A Dreadful Day For A Wedding

This Week’s Prompt: 79. Horrible secret in crypt of ancient castle—discovered by dweller.

The Resulting Story:Samson and Delilah

This week’s topic brings us to a common Gothic horror theme—the buried and forgotten secret. Especially in an ancient castle, who’s revelation undoes their very identity. Whether ghosts and bodies buried in the deep, or more recent atrocities, the dangers of things forgotten and buried is great. We discussed—in one of our most popular articles—the burial of persons beneath foundations. This sort of secret will take us to many other places. Mostly France though.

There are a few stories that relate to crypts bearing terrible secrets. One worth considering is the story of Lancelot and Dolorous Guard. Here a secret is discovered on a literal crypt—the tomb that Lancelot must be interred in after he dies. The majority of the revelation was joyous, however, as it revealed the knight’s heritage and true name. And that this castle was his. All well and good.

Lovecraft has his own story about the discovery of ancestry—the Rats in the Walls, where in our narrator learns of his heritage. His version, of course, is much more horrific. Without spoiling that story, I’ll leave a link hereThe origins of the Gothic Genre include underground churches and revelations of idenity in the Castle Ortanto—again, the revelation there is less of a horrible secret than the justification of the protagonist.

More pressing stories include those of monsters locked within castles. Here we go to France again, but later in time—the Age of Charlemagne. Here, we find Rinaldo who quests to forget his heart break over a lady love. He finds a land, where he sees a castle in a great pit. An old woman tells him a beast in the castle is kept from terrorizing the countryside, by regular sacrifices of flesh. Rinaldo agrees to venture forth and slay the beast—and attempts to do so. However, he fails at first. It is only when his love returns, and assists—over his loud protests—that the reptilian creature dies (it may be a dragon, but the description in Bulfinch does not specify. All the better I suppose.)

In Scotland, there is a similar story around Glamis Castle. There a secret chamber was used, according to tales dating back to 1840, a deformed and possibly vampiric child. Some accounts call the child a “human toad”, others as simply a strange shadow. The creature’s nature may never be known—at least one guest, the Earl of Crawford, suspected that the family invented the stories as they went along.

There is a creature that resembles this in Lovecraft as well—Byatis, a creature of Campbell’s creation that lives in the Severn Valley sealed in a stone vault beneath a great tower. The toad is a terrible creature, and knows many truths of the world that are worth keeping secret of course. The Edgar Allen Poe story, the Fall of the House of Usher, relates to a dragon as the obstacle of owning a shield and castle as well.

A more common revelation however, is not a monster locked away but a monster about. The folktales of Bluebeard in particular. The story of Bluebeard is a common one through out the world. A young woman marries a powerful and rich noble. He must leave for business shortly after their wedding, and forbids she enter one room. When she ignores him, she finds the many bodies of his prior wives. Bluebeard then either kills her, or she escapes and her family avenges herself on him.

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I mean he looks just lovely. Okay the eyes look maybe a bit crazy.

Variants of this story can be found the world over. In India, there is a version that features a tiger instead of a man or giant. The tiger fools the local brahmin, and marries his daughter. He abuses her at the home, threatening to reveal his true shape and devour her if she does not prepare meals based on what he hunts. And of course, being a tiger he hunts men and women in his woods. After a time, and a child is born—also a tiger—she sends a letter to her mother via crow, telling of this injustice. Her three brothers set out, and after some mishaps, rescue their sister and murder her child—and later her husband, when he tries to steal her back.

Among the people of Northern Canada, there is a similar story of a cannibal husband. Here the husband does more than demand food—he insists on feeding his wives salmon and nothing else to make them too fat to move. His latest wife, Mianna, outsmarts him however by eating ice and eventually making a dummy of ice to distract him. In time, she and her brothers kill Ímarasugssuaq, ending his rain of terror.

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Here old Bluebeard looks a bit creepy but less crazy.

In England, the story of Mr. Fox has a similar ogre of a man—who’s wife to be catches him kidnapping her replacement at the end and lopping off her hand! She sees this the day before their wedding breakfast, and is horrified at each step of the way. At breakfast, she reveals the grizzly reminder of the other bride, and her brothers slaughter Mr. Fox.

And there are so many forms of this story to go through! I’ve linked a collection of these folk tales here, for further investigation. The origins of the French version are debated—there is for instance, a common assumption that they relate to the serial killer Gilles de Rais. Gilles de Rais famously served with Joan of Arc in the Hundred Years War. Afterwards, he went a bit…strange. A rampant child murderer and accused occultist, Gilles lost much of his fortune perusing contact with a demon called Barron and alchemy. He eventually, after kidnapping a cleric, attracted the attention of the local Bishop. After his crimes came to light, he was executed.

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Gilles De Rais needs more urban fantasy about his terrible alchemical experiments.

The other possible inspiration is Conomor the Accursed. Conomor is a Welsh or Breton king, known for his wanton cruelty. His own story begins after murdering three prior wives—and moving to his fourth, Trephine. Trephine refuses at first, due to Conomor’s reputation. However, the king threatens to invade her fathers lands and ransack them if she does not marry him. As Conomor is away on business, she uncovers the secret room containing relics of the dead wives. After praying for their souls, she learns that Conomor will kill her if he finds her pregnant—a story has warned him that his own son will kill him.

When he returns and makes the attempt, Trephine is saved by the three wives. They rescue her, and she gives birth to her child in secret—hiding him before Conomor finds and kills her.While St. Glidas does retore her to life—and her child becomes St. Tremorous—Conomor sometimes kills his son anyway. Other versions have St. Glidas and an array of thirty bishops march on the Accursed and anathemize him. Conomor then falls ill and his soul is swept up in a river of blood. In some variations he is so wicked, neither heaven nor purgatory nor hell will have him, and so he still wanders the earth.

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There are more stories that resemble it. The story of Three Crowns, for instance, has a forbidden room and a set of keys given to the daughter of a king by an Ogress. However, in this case, the revelation is not wicked, and in fact is what gets the daughter returned to her family. The story of Agib in Arabian Nights also features a forbidden door in his travels—this time by comely women, not an ogrish brute. The door hides something strange as well. But unlike Bluebeard, it is a wonder that punishes a lack of self control—not a pile of bodies from the owner.

The message of Bluebeard stories is often debated. The most overt is a condemnation of female curiosity, in the vein of Pandora’s Box. That woman who are asking to many question get killed. However, these stories are sometimes taken in a different light. Rather than warnings against curiosity, they are warnings of the danger of husbands. In this way, they might be similar to Beauty and the Beast stories but with a much darker ending. Certainly, the horror of the story—that a fortunate marriage, which a family is in someway dependent on, turns out to be to a monstrous—is not one that has faded with time.

And then there are the similar stories of monstrous and secretive husbands that are reversed. We can talk for instance about the woman who married a crab or a dragon or a toad or even a Dog—these stories feature a similar prohibition, usually related to seeing the host. In Greece for instance we have the story of Eros and Pysche.

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Pysche is told that she will marry a horrible monster if left on a certain cliff. The winds carry here to a wondrous palace, where an invisible set of servants and invisible husband await She is told never to look at him—but comes to enjoy his visits, his singing, and his presence. In time she becomes pregnant. Her sisters eventually worry about not hearing from their own, and go to meet her. Having heard from Pysche the arrangement, they persuade her to look upon her husband at night with a wax candle—however, upon finding her husband to be the beautiful god Eros, Pysche lets wax drop on his skin waking him. Eros flys off in a rage. Aphrodite, his mother, then gives Pysche a set of tasks to complete before she can regain her husband.

Another instance of this sort of story the story of the Tibetan Woman who married a dog. A single mother with three daughters receives tsampa from a dog—the dog asks they not eat it. The four of them eat it after three years, however, and the dog returns the next day. He asks for one of the daughters as a wife in compensation—which the mother relents to. The first two daughters who marry him hate him and are sent back. The third and youngest however is polite. After having two puppies by the dog, she passes a palace and wishes she lived there. The dog goes to the palace to beg and is “killed”–after his skin is stripped, he reveals himself as the king of the palace and the two puppies become children. A happy ending to the tail.

From Italy there is the story of the Dark King—which fuses Eros and Bluebeard. A young girl wanders into a cave, and finds it full of luxuries. Invisible hands serve her food, bath her, and dress her—it is so relaxing and wonderful that she forgets the entrance of the cave has vanished. After three months she meets the Moor king of the place, who gives her keys to all the rooms save one. After another three months, she has seen all the wonders of the place, and asks to go see her relations. She is allowed, on the condition that she return.

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Yeah, there’s a weird trend in illustrations to make Bluebeard vaguely Middle Eastern? Like that’s clearly his hair, but it’s also totally meant to be a turban right?

Appeasing her relatives and friends with gold, she enjoys herself and comes back. Three months later, she leaves again—this time, however, she boasts of the wealth in the palace. Her friends are eager to see. They suggest, when she explains that her husband won’t allow it, to kill her husband instead. They suggest sneaking in at night—and doing so, she finds him unsightly. When she goes to kill him, however, hot wax falls off her candle. He wakes and is saddened. As he dies, he offers her three hairs. When burned, he will save her from whatever danger she is in.

She, after an incident of cross dressing, mistaken identity, seduction by a queen, and imprisonment by a king, does burn the hairs. These bring about an army to save her from execution and even restore the Dark King to save her. The two are then married—and the Dark King becomes a beautiful prince, who’s kingdom was enchanted until he was wed with consent.

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Seriously, there’s some gruesome images on the Wiki commons–I didn’t feel like sharing them here.

…I’m personally going to assume he stayed dark skinned, because that makes the ‘twist’ ending more palatable.

From Turkey, there is the story of a Padishah, who marries his daughter off to a horse—as she is the only one that the horse allows to feed her. Unlike other stories, the husband immediately reveals himself as an amazing hero—when the daughter’s sisters mock her for her lack of a husband in a tournament, he appears and triumphs. He only asks that she not reveal who he is. Like the Dark King, he gives her three wisps of hair to burn when she needs him—and on the third day, she reveals his secret.

Her husband is taken away—his hag mother plans to kill her daughter-in-law as well. The daughter finds their dwelling at the end of the earth, on a great mountain. The mother is tricked into accepting her without murder—but still tries, with impossible and confusing household tasks to kill her. With her husbands help, the daughter triumphs each time.

Eventually the two flee, and are pursued by his mother and aunt, both witches (although with her snake whip, the aunt resembles a Fury). With some guile and magic, they escape and return home to live happily ever after.

These we might consider similar—they suggest that what at first appears monstrous is not as frightening as it seems. Indeed, the difference between a Beast and Bluebeard is the presence of genuine danger—Bluebeard is here to kill you. The beast isn’t.

We also can talk of the reverse, although it is less a horror story. That of men who take immortal wives, and defy their rules. Selkies and swan maidens are chief among these, but fairy brides are almost as troublesome.

The tabletop game, Bluebeard’s Bride highlights how effecting such a story can still be. And I think in this case, the tale needs little modification—this is the rare form of horrific knowledge that is genuine in its monstrous form. A hidden child or lost ancestry is less easily disturbing. But discovering one shares a home with a serial killer? That still has power. That has visceral fear.

So, we’ve talked a lot about one of the most horrific forms of folklore—finding a monster in your old home. What will we make of it? Well, come back next week to see!

Bibliography

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

Chopel, Norbu. Folktales of Tibet. Ltwa, 2006.

Kunos, Ignacz (Tr. Bain Nishbet). Turkish Fairy Tales and Folk Tales. A.H. Bullen, London 1901

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Down Below

This Week’s Prompt: 29. Dream of Seekonk—ebbing tide—bolt from sky—exodus from Providence—fall of Congregational dome.

The Research: Rhode Island and More!

There were less of us when I woke up. The lower part of the ship had a great gash in it when I woke up. At the end of the ship, leering out of the waters, was a misshapen man with spindly arms and legs attached to a corpulent bag of flesh. There was a white man’s captain cap atop his ball of blue flesh head. His teeth were stained with red blood and strains of gore. The midsection of a man was in his hands, like some bloated brown fruit.

I rose to run slowly, feeling the iron around my feet pulling me down ever so slightly. Following the chain with my eyes, I saw it’s end in a broken off leg near the monster’s maw. The beast, were it aware of my wakefulness, could with a twist pull me down into the oceanic depths. Slowly, I retreat. Step by step I withdraw upward. The pale demon tilts its head at the scratching of the iron on the wooden floors.

Breath flows easily as the creature resumes it’s putrid feasting. I test the links of the chain as the steps are at last in view. They are, sadly, firmly in place. I search about for something, anything to break it with. And there, against the supports, is a solution. A well worn blasting spear the men had carried, to be safe from pirates. Attached to it’s end is a long dagger that, with effort, could pry me free. With a bit of work, I figured I’d pry myself free. I flung my self down toward the support, grabbing the butt of the spear.

The cutting causes sparks and scratches. I move slow then swift as the bone crunching below overwhelms around me. Escape drives me more certainly then shock can hold me. It takes some sawing, long enough for the energy to start slowing. At last I cut through, and slip free from the first set of fetters. The clack of the chain on the floor gives me away, and the beastial thing turns to me.

It roars and I run, wet sloshing steps behind me. I run up to the deck, turning to see blue arms stretching out from below, spider fingers clawing about about for a lost fly. I stumble backward, overboard, onto a sandy shore. Chunks of blue rock shine in the sunlight. In the distance, the green starts to form on hills. The old island, from what I can see, is several hundred feet away. As I stair, there’s a sudden flash. Lighting on a clear day, dashing down from nowhere and scattering trees on the island. What could it be?

The alternative is back into the sea, where ghosts and serpents dwell. And around me feet fetters of steel still remain. So I march ahead, hoping beyond hope to find some release or at least relief on the strange island. I made out a great dome over the shore. I’d head there first, see if in the house of the gods some release could be felt. The island is like a dark green hill rising out of the desert, with a glimmering dome shining as a lighthouse for lost travelers.

I nearly collapsed after scaling the limestone walls along the shore. The trees a few feet away were dark, thickly rooted things with pale green leaves. I slouched against one to rest, the sun high in the sky as I took in deep breathes. I stare wistfully over the valley and the ebbing tide. From here, it seems almost still. Every now and again some movement disturbs the sand or sea, but it is only a flicker or ripple on a lake. My eyes grew heavy, and bit by bit I began to fall away.

When I awoke, the sky was red. The sun had finished it’s journey west, it seemed. I was dizzy as I tried to stand, pulling myself up by the branches. The stars would come soon, and I would rather not learn the ways of the wood by night. No, no, I’d make my way through now as best I could. There was a foul smell in the air, a feeling of doom rising from the earth. The wind was more like waves of water pushing at a swimmer than the cool gentle breeze I had hoped for.

The city was dimmly visible through the trees, so I again made my way towards human civilization. At least, I wanted to believe it was human. The things on the ship and shore seemed certainly strong. Perhaps some had returned, or made their way up the shore in search of prey. But that sort of thinking is what damns a man to a lonely and forgotten death.

As I mulled it over, I saw something run in the woods. Short and pale, it flickered between the trees. Then again it came, another thing rushing, scampering and small between trees in the shadows of the setting sun. Pale and white as the moon, it goes again and again. I hold still for a moment, curious and afraid. Slowly, I grab a large fallen branch by the roots of an aged tree.

“Hello?” I ask carefully, waiting with bated breathe for the invariable out cry. There is a noise, a crack of branches above me. I raise my eyes to the heavens, and a small girl looks down, dressed in all white. She is as pale as flour, and smiles showing a pair of viscous fangs. Drips of red blood drop down. Another child falls onto the branch next to here. He is dressed in the black of white men on sunday. His face is dour and grim, but red lines flow from the edges of his pale lips.

They dropped down, screeching like struck cats. I whacked the girl as hard as I could, before the boy pounced on me. He tried to bite down on my arm, but I managed to pry him off before he got anywhere. I toppled over as the girl gripped my legs, having recovered from the blow. I began to crawl back, kicking as best I could with my iron fetters. There was a crunch and the strange girl went back a bit. As the two recovered, I took my moment and started again toward the city in the dark. The sun was gone now, the stars and moon shining down.

I heard the children howling as I ran. More figures moved in the forest, pushing me onwards. But as the city roads came into view, by some Providence, they began to slow. In fact, after passing a few houses, they stopped entirely. In Providence, there was not a sign of the strange pale men and their bloody maws. At first I thought the city was abandoned, that some strange plague had swept through or some terrible rain or drought had driven out all the inhabitants. But I found them.

I found them gathered in a crowd before the church. They were a pitiful lot. Their clothes were not only ragged, but clearly had once by greater and more beautiful. Red jackets stained with mud and wear, broken banners of doubled crosses. At their front was a man dressed in black with a tall hat, holding a dimly lit torch.

He was saying something, waving his arms in wide gestures. The crowd seemed eager when he pointed east and shook his fist. I did not understand a word of it. But his face grew red, and he grew louder and louder. The man in black began to bellow, now turning his attentions to the heaven. It lasted for but a moment. And then his rage vanished and became pleeding. He collapsed to his knees, a supplicant to some unseen king, and spoke softly. I began to back away, fearing the crowd lead by a man who threatens and begs with the same breath.

As I considered where I might hide, amonst the woods or houses, there was a crack like thunder. I turned towards the source, the great shining dome of moonlight above the towns temple. The crowd stared silently as it began to buckle and break. Smoke black as basalt began to billow out, green light shining within the church. A fire must have begun within, but the noises that came rushing forth were not of crackling woods or breaking bones. No, a shrieking rage came roaring from the dome. Innumerable hands came forth, with axes and spears and guns. Out came a ghastly host, born on raven wings, with a hundred arms and a hundred faces, with women and men in equal number. The apparition towered over the crowd, it’s eyes glowing red through the miasma around it.

I knew then this was what kept the sea and forest at bay. This great unclean thing, with jaws and limbs to rend earth and sky. As it descended down onto the crowd, there was a sudden silence. All was undone in that moment. I hid on that island for years, untouched by that strange thing. The sea eventually returned, the strange woodland people went back to the earth. But the dome remained broken, and the ground before the temple was forever stained red.

This particular corpse was bloated to the point of nearly consuming another post! Still, I wanted to maintain some brevity. What did you find in Seekonk?
Next week, a new prompt:

30. Strange visit to a place at night—moonlight—castle of great magnificence etc. Daylight shews either abandonment or unrecognisable ruins—perhaps of vast antiquity.

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Rhode Island and More!

This Week’s Prompt: 29. Dream of Seekonk—ebbing tide—bolt from sky—exodus from Providence—fall of Congregational dome.

The Resulting Story:Down Below

This prompt brings us to another of Mr. Lovecraft’s loves: Rhode Island. In particular Providence, the city where Mr. Lovecraft is interred. Rhode Island was a place of particular fondness to Mr. Lovecraft, a native of the region as he was.

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That said, let us proceed. Seekonk is a town in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It’s history, from what I can understand as a non-expert in the region, is marked mainly by conflict between settlers and the Wampanoag, a group of Massachusetts natives. Notably there is the instance of King Phillips War, a conflict that ended the way most conflicts between European powers and indigenous populations goes. King Phillip (real name Metacomet) had the privilege of having his head removed and stuck on a pike outside an English settlement. Grizzly.

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Seekonk is also near another interesting location: Hanton City. Hanton is an abandoned town, founded during the revolutionary era by…someone. It is still uncertain who, with theories ranging from runaway slaves to loyalists in the war. Now, with the term “exodus”, I am inclined to think of slaves. I bring Hanton up not only as an oddity, but as a place as abandoned as Providence appears to be

CongDome.png.
Pinning down the Congregational Dome has been tricky, as two different churches have congregational domes. However, where I to pick one, I think I would stick with the 1700s possibility. That would mean the Central Congregational Church, pictured below.
That all being said, what is happening in our story? Well, the language of the prompt clearly points to something divine in nature. The term exodus is loaded in Western works, conjuring immediately the book of Torah. There is, also, the fact that Providence is the site of our story. Yes, it is the capital of Rhode Island, but the name brings divine insight to mind. The Congregational dome is a holy object, and it’s fall is…ominous in the most literal sense of the term.
That brings us to the two omens: the ebbing tide and the bolt from the sky. What these means, I cannot say precisely except that they are common symbols. If I was to give them anything in particular, I would have the ebbing tide reveal some sea stones best abandoned, or some wrecks best lost. The sort of thing that haunts a lot of the North East in Mr. Lovecraft’s work.

I was able to only find one good source on Rhode Island folklore, and that from the 1950s. Still, it has a few elements that may be useful. Rhode Island has an apparent history of witches with cases ranging from a child named Sarah during the revolutionary war to an unnamed woman in 1892. Witch stories abound, particular in North Kingstown. Silver buttons were said to disrupt such spells. But a witch is not divine enough to call an exodus, nor do they lead to the sea.

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A contemporary of the Palatine

The Sea Tales are just as extraordinary, however. The Palantine, a German vessel, has been seen off the coast for over a hundred years shining out from the night. Ghosts from the old harbor call out at night for help, but ghosts are wont to do that. At least one captain, cursing the world as he drowned, became an ogre down below, and assailed ships from beyond the grave.
Of all these folk tales, vampiric and ogrish elements seem the best. Perhaps a number of ghosts, trapped as wrecks, begin to emerge as the ocean ebbs back. Perhaps dark creatures come forth. But why? And what is our story in all this?
It seems clear that the travel and exodus is itself the story. We would do well then, to begin in Providence. Some warning will come, as always precedes divine wrath. In all likelihood a mad prophet will come, not be believed, and then become leader as the omens grow. I suspect there will be no survivors of this incident. Given the wreckage at Hanton, I would think they escaped a slave ship. Perhaps, actually, the ship has run aground with the ebbing tide.

Surviving the walk to the ‘island’ proper then becomes key to the story. Beasts and ocean creatures must be contended with along the new beach, and then there are the panicky colonists on the island that must be avoided or reasoned with. I think this certainly has promise, with the danger of a new land and the growing threat of holy retribution. The Congregational Dome, I think, ought to fall last. As a climax, with some horror revealed beneath it or flying out of it. What is lurking in there, I don’t know?

I found all of my Rhode Island folklore here, from this lovely blog. If you know more horror stories of Rhode Island and providence, please share them! Maybe you’ll find a strange corpse in the deep!

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