Mountain out of a Man

This Week’s Prompt: 70. Tone of extreme phantasy. Man transformed to island or mountain.

The Prior Research: The Root of the Mountain

The land of Loni was once a flat and unmarked plan, a grassland that rolled on and on. It was disturbed, only slightly, by circular wood at it’s center—a wood of white, straight trees rising with branches outstretched towards heaven. It was in this small wood that the lone permanent inhabitant of Loni sat. Back to bark, the old monk sat crossed legged with eyes closed. At his feet a bronze bowl had been placed by some traveler over Loni. Scraps of paper and coin were in it’s bottom, but the meditative man was unaware. He had come this far for its isolation, for while there were lands that Loni sat between, it was deemed cultivatable and undesirable by most—a waste with a thin layer of grass over it by reasonable folk, and a haunted and spirit filled land by wise ones.

Pando1

Of course, no picture of Londi exists. Pando, a tree that has become a forest, is the closest we have in the modern day.

The mendicant had been mediating beneath the tree for over a decade, living on the earth’s slow breath and dew of morning. His thoughts lost in the depths of the cosmos, in passing he resembled a statue So it was that the rain and storms did not bother him. He was aware of them distantly, as if he observed them from afar. Nor was the brush fire that wrapped around the woods of any bother to him, for he had set his mind beyond such things.

Once, a bolt of lighting struck the tree he sat beneath, splitting it open and igniting the wood into a blaze that consumed all of it but the mendicant. Unmoved, he did not notice the seeds that fell into the ashes around him and on top of him. He was like a stone as roots spread across his limbs and legs, as trees embraced his form for stability. From afar, one could see that the new trees had grown a few feet taller, as proof the old man remained. Some drew close, and found his old bowl still there, at before the rooted statue that seemed trapped and bound by the trees.

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The rusting bowl was taken, by those who traversed the plains, to be a site of offering. Seeing to appease the the man beneath the trees, some gave him coin for good fortune. And those who later had good fates ascribed them to him, returning with greater gifts. Stories spread of the old man beneath the trees, of his power over wealth and wonder. Grant him coin, it was said, and he would guide the traveler to wonders. Or that he stood guard over some majestic treasure, or could from a far cure sickness. The old man himself noticed only the odd child who poked his nose or disturbed his peace in some other way. He could not but smile, shifting branches and roots with a small grin. Still the trees grew around him, a halo of plant life around his head. Otherwise, his mind remained away from the world, roots now dug deep.

Over time, the gifts around the old man grew vast indeed. Gems rested his legs, staves at his side bedecked with serpent and ox heads. Animals from far and wide had been left for his care, and grew to inhabit the forest. Images of loved ones in need of his thoughts, or of homes that people hoped to see, were thick on the floor around his bowl, making small walls. Abandoned swords, given up in oaths to him, or drinking horns cracked with oaths to him, the little god beneath the trees, accumulated around him. Such abundance could not help but be tinder.

In time, the place had become known as a place of pilgrimage and holy power. Loni had known no temples or kings, a land of itinerants and travel, of nameless shapeless spirits and ghosts. But not far off, a horse-lord heard of the treasures of the old man, and set to have them as his own. Gathering his arms, he rode with iron and fire to the woods, now thick in the center of the plains. The grass was dry that year and drought had settled in.

None of the men tried to move the old man, so covered in ash and roots and dead plant matter that he looked like a crude statue. As the nest of trees above him tumbled down, they could feel his breath on the ground, rising and falling without fail. Though they robbed him of many gems and weapons and tributes, they would not lay hands on those nearest him. And so the heated metal, the ashes of the trees and blackend roots settled on the shoulders of the old man, who’s long petrified bones and skin held it up.

After they returned with their loot, the plains of Loni were still and quiet. The years were burned into layers, into a hill of rotted and burned cinders. Decades layered upwards, rising over the grass lands. The animals had mostly escaped the fire, although they congregated around the hill often. The old man’s visage could still be seen slightly by those passing by—the small dents in the hill resembled eye sockets from afar, the ridges along the side might be construed as elbows. And the larger dent before the hill was commonly called “The Saint’s Bowl.”

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Slowly, stories spread outward again of the old hill where miracles happened. There were tales that it was a great giant who had passed on, or that the mound was some old spirit. Those who remembered the old days thought it some holy place, and remembered the strange god beneath the trees. Regardless, once the rains came, the woods and plains grew again. With them pilgrims and travelers came again. Now they built, atop that hill, a village. At first a small temple and inn—but in time farms and houses. The area of the old forest was fertile with fallen ash. What was once waste was now farms, and what was once a stop along a voyage became a destination of its own.

The path through Londi was always a path, but with no safe haven it was considered an unfortunate and impossible one. The small shrine before was a place for travelers to rest, but no long caravan could make much there. The plains were to vast, to isolated, for long journeys regularly. But now, at the heart, a small town grew. The five grains could grow there, and there were beds for travelers. The rains collected at the bass of the hill, a small lake that water might be drawn from.

Tales were told of the hill, how it’s old spirit guarded the town or how it worked miracles, how deep in it’s bones a treasure lay, guarded by a fearsome thing. The town grew rich in time, and grew vast. A keep of brick stood around the head of hill, a crown of stone for the old man deep below. And this city, rich on the river that flowed across the plains, was perhaps the longest garment the old man-mountain wore.

Fire did not lay the city low—no, no flames could bring down its walls. Nor did war, although that came often along the winds. Nor did storms, that battered and broke the sky. These added to the mound, the hill rising as one wooden keep or baked brick was buried at it’s base and another built atop it. But the city stayed all the same. Even as bricks and mortar and wood came from faraway to raise the city ever higher, the people stayed. They told tales of the growing hill, and how it was once a terrible giant that came to repent its ways, or how the old father mountain granted wishes to those who innocently prayed. The groves atop the hills head, in the royal gardens, were said to be a gift from the spirits beneath the earth. And perhaps, at last, an eternity seemed atop the hills.

The old man’s mind wandered those streets at times. They were as far from his old form as the stars once were—he walked atop his form unseen, taking in every movement across his form. New families came and old families went, roots of a different sort sinking forever down. His thoughts were the thoughts of hills, clouds and fogs taken up into the sky. The children and elders felt his movements from stone to stone, topic to topic. The shifting of the breeze marked his passage. And he delighted in them, even those that were entombed beneath his skin.

The city came to an end in time, however. Not from thunder, or fire, or sword. Slowly, along the path of caravans, it crept closer. Unseen, unheard, the death came upon the breath of men. It lurked on the backs of rats, in ticks and fleas. It grew and spread outward among the crowds. The rivers of trade, of silver and gold, laid the city low. They died in droves—from beneath the mountain, the city seemed to wilt as a flower plucked from it’s home. The walls, so long standing that the seven sages might have laid them, came tumbling down with none to repair them. The houses decayed as the trees before them had, and fell into disrepair. The hill grew as it did every time, the old man’s form rising to new heights.

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Those who walk the plains around the Mountain Londi sometimes hear the whispers of an old sage, and see the grass shift in the mountains shadow. Tales tell of the great caverns that are the eyes of the mountain, small and near the top. The lake and river beside it, an overflowing beggars bowl. A fine metaphor, the wise men think, for the appearance and abundance of the mountain. With such in mind, a group of ascetics built a monastery atop the mountain, where they sit in quiet contemplation—their minds tossed out ward to the starry cosmos.


This story was an interesting change of pace from the normal horror fare. While writing it, I tried to make it a bit more than a history of a location but a story of a person-place. The choice of each layer of destruction building the mountain was partly born of the folklore stories, but also from trying to give a pseudo-reality to the transformation. Instead of pure fancy, I wanted an stretch of a real phenomenon that also avoided body horror.

Overall, I’m actually rather proud of this story. Next week, however, we go back to the horror and a tale as old as Christendom: what happens when you sell your soul to the Devil?

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The Severn Valley

This Weeks Prompt: 58. A queer village—in a valley, reached by a long road and visible from the crest of the hill from which that road descends—or close to a dense and antique forest.
The Resulting Story: The Pale Hound

Mr. Lovecraft’s love of isolated, small communities is well documented. And given one of his original sources of inspiration, Arthur Machen, it’s not too surprising to see a fondness for the wilderness and great forests. But what to make of this hidden village, that we didn’t perhaps already do with Saint Silvanus? Well, this strange village is hidden. Perhaps it is stranger than it seems.

We discussed hidden lands to some length with Irem, but I believe we can yet go farther. The village is visible within a valley, and I think to keep it separate it will be a valley not a forest, isolated and away from the world. In the world of Mythos, there is a particular valley that this brings to mind. The Severn Valley.

The Severn Valley is, of course, a real location. It is, appropriately, in Wales and is run through by the river Severn. Folk etymology suggests that the name comes from a drowned nymph, a…curious notion. Alternatively, there is also a Celtic god Sabrina who may be responsible for the name of the river.

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Some notes, however, from Welsh folklore as recorded in the 1800s. Particularly hills. Hills have a couple of associations in the Severn Valley. Giants are said to have built them, particularly the large hill Werken. The inhabitants of the hills and stones are often giants, and attempts to build churches are frowned upon by these large natives. Often, stones were thrown at the churches, in an effort to destroy them.

Such giants in their constructions often carved out sections for water to flow through, making the rivers and causeways, with their massive spades. On a few occasions, they turned theses spades on each other in fratrcidal murder. Such is giants: Grand, mighty, and quarrelsome with each other.

An even more bitter resister of the churches is the arch enemy of mankind. The devil himself often disassembled churches that were raised on hills, until at last the builders gave up and went elsewhere. The devil also built a vast roadway, which he rides. His horse is pale, like all ghostly Welsh animals, and he has a cow’s horns and feet. Should he find a sinner on his old, Roman road, he will scoop them up and carry them off.

The devil also sometimes sits atop the Stiperstones mountains, hoping to send them back into the earth and in doing so doom England. He has, of course, not managed it yet. But the devil is nothing if not persistent.

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Other mountains are haunted by Gywillion. The Old Woman of the Mountain would lead, by voices and cries, travelers up the mountains and leave the trapped in the wilderness. Other mountain faires frequently take the forms of goats. One Cadwaladar was taken away by such a goat-fae, to the meeting of such fae. He was promptly knocked off the highest mountain in all of Wales.

Further, the hills near Vicorium held once a wicked city, a heathen city that denied it’s prophet. A nearby mountain erupted and sent fire down, while the river rose in flood. The prophet survived, but searched for the governor’s daughter, who he loved. But she had drowned. And now, still on Easter, the figure of such the prophet, a Roman solider, can be seen rowing. Looking distantly for his beloved forever.

From another mountain, a Saint saw the land of a faerie king. Enraged at the faerie king’s presumption, he toured it, seeing armies with weapons of hot and cold, and dispelled them and their galmour with holy water. This apparently sufficed for him.

Alternatively, an antique forest. Faeries of the wood eat poisoned mushrooms and lead based butter, wear gloves of sedative leaves and lurk in every corner. In their ranks are the faerie fires, sometimes the will-o-wisp, sometimes the pooka. The will-o-wisp is often merely a luring fire, while the pooka takes many forms to taunt it’s prey.

Pooka

A Pooka, as illustrated by a Welshman

Some of these locations are haunted by ghostly dogs and pigs, often pale things without heads that bark or growl or hound their prey. The association of the color white with terrible creatures extends, as we have seen, to the mount of the devil. And it associated with a great hero of the region, Wild Edric. Edric, according to historians and folklorists, was a resistor to William the Conqueror.

Wild Edric’s traits are like many golden age kings. Eventually, however, he made peace with William. His lands, however, failed to stay in his family. He has since taken up residence…elsewhere. Some stories place him in a lead mine out west. Others say he rides in a wild hunt on a white horse, and if emerges during wartime, the war will be dangerous. His condemnation is said to last until the English are driven out, and all is repaid. Edric further made that awful mistake and married an elf maid. His sword is currently held by a fish-knight in the river, waiting his heir.

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So what have we then? A haunted landscape, of ghosts and faeries and lost cities and giants. Much as can be found in any place. We need now what makes the village weird. What is it, from the hill or forest, that makes this small village that is hard to see from without, strange or bizarre?

Another facet to strange here is the role of ghosts and fae as ominous. Sightings of unnatural or bizzare creatures are often signs of greater dangers or terrible fates. And there is a peculiar event that I have wanted to include in a work of weird fiction or horror for sometime now. The Carrington event, which disabled electronics around the world. Aurora’s were seen all the way in the Carribean, with those over the Rockies being bright enough to wake gold miners from their slumber.

Such an event no doubt drew omens and signs and activity from the world invisible. It is a date in time which can ground the story we tell, as much as the Severn valley grounds it in place. From here, the encounters with these omens, and whatever really caused the auroras and activity (this is horror after all. The sun is a rather dull explanation when there are so many other options) can be disclosed. Perhaps one of the giants awoke again in the hills. Perhaps some grand hunt occurred through time and space. Who’s to say?

What do you think? What strange village lies in your writing?

Bibliography

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.

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There is a Garden atop a Mountain

This Week’s Prompt: 51. Enchanted garden where moon casts shadow of object or ghost invisible to the human eye.

The Research:In The Garden I Saw A Shade

Let me tell you a story.

Once there was a mountain. The mountain was a wall of milky marble at the top of the world. It was said by wise men and sages that the core of this mountain was ice, giving it it’s hue, and that layers and layers of snow kept it so. The stones striking out of it, the dirt and dust forming a coating several feet thick, were the products of the great winds that whipped along it’s sides. These winds brought with them every storm of the world, that they might come to the summit of the world and there deposit themselves and die. So the top of this mountain was obscured from mortal sight.

It was said then and I say it now, there was a garden atop that most desolate place. How? Well, through the mountain of ice and stone ran a singluar capillary of warm water, a bubbling spring. And the winds, dreadful as they were, brought seeds from the world over. And the rains watered them as the storms sank dying, walls of clouds falling away. And such was the garden, that it was known the world over by those invisible things. Gods, demons, and magicians of the most subtle art came to the garden, blessing it with their own additions. They brought animals to hunt and run, they brought sweet companions to entertain, they brought houses and thrones, to enjoy the top of the world.

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It was said further that only one tree of worth was not planted by the gods. Priests and sages said that once, an acorn was taken on the wind. Now an acorn is a sturdy seed, and when planted gives birth to an insatiable and marvelous tree. And it must have been doubly so for this seed was whisked on the winds, through the feircest of storms. Lighting laced it, and refined it in the way that fire forges steel and purifies water. To an untrained eye, the seed was shrinking, growing thin and barely there at all. But to those with proper sight, it was a terror, glowing with vitality. It was something like a divine, waiting to be born.

And so it landed on the ground, and by it’s own will dug down.And they say, pilgrims and mystics, that a tree did grow. And from this tree a fruit, every ten thousand years, will sp ring. A fruit that holds that infinite vitality, which is invisible to the untrain eye, but casts a shadow in the full moon.

Three such pilgrims, the story goes, had made their way to the great mountain at the top of the world. The three had all grown old and foolish in their wisdom, as all do when they think themselves wise. They had traveled far from their warm homes among shifting sands, far from their monasteries and temples and scholarly halls. They knew much.

The first one, we’ll call him Ib, was the one with the notion to scale the impossible mountain, and see the garden of the gods. Ib had long desired, as a lost priest and slowly blind scholar, to see the gods before all was lost to him. It was presumed by learned men like Ib that the fruit of the tree born of thunder would given him that much, at least, if not more. Ib walked bent over with a crooked staff that at the top split in half, forming a Y shape. It was said by his companions that only things within the branches were visible to old Ib.

Nel was the second one. Nel was no fallen pilgrim. She wore a birght robe of scarlet, and a silver staff helped him up the mountain. Nel was a pilgrim who had supped all the wine of the world, and was glorious in her own time, having broken kingdoms and temples with swords and axes. She scaled the mountain after scouring the location from priests and fleeing wisemen and loyal sorcerers, who predicted to the last that atop the mountain was a power. That to surmount the world’s head would grant the conquering queen unlimtied power.

The third was a nameless one. They were neither beggar nor queen, but someone from the mass between. What was promised to the third traveler is not well remembered, and there is no small amount of disputation and disagreement on the matter. It was something of great worth to them, and to no other, yet their common nature obscures what could be of such worth. It is said, sometimes, that it was merely to taste the wonder, regradless of it’s properities, that impelled this pilgrim forward.

So the three walked up the mountain, to the top that was shrouded in whirling winds and perpetual clouds. The hike above was perilous, and lined with shrines that other, less successful voyagers had left. Frozen bodies were left, that the winds might carry them one day up to the top. The oldest were buried into the sides of the mountain or had fallen around the edge of the bottom of the great mountain. Few of the most ancient priests were no longer recognizable as men and women…of course it was possible that they were never human to begin with and were of some older and nobler sects. Their bodies were past over without much remark.

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At long last, the top came fully into veiw. And there was but a single gate, which was dimly visible beneath the thick and storm burdened fog, crackling with the dying streaks of lighting. There, at the great gate, was one of those things that are gods and demons, but niether. It stood as tall as a giant, they say, with a great sword that struck the four corners simeltaneously. The sword was cracked and broken into seven shards, but still stood in the guardians hand. For the gaurdian would not permit something as simple as age to end its weapon.

The guardian’s head was like a great golden bulls with a mask of an iron eagle. It had a robe of darkness about it, that blurred the line between it and the walls of clouds around it. With a single gleaming eye it gazed down upon the pilgrims, waiting for them to speak. For some come to the guardian for sage wisidom and leave, they say. For none have overpowered the guardian.

And old Ib approached, bowed and humble. He knelt as best he could, and muttered before the one eyed guardian the prayers for entry as known in a hundred temples. He rendered himself meek before the holy, that it might embrace him.

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And so the guardian with ease thrust him down the great mountain, to join his brother beggars and saints.

Nel stepped forward, hand upon her staff and a scarlet rob flying in the wind. Like a fire she stood, staring at the guardian defiant. It’s eye alighted on her, as she waited unmoved and unbowed. And the guardian moved aside that she might pass.

The third one gave no pause and merely walked passed the guardian, who could not make out the third figures form or nature. Nothing was so subtle that the guardian of the garden could not see it. But rather, there was too much in the third one that they were a multitude as they walked for the guardian to rend judgement. And the third one did not care for the guardian in any matter.

The Mountain Top.png

The garden within I have already spoken of, and yet it was more beutifiul then words could commune. A dim silver light, shone down, as if all of heaven was the moon. As Nel strode through the garden, she searched for the great and rarified tree of legend. She found many strange tees, with fruit like meat or limbs that had fire for sap. But no sight of the strange tree.

Nor, to Nel’s confusion, of any of the gods or spirits that frequented the garden. None, that was, until she saw dimmly on the walls a multitude of shadows of hunters riding beasts. And heard a sound all to familiar to her warrior ears, of a bowstring drawn and arrows flying. And so the queen fled the hunters in the garden. For the gods have no use for beggars, and the lords of the earth are their hunting game.

The Third One walked in ignorance, and found that legendary fruit as the gods chased the red deer. They supped on thunder and lighting, sitting beneath the tree, now a thing like it. And they faded from sight, a thing boundless like thunder and immovable like wind, descending down onto the realm of mortals on the occasion to delight in earthquakes and fires.

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