Squeaks in the Night

This Week’s Prompt:73. Rats multiply and exterminate first a single city and then all mankind. Increased size and intelligence.

The Prior Research: The Rats Are Closing In

I’ve never liked the city at night. I blame television—the crime shows are always in cities, and the crimes are almost always at night. So when you walk in those precious bits of not absolutely brightly lit street, your hair stands on end. Is that a leaf billowing in the wind or foot step. Is someone following you or just walking the same way? What about the shapes in front of you, that you can’t quite make out? Are they people, or is it just a shadow from a passing car? Was that little bit of motion a cat on the prowl?

Of course it was. Of course it almost always is. My heart stays in my chest these days, along well worn paths. Sure, every now and then I eye someone with undue suspicion. But that’s all it ever is. And sure, I make a point of walking places where there’s more bright lights when I can—it helps to be safe, and i’ve never had that particular strain of paranoia that thinks everyone on a street might be scheming against me. Not frequently. The odd squeak or sound of a horn was easy enough to ignore.

Squeak? Hm. That was new. I fumbled with the keys at the front door, trying to brush it off. Rats were uncommon along 53rd, but they weren’t impossible. And it probably was a bicycle tire or something similar.

But then I heard another. And another. I turned my head as the lock finally clicked open. There, lurking beneath a bush, were eight eyes that seemed to faintly glow, packed ontop of each other. Staring at me.

I went inside quickly, making sure the door closed behind me. Flying up the flights of stairs, panting at the top. I barely noticed the small shreds of a spider web in the corner—I’d get rid of that later with a broom. Spider season was coming late it seemed.

Rat Dance.png

I woke up when my room mate slammed my window shut, my air conditioning crashing down three stories onto the back alleyway.

What the hell?” I said, jumping up from my bed as I saw Rob hammering nails into the window sill. He held up his hand to shush.

Your hammer away and telling me to sush what’s gotten–” I started before he put his hand on my mouth.

Shush means shush.” Rob said, glancing at the window. “We…we have a bit of a problem right now.”

I batted aside his hand and looked out the window. And I nearly vomitted. Down in the alley, I saw the broken remains of my AC—and a pool of blood coming from it, hundreds of small eyes staring up in a mass of fur and tails.

Rats. Hundreds of rats, filling the alley.

Jesus Rob, what the hell are they–”

I have no idea.” Rob said, walking out of the room. “I’ve nailed up most of the windows—a couple got in the kitchen door, but–”
I followed, still in light pajamas, and saw the remains of a few rats on the floor, little blood stains and broken skulls.

–There seem to be more. News says there’s a surge of them across town. Gotta imagine that there’s no pest control reaching us for a bit.”

The kitchen door was sealed with duct tap layers, and rubber cement. We’d lose the security deposit for sure with stuff like this. I mean the cleaning bill will cost a fortune, and a rat infestation—well, I mean it was the whole city so…my train of thought stopped when I looked out again. There was a dozen rats on the tree branch, crouched and baring their teeth. A number of small dents on the window indicated a few had jumped across already, trying to get in. One of the rats was nibbling on some shoelace.

Rat Council.png

Wait, they’ve shut down the whole city? Why not just run cars over them or something?” I asked, gesturing outside. “Or the trains?”

Did they scatter from the AC?” Rob asked, not looking up as checked the kitchen windows.

No.” I said, frowning.”

Then I don’t think their going to scatter from cars. Who knows, maybe they would, but do you want to take that risk? You run over a few—who knows how many, and then what? You park, and get jumped by hundreds of them on the sidewalk.” Rob said, shrugging. “Don’t know if they can stack high enough to get up the walls, but they can bite ankles pretty badly.”

At least we’ve got food.” I said, popping over the fridge and trying to keep the impending freak out down. “I mean…we’ve got some.”

A carton of eggs, some brocolli and onions, some carrots. Three pounds of ground chicken, because Rob refused to buy quality meat. And rice and pasta in the cupboards. More than enough food to last us a week…okay, five days. But still. That was a good amount. The rats wouldn’t last that long.

The lights flickered in the kitchen.

Shit.” Rob muttered, and ran out to the stairs. “Hey, Ashley, your lights acting up?”

Y-yeah.” Ashley’s voice came up from the second floor. “AC’s down too.”

Alright, I’ll test the pipes.” Rob said. “Tim, you check the place across the hall—don’t worry, I already nailed it shut. If the lights there work, then half the place has power. If not, the rats got the main line.”

I nodded, and ran over to the empty apartment across the hall—the door was unlocked, in case Mike found a buyer who wanted to see it that day. It was almost identical to ours—three bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen. But utterly barren, not even scarps on the wood floors.

It didn’t get any brighter flicking the switch back and forth. I went into the kitchen, and tried the same. Nothing. As I went to check the fridge there was a thud. Looking up, I saw a pair of paws gripping to the windowsill. The rat puffed itself up as it emerged, hissing. I slowly backed out of the room, not breaking eye contact, as another rat thudded on the window. And another.

They were hissing and clawing at the window as I scampered out.

RatBig

Lights down. And a couple got on the window.” I said as I heard the faucet turn off and a few stray drops fall. “Hows the plumbing?”

Well, we got water.” Rob said. Rounding the corner I saw the rust brown stain on the steel of the sink. “But don’t drink it. I don’t know if they’re rubbing in the water, or if the actually messed up the pipes.”

No power, almost no food, no water…” I said slowly, as Rob turned at another thump at our window. “We’re fucked, aren’t we.”

Not yet.” Rob said, thinking. “Down stairs I’m sure someone has water bottles. I mean, these rats are smart, sure, but it’s not like we’re in any trouble as long as we can–”

There was another ding on the window. Not the dull thud of a rat’s skull smacking on the glass, but rather a small tick of a stone striking glass. And then another. We both stared at the rats on the tree, sitting up on their hindquarters—tossing stones at us from the tree.

Yeah. Yeah we’re fucked.” Rob said, as the window started to crack.


This story is a bit rushed, and a bit silly. I went with an isolated and human level case, and wrote it with B-Movie notions in mind. If I had the time, I would have probably watched the classic movie The Birds for some inspiration regarding a massive of animals taking over and menacing a small town. As it stands, this story got interrupted by my own moving plans and a general problem of energy this week.

Next week, a story of revenge!

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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.

Man in the Roots.png

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.”

City on the Hill.png

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 Death of Mr. Donovan

This Weeks Prompt: 66. Catacombs discovered beneath a city (in America?).

The Recent Research: Networks of the Dead

It would be irresponsible to give my report in an itemized fashion. As shall be clear, this incident has left my memory no longer with me in its entirety.

I pulled up at the new dig site with some spelunking gear ready. Stepping over through the door frame, I slipped on my dust mask with a nod at Donovan. I was a bit later than expected, but our subject wasn’t going anywhere. We lugged both of our cases of supplies through the silent interior. The wooden skeleton of the house was stripped bare. I wove my way through the debris to the proper dig site—a room not marked on the floor plan, going back almost a century. The room was untouched by most of the machinery around it. The solitary desk, still coated in gray dust, was pushed against the back wall of the house. We followed the tracks with my equipment and hat with a flash light, stepping over to carefully open the central object of the room: A lone trap door, with a rusted chain wrapped around a lock. The chain had already been cut, left in case it became important later.

So, what do you think is down there?” Donovan asked, flicking his head light on.

Bodies, probably. What else do you bury under the floor board?” I said, turning on mine. “Or secret passages to some rally point.”

Smuggling maybe.” Donovan nodded, lifting the door open. There was the rotted remains of a ladder on one side, our own metal and modern one sliding beside it. Slowly we descended, into the cold and yawning tunnel. The flattened stone floor and walls, despite occasionally irregularities, were still evidence of some ancient architects hand and measure.

There were no protrusions for a time, no markers. There were faded colors on one part of the wall, no doubt some lost paint or signal. The darkness swallowed sound as we followed the path, a rope leading back to the surface. Should something unthinkable happen, the crew was a few tugs away, to get us back up.

Working my way in and across for hours according to the timer, I came across our first discovery—a set of heavy iron doors, with neatly interlocking teeth. There were a pair of handles to force it open, but the teeth were holding it in place and a large metal wheel. Turning it some, the doors rolled open with the girding sound of rusting iron. As it clattered apart, the other side was revealed as a collapsed cavern. A broken down exit.

In the darkness I retraced my steps, echoing slightly for the length of the tunnel. Eventually my flashlight caught the flickering reflection of something else. A bit of glass buried in the mess and mass of the underground. Drawing cautiously closer, and stepping over some broken bricks, more light seemed to pour in.

There was a door of glass and some strange almost plastic material. The glass was shattered, broken shards catching the light and reflecting it back up. Within I saw the dim flicker of lights, abandoned in the dark. Holding back an exclamation I pulled at the rope three times, indicating a withdraw.

CatacombDoor edited.png

Lighting? A door? What, we found a bunker beneath this old house?” Donovan said, as I drew out my crude map on the black board we had set up.

Something like it, yes. A very sophisticated one—must have some sort of generator. Or the tunnels are newer than they seem—they could be siphoning power from the city’s generators. But still…our tunnel, it bypassed a sealed door. So, the trapdoor must be more recent then the door….especially since there was nothing obstructing our entrance down…”

So, what, someone built an iron door and lighting a hundred years ago and somehow kept it running, with no one noticing?”

Well…maybe. However, the other structure might also be more recent—the iron door having been navigated around, and the room refurnished in the mean time. Hell, they might have used this entrance to get things around the iron door and then walled it up.”

Alright, so we go back down, and what? What do–”

It’s got lights on still. It might have people in it. Hm. This…okay. We could alert authorities…”

But…?”

Well, I’m thinking who exactly builds strange bunkers beneath buildings and what sort of shit we’d be in for finding an abandoned one.”

Abandoned?”

Glass was broken, and I didn’t here anything back there. So probably. Must have left the lights on when they left. I think we could make some headway…at least know a bit more about what we’re getting into before diving in or running off to warn the authorities. Delve a bit deeper.”

We worked out a plan. As I had made the initial voyage down, Donovan would take the lead this time, moving forward with a twenty foot length of rope between us. I would remain stationary, until the rope was near taught. Two pulls then would indicate a safe approach, three need of assistance, and four a withdraw. Back down we went, with a longer length attached to the surface. We had conscripted a workman from a part of the construction, and informed him likewise of the signals. This way, should we both be incapacitated, we had a life line to the surface.

Outside the entrance was only some broken glass, smashed out from within. Pushing open the door, with some difficulty, we went into the blinding light of the interior. The lights were that dim pulsing blue of bio-luminesence. Small lines ran between them, and brown moss clung between the crystals. The ground was smooth and without breakage, like a single slab of limestone extending out from underneath. There were some veins where water had warn things down over the years, but not much else. Tracing these lines back, Donovan went ahead.

After a couple tugs, I followed and found the small pool, damaged slightly so that it overflowed onto the floor. It still gurgled around a translucent orb, rolling the orb over the fountain over and over. The room around it was more open, with benches along the wall. Some sort of communal area it seemed. Bits of plant life had made their way here as well, algae floating on the top of the water. Donovan moved along through one of the nearby rooms as I inspected the wall mosaics.

Geometric patterns ran along the wall, fractal triangles spreading across and colliding, interlocking into one another. Small waves ran along their bottoms, creating rivers pouring down into a sea below or sky above. I wondered if they were just artistry or if they had clues to the means that this fountain, made by unknown hands, was still functioning.

Catacomb Wall Drawing 1.png

I didn’t tell Donovan my suspicion before we descended, a suspicion that was growing as I examined the work in the fountain room. That we had found something truly impressive. A relic not only of an earlier age, but…perhaps of a different kind. Of strangers, of things long dead that had raised some civilization before us. Some antediluvian race had raised these tunnels. At Donovan’s two tugs I started to follow the rope—when another two came, I picked up speed.

Well, would you look at that…” Donovan said, gesturing at the glass panes before us. They were fogged with mist, but green shapes could be seen within. A greenhouse, separated by a star shaped wheel. A seal no doubt to keep the warm air in, keep the moisture in, keep the greenery in and healthy. It took both of us to turn the seal, but with some effort we got the door open. Donovan again took lead, as I examined the exterior panes.

They made curious colors, the two panes ever so slightly off grain from each other. On the outside was the carving, something like a star shape—but bent at the edges and points, so that it was more a spiral then a star. They repeated on the inner pane as well, if distorted more so to be a galaxy of glimmering glass. There was something about those stars, an overlay as it were. Something…unsettling about their arrangement. The angles seemed to be carefully placed to conceal some facet of the glass and the interior. It couldn’t be hiding anything bigger than a few feet on the other side. Not even that, no, it was only that big when I got close. No, if it was something that big I’d see it. It must be meant to hide something far smaller, maybe even between the glass—not the presence, not the color, but the details of something in the stars.

And then the rope tugged once—twice—and, as I felt the third, it went limp. There was no sound as I looked down into the green house of the abandoned bunker. Nothing but the dripping of water. I backed away slowly, pulling the rope back as I backed down the hall, refusing to look away from the depths. For a moment I saw motion in there. Something in there. I saw leaves rustle as I walked backwards. I looked down when I pulled the last rope up, to see a branch broken off.

I do not know yet what became of Donovan’s body. I have not ventured down there in the week since. But I worry, what things laid those long forgotten foundations. I wonder, if they have had their own revelation. That, the world they retreated from has now again become inhabited. Or perhaps, that whatever end of the world they feared has passed unobserved. I wonder if they too now are planning on going on an expedition to an unknown world. Or worse, if such ventures have passed unnoticed by our eyes. We must find that catacomb again, that passage in the depths—or we shall be found by it.


This story is a bit rushed. I have not much else to say. Mostly I just couldn’t get enough of a plan going, even with the fertile material. I latched onto the idea of layers of discovery—a new catacomb, a new bunker, and then at last the inhabitants. I don’t think that was the right idea. Maybe a more modern secret society hidden inside the unseen catacombs? Or more characters, and more dialouge in the venture to the dead? I think my writing needs to return to the roots of horror I’ve drifted away from in some of these stories—taking character conflicts and enhancing them with the supernatural. That will be for next time, when we go to an abandoned city and mysterious horses.

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A Certain Preponderance of Witnesses

This Weeks Prompt:64. Identity—reconstruction of personality—man makes duplicate of himself.

The Prior Research:It’s Alive!

The day after Orem was hung, there was a collective sigh of relief. I sipped tea as I read the report in the paper. A fraudster, who baited men and women into a world of drugs and prostitution, Orem’s sentence came down in the courts after he stole a well of woman’s gold chain for a spell of his. The chain he returned that was ‘enchanted’ a week later was a forgery of iron with gold plating.

It was, in all honesty, not the most impressive theft of his. He had made off with more in a month before. But the daring had roused enough attention that at last, I had the pleasure of laying hands on him and seeing him brought before learned judges. I had not seen the hanging, but like many things in life, once a sufficient mass of witnesses and reports emerge, the matter can be considered settled.

My office was lined with paraphenelia of the case, even a year later. A small set of ring-circuits were beneath my name-plate, little jeweled metal rings that reflected the electirc light directly overhead. When the mood struck me, I’d examine the small quartz stones, with carefully painted cracks. Orem was no madman, no distant lunatic who had lost touch with reality. Such exquiste and elaborate lies require a certain mindset and planning to be made real. One that I had assumed was unique to Orem.

So, imagine my suprise, when a new edition to my collection was brought to me by a nervous widow. She had found it in her floor board, she explained quietly. Years ago, she had been one of the women to bring testimony regarding Orem’s activites to the jurists.

Is it…one of his?” She asked hesitantly, as I examined the small circlet under a glass. “I thought, once, I saw him in a crowd. Or someone like him once, with his eyes.”

The ring is similair in make…but do not worry, miss. It’s fairly well documented what became of Orem. If this was planted at your home, its the work of a copycat. Someone trying to intimidate you.” I said, looking over the engravings on the rings. Thin painted lines on the small coppr ring, and a carefuly polished black stone—not actual onyx, but a forgery style that was familiar.

Are you certain? A sorcerer such as him, maybe he sent a ghost from beyond the grave.” The widow said shifting. “Ah, I knew it, I knew talking about it was a mistake.”

Orem’s forgeries are just that—forgeries. He was a showman, an actor, and a swindler. Not a sorcerer.” I said as reassuringly as possible. “I will look into whoever planted this—emotional terror is a tool of cowards.”

I had put that aside,when another report drifted in. Someone had seen Orem, near a graveyard outside town. He had a shovel and his old ragged jacket and scarf with charms sewn into it. Another woman came in, with pictures of her ceiling covered in markings that only Orem had made. At last, I set out from the office to the graveyard to investigate for myself. Once a certain numbr of witnesses reliable report an event, it comes dangerously close to true.

Moroco Graveyard 2.png

The graves rippled out from larger mauselums, with broken stones and crumbled remains poking out of the dust. Between the graves were those praying for fortune or paying respects. My eyes scanned the dirt for footsteps as clouds gathered over head.

No, I didn’t see him exactly. Just someone out in the graveyard…it could have been a jinn for all I know.”

The first man I’d asked had found the notion of Orem’s return as unlikely as I did. But he had seen someone out in the yard, he couldn’t deny that someone had been out there in the morning mist, moving among the stones. Searching, maybe, for some buried talisman that Orem had used on them long ago. I pressed him to who had reported, before finding near the gates one of the witnesses.

I couldn’t look away. Someone had driven nails into my feet, and filled my mouth with cotton. It was his eyes in the night that did it.”

His eyes were wide, he whispered fearfully to describe the strange presence. A shadow on the moonlight. After the first, the second came unbidden.

It was him! I saw his scarf in the night winds, blowing back. And he walked with a limp—Orem had a limp, of course you remember. And he had that laugh, that laugh like a hyena.”

She was certain and frantic. The shape in the night had been Orem, and she would not enter the graveyard until an exorcist came. I was less patient, and went ahead. He had been seen in the western part of the cemetery. He had been seen where he was buried. My hand felt the small silver ring in my pock, its smooth onyx top.

GraveYardMoroccoAltered

Orem had received a proper burial. He had been given a good set of stones, at his feet and head, with his name written beautifully in swirling calligraphy. I walked around the body, looking carefully. If the new con man was stirring up fears, he would have left tracks. If he intended to dig up the old master, then there would be markings on the grave…and sure enough there are.

The soil’s been disturbed, recently too. The surface was slightly darker, and the marks of being packed by shovel were still visible despite the wind. Faded over the body were footsteps, boots that had left an imprint. There was, covered in some dirt, a small drop of wax. A candlit grave robbery. Not exactly what I had expected…but it confirmed that someone was rummaging in the rubble of Orem. And I knew where they’d go next.

Orem’s place of buisness was not far from the graveyard. From the outside, the building was unassuming. It was bare, even. The sort of thing you’d pass on the street and wonder if it was for rent. It was also therefore hard to find, hard to find again after you’d visited, especially if you went home in a daze of drugs.

Abanonded Hotel Morocco.png

The door had a knocker, but I didn’t bother. On the sides of the frame, visible only from within the doorway, were strips of paper with blue ink scrawling down them. They’d decayed with the lack of inhabitant, curling and warping slightly with the weather so that the script was no longer legible. I pushed the door aside to find the workshop within.

The front room was clearer now then when we first took Orem. The incense was no longer burning. There was no chanting playing through speakers. The maps of the body, with each of its paths outlined carefully, still hung from the wall. An elaborate serpent wound its way along the wall facing the the door, its curves and curls highlighting eyes.

Around the room were various tools of Orem’s trade. Metal bars with sets of dice for geomancy, an apparatus of crystal and metal that he used to “speak with the jinn”, by focusing the energies of the invisible. A brass horn was abandoned, one of many gathering dust that glimmered in the sunlight. It was a more convenient way to “hear” those unseen spirits. But the true horrors were not in the front, were business was conducted.

Parting the beads, I went into the back room…or rooms. The wall seperating the sections had been smashed apart, leaving bits haging from the ceiling. Looking down I saw the chalked scribbles on the floor that I took pains to step over, my flash light shining across for hazards or signs of entry. There were metal cans of dirt, with the skulls of rats and burns nailed down to hold them in place, sewing needles out of their eyes. Small chimes dangled in front of the only window, dust settling gradually over the entire place.

In the center of the rooms was a large pot, one of those industrial pots for feeding hundres of people. Dolls of woven cloth and plant matter hung from it’s rim by piano wire, crests burnt into them and more than one having a cigarreete butt for a head. Walking around it, I saw the cauldron was also full of…well, dirt. It wasn’t quite dirt. It was, but there was a deep crevass carved down it’s center, and stains that were still almost viscous and bright red marred it. Wine, rotted from within, somehow bursting out. The smell of rotting eggs hunger over the wound, my light catching the tattered remains of an elaborate paper cover. Metal bolts were driven into the earth, catching the light ever slightly. Striations and veins marred it, carved after this mass had hardened into something stable.

The wind came in, and the chimes caught my attention back upward, away from the broken metal skull. There was the shelf, smashed open, shards of glass scattered on the floor. Inside were trinkets, books with pages sealed by honey and oil in order to maintain their secrets, and ensure the curses he’d bound inside never escaped. Photos of the shelf had helpedin the trial, but the books and strange bugs covered in careful paint had been left behind. They were too heavy, I remember. Not worth the trouble.

Someone stealing the books was expected. Orem wasn’t the only charlatan out there…and true beleivers would want a taste of that power. Being able to brandish the tools of an old terror was in it of itself worth it. Carefully counting the books, I noted sure enough a few missing. As I leaned down to examine the breach, I heard a rustle of the beads parting. My heart racing, I went back behind the shelf and clicked the light off.

In the twilight of the room all was still and silent for the next eternity. I hoped it was just the wind and nerves. A shadow slinked along th wall, with a small flickering light. The face was turned away from my hiding spot, a hand running along the walls and gently tapping it for something. His hand stretched to the ceiling, searching idly, before rolling his form around.

His face was full illumined as he examined the cauldron. His face, it’s lower half covered by a surgeon’s mask, was stained ever so slightly. The eyes searched the room slowly, reflective like a cats eyes. Yellowed, familiar eyes. Eyes that did not meet mine, as they again turned away, examining one of the dolls hanging from the pot. But eyes that still haunted me as my breath stopped for, that floated there without body in the air, small yellow flames flickering.

I took a step forward, unsure if I should bolt for the door or take my chances and strike him hard in the head. Strike good and hard and send the ghoul back to his grave. Strike, and send this cunning ruse back into the night. Strike, and be done with it. I rushed, and swung away, I heard the crunch of metal on the back of a soft head.

I never mentioned that visit to anyone. I don’t know which thought worries me more at night, when I look at those old rings. The nagging worry that maybe, maybe it wasn’t him. It was some looter, or a homeless man, and I’d killed them or knocked them out in cold blood out of supersitous fear. Or…if Orem had returned.


Adding this to the list of ones I think could be meaningfully extended. Honestly, I had scheduling problems this week, with finals coming up, and so am a little disappointed I couldn’t give this more attention. I tried to capture the uncanny sense that can exist around the dead and, in ethnographic and biographic accounts, around the sorcerer.Next week, we stalk the graves again with stranger creatures–fearsome undertakers await!

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The Bride and The Bridge

This Weeks Prompt: 62. Live man buried in bridge masonry according to superstition—or black cat.

The Research:All Walled Up

I remember that fateful day, down by the bubbling stream. We left the crumbling remains of stone all the more bitter than before, as bits of men and mortar were washed away again. The command had come down, from the voice of the river herself. The bridge would not rise, until someone had died.

First she asked for a pair of twins, named Strong and Sturdy. I went out, with the King’s ring and funerary pay. I searched in the valleys and fields, in the woods and riverbeds. I went between hill and vale, through moors and mountains, but not a sign of them. The children were gone. Maybe they already lay as corner stones to some other bridge. Or maybe the river was cruel, and delighted in struggle.

We despaired, until we found a stranger on our roads. Then we delighted, and slipped some belladonna in his drink. So we set about building again, tossing the traveler we found on the road into the hole. He was unawares as the soil filled up around him, and the stones were laid above him, a tomb of strong masonry if nameless. The good Lord would recognize him on judgment day anyway.

The stone bent, the wood snapped as the river roared to life. We saw her then, the ala rising from the waves like a storm swirling out of the clouds. She towered over the three of us, myself the chief mason, the King and the Duke. She made her demands more clear this time.

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“You give us not twins, but one, not a friend, but a stranger, buried in his sleep, that none my know? And you thought by this we would be sated?” She boomed on the winds and spray. “A hundred bones will grid my stones, unless a new offering is brought. Bring us not an old man, not an orphan, not a stranger, not a widow, not an ill man, or grandmother. Bring us a mother, a wife still young that we will hold them close, in the stones of your bridge.”

With that, she crashed as a wave onto the rubble, and washed away men and mortar.And so we three, wind biting at our cloaks, made our way to the hills, clouds hanging round our thoughts. Between us, we each had a young boy, and a wife. I knew in my heart, as the wind as chilled as my blood, that there would be much mourning soon.

“How should we decide,” The Duke asked, examining his nails with his thumb, “who will suffer this terrible fate?”

“If all is to be fair, we should cast lots.” I mused, unable to meet their eyes. My sweet summer flower, buried beneath the stones, weighed heavily on me. It seemed that giving fate the knife and telling her to cut the line would at least make it bearable.

“That is too vulgar for something like this…” The king said, staring back at the river. “Let us give it all unto God, and the masons, so we cannot cheat the river. I will go among them. Whosoever’s wife brings their meal tomorrow morn, they will wall up below.”

We each shook on the arrangements, and made our way, thoughts of doom lingering long over our heads. The fog rolled up the hills, as we all took our beds, for what might be the last time. I smiled at dinner with my Dmitri and Katrina. They had condolences over the failure of the bridge, although by then…well, it was hardly surprising. The stew and bread were warm, and hearty, and dread wore me down to sleep swiftly.

Ah, that dreadful day, when the sun came over head. My flower sweet Katrina woke, and went with the others to fetch water. We came quietly to the masons camp and waited, looking on the horizon. The fog was still there, the dew still wet when we saw her, my lovely wife in white, her head scarf held tight with a basket of bread and a pail of water.

“Sweet Katrina, why do you come alone?” I asked, my heart heavy. She smiled with rosy cheeks as she came down the hill. The masons took their bread, as did the king and the duke. With their iron shovels, they began to dig.

“Ah, her Majesty fell ill. And the Lady Duchess took to bed with a fainting spell.” my sweet Katrina said. “So the work was left only to me. The load was heavy, but I knew the hunger would be heavier for my husband.”

I smiled as best I could. Oh, a fool I was to trust other men with promises of fair play, when their loves and lives were on the line. One of the workman put his hand on my shoulder, a wieght holding my ghost from escaping. In the years since, I’ve not forgotten his words.

“The bridge is ready for the lady.” He said grimly. My smile fell, my face felt hot.

“What’s this? You prepared the bridge again for me?” My sweet Katrina said with a laugh.

“Yes…The river wants a burial.” The workman said. I couldn’t even speak, I just hung my head.

Coward I was, to not set upon them then and there, and fight the call of the tide. I saw the Ala in the winds watching then, waiting. The bridge was still a fragile thing. It would bend and break.

“Oh, and it’s to be me?” My Katrina said with another laugh. The workman nodded, and the two of us lead her to the opening in the foundation. We wrapped around her eyes a blindfold of white, and a red cloth for the angel of death around her neck.

We lowered her gently down to the stone floor. It was a deep, slanted hole in the earth, smoothed walls on every side. As deep as a grave, as wide as three men side to side.

“Well, its not the most comfortable, but the stones have been harder.” My Katrina jested. She smiled up at us for moment…until the workmen shoveled in dirt. She shouted and cursed at the bruises.

“That’s enough of that! What kind of game is it to throw dirt at a wife?” She said, as the dirt began to cover her feet. She ran her heads on the pit’s walls, but they were smooth. I looked away.

“What civilized wit you have, to make a show of a woman like this. But please, I’m sure the point is past, you can stop now. I’m going to need some help getting out of this.” My Katrina said, the dirt up to her waist, as she pushed up despite the flowing dirt.

“What have I done for this? Please, what have I done?” She cried out, as her struggling arms were covered to the elbow. “What have I done to die like this?”

The dirt rose to her neck, the workman silent as they set stones around her.

“God take you! Should your brothers trod on my bridge, you cowards and monsters, I hope they are smashed into the river rocks and drown! The plague take you by the throat, you and all your kin!” She shouted, full of venom.

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“Even if it is your own brother?” The mason asked, the last dirt in his shovel.

“Where is he now?” She hissed back. And then was silent ever more.

The bridge still spans the river, unbroken yet. The ala stays silent beneath, shaking occasionally but no more than from wind and rain. The clouds seem to linger over head, longer than before, obscuring the eye of God from what we have done.

I come to visit her often. I lay flowers by my Katrina’s stone, with my son beside me. I wonder too, where her brother roams. It does not matter. He is too late, and my gifts are too little. She is restless in the earth now. In my dreams and waking hours, I hear her cry out. But as then, I do nothing.


 

This story was fun to right, and figuring the perspective was the most difficult part. It could be expanded–originally the tale ended on a note of vengeance on the deceptive Duke and King, but that was taking too long. At this brief, I think it works well.

Next week, we go to a new prompt! Names of Power and Praise!

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The Demon Throne

This Week’s Prompt:61. A terrible pilgrimage to seek the nighted throne of the far daemon-sultan Azathoth.

The Prior Research:Pilgrimages

There is an old road that runs beyond the world, to a most holy land. Beneath the two outstretched arms of giants, frozen for hubris long ago and now bleeding basalt in perpetuity, beyond the watch posts of the Crimson Kings who bear swords that sing, past the walls of stars that stand sentry against the crawling things. The road is worn, and broken in parts. Pavement and stones come and go, stone incarnations of an irregular heart beat. Drops of the old pulse still pass, following it past the end of the world to a most holy land.

Men and women who travel that road rarely come to it’s close. Most grow tired of their searching, abandon it for a highway, forming clots of wooden huts that grew sometimes into small towns. Others perished of over belief, forgetting their still mortal needs. Their skulls, if they were holy in death, grew into strange shapes. Some gained eyes after death, some horns, some became pallid growths in the earth, morticians moss on Mother Earth.

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And some found themselves in a situation like the sage Gilmora, in a cage of well made iron, bereft of his votive offerings of brass and his occult jade tools currently picking the flesh out of Negoi’s teeth. Negoi sat between the other two bandits, a mountain of muscle, with a necklace of relic fingers and tokens strung like beads. Occasionally he stirred the bronze pot, carved with divine faces, with the staff of some less fortunate traveller.

“So, what’s the haul with this one?” He asked the fellow to his right, who had cracked open the wooden case Gilmora had born with him.

“Not much, not much food anyway. Some skull thats gone and turned green.” Dozji said, holding the skull of St. Jian in one hand, turning it over and pulling out a cork seal. “ Dust in side. Smells like rotten eggs.”

“That’d be sulfur. I read once, stuff burns like fire, stings awful. Don’t know why you’d put it in a skull.” The third bandit, Olmoi with his beady red eyes said, looking up from the scrolls he had hanging from the branches. The letters on some were small square blocks unknown to Gilmora, while a codex of great worth was torn at the trees base, pages used to feed the fire of boiling flesh and fat.

“Maybe you throw it and the skull breaks on’em!” Dozji said, resealing the skull. “What do you say, little pig? Or is this how you lot season your food.”

“If a man is what he consumes, the ashes of a saint and sulfur can only do you good, friend.” Glimora said, folding his legs.

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Olmoi stopped Dozji’s hand before he poured the ash into the stew, shaking his head and quietly explaining that he would in fact perish, and kill all of them while he was at it. The three of them split the soup without any more of the saintly seasoning. Drinking out of the meditation bowls thank rang slightly when they hit the gold with their false teeth, making strange ringing for seconds before stoping at their lips. The conversation then went on to Glimora.

“Monks don’t fetch as much as they used, but I’m not sure if he’s worth eating…” Dozji muttered.

“Might be holy enough, we could hack him up. Polish his bones, sell him off as relics…” Negoi said, looking up from his bowl, turning it over so the scraps of less edible meat fell into the fire, crackling for a moment as the fat caught flame.

“If their relics, shouldn’t we just keep’em?” Olmoi said, frowning. “I mean, can’t monks tell what ain’t relics?”

“Yeah, but not fast. We can ditch them for another road or something.”

Gilmora sat serenly through the conversation, his mind’s eye wandering over the hills to see if that etheral city might be spotted. As the conversation continued, his invisilbe pupil continued on, settling in the barren wastes for a time. When he was done, he unfolded his legs and stood, walking to the edge of his cage.

“Ah, well, have an idea of where we should start?” Negoi said, messaging the finger bones and turning up from the conversation. Gilmora said nothing, walking to the front of the cage. His bones bent wax like round the iron rods, muscle and sinew folding out to make more room, before stitching himself back together on the other end with thin filaments of silk woven by unseen spiders.

“I knew he was holy.” Negoi murmured, before reaching for the sacrifical knife at his side and lunging at the escapd man, and running him through. Gilmora politely pushed the man back onto the fire, where the fat burned and scalled through the clothes of long dead pilgimrs, and the oil from the relics along Negoi’s neck burned bright.

Olmoi and Dozji merely stared as the pilgrim Gilmora went on his way, marching measuredly out of the camp and into the woods, back to the shimmering holy road. Olmoi glanced at his terror stricken fellow, before going after the escapee.

Olmoi had never followed the Pilgrim Road past the blasted heaths and hills, where none had returned. Negoi had once, and told the younger bandit that to glimpse that land was the worst decision of his life, and set him against any such pilgrims searching for that holy of cities, where demons walked the streets unhindered.

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Gilmora floated down the road then, barely touching the ground now. Olmoi heard distantly the song of a great beast, a deep siren sound of a whale as they drew near the iron hill. And there, for but a moment, in the indigo light of that place beyond the world, he saw the throne of Azathoth. The pulsating, squamous seprentine mass, grooves the size of buildings rising from the bulk as a mass of eyes and teeth stared down in all directions. At the center was a great maw, echoing outward with that song through fibrous teeth. Great was the yawning mass, an abyss of flesh with fingers reaching out on the wind.

And then Gilmora was gone, leaving not but his skull behind, smoke and dust swirling into the embrace of the demon king’s throne. The carnivorous cavern lasted but a moment more, a dread and terrible light shining within, beckoning like a beacon at sea. And then, it too was gone. Olmoi stared for a moment in terror, before collecting the skull of Glimora. Out of it’s foramen magnum dripped a sweet smelling liquid, like honey. But it’s touch burned Olimoi’s fingers. He flipped it in his hands and carefully carried it back to mortal lands. But that is a story for another time.


This was a rushed story, to be honest. My first few drafts were boring, tiresome, and had nothing happening. This is the result rewrite that tried using the pilgrimage as a spring board, and expanding into actually including characters. Next time, however, we will return to an old well of classic horror: Burial alive.

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The Pale Hound

This Week’s 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 Research: The Severn Valley

In the days leading up to incident of September 1st, 1859, there were a number of sightings around the world. Spiritualists and visionaries recorded, perhaps in retrospect, the warnings and signals from the sky. Perhaps one of the most enduring of these, for those who have delved into the tales around the event itself, is that of Joesph Cormac.

Joesph Cormac’s regular travel, as accounts of the incident all make clear, ran from his workplace down an old road and along the Svern river bank. The road is famed for it’s demonic owner, who rides in the dead of night to steal away sinners. Further, the woods that surround it like skin on a serpent are known for there flickering lights that lure men into the hands of ghostly robbers. Others have been swept up onto mountain tops by the whispers of unseen maidens.

But Cormac had a peculiar banality to his life. While few report such things without a good deal of prodding, Cormac only revealed further layers of dead normality. Even those who regularly saw the fae denizens of the world invisible said that the world seemed to loose it’s fog around Cormac. That lines were crisper, nights brighter. Cormac himself attributed this to his simpleness, having spent much time observing things as they were, not as he would have them be. It was, he said, from working with stone so much. It left little room for the bizarre, if one only focused on the geometry and carvings of rocks.

So it is no surprise that on September 1st, at ten o’clock, he was not too worried at the sight of a large dog digging in a bush. Some tellers maintain the bush had thorns, and that Cormac should have been more wary for the lack of blood. Others say it was just a large creature, and that approaching strays is always a bad idea. Both are correct. Cormac himself confessed on a few occasions to feeling a bit sentimental towards dogs and animals of the woods. This fondness moved him to approach the wild creature, which seemed to have stuck it’s head in the thorn bushes.

As he called out, however, the dog showed no signs of recognition. It simply dug deeper into the bush, making a small pile of dirt. Cormac pressed on, encouraged by the lack of growling as he drew near. He put his hand on the canine’s back, petting it’s fur and whispering to it to get it’s attention. When his hand touched the dog’s back, which he maintains was cold and wet, like a fish with fur, it turned to face him.

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Cormac objects often to this terminology, for the dog had no face. No head at all. There was a neck that ended in a gruesome wound, smoke rising from it like a fire was in the dog’s belly. The noise it made, according to Mr. Cormac, was a deep gurgling sound, like a drowning man gasping for air. It held him transfixed for but a moment, punctuating it’s noises with gasps of silence before Mr. Cormac’s sense returned and he bolted away.

Mr. Cormac’s fear did not lead him back to the road, however. Rather, called by perhaps a sense to hide or recalling the geography of his home and seeking a short cut, he ran further into the woods, away from the road. And as I said, Mr. Cormac had no fear or experience with the supernatural or unseen. He had no reason, even in his primeval soul, to fear that in the woods worse things waited. Such was the confidence of his banality.

After an approximate thirty minutes of flight, Mr. Cormac recovered his breath leaning on tree, no longer hearing the dreadful footfalls of the dog in pursuit. There was a silence in the air as he walked. His steps made no sound on the August grass. In the distance, he saw lights faintly on the hills, that he reasoned were lost travelers or robbers. He tried then to understand what the pale thing was, lurking in the bushes. By his own account, Mr. Cormac then and there swore off all alcohol for the rest of his life, reasoning that a forgotten pint now haunted him. He then carried on, until a slight movement caught his eye.

The silence was in fact its herald. For there, up ahead, was the pale dog, perched down and facing him. There were no eyes to see it’s expression, no teeth to bare. Nothing but the vacant hole that dripped smoking blood onto the stones. It sat, and raised it’s neck, smoke wafting up into signals in the night sky. A distant shape on the mountains came into clearer focus, small sigils floating on high. A silent howl to the moon.

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This time Mr. Cormac found more fight then fear, tossing stones at the dog to scare it off. But it’s fur, so cold and wet, held fast to the stones he hurled, giving the beast a hide of gravel. It did stop its smoke, and bent low, a beast ready to pounce on its prey. Mr. Cormac stopped as the thing rippled down the stone outcropping and with a hungry gait approached him. Cowering, he promised the insensate thing that he meant it no harm, that he would play fetch. He seized a random tree branch, and gestured it to the non-existent eyes of the creature, before tossing it off in the distance, and running the other direction.

Mr. Cormac got a good distance before he heard the sound of footsteps behind him again. The hound was not far off it seemed, and so Mr. Cormac sprinted faster and faster. He reached again the old Roman road, and cobblestones having zig-zagged through the trees and bushes. Now, in his panic, a host of sounds roared towards him. A pack of hounds, it seemed, followed just behind him and on his tales. The galloping of a horse thudded behind them, a horn staggering them. Something old awoke in Mr. Cormac, something wise enough to keep his head away from the host he heard.

At last his breath ran out as he collapsed beneath a common beech tree, it’s canopy sheltering him from the sky. Gasping for air, he heard the sounds of the hounds and huntsman fade away into the night, no doubt having found another fool to chase. It was now well past midnight, and the lights on the hill seemed to be fingers reaching up into the heavens. At last, Cormac thought, he could rest.

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He drew long, sharp breaths as he rested, staring at the hill side. And there he saw a pale shape running up, coming to a full stop on the top of the hill, and tilting upward. And then another, familiar smoke rising from them into alien shapes. At last, a light was seen, rising from those hills. Cormac thought for an instant he’d run all the night away, as shining lines appeared on the hillside, dancing lightly between the fae hounds and their towers of smoke. It transfixed him until a pale hand gripped his shoulder. The fae had found him, their hunt growing quieter the closer they drew. The hounds were upon him, immersing him in smoke and shade. Mr. Cormac, in terror, recited a rote prayer.

The sudden onset of the aurora appears to have save him, although Mr. Cormac attributes it to his prayer. At the rising light, the hounds vanished and the hand let him free. It seems they mistook the coming flare for the sun itself, which they may never see.

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