscript you stumble across then one that is given as pure confession. In the case of confession, it is hard if not impossible to avoid the idea that they have clearly committed a crime. What is and isn’t true is much more apparent, I think, if you know they have already done some wrong doing.

But textual corruption, editing, age, and omission by the writer and others who have had their hands on it all can contribute to changes and secrets. References to common aphorisms, long forgotten, can easily make a text almost incomprehensible. That is something that fits my tastes much better than before.

What cursed houses have you heard of?

Bibliography:

Atallah, Hastem, translator. Picactrix: The Goal of the Wise by Ghayat Al-Hakim.

Durham, M. Edith. “121. Of Magic, Witches and Vampires in the Balkans”. Man, Vol. 23 (Dec., 1923), pp. 189-192. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

Monteiro, Mariana. Legends and Popular Tales of the Basque People. New York, New York. F.A. Stokes 1891.

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Nightrider

This Week’s Prompt:106. A thing that sat on a sleeper’s chest. Gone in morning, but something left behind.

The Prior Research:Terrors in the Night

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

Regina was having the worst day in a long time. She was running on fumes, caffeine replacing at least six to eight hours of sleep. The tram was packed, people chatting and buzzing about. She slowly blinked as the doors opened and the wave of people exiting collided with the people trying to enter. There was shuffling as someone tried to push a wheel chair through.

There. A seat. Regina moved quickly, sitting down against the window before anyone else had a chance. It was only two more stops, but having a seat was worth a few angry grumbles and curses from passers by when they realized they missed their chance. With a chime, the tram began underway, trudging along.

One of the seats across from her opened up—she noticed when the kid and his dad got up for the next stop. Somehow, no one caught it until the next crowd pushed in. Regina wouldn’t have cared—more annoying chatter. And, oh, this one had an unhappy baby. Wonderful.

What did catch her attention was when someone took the seat. And started looking…at her? Some guy in a business suit, tie askew, hair starting to gray. Scuffed up shoes too. It took a moment to register if he was looking at her, or if he was looking out the window. But now. He was…leering at her.

The tram’s chipper automated voice called out her stop and she pushed her way out, glaring at the asshole. Later, Regina wasn’t entirely sure if she flipped him off or really wanted to flip him off. But whatever. She got home, almost an hour past sundown, and had some ramen, and collapsed on the bed after making sure the windows were closed. It was  humid and cold, and Regina barely noticed the fading handprint on the window.

*

“It was how big?” Carol asked. Regina held up her finger—and pointed at the approximate length of the glass shard that had cut her cheek when she woke up.

“No idea how it got there.” Regina muttered as she prepped the first batch of coffee for the day. “But yeah, not a great gash. Tossed it—don’t even remember breaking that bowl.”

PillowNightrider

“How do you forget shattering a bowl? Like, I know your house always looks like a hurricane hit but still.”

“It didn’t shatter—just like, chipped? That’s what its called right?” Regina muttered tapping the edge of the coffee pot. “Just a bit.”

“Yeah, but how did it—You know what, who knows.” Carol said, waving it off as the doors opened, and the first few customers drifted in. “Probably just weird.”

*

The day was exhausting. Her back hurt the entire time, she’d managed to pull something in her sleep apparently, and she felt her mind drifting out the back of her skull half the time. Coffee shop to call center, Regina felt herself wilting away. She barely had energy to eat when she got home. And then she tried to sleep.

There was something about her bed. Something that made her hands shake when she peeled back the covers. Suddenly alert, Regina searched her pillows for any other random bits that might have gotten there—she checked her jacket that she had tossed on it when she got home, she checked her shirt for any thistles or needles or pins. Nothing. She breathed in and out, and lied down to sleep.

*

There was something on her chest—something heavy as she struggled to open her eyes. As sunlight started to shine down from the window above her bed, she felt it shifting. Something heavy, her arms and legs numb. It was moving, it’s legs pushing beneath her ribs. She could barely breath, even as she felt something sharp.

It was stabbing in, stinging pain spreading up her side. Her hands were shaking as the warmth of the sun spread up her feet, up her legs, and slowly up her chest and hands. The weight and the pain faded, and Regina opened her eyes. For a moment she caught sight of a great shape, a leering grin of smoke vanishing into the night. She felt at the pain—nothing but a bruise. It as numb to touch at first, felt like hundreds of pin pricks when she tried to move.

And then she found it—a thumb tack, sitting there, point up. If she’d rolled the other way out of bed, it’ would have stabbed her.

Thumbtacks

*

It was a really ordinary thing, the mystery tack. Top was a bit rusted, and she knew she’d checked for this sort of thing before she went to bed. And that thing—that grinning lumbering thing in her bed. It was like a dog with people’s teeth.

“I—you know, I think I’ve heard of that.” Carol said, looking at the tack. “Yeah. Mom said Aunt Morgan had some trouble with that sort of thing, I think.”

“Oh yeah? What fixed it? Should I eat garlic before bed or something?” Regina asked, clicking the coffee machine on, as the loud grinding of beans began.

“Hey, that got rid of the cold, didn’t it?”

“Okay, fair enough, it did.” Regina sighed, rubbing her temple. “Sorry, no sleep sets me on edge. Did she say what it was?”

“Well…yeah. I mean. Aunt Morgan thought she was being cursed or haunted or something like that.” Carol said, scratching the back of her head. “I can probably give her a call for some remedies or something.”

“Cursed?”

“Yeah, or haunted, or something.” Carol said slowly, drawing out each word. “You know. Someone didn’t like her, sicced some sort angry cat ghost on her, nearly killed her, so she got some stuff together to—”

“Wait what? Nearly killed her? Go back, go back.” Regina said blinking. “I mean, a bruise and a small cut aren’t great but killed her?”

“I mean, Mom made it sound like she got stuffed full of stuff and couldn’t breathe.” Carol said, eyes locked on the sweets that were being put out. “I’m sure it’s you know. Something more like a panic attack or something.”

*

Regina still didn’t trust the…stuff Carol had brought over. Her mom swore by it though. One was…one of those dream catchers she’d had as a kid, over the door. Which she was pretty sure didn’t work like that? Then a fishing net to cover the curtains.  Some water to help her sleep, and at last some salt.

“Salt? Really? How is that supposed to help?” Regina asked, looking at the small jar.

“Ghosts don’t like salt. Neither do curses and other stuff, you know. C’mon, even TV gets that right.”

“…alright, so I just scatter the salt, and then it won’t get close.” Regina asked, frowning. “Assuming it gets through the nets and stuff.”

“Well, not quite. You’ve got to push the jar over it.” Carol said, shaking the salt. “Um. Well. Mom said you’ll wake up, and see it. And you’ve got to push the jar over it, then close it. Should trap the thing.”

“What’s going to wake me up?”

“She didn’t say, just you would.”

Regina sighed as she lay down in her bed to sleep. She’d scattered the salt all over the room, and the nets were all up. And so, nervously, she fell asleep.

*

She vaguely heard something snap in the darkness—but returned to sleep, too dream-addled to care. Regina woke again, a bit later, when she heard something like tearing cloth napkins. She’d always hated that sound.

It sounded like someone choking on their own phlegm. She woke up to the gurgling howling noise, and saw it there in the moonlight. Net torn around it’s shoulders, bubbling like a slug in the salt. It was slimey, mold thing, like rice vomited up. It saw her. It howled and stumbled towards the bed. She saw the flash of a knife in it’s hand.

She grabbed the jar and pulled herself up. The knife missed her wrist, barely, as she forced the jar on its head. It howled, but slid in, pulled itself in. Bits of it got on the edge of the jar, even as Regina forced it to the floor. Squirming green-black bits that a bit of salt burned off.

She put it on the shelf, after sealing the jar with the lid—there was something written on the underside of the lid, Regina didn’t know what. She put it on the shelf and stared at it in the dark. It squirmed, small and hateful. Yellowed eyes now blood shot stared back at her from the mass of rot.

Eyes in the Jar

She left it in the closet, and tried to forget that she’d ever seen it. Still there, every night, leering from behind the glass.



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