A Lightless Room At Night

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

The Resulting Story: FORTH COMING

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

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

Viscera Sucker

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

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

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

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

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

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

Candi Naga

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

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

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

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

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

Oh the terror.

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

Bibliography

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

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

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The Testimony of the Dead

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

The Resulting Story:The Last Will

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

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

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

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Conspiracy!

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

The Resulting Story:My Father’s House

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

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

KGC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bibliography

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

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In The Depths of the Earth

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

The Resulting Story:Out Through The Back

The underground and underworld are topics of human imagination for as long as humans have been around. It’s of little surprise, since the world below is an almost alien notion—neither plants nor sun seem to be there, but at the same time things spring from it. In this case, Mr. Lovecraft wants to point to prehumen or at least prehistoric. And for that, we have a startling amount to find in folklore. We discussed some of this before—but most of this is new.

We can start of course with the creations of the worlds before this one. One Othama story tells of worlds buried in layers beneath this one. The first one, inhabited by the first race of humans, never suffered age or sickness. However, without these, the immortals grew too numerous and devoured everything, before turning to cannibalism. They were wiped out, and the sky collapsed on them, forming the next world. Here age was introduced, but it grew quicker with each generation—and so they were wiped out. The next age smoking tobacco spread down the generations too fast—and so they too were buried. Before the forth and current world was made, the gods noticed that the world was slightly off balance—each collapsed sky had tilted farther and farther up in the east. After raising the west to balance it, they placed the current race of humans.

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Akimel Oʼotham (sometimes called Pima) territory, circa 1700

The Dine have a slightly different story, presenting a layered world but not layered creations. Instead, humanity ascends through each world after being driven out of the one before it. Battles often follow, although one document suggests the third world was abandoned after Coyote kidnapped two of Water Buffalo’s children. The fourth world was found too barren for habitation, and the final ascent was into this world, the fifth world.

The Zuni have another tale of underground peoples in the same area. Here these people are not quiet dead, but not quiet alive. They live opposite lives of humans—food is toxic too them, but they can live on vapors and steam. They are ‘incomplete’, and able to shift their shape. One story tells how two heroic twins heard the wailing and war calls of these people, and went down to learn of their nature. The twins used magic to travel down into the underworld, entering a dark lake with their shields on backwards.

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They discovered what we have already revealed—but also that the unmade men cannot be hurt by strong blows and weapons, but only by soft and normally delicate things like grass. The wind of straw becomes a wind of arrows below, and the touch of a jay bird landing on them is like lightening. The twins try and teach their own ways to make them stronger, but are disdained as eaters of refuse and monsters by the people there.

Further south, we find the Maya. We have here a number of chthonic and underground realms. In the Popul Vuh, the world below is Xibalba, the land of the dead. Here we find the houses of bats and obsidian, rivers of pus and scorpions. We also find in more modern times the Earthlords. These spirits are rich but flighty, and live far away from any towns. They dress as colonial Spaniards and ride horses—and with their immense wealth comes the power to be both cruel and kind without worry.

Among the Ainu, there are conflicting descriptions of the underground. At least one version claims that the bottom of the underworld, seven layers down, is where great thunder gods battle. When one die, they are restored to the heavenly abodes and shoot back down to their place of war, forming lighting bolts. These battling gods fight over fields of paradise, far enough away that they will not destroy the world.

Other accounts suggest that the world is like a coin—on this side, we live. On the other side, the gods and others live in a paradisaical existence or demons live a hellish one. Both trample down the ground, keeping it even.

Among the Tonga, the underworld contains Maui Atalanga’s garden, where his mischievous son Maui Kijikiji discovered fire. Fire was held by Maui Kijikiji’s grandfather, who loaned his grandson some of it—only for him to repeatedly put it out. At last, he gave him the hole log in frustration, which Kijikiji tried to smuggle out. Atalanga caught him, and forced him to return it—but didn’t notice that some of Kijikiji’s loincloth had caught on fire. There also grows a nonu tree, who’s leaves restore the dead. In Maori stories, Maui (and my source indicates only one Maui) is a descendant of the inhabitants of the underworld, and steals fire from the below as well, and discover his heritage like Maui Kijikiji by following his father and finding a secret road to the below. He stole fire more properly, with no father trying to stop him as directly.

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There is a mountain in Basque country that has a darker below, it’s entire interior full of Satanic worshipers. Strange songs are sung and resound out, smoke rises from burnt offerings. I discussed the fullness of the origin of these omens on patreon, but at least in part the regular witches sabbath begins here, and it appears the mountain is named after these gatherings (Aqualarre–a mountain I can’t find on the world maps).

Welsh mountains and mines are said to be inhabited by coblynbeau. The cobyln is a knocker or thumper in the mine. They stand about a foot and a half tall in miners clothes, and attend to a variety of activities in a mine with no clear purpose. If irritated they will throw stones at miners.   At least one account reports that they are busy in their own, spectral coal mines and thus are only seen when they are on holiday.

Their German cousins, however, are less friendly. The German miner will hear three distinct knocks to mark his doom from the knockers, and smaller knocks for lesser evils. These are a tad taller as well, and will even go to unwork the miners efforts. Some even report that these kobolds will place wicked metal in the ores if insulted, seeking to poison miners who have displeased them. On other times, they will work to ensure a miner with their favor strikes a particularly rich vein of metal—more aid then the average cobyln.

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In Ulster, fairies can be found in clefts and caverns—and speaking with them can have dire consequences of deafness or loss of speech. Demolishing one fortress that the faeries dwelled in lead to the death of every laborer, and a number of caverns beneath the fortress had a tendency to swallow up cattle plowing nearby. These caverns could even be hidden from mortal eyes, and held prisoners within, and some were laid on their side so movement required going down a central hole. Some of these are built by a group known as the Danes—however, these appear distinct from the real Danes, as they were wiped out in a massacre by the current population of Ireland in most accounts. They had sandy hair, long limbs, and large feet. They are joined by the Pechts, who could slip through a keyhole. The pechts dress in grey cloths or skins, and will work the field—however, if they are paid in food they will grow offended and flee. The pechts are said to be particularly numerous, capable of standing in a single line and passing dirt from one end of Ireland to the other without moving a foot. These two are sometimes conflated with fairies, a group we could write on for ages.

The underground in Arabia has such strange wonders as well—massive caverns guarded by automatons and talisman gates. Buried in the earth in one story is a crown that made one the king of all of India, realms of riches. Maps to these places, and information on how to navigate their terrors, were the starts of many an expedition.

In the pulps and works around H.P. Lovecraft, of course, there are other underground and subterranean locales. There was the world of Vril, a land where men and women turned hidden and occult powers of life for their own uses. There was the Hollow Earth, where perhaps ancient species and people survived—a notion that perhaps owes some of its origins to the disgust at notions of extinction, and partly to the lack of exploration of the depths. The idea that dinosaurs were not wiped out by the Creator but persisted in some yet unseen place was strong for a long time. Mr. Lovecraft put a number of caverns beneath the world, from ones used for Satanic rites to ones in the distant Antarctic to systems beneath castles that hide ancestral fears.

These stories present us a swath of dangers in the underworld, even if uninhabited. And we have yet to the touch on the clearest meaning, that both terms of antiquity and prehistory suggest—that the depths of the world are old and historically heavy. They are places full of potential riches lost to time and things time has swallowed up. From lost creations of cannibals, to the origins of flame, to things made of smoke instead of flesh…I wonder what we will find, when we descend below?

 

Biblography

Andrews, Elizabeth. Ulster Folklore. E.P. Dutton 1919.

Batchelor, John.  The Ainu and their folklore. The Religious Tract Society. 1901

O’Bryan,  Aileen. The Dine: Origin Myths of the Navaho Indians. Smithsonian Institute, 1955

Collcott,E. E.  “Legends from Tonga. The Maui.” Folklore Vol 32, No. 1, March 31 1921.

Cushing, Frank Hamilton. “A Zuni Folk-Tale of the Underworld”.  The Journal of American Folklore Vol 5., No. 16, American Folklore Society Jan-March 1892.

Jackson, Georgina F. Shropeshire Folklore: A Sheaf of Cleanings. 1883

Popul Vuh: Sacred Book of The Quiche Maya. Translated by: Allen J. Christenson. University of Oklahoma, 2007.

Watanabe, John. “From Saints to Shibboleths: Image, Structure, and Identity in Maya Religious Syncretism.” American Ethnologist. Vol 17. No 1. Feb 1990.

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George and the Generous Tree

This Week’s Prompt:97. Blind fear of a certain woodland hollow where streams writhe among crooked roots, and where on a buried altar terrible sacrifices have occur’d—Phosphorescence of dead trees. Ground bubbles.

The Prior Research: Growing On Trees

The river had turned bright. The three farmers it touched stared in disbelief as the flickering water ran along its way, occasionally lurching to a halt. Grass around it had started dying.

“So. This. This is it right?” Johnson said, looking at everyone. “This is proof that God hates us, right?”

“Johnson!” George said.

“Bad harvest, bunch of rats break into the granary, and now there’s glowing star water killing everything.” Johnson said, waving at the water. “I want you to tell me, in the short time I still have land to stand on, how this is not proof positive this year is cursed.”

“Strings of bad luck happen.” George said, scratching his head. “I mean, long string but…”

“Maybe it will pass?” Gwyn said, stroking his considerable beard. “Came sudden, might be gone suddenly too. Things work like that sometimes.”

“I’m going to get what I can stored up.” Johnson said, shaking his head. “Water like that—that’s fairy nonsense or worse. Give it a week, and everything’s gonna be sludge and rot.”

So the three parted. Gwyn put old nets down from his time by the coast, hoping to catch the muck and keep it from his fields. Johnson went to accounting their belonings, in case the worst happened. He sent a letter down the road, to his brother in Alberdam. But George. George followed the river.

The river had its roots in the woods. Most things do. George knew pigs once lived in the woods, he figured cattle did too. So he followed the river back, through rotted roots and muddy land. He walked ahead, seeing what he might find among shivering trees and bald pines. For as the river wound its way down, the trees turned pale. The ground became soft and pallid. And animals made such dreadful sounds.

At the end of the river, George found it. Over the spring, a great tree with a glimmering brass trunk. No fruit sprang from the tree. No leaves. It’s roots, manifold and black, dripped luminescent sap into the river. Each drop sizzled as it touched the spring.

George was not a terribly wise man. But he knew clearly something about this was wrong. He rushed home and returned to that shuddering, sickly tree with an axe. Raising it high, he struck it hard—and it rang out like a bell in protest.

“Stop, stop, what are you doing?” A voice came down from the empty branches. “What are you doing, cutting me down with crude tool of yours?”

George was startled by the voice, but persisted. It again rang out like a bell, higher pitched this time. His axe blade looked a tad worse for the strike, but the bark had bent in.

“Stop that, stop that what are you—”

“You are spreading poison into our lands.” George said, reading a third swing. “I cannot lose it.”

“Wait wait! How much is it worth, this land?” The tree said, vibrating and shifting its bark about. George stopped his axe just before it.  “Perhaps we could trade.”

“And what could you offer, tree?” George said, resting his ax for a moment. “While I catch my breath.”

“Oh many things, many wondrous things. But perhaps most simply gold.” And as it spoke, an apple of shining gold grew from it’s branch, bending down in front of George. “Leave me be, and gold I can give every day.”

George took the gold, a small snap as it broke from the brass branch.

“Every day, gold like this?”

“Every day.” The tree’s voice said. George was a simple man. And while speaking trees were strange, far stranger existed in the wood. So he returned home without another blow.

Demon Tree One.png

And so he continued for sometime—about two months, coming to collect the gold, and letting his fields fall fallow. He never revealed the source of the apples he brought—in fact, when possible, he hid his travels down to the town to buy goods and food from distant farms. George was a simple man, but even he knew not to flaunt his gold.

Still he paused when he saw the carts outside Johnsons farm, the children swining legs from the seat.

“Nothing to be done. Lands cursed.” Johnson said, shaking his head when George asked leaning on the fence. “I mean, the grain that lived was inedible. But we’ll manage, we’ll manage. Probably won’t get much for the acres, but it’ll be something before the bank gets it.”

George nodded solemnly, and went for his axe. He hadn’t meant to ruin Johnson too. So out into the forest he went again, passed the twisting trees and mewling animals. The woods was quieter, the trees all had left shed broken coats of bark on the ground. The exposed insides were full of holes. Some times sap bubbled out of these, as the ground became muddy near the great tree. Its roots now dug deep into the ground.

“What now, little one? I gave you your gold for the—” the tree spoke, before George’s axe struck. A dull groan resonated through out the woods, the dying noises growing low and loud. The tree shrieked in it’s crown of twisting branches.

“What in the sweet—what do you want? More gold, is that it?” The tree shrieked. George saw his blow had left a large dent in the side. “I can provide more gold! Stop with that ax!”

“Gold will not help now.” George said, striking again and leaving a heavy cut. “Johnson already lost his farm. Gwyn will lose his. Gold can’t help that.”

“Are you—” A scream cut off the tree as the third blow struck, sluggish glowing sap leaking from its side. “Buy the farm yourself, you ingrate!” It bellowed. “You have piles of gold! Give some and buy his land, if you care so much! Its not like you need to worry about farming while I’m here!”

George paused, resting his axe on his shoulder, and stroking his chin. He had not considered that. Hiding his wealth had seemed so…vital. But it wouldn’t matter if Johnson and Gwyn were driven out already. The farms were just land then.  He shrugged and left the tree with it’s new wound, heading back to his farm.

Demon Tree3.png

And so it came to past that George and his family were alone in the farmlands. The fields did not grow properly there—they grew in small tufts and strange colors that year. Johnson and Gwyn had both long gone—George made no effort to maintain their fields. There was little to maintain, as the ground turned gray and then pale yellow. It was swampish and bubbling, the forest slowly sinking from George’s view.

“Its not natural.” His wife said as she looked out. “Its getting closer to town now—that poor boy, he drank some of it and…”

George nodded, staring out into the woods. The river was like moonlight now—cracks and springs up sprang up on the farmland. It wasn’t natural. But few things were in he woods now.

He had gone hunting once, and found not a single living thing. No birds sang, no deer ran. He saw a pale shape moving in the trees. He thought it was a cat, but it had too many eyes.  Too many legs. Or he thought as much.

The shivering trees—the ones that were pale and tall and thin like grain, but stung to touch—had grown where grain once rain. The land was sick. Perhaps it was always sick, George thought as he walked through the silent and shivering woods. There was no wind, but the trees still bowed and swayed as he passed.  And at last, he found the tree.

He had seen it daily, growing bigger and bigger. It’s roots were as wide around as a saucer. Its branches were knotted like a boat’s strings, and thicker then rope. A web of shimmering shapes made up its top. Two great cuts were on its side.

Demon Tree 2.png

“Have you come again with your ax, George?” The voice said solemenly. “Have I not been true and good to you?”

“The land is dying.” George said. A bit of regret remained on his voice. “You have been true and kind, but the land is dying.”

“It has always been dying.” The tree said. “It was dying a year past when we first met. What has changed? Have I not given you gifts, to stay your ax?”

“The land is dying faster now. Down in the town people are dying.”

“People are always dying, George. Dying is the way of things.” The tree said, unmoved.

George shook his head, having no more of the trees words. He took his ax and struck the tree’s trunk—and again it resounded like a gong. But the bark did not budge.

The ax swung again. The tree was unmoved.

The ax swung. The tree shook with laughter.

“George, I have been good to you.” The tree spoke. “And you have been good to me—so I tell you this. If you wish to quarrel with me, leave now. For I have grown too deep to be overturned by an ax or flame. The time for such has passed. Run now, and I will not pursue you for scaring me so.”

George stared as the tree’s branches unfolded—revealing glimmering fruit, brilliant like stars. He dropped the ax into the gray mud. And soon he too left the land by the river. So the rotting tree came to consume the land along the great river. Nothing wholesome remains in that woods.



While this might need one or two more editing passes–and could certainly be improved by more character interaction–I’m actually rather proud of this one. I think the basic idea of a parasitic but wealth producing tree growing monstrous and uncontrollable when allowed to flourish by human greed is a decent enough idea. Giving more character to George would be the first addition–at the moment he’s rather blank as a person, except a bit greedy and a bit simple.

Next time we return to a particular haunted house and the cold touch of the dead!

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The Hills Are Alive

This Weeks Prompt: 96. Unknown fires seen across the hills at night.

The Resulting Story:Lights Away

The hills have eyes of fire. The strange shapes on the edges of towns and building up to dread mountains attract a great deal of attention, both nefarious and wondrous—why is perhaps for another to speculate. They are clearly demarcated landscape features, and often can hold springs, metals, strange stone formations, and hiding behind them lies lord knows what.  At night strange things can happen in the hills. By day great fortresses rise to their defense. Sometimes these are intertwined, such as in Tyrol, Austria.

In Tyrol, there is this story. An old lady visited the castle, and found its courtyard full of nobles and servants. One of these servants granted her a gold coin, and the scene vanished. As she left, she was met by a solider with a single match and holding his own head at his side. The solider warned her—tell anyone of this, and evil would befall her. The woman tried her best, until a magistrate learned of the gold she had. When the magistrate pressed her on the matter, and forced her to speak, she is whisked away and never seen again. Later, a young nobleman heard this tale and decided—being a knowledgeable sort—to see for himself what was atop the mountain. As he and a servant ascended, six times an unknown voice told them to desist. The solider was there again, and demanded to know who came—the nobleman declared “It is I!”. When asked who “I” was, the nobleman asked for his sword. But a terrible horseman with no head rode out, seized him, and vanished with him into the country side. The solider drove away the servant with his sword.

HillsTyrol.png

In County Durham, England, there is another haunted and wretched hill. There is a strange story of a hill in Scotland, named after a dread worm. There was an heir of the Lambton family, some six hundred years ago, who ignored his obligations to God and humanity alike. Every Sunday it was his habit to go out fishing, and one such day he was raving about his woes to the local servants when his line was tugged. Thinking he’d caught a grand fish, he pulled and pulled—only to find a horrific, pale worm with many hooked teeth and eyes. Horrified, he fought with the thing—which would not let go of his wire. At last, after speaking with a stranger, he tossed it down a well. Where it grew.

And grew, and grew, until it was too big for the well. The worm rose out and grew so large it was able to circle a nearby hill three times—the hill thus named Worm Hill. The creature then laid waste to the countryside. The household of the heir worked hard to find a solution, the heir himself having repented and gone to wage some foreign war—perhaps service in the crusades.  The creature cannot be stopped until seven years later the heir returns. Taking advice from a local sibyl, the heir places a suit of armor filled with spears near the great worm. The sibyls only demand was that he promise to kill the first thing he came across on his way home, or a curse would lay on his family to never die in their own bed for nine generations.

Lambton Worm.png

The heir did so and the serpent assaulted his armor. But the spears struck into its pale flesh, even as it wrapped tighter and tighter.  At last, it bled so the entire river ran red, and the heir struck the creature dead. He sounded his horn in victory, and his father ran out to greet him. The heir was struck, and could not bring himself to kill his father. So he sounded again in terror, and killed the hound that ran out. But the curse held true.

Another hill in the Northern Counties held a poisonous winged creature, that frequently flew out and wrapped itself around Wormington—hence the name. This creature lived in a cave in a hillside.  The panic the creature inspired was so great that villages ten miles away considered abandoning their homes.  At last a champion stepped forward, and after his normal weapons failed, took some peat covered in pitch and shoved it down the beasts throat. The worm suffocated and its death contractions still mark the hill with spiral patterns.

A mountain in Italy bears lights for a terrible tale—one that I feel ought to have been exhumed from our work with the devil. Pietro Balliardo is the origin of this strange flame on a hill. This man had gained divination powers and command of the devil from a small bookshop. One of the first things he does is get revenge on a woman who refused him—she is found one night, burning atop a Mount, and all who pass by must stir the flame regardless of their will.  He did other outrageous acts, a small Faustus of Italy who in his time repented his ways.  I am sad to say he does not typically die, although he does beat his breast with a stone until he bleeds

Spook Light Hill in Indiana is a particularly haunted hill it seems, with strange ghostly lights. One source of these lights is an old man, looking for his daughter’s head—his daughter took a nasty horse-and-buggy crash a while back, and her head was cut clean off. Another explanation, related, claims it was a farmer who fell off his plow and somehow cut his own head off on the plow. Yet another story says it a ghost of a father from the 1800s. He wouldn’t let his daughter date, until one night she convinced him to let her date a solider. The solider apparently killed her, as her body was found outside the next day and the man is still hunting.  Another story says instead it is from an old couple. One night they went out looking for a lost cow and her calve. The next morning the woman fell into an open grave and died—years later the man died of natural causes. And yet they are still seen looking for the old cow.  The lights, however, remain and won’t say why.

Hills England.png

From Cambridgeshire, we have hills formed of a dispute between the giant Gog and the giantess Magog. Every day they quarreled in their cave until Gog declared he would kill her. Magog fled at once, and out ran him easily. Gog then took up some nearby earth and threw it at Magog. He missed, creating the first hill. He missed again, making a larger hill. But the third struck home, and buried Magog alive—this made the highest hill yet. Similar stories in Shropeshire tell of giants who made the hills by hurling stones and dirt at each other across rivers and the valley.

From Herefordshire, the story of the creation of Robin Hood’s Butts relates to the old trickster Satan. Having learned the people of Herefordshire were building churches and cathedrals and leaving his way of life, he gathered up a number of stones to level the city of Hereford. A passing monk, however, came across him on the road and learned of his intent. In disguise, he taught him all about the corruption of the church and priestly offices—and convinced the devil to go home, abandoning his stones to from the two hills.  Some versions replace the devil with Robin of Loxely, who has set out to destroy the monks of a monastery with Little John. They come across a cobbler, who tells them that the monastery is too far to ever reach. Little John and Robin Hood give up, again leaving the stones to form the hills.

In Ireland, a number of old forts were believed to be inhabited by fairies, or perhaps at one point by the Danes—whether these Danes are from Denmark or are simply named the same is unclear, as they are recounted as diminutive red-headed men and woman, something like dwarves. It was said that when these forts were inhabited, and they wished to communicate across long distances late at night, they would light great fires to signal from far away. In at least one circumstance, leveling of an ancient fortress on a hill resulted in the sudden death of every workman who participated in the leveling. Later rumors of great tunnels underneath, where oxen could plow, began to spread. This cemented it as a fairy home.

HillsKenya.png

To end our collection of tales, a more happy, less horrific fire on a hill comes from Kenya. Here we are told a man with a beautiful daughter promised to marry her to anyone who could spend all night in the nearby cold lake.  The lake was not only cold, but apparently the gathering place of man eating creatures and animals. A young man decides to go, despite his mothers pleading—for he is in love. So he goes and sits in the cold water. His mother, however, followed him. On a small hill, forty paces away, his mother placed a pot and started a fire. The light frightened away the animals. When the son saw it, he was glad for his mothers love that saved him. The man, however, tried to refuse the marriage since he claimed the fire had warmed the pot. A brief ruling by a judge, however, settled the matter.

The fire on the hills story then is the source of many strange creatures and activities. I have not even begun to discuss what first occurred to me with fires on a mountain—great and ancient shrines and revels, from Zoroastrian to Celtic in origin. The ghosts and monsters here, the strange fairy fortresses, even the unknown Danes provide us with something uncanny. As I said, hills are often associated with power. What is going on up on that hill? Can you bear to see what is lighting on that strange hill?

Bibliography

“The Fire on The Hill : African Folk Tales : Fable : Animals Stories.” English for Students, http://www.english-for-students.com/The-Fire-on-The-Hill.html.

Andrews, Elizabeth. Ulster Folklore. E.P. Dutton, New York. 1919

Buck, Rachel Harriette. Roman Legends: A Collection of Fables and Folklore of Rome. Estes and Lauriat, Boston 1877

Tibbits, Charles John. Folk-Lore and Legends, Germany. J.B. Lippincott, 1892.

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

Leather, Ella-Mary. The folk-lore of Herefordshire. Jakeman&Carver, Hereford. 1912

Henderson, William. Notes on the Folklore of the Northern Counties of England and The Borders. W. Satchell and Peyton Co. 1879

James, Maureen. Cambridgeshire Folk-Tales. The History Press. 2014

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The Old House

This Week’s Prompt: 95. Horrible Colonial farmhouse and overgrown garden on city hillside—overtaken by growth. Verse “The House” as basis of story.

The Prior Research:The House on the Hill.

I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t for the rain.

The rain started on the third day. A light drizzle, something to mutter and grumble about. George complained a bit about spoiling the clothes he’d brought. I shrugged it off. The two of them looked like they could find a dry cleaners easy, and a little rain wouldn’t damage much. The woman, Lisa, was quieter about it, but she’d been quiet the whole trip.

The drizzle grew insistent and heavy. The clouds turned dark overhead and slowly rumbled. The sky was ready to burst down. I looked around for shelter then. The hard ground  meant a flood was almost guaranteed. A flash flood like that was dangerous for me—exceptionally dangerous for these two. High ground was better. Of course, at the top was the best yet.

I sighed as I saw the old house.

AbandonedHouseCloudColors.png

“You sure no one lives there?” Lisa asked as we hiked up a bit, nearly tripping on some stones.

“I’ve made this trip dozens of times—never seen a car parked or a light on.” I said. Well. I had seen a light on. But if there’s an abandoned building that teenagers or homeless folks won’t repurpose for a night, well. I haven’t heard of it. It being so…unused meant there was probably a reason for that.

“Seems…fishy.” George said, looking at the old building. More whining. The distant rumble of thunder overhead settled the matter, however.  In we went.

The house wasn’t well kept. I mean it was better than I’d expected—most of the wall paper still there, and only a few holes someone had punched in, probably a vain attempt to find copper wire—a house like this thought? I’d be surprised if electricity ever ran through it. The stairs were intact. Still smelled like mold, even in a dustbowl like this.

As I went upstairs to find some blankets, tossing George a lighter to start a fire, the down pour began. There was a sigh on the wind and then a roar from the ceiling. Upstairs there were about…five rooms.  I did a quick check, make sure we hadn’t walked into someone’s business. There was dripping from one of the rooms. A leak to keep an eye out for, but there wasn’t a real bed in there so it didn’t matter.

As I paced back across to check another room, I heard them muttering down stairs.

“I’m just not sure—I mean, I love you, but your sure your cousin can set us up?” Liza murmured.

“Of course he can. I sent him that letter ages ago.” George said. I heard the frustrated clicking of the lighter and then the sharp inhale of a flame.

“That’s…that’s true. Do you have the one he sent back?”

“Don’t worry about it.” George muttered. I stepped carefully across the hall, forcing open an old locked door.

“I’d just feel better if—”

“Don’t worry about it.”

No one inside, but some pictures. Most worn down, with rusting metal frames and cracked glass covers. Someone had smashed it maybe—I don’t know how time breaks glass. Family of three it seemed. Must have been well off folks, with portraits like these. As I fold the old sheets, I noticed something a little odd. The pictures weren’t of the same folks in the room. I mean, I guess they were family. There’s never been a grove like that. Never been a field like that since well—well, I guess the house was old. Risky, leaving well off relatives behind to hit off on your own.

I thudded down the stairs, and could feel the silence between George and Lisa. I hated bringing over eloping kids and newlyweds. Making it across isn’t fun or easy, and slapping young love’s euphoria in the face makes them either unbearably happy or utterly miserable.

“Alright, bundle up at least.” I said, walking in. George was sitting on the floor, prodding a dim fire. Lisa was sitting on the couch, looking out the window. The storm was battering away, but the walls muffled the roaring. There was another boom of thunder, and a flash of lighting. The spiderweb cracks on the glass were sprayed back by the light.

FireplaceGhostHouse.jpg

I tossed Lisa the blanket and through the sheets over the window. Block out the rumbling as much as we could.

“We should get some shut eye.” I said, looking over at George, who grunted in reply.

“Shouldn’t someone keep watch? I mean, in case someone comes looking or—”

“No one’s coming in this weather.” George said, cutting Lisa off, and standing up. “Worst we have to worry about is the roof caving in or something. And I didn’t see any tree—”

There was a loud thud above us. We all stared at the ceiling, waiting and watching. Another thump, a bit softer this time. Then a crashing sound.

“I’ll go check it.” George said, holding a hand up to Liza. “Since I’m apparently so reckless.”

“George that’s not what—” Lisa said, sitting up a bit.

“No, no, it’s fine. Probably just a possum or something.” He grumbled, grabbing an iron poker and walking up the stairs. I glanced at Lisa nervously. But I held my tongue. No need to pry. Lisa was looking at the fire, pulling the blanket close.  There was another clatter, and I took the opportunity to escape the silence.

George was digging through the room with the dripping sound—looked like a small cupboard, with tin foods and such. Frontier house like this, must have been striking out new ground.  George was kicking a box to the side—some smashed plates next to it. He sighed a bit, looking at the rest.

“Not even a cat. Wind must have shaken it all down.” He said. “Damn. A stray might have been worth it.”

“Its not far to the other side.” I said, shrugging. “No need to worry yet, everything’s in order. I know a few guys who can make sure you two get across and—”

“Yeah, no need to tell me that.” George said waving his hand as pushed past. “I know we’ll be fine. Worst case, Joe didn’t get my letter—and that’s a really bad worst case—and I’m sure he’ll be happy to lend a hand. This isn’t the first time this happened. She’s just…” George waved it off again. “Is there like… a proper bed or something in here?”

“Uh, sort of.” I said, gesturing towards the bedroom. Later, I realized the dripping had stopped in the cupboard—never found out what it was. Maybe some dust had sealed the leak or something.  The wind was picking up a bit.

The rain clattered against the bedroom walls as we paced about. George found the bed felt…wrong. Layers of dust and the occasional tear from an animal—one long set running down that I noticed scratched down the floor. We lingered on the pictures some, the families.

“Bet these are hers.” George said, running his fingers along the edges. “They’ve got the same eyes, same hair. There are more of them. Probably worried about her…moving so far away, from all the green and coasts and such. Give anyone a fright.”

I shrugged. Never was one for sympathy with the dead you never met.

“Wonder why they left these behind.” George said, looking around. “It’s a nice house…You’d think they’d take it with them.”

“Not worth staying up here.” I said, looking around. No need to frighten folks with old stories of old houses. “The roof giving in could be a problem and…well, I guess if there’s an attic, this isn’t literally the worst place.”

“Basement?”

“Can’t build basements out here.” I said, heading back to the hall. “Ground’s too hard—won’t give that easy.”

Rain.png

Down stairs, we found Lisa staring at the curtains, frowning and still bundled tight.  The feeble glow of the fire barely reached her face. There was something in that room, unseen and for now unspoken. There was something tugging at us, something wrapped around my throat. Soemthing numbing and full of panic.

We didn’t sleep that night. I don’t remember much else from it—I sat alert in a rocking chair, watching the fire. I know they fought again, with a few barbed words. But honestly, that place was so loud. The rain was shaking the entire place, and even as it muted and muffled the thunder’s booming…That house was maddening. The wind and rattling metal—I heard arguing upstairs, shouting and smashing. Its no wonder no one stays long in that old house.

We left the next morning, not talking or stopping for breakfast. Not a word about last night. I made sure we left everything behind—there had to be a reason no one had stripped the pictures of silver frames. I didn’t want to know why.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

This story was…well. I like some of the ideas, but I think more strangeness at the house was warranted. I don’t think I had enough interaction to build a mood of hostility and dread and discomfort that would substitute the actual presence of ghosts. Perhaps more screen time to the couple, and cutting the third member? Using the remains of the building to reflect on the difficulties of the relationship or heighten tensions…aw well.

Next week, back to hills and dales! Come and see, the strange fires over yonder!

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