George and the Generous Tree

This Week’s Prompt:97. Blind fear of a certain woodland hollow where streams writhe among crooked roots, and where on a buried altar terrible sacrifices have occur’d—Phosphorescence of dead trees. Ground bubbles.

The Prior Research: Growing On Trees

The river had turned bright. The three farmers it touched stared in disbelief as the flickering water ran along its way, occasionally lurching to a halt. Grass around it had started dying.

“So. This. This is it right?” Johnson said, looking at everyone. “This is proof that God hates us, right?”

“Johnson!” George said.

“Bad harvest, bunch of rats break into the granary, and now there’s glowing star water killing everything.” Johnson said, waving at the water. “I want you to tell me, in the short time I still have land to stand on, how this is not proof positive this year is cursed.”

“Strings of bad luck happen.” George said, scratching his head. “I mean, long string but…”

“Maybe it will pass?” Gwyn said, stroking his considerable beard. “Came sudden, might be gone suddenly too. Things work like that sometimes.”

“I’m going to get what I can stored up.” Johnson said, shaking his head. “Water like that—that’s fairy nonsense or worse. Give it a week, and everything’s gonna be sludge and rot.”

So the three parted. Gwyn put old nets down from his time by the coast, hoping to catch the muck and keep it from his fields. Johnson went to accounting their belonings, in case the worst happened. He sent a letter down the road, to his brother in Alberdam. But George. George followed the river.

The river had its roots in the woods. Most things do. George knew pigs once lived in the woods, he figured cattle did too. So he followed the river back, through rotted roots and muddy land. He walked ahead, seeing what he might find among shivering trees and bald pines. For as the river wound its way down, the trees turned pale. The ground became soft and pallid. And animals made such dreadful sounds.

At the end of the river, George found it. Over the spring, a great tree with a glimmering brass trunk. No fruit sprang from the tree. No leaves. It’s roots, manifold and black, dripped luminescent sap into the river. Each drop sizzled as it touched the spring.

George was not a terribly wise man. But he knew clearly something about this was wrong. He rushed home and returned to that shuddering, sickly tree with an axe. Raising it high, he struck it hard—and it rang out like a bell in protest.

“Stop, stop, what are you doing?” A voice came down from the empty branches. “What are you doing, cutting me down with crude tool of yours?”

George was startled by the voice, but persisted. It again rang out like a bell, higher pitched this time. His axe blade looked a tad worse for the strike, but the bark had bent in.

“Stop that, stop that what are you—”

“You are spreading poison into our lands.” George said, reading a third swing. “I cannot lose it.”

“Wait wait! How much is it worth, this land?” The tree said, vibrating and shifting its bark about. George stopped his axe just before it.  “Perhaps we could trade.”

“And what could you offer, tree?” George said, resting his ax for a moment. “While I catch my breath.”

“Oh many things, many wondrous things. But perhaps most simply gold.” And as it spoke, an apple of shining gold grew from it’s branch, bending down in front of George. “Leave me be, and gold I can give every day.”

George took the gold, a small snap as it broke from the brass branch.

“Every day, gold like this?”

“Every day.” The tree’s voice said. George was a simple man. And while speaking trees were strange, far stranger existed in the wood. So he returned home without another blow.

Demon Tree One.png

And so he continued for sometime—about two months, coming to collect the gold, and letting his fields fall fallow. He never revealed the source of the apples he brought—in fact, when possible, he hid his travels down to the town to buy goods and food from distant farms. George was a simple man, but even he knew not to flaunt his gold.

Still he paused when he saw the carts outside Johnsons farm, the children swining legs from the seat.

“Nothing to be done. Lands cursed.” Johnson said, shaking his head when George asked leaning on the fence. “I mean, the grain that lived was inedible. But we’ll manage, we’ll manage. Probably won’t get much for the acres, but it’ll be something before the bank gets it.”

George nodded solemnly, and went for his axe. He hadn’t meant to ruin Johnson too. So out into the forest he went again, passed the twisting trees and mewling animals. The woods was quieter, the trees all had left shed broken coats of bark on the ground. The exposed insides were full of holes. Some times sap bubbled out of these, as the ground became muddy near the great tree. Its roots now dug deep into the ground.

“What now, little one? I gave you your gold for the—” the tree spoke, before George’s axe struck. A dull groan resonated through out the woods, the dying noises growing low and loud. The tree shrieked in it’s crown of twisting branches.

“What in the sweet—what do you want? More gold, is that it?” The tree shrieked. George saw his blow had left a large dent in the side. “I can provide more gold! Stop with that ax!”

“Gold will not help now.” George said, striking again and leaving a heavy cut. “Johnson already lost his farm. Gwyn will lose his. Gold can’t help that.”

“Are you—” A scream cut off the tree as the third blow struck, sluggish glowing sap leaking from its side. “Buy the farm yourself, you ingrate!” It bellowed. “You have piles of gold! Give some and buy his land, if you care so much! Its not like you need to worry about farming while I’m here!”

George paused, resting his axe on his shoulder, and stroking his chin. He had not considered that. Hiding his wealth had seemed so…vital. But it wouldn’t matter if Johnson and Gwyn were driven out already. The farms were just land then.  He shrugged and left the tree with it’s new wound, heading back to his farm.

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And so it came to past that George and his family were alone in the farmlands. The fields did not grow properly there—they grew in small tufts and strange colors that year. Johnson and Gwyn had both long gone—George made no effort to maintain their fields. There was little to maintain, as the ground turned gray and then pale yellow. It was swampish and bubbling, the forest slowly sinking from George’s view.

“Its not natural.” His wife said as she looked out. “Its getting closer to town now—that poor boy, he drank some of it and…”

George nodded, staring out into the woods. The river was like moonlight now—cracks and springs up sprang up on the farmland. It wasn’t natural. But few things were in he woods now.

He had gone hunting once, and found not a single living thing. No birds sang, no deer ran. He saw a pale shape moving in the trees. He thought it was a cat, but it had too many eyes.  Too many legs. Or he thought as much.

The shivering trees—the ones that were pale and tall and thin like grain, but stung to touch—had grown where grain once rain. The land was sick. Perhaps it was always sick, George thought as he walked through the silent and shivering woods. There was no wind, but the trees still bowed and swayed as he passed.  And at last, he found the tree.

He had seen it daily, growing bigger and bigger. It’s roots were as wide around as a saucer. Its branches were knotted like a boat’s strings, and thicker then rope. A web of shimmering shapes made up its top. Two great cuts were on its side.

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“Have you come again with your ax, George?” The voice said solemenly. “Have I not been true and good to you?”

“The land is dying.” George said. A bit of regret remained on his voice. “You have been true and kind, but the land is dying.”

“It has always been dying.” The tree said. “It was dying a year past when we first met. What has changed? Have I not given you gifts, to stay your ax?”

“The land is dying faster now. Down in the town people are dying.”

“People are always dying, George. Dying is the way of things.” The tree said, unmoved.

George shook his head, having no more of the trees words. He took his ax and struck the tree’s trunk—and again it resounded like a gong. But the bark did not budge.

The ax swung again. The tree was unmoved.

The ax swung. The tree shook with laughter.

“George, I have been good to you.” The tree spoke. “And you have been good to me—so I tell you this. If you wish to quarrel with me, leave now. For I have grown too deep to be overturned by an ax or flame. The time for such has passed. Run now, and I will not pursue you for scaring me so.”

George stared as the tree’s branches unfolded—revealing glimmering fruit, brilliant like stars. He dropped the ax into the gray mud. And soon he too left the land by the river. So the rotting tree came to consume the land along the great river. Nothing wholesome remains in that woods.



While this might need one or two more editing passes–and could certainly be improved by more character interaction–I’m actually rather proud of this one. I think the basic idea of a parasitic but wealth producing tree growing monstrous and uncontrollable when allowed to flourish by human greed is a decent enough idea. Giving more character to George would be the first addition–at the moment he’s rather blank as a person, except a bit greedy and a bit simple.

Next time we return to a particular haunted house and the cold touch of the dead!

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Lights Away

This Weeks Prompt: 96. Unknown fires seen across the hills at night.

The Prior Research:The Hills Are Alive

I told Ron to stay away from the hills that night. I told him, I warned him that there was something not right up there. But he didn’t listen. I guess I didn’t really listen.

It was the fifth or sixth time I’d seen those lights. C’mon, he said, there’s gotta be a party or something out there.  We have to go see, they’ve done it every few months.

I said no.

They were fucking creepy rave lights. I mean. They weren’t strobing, so maybe they weren’t like as bad as they could be. Maybe just colored headlights behind the hills or something, I don’t—I didn’t know.  So Ron went off with out me.

Ron was the third to go missing—and you know, one’s an oddity, t­­wo’s a coincidence, three’s a pattern.  The lights were gone that night. And the night after that. I even went out to the hill—took me two tries to work up the nerve, but I went out behind that old hill to see if there was anything back there.

Nothing. A bit of a damp spot. That was it.

The cops stopped—well, I thought they stopped—looking after about a month. Nothing. It was a stir, they even printed him on milk cartons. I didn’t even know they still sold milk in cartons…what? Oh right. Next.

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Well, I—I kinda assumed he’d run away upstate or something. Or met some folks at a party, drank something wrong, and was now in a shallow ditch missing a kidney. I keep going back to the hills, look around for any trace. Tire tracks from the head lights, or even just…just something he’d dropped maybe.

Nope. Yeah, nothing. All he left was a pen. Small gel pen he gave me in class that day. He left clothes and stuff in his house, but nothing on the hill. Not even like a busted button or bit of string. That’s when I started getting—okay, yeah, getting a bit weird.

His parents let me borrow one of his jackets. I mean. They didn’t stop me. I started going out from the hill. I’ve got—I’ve got this map of the area, and I figured he’d have to have left something right? It’d been weeks, and nothing but still. People can’t just vanish into the ground. He had to have left something.

So I went out. I started going for walks, walks pretty late. I’d just…just walk to the nearest spot from the hill. Where he might have wandered off. There was a tree, I found a campsite near a tree. It was a big one, looked kinda like a two tiered umbrella.  I got excited, I found stuff. You know. People stuff.

But that was a boyscout camp that had forgot to clean up after itself.

I tried the other direction, and found some litter about two miles out. I started marking all these little places on my map, so I didn’t double take. And, about three days ago, I noticed it. There’s a mile around the hill, in all directions, where there’s no one. Or nothing.

HillsMap

Like. There’s the old abandoned mill, and some of weird red silo building in the wood. But those are a mile and a half out. There’s Mr. Ottar’s farm. But again. Mile out, and right on the mile, stops. There’s no litter over the mile line. Perfectly clean, perfectly kept grass.

People lost toys in the woods. Things died on the road that past by. The old railroads even gave it a wide breadth.

That’s weird right? I don’t know. I mean. No one ever talked about it. I know on Halloween, kids went to the old Gretch home, to see ghosts. I went once, just got a scare from Ron and a big dog. I mean, not Ron’s dog…never found out who’s dog that was actually. You’d think a big one like that would make a lot of noise, but maybe he’s well trained.

Anyway. There’s other weird places. Again, woods is full of ‘oh I saw a gorilla out there’ or ‘oh my dead grandpa visited me’ or ‘once I heard a woman screaming at midnight’. And, and alright. Fine. Cool. But the hill? There’s nothing.

I asked Mr. Ottar about it. He said some teens were setting off fireworks out there—had been since he moved to town in the fifties. Which, obviously, is impossible. But I kept at it, and he said he’d never found anything out there—never looked too hard, said it was a pretty boring spot. But he’d seen people out there, and lights, and heard music, so he knew what it was.

But no one’s been there. No one’s been out behind the hills, and Mr. Ottar said they’d been around since he moved—and that was in the fifties. And that’s not his memory! I checked, I went to the city hall and checked and he’s been there since 1952.

I checked. I checked twice. I asked everyone I met, as normally as I could, if they’d ever been to a party out in the hills. A few asked if I was hosting one, and mentioned it seemed like a boring place. A few mentioned the freaky lights.

The lights hadn’t come back yet.

That I—Okay, it took me a bit to start trying to map the lights. I knew that, like, that nothing came within a mile of the place. That there were lights since 1952. But not constantly? And the disappearances. The disappearances were connected with the lights. I don’t remember them happening before. I don’t remember a bunch of high schoolers vanishing but like.

Would I have noticed?

Could I have noticed?

I mean, I was ten. I didn’t notice you were there, did I? Ten years old, high school kids like. They can just go to college, like a dog going to a farm. How long—I mean, someone would have noticed? They noticed this time. They checked. We aren’t a big enough town for someone to go missing every few months and no one notice, we’re not like fucking New York or something.

But I went on with it. I marked and plotted the dissapperances and the lights. I asked about the lights, if people had seen them. A few had driving, one or two had walking late at night. A few saw a big dog around there, but that seemed…probably wrong. I mean. A big dog would have made noise, and there weren’t any tracks up there. Nothing left of a dog.

Anyway. I got something like a pattern. Finally. I had a few days to figure this out. What to bring, who to tell, where to wait. I mean. I said I was going out stargazing for a project, and my parents just sort of shrugged.

I heard music. I heard a thumping, thudding music. I thought it was some party down the road, but as I started down the path, no. It was from the hills.

Lights shinging soft but bright over the hill—blue, green, yellow, orange. They were so much…more than before. Much warmer. Much more inviting. I mean. I was heading there anyway. It didn’t matter much.

But still.

It was different, having a beat to walk to. I mean sometimes I listened to music when I went out, but paranoia kept me on edge. What if something snuck up on me? What if whatever it was caught me? Bouncing along to a beat was something different.

I got to the mile mark. The grass was so green, and there was something…sweet in the air. It smelled like strawberries. It—I could see people over there. Waiting.

I was holding Ron’s coat still. I saw him there. It had been ages. He was right there. There were dozens of people there. It was such a …it was so alive. So full. There were so many…so many things.

I almost made it across. I almost stepped over the other side.

Just. I was. So close.

And then. I was here. I was in a room. This is a room right? I was in a white room, with a white light, a red chair, and a small table. Someone came by, gave me some water, and left.  Then you asked about Ron. I don’t think you came into the room—I’d remember that I think. But you’re in the room now.

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How did I get here?

 



I ended up rewriting this story from scratch 3 times, and I’m still not entirely satisfied. I don’t think I ever reached a satisfactory idea of what it was about, except the vague notion of people being lured off by a fire. Which…I think my best work is a bit more than that.

Next time, we go into forests plagued with strange and dangerous things!

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The Old House

This Week’s Prompt: 95. Horrible Colonial farmhouse and overgrown garden on city hillside—overtaken by growth. Verse “The House” as basis of story.

The Prior Research:The House on the Hill.

I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t for the rain.

The rain started on the third day. A light drizzle, something to mutter and grumble about. George complained a bit about spoiling the clothes he’d brought. I shrugged it off. The two of them looked like they could find a dry cleaners easy, and a little rain wouldn’t damage much. The woman, Lisa, was quieter about it, but she’d been quiet the whole trip.

The drizzle grew insistent and heavy. The clouds turned dark overhead and slowly rumbled. The sky was ready to burst down. I looked around for shelter then. The hard ground  meant a flood was almost guaranteed. A flash flood like that was dangerous for me—exceptionally dangerous for these two. High ground was better. Of course, at the top was the best yet.

I sighed as I saw the old house.

AbandonedHouseCloudColors.png

“You sure no one lives there?” Lisa asked as we hiked up a bit, nearly tripping on some stones.

“I’ve made this trip dozens of times—never seen a car parked or a light on.” I said. Well. I had seen a light on. But if there’s an abandoned building that teenagers or homeless folks won’t repurpose for a night, well. I haven’t heard of it. It being so…unused meant there was probably a reason for that.

“Seems…fishy.” George said, looking at the old building. More whining. The distant rumble of thunder overhead settled the matter, however.  In we went.

The house wasn’t well kept. I mean it was better than I’d expected—most of the wall paper still there, and only a few holes someone had punched in, probably a vain attempt to find copper wire—a house like this thought? I’d be surprised if electricity ever ran through it. The stairs were intact. Still smelled like mold, even in a dustbowl like this.

As I went upstairs to find some blankets, tossing George a lighter to start a fire, the down pour began. There was a sigh on the wind and then a roar from the ceiling. Upstairs there were about…five rooms.  I did a quick check, make sure we hadn’t walked into someone’s business. There was dripping from one of the rooms. A leak to keep an eye out for, but there wasn’t a real bed in there so it didn’t matter.

As I paced back across to check another room, I heard them muttering down stairs.

“I’m just not sure—I mean, I love you, but your sure your cousin can set us up?” Liza murmured.

“Of course he can. I sent him that letter ages ago.” George said. I heard the frustrated clicking of the lighter and then the sharp inhale of a flame.

“That’s…that’s true. Do you have the one he sent back?”

“Don’t worry about it.” George muttered. I stepped carefully across the hall, forcing open an old locked door.

“I’d just feel better if—”

“Don’t worry about it.”

No one inside, but some pictures. Most worn down, with rusting metal frames and cracked glass covers. Someone had smashed it maybe—I don’t know how time breaks glass. Family of three it seemed. Must have been well off folks, with portraits like these. As I fold the old sheets, I noticed something a little odd. The pictures weren’t of the same folks in the room. I mean, I guess they were family. There’s never been a grove like that. Never been a field like that since well—well, I guess the house was old. Risky, leaving well off relatives behind to hit off on your own.

I thudded down the stairs, and could feel the silence between George and Lisa. I hated bringing over eloping kids and newlyweds. Making it across isn’t fun or easy, and slapping young love’s euphoria in the face makes them either unbearably happy or utterly miserable.

“Alright, bundle up at least.” I said, walking in. George was sitting on the floor, prodding a dim fire. Lisa was sitting on the couch, looking out the window. The storm was battering away, but the walls muffled the roaring. There was another boom of thunder, and a flash of lighting. The spiderweb cracks on the glass were sprayed back by the light.

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I tossed Lisa the blanket and through the sheets over the window. Block out the rumbling as much as we could.

“We should get some shut eye.” I said, looking over at George, who grunted in reply.

“Shouldn’t someone keep watch? I mean, in case someone comes looking or—”

“No one’s coming in this weather.” George said, cutting Lisa off, and standing up. “Worst we have to worry about is the roof caving in or something. And I didn’t see any tree—”

There was a loud thud above us. We all stared at the ceiling, waiting and watching. Another thump, a bit softer this time. Then a crashing sound.

“I’ll go check it.” George said, holding a hand up to Liza. “Since I’m apparently so reckless.”

“George that’s not what—” Lisa said, sitting up a bit.

“No, no, it’s fine. Probably just a possum or something.” He grumbled, grabbing an iron poker and walking up the stairs. I glanced at Lisa nervously. But I held my tongue. No need to pry. Lisa was looking at the fire, pulling the blanket close.  There was another clatter, and I took the opportunity to escape the silence.

George was digging through the room with the dripping sound—looked like a small cupboard, with tin foods and such. Frontier house like this, must have been striking out new ground.  George was kicking a box to the side—some smashed plates next to it. He sighed a bit, looking at the rest.

“Not even a cat. Wind must have shaken it all down.” He said. “Damn. A stray might have been worth it.”

“Its not far to the other side.” I said, shrugging. “No need to worry yet, everything’s in order. I know a few guys who can make sure you two get across and—”

“Yeah, no need to tell me that.” George said waving his hand as pushed past. “I know we’ll be fine. Worst case, Joe didn’t get my letter—and that’s a really bad worst case—and I’m sure he’ll be happy to lend a hand. This isn’t the first time this happened. She’s just…” George waved it off again. “Is there like… a proper bed or something in here?”

“Uh, sort of.” I said, gesturing towards the bedroom. Later, I realized the dripping had stopped in the cupboard—never found out what it was. Maybe some dust had sealed the leak or something.  The wind was picking up a bit.

The rain clattered against the bedroom walls as we paced about. George found the bed felt…wrong. Layers of dust and the occasional tear from an animal—one long set running down that I noticed scratched down the floor. We lingered on the pictures some, the families.

“Bet these are hers.” George said, running his fingers along the edges. “They’ve got the same eyes, same hair. There are more of them. Probably worried about her…moving so far away, from all the green and coasts and such. Give anyone a fright.”

I shrugged. Never was one for sympathy with the dead you never met.

“Wonder why they left these behind.” George said, looking around. “It’s a nice house…You’d think they’d take it with them.”

“Not worth staying up here.” I said, looking around. No need to frighten folks with old stories of old houses. “The roof giving in could be a problem and…well, I guess if there’s an attic, this isn’t literally the worst place.”

“Basement?”

“Can’t build basements out here.” I said, heading back to the hall. “Ground’s too hard—won’t give that easy.”

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Down stairs, we found Lisa staring at the curtains, frowning and still bundled tight.  The feeble glow of the fire barely reached her face. There was something in that room, unseen and for now unspoken. There was something tugging at us, something wrapped around my throat. Soemthing numbing and full of panic.

We didn’t sleep that night. I don’t remember much else from it—I sat alert in a rocking chair, watching the fire. I know they fought again, with a few barbed words. But honestly, that place was so loud. The rain was shaking the entire place, and even as it muted and muffled the thunder’s booming…That house was maddening. The wind and rattling metal—I heard arguing upstairs, shouting and smashing. Its no wonder no one stays long in that old house.

We left the next morning, not talking or stopping for breakfast. Not a word about last night. I made sure we left everything behind—there had to be a reason no one had stripped the pictures of silver frames. I didn’t want to know why.

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This story was…well. I like some of the ideas, but I think more strangeness at the house was warranted. I don’t think I had enough interaction to build a mood of hostility and dread and discomfort that would substitute the actual presence of ghosts. Perhaps more screen time to the couple, and cutting the third member? Using the remains of the building to reflect on the difficulties of the relationship or heighten tensions…aw well.

Next week, back to hills and dales! Come and see, the strange fires over yonder!

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A Long Night

This Week’s Prompt: 91. Lost winter day—slept over—20 yrs. later. Sleep in chair on summer night—false dawn—old scenery and sensations—cold—old persons now dead—horror—frozen?

The Prior Research:A Deep, Cold Sleep

The buzz of cicadas near the rivershore will always be the sound of summer to me. Even if I’ve never seen one, the near constant buzzing in the trees keeps the season clear—just like up north, the drifting of fall leaves announces autumn and the dreary blanket of snow makes winter all the clearer.

C’mon, I got a jar and everything!” Jordan says, holding up a glass jar with some very tiny holes poked in it.

There floating over the water, a little light show. With a sigh, I let myself by pulled down—against a dark sky, we chase the stars. Its a hokey little memory, I think. The kind I’ll write about when Jordan’s older. The kind that’s bleeding innocence. The kind that a Pixar movie would use for the good old days, before adult hood made everything complicated. Its nice, is what I’m saying.

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How often do you get fireflies down here?” Leslie asks, as we pace down the riverside. Jordan’s running a head, waving his jar around and trying to catch them on the sand.

Every now and then, but we only come down to the river like once a year.” I said, a fire fly landing in my hair—and for a moment I worry Jordan’s gonna bash me on the head with a jar to catch it. It flies off before that becomes a problem.

We caught a dozen—although half figured out where the hole was and slipped out of the jar. Neither of us had done this before, and I’d been too lazy to google how.

Think they’ll glow all night?” Jordan said, holding up the small collection. On cue, firefly number seven slipped out the top of the jar.

Maybe—we might need to get more tomorrow.” I said as we walked back to the cabin. “But a few might. If you get up early, you could probably still see them.”

Hmmm…” Jordan weighs the notion of waking up early—with the understanding of going to sleep now—against running around more.

I’ll make pancakes.” I promise.

Fireflies

I got the batter ready in advance after Jordan went to sleep. It was my mom’s old recipe, which she said she got from her grandfather—but honestly, I’m eighty percent sure I’ve seen it on the back of a box of mix.

You’ve got to know the fireflies will be gone by the time he gets up.” Leslie said, sitting at the counter.

Well, sure. But that’s fine, we’ve got another night up here and he’ll catch more. Besides,” I held up a mixing spoon. “There’s no misery that pancakes can’t cure.”

So, hows he doing in school?” Leslie asked, getting up and starting a pot of coffee behind me.

Fine, fine really. He likes math, which is a godsend I think. Math and science and in a few years, he’ll be off to the races in college.”

I mean, in ten years maybe.” Leslie said, rolling her eyes.

Ten years, a few years, eh.” I waved it off as I mixed. “Point is, I think he’s got a scientests brain. Maybe biology, what with how much he loves running around in the woods. He could make some good money that way.”

Sure, I mean…that’s pretty far away though.” Leslie said shrugging. “He might change his mind.”

Yeah, kids do that, but I really think he’s onto something.” I said, placing the batter in the fridge. “And, I mean, I’m working on his junior high already—thats where stuff can really get out of hand. But I’ll work something out for him.”

Leslie shrugged again and looked back outside. A small flash of a shooting star went by, and she sighed. She always thought it was weird for me to talk so much about how great Jordan was going to be, but it never came to much.

River ForestComet.png

Its funny. My grandparents had a cabin like this—I mean, not exactly like this. Prescott doesn’t have a river, just some creaks. But…places like this always feel nice.” She said, watching the stars between the trees. “I blame Diseny—there’s something about cabins that makes the whole world seem to stand still.”

The coffee pot beeped to break the silence.

Which cup?” I asked, opening the cabinet.

Leslie grabbed a blanket as we went out onto the patio.

Oh c’mon its July! It’s nowhere near that cold.” I said, rolling my eyes.

Speak for yourself, I’m freezing.” She grumbled as she leaned into the armrest.

Its getting warmer every year…” I said, sipping my coffee. “It’s going to be sweltering soon. God, can you imagine the mosquitoes?”

They’ll be the size of airplanes.” Leslie said with a laugh. “And the fireflies are gonna be bigger than Jordan.”

Oh, God, he’d try and ride one away.” I said, laughing and nearly spilling the coffee on the floor.

…hows he doing. In school.” Leaslie asked, looking up at the yellow’d harvest moon.

I mean, he likes it, his grades are good, like I said he loves math–”

Yeah, but you know. What about hobbies? What’s he do when he’s not catching fireflies?”

I stopped a bit and shrugged.

I mean, he does puzzles and stuff.” I said, frowning. “I’m thinking he’ll do debate in a few years, he’s got the mind for data and that’s important. Or robotics and coding.”

What about now though?” Leslie said. I shrugged.

I think he hangs out with a kid named Jeff?” I said, frowning. “Doesn’t come over much, but they had snacks and played games once.”

We talked a bit after that, about travel and college. I went to bed, feeling a bit chilly—not that I’d say anything. A bit of a wet wind had come off the river, that was all.

I stirred a little in my sleep. Something cold and freezing went over me, and lights danced outside. An aurora rising in the window, a cool and strange light. For a moment, the woods loomed large. I was half awake, half dreaming as I saw them. Half formed shapes of fur and tusk, lumbering nameless about the house. The river was bubbling, many colored gas rising out and off of it. I sighed a bit, and lay back down, breathing slowly to sink back to sleep. I didn’t think much of it—I thought it was a strange dream, half remembered. The sun didn’t rise that early, I thought—and the woods were too thick, too thick to be real.

I jolted awake later, a drop of water hitting my head—and as I stretched, my limbs felt exhausted. I saw the sun high in the sky, and a moment of panic struck. I’d forgotten to make breakfast! I got up and—and as I stretched, I felt a sudden chill. Looking outside again, I saw…white snow. Snow running up the window, all the way down to the shore.

The hell?”

It had snowed before in summer. I think. I mean, we weren’t far enough north for that to be normal, but freak weather wasn’t out of the question. But still, it was—well, I guess no fireflies would be caught.

Jordan! Jordan!” I shouted. He was going to love this. But the entire house was silent as I walked into the living room—a thin layer of frozen dew over the window. Looking out onto the patio, the wind rocked the chair back and forth.

Forest Frost.png

Someone was in the chair. Leslie! She must have slept in. When I pulled the screen door, there was a horrible sound. The edges were pretty rusty—I’d have to call the maitence guy about this. I mean, he might write it off as a freak blizzard but—and then I paused again, looking out from the patio. The frost on the window had obscured it but there were more trees then before. Not many, but saplings that had crept up from the shore. Not just saplings, no. The undergrowth was thicker, rising from the snow. Bushes and rotting brown moss growing on dead wood.

How long had I slept?

I turned slowly at the chair and caught a glimpse. A glimps of skin tight on bones, a face full of terror, a blanket full of holes and worn down. I slammed the door shut and ran back inside. I couldn’t look at it. I couldn’t look at that face, hair frozen where it was. How long had I slept? How…

Jordan. Oh no. Oh no.

 



I’m…not fond of this story. I really couldn’t get the twist ending into a cohesive narrative in my head, and when I had something I had little time to finish it. This might be one that, in a few years, I might rewrite for the patreon (linked below). Next week, we come back to a common staple of horror, and delve deep into a regional variant that started this entire blog! Come and see, when the dead walk!

 

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The Body of Veled

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

The Prior Research:Lose your Head!

Bodies lay strewn like scattered grains across Peridun’s field. The men who had thus far survived the fighting, the rebellious folk of the mountains and the riders of the Thunder King, waited on bated breath. The rebel, Veled, dressed in fine cotton clothes and with a serpent headed spear, dons his horse hair helm. Across, the King of Thunder, his meteor charms heavy on his head. A crown of thunderbolts crackled in the air. The King of Thunder holds his blade, that crackles as it cuts the air with each blow.

The two rush forward, and the melee is fierce. The blade slides off the clothes of Veled, the spear can find no hole in the meteor born metal. Rebel and loyalist watch, each holding breath as sparks and strikes fly. Later men tell of how the earth shook and the wind roared. And then the first crack—the spear of Veled, rent in two. In the pause, the blade found a gap—and off went Veled’s head, his horse haired helm clattering on the ground.

The King of Thunder told this tale many times as he returned, Veled’s head in his banner. Peridun’s people were scattered by the hurricane of steel—those that did not flee, watered the fields in blood. And all was silent on those fields for a time, as feasting and murals were made.

HeadlessSword

Until Veled’s body stirred, abandoned and naked on the field of war. It was a lumberjack wandering the roads that saw the body first—hunched over and crawling. At first he thought, in it’s scarred and awful shape, that some strange tiger was feeding on the bodies of the dead. Yet as he drew close, he saw the furs were mere clothes—the hands not clawed, but with the long finger nails of a corpse. The body made no sign that it saw or heard him as he approached—but the horrid look of it’s neck stump caused the man to shriek in panic and flee.

It was from this fleeing woodsmen that the body of Veled acquired its first tool. The bodies that lay in Peridun still bare the marks of its first depradations—hunks of flesh and bone rent by tireless nails and arms. But axe in hand, the ghastly corpse began to butcher it’s fellows bodies. It would drop the chunks of meat down its throat. The lands around Peridun are sparsely inhabited, and such sights were deemed the work of a local exorcist or priest, unworthy of national concern for sometime. Its grim dances atop the boides, laughing madly with chortling hoots and screams from fractured vocal chords, were unnerving and unwholesome. But in such a land that resisted rightful law, it was of no note or surprise.

After some time, however, the sight grew tiresome—and indeed an exorcist was called to deal with the ghosts of rebellion. A woman of some skill, who knew many of the arts of casting back spirits and was attended always by the smell of divine incense, the exorists went out with her retinue in the night. She came with a wooden sword and carved silver bell, that would sing sweetly. Many dark creatures she had banished from the night, who at the sound of her bell fled the authority of the heavens.

HeadlessMan.png

So she descended into the plains, where the beast held its dances. Oh how terrible the body of Veled was! It stood now eight fall tall, the woodsman’s great ax and a broken platform of shields trampled under foot. The exorcist’s retinue stood back with horror. But she presisted forward, sending them to their stations, with their implements. Here a brazen thunderbolt. There a lit candle. Pure water. The beast feels the heat and motions of the wind, the unsettled body of Veled turns and paws about—its dancing has stopped, for its throat tastes something living in the air. And then the exorcist drew her sword, and spoke her prayers.

She recounted not just the Thunder King’s triumph, but his fathers, and fathers fathers. She recounted the divisons of heaven and earth, that had assigned to her the authority over spirits. She, with the fire of a holy preacher, recounted the torment of the rebellious, and promised a swift and merciful dismissal if the body returned to the grave.

The body made no reply—as it lacked any sense of hearing, as a thing that stood outside the law. The exorcist then made to strike the body, her sword digging deep into it’s swollen stomach. The ministers of the depths sent a missive to summon the body down, as they had a hundred rebel spirits and ghosts before. This missive, however, was ignored—for the senseless corpse could not hear it. Instead, it felt the pain of the sword, and in a rage, slew the exorcist and her retinue.

The terror of this report was sent to the Thunder King and his authorities—as well as reports of a swollen, mishappen corpse marching towards his mountain castle. The body of Veled was now ten feet tall, and proofed immune to swords, spears, and slings. Worse still, the beast’s hunger continued—it consumed and devoured men and women without hesitation. Arrows and axe heads had been stuck in it’s sinew, but the flesh of it’s victims renewed it every year. Such outrages moved the Thunder King—he assembled his companions.

“This beast is unlike others we have seen—it defies sense and death, and will not yield to the demands of gods and men. We must overcome it’s strength, and hold it still. Then, we will affix a head to it, carefully made. Once it has regained a head and sense, the ministers below will lay their hands on him, and take this twice dead Veled down below.”

And his companions agreed with his wisidom, the ten of them armed with bolas and net, with tridents and harpoons. These, they believed, would fix themselves into it’s wounds. Even as the beast healed, the chains would wrap and bind its bones and muscle. The weight of imperial iron would hold it fast, with effort.

So they rode out, the eleven riders to meet with the great terror. Now it stood twenty feet tall—towering over hills as it crawled up the mountains. The body dimmly felt it’s old head, still hung from the banner of the Thunder King. It hurled stones as the riders appraoched, battering their path with boulders the size of men and horse sized clods of dirt. One struck a companions chest, smashing bones asunder. Another hit a companion’s steed, stumbling the horse over and killing both. Yet the nine remaining pursued the monster, who continued it’s howls of broken voices and danced as it had on a hundred fields of corpses.

They cut at the body. They drove nets of steel around its flesh. Whirling bolas wound around and around its limbs. The peakless mountain came tumbling down, limbs flayed and woven together. Yet still it pulled forward. It’s dance done, its hands climb the ground, its axe a great lever to heave it’s form. A companion drew close with a lance, but the hands of Veled caught it’s tip and pulled him screaming into his gapping maw. The remaining eight riders withdrew for a moment, content in having slowed the creature.

“We must move swiftly,” said Thun, wisest of the Thunder King’s riders. “I fear the nets are not as firm as it’s spirit. Mountain the head on a spear and drive it onto the neck—impose thought on the creature, before it turns its cage into armor.”

Head Hunting.png

So the Thunder King and his companions each took a spear. And each removed it’s tip, and replaced it instead with the head of a great statue, the stump facing forward. They made off without their horses—who were tired from the fighting and afraid of the great beast. So slowly, the four men and four women descended, each drawing closer to the clawing body of Veled.

Assaulting such a creature, who could not see or here, was difficult with. But ambushing them was remarkably easy. The first spear, by Thun, struck between the limbs and hit the throat. But it was too small! The idol’s head was swallowed whole, and Thun gave away his presence with the spear tip. So there was only seven companions as the body slunk up towards the Thunder Kings halls. Each in turn made their assault—but the heads of gods were ill fitting something so lawless. Some too small, some too big, some swallowed and some ignored. At last, only the Thunder King remained—and to him came a novel idea.

He discarded the head of stone he had brought, hurling it with great force. It came down on the back of Veled, startling it. The Thunder King fetched Veled’s old head, with it’s long hair and embalmed flesh. He wove the hair around the spear tip—making something like a mace as he approached. He swung it slowly, letting it whirl in the air. The body had grown vast—it was fifteen feet tall now. The head had shrunk with rot.

Still, he bounded forward, and brought flesh to flesh—the body knew the head. And as they became one, the chorus of summons from the underworld. They laid there hands on the life of Veled’s body, and pulled it down. And so the terror was ended, and so execution by beheading prohibited in the land of Peridun.



 

This story is back to the more mythic structure–I’ll figure out one day how to write a story that moves between more grounded and more fantastic, but for this prompt the mythical seemed more accurate and fitting.

Next week, in the heat of summer, we venture to the forgotten and dread time of winter–of frozen bodies and trapped times. Come and see what’s stuck under all that ice.

 

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Settling Down, Setting Free

This Week’s Prompt: 89. Lone lagoons and swamps of Louisiana—death daemon—ancient house and gardens—moss-grown trees—festoons of Spanish moss.

The Prior Research:Swamp Men and French Werewolves

There was an old rotting property at the end of Leeman Lane, that had it not been for one particularly pick lawyer, would have been demolished years ago. The house belonged to my great uncle’s family—a family I had only vaguely visited once or twice. Hated it, honestly. There was a nice backyard, and a cool patio I think, and a chest of old toys. But well, it was on the edge of the swamp.

I guess I remember Uncle Todd dying. No, I probably just remember a funeral sort of. I was like eight, and the house at the end of Leeman Lane vanishing beneath a bulldozer wouldn’t have made my family news. We weren’t close.

But then, a lawyer calls me up. Says I’m the next of kin—not of Uncle Todd, but my second cousin (or is it cousin once removed?) Jerry. Jerry died with the house in his name, passed it on, and well no one wanted it.

I didn’t want it.

It was cheap and far away from the folks and who knows, putting something back together might be healthy. Left over student loan money would be able to get me started, rebuilding it anyway. I closed the car door at the end of the road, the creaking and condemned buidling looming over me. Home sweet home.

My first visit of the old house was dire. There was water dripping from a whole in the roof down to the basement, where it made a mosquito infested pit., most of the furniture was already gone. The porch was covered in mold, it’d have to all be replaced. The wallpaper had all been pealed back. There was no way I was sleeping there for at least a months of work.

House Louisiana.png

The motel was cheap and didn’t look that bad, all things considered.

A whole month?” the old woman behind the counter said with a raised eyebrow. “What, you shooting a documentary or something?”

People do that often out here?” I asked, handing over the card for her to scan. Reception wasn’t great out here, things took a bit.

Course they do! Nature stuff in the swamp, people looking for moss men, that sort of thing. Not your lane though?” she said, handing it back. “Well, you might see something out by the old Leeman house. Room 2b, ice machine’s down the hall.”

I lugged my pair of suitcases up and got to studying. I had…a vauge idea of what I was doing, but not really? Not in practice. I mean, demolishing the whole thing and starting from scratch seemed expensive and a bit…pointless, really. Wasteful, I guess?

So that meant figuring out how to replace waterlogged, moldy walls. How to saftely take down walls, how to tell their load bearing. What sort of tools to get, which were rip offs, which were for professionals, what you could get by with;what materials, what kinds of plasters, where to buy them, that sort of thing.

Looking it over, there was no way this was a one man job.

Hey Frank.” It took a couple calls to get through. “You still need a job? Still got that old truck?”

Truck Louisiana.png

Frank’s a big guy, a nice guy. He’s done some construction work, but even he was surprised at the size of the damage.

Man, this whole wall’s gotta go. Like, are these…there are mushrooms growing out of this.” He said, reaching out and flicking the sprouting shrooms. I nodded, and tapped it with an axe.

The whole thing? Edges seem pretty good.” I said, drumming the wet but not moldy corner. Frank leaned over to look and frowned.

They might be fine, we’ll see when we get the rest out of the way. Their might be mold inside.” He said, heading over to the back. “And—okay, yeah, you were right. House first, backyard second. I can’t tell if that’s a pool or a lake.”

Tree looks nice though.”

Yeah, I guess. Spanish moss kinda looks like a curtain.” He said, shrugging as he walked around to the front.

The rest of the tour goes as better—there’s a lot of work to be done, but its not impossible. Just intense and expensive. I wave my hand at that, money’s not a real issue at the moment.

Really?” Frank says looking around the stairs—some would need to be replaced, but the structure was mostly fine. “I mean, I know–”

We both stood stock still. Rustling, and another splash. Frank held up a hand, and slowly walked over to the hole in floor, peering over. He frowned and shrugged, gesturing for me to come over. There was something floating in the water—holding a cellphone light over the hole, a small bit of wood came into view. For a moment I sighed with relief. Maybe it was just a bit of the roof that fell. But the light caught on something with color—a bit of red and blue. I leanded over a bit, careful not to fall in.

It’s carved.” I said slowly. “Some sort of…doll?”

Maybe something left on the roof?” Frank said, looking up. “Though…seems strange for the wind to catch.”

Yeah…maybe a rat or something?”

Do rats play with dolls?” Frank said, frowning more.

Well, no, but…maybe a crow dropped it? It looks kinda shiny, nest material?” I said, standing up and looking around.

Yeah, maybe. We should take a look, just in case.” Frank said. “This place gives me the creeps, and I’d rather not get a heart attack from a stray cat jumping at me from its home.”

The basement wasn’t…exactly safe to get into. The stairs creaked, and I felt one breaking as I went down with Frank. It was a big basement—shelves still against the wall, with cans that might still have some good food in them. No furniture, but some piled up lumber and a rusting heater.

The walls had some holes. And there were, of course, insects buzzing around the small still water pool. Mosquitoes loved it. I wish I had worn gloves, they bit my arms like crazy.

No rat holes…not that I can see.” Frank said, shining his phone light around on bare concrecte and wood.

Might have gotten out?” I said, peaking behind the lumber.

Sure, sure. Oddly tidy down here.” He said, shining his cellphone light about.

Well, must not have had much use for–” I stopped and grabbed Frank’s shoulder. A shadow covered the water. My eyes rose to the floor above. No one. In the silence I listened for another breath. The roofed creaked, as the shadow grew—and then shifted back again.

Thank god you live in a hotel.” Frank said as he breathed again.

The hell was that?” I said, slowly walking over to the pool. Picking up the wood carving, I looked up—and the hole in the roof a bit bigger than before.

I don’t know, but let’s not find out. Could be…I don’t know a bear or something.” Frank said, gesturing to leave.

Are there swamp bears?” I asked. Frank didn’t answer as we left.

I looked back as we got in Frank’s car—there were some broken branches around the roof.

Hotel Louisiana.png

At the hotel, I did try and you know, find an answer. It couldn’t have been a person. I mean, I don’t think so. The branches were broken, and I think we would have heard someone taking that high of a fall. I don’t think someone could have crawled up the walls, and there wasn’t a ladder or rope.

There was a black bear. It could have been an extra-ordinarily friendly one, who thought the house was his. Or I guess, I don’t know. An escaped zoo animal—no that would have made the news. Sighing, I considered that it could have been…an exceptionally big bird or crow. Whatever it was, me and Frank had agreed: we’d see this through.

I mean, yeah, if we had the cash we’d hire some folks but honestly I think you’re right to try it on your own for now.” Frank said nodding. “Raw materials will eat up a lot of it, but you’d be amazed what the internet can teach you these days.”

We’d keep an eye out for…whatever that thing was. That, Frank admitted, was not something we should handle with a Youtube tutorial. Thinking on it, I couldn’t help but laugh a bit.

What’s so funny?”

Oh, nothing. The hotel lady, she mentioned—people shoot big foot documentaries out here. Maybe this is where he’s been hiding.” I said laughing.

Your family’s the bigfoot protection program. Of course, you look just like him.” Frank said, chuckling a bit as we pulled up to the hotel.

Swamp1 Louisiana

We didn’t see it again when fixing the walls—God that was costly and exhausting. We patched that hole up, as soon as we were sure that the wall wasn’t going to break and send the whole thing falling down. Clearing out the moss was unpleasant work, and it took a week to get all of it off. Another week to replace most of the rotten wood, patching the few holes.

It was about three weeks in, when we went outside, that things were strange again. Frank had finished asking me about what sort of crazy stuff I had gotten into during my brief college experience. I made some shit up about getting drunk at parties and smoking weed, heading out back to avoid further questions.

That’s when I saw the new hole. It was smashed in, and there was bits of black fur stuck on the edges. Inside, a rusted metal lock box—and digging. Something had either dug up…or been trying to bury this box. Picking up the fur, I felt a chill down my spine. It felt…lacquered. Greasy, like it was stuck in a shower drain oil was poured down. I flicked it off and took the box in.

Hey, Frank…you got a screwdriver or hammer or something.” I said, holding it up.

The box wasn’t actually that hard to force open—the lock was easy enough to knock open with a screwdrive and hammer. I didn’t ask where Frank learned that trick—probably googled it, honestly. Anyway, inside was a small set of diagrams that I took out and folded open on our little workbench—we hadn’t quite gotten the new furniture in yet.

I started sorting through the stuff, placing the contents of the box out. There was a floorplan of the house, with X’s drawn on some of the wall spaces.

Buried treasure?” I asked, handing it to Frank as I unloaded the rest.

No…no, I think…Lemme check something.” Frank looked around the room for a bit and passed off, tapping part of the wall and then moving to the next room. There were some scraps of paper and painted leaves, and then…photos.

Old photos, of the backyard. Flicking through the nights recorded in the little windows, there was a growing pattern. It was in the corner of shots, on the edge of the light. A black furred limb—sometimes an arm, sometimes a paw, sometimes something bent and strange. Little eyes, red eyes, stared out from some of them. They were perfect pinpricks, they followed as I turned the picture under a light.

Frank…You need to see this.” I said, laying them out on the table.

Gimme a sec, just one more room to check!” Frank shouted.

There was a dull rumble from the living room, and as I turned it sharpened into a cracking sound. The wood bent upward, the old hole opening up again. And then it cracked apart, black claws flickering out of sight. I ran up to the hole, and stared down at a pair of fierce red eyes.

***

The next thing I knew, Frank was talking to someone on the phone about how “and he just like, he just passed out. I don’t know I think he had a stroke? Is there an age limit on strokes?”

Frank?” I said, getting up slowly. Frank looked at me.

And um. He…he got up. Yeah, yeah okay. Hey man, what’s your name?” Frank said, still on the phone.

Daniel Jordan.” I said, sitting up a bit.

Hey, take it easy. Alright, Dan, what day is it?”

Tuesday..” I said rubbing my head. “Why, what’s going on?”

You took a bit of a fall. Now, where are we?” Frank asked seriously.

The house at the end of Leeman street…the old mossy one Uncle Todd owned.” I said slowly, starting to stand.

Alright.” Frank went back to the phone. “He…he seems fine. Uh, I’ll bring him in.”

Bring me where?” I sad, standing—good my legs hurt. “Frank, we’re not going to a hospital.”

Thanks again.” Frank hung up on his cellphone. “Dude, you were out for like twenty minutes. You need to see a doctor.”

I’m not going to a hospital for a concussion—that’s gonna eat up what I’ve got left, man.” I said, shaking my head. “We can get to a minute clinic or something. There’s gotta be something like that around here right?”

Frank frowned and started to say something before I held a hand up to cut him off.

Dropping out didn’t void my student loans, and the last thing I need ontop of working those off and rebuilding this house is a hospital’s worth of lawyers chasing me for using their emergency room, alright?”

I grabbed some of the loose stuff in the box, and head for the truck.

Swamp2 Louisiana.png

Frank was uneasy the whole ride, but I kept myself busy reading through the journal. He didn’t believe me about the red eyes, not until I showed him the pictures and the guy at the minute clinic confirmed I was fine. I mean, of course I was fine. It cost a hundred bucks I kinda had, but I was fine. He got real quiet then.

Its messed up man, like. This is stuff we call a priest over.” Frank said, shaking his head. “You know, this is ghost stuff or something. Call the local news.”

I don’t think so.” I said, thumbing through the book.

I mean. Maybe that’s what the map was about?” Frank said, as we turned a corner. “The X’s, they were marking spots were there was mold before. And there was mold around the hole you found…”

Yeah, it doesn’t like the house, that’s clear. But Todd and Jerry lived here, so it wasn’t here forever. Or they figured out how to deal with it.” I said, thumbing a bit farther along. “God knows I don’t need a free loading room mate who knocks me out when I look at him.”

Very funny,” Frank said with a grimace.

Thanks.”

And then I found it. It was over a few pages, but there it was. Answers.

The house hadn’t been doing well—business at Jerry’s shop was declining, and travelers were down. Story of the century, small family business failing as everyone moves to the big city. Except, I guess, Jerry had a screw loose or something. He’d found out there was something living in the swamp—it had some Spanish or French name, I don’t know—something that was big and scary. And he figured, it might be handy to bind this terrible spirit of the swamp to the family. That way, he could rot out and devalue local property to buy up, maybe have it steal stuff or find things lost in the swamp. It was all a bit panicked excitement, really.

So your telling me ‘run off half sure of yourself, and try a dumbass thing’ isn’t just you?” Frank said, as I read along. “It’s like, genetic?”

When have I–”

You’re currently trying to rebuild a swamp house to get away from your family, and the fact that there’s a monster in the house didn’t get you to run immediately.” Frank said, waving. “But please, carry on.”

Right, first of all, harsh. But yeah, so…he tried to cobble together some sort of spell to catch the thing. As you do.”

As you do.”

And well…it kinda worked?” I said, frowning. “I mean. It caught the thing.”

But…”

Well, it caught a wild animal, it didn’t like. Control it.” I said, sighing. “So its a wild animal, stuck in the house, trying to get out.”

Why didn’t he just…let it out?” Frank asked, as we pulled up to the motel.

You luck a dog up in a cage, and it starts biting at you and shaking the cage—you let it out and it might run away. Or it might go for your throat.” I said, shrugging. “But…I think Jerry got it wrong.”

…You think it’s smarter then that.”

It dug up the book, and dropped the doll thing.” I said, nodding. Frank put it in park. “We should head back tomorrow and…”

Please do not tell me your going back down there, and gonna muddle with stuff we don’t know about and hope it goes okay.”

…and yeah, muddle with stuff we don’t understand to free a thing we can’t really see and hope it just leaves.” I said, sighing. “Like you said, this is specialist work, but we don’t have the budget.”

We went over the plan the next day. There were two rings we needed to get rid of—one was in the basement, beneath the lumber pile. Jerry apparently thought that would stop that thing, and was convinced it’d eventually calm down. The other one was out by the pond thing—where he caught it.

You take the basement.” I siad, point to the diagram. “Just. Just go to town on the circle. I’ll go to the pool—I’m not gonna be able to move the lumber very well. If the thing shows up, don’t look at it. Jerry says it’s eyes are messed up, and you know, I think he was right about that.”

The one by the pool?”

I’ll handle that. It’s some stones, I can just…knock them over.” I said, shrugging.

Frank insisted on bringing a gun. I told him not to bother, that it’d be dangerous. But whatever, his deal not mine.

I started walking out the back door. The grass was fresh. We hadn’t worked out the backyard yet, not even close to the pool. The moss was still hanging like a curtain, from the branches around the pond. The wind rustled as I got closer.

I’d noticed the stones, but really I’d thought they were just some kids dicking around. Circles in stones, wrapped around and around. Like a labyrinth not. Jerry worked really hard on it—I wonder if that’s really why he didn’t break it. There were little wooden dolls around it, facing towards the center where a crude bit of drift wood was.

BackyardLouisiana.png

Something was in the air—it felt like I was walking silk, sticking to my hairs and pulling them on end as I got closer. I felt little legs crawling down my arms, like spider legs with baby fingers. Soft, but unwelcome.

I picked up the first of the stones, and tossed them—and the web vibrated, the air twisted around. It rippled as it fell into the pond. I felt the snares, pulling at me slightly with each stone I through around. It hurt, I don’t know why it hurt to tear it apart, but it hurt. My chest ached, my limbs felt tired, my eyes burned.

When I was done, I slumped against a tree. Moss hung down to my shoulders, and I saw a glimpse of it. It was tall, dark, and had bright red eyes. It looked like something—like a crocodile, I guess, or like a person with a thrown out back. Stood up right, and I closed my eyes and sighed. It left whistling on the wind, and I haven’t seen it since.




This story was one I knew from the start had an obvious metaphor, like last time. Repairing an old house seemed like an obvious direction to take it. And the idea of repairing your life, metaphorically repersented by repairing a house—with a monster and a dark past mixed together to create an external version of internal struggles seemed also basic. The writing isn’t quite as tight as I would like, and the ending is a bit rushed I think—I ran out of time again, and space frankly. This is already a very long piece, and I didn’t want to push my luck to far.

I tried again to stay grounded for this one, as next time we will be dealing with another fantastic and strange monster. Come and see these!

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After the Funeral

This Week’s Prompt: 88. Lonely philosopher fond of cat. Hypnotises it—as it were—by repeatedly talking to it and looking at it. After his death the cat evinces signs of possessing his personality. N.B. He has trained cat, and leaves it to a friend, with instructions as to fitting a pen to its right fore paw by means of a harness. Later writes with deceased’s own handwriting.

The Prior Research:A Witch’s Best Friend

Dani’s house was a small and sorry thing, light blue turned grey and overgrown grass. I had already gotten half the boxes into the car when her orange-black friend started mewling at me, sitting in his bed atop some plastic boxes. I sighed and gave him an ear scratch. I don’t know how to explain to a pet that their mom’s not coming home.

If it wasn’t for Tigger, I probably wouldn’t be here. Not because there’s a lot of stuff. For someone who rarely left home, Dani kept very few things. It was a mostly spare building, and after she was diagnosed three years ago, it had started getting emptier and emptier. It was like she gave away another ten percent of what she owned whenever she went to the hospital.

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It was visit number three that she got Tigger. He was an angry little cat, but Dani swore she saw love in his eyes. She had a few scratches, and broken glasses to prove he was an ass even as Tigger purred innocently in my lap.

But he’s calmed down a lot. Especially when he plays with the light.” She said, pulling out a little laser pointer. Tigger’s eyes immediately followed the light that flickered back and forth on the floor—his tail brushed against my arms as I felt him prepare to pounce. He stared for a time, head moving back and forth, back and forth.

Most cats start lunging really quick, but Tigger takes a moment—he waits for it to–” The red light stopped on the floor. I groaned as the cat left off with full force, clawing at the red menance. “Stop.”

She laughed a bit as Tigger looked around confused and frustrated that his prey is gone. I reached over and gave him a little ear scratch in compensation.

Bit mean.” I said, as Tigger purred and nuzzled my arm.

I guess. Good for playing though. Besides, he knows it’s not real.”

***

The last ten percent of Dani’s things was a back breaking amount of books and unfinished papers, and small box of stuff for Tigger. Some toys, a bed—which I put in the front seat—and a small pen box. Tigger himself moved between the seats with familiarity—I wonder if Dani took him on drives? People did that with dogs, maybe cats liked it to. I’d have to keep that in mind.

There really wasn’t anyone else for the cat. I mean, I guess there was a foster house but…Even if Dani hadn’t left him to me in her will, I would have picked him up. He didn’t have any grandparents to go to, Dani never married, and while her neighbor and the local barista knew of her they didn’t really know her that well.

***

Oh, she…well, I was wondering why she hadn’t gotten the mail.” Her neighbor said, after stopping me from unloading the another box of handwritten letters from the house into my car. “That’s…that’s a shame.”

Yeah.” I said, pushing the cardboard box in. Tigger was sitting there, watching the neighbor intently.

Well if you need anything, let me know. I, uh…” His voice trailed off as I glanced up. He wants to say that he thought she was already dead. Or he wants to say he thought she was moving. Or when is the house going up for sale. Or something. Something he knows he shouldn’t, I’m sure. So he leaves.

Tigger glares after him as he goes. Solidarity cat, I didn’t like him either.

***

The first few days with Tigger are odd. He wakes up really early—six o’clock in the morning, every day. Worse, he wakes me up at six in the morning every day, on the dot. We sprung forward, and he still woke me up at six in the morning without fail. Which, well, it was an adjustment.

And even then, he was really picky about the food. I haven’t heard of cats begging for food, but the way he looked at my cheese and onion omlette was pretty close. It was…really weird, honestly. He curled up on the side of the couch, watching the tv and at first I thought it was in my head. But he was hissing at bad jokes like Dani would, and glared at me when I switched away from cooking shows.

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When I thought about it, he had picked up a lot of his owners habits. Not just waking up early, and liking cooking shows, but he even tried to drink green tea. And she did like omlettes.

Probably just Dani rubbing off on him. They spent more time together than Dani did with…anyone, so I guess some bleed over was to be expected? Or maybe he was missing her too, and trying to play along.

It’s just nice having a really good listener around, you know?” Dani said, as I tried balancing the phone and cleaning the dishes at the same time.

I guess.” I said, catching a loose plate. “How’s the new meds working out?”

Oh fine, yeah. Tigger’s a bit annoyed that I’m up and about when he’s trying to sleep, but he’s a cute grouchy cat.” Dani said. “He’s gotten better—he definetly knows when I’m talking to him.”

How do you know? I mean, does he talk back?” I said laughing a bit.

I mean, how do I know anyone’s thinking?” she said. I could hear her unblinking gaze. “And yes he does thank you. Particularly if he’s hungry.”

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Talked when he was hungry was right. He’d walk up, sit on his rear, look at me for a moment. And then, indignant that I hadn’t conjured food for him on the spot, he’d rear his head back and yowl. Follow me around yowling too, eyes closed until I replaced the food or at the least reached down and let my hand’s get examined.

He’s a picky eater, but I knew that. Dani complained about needing to buy him food a few times—something about how the cat ate better then her. Or maybe that was what I told her, and she said it back mockingly. I grumbled about it out loud and Tigger walked up and started yowling at me over it. Guess he had figured out what some words meant.

The last call we had was actually kind of hopeful. She’d started a new treatment, things were improving, she was back to writing her philosophy of the mind stuff. Which…which always seemed kind of grim, given the circumstances.

It’s just fascinating—like, how do you explain people? Is it memories? Is that all we are?” she said, after a minute of discussing an instance of a woman being apparently possessed by her great uncles ghost. “I mean, it’s not perfect—there are a lot of fraudsters out there and stuff, but people think their under the control of some strange otherworldly forces! And how does the mind trick itself that thoroughly?”

I was more than happy to nod along, even if I only kind of understood her ideas about the mind as a pattern replicating in itself or something. I’d given up asking about doctors and tests by then. She’d tell me if something had gotten better, she always did.

After that, we still…kind of talked. But more with letters then phone calls—she wasn’t feeling well enough to call. She’d send letters instead, letters that. Well. They hurt to look at. The handwriting’s decay is rapid, really. Crisp at first, complaining about a head ache and rambling a bit about authenticity. And then, in three letters later, it’s barely legible doctor scribble.

While unpacking her stuff, I found the note, with my name on it. There was some torn tape—it was attached to a package at some point. A small set of instructions, in barely legible writing—and a picture of a weird little glove for Tigger. He was nuzzling my leg as I read. It was…okay, well, who was I to say no to Dani’s last request?

I opened up the old penbox—there was a pen, with a small attachment, like a glove, for Tigger’s arm. A small button on the side turned on a slightly off frequency. Dani’s letter mentioned a light. At the sight of it, Tigger sat perfectly still, raising his right paw up. Making sure not to break the line of sight, I slowly placed slipped the pen on. Tigger tapped the table expectantly. I blinked as he tapped again, facing straight ahead.

I put a piece of paper down. Tigger slowly began to write.

And I started to cry, hand over my mouth.

Hi Leslie, its Dani. I know I probably look a bit different, but its me.”




 

This story was…interesting to write. Its conceptually very…grounded. Or aims for it—there aren’t any supernatural monsters, there aren’t any ghosts, and the mood I intended was a sort of weary melancholy. The idea to me was instantly one of the most captivating, and I think could serve as a solid start of a strange and some what sad story about grief. Unlike most stories, I think 1500 words roughly was the appropriate length. Dani and Leslie are rather thin characters, and certiaintly could have been built more, but with just the simple plot the length seems about right.

Next week, we go somewhere a bit familiar and a bit foreign, a place Mr. Lovecraft no doubt feared and a place that is full of conflicting folklore. Come and join us then!

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