Dredged Up From The Depths

This Week’s Prompt: 60. Fisherman casts his net into the sea by moonlight—what he finds.
The Resulting Story: The Sacred Fish

We’ll need a bigger boat for what can be dragged up with this corpse. Ignoring the moonlight for a moment, fisherman have a habit of finding strange things, from the medeterrain to Japan, and everywhere in between. If we put on our symbolic lenses, the reason might be apparent. The sea is a chaos and potent place. It is where anything can happen. And so, sometimes, everything happens.

A common fisherman catch is, unsurprisingly, fish. However, strange and rare fish are easy to find. A tale from Albania tells of a golden fish, which when caught and prepared, made a woman and a horse pregnant. Both children had a star on their brow, and go on to be fantastic heroes, marrying a shape-shifting gender bending moor and a djinn woman, blinding armies with their star-marked brows, and eventually confronting the treacherous king. In Japan, a species of mermaid if caught and eaten provides immortality but misfortune. Probably because of it’s all too human looking face. In Ireland, the Salmon of Wisdom provides…well, wisdom if eaten properly.

JapaneseMermaid

A German tale, recorded by the Brother’s Grimm includes a fish that grants wishes for it’s freedom in much the same way a genie might. An older version has the Yugoslavia version, where the fish gets caught so many times it accepts its fate and instructs him to cut it into six pieces, giving two to his wife and two to his horse and burying two in the ground after granting him a castle and gold. The result is two golden boys, two golden foals, and two golden lilies. A Greek version changes it to trees. The one brother goes out to make his fortune, the other stays at home. The adventuring brother pretends to be a robber and woos a maiden, and gets married. Then, he goes to hunt a stag and asked a witch for direction. The witch claimed to know where the stag was, but turned the man to stone. The other golden child came to rescue him and had his dog eat the witch up.

TalkingFish.png

Fish also have a knack for swallowing important things. Solomon once lost his ring to a fish, and with it control over his kingdom, which was destroyed bit by bit as he was helpless to watch. Another fish swallowed a wish granting treasure(the nature of the item is not specified in my translation of the Tibtean tales). While not swallowing it, a fish does guard the sword of Wild Edric who we covered last week.

Ainu stories, recorded granted over a century ago, include the notion of fish that contain magical properties and must be proprieties after they are caught. They share this notion with the Netsilik of Northern America. Further, fish caught may belong to a creature recorded as Konoto-ran-guru, and must be returned. A creature lurking in the middle of the sea, given to him is power over all sea devils and ill currents. He prefers his subjects, the malformed fish of the sea, be returned to him.

More malicous creatures arise from the sea of course. In the Maori story of Tawaki, a race of amphibous creatures kidnap and enslave the heroes mother, spending most of their time in the sea, and sleeping on land. When dawn comes, they must return to the sea or they will die. Tawaki slays them by decieving them about the time, with help from his captive mother.

And then there are the objects that are dredged up from the sea! In another story relating to King Solomon, a bottle containing a djinn is tossed into the sea and fished up later. The poor fisherman who dragged that up died of fright when the djinn emerged. This occurred in the City of Brass story mentioned last week as well, where it was a rather regular occurrence (funnily enough, those djinn thought Solomon still lived).

Realeasing the Djinn.png

Maui, that great Polynesian super man, washed onto the shore after his mother tossed him out. He, a fisherman in his own time, brought forth the arch-typical island from the sea on a fishing trip after his wives bothered him about his lack of fishing. He warned his brothers not to eat anything on the island, and not to disturb the island. Had his brothers not disturbed it, all islands would be perfect. But they did, and the island shook irritably, generating mountain ridges. It was a titantic and terrifying effort, ruined by a bit of carelessness.

Comparable, at least in part, to the fishing trip of Thor, where the thunder god nearly lifted up his own doom, the Jomundur serpent. The fishing expedition was one of frightful experiences for the giant involved, to say the least, who then tried to kill Thor and of course failed.

ThorFishin.png

Then there are the things from the sea that come of their own accord. The sea has an odd tendency towards spirituality! First there are the sages of Mesoptamian myth, who rise from the fresh water of Abzu, bringing law and culture with them to human kind. These fish-like sages further saved humanity from the flood, before being banished back to Abzu by Marduk. Japan features the prophetic Amabie who can see when bloody war is coming.

Then there are those strange monks and bishops in Europe. The Sea Bishop was reported in Poland in the 16th century, and was held captive by it’s king for many days. After a time, however, a visiting Bishop came across the creature, and it managed to communicate it’s want for freedom. The bishops released it and, before going below, it made the sign of the cross. Another was captured in Germany, but died fasting for three days and three nights.

SeaBishop.png

The washing up of strange creatures, such as whales and giant squid, sometimes unearth terrible things in the real world. The sea, chaotic thing that it is, spits forth monstrous things every now and then onto the shore. And sometimes with horrific consequences (such as when a number of people learned not to dynamite a whale carcass, video here).

Of course, this mythology is reinforced by the reality that happens with shocking frequency. Fisherman pull up strange and bizarre catches, which make their way into museums or conspiracy theories. From ancient remains to modern technology, the sea holds many wonders strange and bizzare hostages. Again from Japan, there is a strange craft with a woman and a small box, which fishermen found in the early 19th century. They deduced that the woman was an exile from a foreign land, and as her health was failing, they returned her to her reconstructed craft and set her to sea again.

UtsoBune.png

A fascinating horror story, of things washing a shore from the depths of the seas, can be found in the story The Thing that Drifted Ashore, a short horror comic that I found here. It has some interesting notions that are often found with the sea: dreams, the dead, tragedy, and horror. I won’t spoil it here, but Junji Ito is an artist and writer that you should make a point to check out.

Our own story will no doubt begin with the discovery of the strange and sequestered item from the sea. The item or fish will have some mystifying effect, transforming the community that finds it in some subversive or disturbing way. And then it will be discovered, and perhaps suffer Innsmouth’s fate. Or alternatively, we will end with some ultimate horrific and tragic act.

Batchelor, John. Ainujin Oyobi Sono Setsuwa. KyōBunkan, 1901.
Chopel, Norbu. Folktales of Tibet. Ltwa, 2006.
Elsie, Robert William. A Dictionary of Albanian Religion, Mythology and Folk Culture. New York University Press, 2001.

Grey, George. Polynesian Mythology, and Ancient Traditional History of the Maori. Whitcombe & Tombs, 1974.

Megas, Georgios A. Folktales of Greece. P, 1970.

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

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The Shack by the Shore

This weeks prompt:22. Mermaid Legend—Encyc. Britt. XVI—40.

This Week’s Research:The Siren Song

Almost fifteen years since I last was south of the border,a little envelope floats in from Uncle Guiles asking if I can come down to coastline to the shore. He needs help managing his fishing business, it says. Only descendant not to call the police on him, it says.  Normally I wouldn’t give it a second thought. Living alone with a slightly paranoid septuagenarian surrounded by rotting fish was a childhood nightmare.

But there was a pressing argument to leave town at the time. I had made a few promises I couldn’t keep, and had perhaps thrown my end of them into the sea out of some instinctual spite. And while that was understandable to myself, the other end of the arrangement wasn’t too happy.

It was an opportunity, I reasoned as I packed my bags and began the thousand mile southern drive. A chance to go to a foreign country and remote location, where the only person who knew me well was a loon with a gun who trusted non-family as far as he could through him.  So in my borrowed car, I parked at the nearest entrance.

Locals told me that Uncle Guiles(or Rabid Rob, as they called him) lived off between some cliffs. The place wasn’t reachable by car, sand was too wet. You had to go at low tide by foot, and carefully so as not to slip into the sea. It was a far cry from his hillside house when I was little.

It hurt the eyes to look at for starters. Big house made of cobbled together concrete blocks and sheets of metal riveted on. There were some hunks of driftwood arranged into something resembling a patio, but it looked like whoever made had heard of houses, and perhaps dimly glimpsed on through a broken telescope, and then set to work. That fool of man came hobbling out to greet me almost as soon as I rounded the corner.

“Davey! There you are. Was worried you’d gotten lost along the way. How’s the States?” he said gesturing for me to follow him through a sheet metal door that had a red circle spray-painted on it. The inside was surprisingly cool, although the entrance shook with every step. The hallways were occasionally line with “artful” bits of driftwood spray painted primary colors and with seashells hanging from them on fishing line.

“As always, tearing themselves a part. You build all this yourself?” I asked as we entered what the living room. I admit, I was surprised it had real furniture.

“You know it. Can’t let anyone know the layout who isn’t living here. When it all comes crashing down, they might break in.”

“Right, right, makes sense,” I said putting down my bags down. “So, fishing giving you trouble?”

Before he could speak, there was a groan from the floor that shook the house. It wasn’t a pleasant sound, girders grinding down. Uncle Guiles paused for a moment, listening careful to the noise, his eyes drifted up to corner. It stopped after a bit, and his eyes slowly falling back.

“Oh don’t mind that. Tides and waves, they sometimes slip under the sand near the basement, shake things around. Doesn’t break the rock and foundation just shifts it around,” he said, waving his hands to shoo away any questions. “Must just be tide changing is all. Anyway, fishing, sort of. I need someone to go into town for me, errand you know? I got a nice bit saved away, but someone needs to collect the paperwork and the groceries and the like.”

I nodded along. Simple enough it seemed.

“Anyway, that’s what I need mostly. A go between with me and the  main land. But that’s enough business for now. We got until low tide comes back in the morning to work that all out. Let me show you around some.” He said, gesturing. The groaning below got louder.

The rest of the, dare I call it, house was in various states of disrepair or mid-construction. There was a thin layer of sand everywhere. But kitchen was something like clean, with clay plates and some store bought knives. The table was impressive, in that a couple hunks of scrapeyard metal resembled a proper dinning apparatus. Still, Uncle Guiles’s pride in it all was contagious.

The tour ended with the upstairs, where to my delight the bed was more than some piled together straw. I nearly collapsed on the mattress, and probably would have fallen asleep at Uncle Robinson’s chuckling if it weren’t for the still audible groaning and moaning from the walls. It seemed almost louder with more wall to resound off of.

Uncle Guiles again assured me it was just some shifting girders, nothing much to worry about. The foundation was secure and solid stone.

We stayed up a bit late that night, drinking the moonshine Uncle Guiles called beer. It was nice, for a moment, to enjoy a beer and only hear the crashing of the waves against the cliffs. In a drunken stupor, Uncle Robinson gestured for me to follow him back into the living room, to “see his treasure”.

Laughing all the way about the numerous innuendos that phrase has, I stumbled into the clattering room. It was barely lit by a lamp Uncle Guiles carried as he stumbled with the little lock. With a scrapping creak it opened up.

“What you have, some more seashell art?” I asked peering around. And then I saw them.

Behind a set of fishing nets, jewelry like you wouldn’t believe. Golden combs with inlaid pearls, necklaces with coral woven into the gold. I’ve seen lots of jewelry in my former line of work, I honestly have. But this was something else, something amazing.

“Christ, what are you doing hiding in a shack like this?” I said blinking, a moment of soberity installed by the wonder of it all.

“What, and part with it? There so beautiful, I couldn’t bear it, couldn’t bear it if they were anywhere else. Maybe when I’m gone, I’ll leave’em to someone else.” He said, reaching through and gently stroking one of the combs. The now constant hum seemed to drop in pitch a bit as he did so. Some part of me thought the sea felt him, and disliked him for it.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I could still hear the groaning, only now I faintly made out words, and pitches. A melody. I got up and paced a bit. The noise continued though, and peering through what passes for windows. The tide was going out again, seashells piling along the sides. Strange, the song was still coming from within.

It was then I realized I hadn’t seen the basement yet. Carefully stepping down the stairs, raising my foot to avoid making any more sounds. The sound grew louder and louder. But beneath it I heard someone murmuring something. I stood perfectly still on the last stair.

“That’ll do for tonight, my little fish, that’ll do. I’ll see you in the morn.”

I heard Uncle Guiles foot steps, heading into the kitchen. Quietly, I slipped around and saw the basement door open a jar. The noise, now a clear multi melody song. Deep and high, and pained. I found a lantern hanging beside the door, and gripping it, I opened the door slowly.

The flames reflection flickered back at me in a hundred eyes, a flickering multitude of pitiful forms. They resembled women of a sort, with the lower half of seals. Their teeth, needle like, showed as they made their strange song. Some had flickering blue lights along their hair and tails, some had spines like a lionfish. And …things, things like children with smooth eel skin peaked out between them. Little bits of fish and bones were scattered on the floor and hanging out of their mouths. And all their eye stared into mine.

I stumbled more than stepped back.  The lantern swung and I felt it slip. As I frantically reached out to catch myself, I saw its little flame and oil splash about as it fell. The glass shattered, and the fire spread across it. The drift wood ornaments began to catch, making torches. The metal was heating up too, I could feel sweat running down my brow.

In a short while, there was shouting from the kitchen. Uncle Guiles, well, there was no saving him I decided. He’d either sort himself out or suffer the price of building such a shoddy place. That being sad, the second thought that ran through my head was the gold. I leapt over flame and between netting to get to it. The iron closet, the jewelry. Uncle Guiles was shouting something, I couldn’t make it out over the now angry song and his own constant coughing.

“Sorry it didn’t work out, I’ll meet with you later, thanks!” I shouted, pocketing all I could carry and running out. The tide had retracted, but I was exhausted. I tripped, I hate to say, I tripped and the gold fell into the see. And then came the most awful sound.

Locals will confirm this part of the story, but even without them, I know what I saw. The sea roared, roared with an angry dirge. A wave rose, over a dozen feet tall, right in front of the now blazing house. AS I pulled myself to my feet, I saw Uncle Guiles running from the house, screaming. Hundreds of hands waited for him in the waves, grabbing and tearing at his skin.  A thunderous voice, a chorus coming to Holt’s Neptune the Magician came bursting from the crowd.

Later that morning, it will be found, the newspapers reported a particularly large mass of metal and concrete washed ashore without explanation. I made my peace with his few dependents, and took possession of a safe box with a little over a hundred American dollars. I decided that perhaps a remote mountain peak would serve me instead.

Well, the corpses ill gotten gains had a tale to tell. What did you find dear brothers and sisters?

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The Siren Song

The prompt this week is: 22. Mermaid Legend—Encyc. Britt. XVI—40.

The Resulting Story: The Shack by the Shore

This was nearly a damnable story to find, as I do not own a copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica. And if I did, well, there’s been about one hundred years, and no doubt editions would change. Luckily, however, the glorious mind-web of the Internet has preserved the Encyclopedia and in it’s current form it does contain a legend or two.

 

“Many folktales record marriages between mermaids (who might assume human form) and men. In most, the man steals the mermaid’s cap or belt, her comb or mirror. While the objects are hidden she lives with him; if she finds them she returns at once to the sea. In some variants the marriage lasts while certain agreed-upon conditions are fulfilled, and it ends when the conditions are broken.

Though sometimes kindly, mermaids and mermen were usually dangerous to man. Their gifts brought misfortune, and, if offended, the beings caused floods or other disasters. To see one on a voyage was an omen of shipwreck. They sometimes lured mortals to death by drowning, as did the Lorelei of the Rhine, or enticed young people to live with them underwater, as did the mermaid whose image is carved on a bench in the church of Zennor, Cornwall, Eng.” — Encyclopedia  Britannica

Siren

The horror in this legend is manifold, and might be illustrated by examining the mermaid’s kin in some regards. The most obvious is the Siren, who lures sailors to their death by songs.

The more immediate kin are the Swan Maidens and then Selkie, who shed skin and walk among men. And have their skins stolen to compel them to marriage. Like the mermaid, the marriage between man and selkie never goes well.

Weyland Smith

The idea of inhuman lovers being a…poor if attractive idea resonates farther north with the Valkyrie. As the story of Weyland Smith will tell you, Valkryies are beautiful warrior women, who occasionally are compelled into marriage. And then become enraged or leave, because they are spirits of death and battle, and such things are not suited to domesticity. The disconnect between human nature and the inhuman-but-beautiful was also highlighted by Lord Dunsany in The King of Elflands daughter. The horror of something so human being so alien is rife with paranoia worth fear and the effects of the uncanny valley.

The other horror is what damnable fool sees something so alien, a wonder of nature that desires him dead, and is as much beast as human…and strives to kidnap them for marriage and presumable copulation. There is deeply depraved about such a deed. Leaving aside the undertones of sexual violation, there is almost a sublime shallowness to someone who’s response to such an encounter is unbridled lust. A lust that is strong enough for one to try and violate the divine.

That sort of person is doubly unnerving, in how well they may blend with the rest of the world. The legends and tales never remark on the strange behavior of such men, despite the relatively juvenile goals of a an object of beauty. I would be a liar if I said such people don’t exist, and that they are easily recognized or somehow distinguish themselves. The element of “artistic inspiration” that may underlie these themes is given a great treatment in Sandman by Neil Gaiman.

The third aspect of this is captured, somewhat, by the story the Shadow over Innsmouth: what is the result of the inhuman coupling with mortals? Now, Mr. Lovecraft’s own point was, frankly, the fear of racial impurity and horribly insensitive and racist (as his Deep One descriptions sometimes give away). It is a simple fact. However! There is a bit more that can be taken from this, albeit from older sources.

Jersey Devil

Behold, my gathered brothers, the terror of the Gods! Their kin! The Nephilim of Apocyrhpa and Midrash stand as couplings between angel and man, and the results are terrors that prompt the flood as they ravage the earth. The heroes of Greek Myth, towering figures of might, also bear a sort of inhuman terror. The Jersey Devil reportedly has more-than-mortal stock, as a straight horror creation.

This mingling can be condemned for a variety of reasons (the violation of the profane and spiritual by the mortal, the breaking of the tradition of immortals being unable to breed, the might of immortal beings combined with the desires of mortals, sex is scary to some, etc), but such a fear persists to this day. Rosemary’s Baby plays the fear with a perverse power of generation and demonic ailments as well.

So with all the horrors in mind, how can we best exploit this? Well, for the paranoia to play out properly, we must have three characters: The mermaid, the kidnapper, and the protagonist. If we put the protagonist as the mermaid or the kidnapper, then the mystery of who is who is lost. The obvious tension in that regard is gone. The danger of generation and disturbed offspring can be worked in as a final act. The nature of such a creature is something that we will each have to determine.

Who would you throw into the disturbing house on the lake? How would you frame the terror of twin monsters, one mortal one divine? What corpse family have you found of the story?

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