Waterfalls

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This Weeks Prompt: 115. Ancient castle within sound of weird waterfall—sound ceases for a time under strange conditions.

The Resulting Story: FORTH COMING

Waterfalls are the source of a number of strange spirits and stories, often based on what is just behind them.  Given the description of an ancient castle, we will begin our examination of the spirits here with a few European creatures. The first ones I found in my searches were located in Northern Europe, especially Iceland. A mighty troll in Arrow-Oddr’s Saga from Iceland, named Ogmunder, has a mother who is all the fiercer (a hold over or comparable example to Grendel’s mother). She is described as fanged and with long claws and a mighty tail, each holding a sword. Her shout was enough to kill five men, and before her slaughter ended, she slew sixty men.  This grotesque transformation is defeated by the hero, using a magic Irish shirt and dwarven arrows, but for our purposes its important to note the power of sound and that Ogmunder’s mother dwelt under a water fall.

The Fossegrim are a type of spirit, more alluring then the trolls, that live beneath waterfalls in the North of Europe. These spirits perhaps fit the description Howard wanted even more—they play a fiddle beneath the waterfall, with wind and water as the source of their sound. They can play so well that furniture and trees will dance to the tune. If one makes an offering to the spirit of sufficient quality, they will teach this talent for music to the supplicant, such that the student can play so well the trees will dance. If the offering, a he-goat or some mutton stolen from a neighbor, is not sufficient they will only the pupil how to tune the instrument. That might be better in any case—the instruction of a Fossegrim involves pressing the fingers to the strings so tightly that they begin to bleed.

A more dangerous creature in Norway, however, is the Nok. The Nok is a greedy water spirit, demanding human sacrifice every year. It can transform into any number of valuables, and those who touch it in this form fall under its power. At least one lived under a water fall, and caused the death of many persons until at last a priest arrived. Journeying into the river with four stout men, the priest managed to seize the Nok and drive him into a nearby stone mound—and the creature has bothered none ever since.

Moving away from one island, we’ll cross to a place where it is wealth that hides behind the waterfall. In Bohol, during the war between the Americans and Filipinos (narrator’s statement, not my own), a tree was found growing in front of a water fall—an indescribable language covered the tree, and behind the waterfall dwelled a wealthy spirit.  This spirit gave a poor girl money and jewelry, under the condition she told no one where she got it. Her mother however eventually forced her to reveal the origins of the wealth—and soon it was entirely gone.  When the Americans went to find the treasure themselves, it was impossible—the weather turned against them, even if it was sunny out. This follows a tradition of lost treasures in the Philipines.

In Sagada, we have another story of waterfalls—one that is a bit more comical. Here a man and a woman, who are waterfalls, dwelled for sometime. They irrigated Sagada, pleasing the people and rice fields of the area—but not the inhabitants of Tetep-an. They were a jealous people, and so would go to the water falls and drop pots and cigarettes and other things into the waters.  The waterfalls tired of this, and the wife asked to move—the husband waterfall agreed, and they moved to a secluded place called Todey. However, this didn’t please the wife. Here she could not be seen! What was even the point! So again they moved back. And again, the Tetep-an dumped trash in them, until the lady waterfall was again asking to move. Now, the husband was tired of moving and did not want to break their new lease—yet the wife persuaded him with several blows with a heavy club. The pair then moved to Tadian, where they remain admired for miles around to this day. From afar, you can still see Mr. Waterfall’s hunchback from the last bout with his wife.

In Japan, there is a story that I haven’t been able to find an English text for. This story is centered around the Joren falls of Izu. A wood cutter was sleeping near the falls when he awoke to find spiderwebs around his legs. Confused, he placed them on a nearby tree—and the tree was torn into the waterfall. The spider spirit there, a jorōgumo, had meant to ensare him. The man told the village of this, and most people sensibly avoided the place. One day, a foreign wood cutter came and chopped axe near the falls—only to lose hold of the axe and drop it into the watery basin. AS he left, despondent, a beautiful woman with dark black hair appeared and returned it to him. She warned him, however, to never tell anyone of what he’d seen. The man kept the secret for a time, but eventually it wore on him. He got drunk at a banquet, and revealed it to the whole crowd.

The man went to sleep…and never awoke. In another, more nightmarish version, he was pulled outside by an unseen string—and was found floating near the falls. This is the bad ending. Another tale from the same area has the man fall in love with and visit the beautiful black haired woman—but each visit he grows weaker and weaker. A nearby priest realized he was taken in by the spider woman, and proved so by reciting some sutras to keep her strings away. Nonetheless, the man went to ask the local tengu, as lord of the spirits of the mountain, for the woman’s hand in marriage. The tengu denied him, but the man went back to his spidery lover and was never seen again.

Our final story set comes from Niagra Falls and it is a set I’m…suspicious of. The first one tells a story about a cave behind Niagra falls. The Seneca were suffering greatly—first crop failure, then an epidemic.  One day a young Seneca girl was bathing in the waterfall, when a large rattlesnake attacked her and she stumbled into the rapids, down into the cataracts. The water swirled her into the Cave of the Winds. Here she found the Good Spirit of Thunder of lightining who created mists and clouds. The spirit told her the Evil Spirit of famine and starvation also lived here, and commanded a great water snake. This snake was poisoning the water that the Seneca were drinking. The spirit told the girl that they must move away from the falls to survive. The Good Spirit would follow, and strike down the Evil Spirit and the Water Snake if they followed. And when the tribe arrived at their new home, they found the dead water snake behind them and the evil spirit hanging from a pole.

Then there is the story of the Maiden of the Mist. I have two sources for this, both primarily online. The first is frankly a conversion story—it claims the Iroquis regularly sent people over the falls in canoes as offferings to a water spirit. A French explorer and missionary protests the sacrifice of the Chief’s maiden daughter, but is ignored. The maiden is sent down over the falls—and to the shock of all, the Chief in grief followed her in a canoe. The two then became spirits so pure that the roar of the falls was like music to them. The maiden became the Maiden of the Mist while the Chief became the ruler of the cataract.

There is then the story of the Maiden of the Mist presented on the Niagra falls website. This one says a suicidal widow drove her canoe over the edge, praying to Heno the Thunder Spirit, who dwells in the falls, that her courage would not fail and that she would pass quickly. As she went over, however, Heno caught her in his arms and took her to live with him and his sons. She eventually married one of them, and lived beneath the falls, having a young son. She wanted, however, to see her people again.

Heno then tells her, one day, that a great serpent had descended down to poison her people’s water and devour them until they are wiped out. The Maiden requests one hour with her people to warn them, which Heno grants. The serpent, seeing the people were gone, tried to pursue them upstream. Heno, hearing it hiss, killed the serpent. The body of the serpent, vast as it was, redirected the falls and caused the water to rain directly into the god’s home. So he and his family ascended up to the sky—there Heno thunders like he once roared in the falls.

These stories…well, they feel off to me. The idea of a thunder god beneath the falls and a watery serpent makes sense, but on the other hand a maiden sacrifice to a poisonous water snake is close enough to Continental folk stories that I’m suspicious of it.

Regardless, for our story, what do we have? Well, we have the idea of sacrifices to the water. The noise of a water fall, either a roar or musical tone, stopping seems to indicate displeasure. And certainly, a silent waterfall would be unnerving. The nature of music in Lovecraft—as something that the outer gods communicate with—might lend an otherworldly-ness to the affair. But we don’t need to go that far. The waterfall contains a few elements at its base here: a treasure (either a spirit or a literal treasure) that is a secret from most, a sacrifice that is made to the waters, and the danger of its loss if someone learns the truth. Placed near a castle, perhaps we should expand to a family secret or rite, at the base of the water or in the cave hidden behind it. Perhaps also keep the strange and otherworldly spirit that lives there, just out of site.

Biblography

 Benjamin ThorpeNorthern Mythology: comprising the principal popular traditions and superstitions of Scandinavia, north Germany, and the Netherlands, 3 vols. London: Lumley, 1851–52, OCLC 656592812, Volume 2 Scandinavian Popular Traditions and Superstitions,

Kelly, Piers. “Excavating a Hidden Bell Story from the Philippines: A Revised Narrative of Cultural-Linguistic Loss and Recuperation.” Journal of Folklore Research, vol. 53, no. 2, 2016, pp. 86–113. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/jfolkrese.53.2.04. Accessed 20 July 2020.

Puhvel, Martin. “The Mighty She-Trolls of Icelandic Saga and Folktale.” Folklore, vol. 98, no. 2, 1987, pp. 175–179. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1259977. Accessed 20 July 2020.

Scott, William Henry. “Sagada Legends.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 74, no. 291, 1961, pp. 57–62. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/538199. Accessed 20 July 2020.

“Jorōgumo.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 4 May 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jor%C5%8Dgumo.

“The Original Legend of the Maid of the Mist.” Niagara Falls Reporter, Niagara Falls Reporter, 13 Dec. 2014, http://www.niagarafallsreporter.com/Stories/2014/DEC16/MaidLegend.html.

Welker, Glenn. “Niagara Falls.” Indigenous People’s Literature, 8 Feb. 1996, http://www.indigenouspeople.net/niagara.htm.

Welker, Glenn. “The Sacrifice at Niagara Falls.” Indigenous People’s Literature, 8 Feb. 1996, http://www.indigenouspeople.net/sacrific.htm.

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Lose your Head!

This Week’s Prompt:90. Anencephalous or brainless monster who survives and attains prodigious size.

The Resulting Story:The Body of Veled

Anencephalous is a creature that lacks a head—the connection that has with brainless should be obvious. The notion here seems to be that a creature is not born brainless, but rather executed or in some other way rendered brainless/inert/headless. Decapitation, however gory it may be, is a common theme in myth and legend however—just as surviving is.

The first creature this reminded me of is Xingtian, a man who made war on the Yellow Emperor Huangdi. As is the case with most men who make war on Heaven, he failed and was executed for his rebellion—his head was buried underneath a mountain for good measure. Nonetheless, his body lived on. He formed eyes where his nipples were, a face where his belly button was, and took up his shield and ax to dance in defiance of the emperor still.

XingTian.png

In Hinduism, we have a Rakshasa named Vishvavasu, who began life as a celestial musician—a role he shares with Xingtian, who in one account composed music for the workers in the field. He preformed rituals to earn a boon from Vishnu, and asked for immortality. He then made war on Indra, convinced that he couldn’t possibly loose. Indra struck him with a thunder bolt, sending his head into his body. He was cursed to remain such, until Rama cut off his arms. Some versions say before warring with Indra, he delighted in seducing maidens and attacking monks, drunk on power. He is described as “as big as a mountain, dark as a black cloud, with pointed hairs all over his body and looked fierce with a voice as loud as thunder. He had an eye on his stomach, round and yellow, emitting a glare like a fire-name. Looking wicked he thrust his big tongue out of his huge mouth licking the sides”. After he is freed from his curse, he provides counsel to Rama on the proper direction to take his war with Ravana.

A dread asura had a similar fate. Named Svarbhanu, at the churning of the cosmic ocean he managed to acquire some of the Amirta of the gods. Before he was noticed, he drank it in the darkness and became immortal. While an Avatar of Vishnu was informed by the sun and moon, and with a chakram blow cut Svarbhanu in two—his head and his body. Rahu and Ketu, as they are now known, lived on nonetheless. Rahu in particular became the diety of solar eclipses and meteors, an inauspicious force in astrology.

Rahu.png

Connected to Rahu is Kirtimukha. Once, Rehu was sent to demand that Shiva give up his bride, Parvati, to his immortal master Jalandhara. Jalandhara’s own life is a fascinating story, but the relevant part is his end. Shiva in a rage set forth a bolt from his third eye, that manifested as a terrifying and hungry lion. Rehu begged for mercy, and Shiva acquiesced—the lion was told instead to devour itself. It did so, until only it’s face remained, to be the head of glory outside temple walls.

Continuing our story of vast growth and wars against the gods is Ullikummi. Deaf and blind, Ullikummi was placed by the god Kumarbi to overthrow the storm god Teshub. Ullikummi grew without being noticed, rising off the back of the world supporting giant. This genderless pillar of volcanic material does their job well—Teshub’s thunder cannot harm them as they continue to grow. He abdicates his throne, and descends to Ea, who dwells in the dark waters of the underworld. There, a great and primal cutting instrument or knife is acquired, and used to chop off Ullikummi’s feet, sending him toppling down. Thus the senseless growth of the volcano is curbed before reaching all the way unto Heaven.

Ullikummi’s war with a thunder god and his apparent invincibility, as well as the importance of a cutting weapon in his defeat and volcano symbolism, has lead to parallels with Tyhpon, a regular feature on our discussions. Typhon does on some occasions lose one of his heads—but this is usually a self inflicted injury, as the head becomes a terrible dragon with which to guard Zeus’s wounded body.

Aztec Decapitation.png

Among the Aztecs, we have a more famous beheading. After the moon and stars were born, the Earth Goddess Coatlicue became pregnant again by a ball of feathers. The moon goddess, Coyolxahqui, became convinced that this sudden and miraculous birth was a dishonor on the family name, and with her four hundred brothers she came to slay the her mother. One of the stars, however, went out and warned the unborn child of the coming battle. The newly born god, Huitzilopochtli, emerged fully armed and armored. He slew his brothers and sister, scattering them in every direction. More than one later narrative specifies that the head of the moon goddess was thrown upward, into the sky where it stays to this day—chasing her brother sun to devour him.

In Northern Europe, we have other headless creatures. We can consider, for example The Green Knight who’s head game has been mentioned before (here and here). The Celts had a reputation as head hunters in the Mediterranean but the exact meaning of their decapitations is still disputed.

Cephalore.png

There is also the recurring image of the saint who carries their own head (a Cephalophore). Some simply walked off with their lost heads. The most famous, St. Denis, picked up his own decapitated head and wandered off—he preached for a time about the nature of penance, before finally moving on. Many more saints followed suit—most went to a local church or holy site, preaching as they went. A few mounted a horse or camel and spoke with lost relatives one last time, before finally leaving. This form of decapitation survival calls to mind the final fate of Orpheus—Orpheus, who was decapitated by the Maneads, and sent down the river. He sang the whole way down, until passing into death. Like the Saints, parts of Orpheus were stored in temples.

HeadlessGodess.png

The beheaded seem to have a knack for disturbing the existing order then—in some cases for good cause, in other cases for their own wicked ends. For instance, we can consider Chhinnamasta, another Hindu goddess, beheaded herself to feed two of her starving handmaidens while they were bathing in the river. In another instance, her beheading was after a battle with demons, ripping her head off to sate her rage and drinking her own blood.

A slightly stranger bodiless head is that of Hun, father of the Maya Hero Twins. When a princess of the dead spoke with him, Hun impregnated her with spit. When later on, the Hero Twins descend to deal with the lords of the dead, they have a more comparable experience. Here, one of the tests is to stay in the Bat House—and they succeed almost the entire night in their shelter, until Hunpahu peaks out. His head is removed by a passing bat god, but all is well—it is replaced with a gourd. The two go out and have their ball game match the next day, retrieving Hunpahu’s head before it can be used as the ball.

And there is the most famous of the Talking Heads, Mimir. Mimir is a Norse god of wisdom of the Aesir family. During the Aesir-Vanir war, he is beheaded but stays alive and gives Odin secret counsel. Some versions specify that Mimir and another god were sent as hostages to the Vanir. However, when it was discovered that the strong and handsome Hoenir needed Mimir to be of any use, the Vanir beheaded Mimir in rage. Odin then embalmed the head of Mimir, worked magic on it so that it could speak, and kept it for counsel. Mimir is recorded elsewhere as drinking deep from his name sake well of wisdom, at the root of the world tree.

There is also, as we discussed at length in a patreon article, the Brazen Head. These contraptions are replicas of heads without bodies, powered by occult machinery and able to answer any question asked of them. A number of scholars have possessed one—but few have finished them or made use of them.

HeadlessHorseman.png

We can also consider that lacking a head is of course a sign of death—in Journey to the West a dragon holding his own head serves as a frightening image to the Emperor, when the Emperor failed to ensure the dragon’s safety. In Ireland, the Dullhan carries its own head as a lantern and the spine of a human being as a whip. On it’s black horse, it rides until it finds someone doomed to die. Calling their name out, their soul is pulled from their body. The Dullhan thus acts as something of a horrific pyschopomp…although one that according to some accounts can be kept away with a flash of gold. In Germany, some versions warn away hunters from their accidents, while others hunt capital offenders with fire tongued hounds.

A more noble headless horseman comes from India—Jhinjhār. These warriors often lose their head when fighting off cattle rustlers—but fight on anyway. A lotus springs from their neck, and eyes grow on their chest like our other earlier immortal warriors. Sadly, after freeing the cows and returning home, he is still in the grips of fury. The woman of the town therefore must scatter indigo dust over him, sending him at last to death’s waiting grasp.

The miraculous power to stave off death then, is connected with is an almost senseless nature. Our champions are warriors, but often ones who pursue the impossible or are trapped in a state of violence. They are something like a human being, without the guiding mind, often lost in rage—yes, they lost their head, get the pun out of the system.

Our story then is about a creature of singular appetite who never ceases to grow, then. In some respects, this resembles our discussions of a mindless and senseless creator. Something large and unreasonable, that seemingly cannot stop. It is note worthy, I think, that those who don’t replace their head perish in a reasonable manner—the Saints, for instance, live without their head but not indefinitely. The many warriors and the hero twins either replace the head with another object, or convert their chest into a head. I think that what we have here is…interesting.

 

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The Little People In Life

This Week’s Prompt:55. Man followed by invisible thing.

The Resulting Story: What Was It?

The nature of the invisible, the unseen and perhaps only barely felt, is so vast that we might have some difficulty. Demons, angels, ghosts, gods, jinn, giants, the entire genre of tales concerning little people are all examples of invisible things that may follow someone home. To ease our ability to work in this context, it would serve us well to examine a piece of fiction that Mr. Lovecraft had in mind when he wrote this prompt, one that he is known to have held in high esteem. I mean the French story, the Horla.

The Horla is an alien creature, or rather an “Outsider”. The novel does not detail it’s origins, but does give a good amount of description of it’s abilities. The Horla is a sort of vampire. It is an invisible presence that haunts the protagonist and alienates him from others around him. The Horla itself feeds on the life energy of the main character as he sleeps, and drinks water while remaining utterly invisible. The Horla’s arrival is eventually traced to a ship from Brazil that the main character happened to wave at as he passed it. This sort of little gesture with vast consequences is common in stories of invisible forces haunting ones life. The Horla renders the man’s life so intolerable that he schemes either to kill the horla itself, himself, or both if that is what it takes.

TheHorla.png

From the Wikipedia Article on the Horla.

We’ve talked about the sort of insomnia the Horla generated before. But a better description, particularly when pared with a vampire, might be those creatures that are considered responsible for sleep paralysis. Jinn fall into this category, as do a variation of the witch who manifests as a cat in Italy. In old English, the term for this state is being “hagridden”, as one was…well, ridden by a hag while they sleep, leaving them paralyzed and drained in the morning. Hags of this sort can be found around the world, although a nice summary of them is here.

Other traditions from the Germans and Swedes assign this role to a goblin, the Mare, that sits atop someone’s chest as shown below. The Mare would ride non-human things as well, including even trees. In the early thirteenth century, there are accounts of a king losing his life to a sorceress’ mare that drove nightmares upon him.

Mare.png

Nightmare by Henry Fuseli

Another variation in the northern European climes is the Alp. The Alp has the distinction of drawing it’s power from a magical hat it wears at all times. The Alp will drink the blood of sleeping children and men, while drinking the breast milk of women it’s preferred victims. The Alp in many ways resembles a demon, being able to shape-shift and driven off by the cross. The alp has one more connection that is of an interest: the term Alp is etymological cousins with the term “elf”.

It is often hard to remember that elves, as we know them, are a frankly rather strange conflation. The tall, beautiful, haughty race that we find in Oberon and Titania and the Lord of the Rings are drawn from the nobles of a lineage, while expunging the parts of elves and little people who spoiled milk, that waylaid travelers, dance with them until they died, or even stole children. Even Shakespeare maintains some of the awfulness and pettiness of elves, with Puck and Oberon enchanting a man to have an asses head and conspiring to have Titania fall in love with him.  The danger of elf shot, a chronic pain in the limbs, was quite real. The line between elf and vampire, now rather clearly drawn in modern fiction, was less clear.

Mare2.png

A variation of Nightmare, above. It is weirdly hard to find pictures of these guys.

A non-European example of such little people, one that is more pertinent to our invisible condition, is the Pukwudgie. The Pukwudgie is capable not only of invisibility, but also of sowing confusion, creating fire, becoming dangerous animals, inflicting injuries with a gaze, and damaging the memory of their victims. While their temperament seems variable depending on locale, the capacity to wreck such havoc on the life of a human being is considerable. Why, at this rate, all they need is the want to steal life energy, and their almost a horla!

The Netsilik people have two invisible people around them. The Taglerqet are shadows that resemble human beings in appearance and society. They are visible only when they are slain. The more standard ivigut are humans who, when seen, turn into stone to hide their appearance from others. They are rumored further to feed on the stones themselves.

With that in mind, do we have a direction for our narration? Do we have a place for our story to be going? The conflict no doubt should be the sudden attraction of this invisible thing, this nameless force that follows our protagonist and does…something. While the obvious answer is to make it a hostile power, akin to the forces that follow in a number of tales from disturbing tombs of elder civilizations, the means of harm should be more precise than that. The sickening of milk, the rotting of wood, the chronic pains, the fevers, and the headaches. An invisible force that drives someone to madness and ruin over a slight, perhaps unknown or unintended, is a good basis for horror.

To dive a bit into the nature of the fear of the invisible, it does partly relate to a fear of the unknown or a fear of the unseen forces that shape the world. There are economic owners, there are cultural institutions, there are unseen forces of society and humanity that do in fact operate in the world and can drive someone to ruin without any notice. These abysses aren’t completely mysterious, but the complexity of the world can often hide the true agent of harm.

But to me, the more relatable fear that can be exaggerated from this is the fear of well…How to say this in a way that is not silly? The fear of social mores. The fear of unseen rules of conduct violated. The fear that, without meaning to, you have made a powerful enemy or offended someone. It’s a fear of the unknown, I suppose, but more concrete than that. It’s not that you don’t know, it’s that not knowing will invariably lead to you coming to harm.

In this mold, than, our main character should have offended these forces in a way that is hidden in the narrative. No special attention can be given to it, or the offense and the anxiety of the unknown is too great. It would serve even better to hide the small offense that drew the invisible down by having the main character do some great insult to another power. The paranoia that could fester at chasing the wrong issue as the source of misery would be a good source of tension and gives the story some structure. We begin with the offense, then move to the consequences, then seeking remedy in the wrong source, more consequences, and the final revelation of the true source of the suffering.


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