Dutch Tales About the Sea

This Week’s Prompt: 104. Old sea tavern now far inland from made land. Strange occurrences—sound of lapping of waves.

The Resulting Story:

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Did you know “made land” means reclaimed land from the ocean? I didn’t! I spent a slightly embarrassing amount of time trying to find places or folktales about where the sea has receded before at last finding stories that fit this prompt (somewhat). The only one I found there had to do with the Norse God Thor and while it was…interesting, and connected to drinking, I think I’ll save it for another time.

No for this week I decided to delve into the folklore and urban legends of a part of Europe I admit I knew little of before hand: The Netherlands. The Netherlands have been making land for centuries, and unsurprisingly they have many stories about floods, storms, and the sea. Some of these are fantastic, some of these are rather mundane.

For instance, the story of how the north sea became salty. Once, there was a ship over one hundred kilometers long. It was so vast that a man on horse had to relay orders up and down the ship, taking six days to deliver each command. Where this vast ship came from is unknown—certainly it is a magical marvel, lacking telephone or telegram, and yet almost a small island in scope. But as perhaps was inevitable, the ship and it’s many crew members where wrecked at sea. The salt needed for such a vast ship is almost incalculable, and so the entire North Sea became salt water instead of fresh water.

Ships of same build if not scale were in the employ of a Woman of Stavoren. She was wealthy beyond compare, as a widow running a vast shipping empire. One day, she demanded that the most valuable thing money could buy be brought to her—and in time her ships returned, full of rye. Enraged, she ordered the barley be thrown overboard. All this was seen by an old man on the quay, who told the woman that one day she’d be poor. She swore to him that she could never be poor. To prove it, she hurled a ring into the sea and said she was like to get that back as to be poor again.

The next evening, a cook served her fish. And inside, the woman found the ring. Needless to say, storms struck and sank all her vessels—and she was rendered destitute, forced to beg on the street. The rye still grows where it was thrown, according to rumor. They bare no fruit.

Witch Burning 1

But let us leave the sea behind, but not to far—and venture into taverns and cellars. One story tells that there is or at least was a wine cellar well known by older women. Here, witches flew to meet and drink and enjoy themselves. One woman, after her first trip to the cellar, decides to bring a younger friend along. However, she is too excited to recite the spell to bring them there properly. Most importantly, instead of “Afterward home again” she says “nevermore home again”—and curses the two of them to be forever lost on the road. The younger friend realizes the trouble their in—and as they can’t get home, the devil will come soon to snap their necks. In true college friend fashion, the two decide that if they must  go to hell, they will go drunk.

Later, the two are found passed out in the cellar by some workmen, with incriminating brooms. They are found guilty of witch caft and sentenced to burning—they awaken during the burning, however, and manage to escape the devil by converting on the stake. The devil, having appeared as an owl over head to seize their souls, leaves enraged.

Another tavern cellar had a more dangerous creature lurking in it then two drunk witches. Down in a inn at Utrecht, there was a basilisk. The basilisk was born of a rooster’s egg, laid by a snake. The creature was born down there, unknown to the inhabitants. It was first discovered when a man went down to get a drink—and never returned, as the venomous eyes of the basilisk killed him and ground him to dust. This first victim was dismissed, many assuming he had just gotten drunk and passed out—until a second man went missing. And a third. At last, the innkeeper was about to investigate when a monk happened to come in and stop him.

Basilisk1

Now, the discovery of a fire breathing—the story mentions this offhandedly, and so shall I—murderous chicken-snake is of course bad for business. So the innkeeper asked for anyone to help, offering a hefty reward. At last a street urchin came in, with a plank of wood as his only tool. Despite the pleas of the adults, the child descended to fight the cockatrice—and triumphed! For to the beasts surprise, the otherside of the plank was a mirror! So the beast died to it’s own gaze.

A more comedic inn story comes to us from Zuiderwoude. A solider was playing cards with his fellows, to pass the watch. Off hand, he offers to send the Jack of Clubs to fetch some jenever. The others laugh at such an impossible trick—but the solider insists. And with their agreement, he goes unconscious. He turns as pale as paper and sweats like a pig, as the jack of club vanishes. A few minutes later, to the horrified soldiers shock, a bottle of jenever appeared with a jack of clubs in its neck. The original solider drinks heartily, and they all join in.

The next day, they walk pass the main gate and learn someone assaulted the guard, nearly knocking him out and slipping past unseen. When they pass a local innkeeper, he accuses them of making a terrible ruckus last night to get nothing more than a bottle of jenever. When they deny it, he singles out the solider with the jack as having come to him in the night. The storyteller asserts said solider was a sorcerer, who never truly left the room.

But one that stuck out to me for our purposes is the Herring in the Bucket story. It is a short and simple and rather mundane story.

The story goes, a farmer was drawing water from a well. When he brought the bucket up, he saw there was a herring in it—a fish swimming in his drinking water. It occurs to him that the fish must have swam into the well—and if it swam into the wall, the ocean must be seeping beneath the earth. A single good storm would sink the entire area, washing it all beneath the sea. And with this in mind, he became miserable and angry, until at last the storm came—and when the waters receded he was found dead.

Herrings

This sort of story has a few other variants—the maintaining of a dyke is a communal activity that the rich and arrogant often neglect and are ruined for ignoring. But what to me works here, in this small simple story is the horror that it displays. The growing realization that the buried sea is ready to rise up again and swallow it all. I pondered for a moment, why the farmer didn’t leave—but how could he? He is a part of this land as well. In our story, the old sea tavern is perhaps safe—it is where the coast once was, after all. But the made land is unstable—the symbolism of unstable lives, of long buried tensions coming to surface is apparent. Especially considering in vino veritas. There is a lot here, with simple and growing signs of impending doom.

Whether we take it to be the utterly mundane terror of a rising tide—something that is topical these days—or if it has some supernatural to it (we have many many many examples of the sorts of strange things that lurk in the sea), the story has I think a firm and clear footing. What stories have you heard, about seas, taverns, and tavern basements?

Bilbiography:

Meder, Theo. The Flying Dutchman and Other Folktales from the Netherlands. Libraries Unlimited, 2008.

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The Sacred Fish

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

The Prior Research:Dredged Up From The Depths

The fisherman of the western cliff face, far from the city of Kahal, lived entirely at the mercy and providence of the primeval mother sea. On it’s black waves, as the moon glimmered down, a passing stranger would find one of the small ships sailing along the cliffs and coves, dragging the net behind. Old Ichabod kept his ship out late that night, searching for fertile waters. His ship was slow, his nets were poor. His wife Sarah had held their home, by carving the other fish and making clothes to sell. So tonight, he sailed past his normal waters, off towards the shores marked by crumbling pillars.

During the day he would not be so daring. For reasons long forgot, the village did not fish in the bay where old spiraling coral rose as long lost gate posts. But such protected paradises become rich for desperate plunder. The waves were strong at the coral edge, and most canny fisherman avoided the bay for those dangers alone. Ichabod, however, moved between them with ease. He dragged his nets along that shallow floor, looking to bring fish that had never seen such a boat. And shortly after, his nets grew heavy.

DeepFish2.png

Pulling them over, he found them thick with a pulsing white mass of fish. They were strange, squirming, wretched things. Their skin was smooth to the glance but sharp to the touch. They had no eyes, and no teeth in their mewling mouths. Their fatty, fleshy bodys struggled feebly against the air. But their bodies, as life left them, smelled like honey and their blood was like olive oil. Despite having never seen such things,Ichabod reasoned that such a haul was worth returning with, and the fish worth at least a taste.

Icahbod slipped back home in silence, returning home to a confused wife. He took one of the fish inside and carved it, and cooked it in the pan. A bit of fat flickered off it’s goldening meat and onto his thumb. He took a quick taste, and found the substance tasted sweet and succulent. The finished fish was filling, the best the couple had ever consumed.

They were less delighted and more deeply confused when the next day, Sarah found herself sick in the morning. The two went to a wise woman, who confirmed their suspicion. Sarah was pregenant. The two were both delighted and confused. They hadn’t lain with each other in some time. Ichabod grew wrothful, suspicious that some more fortunate fisherman had visited his wife. But her pleading convinced him she had been faithful. Strange as it seemed, the two concluded the fish were to blame.

The bounty of fish, cooked to delight, brought them some fame in the day as well. And, full of daring, Ichabod made the trip again and again, growing rich off the sweet tasting blind fish. It’s effects became known, as many women was with child in a few weeks, and the village hungered for more of the strange fish.

DeepSeaFish.png

Other sailors began to wonder where Ichabod got his fish, unseen elsewhere in the ocean. A few tried to follow him at night, but Ichabod was wise to them and refused to sail to his hiding spot until he was sure he was alone. The fish he ate restored him every day, as if he’d never slept.

But one of the farmers, a younger boy Obed, snuck aboard Ichabod’s ship one night, hiding in the cabin as the fisherman left the shore. And by moonlight, through the door, he saw Ichabod breach that taboo bay. He was so startled he let out a squeal, revealing himself to the old fisher man’s wide pupiled eyes. Icahbod had the boy over the edge in moments, dangling by his shirt.

The boy quickly offered to help Ichabod catch even more of the fish, saying that with two ships, they’d both make four times the profit, helping each other carry more of the load back. And Ichabod considered, and agreed, for substantially more of the profit than a mere half. Given his precarious position, the boy agreed.

So the fish poured in greater numbers, their mewling and whining stifled by the flames and ever hungry populace. Eventually, Ichabod hit upon a better idea. He and the boy went and rebuilt the old tower near the bay and built a crude gate. Coming to town, he explained that he would allow any to fish from his hidden bay for a fee.

OldIchabod1.png

At first there were threats of violence, but by then Ichabod had grown large from his diet. His skin was growing gold, and his hands had become webbed. Small growths had appeared within his mouth, barely visible but he felt them when he ate. It made eating much hard, but the small growths massaged the soft flesh of the fish well, refining there flavor and picking bones clean, saving him the bother of cleaning the fish. Some even said he at them live. In the last three months, he’d grown a foot in height. The boy, in his fishing and abundance of the fish he had, was up to his shoulder and had small teeth running on the top of his mouth. The two of them had nothing to fear of violence. So the village relented.

It became common to spend nights in the bay, catching fish and eating them on the shore, before retiring home in the morning, to tend to wives and trade with sea born merchants, who found the changes startling. Men and women and children no longer ate grains, but devorued fruit and raw flesh. Their skin was paleand scaled, their arms lengthy. Ichabod allowed traders to ply their wares, but prohibited them enter his bay, erecting barricades around his tower and piling stones to hurl at vessels. He and his wife rarely left their tower, sending the fishing boys to do his biding from the shore.

But even this was tiresome. In time, the village moved into the bay entirely. They caught the fish with their hands, no longer bothering with nets. They had boats, but swimming in it’s inky deep was a common pastime. And, at last, the children were born.

They were pale mewling things, with eye lids too heavy to open, and skin that was soft to look at but sharp to the touch. Their hands had small claws, and their mouths had loathsome tendrils, perfect for catching fish and the deeper things of that by gone bay, the things that had lurked so long ago in sacred waters long forgotten. And so the people of the western shore were known as far as distant Kahal.


That ends this weeks tale. I had a busy week, so didn’t have the chance to review and rework this as much as normal. I like the general premise, and I think some horror of what you consume could be played with. A longer time scope would also serve the story: gradual mutation after eating unknown substances is ripe for material.

Next week: a pilgrimage to a demon throne!

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Sailing Away

This Week’s Prompt :57. Sailing or rowing on lake in moonlight—sailing into invisibility.
The Resulting Story: The Wind Blew Out From Bergen


Moonlight and invisibility are strong themes of these last few prompts. If I had the money to acquire a copy of Mr. Lovecraft’s letters, I’d wonder what possibly prompted this set of thinking or line of inquiry. As it is, we will press on. This prompt does have the benefit of being distinct from those before in at least one respect. The invisible no longer haunts us, nor is it revealed. Rather, we see the visible become invisible.

The beginning notion of sailing or rowing into invisibility, being lost to the sight of humanity, has some interesting parallels in the border space of folklore and urban legend. The basic premise is not too strange. After all, the sea is full of strange monsters, of sirens calling out to drown men, of ancient rebels against the gods, and more. But disappearances at sea? Those are old.

The most famous disappearance locale for American’s is actually far more recent then you might suspect. The Bermuda Triangle’s record only begins in the 1950s. But if there is a place more synonymous with “lost at sea” in the modern day, I’ve not heard of it. The triangle has it’s points at Bermuda, Florida, and Puerto Rico. It’s reputation of consuming ships is famed enough that I will stop here to say that in all likelihood, the probable cause is the sheer number of ships traveling those waves.

Bermuda.png

The related Devil’s Triangle in Japan is another recent notion of seas that enjoy sinking ships. It too has only been reported in the early 1950s, as has the notion of twelve of these paranormal vortices. While no doubt these can be sources of inspiration, their newness ought to be remembered.

Even ignoring these paranormal sightings, sailing to the land invisible is not so unusual. Odysseus did so, and found even stranger lands in the journey there. And funeral barges of Vikings and Egyptians alike were supposed to go on to the dead. King Arthur was sent out sailing to an unseen land, attended by three women. Like wise Väinämöinen built a ship of copper, with an iron bottom, to leave the land and sail to the heavens, out of the mortal(visible) world. Quetzacouatl left the realm of the living, in some versions, on a barge or boat of snakes! Such are the strange contraptions needed to reach the heavens.

Avalon.png

But outside the realm of myth, folktales from various places talk of the dead as invisible sailors. Near Brittany, some report the dead are gathered in great invisible boats to be taken to the Isle of the Dead. On the Breton coastline, skiffs come out manned by the invisible dead. This is typically an ill omen. A German folktale reports that these dead voyages can do what is implied by the prompt, and fly towards the moon. Rabbi Amram asked, reportedly, to be placed in a coffin and allowed to flow wherever the river took him. The coffin, much to the world’s surprise, floated up the river!

And if it is rending ships invisible by their sinking, then the Devil must have his due. Multiple demonic forces or malicious spirits are thought to sink ships when angered or displeased. The devil himself was once sighted at sea with a sword in hand. Other times, demons take the crew themselves!

The devil, according to a story from Schleswig-Holstein,still ferries people across Cuxhaven bay. He does this to liberate himself from the consequences of a certain compact.He had procured a ship for a certain captain, the latter to yield himself up with the ship, which was to be kept busy so long as there was a cargo. This Satan tried to find, so as to keep the vessel cruising until the compact expired, but the was outwitted at the end of the first cruise by the captain’s son, who crowded sail on and let the anchor go. The fiend tried to hold the anchor, but went overboard with it.” Reports Fletcher Basset, citing an older text (Schmidt-Seeman Sagen, which I did not have time to check).

Flying Dutchman.png

We then can consider also those ships that are now invisible, having made the journey. The Flying Dutchman, who made a deal with devil long ago and now serves as a sort of sea-bound Wild Hunt, has been mentioned before. But let us look at him at length. The Flying Dutchman is a man-of-war, a terrifyingly vast warship that emerges from the storm to assault ships as bad weather strikes. Another name for the ship is Carmilhan, with the goblin Klabotermen as it’s pilot. The ship has no crew except invisible ghosts, no sails but rags, and hounds ships to the end of the earth. Other times, the ship is a former slave-ship, which was struck by the tragedy of the plauge.

Related is Falkenberg, who sails the world and played dice for his soul with the devil. In some cases, Falkenberg is the Dutchman himself.

One amusing tale tells of a group of pirates that, in the stylings of Scooby Doo, pretend to be the Flying Dutchman, only to be assailed by the real thing. As the storm blows in, the demon ship is unflatered by it’s rival and engages in combat. The results are sadly one sided, as the demon ship lays them to waste with ease.

BewitchedCano.png

But the Flying Dutchman is not the strangest of it’s kind. There is still the Bewiched Canoe. Yes, a magically canoe. From French Canada comes the story of a huntsman who so enjoyed the hunt, he made a pact with the devil to continue it forever. Not only is he in a canoe, but the canoe flies through the air.

Larger than these, is the ship Chasse Foudre, a French vessel that takes seven years to tack. It is so vast, it shifts all wild life around it. Her nails along the hull allow the moon to pivot, and climbing her masts take lifetimes. She is crewed by men so large, that their smallest pipe is the size of a frigate. A Swedish ship of similair size, the Refanu, is so big that horses are used to relay orders. Her crew is thus of a relatively normal size, as opposed to giants that lumber about other such world ships.

More strange vessels under sail include one recroded by Ibn Battuta, the Lantern Ship. Once the ship was a demon that, on occasion, demanded sacrifices. It has since lost it’s powers, and is forced back by recitations of the Quran by local visitors or a priest.

All these vessels then serve as the start for our own. But what start is that? I think the two more modern moments that this prompt calls ot mind are from Tanith Lee’s Darkness’s Master and H.P. Lovecraft’s own Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. In both, there is a celestial voyage to the heavens aboard a special craft. And I think, for both, the journey is more of an atmosphere of wonder or fear then it is a narrative. If we are to go to the moon, to the invisible world, a horror or fantasy that is mainly derived from strange monsters or explicit dooms is not the best. Better, I think, for something tinged with dread. A glimpse of the invisible, that unfolds. Something subtly moving, something just a little out of place. Of course, such writing is difficult. It’s not what I am used to, frankly, and doing something with subtly is not my strength.

Still, a story of a slowly vanishing ship under the moonlight, perhaps draped in mist, needs something more subtle then perhaps I would normally do.

Bibliography:
Basset, Fletcher S. Legends and Superstitions of the Sea Throughout History. Marston,Searle, and Rivington, 1885

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The River Runs Deep

This Week’s Prompt: 38. Drowning sensations—undersea—cities—ships—souls of the dead. Drowning is a horrible death.

The Resulting Story:Drowning Deep

To drown is to die a bad death. This prompt invites us to consider many aspects, many things that one might see down among the inky black of the sea. The image of an underwater city brings to mind fantastic locales of Atlantean ruins, but more directly brings to my mind (perhaps do to the morbidity of the rest of the subject matter) to an old Poe poem, presented here in abbreviated form(Because Poetry is Amazing).

City In The Sea
Lo! Death has reared himself a throne 
In a strange city lying alone 
Far down within the dim West, 
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best 
Have gone to their eternal rest. 
There shrines and palaces and towers 
(Time-eaten towers that tremble not!) 
Resemble nothing that is ours. 
Around, by lifting winds forgot, 
Resignedly beneath the sky 
The melancholy waters he. 

The poem ties the deep, undersea city with elements of hideous horror, of time, and of Satan. All topics we’ve discussed before and one’s that provide plenty of room for horror. But we’ve done them before. We also covered the notions of some nautical myths in our talk on Rhode Island, although a few more regarding ships and the souls of the dead need mentioning.

Davy Jones.png

There is of course the famous Flying Dutchman, made famous in the most contrasting roles I’ve seen: Davey Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean and Spongebob Squarepants. The Flying Dutchman is a continuation of sorts on the themes of the Wild Hunt Infernal: The Crew is condemned forever to plow the waves and skies. Davey himself seems to have a sordid past, either a devil himself or Jonah damning sailors yet. The souls of unfortunate sailors descend to his place, and in this way he holds all three of the elements as one.

Chilean Folklore presents another ship, however, manned by more then the dead. The Caleuche is a phantom ship at sea that contains not only the dead, but also gives instruction and transport to warlocks. To access the ship, a warlock must summon a Caballo marino chilote, a golden horse with a fishes tail. The King of The Sea would then permit transport to the ghostly vessel.

Of course, not all such water horses were kindly. The Scottish waterhorse would rather ride into thnae lakes and drown it’s rider than provide mystic aid. A plethora of drowning entities follow this route. The Siren sings to drown, as we’ve said before. Slavic Vodyanov and Rusalka drown those near their rivers as well.

Vodonyov.png

My favorite drowner, as of late, is the Ahuitzotl. The river dog, as it is sometimes known, will lurk in the river and then drag you below with the hand behind its tail. After drowning, the little beast will eat the finger nails, eyes, and teeth. And oddly specific sort of animal.

Ahuiztol.png

These drownings provide a better plot, I believe, then the undersea city itself. There is something awful and personal about drowning: It is a death that kills and isolates inequal measure and rapidly. It is also often, to my mind, associated with suicides. It is hard to kill a man by drowning intentionally, as opposed to by poison or by a simple knife. It is a death that often involves much struggle or none at all, betokens either great force or a void of anything.

I think the story will take the form of a mystery then. A series of drowning, along a canal. The same spot. But is it, our inquisitive detective will wonder, the work of a murderer? Is the place now a nexus of despair, a self perpetuating site like some bridges become? I don’t want to say too much, as I have little to say. Come by next week to behold the horror that lurks beneath the surface.

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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.

KingPhillipsWar.png
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.

Hanton City.png
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.

220tonshi

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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