Ashes to Ashes Dust To Dust

This Weeks Prompt:87. Borellus says, “that the Essential Salts of animals may be so prepared and preserved, that an ingenious man may have the whole ark of Noah in his own Study, and raise the fine shape of an animal out of its ashes at his pleasure; and that by the like method from the Essential Salts of humane dust, a Philosopher may, without any criminal necromancy, call up the shape of any dead ancestor from the dust whereinto his body has been incinerated.”

The Prior Research: Restored And Resurrected

I stood outside the old adobe building. A dust devil rolled by, the windows and door trembling as it passed. They seemed more commonly lately, but that could be just my mind betraying me. The old Crowe house had always been a bit windy, even when it’s owners were alive.

I checked the vials in my hands and took a deep breath. Three. I had three to pull it off—three bits of glimmering dust and oil. I tapped the aluminum baseball bat on my shoe, testing my nerves a bit before going in. The gate wasn’t locked—not that surprising all things considered. It wouldn’t need locks anymore.

The Crowe family got me and Alfred’s attention five years ago. You study enough medical folklore, looking for lost cures and bits of genius that the modern age had swept up, you start to come across patterns. Patterns that take you from wizard to drug dealer to old grandma. And one of those patterns brought us to the Crowes.

There’s a trend—a common one, you can probably found it around the corner—of supposed doctors who have miracle cures. Cancers a really common one. And in those cases, before you ask why isn’t in the news—well, because the good doctors don’t do it for money, and won’t share with companies that would. Most of the stories are crackpot nonsense. The Crowe’s were one of the more extreme though. They didn’t cure cancer—they cured death.

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Eliza Crowe has two obituraries, one from 1932 and one from a 1968. Printed in the same small paper, the two obituaries have the same details up for the first twelve years. That gave the stories of Louis Crowe having some sort of miracle cure more grounded—it spread around the house, and was easy to follow when we got here.

The fountain in the courtyard is covered in moss—stagnated without proper care. The water company had cut it off a while back, in preparation for the planned demolition. Electricity out too. As I walk up to the door, I hear glass crack. Looking up, I saw the shattered skylight, bit of glass still there. So, it was still here.

The door was locked—given it came and went from the ceiling, that wasn’t so surprising. Fortunately, the Crowe’s were predictable. Spare key in the potted plant. I mean, I guess a potted cactus is more secure then under the doormat. The heavy double doors open, and the remains of the living room are apparent. High ceiling, sitting area a small stair walk down. Couch was torn, some by a dog or coyote that’d wandered in, some by the actual issue. Four fan blades shot up from a shattered light.

There was stained cotton all over the floor, some giving away it’s footsteps. I listened for any movement in the house.

Nothing. I walked along the wall, passing the dining room towards the steps—there was noise. I turned quick, bat ready—and only flies. Flies buzzing around the dishes in the kitchen and on the table, some wasted away parts of food.

The Crowe’s didn’t keep much of their great grandfathers work, but they did know what we were on about. We talked for a bit, and the older Crowe says its all true—his mom not only died, she died in a fire. Louis Crowe was able to restore his mother from just ashes using a family secret. Of course, when asked why his mother had died anyway—albeit later—he shrugged and said his mother was a very righteous woman. She wanted to see her Lord in Heaven.

Of course, when we left, they hadn’t told us the secret recipe. I didn’t mind—odds were, it was some snake oil or something. That sort of selfless honesty—well, I could believe it of one or two generations of people, but a family? That never sold out a secret? No, not these days. You could make bank with that sort of thing, some black helicopter would have swept it up, surely.

Alfred didn’t think so. I really shouldn’t have been surprised, when he had that look in his eyes, that there was a break in to the house in another three weeks—and that the family vault had been broken open. Nothing missing, but the Crowe’s medicine book was open.

The stairs creek as I walk past stained and broken pictures of mountain landscapes. There’s a smashed imported tile scattered on the hallway threshold, the door still open. I have to be quiet now. Three vials and the bat is all I have. Three strikes, and I’ll be out. Hell, two and it’ll be over.

It sleeps during the day. Or at least, it doesn’t hunt in the light. People made it out during the night, the calls came during the night. The strange long limbs, the occasional eye, the crouching gargoyle that wasn’t on the church before.

One kid even told me that it spoke—the kid knew some old Greek, and thought he heard someone whispering old Homeric verses around the house one night. The kid followed the sound—the road was well lit, and he saw a tall man in an illfitting jacket and looking away, a hat on. The kid didn’t get close—smart, really, when the thing turned to face him.

All the kid would say was that he ‘didn’t look right’. The man’s face, looked weird. Droopy and strange.

The Crowe House

I didn’t see Alfred for six weeks—and he didn’t look good when he knocked on my office door. I looked up to see a haggard man standing there, bags under his eyes and skin now sickly pale-green. Before I said a word, he held a hand up.

Hey, long time no see, brought someone by,” he said quickly—and I heard the thwapping of a tale on the door. A small snout poked out, and then a jubliant ball of fluff jumped into my lap. I impulsively pet the corgi as Alfred took a seat and slumped down.

Great isn’t he?” Alfred said, cutting me off again. “He’s just as lively as when I was a kid.”

I paused a the corgi panted in my lap.

What do you mean when you were—Alfred, is this…?” I said, holding he’s head up in my hands.

Rocket, yeah.” Alfred said nodding. “Crowe’s formula works—its a miracle.”

…And he’s not like, a zombie? He seems…really friendly.” I said frowning. Rocket for his part titled his head at me and licked my nose.

No, no, nothing wrong with him as far as I can tell.”

…so what’s keeping you up at night? Took six weeks to make the formula?” I asked slowly. “I mean, why are…not calling me or emailing or…”

Well…” He looked at his ruined shoes.

Alfred, you look like shit, not like someone who solved the problem of dying.”

There’s a clay vase in our house.” He said slowly. “It’s old—like, before my grandparents came to the States old. No, like, before my grandparents grandparents moved to Greece old. I don’t know how old. It’s got some ashes in it, and I…I always wondered who’s they were. There was a picture on the top—they’d layered it over a few times, but it was portrait. I thought, you know, why not? Why not find out who this was?”

…Alfred, you didn’t…”

Alfred looked at his hands.

Well, see, I thought it might go wrong. Brought a few buddies over first, got everything ready, and figured five of us could take a startled and newly reborn person down. I hadn’t asked though, about the ashes. If they were human ashes.”

I stared as Alfred pulled out a handful of vials and a few pages.

I…I think it recognizes me. I know it does. I think it followed me, Andy. It followed me, and after me it’s going to try and find the book. I didn’t take the pages—I made photos. But I think it can read, and if it can read, it knows where I took those photos.” Alfred rambled, putting the crumpled papers and the vials on the desk. “I’m…I’m going back to the Crowe house tomorrow, with some things—some things that Louis said would put a man down. Down for good. But if I don’t do it, if I fuck it up, Andrew I need you to do it.”

I kept staring.

Keep Rocket safe, he’s a good dog, I just—I fucked this up and I need to get things sorted okay.”

I nodded.

You should get help if your in a bad place.” I said slowly.

A bad place? A bad place? Listen—I gotta go. If it knows I’m here, it might go after you, and—look, keep Rocket, I’ll be back for him if I can.”

Alfred didn’t come back. The police came by my apartment the next day—Rockets barking let me know. Alfred had been seen, of course, leaving my office at the university. He’d shown up, body badly mangled. A week before his funeral, someone broke into the Crowe’s house. When I got back down to the desert, cats were going missing every night.

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I wasn’t completely clear on what Alfred had woken up. But his writing, panicked at the end, made it clear he was worried it’d find the formula Louis had made…and that it would wake more of it’s kind from ashes around the world. That “a once long lost horror might again walk the world unawares”.

Purple prose to the end.

It’s lying on the bed at the end of the hall—a nest of piled beds. Up close, the sunlight illuminated stretched flesh that shuddered and shivered. Its limbs changed—folding into and out of each other, blurring together. A squat head on top of it, like clay crudely molded into a human form. Two eyes, then four, all resting. It looked peaceful, as I opened the first vial.

The eyes burst open as I poured the vial out on its torso. It let out a howl and started to move—I swung the bat, again and again. It screamed. It aged, skin tightening and tearing.

I opened the second vial with my mouth, as the thing struggled to wake up and shake off the blows to the skull. The noise grew worse with the second vial—its flesh sloughing off as it howled. Organs pulsed beneath a thin paper veil of flesh. It was close, it was fading—it was pitiful really. Feeble hands reaching up to stop me.

I beat them down with my bat, and smashed the third vial.

I watched as it, howling and groaning, turned to ash and dust. Leaving not but a few small cat bones in the middle.


 

This story went through a few drafts, and I’m happy with the current set up. I never was able to nail down exactly what the monster was, or even what it looked like–and so the ending kind of falls flat I feel. Still, I am proud of the idea of reviving an alien horror unintentionally–in a longer story or with more time, I think it could have been delievered more effectively.

Next week! We begin looking at the folklore and horror found in one particular US state!

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The Bird Book

This Weeks Prompt: 86. To find something horrible in a (perhaps familiar) book, and not to be able to find it again.

The Prior Research:a book

It was either Borders or Barnes and Noble. Yes, I know one closed ages ago, but this was ages ago. Yeah, their two separate companies, but they have the same vibe you know? They’ve got the same big sign, the same letters, the same rows of books arranged in the same categories, all of them new and fresh. It’s not like a Bookmans, where the books are sprawled and it takes a bit to piece together the categories. It’s not a university store, with it’s basement and maze, and categories you didn’t realize people made a living writing books on.

I started there because it was easy enough. Again, easy to navigate. Easy to find. Easy even to check online to make sure they had the book I was looking for.

The notion had come to me, like memories usually do, when I was at work. I was doing inventory again—in one of those parts of the office where inventory hadn’t been done in years. Wouldn’t have been done in years, if it weren’t for an oncoming audit. I had been going through the supplies, finding all sorts of strange things—board games, for instance, based on President Obama’s election. Did you know there were two of those? They made two whole educational board games about it. Several hundred unsold CDs by local artists that were friends of the office. DvDs, mostly of the same educational video.

I had found two stranger things, however. They really were innocuous—eight envelopes. Three labeled “Numbers”, five labeled “Words”.

They felt important—I could feel paper shifting behind them. Probably, honestly speaking? They where flash cards for little kids. That was it. Just. Just flash cards.

But okay, if they were flash cards, I wouldn’t be here, looking for that book. Moldovi’s Ancient and Classic Stories: Tall Tales and Exciting Adventures from Around the Globe. It had a leather cover, gold lettering on the front, and a wonderful print of the globe with little monsters coming off the side. Well, mine did. The new edition did that terrible thing, where it was just a picture of a single ominous image—a globe held by a contemplative statue.

Anyway, I loved the book as a kid. Adored it, read it constantly. But I remembered this weird page—it was page after the story of Brandmante. A reprint of Bulfinch’s Mythology’s section on Charlemagne. There was this page, and I couldn’t quite remember what was on it honestly. Only I didn’t read the book again after that. I think it involved a bird.

I flicked through the new introduction, glossy paper feeling sharp on my fingers. They’d kept some of the original illustrations in the new version, but not all of them. Some had been replaced by a picutre of an archaeological thing. You know, a Greek vase for going over the story of Hercules, some Philippine art for Maui—no, that’s Polynesian. It jumbled the text sometimes, but eventually I reached the end of Bradmante’s bit and reached—Byrnhild.

I flipped back and forth. No middle page. Frowning, I checked the editions listing. I knew something was missing, might have gotten lost in an edit—it had editions from 1920, 1935, 1950, 1980, 1991, 1995, reprint in 1996, an updated edition in 2005, and then this one. Maybe it had gotten lost in the shuffle. I slipped the book back on the shelf, and hoped no one really noticed me as I left. I know Borders and Noble “isn’t a library”, but when you need to check one thing…whatever.

Falcon 1 Diving

Tracking down an older edition of a book is relatively easy, if you want to actually own it. Finding a place that will let you, you know, just quickly check a page is a bit harder. Luckily I knew a place that tended to accumulate books. I did look before—the cover of mine was a 1935 copy. Second printing, had the gold orb with the little people sprouting off of it. Looking at the cover on my screen I realized that, huh. The people were in costumes. I hadn’t noticed it as a kid, but the little boy sticking out of the US definitely had a cowboy hat.

It was a dense store. Shelves up to the ceiling, with just enough room for you to slip in between them. Towards the back, there was an opening into even more shelves, more books, and that way was a maze of the strange. I’d found centuries old books here. I’d felt like I lost centuries wandering around in here. So I thought this time, I’ll just check the front.

Hey Phil.” I said, walking up to the counter. Phil sat on a stool, glasses nearly falling off his nose as he looked over a small crate of new arrivals. His hands only had color relative to the pale yellowed pages that he was looking over carefully. “Hows the catalog going?”

Its wo going along fine. What do you need?”

I’m looking for an older book.” I said, drumming my fingers. A crow screeched outside, as Phil nodded slowly.

I might have a few books that are old.”

Right, duh. I’m looking for a copy of Moldovi’s Ancient and Classic Stories: Tall Tales and Exciting Adventures from Around the Globe. Older the better—First Edition if you have it.” I said, holding up a picture of the cover on my phone.

Lemee see…thats a new name.” Phil said, turning over to his computer. He’d spent every day I knew typing into the computer—name, title, edition. A growing record of what he’d inherited from the old man, what he had bought from collectors, what he’d sold to other collectors, libraries, and more. A few clacks later, he nods and gestures for me to follow.

So, Jim had a second edition—that’s as old as I’ve got. That sound right?” Phil said, descending into the depths of the musty cellar. I shrugged. Might be.

The second edition had a similar cover—not exactly the same, but a globe, people popping out of it. I automatically skimmed to the page after Bradmante. There was a brief poem, about a bird—the Awal bird.

Up and Down it goes

The sound grows and grows

The Awal Bird catches and drops

The Mouse screams as it squawks

As the rodent’s heart gives out

the Awal Bird eats the mouse.”

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The poem was familiar. Yes, I’d read this before. It was next to the picture—a picture of the Awal bird and the Mouse. There was a footnote—a redirection to the introduction, for the second edition. Back through the pages.

The first printing of Moldovi’s Ancient and Classic Stories: Tall Tales and Exciting Adventures from Around the Globe contained a number of misprints and factual errors or outright forgeries. After some considerations, and much conversation, a number of pieces have been removed. Major alterations include: The Awal Bird* illustration, misprinted in one in three instances; the Jala dog*, which was determined to be a derogatory tale from local Spanish authorities and having no real basis in tales of the area; the Womi-tali*, a combination of nonsense syllables that again, appears to be an English invention of little providence; the illustration of Typhon, misprinted in one in four cases; an instance of the Grootslang* misprinted in one in five cases; the picture of the Faerie Queen, misprinted in six out of ten cases; the story of the Wandering Sword, rewritten after a second translation; and lastly the image of the dying Medusa, misprinted in one of five1*. In cases where originals could be found, they were printed. In cases where they could not be located, sadly, omissions had to be made. These are marked with a * above.

The introduction rambled on more about the responsibility of editors and parents in these trying times to monitor the stories of the youth to prevent a descent into insolent barbarism. Whatever. Missing page was a misprint was the problem. Which meant either spending ages looking for a first edition that maintained the misprint—a one in three chance—or finding the one from my child hood. And that meant going home.

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Home is a rambling place. Home is a fetid place. I didn’t know that word, really, until I heard some author use it to describe the house I lived in, between the trees. The driveway’s perpetually marred by bird crap. Mom never bothered get rid of it, and the birds—the white birds, leaning over with their long legs and necks. They loved our home.

My car pulls up on the overtake driveway—cracks and dents from time rattling the tires. The birds all watch me—the pale ones look like a cat licked them slick. Feathers flicking out at the end. One ruffles its feathers with its needle beak. I hate them.

They only seem to come into this part of town—no doubt someone’s escaped pets. One of them squawks at me.

I fumble with the keys, cursing a bit. They haven’t changed the lock yet. Maybe they’ll forget to. When I final managed to convince the door its me, I open into the bare interior. The wallpaper is mostly gone—there’s a strip of a flur de les in the upper right corner of the living room. There’s a few chairs there. Ones no one would buy cheap, ones that would take too much effort to donate. Ones that were sick with mold.

I didn’t dally long. Well, no. I had dallied. Mom’s library was what I was supposed to clear out. Honestly, I hadn’t gotten to it yet. I would have but, but well. Books are heavy, in both the literal and cheesy way. Taking them out felt weird. And then things happen, things continue to happen. It was weird.

An impatient bird squawk comes from outside. The stairs creek beneath my weight, unaccustomed to a somewhat healthy adult presence. Much better for children, or potsmoking teenagers, or whoever actually came here anymore. The grafitti on one wall suggested they fucked—but who knows. Kids lie.

Still, the second story den door was shut. Still locked even. Immaculate. A persian rug, grey with dust. Some fungus growing out of one of the pipes. The bookshelf wore its age well, shelves like creases in some preserved brain. No, thats not right. Like ribs. If I’m going to compare it to a body, it was a like wooden, rotting, putrefying ribs.

I brushed away the spiderwebs with a stick, and then struck the floor a few times to keep them away and dead. Then I reached up—up—to the upper right. The red book, with it’s gold cover. Faded with time, yes. Pages feeling like crisp cloth, delicate and sharp at the same time. I carefully thumbed through it.

My heart stopped.

Six eyes. Seven eyes. Fractal eyes. Fractal, screaming mice. Rising and falling. Each instance, a hundred iterations. All of them—all the bird eyes, bird wings, flapping, falling, soaring, diving.

All looking at me, blended together into a single circle. Time had rotted parts of the page. The spaces in the ink were more eyes. It stained my fingers as I ran over it—it stained and stuck. The holes my hands left became more birds. More eyes.

I didn’t scream.

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I stumbled back to car. The birds start flying, circling and then taking off. But the circle stays overhead for a second. Just a moment, an empty circle as the car starts.

The Awal Bird

A curious bird, sometimes called the yo-yo bird reported in a few mountain areas, particuarly in the Rockies. The awal is said to grip its prey, and fly high into the air. Unlike most birds, however, it does not tear into its food. Rather, it drops the morsel from a great height and dives after it. The awal bird does this many times, until the poor mouse—or larger creature—suffers a heart attack and dies. Then, the awal bird feasts on the perfectly preserved remains. Stories suggest that a larger bird, or that flocks of them, will seize small children for meals.

1This image in particular horrified some of our younger readers. It appears the image of the medusa misprinted to look as if she had a second set of eyes in her mouth and mouth beneath—we apologize for the distraught.

 




The above story still feels off. It feels too settled, and like the vestige of another, more intricate piece. The premise of the birds is a story I remember, but honestly can’t place. I think it might be from  Borges, fittingly enough–but I didn’t check too deeply.

Next week, we resume a more normal programming, with the ways to raise the dead with ashes and even organs perhaps! Come and see the essential salts!

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

The Shifting Temple

This Week’s Prompt: 80. Shapeless living thing forming nucleus of ancient building.

The Prior Research: There Is Nought But Chaos

The valley of Olim sits along the bubbling river Syper. The river runs down from a mountain, littered with cracked stones, and across a number of misty hills, before arriving through the path of it’s ancestor—the glacier Euroni, who’s ponderous mass filled the valley—and reaching out into the sea of the dead. The river in truth carries through many more places, but those are not of important to this story. The valley of Olim is nurtured by the river, and like many such valleys and rivers, a number of people have come to live on its shores.

As a young man, I traveled to Olim when it’s walls were still covered in ever thickening layers of ivory. I had come to study architecture—the carvings and burrows of the people where fascinating to me, their carefully made stone work wrapping around the great trees and rising from the marshy banks. In part, I wanted to understand how they had built such stable lives on unsure footing. More accurately, I wished to understand the great temple that sat at the center of the city, astride the river.

The temple was a bulbous shape, a great dome atop with a blossoming flower of many colored jades and metals. The temple without is remarkable, yes. Its walls resemble tree trunks, with roots and branches for soaring rafters and buttresses. Along the roof is a great garden, surrounding the dome in a halo of life. Pumps run river water around it, four waterfalls careening back off the temple top into the sea.

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To the architectural mind, the most frustrating matter was the interior. The great temple is a single wheel shaped structure, with an interior column running up the middle. This column contains a stair well—and if one enters the stair well, it leads upwards, without branching or changing. Yes, I’m sure your amazed that the most simple functions of a stair way still operate. Nonetheless, the reverse is not true—go down the stairwell and you will find yourself in another room from where you started.

This fact was reported to me before I came to Olim. I considered it at first to be a clever trick of the column. Surely, it rotated or shifted the stairs around while the visitors were not looking. This would explain how the priests and attendants knew how to move about the tower—there was some clockwork gears and contraptions moving the stairs. It might shift the walls slightly, so that their length hid the illusion.

I decided, on my first day—well, second. My first day I spent recovering in the house of my host, as something disagreeable had come into the water I had. Regardless, my first real day I went to the temple. I saw the great murals, the offerings left behind. Straightening my cuffs, I tried my best to avoid attention. The smoke that rose out of the altars helped.

It was an unpleasant experience. The air was thick with mist and incense, and even in the relatively cool and isolated stair case, it felt like a sauna. I wondered if this was a part of the illusion of the temple. To get visitors in such a confused state that its operations would go entirely unnoticed. I went up the stairs as best I could—the walls were decorated here with total abstractions. Pyramids seemed to gradually come into view, and fractal squares and circles continued to blossom all the way up the corkscrew—until I arrived at the top. I stood and stared over the winding river and forests. The wind was a relief as I stared sat in the sacred gardens. I breathed deep, to clear my mind.

And then set back down again—counting my steps, and carefully watching the walls for shifts both subtle and vulgar. And I walked down, feeling each step, until at last I stopped—before an eyeless statue of Joni, the Watcher of Paradises Gate. I frowned, and turned about. There were little statues lining the hall. There were priests intoning prayers drawn from a bowl. It was certainly a shrine. I turned to the door—the stairs lead down again, but none went back up to the roof. I continued down, and found another shrine—to Delia the Traveler—and then another, and after the fourth I reached the bottom again.

Wall 1 Temple.png

After withdrawing to consider all the events, I concluded that the first room had occluded my vision. I would need a more definite way of navigating next time. So I examined my cartographic and measuring supplies, and removed a set of nodes—small pyramids, with compass orienting tips. I had about three dozen to leave carefully on the stairs. Then I’d use a compass to navigate back. That should help against any tricks of the temple priests.

The priests did grin when I returned and asked if I needed anything—my face must have given away my determination, if not my frustration. I waved them off for now, and set up to the gardens. Every ten steps, I let one of the pyramids fall—pushed against the wall, to prevent them from being noticed and taken. I consulted my compass as I walked up, to see what might have changed behind me—and the compass shifted somewhat as I went. But it went in a spiral, like the stairs. So that was expected. At last I emerged onto the beauty of the garden from the heated tunnel below.

I breathed, stretched, and immediately went back down into the depths. Like clockwork, I found the first pyramid. My compass lead me to the second—and then the twelfth. I frowned and examined the small pyramid again. Perhaps, I reckoned, I had missed the early ones. Heading back up, my eyes caught a waver in the air as the stones shimmered. I found the fourth, the fifth, the third…and so on. I paced up and down the stairs, finding my pyramids now at the entrances of shrines I did not know or alcoves and libraries unfamiliar. It took the better part of an hour, by my count, to locate all thirty and arrive back at the bottom.

Perhaps…perhaps what happened next was rash. Honestly, it was a dire mood that came over me. It wasn’t the sort of rash frustration that one fumes about and is free of—it was a driving force that possessed my best faculties. I turned and left, wordless as I examined my own notes. There was something amiss, I reasoned, with a stairway like that. The core of this building—no, it was built in correctly. It was built wrong and if I could understand how it was built so wrong, I could improve on it.

I couldn’t hope to do it during the light of day. The priests knew many strange prayers, but an architects tools were likely to draw attention. And surely, surely, they would refuse to allow their ruse to be undone. More importantly, my work was likely to involve a more destructive habit then they were used to. I had to tear through that column, see their clockwork mechanisms. I had to see how they did this. What arcane secrets powered this nonsense miracle. And that might be objected to.

So it was that in the dark of the night, in a heavy jacket and with a sledgehammer I slunk in. I looked the part of a lone iconoclast. But my goal was not the statues, the paintings, the other trappings and decorations. The jewels of the temple I did not take aim at. No, with chisel and hammer, I went for its holy heart.

When a priest asked my purpose—the poor neophyte, new to his orders, but perhaps guessing my goal—I told him I was here to carve a new shrine into the alcove. Hence my tools. Yes, it was an unusual request, but the god in question could only be honored in the night. The sunlight would ruin my tools, I explained. It would make them no longer capable of working with the sacred. And so I went up the stairs without further objection.

Once I was sure I was out of earshot, I struck hard and fast at the central stone. I struck that cured fractal eye—exactly in it’s pulsing blue pupil. It cracked. I heard a commoiton down the stairs—the neophyte had reported the strange sculptor no doubt. None the less, I needed to know what was at work here. What diabolical sorcery had they employed.

The cracks formed quickly—the stone was thinner than I expected. Another whack and another. On the tenth, the stone chipped. I had made, with careful precision, a triangle in the wall. And now, as I hear steps rushing up to stop me, I pull it out. Crowbar in hand, I gazed in.

Into a shimmer skin, a membrane that is all the colors of the rainbow. It appears like a tree’s bark one second, a cows hide the next. I see the glimmering eyes of a spider, then a drifting flock of birds. I see the steps whirling in other parts of it—space itself digested and shaped by a vast pulsing thing. I saw worlds and shapes floating in it’s jetsam. For a moment, I saw all the million shapes of life.

Wall 2 Temple.png

I saw and I could not understand.

And in the next moment, it stopped. Petrified, bubbling stone was all that was left. Gas sighed out, and screams broke out. There walls cracked as stairs collapsed from unseen room. I saw shrines buried in it’s skin trapped forever. As the priests laid hands on me, I understood that the temple had died that day. And that something was lost.

A dozen or so parishioners died that night. Or we assume they are dead—the rooms they were in are no longer accessible. A hundred or more shrines are stuck, unable to be found anymore. Others are being excavated as best they can from the interior. I have been banished from the valley—and from three other towns, once my reputation found its way out of my wine stained lips. The ivy does not grow in Olim. The woods have begun to recede. Every year, they say, the river grows more gray.

 


This story was fun to write, if a bit short. I drew more from the Taoist texts then the great beast stories–I found the story of Hundun espeically interesting to approach. All in all, while I could have stretched this story some, I think I’ve captured the main thrust here. Did you have a different approach to the prompt?

Next week, come and gaze into dreaming stones and inspiring muses! …not as bad as last time I promise, these muses are kinder.

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

Samson And Delilah

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

The Prior Research: A Dreadful Day For A Wedding

The marriage was the biggest spectacle Delilah had ever seen. Her wandering fiance Samson  had brought in far away wine, musicians from eastern lands where dreams made up the desert sands, fire breathers and jugglers from the circus, food and fowl from northern mist clad counties. Her mother was so proud to see her in a wedding white. Her husband had been strangely silent in his suit, smiling without ever showing any teeth. Delilah drank another glass.

BluebeardWedding.png

 

It was probably nerves about the wedding night. She had them too—her mother had tried to explain to her what could happen on wedding nights. Of course she’d already known—she had married friends who, when a bit tipsy or tired or angry, confided about the bedroom. And their husbands were far less fine then hers.

The night carried on for a time, and at last the guests began to leave. Delilah hugged her mother close—her mother wept on her shoulder. She was so proud. Delilah never heard her weep that her daughter was gone from her forever. Never heard the silent curses as the house, small as it was, grew all the quieter.

Delilah and her husband walked home, across the old white stone roads the Romans laid. They came up a hill to his house—a house she’d seen often as a child, though always in an abandoned state. She had assumed for years that no-one lived there. But three months ago, it was as wondrous as the prince’s palace—its walls clean and shining green, with roofs of bright purple and gold. Servants were mulling about, its gardens full of blossoming flowers. When she asked a friend who lived nearby, she was told that the great house had a new heir. It’s base was set like a wide disc, with a tower rising from the center.

BluebeardHouse.png

And that Samson now took her by the arm and up to the gate. He smiled dat her, his proper smile now. Teeth glittering white in the moonlight, reaching from his lips to his green eyes. They walked threw the evening mist and dew to the great oak door. Its leonine knokcer gently thudded as a footman opened the door—into the candlelit hall, with its great fountain at the center. Suits of restored ancestral armor, with there ceremonial armor and jeweled swords, stood guard at the stair case. And above, on the ceiling, was painted a whole host of angels.

 

“Well, that was certainly an affair.” He said as we walked up the steps.

“Was it? I thought it rather lovely.” Delilah said smiling and carefully minding my steps.

“Even with the stories?”

“Well, Anne couldn’t let me get married without making sure everyone knew what I was like at three years.” Delilah said, giggling a little. “I’m sure yours would have done the same.”

BluebeardBackUp.png

“Well then I count myself lucky they had business away.” He said, laughing. Delilah felt a pang of guilt—she knew little of Samson’s family, but they rarely saw him and seemed to care little of him. She hoped that such distance wasn’t normal among such wealthy personages—Lord in Heaven, she wouldn’t be so distant with her own children.

Up the stairs they went—Samson’s servants opening the doors ahead. Pale ivory doors parted like moonlight deeper and deeper in. At last, behind a well wrought door of silver, was the bed chamber. Four lion heads held up the top of the bed, grinning faces of gold looking down. Delilah had often heard of wedding nights.

*

The next day, the two parted. Samson entrusted Delilah with a set of keys—golden, each with a glittering gem at the top. Every door in the house had a key, Samson said, marked with the inlaid gem. It was all hers to see and take in.

“I don’t want you getting bored or complacent—so entertain yourself with each room, and you will find delights that never end.” Samson said, as he put on his coat and hat. “But please, do not go into the room marked with two gems—cat’s eye and the other one..”

He held out the key, who’s stones looked like eyes of glass and was carved with a lion and a wolf. He shook it almost in front of Delilah’s face.

“Not this one. It goes to my own chambers, the only place of privacy in my entire house—when I am there, do not bother me but be patient on my return. Do not worry too much when or how I come there either—it is a place of mine. The rest, however, are ours.” And with that, and a kiss on the cheek, he left.

DelilahReading.png

Delilah considered the keys. She set about through the rooms—each with it’s gemstone. In the red coral room, there were wondrous arms and armors—the heads of great beasts from the hunts, armor shimmering with decorations, hilts with eagle wings of bronze. The heads of great beasts were stuffed along it’s walls, from bears to deer to great wild cattle. He was a brave warrior and hunter, her husband. Or, Delilah thought, perhaps his family was. There were fine silks as well, and chests overflowing with treasures. Plunder and spoils it seemed.

The room with the diamond was more her suiting however. Here were portraits lining the wall—eyes all fixed on the center. There a column of women stood, carved of marble. Delilah gripped her shoulders as she paced the incompete pillar—for there were still portions unworked around the edge. The statues were painted ever so slightly. A small blush, the tiny glimmer of jeweled eyes, a faint bruise on the skin, a thin scratch. The artistry was in the dress though. Delilah found it unnerving to see the clothes…she could not tell without touching whether they were exquisite stone carvings or the women’s own dress. There were desks, with many mirrors arrayed around them. If she pulled the curtains close behind her, the eyes of the portraits and statues didn’t glimmer back at her as she examined the jewelry. Another place to explore, she decided when she had more time.

The next room had a great pearl on it’s top—and within she found many treasures indeed! She found works of poetry and a number of paintings—these of luschious landscapes and forests, instead of persons, full of animals in the hunt or watching with curiosity at the painter. Several were still finished, including one of her—or she assumed of her. The seat was there, and she settled into the pose she imagined Samson would remember her in. She wondered if she would be carved into the pillar as well—and now frowned. Where those past wives of his, or the women of his family. They had seemed all rather young.

She considered but moved along to the emerald door. Here she found shelves upon shelves of scrolls and books—how well read Samson seemed! She barely knew her letters, her family never had the money for education. But she could learn to love these treasures as well. There were some held open to illustrations of holy men or of teachings she remembered from priests in town or tales her parents told. Btu not many so clear.

Beside it was the room with a yellow gem. The lock took some working this time—and inside Delilah understood why. Like the emerald room, this was a room full of shelves—but on each was a crown, carefully wrought of gold. A small image was above it, recounting no doubt the lineage of Samson’s family. And at the center was a display—a great golden mace, with gems along it. Behind it was a flowing robe and cape of heavy wool, gold woven with the cloth. There were gems along as buttons—shining diamonds and amethysts. Purple and gold, a royal coat in deed. But hidden away—Delilah was under no illusion that her husband might be heir one day to some royal family. Not anymore anyway.

Still, perhaps one day there would be an inheritance to the crown. They were strange crowns, admittedly—most had ivory spikes rising from their heads, and all of them were rather old fashioned. They looked like the crowns on fallen statues in the woods, not kingly images the tax collectors carried or that were stamped on the occasional gold coin she had seen.

Some older place then, or some far away land. Still. A noble king and scholar, a warrior and perhaps a poet.

And then there was the door with it’s two gems—a red stone and a yellow one that glimmered like a cat’s eye. The red stone was in the right hand of a man, the yellow in the left—his own eyes stared back out with glimmering opals. It was an enticing door, with his pearlescent smile and glimmering eyes. But Delilah ignored it, and pushed on to the room with the sapphire—embedded in a skull, yes, but still it had been granted to her.

And in that room she found copious bones, gilded and held in metal boxes. Each had pictures atop it, and Delilah recognized the lives of a hundred saints in this gallery. Saints from as far as mist covered marshes of Wales to the distant east where their own saints left rainbows in their wake. Holy tools from a hundred places the world over. Some were petrified eyes, some where finger bones, some were nails. And at the center, enshrined with images of four beasts at each corner, was a carefully suspended spearhead. It was stained blood red on one side, the other was washed clean and stainless. A curious relic. Not one she was familiar with. She would ask about it in time.

*

And so Delilah continued along the spiraling house of Samson. He did return, tired but lively, a few days hence. She heard the sound of footsteps in the halls, and managed to catch him closing his study door. She pestered him with questions—about his auspicious lance, which he explained as a relic of a very distant ancestor, that had been blessed by holy blood. He agreed to teach her some letters.

“And until then I can of course read you the stories and romances, and some of the poems.” Samson said nodding. “Or have a servant do so when I am away.”

“Ah, only some? Why only some of the poems?” Delilah asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Because a man has the right to bury his shames, and many of those poems record my shames.” He said. She laughed at that.

“Oh my, did my husband leave his heart on the page? How awful.”

“To write one’s passions is not shameful—but perhaps to articulate them as a youth would leaves something to be desired.” He said, joining her in laughter.

Well, she reckoned she could find a servant who would tell her of those youthful poems.

After a time, Delilah tired of the house. With Samson’s permit, she sent a carriage back to town—to learn what had become of her friends in her absence, and how affairs were ordered. Only Anne was willing to visit her, although Delilah never learned why. She delighted in showing the rooms to Anne, and enjoying tea.

The subject of the married life and the house came up again and again during their conversations over tea. Delilah even gave Anne a wonderful broach from one of the rooms, to mend the many struggles between them. Anne’s curiosity was mostly sated, until she asked about the two-jeweled door. To Delilah’s surprise, Anne’s face fell at the explanation of the door. She shook her head, and placed the cup down on the table.

Anne and Delilah.png

“Oh, poor Delilah. Poor girl, what will your mother say when she learns what you’ve married?” Anne said, shaking her head.

“A scholar and a prince? What’s to be ashamed of that?” Delilah said, folding her arms.

“Do you believe it? No, truly, you and your mother have been tricked by a sorcerer. Go into the two faced door—there I wager he keeps his arts and secret magic to raise the building and enthrall you. You must go in at once, when he is far away. You’ll find proof no doubt, that all this is but a game for him.”

Delilah considered it, even as they moved on to other topics of gossip—the affairs and arguments of old flames, rumors of scandal, and more. When she eventually returned home, she found a note from her husband—he had left for business for several days, as his erstwhile family needed him. She was free to herself again.

She paced from each of the rooms, taking in all their delights. But still the twin gems haunted her. Day and night she stared at the door. Its grin taunted her with secrets—surely it was only a matter of time before she would learn its contents from her husband. Surely it was only a matter of waiting—surely, that room held nothing more viscous then rumors.

She crept quietly—she was unsure the servants would be forgiving. The door opened easily, the lock clicked silently as she stepped into a darkened room, candle in her shaking hand.

The room was bare stone. A window marked with claws let the sunlight into the forbidden room. And with its help, Delilah saw a dreadful site—her husband’s empty skin was on the wall. Below, bloodstained table. Beside an iron cauldron lined with grease. A drop of blood fell on Delilah’s face. She did not look up at the hundred empty eyes. She did not look up. She closed the door, silent as a cat.

But the lock would not click shut. To Delilah’s horror, the lock would not shut. She strained with the key—if her husband came home, and found it open, Lord only knows what he would do. She tried and tried and tried to click the lock shut. The smiling door mocked her efforts until at last she forced the key free.

At once, Delilah called for a servant to fetch her a carriage—she wanted to see her mother, she said. She managed anyway. Her face was as pale as a corpse, her eyes full of terror. The servant, perhaps wise to what had happened, shook his head—there was but one carriage befitting a lady. And her husband had taken that to his relations.

Before she could ask for more, Delilah heard a clatter from the halls. She turned to the noise—poor girl, she turned to see her husband. His eyes glittered like gems. And now she saw how his skin seemed ill fit. It hung loose around his neck. He had put it on in a rush. His wrist seemed wrinkled, as it bent a saber.

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“Ah, Delilah dearest—did you enjoy your day?” He asked, smiling like the moon. Delilah opened her mouth to speak. The words caught in her throat as Samson reached into his coat—and produced a single shard of worn gold.

“Delilah, dearest, I made one request. I found this, stuck in my study door—the tooth of my keys.” He said, shaking his head. “I made but one request.”

Before Delilah could speak, there was a flash of steel. Her body fell to the ground, as Samson held her head by her hair.

“And she was so lovely—I’ll have to hang this one well.” He said. With a wave of her sword, the blood was stopped and the floor was cleaned. “Her mother…is she passed already?”

The footmen, taking Delilah’s body in his arms, nodded.

“Well, that is for the best I suppose. Had she any friends? I would rather not leave so soon.” Samson asked, tilting his head.

“The lady was visited by one Anne from town, sir. She seemed wiser.” The footman replied.

“That settles it—Send for her soon. I would hope to have a wife last longer.” Samson said, shaking his head. “A few months is hard to savor. Light the iron as well—My hunt went well, and now I want to eat away my sorrow.”

And so Anne and Samson lived happily ever after.

***

This week’s story is a bit long, but was fun to write. I don’t have much insightful commentary–I’m pretty sure sticking close to the origin was a good decision here, and didn’t find much to improve on the original format. I hope it was enjoyable! Next week, more lively foundations!

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The Harvest Moon Shines Down

This Week’s Prompt: 77. Unspeakable dance of the gargoyles—in morning several gargoyles on old cathedral found transposed.

The Prior Research:We Can Dance If We Want To

Ever since Lena was a babe, she’d loved the moon. It hung in the sky, shifting slowly through the months—a pale or yellow orb smiling down. Less harsh than the sun, it was kind to Lena. It didn’t blind her and its rays of light didn’t weigh down on the backs of her parents. Not that anyone worked under the moon, of course—Lena had to sneak out to stare up at it during the night, because everyone else slept. And moonlight was a comforting pale light, even more calming than a warm fire.

She went among the hills, to get a good look at it. She passed over stone shapes—the broken remains of a long buried cathedral, craggy gargoyles sticking their heads out. She sometimes found other bits of the old town—even the old well, overgrown now. Her parents told Lena to avoid the well water—something had died in the well, a long time ago. The death lingered in the water. They had abandoned everything, to escape that water.

The other children said that a well man had moved in, a specter that had started collecting the souls of dead things down there. Father Mitchell, the old priest, couldn’t get rid of it—so they moved the entire neighborhood and the church as well, stone by stone. Except the gargoyles, buried somehow. Others said that one day, all the stars in heaven had smashed it down. They were so sick, they needed a new place to stay. Others said that a great bird had blown it away with its wings, and secretly made its nest over in the mountains near Windgift.

Even as a child, Lena doubted that story. She became well acquainted with the shape of the old town—it was the best place to see the moon from. Most was rubble…but gargoyle heads poked from hillsides, and pillars rose from the broken sections of road. Her parents knew she wandered at night, especially on full moons. They did not mind. Such wanderings were good for her soul, and gave her appreciation of the world—and nothing dangerous lived in the hills. No wolves or specters or bandits could bare it anymore.

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There was one exception, however. During the first full moon of autumn, Lena was kept inside the house. The first time this happened when she was eleven, she merely assumed her parents were tired of her escapes—and so stayed inside for a few nights more, hoping they would forget. The red light that flowed into her room did not trouble her much then—it never really did. But over time, Lena realized that her parents were rather deliberate. Her doors and windows were locked firmly, and nailed shut. Her father waited in her usually routes. Her father waited at the edge of house, eyes like a hawk. The tree’s branches were trimmed, and in time iron bars locked her in. Eventually, Lena silently agreed to not go out on that first autumn moon.

The day before, her parents would place boards around it. This infuriated and frustrated Lena, all the way until she was a young woman. She occasionally spoke to her friends about it, but none had seen the first full moon of autumn either. But to them, it was no mystery. Their parents had been forthright—the first full moon of autumn was a deep crimson, and when it rose, the gargoyles of the church woke up and danced in the old town. As did the specters and fae of the woods, and the well man, and the other creatures of the night. And those dancers stole away anyone who saw them.

From age twelve to sixteen, Lena slept soundly although still annoyed that her parents hid the moon from her—she never noticed the shifting shaking of the floor, that her door once closed was now ajar. The red light of the Harvest Moon never woke her—it was oddly pleasant. When she woke with the rising of the hateful sun, a book was moved, or a glass of water on the edge—nothing particular over those three nights. But when she was sixteen, the earth shook more violently—and her glass did shatter.

Lena found herself upright and reeling. Her room seemed to be convulsing. Outside were shouts and songs and flickering lights—but they died quickly. Poor Lena had only glimpsed the infinity of the Harvest Moon Night. But she wouldn’t forget what woke her—and on her seventeenth year, she schemed to slip free and see what all the ruckus was about.

Lena began by stealing supplies from the yard that day, her steps as silent as a cat. Spent bullets near the edge of town, and stones that glimmered in the sun. Gathering these in her bed, she next made off with a kitchen knife—the better to begin carving away at the bars on her window. Her parents had put faith in those iron bars, and allowed the nearby tree to grow again. It’s branches would supply her steps. Lastly, she mapped her path. She would go around and back, working her way through the old roads and forgotten paths. And then she waited.

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When her mother was asleep, and her father standing guard, Lena carved out the iron bars. She lay them one by one on her floor, before the earth started to roar. Then, a gargoyle on the windowsill, she tossed the stones and bullets with a sling made of curtains—they crackled against the boundary stones, stray hunter shots. She paused. And sure as sunrise, her father ran after them.

Lena lay her tools aside, and held her cloak tight as she leapt and scrambled onto the tree branch. Knife at her side, she felt the branch begin to give and crack—she was not as light as when she was a lass. Still, she had the time she needed, to scramble down the trunk. As she felt bare felt touch grass, she raced past the house, up and around the roads to the old town.

By then, the earth began to groan. Its belly shook lightly after first, a hungry moan. But as Lena moved between trees and hills, it grew to a dull roar. And then she saw the dance.

Around the old well, a many colored flame grew—sea green and sky blue and sunset purple. Around it they danced, two dozen gargoyles in a troupe. Their wings flapped and clapped together as they bounded and whirled. An unearthly rhythm formed from their circle, over and around the fire true. And the ground seemed, in that unearthly illumination, to rise and fall with the troupe in their crumbling ruins. Lena was intoxicated by the sight of the fire, swirling with softer cooler colors, and the crimson moon that lay over head.

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And then the ground buckled, and seemed to break—for something great shifted beneath it and left tremors in its wake. It was vast and graceful—it called to mind the snake that a traveling flute player once tamed. A hundred Typhonic heads reared themselves around the beast—its skin was cobble stone streets, made shining like gem. And as it uncoiled from the hills, this mammoth of a thing, it sang a thousand songs—songs in hundreds of languages, all in harmony but still a grand cacophany. Those songs, from all sides and all places wove themselves through Lena’s ears.

Then they snap shut around it, a gorgon’s trap around her mind that pulled her limbs forward. She understood the approach of other great shapes from the sky and ground—the shadowy being that pulled itself from the well, surrounded by birds and cats and other things; the stars that came to earth, with wolfish heads and howled as they danced; the glittering wings of the great birds, who’s feathers shone as infernos; and of course the moon.

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The lovely moon, her white veil cast aside—a figure with blood red skin, tooth and claw, and a throne of pale bone that descended down to dance that night with Lena. Lena who had always loved the moon.

The children say Lena died that day—drowned in the well. But her parents and the elders know she instead went somewhere else. Up to that lowliest of heavens, where the strangest of angels do dwell—she has joined them now, who were moon lovers.


 

This story was delightful to write–It’s a bit more atmospheric I think, and much smaller in scale. I forgot some sections of the original prompt–the gargoyles, for instance, are not noted as transposed, and the cathedral here is a crumbled away ruin. But I still like the general arc, and I don’t feel like I have much more to add to it–I could add dialouge and expand it much more, but it feels rather self contained.

Next week, we take a trip to a miraculous court, and I try to work in some folklore that most people don’t hear! See you then!

 

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The Fire Breaks

This Week’s Prompt: 75. Black Mass beneath an antiquated church.
The Prior Research:Witches Sabbath

Part 1:The Black Mass Gathers

I watched as the blue and green lights on the mountain faded. They slowly went away, leaving nothing but strange scars in the side of the stone, and from the window even theses were barely there. I was transfixed a little longer—not much, but a little longer. I felt eyes on me, from those mountains—something strange and numerous gazing at me as I quickly packed my things and left. I locked the door behind me, and went down the by now mostly empty roads.

Mrs. Lorain’s cooking would clear my mind—she often made a stew or soup that was something else. Walking down the path, smoother than I remembered, I saw a few more new arrivals chatting in strange tongues while buying bread. Two women and a man, dressed in outrageous clothing—like something out of century old painting, stretching itself into parody. One was tossing something like dice, but shaped strange on the table as they talked. Suddenly, one of the women looked at me. Her eye was bloodshot and black. It stayed fixed on me as she resumed conversation. It didn’t blink.

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I hurried along, avoiding the other crowds of strangers and costumes. The eye was still lurking on me some. It was a bit hard to breath when at times they pressed close to me. But at last, I arrived at the Lorain house.

“Peter! Why, aren’t you late. Did the students give trouble?” Mrs. Lorain asked from the kitchen. I collected myself for a moment. I slowed, staggered onto a chair and managed a smile.

“No, no, but the cold air caught me. I thought a storm was coming, so sprinted home.” I said, waving at the sky. It was cloudier outside then normal, but the storm had resisted raining for at least a week so far. Such is dawn of Autumn.

“Ah, well, I reckon it’s got a couple days before it rains and washes away some of the rubbish.” Mr. Lorain said, looking up from his almanac. He read it daily for such predictions. “Weather’s rather regular when you look at it all the way, Peter, you should know. Why, its almost enough to set a clock by.”

“Maybe, maybe. I thought for a moment I saw lighting on the mountain.” I said, cautiously expanding into my fears. I was unsure what to make of the sighting—there were accounts of seeing a woman in the Mediterrian and of course in Ireland and Scotland stones took on strange forms on misty mornings. Flashes of light as the sunset…were not necessarily strange nor significant.

“Ah, probably just some kids with some of the fireworks or something on the hill.” Mrs. Lorain said, as one of the guests—who introduced himself as Rinaldo, but would not give his family name—came down the stairs.

“What already? Their getting faster.” Rinaldo said, his necklace of feathers and bird talons bouncing a bit as he stopped. “Yeah, thunder and lightings an old trick on the mountain. You get some iron bowls or pans, you drop the right firecracker in them with in the old caves and it looks like the devil himself is in the woods.”

“Ah, well…if that’s all that’s good. I was worried for my wits back there.” I said, nodding slightly. When Rinaldo put a hand on my shoulder my blood ran cold.

“Don’t worry, sir, you’ll see far greater spectacles in a day or so.” He said, smiling with his ivory white teeth.

That was not comforting.

*

During the night, I got little sleep—and when I would sleep, I was startled awake rather quickly after. At first it was just the evening wind. I sealed the window then, paying little mind to the dancing and reveling I could dimly make out by the moonlight. Then it was a scratching at the window—one of the strays around town I think. I knocked on the door to keep it away.

And then…I don’t know why I woke up. I just did, in that terribly uncomfortable place of being a wake but loathing it. I got up to pace, but my legs and arms felt like stone. Even as I slumped over to my desk, weight settled on my back to bend me over. I started writing blankly, unaware and uninterested. I waited until the small glimmers of light came through the window. I packed for work then, unshaven and disheveled as I walked down the road. I’d barely remembered to dress.

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The weights did not go away as I arrived ahead of the students, into the class room. I scraped the structure of the latest writing on the chalk board, coughing a bit at the dust. Exhaustion slows even times long passage and dulls the best senses. I didn’t notice the arrival of the Tarneys until Mrs. Tarney herself gave a rather noisey cough.

“Are you alright Peter?” She asked, leaning to the side of the doorway in a blouse and skirt—black with thin white lines running down, creaking into lighting lines at the bottom. I blinked and focused more on her voice.

“I’m…yes. Had a rough night last night.” I said, resuming to diagram and map Prospero’s island.

“Oh, something disagree with you?” She said, tapping her foot. “Normally Mrs. Lorain–”

“No, no, her cooking was superb as always.” I said, shaking my head. “No, just some sickness that I suspect is at it’s end. I’ll probably not stay so late tonight. The autumn winds aren’t good for my health I fear.”

“Well, they are thin and cold up here.” Tarney said as I placed the chalk down and began to set up my other things. “You might want to start bundling up…you look absolutely pale.”

And with a click of her tongue she was gone.

The lesson for the week was rather dull as well, but not without merits. We had begun work on Shakespeare’s plays, and now came to the end of those stories. Prospero and his island on our minds, I reviewed the structure and sonnets. The children were more fond of this then other plays—the nymph and dread Caliban gave an air of wonder to it. Suitable, I think, to even the teenagers and the young children. Far more than the tragedies.

After classes were dismissed—and there were a number of classes I contrived to teach the same text, for different aims—I again settled down and started packing my things to go. After last nights…strange encounter, I thought it would do to leave early. But…but I must be honest, there was a macabre fascination with the sight that held me. I need to know—was it delusion that I saw fire on the hills? And the strange habit of Mrs. Tarney made me cautious to follow her down the hill.

So instead I waited, watching out the window. I saw the old path that wound to the mountains—a dirt road worn out when trade up the hills were common. Sitting in my chair, I saw a trickle of travellers heading up the winding path. Most were dressed…more ostentiously then before. Bright colored cloaks and dresses, with feathered collars and scaly neck pieces. Almost all wore masks worthy of Venice…although a few had masks that were so pale and untouched they looked like bone wrote in the shape of a long forgotten creature.

I paid the first few of strangers no mind. The next two or three piquied my intereast away from the hill—after all, it was not a well known route. And after a dozen or so had gone, it became clear that some gathering was going to take place. Some party no doubt—I wondered briefly it was a tradition from when these now grown guests were teens. No matter. I made a few notes of faces and particularly outrageous costumes. Most were rather macabre. But otherwise,not worth notice. Not really.

The sun was setting now, and distantly I saw…yes, a spark. And another. Just fireworks, as the young man had said. Nothing more, nothing more. With that in mind, I packed my things, and headed home.

*

The road back to the Lorain’s was oddly barren. There was a young man packing things in the bakery—which was usually open far latter than this. A cat, who seemed like a miniature tiger, crossed my path. Turning to face me, the cat let me know I was not welcome on these fair streets with a rather unwholesome noise.

Then he scampered off.

The incident was unremarkable…except stray vermin and the occasional cat were the only occupants in the whole town I could find. The Lorain’s had locked the front door to the house—although the back was open. None of the guests, nor either Lorain was home. After searching for a time, I considered if they too had gone to that strange lights in the mountains. I considered going to bed early—retiring again to make up for lost sleep. But…sleeping alone, in an unguarded home, with potential drunkards wandering back into town…If there was one reasonable fear I had, it was the descent of a hoard of drunk bohemians armed with mischief.

So I sat and read for a time by the candlelight. And as I poured over pages of Parisian lore, I lost myself. Time spun her wheel faster over my head, interrupted only by the mewling of hungry cats. Then, a loud crash—and a distant flash. Lighting and thunder outside, lighting and thunder. I nearly fell out my seat, and turned to the mountains—and there, those lights had grown. There was a great conflagration along it’s mount. Some strange shape was at it’s core—and long dancing shadows came down from on high.

Fire Outside ElderBir.png

I set aside my fears and terrors. For there, there I knew was some mischief about. I began walking up through the town—the light of the mountain cast it in morning twilight. The cats were all about, standing at attention on the main road. I walked in back streets, slipping around the strange street up towards the mountain. The roofs were thick with ravens. Red eyes followed me out of town.

The trail was only rugged until the woods—then it began to grow smooth. The remains of old Roman roadworks were visible—rocks and bits of blocks sticking up with increasing frequency. The rain…the rain had swelled the dirt. The orange dirt looked dark red in the twilight, clay pushing up against the rocks and stones. The road was better kept as I went—the stones sealed together better.

The forest was alive with lights—the great bonfire that was raging raced down occasionally, in great columns of light. And the sounds—the sounds that night. There was music, of course, drums and pipes and trumpets. A cacophony of noise, unearthly but not unpleasant noise. Except the braying—there was the occasional bray of some no doubt terrified donkey.

As I wound my way up the path, small candles—their wax dripping over stones—came into view. At the base of these candles, carved in strange shapes and colors, votives were left by guests. I saw portraits and coinage glimmering in the darkness. The exact details were unclear—but the shapes were strange, and some had writing or scars drawn on them. I stopped at one. It was a young man, with a nail driven into the portraits eyes.

As the noise grew louder and I drew closer, I was tempted to leave the road—I was not looking forward to being seen here. But the woods now seemed to alive. A thin film floated in the air, a membrane invisible that none the less divided the woods and winds from me.

At the edge of the road, just as it wound to the flame, I was assaulted by an foul odor. It was rot and burning hair and sulfur. It nearly drove me to vomit, like walking into a sewage filled slaughterhouse. Swallowing, I turned the corner—and what dreadful things I saw.

The Fiery Monolith.png

There was that roaring many colored fire—and in it’s center was a monolith. The flames made it hard to see how it was raised—it looked like a singular stone finger. And atop the monolith was a bestial thing, a man with the head of goat. Serpents came from his cheeks, as he stood with arms spread out. A woman was on all fours, a great iron cauldron resting on her back. Clouds of incense and smoke rose from the cauldron.

As I was agap at the sight, I felt hands grab me. Turning I saw a porcelian mask with tusks jutting from the mouth—the scarlet dancer pulled me in a line of dancers. Feathered veils and dresses whirled around—leonine heads and bleeding eyes. I felt the coils of serpents run up my arms and around my back as I was pulled every which way. I wanted to scream, but something choked my voice.

The Ritual Goat.png

There were other moniliths. Other men with masks of great birds of prey, of skulls, of bulls with snakes fangs lining their mouths. The dancers continued. At the gesture of the scepters and staves, they sang in bestial tones. A wicked harmony they compelled—even my own voice became rough and formless. An ectasy took hold. They dragged me into the fire’s cold grip. Up, up the winding monolith.

I saw the face of the altar, as the goat-headed priest grabbed my hand. I saw the priest’s familiar eyes. As the hands guided me, the entire crowd cheering—they lowered me into the cauldron. It burned. It hurt.

It hurt as it filled my lungs, with boiling tar.

It hurt.

*

I woke up in the small, drab room in town. I ached all over as I rolled out of bed. I stumbled a bit, pulling my coat on. It was morning—my head was pounding and my skin…my skin felt strange. It felt…heavy, like a layer of dirt was on it. I shook it off and buttoned up my jacket. It was cloudy out—an iron gray sky. The window showed a town full of mist. Slowly blinking my eyes, I went down the stairs.

The road clicked as I walked along, absently buying some bread for breakfast. I’d take it on the hill today, I figured. The rain hadn’t started yet, and a breakfast inside would give it too much of a chance. And the rain—well, it was autumn and cold winds were coming. The rain would be a fever or mold on my clothes. I’d rather avoid that.

The students piled in, and sure enough the rain started to fall. In the distance, a fire was doused. The chalk on the board blurred beneath my touch. I coughed—and blinked as a black feather came out of my mouth.


 

I’m not super fond of the ending–I ran out of time, and had to rush something to happen to Peter. But overall, I like how this story turned out. I got to write some old fashion purple prose description, for good or ill. It was a bit slow at first, and could use some  expanding. Maybe next year it’ll be voted as a rewrite at the Patreon, who knows?

Next week! Research into gargoyles and guardians of churches! Come and see!

 

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The Black Mass Gathers

This Week’s Prompt:75. Black Mass beneath an antiquated church.
The Prior Research:Witches Sabbath
Part 2:The Fire Breaks

The road to Elderbir was relatively smooth, even if circuitous. While a horse might have once navigated the streets with ease, the buggy struggled to make each ever tight turn. As we reached about half a mile from the small town, the path was too dense to continue for the driver. With a quick wave, I departed with my things the rest of the way.

BlackSabbathElderbir
Elderbir was a small town. It was far away from the city, and I hoped it would give me a chance to breath. English books in hand, I dragged my suitcase up and smiled at the young woman setting up a banner over the bakery. The smell of bread washed away a number of my cares, glancing at my slip of paper for the address I was staying at. I’d negotiated a place to stay with an agent in town—apparently this was a busy time of year, what with Midsummer approaching.
The house was a two store, square building, with a nice awning to protect from the ever threatening rain. I give the old wooden door a knock, rustling the pslams that are nailed to either side of the door frame.
“Ah, Peter yes?” A deep voice asked, as a broad and heavy man with a mustache down to his chin came into view from behind the door. “Auntie said you might be coming. Big city lad, here to work at the school?”
“Yes, yes, that would be me. You must Mr. Lorain. Yes, I’ll be instructing in English in a few days. Is my room ready or should I—”
“Is my room ready? Haha, listen to this guy. Yes, yes, of course it is ready. Clean and neat, thick walls and everything.” Mr. Lorain said, taking my shoulder with one firm hand and my bags with another. “Dinner will be cooked by my lovely wife and daughter, but that is a few hours from now. Let us get you settled, and then you can explore the town. Or sleep, I guess. It must have been quite the travel from Windgift to fine old Elderbir.”
I haplessly followed along, to a rather bare room with a small bed and desk, a half bookcase carved of dark wood against the wall. All in all very comforting, truly. Spartan, yes, but that left the mind able to be properly furnished.
“Thank you very much, Mr. Lorain.” I said, pushing my things slightly. “Think I’ll go look over my school at the least—I’ll be sure to be back for dinner.” With a smile, I made my way out of the house and back down the street. Distantly, I heard a clock dole out the hour mark—three dull resounding marks for the hour.
A gaggle of children came running down from the small foot hill the school squated on. A rectangular, unobtrusive building, with a bright red bricks and blue painted shutters. The children came toppling down, the younger ones rushing ahead laughing, while the older ones taking their time in small little clusters.

School Brick
By the time I was at the front gate, my soon-to-be coworkers were emerging. A woman and man—married perhaps?–who were a bit older than me descended down the path. Not the generation of my parents, but between them and me. The gentleman stopped at the door to secure it a moment.
“Oh, hello!” I said, walking up with a hand extended. “Peter Dorman.”
“The new literature teacher?” The woman asked, shaking back and smiling at me. There was something slightly curious about her eyes—one seemed larger than the other, by a hair at most.
“Yes, ah, Miss?” I asked,dropping my hand to my side awkwardly.
“Mrs. Tarney, and this is Mr. Tarney.” The woman said, nodding over her shoulder. “He teaches geometry, I think.”
“Oh, only the fundamentals and essentials. Most of the students benefit from a bit of logical thinking.” Mr. Tarney said, catching up. “Afraid the school is locked for the day—You can poke around a bit later. Already have a place to stay?”
“Oh, yes, with the Lorains.” I said, pointing over my shoulder and turning half around. There was a pair at the door actually that gave me a bit of pause—a woman with a bright red dress and hair done up in a net of braids, with little ribbons hanging off them.
“Oh the Lorains…there a good family. Mrs. Lorain’s cooking is amazing.” Mrs. Tarney said, smiling as she walked down past me, arm in arm with Mr. Tarney down the street. I watched after them for some time, before shrugging. Regardless, I could at least become familiar with the grounds for a bit before the sun dipped too low.
The school was a small building—only three or four rooms. There was a small fence, separating the bigger hills from this one. Of course, one of the kids had broken the beam, allowing a few children to slip out. The entire remainder of town could be seen from here, and beyond them the towering mountains. Mountains no longer distant, but almost breathing presences down my neck. The mountains that seemed to have dim letters scrawled on them, in long pale chalk lines.

*

I spent most of my days near the school house. Before classes, I would arrive early to speak with the Tarneys about the latest comings and goings. The next few days were a source of any number of rumors to share. Apparently, as autumn came, the rooms grew stranger. I had seen a woman with a heart shaped thing in a jar, that seemed made of human hair, somehow stuck together. Another man, living two blocks away from my own temporary residence, had arrived with a bright red hat, a bronze statue head, and small crowd of hangers on.
“Oh, well, we get all sorts. Lots of folks who move away come back this time of year.” Mr. Tarney said, as I told him of a woman with a black cat that I swore had thumbs.
“And do they all come back so strange?” I asked, laughing a bit as I wiped down the chalk board. The children were learning fast—faster than expected, really. I wondered if they knew more then they let on at first, but as long as a few were struggling a bit of review wouldn’t hurt.
“Well, one doesn’t often leave a place like Elderbir without being a little odd—small towns make interesting folks.” Mrs. Tarney said, shrugging her shoulders. “Are you staying late again?”
“I have trouble thinking with Mrs. Lorain’s cooking wafting into my room—and papers must be graded.” I said, nodding and taking the keys from Mrs. Tarney’s outstretched hand. Truth be told, I preferred to give some distance to myself—a cramped upstairs room affords a man little privacy with his thoughts. The school wasn’t private itself, but at this hour at least I could pretend to be alone.
Mister and Misses Lorain were a fine couple—and most of the other boarders were kind if eccentric. The most egregious cases did seem to be regulars—they spoke to Mrs. Lorain with a familiarity that now made some sense. Most were staying only a week or so, or so they said. The gentleman with the white snake around his arm said he made a yearly pilgrimage here. It was rather strange, none of them resembled many of the other towns folk. Truly at some point, Elderbir had played host to people from around the world—all within the last few decades.
Scribbling along on tests, I fancied what might have actually attracted so many visitors. Mrs. Tarney may say it was simple family reunions, but so many to fill almost a second city? Perhaps an army regiment once trained out here, and it became home over generations—first the soldiers return, then they bring families to visit yearly, and after they die, their children feel the pull like everyone before and so on. It was a remote location, but affairs of state have a strange way of transpiring all over the country.
While ruminating on these thoughts, something caught my eye out the window. An intense, but brief light—almost like a small orb of lightening in the distance. After glancing over and seeing nothing on the mountains, I wrote it off as nothing more than a delusion from overwork. But it came again. A small pulse of blinding light. Frowning, I walked over to get a better look—and then I saw it. On the mountain side and top, some how both brilliant as stars but barely visible as the sun set, were arrayed an army of multicolored fires.

Black Sabbath Mountain 1


So this week, I am afraid we will have to stop before the story is entirely finished—I simply didn’t have time to finish the story, and wanted to have something for Halloween! So, consider this a primer to the full story, out next week. What will Peter uncover about the strange guests, the strange lights, and this strange town? And what will he do with this new information?
Stop by Part 2 to find out! The Fire Breaks

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