Bird of Old Feather

This Week’s Prompt: 120. Talking bird of great longevity—tells secret long afterward.

The Prior Research:Birds of Pray

I admit, I was surprised when Uncle Ronald died. He was old, sure—I wasn’t exactly sure how old until he passed. He’d joke he’d been forty for fifty years. I mean, he didn’t  look older than forty but age is a strange thing? And now he was dead.

I wasn’t surprised what he’d left me, though. I’d always liked Becky. She was some sort of…parrot, with really long tail feathers. Uncle Ronald kept her in a big, fancy cage—took up a whole wall. She was probably as old as him, maybe older. Her feathers faded in color, and many were long gone. Still, there was something noble about her. I’d taken care of her a few times, when my uncle had business elsewhere. I’d learned to love her song, even when I was young.

Of course, my house was…humbler than Uncle Ronald’s. But I managed to make enough room for her in the yard. I wasn’t worried about her flying off—after all, there were hardly any feathers on her wings. The real trick, honestly, was finding out what she ate. The vet I called to look her over—after confirming she’d been in bad health a while, probably because at the end Uncle Ronald couldn’t feed her—she suggested that Becky would like insects, and probably fruits.

She didn’t sing much those first few days, even as she ate the seed and fruit and insect mix—dried at first, because she certainly lacked the energy to chase them down. I’d spend time with her, taking time off from driving around to talk to her at home. She’d squawk and sometimes I thought she smiled.

I wonder, can even an old bird go senile?

It was a week before the first shimmering feather returned. It was bright red, with streaks of orange, sprouting like a tongue of fire among ashes. I remember, because that was the first day she sang again, whistling a tune through the yard.

“…Is that Wonderwall?” Jenna asked, frowning as the sharp whistles came through. I paused and frowned.

“What kind of bird sings Wonderwall?” She laughed. Looking out the window—yeah, there was the bird. Singing along happily, a single tuft of bright red feathers on her head like a crown. She hopped to the top edge of the cage, her head and body swaying as she sang. She even flared out her wings, tattered and broken as they were.

“Apparently old ones.” I said with a smile, going back to the coffee boiling.

*

Becky’s taste in music did get more refined, as she got more feathers. Bit by bit she recovered, and would sing musicals in her chirpy voice, humming tunes in the morning. She sometimes even gave…unsolicitited advice.

“Too much salt! Too much salt!” she squawked, more than once, when steam came out of the kitchen window.

“Plants need more, yes, plants need more!” She said, hoping along in her cage as I took my morning walk.

“No good, no good!” she helpfully chimed in, when I tried on a new jacket.  An old bird, she had many many opinions. Some were a bit old fashioned I think—at least one bit of advice was in old German and I think was about the proper application of a codpiece or something. For a bird such as her, having a memory that went so far back was…well, a little comforting. Someone remembered all that.

And while I did not appreciate her thoughts on my new car—“Too loud! Too loud!”—some of her advice was useful. She was right about the salt, and even started listing off a recipe or two when I was writing groceries. Not a recipe I could understand, but I kept a little notepad of what she’d said in case I ever ‘cracked’ it.

Which…well, okay, I didn’t. I was chatting with my neighbor, Miss Kovac—I’m sure I spelled that wrong—and while we were talking about the weather and her flower garden, Becky chimed up with another recipe. And there was this light in Miss Kovac’s eyes, just this pure delight for a moment.

“Oh, who said that?” She said, shocked and looking around. When I told her it was the bird, she demanded to see Becky. She told me, as she looked at Becky’s marvelous red-orange plumes—which were still punctuated by dead black and grey feathers then—that she knew that recipe. Her grandmother, when she made sweets, had used that recipe. She was sure of it. She thought it had been lost when her mother and her left for the States, but she was sure that Becky had remembered it.

The sweets were delicious.  Really all her recipes, once got them…as down as we could were delicious. Some of them were in German, some in Latin, some in Old Russian. But she gave good cooking advice, old Becky did. And she sang songs—I know a few where church hymns, and others were school yard rhymes. She must have had a number of owners, to move so easily between children school yard songs.

It was a bit…disconcerting sometimes, my lovely bird. She sang in different voices—all filtered through her squawk. But you could here the rhythm of dozens of voices. You could tell the pitches. And even during the middle of the day, hearing an angry dispute in another language, the sing song of distant long dead children, or the humming tune of a church choir from your backyard—often suddenly, and without warning—was pretty creepy. I didn’t try and think of how old that must have made Becky—or how many owners she must have had, how far she had traveled.

Sometimes she would say…strange things. Usually once a month, she’d stop singing and dancing and sort of just stare on the horizon.  She’d say numbers or words, in a flat voice. Sometimes she’d swear at the moon, perching up on a tree, spreading her red-orange wings and clawing up at it.

Sometimes she would lean very close to the edge of the cage—raising both her wings up to hide her head, flaring out her long peacock like tale. And she’d say things quickly, in a quite voice. Conspiratorially.

Too many of these were in plain English.

“It will rain tonight. Leave out candles. Things live in the rain. Worms come out from the ground. Worse things come up for worms.”

She chirped this one for a big storm. I mean, it did rain—the weatherman had said that much. But what she meant by candles—that night the power went out. So I lit some candles…and let one outside, just in case. Why not, right? In this day and age, why not?

The house across the street, it had some sort of accident. A sinkhole or something, ate up most of the road and severed a lot of powerlines. Just barely missed mine. Which, I thought was conicdence but…there was a nagging thought I just couldn’t let go of.

*

One night, as I was washing dishes, she squawked up another suggestion. Place a jar of dirt outside, and bury it. Bury it with a spare key. I blinked at that. She then went back to singing American Idiot. Which, was almost a more unsettling experience, compared to that strange droning song she sang earlier or the odd chirps of advice.

I had a mason jar, and got some compost. Dropped a key in. I don’t know when exactly I started listening to Becky, but her recipes worked. And this was harmless. Who was going to go to my backyard to find a spare key anyway?

It took maybe thirty minutes to bury the thing. I went to bed after a warm shower.

The screech of tires woke me up. A glance at the clock. Three o’clock in the morning. I blinked and lazily, not entirely awake yet, pulled myself to the window. There was a car outside. Lights off—someone was standing at the edge of the yard.

He was pacing. There was crowbar in his hand. As I blinked awake, I saw him try and walk over the line, towards the house—but stop. Step back. He took a deep breath and stepped forward towards the house again and no, turned back. He did this for five minutes as I watched—and recorded it with my cellphone.

And then he went home.

The police said what you’d expect. No victim, no damages, no crime. Keep an eye on it, but they’ll deal with it later. I was still shaken up about. How had she known? Had she known? Twice was just conicdence after all.

She hoped to a branch close to my window. She sang a nice morning carol as I made an egg recipe she suggested a few weeks ago.  She was content, it seemed, to sing along and through the day. I began to relax, to hum along with her. Nothing else happened that day. I got to working on a new design for a client and sorting through more property for Uncle Ronald.

It wasn’t until sundown that she acted strange again. She got silent, staring at the setting sun—I wonder if she was hoping to catch a glimpse of that green flash people talk about. She didn’t blink, like she was daring the sun to pop it’s head back up before going to bed. And then she made some anxious squawks in my general direction.

She’d knocked her food thing over. It was one of those hanger things—I got a flash light, opened the cage to go and rehang it from the ceiling like I’d done a hundred times. And then she jumped on my shoulder.

That was startling but not new. I mean. She’s a parrot…thing. It was like being a pirate. She did it while cooked sometimes—although a bird chiding you like a disapproving parent was an uncomfortable experience for sure.

She watched as I put the thing back up, hooking it around the mesh ceiling. And then whispered in my ear, quick clicking and purring—or something like purring, like a tongue trying to roll its R’s in a low comforting way. She shook a little, the last of her ashen feathers, a small tail feather falling away.

Becky had a plan, smart bird. A plan that had to be hidden from the moon and sun—only on new moons could anything be done about it. What it was I wasn’t sure, and what exactly the plan did wasn’t clear. She needed me to find a rock she’d buried near my Uncle’s house—it was a special rock, one of those rocks made when a thunderbolt hits sand.

She needed seeds, from an old tree—a really old tree. She needed a jar, a clean but old jar with a silver lid. She needed string, twine, she need something made of metal. Things had to be measured. Dates consulted, she needed me to go to the library and find the dates. It would be slow. But she had time. And she needed it to work properly this time.


I knew this was going to be a strange story from the start, and drew some from an older story here https://undeadauthorsociety.com/2019/05/22/after-the-funeral/. You could consider this a spiritual successor.

The week delay was to put some finishing touches on it, but next weeks research has already begun! See you then!

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The Empty Windows Part 2

This Week’s Prompt: 119. Art note—fantastick daemons of Salvator Rosa or Fuseli (trunk-proboscis).

The Prior Research:Temptation

Part 1:The Empty Windows, Part 1

I spent the afternoon clearing off the window. It was an exquisite work, really. Along its frame were carved distorted statues and cut outs—when the sun shone down, they cast long and wide shadows down, acting out some play along the walls. Sadly, they had been damaged beyond recognition. I couldn’t tell a knight from a knave, nor a man from a goat among the shapes. But a clever bit of artistry all the same.

The glass of the window was more a shade than anything else. There was an attempt, I think, to guide the light not only over the rotating images, but the window itself. Portions, small lines, were lighter than the rest. To cast an image in lighter shadows perhaps…too small to be entirely successful. But still! I wondered what I might find, in this new window. After it was cleared, I gathered my things, looked upward into the dark.

It was like a looming eye looking down on me, a slumbering giant that dwarfed the house.  As the sun shifted across it, I stared longer. I waited for some vision or sight beyond. I waited for a world in the dark glass—but I saw nothing.

Not quite nothing.

I saw myself in the glass. Reflected, distorted. The curves stretched by body, my face and body—it was like a grotesque flower formed of my features. The thin lines looked like abandoned strings falling off my face. Like my reflection hanging from the ceiling, by thin fibirous puppet strings. So perfectly cast, I could feel my own weight above me. It was…disorienting, to see an empty shell of yourself, staring down from a dark and starless sky. Even at noon, there was no color to my reflections skin.

I am not surprised such a window was covered…but I held out hope that day that, in my work, this would open a new insight. A new window into the world beyond. After all, it was so finely made and so opaque—once my vision could pierce it, what wonders would I find behind? What worlds waited?

That night the wind was heavy. The storm was gone, but airy nymphs danced in its wake. Sleep thus so far away from me, I decided to do as I had in the past. I would survey the worlds again, from that sacred seat, with naught but candle, moon, and star.  The room was dark and heavy at night, and I sat to record poetry of Verta, who now sung songs of Gladwing’s endevors. Or so I thought, the images seemed to be of that great hero.

Studying that window, with a candle at it’s base to illuminate the figures, I felt some small comfort. But as I wrote, I felt something else. Long shadows were cast by the candlelight. The moon and cold starlight were enough to cast that pantomime of broken gargoyles…but they seemed less clear. Shapeless, dim masses against the light and dance. They lacked the stark, crisp lines that separate puppets from men.  

I pushed on though, writing. Writing and writing. Even as the darkness felt heavier and the dancing shadows grew more unsettling, while the winds howled and battered at the walls. It was after recording the third stanza—in a tongue I still didn’t know—that I knew real fear.

Because I could not stand.

It was as if a great weight was sitting on my back. It could crush me. It would crush me, if I tried to stand. Only by remaining hunched over, working away at the visions beyond, could I keep the weight off of me. The wind felt cold on my neck, unbidden from some window left agape elsewhere.  

The air pushed in to my lips as I wrote. My limbs were tightened, gripped by unseen iron centipedes, hundreds of small iron pins down. They stabbed, my arm twitched up and tightened, dragging lines across the page, cutting across text or sliding to underline words of warning. Scuttle, scratch, stab. I feel wounds. I bleed but my blood is invisible on the page, it leaves no stain. I write and write and cannot see that I bleed. Even as something coils round my crown. Even as my eyes sting and I taste iron in my mouth. I cannot see that I bleed.

*

The burning heat of the sun woke me the next day, shinging through the skylight. My head was burning as I dragged myself down for water. Despite the ache, I prepared for another day—today I would relax, and recover from the hell of last night. My stomach felt like something had coiled up inside and around it, holding it hostage.

I was determined, however, to write outside that night. To go out amongst the plains, where I might see the vistas with my sharpened vision.  I went then among green plains and forests, to visit the amphitheater of red gods with twin heads. I wondered under the sky, completing my sketches and studies.  

It was while I sat among the seas of memory, watching another investigation of the scholars there—they were fishing up a lost marriage from the deep currents below. It was a broken, sad thing—fins spread out with rainbow colors, reflecting the violet light poking through the clouds. Tender moments carved apart by deep and buried scars. It was on those fins that I saw something strange.

It was like a stain, a shadow—a shape reflected on the scales. One I had never seen before.  It was like a drop of oil paint unfurling on the water of the scene. At first, I thought the shape was a malformed tumor on the memory. A horrible, illict act of violence, remembered in the world beyond. But as I drew close, the fin folded—and the stain remained on the new scales. Perhaps it was some unreal sickness, but such no. It was too flat. It was something in the scales.

It was in the fields behind me. It was shapeless, dark and alien against everything else. A heavy shape, long thin limbs probing out on the grass. It moved with some uncertainty, on thin legs that barely supported its great and terrible mass. One limb rose from the rest. A probuscius dripping with inky darkness, gleaming with stains of light.

I had no desire to follow such a story with a monster like this. But no matter where I walked—to red or green or yellow lands, to listen to songs or poems or witness great wrestling matches, among towers and amiptheatres and zigguarats—it followed. It followed, and slowly made the most dreadful of its own noises. Dissonant unsounds, that were heard by all I saw. Pipping of the most dreadful sort. Dancing limbs, with all the elegance of a spider weaving her web.

That is what it most resemble. A spider, with limbs of thin glass and a body of sludge and fungus and rot. And it moved with such ease, even as the land around it shifted—it paid no head to anything else.

Except, as I reckoned when I closed the door, me.

It would not enter my abode. Perhaps it could  not. Perhaps it chose not. It sulked, like a dog left out in the rain, outside my window. I wished for rain. For some flood or heaving river to well up and wash the stain away. It sat, uncaring, atop even my greatest visions. It was hard to record the wonders beyond with this impish demon, lurking in the shadows and emptiness of the world. The others, my beloved knights and poets, did not see it.

As the day grew longer, however, it grew larger. And it grew company.

I saw it swell like a boil, thin layer of skin holding back a most foul inky bile. Spidery limbs punctured out, spilling dripping bile over the land as a new swarm of self-same demons, with their trunks and crawling limbs ushered out. They two roamed over the landscape. They drew near to my door in packs, clawing at the windows, and revealed mouths with of shadow.

And they would not leave.

They would not leave.

I could not make out the shapings and happenings of Glimmerwing and his kin, because these bestial gnats got in the way. Their buzzing, for they made such monstrous buzzing like each drop was an angry cicada, droned out the philosphers. They darted around the golden fields. And every day there were more, leaning on the edge of stones. They extended their long trunks down, like fishers of men in the most crude of ways.

I saw them catch a man of the red lands once. They pulled him up into nothing, and devoured him whole in their darkness. They devoured up my hope of leaving my old manor. For they were waiting there.

*

I did not answer the cold wind that called me to write at night, when darkness would be thick on the grass. I ignored the sounds and calls of monstrous things. The weeping, the chortling, the sound of pigs crying out at slaughter.

I stayed in my bed, and stared at the ceiling. I had locked the door to my study—for I knew that strange things now lurked beyond the window. Strange things lurked from that dark glass. Hungry and numerous things, waiting all about me. What they wanted, I did not know. But they had nothing but ill intent for me now.


This story was delayed greatly by healthy issues and work. I’m not happy with the result, especially with a delay. I like the idea of a window that looks in on the artist as the final twist, with strange demons coming through over time. But it’s not refined enough, frankly. These two stories together will make a good idea to revisit in a year or so.

Next time! We return to some avian friends.

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The Empty Windows, Part 1

This Week’s Prompt:118. Something seen at oriel window of forbidden room in ancient manor house.

The Prior Research: Through the Looking Glass

It was a special sense of space that brought me to the oriel window. Being new to the building, I had only briefly explored it’s grounds—business had kept me from being too keen on its contents and precise layout. It was a house of relative isolation, for relatively little. The benefit of buying at government auctions, there wasn’t much competitions for the place.  Its grounds were grassland, dotted with islands of white stone. If the house was swallowed up, I doubt anyone driving by would have noticed.

So I took sometime to pace about the house, and there I found it—a strange jutting balcony on the western wall. A set of windows surveyed the land—but they were impenetrable from the outside. And more worryingly, no such structure had been found on my first day inside the building. It took about an hour to find the slightly off color wall—much longer with tools to break the plaster over the heavy oaken door.

There wasn’t a handle either, but that was easy to fake. A twist and some careful strokes and the door came open on a hidden room.

It was a small room—a round balcony, with oddly spaced windows. Each of them had a curtain drawn, and a thick screen pulled over them. In between them was a desk, a chair, and an empty picture frame.

Scooting around the desk, I carefully removed the screen—and what a window was hidden by that dreadful veil! It was smooth and green tinted, and seemed to ripple in the wind. It was exquisite. And each that followed, as amazing as the last. I found crimson, azure, indigo, violet, all the many colors of the rainbow in the seven windows there. I admit, it was a bit gauche—but the light it cast on the table was fascinating. And the view of the same plains, cast in only a slightly different color, made the world of difference.

A few days later, I moved some things into the room—my old typewriter, my note books with sketches, and my personal bookshelf. Finding a place for the shelf that didn’t obstruct the inspiring windows took some effort, but I eventually managed to squeeze it across from the door way.  And then I set about writing, watching at the seas of grass shifting in the wind.

It took sometime for the first changes to be clear. I thought it was the isolation getting to me, gazing out through the windows at the grass. Surely, I was imagining shapes moving out there—a forest so verdant and lively through the green window, a rust-red desert in the red window,  a world strange and in perpetually night in the indigo one. They were faint impressions of shapes, like ripples hidden in the glass that my eye was just now noticing.

But no! I saw them, now more and more clearly. They were worlds, worlds fully formed in the windows of such graceful and alien cast.

I saw in that verdant window a country—I cannot read their script, so I called it Verta for its color. Not the most creative name, no, but it must do for now. I observed such dances and songs by their bards—silent, yes, silent yet. But they were entrancing still. They were a different sort of people than most, thin and frail looking. A strong wind would rip their limbs, I feared, a strong storm would shred and tear their wings. Even when they fought, and they fought often with gallantry and honor, they fought with rapiers and sabers and it seemed more like a delicate dance. Even the spilling of blood, who’s color seemed as green as the trees, was more enobled than dreadful. How they seemed to love and fight with a serene passion, it was wonderous. One I had named Gladwing—he was a fierce fighter, wearing a coat of arms of sorts that I’ve drawn here. He was a superb dancer as well, and truly seemed the flower of virtue—even if perhaps his people’s practice of devouring some of the dead seemed unseemly to me.

The yellow window, almost golden, presented fields of wheat for miles. Vast farms, maintained in eternal summers. Golden, blocky buildings peaked over high walls. At first they were of wood and paper, but in time they were stone to last the ages of the sun baked lands. In great chariots, pulled by creatures that were part lion and part oxen, I saw great kings and queens ride out to survey the land. They met and fought, and built great towers to commerate their battles.

And through the red window, among the long grass, I saw the domain of great giants. Twin headed giants, who discussed among themselves and between their heads often. They sat on great stones and spoke for long intervals—I imagined their tones dull and droning, even as they gestured solemnly at stars and shapes in the distance. They built great tablets, with paintings more expressive than their faces. I found it strange—they cast many images of figures with one head, but they and all life had two. I wondered if perhaps they thought of such singular purpose and thought divinity? Or perhaps each head thought itself as a singular entity, trapped without any privacy.

And then through the indigo window showed me a world stranger yet—for the grass became thick here, not grass at all. No, it became a sea, vast and inscrutable, with slow and heavy waves. Drifting overhead were islands, and icebergs rose from the tips like stones. The people here were strange, yes, but not as strange. They had camps to mine strange ore from the icebergs—often they threw from their dead from floating islands, while others wore heavy cloaks and brought nets in the sea to catch strange fish to examine.  One I noticed came frequently, examining the fish who’s skin seemed to hold lost memories and forgotten thins. I haven’t named him yet, his name is on the tip of my tongue. But I remember him clearly.

And through the violet window, a world where the dead were closer to the living—the gaping abalaster entrances and openings where shades would come to retire. The sun was dim, distant and cold. It was like a moon made more bright, shimmering just barely against the dark and perpetually cloudy sky. Familes grew around these openings—hundreds of generations in vast and ever growing mansions. Like mushrooms, they spread and sprouted out of the ground. I saw the weight of years crush and grind passions. With time, even the dead seemed to become nought but architecture, and I grew fond of a young scholar who made the study of decay her passion. I called her Morrigan, after the crow goddess, for she seemed fond of crows. Ghostly animals were herded past her house, as she entertained and wrote papers, and rode with those dead so near to dissolution.

I saw these and I wondered, at all these worlds—why would they have been hidden from the world? Why would anyone board up and bind these windows tightly? Such insight, such wonder—a man of science would find no end of discoveries with this glass, with these world’s just beyond a thin line of glass between us.

Months later, I realized that it was not just the distortion in shapes of glass—it was distortion of the light itself. My eyes, even when I wandered in the grass for fresh air, they could see the ghosts of worlds gone by. Worlds that were just slightly out of sync with my own perception. I stood beside Gladwing as he fought his dread rival, I stood on a stone to see the death blow. I sat and listened to the great two headed speakers debate on solitary summer stones. I watched the great king Orabi wrestle his opponents to the floor as I wandered through the taller grasses. I heard the lapping of the waters against the seas. How strange and beatufiul, to have such refined and sharpened vision. My eyes, adjusted to the colored lens, now saw the shining wonders everywhere.

*

Perhaps that is how it should have ended. Perhaps at last than I would have enjoyed a dream in this empty house, in this grassy sea. But the plains were wracked one night, with dreadful storms. Thunder and hail bombarded the building, keeping me up all through the night. And when it ended, I found a strange shape form the outside of the house. Atop the old balcony, broken a bit now, was a wooden covering. I had taken it to be a nothing more than a ceiling—but from the ground I saw the sun shine down. And reflect off the dark and smooth  shape of a hidden window of darkest black, resting atop the ceiling.


I’m afraid even with my brief break I ran out of time to flesh this idea out in full. Instead, I’ll leave it here—and return to it after next weeks research!

The Family Business

This Week’s Prompt: 117. A secret living thing kept and fed in an old house.

The Prior Research: The Beast Must Feed

My childhood was blessed. While my older brothers had inhabited more of my father’s industrial, entrepreneurial spirit of wanderlust, I was more than happy to be at home with my mother and my tutors. When they returned there would be festivities, with stories of extravagant parties that my mother hushed or amazing sights that she loved. And I would keep rapt attention, because despite all the comforts they provided, I still did not know what the family business was.

I attended school with other boys and girls, who all had homes of equal splendor. And while children do not often discuss the finances of their mothers and fathers, I was a keen young man. I learned, with time, the signs of every source of revenue. The ones who owned farmland were concerned with bad storms—even if they themselves never tilled it. The ones who’s ships sailed the seas went on long voyages, yes, but were superstitious about weather and returned always with exotic gifts. And drank. Often.

Those who owned mines often had some piece from their mind on hand, and talked often of good fortune and a sense for things. Vinters always wished to own a bottle of the land they had. Those who squeezed money from houses often had exceptionally wealthy tenants over for dinner or lunch. Bankers, lawyers, and bueracrats often met at each other’s homes, their children becoming somewhat familiar. With this accumulated second hand knowledge, I strained to review what work my family did.

It was quite profitable work, whatever it was. I wanted for nothing, except perhaps company. Whatever it was, it required a good deal of travel. Some of my brothers, I recognized the signs of sea trade. Others vinters, others wandering merchants without any interest in particular wares. But despite my observations and innocent questions during celeberations, the beating heart of the family was still obscured.  

I had hoped to gain some understanding from my father, when he lingered in the house. Sometimes he would have an accountant over for dinner to discuss matters of business—but never what business. Only that this and that deposit was in order, that this and that would be available then. Where theses sums came from, no, never. Not a word.

That was, until one summer morning. My mother woke me early, my grumbling bringing more sure shaking of me awake.

“Get dressed. Today is a very important day.” She said quietly, perhaps earnestly afraid of startling me. I yawned and looked up in confusion.

“What’s today?” I asked, my tired mind cycling through a calendar of tests and holiday’s and appointments.

“Today is the day you’re father is taking you to work.”

I wore my finest clothes. We rode on two fine horses for two days—up into the hills, where our old family estate was. We rode through fields I had seen from my window and woods my brothers hunted foxes in. I never had the taste for hunting, it was a cruel and one-sided game. At the least, hunting a boar or bear in the older days put one at risk. What might a fox do to a rich man surrounded by friends? Bit him with needle teeth?

We spent our first night in a traveling house in the woods. The innkeeper, a smiling woman who’s eyes never fully opened and exuded a warmth that reminded me of freshly cooked sweets, was familiar with my father. Despite their difference in character, they greeted each other like old friends. She smiled at me, and spoke to me.

“Oh and look at how big he is! Are you sure he’s not your brother?” She said, patting my shoulders and laughing. “Still, not too big for chocolate I hope, I’ve some homemade—let me go get it for you, you’ll love it.”

My father waited patiently for her to return. Not one word until she returned with some slightly mishappen sweets.

The room was smaller than mine at home, even smaller since it was shared. My father removed an old book to read and sat in the corner, a pair of half-mooned glasses from his suit. I had tried asking questions—where we were going, what was expected of me when we got there, who we might meet with, what we might see. But he stayed silent, reading his book through the night.

I had studies to do. I sat at the desk, facing into the darkness of the woods, reading my book. Looking up, I thought I saw a fox, staring at the window with envy from the underbrush. And then it was gone.

The next day’s ride was deeper into the woods—past people who stared at strangers, but averted their eyes when I glanced at them. Carts heavy with logs passed us by—one seemed intent on running us off the road, hurtling down towards us. I pulled horse to the side, but my father stayed still and resolute—and sure enough, the blind horse slowed. Perhaps the driver, face red and eyes glaring, lost his nerve and pulled the reigns while I was not looking. Perhaps my father new some trick with horses. The attempt wasn’t a surprise to him.

Despite being our ancestral home—the home my great-great grandfather had built by hand, using only local lumber—I had never been to this wood. The trees felt familiar, probably because they were kin to the hunting forests of my brothers.  The stone paved road wound its way through ancient trees—a mighty expense, for only one home. Even overgrow with moss and cracked with roots, the stones shone in the sunlight like a river.

The silence my father had as  we rode up the hill stifled any wonder the sights could have presented. At last we came to the end of the road—an iron wrought gate, with a heavy chain around it and verdigrised lock.

“We walk the rest of the way.” My father said, his voice sudden as he came down from the horse. “Not much farther now.”

I was too stunned to ask what he meant. He pulled his coat up,and opened the gate with a small silver key.

We walked a bit farther. Maybe it was a mile. And then it appeared, like a storm suddenly rising on the horizon.

Peeling paint and plaster revealed the brick and stone work below. The roof had a faded coat of arms on it, five flowers blooming in a star. A pair of knights reclined at either side, their spears ready to defend the door. Ivy encrusted lions flanked the stair case, to the heavy, oaken door. Wrapped around it too was a heavy chain, with a shining silver lock. My father wordlessly produced a small gold key—one that seem bent and twisted. But the lock opened with a click, and the heavy chain was removed.

My father ignored my inquiries—what work brought us to such a decrepit house, even if it were our own? There were no clients, no offices, no way of attracting patronage. He merely gestured I follow into the dust and cobweb strewn house.

The distance between doors stretched farther than between our home and the iron gate. The silence was so heavy, it was as if a third had joined our party. Their footsteps interjected between the creaking of old panels, the sigh of slanting supports and tarnished silver. They kept pace with my father, and his occasional mumble or murmur—only faintly made out as ‘a little further yet’—were always to this unseen third. Never to me.

Until we came to the basement door. The chain of silver around the handle, free of times touch, seemed unreal amidst the decay. My father paused, a crude iron key in his palm.

“I think its time we talked business.” He said, turning to me. I nodded silently. Words would not come to me at the sudden focus.

“Down there…down there’s the real family business.” He said, pointing with the key. “And it’s all going to be yours. Your brothers, they’ve got a knack for the little stuff. For wandering and buying and selling—they’re good at what they do. But without what’s down there, it’d all have fallen apart a long time ago.”

The door rattled violently. My father glanced over as I started back.

“I’m going to open the door. Someone is going to fall down the stairs.” He said, turning back to the door. “Whoever it is, they won’t come back home. “

“Wait, what do you—” I started before he held his hand up.

“Who ever doesn’t fall down the stairs is going to travel around for a bit. Maybe go and drink themselves silly.” He said slowly. “Then go home and tell your mother that something terrible happened—like what I told my mother. And what I guess my father told my grandmother. And then, they’ll spend a year doing…whatever it is. And then they’ll come back here, with someone else, and someone else will fall down the stairs.

“And if no one falls down the stairs,” He said, seeing the dawning horror in my eyes. “Then things will fall apart. Money will dry up, fortune will twist and bend, and whatever’s down there will get hungry. Some families, they make their fortune off the sweat of a worker or the blood of a farmer, the tides of the sea. We make ours, our business, with these stairs. And when we can’t have enough of it anymore, and we find someone else to take on the job…well. This is where we exit.”

He turned back to the door.

“I’m going to open the door. And someone is going to fall down those stairs. Only one person will know if they were pushed.”

He reached down. The lock clicked open. A noise was made, like a howling wolf. Teeth and eyes were seen shining in the dark. Was there one figure, bent over in the darkness, mishappen claws peeking into the light? Were a hundred eyes owned by a singular mass? Or was the darkness filled by a hundred hungry limbs?

My father’s body struck the floor with a dull thud. The doors were slammed shut. The locks were clicked shut. I found my way in silence.


I like the basic premise of this story–I’m not sure it quite works, and probably the twist is a bit predictable. But overall, I’m happy with it. A good one to revisit on the Patreon. I’ll add in more links about current events when I get a better handle on them. Until then, next time! We see strange images from a different old manor!

St. Andrew’s Day

This Week’s Prompt: 105. Vampire visits man in ancestral abode—is his own father.

The Prior Research:Romanian Vampires

This story in part brought to you by our patrons on Pateron

Robert Dellsworth nearly dozing when he heard the knocking at his door. A man of his middling thirties, overworked from his office in town, he was slow to answer. Donning whatever clothes were nearby, at three in the morning, he finally made his way to the door. The infernal knocking door.

“Coming, coming! What in God’s name—” Robert began, before the sight cut through his thoughts. His father stood at the doorstep, for the first time in twenty-three years. There was silence on the November air.

“Can I come in?” Geoffrey Dellsworth said softly. In a daze, Robert stepped aside, gesturing for the man to come in. The wind whipped behind him, closing the door.

“I’m sorry, but you…you resemble an old relation of mine. But that can’t be. Please, why are you waking me up at such a late hour?” Robert said, the fire in the chimney crackling to life as his father knelt near it.

“It is no mere resemblance, Rob.” The man said, sighing as he stood and looked around the old Dellsworth entrance. “You removed my portrait.”

“Again, that can’t be. I know, certainly, that you can’t be him.” Robert said, his voice shaking. “He is long dead—or best be. When my mother died, he was no where to be seen, and never once did I hear of his inheritance or advice for two thirds my life. It would be nonsense to come back now. No, no, please sir, do not maintain this charade.”

“Hm. You seem unwell. Perhaps we should sit, and discuss this over tea?” Geoffrey said, walking into the kitchen. “You know my favorite I hope?”

TeaKettleBoiling

The whistle of the tea kettle did little to the silence. Robert studied the man, his father. He had grown a longer beard, but his face was the same—as if wandering free from a dream. His eyes the same warm brown hue, details he’d forgotten but seemed to fit. A small scar on his cheek. A spot above his eyebrow.

“You can’t be him. But if you are Geoffrey Dellsworth, why are you here? Why now? Why not ten years ago? Twenty?” Robert said, voice straining. “Do you know what happened when you left? The rumors that went round me and mother? What it did to her?”

“It was better than staying around long.” Geoffrey said, another flicker of wind striking the ground, scattering dust. “It was better, I had hoped, for you for me to be gone some. I hope you have not made things too good for yourself.”

“Too good? Oh don’t worry about that now. Not now.” Robert hissed. “I’ve made things plenty good without you. I had to leave town for studies, I had to work long hours and burn what little inheritance I had. But I’ve made things plenty good.”

“Have you now?” Geoffrey asked with raised eyebrow.

“Go around and ask someone else at three in the morning what the Dellsworth name is!” Robert said standing. “Go and ask any of the business men I financed, the charities I’ve run, the poet’s I’ve given patronage, the people I’ve fought for in court. Go and ask them if it’s the specter of your sordid past that looms over this house! I’ve fought for that, making things too good for me!”

Geoffrey was silent. His ears seemed to prick up, and a slow sigh escaped his lips.

“So. Why. Why now?” Robert said, slumping back in the chair. “What do you want? Money? A place to hide from some new family you’ve made overseas? What?”

“No, Robert, nothing like that.” Geoffrey said, shaking his head. “No, no. I’ve come for you. For your own sake.”

“Oh that’s—”

“You’ve said your piece. Now I will say mine.” Geoffrey cut in. “I wish I could say I regret leaving your mother all those years ago. But I knew it wouldn’t be for the best. I am…not an easy man to get along with, even in the best of cases. That isn’t why though.”

A wind blew again…but this time, something flicked up by his father’s side. It was a strange shape, but gone in an instant.

Demeneted Wolf Skull

“No, no that isn’t why.” Geoffrey repeated, clicking his tongue against teeth—teeth that looked all the sharper. “My long shadow is more than a shadow Robert—It’s true, what they said. I killed my wife in Ellingston. And my daughter, and my son, and my brother, and my cousin, and my niece, and my nephew. And I knew, if I stayed too long, I might do the same to you.”

“…Is that…” Robert stood and pointed at the shape, gone in a moment. Geoffrey’s back seemed hunched, his head longer and his teeth like needles for a moment—and then it was gone.

“So I left, without warning, hoping to spare you that fate. But I knew as well that one day I would have to come back. You’ve got the same blood. That is how it is with us.  We live our lives, as best we can. But the old blood, the hungry blood, it wakes up eventually. If we are lucky, like I was, it wakes when we die. But not always. It wakes, it feeds, it sleeps, it wakes. And it will wake in you.”

“…You’re a vampire.” Robert said, staring at Geoffery. “Is that it? You left because…what, because you thought you’d attack my mother? Attack me?”

“I left because I knew I would. I could feel it. Growing, more and more demanding. You’ll get used to it, you’ll learn to keep it under control and leave when you must.” Geoffery said, nodding. “That’s why I came back. You need to leave, soon. Walk the world. Learn how to handle yourself. I had hoped…but I hear others breathing here.”

Robert’s face went pale and his blood became ice. His wife and two children were upstairs—they were heavy sleepers, as was he usually. But the last few nights he had trouble sleeping, waking often and early.

“You’ll hurt them if you stay.” Geoffrey said calmly. “Worse than I could hurt you—you’ll kill them if you stay. For their sake, Rob, you should leave.”

“There’s got to be another way to…even if what you say is true, there’s another way to deal with this than running off, ruining everything I’ve had. I’ve already done better than you once, I’ll fix this mess to.” Robert said, voice shaking.

“You can try.” Geoffrey said standing. “You can fight, you can struggle—but you’ll only make it worse. Wolves must feed on sheep—and that is what you and I are, Rob. Wolves and worse. It hasn’t come yet—I can see in your eyes, its still sleeping. It’s there, the old blood never fails. Never has.”

Stone Coffins

“You think-you think you can just come in here and tell me what I’ll be? Get out of my house!” Robert said standing up. “Get you and your so-called advice out of my house! I have worked to hard and long to scrub your stain out of the family name to believe this, any of this!”

Geoffrey nodded and stood, adjusting his coat slightly.

“Well. It will come soon. And when it does, I will be waiting in Ellington. We can drink to ease the pain.” He said, with a toothy grin. “Enjoy your fight—every inch of ground you’ll end up giving. Every twitch, every glance, every drop of blood. It’ll be worth it, I’m sure.”

Without a word, he vanished like dissipating mist.

Robert was alone again. Shaking to pour a cup of tea—a bit splashed onto his hand. He hissed and impulsively brought it to his mouth. Had his teeth always been that sharp?



This story took a number of revisions to get right, both in character and in structure. It ended up getting into some potentially heavy subjects—but that seems to be the nature of horror stories about family and folklore. I’m fond of it and unlike most of my stories I don’t think it needs much expansion—refinement, rewording, and so on but no really extra scenes or the like.

Next week, we’ll be returning to the classic night terror, and discussing why you can’t sleep at night! See you then!

I’d be remiss not to mention that we discussed the fate of a very different vampire—a blood drinking dragon who could appear as a man—here on my Patreon, for 5 dollar patrons. You can get monthly research and stories, for five or one dollar each starting today!

 

 

The Old Castle on the Hill

Police violence and systematic racism has resulted in the death and imprisonment of countless innocents, the destruction of properties and futures, and produced irrevocable damage. Protests have continued for a month and show no signs of slowing. You can find links to donate at the end of the research, in place of our normal Patreon link.

This Week’s Prompt: 116. Prowling at night around an unlighted castle amidst strange scenery.

The Resulting Story: Ghosts, Presences, and More

Nobody wants to live in an old castle. It’s cold, drafty, dusty. In summer, the heat of the sun sinks into the stones, in winter the snow falls through the holes in the roof. You think exploring it would be fascinating, but at my age, I’ve wandered every hall, battlement and servant’s passage. Even the great bat hates it here. On nights when the moon is obscure, he takes flight and goes down to the town, to bother people with comfortable homes. I watch him soar over the church from the window, one of the rotted curtains pulled across the window so that I can see out, but they cannot see in.

I used to sleep more, I feel. It is harder now. Exhaustion comes, but sleep will not follow—and by the time rose fingered dawn arrives, I find myself refreshed somewhat. Maybe this is that Old Age the poets warn me of so often. Am I at last now ancient? I had expected it to rot my bones and muscles, but perhaps restlessness is it’s own decay. Perhaps my proportions are not the only oddity in my nature.

When dawn comes I retire from my steadfast watch—the sun has always been too harsh and hot for my constitution. I withdraw deeper into the rubble and ruins, to the old study I’ve collected. It was at one point, I believe, a place to store food for siege—but the mice have eaten away all the food, and the only vermin now are dust bunnies and ants that try my patience.

That is not entirely true. There are some supplies. Many, many bags of tea from my younger days, and from perhaps some companions I once had. When I was young and spritely, I would go down under the cover of night to town—I would bring the old change I had scrounged or a broken knife from a knightly suit in the catacombs, and I would barter and beg and bandit for tea and bread. With my treasure, I would make my way home in the night—or sometimes, when I was especially bold, I would take my plunder and sleep away in a barn’s roof. On those fantastic days I’d while away in the rafters with the cats, until night came again and I returned homeward.

Of course, I didn’t only barter for beverages. The books that lined my walls were proof of that. Yes some where here when I first…well, when I first was I suppose. I devoured them quickly, and while they are still among my favorites to revisit, my hunger for more is insatiable. Many of the others are borrowed or stolen. A few pamphlets and journals I gathered when guests came to visit. Well. I thought them guests at first. Many I learned where scholars and students, thinking the history of this keep of mine lost. Often, the great bat scared them off or they were frightened by my wanderings at night. Some simply slept and I, like Robin Hood, stole from those rich in knowledge to give to the poor of thought. Rather, myself.

But I have grown old, and the castle is called haunted by those who live not far off. They see me  at my window sometimes—I wonder what they suppose I am. Do they whisper I am a banshee? A dead lord? I rather like the thought of being a dead king, still pacing his old hold where there were once feasts and revels. A ghastly Arthur, surveying a land he would protect where he not mortally wounded. It is better than demon or sorcerer or murder—such ghosts are common and grotesque.

Some still come to study the castle. Many are young and eager to prove their bravery—and they have strong sticks or painful spray or rocks, and so I avoid them. Some are especially bothersome, calling out names to speak with the dead, however, and these I delight by arriving in the night like an unseen lion. And they often leave some scrape of cloth or note books behind, and from these I learn more of the village and its struggles. A small note there, and observed backwards glance here, mutterings and rumors told while waiting for the dead to arrive. This was the sum of my direct knowledge.

Sometimes I received other visitors though. Ones who came to the castle alone, to hide—perhaps unawares of the stories of the great bat in the roof or my own…less than homely visage. They were sometimes chased here and seeking shelter—and I knew enough of hospitality from old texts to leave them be, and not trouble them with my presence. Others came here of their own will, often hiding as well. One or two seemed aware someone else dwelled in these halls, leaving a little gift or two. One, ah I remember her, she would leave a basket of bread in the doorway for me. She was a slight thing, I suspect she needed it more than me. It was a kind gesture.

And from all this I have learned very little about how I am thought—except as the owner of my own castle, which I find fitting—but a good deal on the bat.

The great bat, who’s wings span a small hovel. Who’s form in it’s fullness only emerges in the darkest of night, and feeds on cattle and unruly children. The bat, a most infuriating house guest who age seems not to touch. Who steals from farmers and is only driven away by the ringing of church bells—although I must admit, the presumption that it is some diabolic nature that drives him away and not the simple scale of the noise is…well amusing to say the least. I believe biology not theology is at the root of this aversion. Certainly, the beast has no particular aversion to the remains of what I assume is the castle chapel. Although perhaps without a proper priest, and after so much rot and wear, the chapel is no longer holy.

Such was my life—wandering halls, watching through windows at the lives of others. Observing the bats habits, avoiding the pools of blood it left when it made off with a cow. Reading and guessing at the world beyond. The town was more architecture than inhabitants by the time I was awake—few people moved about at night.  And this continued for years, decades perhaps.

And then, when I stood watch, I  shapes on the horizon. Unfamilair ones, on distant hills. I knew the sihloutte of horsemen, vaguely. And as they rushed down, I knew that transcendant fear that all men have of the calvary charge. I saw the moon flash on sabers drawn.

I could see then, in that moment, what would unfold. If none woke, death and flame would come. I did not, could not, know their purpose. No news came to my old castle. But the arrival of horsemen by night, with flashing sabers silently drawn, never changed.

As they crested the hill, a terrible sound rose in me—a scream of warning that rang through out the valley. A scream that shook the trees and stones, as I pushed my decrepit, pale form out the window, the white whisps of hair flowing behind me. 

And with that the village awoke, as I felt weary. My lungs were not as strong as they once were. My head felt light as I rested against the wall. I did not know, as I took short breaths, if I had roused the city to save it’s life or merely face its death.


This story was actually rather enjoyable to write. The ending and the beginning don’t quite jive–and it ends rather suddenly from an earlier, more methodical pace. I think it might have been better to just…allow a sort of slowed, relaxed horror ending instead of a sudden threat on the horizon. I’ll keep that in mind for revisions later.

Next week! Something hungers!

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Marshlights

This Week’s Prompt: 114. Death lights dancing over a salt marsh.

The Prior Research:Death Lights on the Marshland

My mother told me this story, which her grandmother told her. The fens on the other side of the wood, down the hills from us, have never been lived in. Everyone asks, when they get old enough to ask questions but still young enough to expect answers, why we avoid the fens. Surely, going through the old marsh would be faster than around. Especially in the Summer, when it was dried out.

They would tell us then of George, Geffoery and Gerald—three hunters that were out in the woods near the fens. They were well off men, the kind who could afford to spend their summer chasing a stag through the woods. It was a lucky day, despite the fog. Gerald had consulted an almanac for the weather before, and George had asked a local woman how the winds would be. So they set out into the fogged wood, with their hounds and their guns, looking for a stag or dear or bunny.

Yet they found nothing as they searched—not even a sparrow was in the woods for the day. The dogs were confused, barking and chasing shadows. Still, the three persisted in the woods, and out onto the empty fen. And it was there, among the grasses, that the dogs started barking—and soon gave chase into the high grasses and bleakness.

The three hunters turned to run another, and raced after their hounds. They had not seen such eager dogs on the dry fens.  There was little that lived there, except rabbits and birds. But they followed the dogs, chasing and shouting after them encouragingly until at last they saw a deer running ahead, their hounds darting behind it. The creature’s horns were the most beautiful ivory white, like someone took down the moon and put it around its head like a halo.

The white-eared deer ran in circles round the fen, round and round. Round and round. But they could not catch the starling beauty, and night was fast upon them.  So the three paused, alone on the fen that night, and turned to one another.

“I will go home—the stag is fine, but we have lost her.” George said, lighting his lantern.

“No, no I can hear the dogs barking—we are not far yet from the stag. And think of those horns!” Gerald said, shaking his head and lighting his. “I will chase it, if I have help. The fen is not so big that we could get lost.”

“Ah, I will help then.” Geoff said, taking up his lantern. “We can follow the strange thing across the fogs and mists until morning—then we must retire. I cannot spend two days hunting one deer, no matter how wondrous.”

And so, they parted ways, on the misty marshland—two chasing the strange deer, one wiser and heading home. But it mattered little—for through out the night, the mist grew in every way. The sky grew heavy with clouds as Gerald looked for a way home. The rain began to rumble as George and Geoffery found their prey. And at last, the fen flooded—faster and with greater vigor than it had ever in the past. And all three men were swallowed, their dogs too, leaving only their flickering lanterns to float on the waters. On misty nights in the fens, you can see the three men still sometimes—Gerald trying to climb the hill to the forest for safety, Geoffery and George still racing in the marshland, the sound of dogs still barking.

And that was the story I was told about the fen. As a child, I at first could never dream of someone walking in such a haunted place. But as I became a teen, and less likely to believe my elders, I wandered into the woods and marsh on mist-filled nights. It was a rite of passage, marking the end of pre-teens, to go and see the lights. Or rather, the lack there of.

No one I knew saw the lights, the deer, or anything of the sort. Some saw fire flies, some saw rabbits. But it was an empty fen. So, when it was my time, I had little to fear. I was coming back from a trip the next town over, and with some ceremony I said I’d take a short cut through the foggy fens. There was some laughing at my dramatics as I headed out, tipsy and confident, to see cross over back home again.

It was a full moon that night. There was nothing but the sound of grasshoppers and the small flicker of fire flies. And the sound, the squishing sticking sound, of mud sticking to my steps. I stumbled home, torch in hand and coughing from the effort of walking in something like a straight line. It was then, on the edge of the fen, that I saw it.

It was bigger than I thought it ought to be. It was big for a deer, like a moose more than a little scared thing. An elk I guess, red as blood and with sickly glowing horns. Now I’ve not seen many a stag or elk. I don’t hunt, I stay from the woods usually, and their skittish things. But I know horn. And those were so smooth. Looked like someone froze milk into a steel mold.

It stomped a foot at me, spooking me back a bit. I know people who get punch happy with some liquid courage, but that isn’t for me. Thing was tall as me, and horns looked dangerous. I stumbled back, held my hand up as it watched me. Kept my hands where it could see me as I shuffled and tripped over a rock. I heard a thud of bounding legs, and for half a second expect the thing to trample me in a moment of weakness. Yeah, I know elk or deer or moose or whatever, big horned things don’t eat meat. But still, out of it like that, I swore it would take an arm off. I mean, you know horses think fingers are carrots, right? What do I know.

Hands around my head I shouted, and felt a shadow over me—like walking through a cold patch. When I opened my eyes, I turned about to see what I’d been missing.  I stared down into the mists, where the horns still shone, dancing away as it bounded. I knew then and there I could chase it if I wanted—and maybe, if I was quick, I’d catch it. And they were amazing horns.

But I saw them then. Two at first, then three, then four—then a dozen or more, dancing lights, flickering in and out of view. They chased after, dancing from place to place. Only one stood steady, far away—small like a star.  I stumbled and tripped and chased that stationary solitary star.  Up I followed it, up and up to the hill and then the forest—and there it stopped, and fell back into the mists, sinking away.

The woods was long shadows and sharp winds, leaves rustling and snaking across the ground. Dark and empty except the street lights filtering from home. Sometimes the fog was thick, and the light seemed dim—maybe that was the lights I saw, that I imagined where men and dogs in my drunken haze. When I made it home, I didn’t understand what I’d seen—I scribbled on a scrap of paper what I remembered, so I could tell Josh all about it. It was crazy, I thought.

The next day, when we were all together again, everyone asked how I’d made it—did I see anything? How’d I get around the fen? Josh thought he saw my torch going off on the edge of the water when they got there.  A bit after I left the rain started coming down, cold enough to shock even a drunk like me to my senses.

It was then that I remembered the bright red dear with the dreadfully pallid horns, like someone stole the moon. Though I laughed with them over the idea of haunts and hunters, I will never set foot in those fens again.


This week’s story fell a bit victim to deadlines. I decided to go with more a ghost story and feel like the narrative could have been expanded some—layered, so that you, the reader, were diving into these various folktales about lights on the fens. It could create a sort of patchwork feeling, but unfortunately I ran out of time to expand on the idea. Aw well, that’s what Patreon is for!

Next week, waterfalls and castles!  

The Lives of Sam Dedric

Police violence and systematic racism has resulted in the death and imprisonment of countless innocents, the destruction of properties and futures, and produced irrevocable damage. Protests have continued for a month and show no signs of slowing. You can find links to donate at the end of the research, in place of our normal Patreon link.

This Week’s Prompt: 113. Biological-hereditary memories of other worlds and universes. Butler—God Known and Unk. p. 59.

The Prior Research: Lives Well Lived

Sam had always insisted there was something special about him. We’d known each other since primary school, and he insisted that, really, he had to be a faerie child. That some day, his parents would take him aside and reveal that he was secretly the magical prince of England or something. Because in those days, England was about as fantastic as fairy land. When he gave that up, he fell into the idea that he was actually some long lost heir to one or another obscure noble post—he even became fascinated, when the Romanov’s perished, with the idea that somewhere in his family tree there was some trace of blood that would grant him the Russian throne. That such a claim was…irrelevant given present circumstances wasn’t a concern of his. He was sure that some lineage of his had destined him for a higher position than a bank clerk.

“It really is a phenomenal science.” Sam told me one day, gesturing to a freshly printed book—Researches in Reincarnation and Beyond. “There’s entire worlds of knowledge we might be missing out on.  All of those secrets locked up in here.” He tapped the side of his head for emphasis.

“Mmm. Sounds…well, sounds like some nonsense. When your dead your dead, Sam.” I said frowning. “Till God calls you or something like that.”

“Oh, that’s an old-fashioned way of looking at things. I’ve got the journals from France if you want to read them. They’ve found mediums everywhere, and in fact there’s a demonstration coming to town soon. We could go, find out our spiritual history. Why, I just read a case where a woman’s fear of spiders was explained by her last life having died to a black widow bite!”

“Fearing death by spider doesn’t require psychological necromancy, Sam.” I said, dropping two cubes of sugar in the coffee.

“Alright, but I read another account—this woman, she refused to speak to men with red hair. That’s strange isn’t it?”

“A bit.” I said, mixing the cubes.

“Right, well, it turns out, in her life as a queen of Ireland, her husband had red hair and cheated on her, and the resentment stayed with her! Isn’t that amazing? She even spoke Irish! And she’d never been to the island!”

“That is…impressive.” I had heard there were parts of Ireland that still spoke Celtic, but reciting it from nowhere was incredible. “So, you want company for your visit to the traveling circus?”

“Oh no, not just that. I have a better way. Many of these books, they focus on the new state—but you don’t need a doctor to enter another state of mind. In India, they would drink a liquid or smoke a pipe to do it.”

“Opium and cocaine exist, yes.”

“Yes, well, I’ve come into the possession of a substance—it took some finding, some asking after and some trips abroad—”

“Ah, so that was why you visited Europe last year.” I said, taking my first drink, the coffee accelerating my mind in tandem with the thought.

“Yes, and to see of course the wonders of Rome. Anyway, the substance, it has properties—it allows one to expand their awareness into their past, as a hypnotist does. And I need someone to be with me, to record what I see and say, so I do not forget when I come out of the trance.”

“…”

“I am of course willing to compensate this volunteer handsomely for their time.”

*

And so I arrived at Sam’s apartment that evening, fresh from working from one madman to assisting another. The stairs rattled and creaked as I climbed up them. At least for Sam, the price was better.  I stopped on the third landing, and rapt my knuckles on Sam’s door.

Sam was dressed in…well, I assume a bathrobe and a heavy towel on his head. There is a very slim chance the turban was genuine, somehow. He was sluggish as he looked into the hall.

“I doubt anyone followed me, Sam. Now…did I get the time wrong?” I asked, looking at my wrist watch before looking back at him. “I hope I didn’t interrupt anything.”

“No, no, come in, come in.” Sam said, leaving the door opened as he turned around. “I’ve been purging my system—refining my internal chemistry so the substance has the greatest possible effect. I’ve also been doing practices to open the mind, meditations to avoid any unnecessary clutter.”

Sam’s apartment smelled of steam and sweat. There was a coat of incense to cover the smell, and windows open to the rainy weather outside. The discordant smells, the heat mixed with waves of cold hair outside, and Sam himself sitting down in a chair, slumped over in self-induced illness, drove home my second unspoken role. While yes, I was to write what Sam rambled and raved during his hallucinations, I would also be on hand to call for help should the worst happen or witness if Sam failed to recover.

“Now, the solution will last three hours at most.” He said, taking a small vial of liquid from his robe. “I hope you have a steady and energetic hand.”

“For the agreed sum, my hand might as well be a type writer.” I said, taking a seat at a round coffee table near the window—one of the few places conspicuously clear of clutter and books and notes and charts. I sat down, with my pen at the ready to transcribe, nodding for Sam to begin.

*

The substance took approximately thirty seconds to fully effect Sam—early symptoms, such as an increased lethargy, and his fingers tightening around the arm of his chair, began after two seconds. Still it took thirty seconds, more or less, for him to begin describing scenes. He saw first terraced fields of rice, flooding—he saw a family, his father an ailing old man that he cared for, his mother long go, and his own son a lazy fool who meant well. But the splendor that Sam had hoped for evaded him—he seemed to be a simple farmer, even as he peeled back the layers of a life time in East Asia.

He recounted then a life time as a sailor on the monsoon winds, riding along the India Ocean.  He saw many women and men at ports of call, he saw great wealth trade hands, pirates fended off. He saw cities that stood proud along the shore with temples unknown to him except in his texts by reputation—but he and his new ‘memories’ disagreed on what they meant, which was Buddhist and which was Hindu and which was Muslim. He left that life and continued downward greatly disgruntled.

And found himself recounting an old life, a life longer than the prior two combined, living as an old painter in Greece. He lived a quiet life in a monastery—he painted icons and images carefully, with Byzantine colors and techniques. His master piece, an icon of Revelation, where the dragon descended down in crimson colors. He was serene in his age, but as he remembered his youth, he grew in exuberance—he entered the monastery late in life, his youth spent fighting and drink in the countryside. But still, no golden circlet.

History was glimpsed through his lives, although rarely could he tell when and where—wars and plauges and famines flew around him, but with only one set of eyes at a time, he could not piece together where he was or which they were. Somethings he didn’t even understand—he perished from unseen blows, illnesses that escaped his understanding and diagnosis. Some lives a man, some a woman, some neither, some both, some long, some short.  But over thousands of years, of seeing wonders and arts, in worshipping a hundred ways, in the fullness of time, he was not yet a king.  Each of these spans took approximately three minutes or so, with Sam speaking faster as time went on.

Thus with frustration he took a second dosage, determined to delve deeper—having passed the first farms in some river valley that spirits took kindly too. Places the rain was common, and the crop came in well.  He hurried across steppes, his mind traveling to plains and forests and savannahs, to hills and icy peaks. And it was then that things began to change. His coherency began to decay, and motions and sections began to drift together. He mentioned red lights, red foxes, or strange sights—but the details were unimportant to him it seemed.

Sam found cities again, but far from the lands he knew. He described great windows of diamond, looking out onto green seas that seemed like flowing jade. There were ships as black as night that sailed, crewed by him and his four-armed brethren. He had sailed to distant islands, past gates of red gold. He had warred with a monster with blood ren skin and iron armor, who swore to find and slay him in a future life, when he saw him again.  Sam had scoffed, not believing in the past what he thought now. Still, for his heroism, he received victorious sacrifices—but no crown. So, he plunged further down.

And it was as he continued downward, recollecting and refining through time, seeking his sense of royalty, that I noticed a shift in the air. The smoke from incense grew thicker, the room grew warmer. Sam began to sweat, the incense dying his sweat deep red. I ran to the windows and tossed them open as he no longer formed words, just syllables. A heavy cold wind rolled in, and I turned to see it toss and coil around Sam, the candle lights glowering at me as the wind roared. It began to rain outside.


This story ended up drawing more on the Frank Long story Hounds of Tindalos then my original research would suggest. I had at first an idea for a story that was about multi-life grudges, hypnotism revealing that a patients phobias were in fact from fear of multiple enemies oaths of revenge coming true. I think I prefer this version, even if the ending is a bit rushed. Definitely one to return to for Patreon.

Next time! Lights on the marsh!

Links: Please Consider donating to one of the following causes

Please educate yourself if you can. Protests are not spontaneous. Read more on what Black Lives Matter means here https://blacklivesmatter.com/what-we-believe/

1.BLACK LIVES MATTER: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_…

2. LOVELAND FOUNDATION: is committed to showing up for communities of color in unique and powerful ways, with a particular focus on Black women and girls. Our resources and initiatives are collaborative, and they prioritize opportunity, access, validation, and healing. https://thelovelandfoundation.org/

3. COMMUNITY BAIL FUNDS: Donating through this secure platform is an easy way to support protesters nationwide. The site equally divides your donation between 38 community bail funds or allows you to allocate a desired amount to each fund. https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bai…

4. THE EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE: is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society. https://support.eji.org/give/153413/#…

5. THE TREVOR PROJECT: Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award®-winning short film TREVOR, The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25. https://give.thetrevorproject.org/giv…

6. THE COMMUNITY BAIL FUND: Protests mean arrests, arrests mean bail. Bail threatens the economic security of those fighting for justice. Help ensure safety of those arrested and donate to the community bail fund here: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bail_funds_george_floyd

7. THE NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. is America’s premier legal organization fighting for racial justice. Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans. LDF also defends the gains and protections won over the past 75 years of civil rights struggle and works to improve the quality and diversity of judicial and executive appointments.

Gerald Report

Before getting to this week’s story, I wanted to take a moment to address the recent events in the news. Police violence and systematic racism has resulted in the death and imprisonment of countless innocents, the destruction of properties and futures, and produced irrevocable damage. At the Undead Author Society, I try to mostly focus on folklore and horror stories, mentioning politics only when they intersect with the material. But it feels wrong not to say this clearly: Black Lives Matter. You can find links to donate at the end of the story, in place of our normal Patreon link.

This Week’s Prompt: 112. Man lives near graveyard—how does he live? Eats no food. 

The Prior Research: Long Pork

8:00 am- Gerald wakes up. He fluffs his pillow, twice today. On some days he fluffs it three times. I have not found a pattern to this yet.  

8:10 am- Gerald goes to shower. His water is supplied by an old lead pipeline, run by the Municipal Water Company. Gerald has not missed a payment in seven years, and that payment was delayed only due to inclement weather. There is a small window, facing away from the graveyard but into his bathroom. Gerald’s showers are always hot, they fog up the windows visible from the street.

8:25 am- Gerald dresses and watches the news in his living room. His preference is local news, Channel 8. He receives bills from three different cable providers, one of which is addressed to a different name. Gerald says that it’s a mistake he hasn’t corrected, and that Alan Cordwick is the prior owner of the house. Alice Cordwick is listed at City Hall as the prior resident. Alice Cordwick left the building two months ahead of Gerald’s arrival—she works upstate. Alan Cordwick has a Facebook  profile, but it has not been updated since Alice’s departure.

9:00 am- Gerald goes out for coffee. He made his own, until his pot was shattered. The pot was a gift from a daughter or cousin or aunt, the story seems to change. He prefers his coffee dark, to jolt himself awake for his morning walk around the cemetery. He orders his coffee from a local shop, which drops it off in bulk bags. He prefers beans from Arabia. He does not smile when he talks about coffee.

9:30 am- Gerald returns to the house, having walked the entire way to the coffee shop and back. He collects the mail, usually two dozen envelops and a package twice a month. The packages are regular, rectangular cardboard. He gets every three months a collection of Cutco knives. He worked for Cutco for a five year period, from 2000-2005.  

9:35 am- Gerald walks to the cemetery for his first rounds as groundskeeper. He walks in a counterclockwise pattern. He stops and examines a few particularly old gravestones that are overgrown. The names on these stones are Alfred O’Maily, Johnathan Stutton, Emelia Harrington, and Roger Dormithy, according to the registry. However, the names are damaged significantly. On Sunday, he pours coffee on them, about one tenth of his cup on each.

10:35 am- Gerald compeletes his first round. He pulls weeds with heavy welding gloves. His own yard has received three complaints from the Home Owners Association. Two of these were for an overgrown lawn, the third was for trash left in the open. All were filed in the summer of 2012, by Miss Malory Cordoway. Miss Cordoway passed away in the winter of 2012 of natural causes. Her dispute with Gerald was not formally investigated.

11:00 am – Gerald drives the 1987 Volkswagen Beetle that is outside his house. He will tell visitors he is going on a lunch break. He drives three miles to the parking lot of the Michaels Crafts Store. He sleeps in the parking lot, listening to recordings of Car Talk. He parks in the spot farthest from the store, in the second row, near the shopping carts.

1:00 pm – Gerald drives to the Bashas on Main and Mckellips. He buys a coffee from the Starbucks Kiosk. He asks for the dark roast today. In summer he asks for the cold brew. He leaves without making any other purchases. He then drives to Lowes on Broadway and Southern. He purchases several lengths of copper wire for household repairs, a box of nails, and replacement tools as needed. I have only seen his house damaged once, in a thunderstorm. He did all the repairs himself in twenty four hours. He never calls a plumber or carpenter to do his work.

1:10 pm—Gerald returns home. He checks his mail again. His afternoon mail is comprised of Amazon orders, primarily college text books or magazines that are only found in doctors offices. In addition, he receives about one to five letters from a foreign address (in descending order of frequency: Paris, France; Barcelona, Spain; Luxembourg City, Luxembourg; City of London, England; Rabat, Morocco; Tokyo, Japan; Sydney, Australia; Toronto, Canada). Envelopes are never thrown out, nor are their contents.  He claims they are from “business associates” from his time selling insurance in Indonesia.

1:22 pm – Gerald watches a television station (821) that plays static at all other times of the day. At this time, the television station broadcasts a burning log stream. This Christmas log recording is of unknown origin, and the TV station has yet to be entirely located.

1:25 pm – Gerald goes on his second walk around the graveyard. He listens to a podcast, usually Bonesaws.

1:45 pm – He stops near the grave of Timothy Robbinson to smoke two cigarettes. His medical records show a history of smoking back to 1983, but no negative side effects or signs of lung or throat cancer.  I have not found prior medical records.

2:00 pm – Gerald stops at a utility shed at the other end of graveyard. The utility shed’s door has a setoff 3 locks—one bolt, one combination, one two keyed. Gerald enters the shed with supplies purchased from Lowes. The shed is officially a utility shed, for upkeep of the grounds. Gerald, however, stores all known and accounted for tools at his home. Noise complaints from one Joseph Dorian Farrow from 2009 report loud music and drilling sounds from the shed at 2:00 pm until 4:00 pm. No subsequent complaints have been filed. Mr. Farrow moved to Maryland in the fall of 2010.

4:00 pm – Gerald exits the shed with a new cup of coffee, and resumes his route. His coffee is warm enough to emit steam, indicating it’s fairly fresh. No external electrical generator exists for the shed, and so far no wires running to it have been unearthed. His electrical bill is normal. Perhaps he has an interior generator? But he never buys gasoline. Something is inside the building.

4:30 pm – Gerald returns to his home. He prepares another cup of coffee. He watches the afternoon news. He watches a syndicated set of sitcoms while working in the garage. He works mostly with carpentry, making small children’s toys. Once a week, he instead piles up boxes of the toys and takes them to the post office. He marks each by hand and sends them, although where they go I do not know.

4:42 pm – Gerald whistles a tune. The tune has not been precisely identified. I have heard it once before, when a child was walking past my door, but I’m not sure if it is the same tune. Maybe that is where Gerald heard it—Gerald avoids the schools, however, and routes children walk down when he is around. Funerals with children keep Gerald away. But I have not yet found him on any legal registry.

5:00 pm – Gerald begins his final walk, in the reverse direction. He regularly looks over his shoulder. He carries a heavy flashlight and takes his time walking. He wears a workmans gloves. He points the flashlight behind every third and fifth stone—that is, the third stone, the fifth stone, the eighth stone, the tenth stone and so on. He pauses as it gets dark out, and I have seen him point his lights at the sky, as if singaling to something up on high.  The flashlights make a sequence of symbols, recorded below. There is no apparent order.

5:12 pm – Gerald reaches the utility shed. He checks every lock, twice each. He walks around the shed twice, shining his light at the foundation and then at the connection between the wall and the roof.

5:25 pm – Gerald arrives back home.  He checks the mail. He shines his light under his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle, outside the house. He checks the lock on the trunk. Gerald’s trunk contains a number of old magazines from 1984 to 1992. A precise count has not been confirmed, but at least Amazing Heroes,  American Health, and Between C & D as well a collection that are missing their covers and thus unidentified.

5:30 pm – Gerald returns to his home, and watches television. He watches Hallmark Movies on VHS. Gerald prefers ones about Christmas.

5:50 pm – Gerald rises and goes to the bathroom. On his way back he refills his water bottle.

6:10 pm – Gerald rises and goes to the bathroom.

6:30 pm– Gerald rises and goes to the bathroom. He swats a fly on the wall. There is always a fly on the wall. There are a number of flies in Gerald’s house. But there is no fruit in his trash, nor meat containers, nor bones or poultry remains.

6:50 pm – Gerald rises and refills his water bottle.

7:10 pm – Gerald begins a second tape.

7:32 pm– Gerald refills his water bottle.

7:58 pm– Gerald gets up. He takes his jacket and leaves his hat on the chair. He leaves the television on. He exits his house through the back, into the graveyard.

8:10  pm– Gerald arrives at the back of the graveyard. He walks across the graveyard. He has no flashlight. This provides little hinderance.  He unlocks one of the locks on the shed. He walks to the back of the shed.

8:12 pm – a click is heard at the front of the graveyard.

8:15 pm– Gerald heads to bed. He sleeps beneath three blankets. He sleeps for 12 hours. He is awake for 12 hours. During no period of the day does Gerald appear to consume food of any sort, nor purchase any.


This week’s story was also inspired by the following Tom Waits song:

Links: Please Consider donating to one of the following causes

Please educate yourself if you can. Protests are not spontenous. REad more on what Black Lives Matter means here https://blacklivesmatter.com/what-we-believe/

1.BLACK LIVES MATTER: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_…

2. LOVELAND FOUNDATION: is committed to showing up for communities of color in unique and powerful ways, with a particular focus on Black women and girls. Our resources and initiatives are collaborative, and they prioritize opportunity, access, validation, and healing. https://thelovelandfoundation.org/

3. COMMUNITY BAIL FUNDS: Donating through this secure platform is an easy way to support protesters nationwide. The site equally divides your donation between 38 community bail funds or allows you to allocate a desired amount to each fund. https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bai…

4. THE EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE: is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society. https://support.eji.org/give/153413/#…

5. THE TREVOR PROJECT: Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award®-winning short film TREVOR, The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25. https://give.thetrevorproject.org/giv…

6. THE COMMUNITY BAIL FUND: Protests mean arrests, arrests mean bail. Bail threatens the economic security of those fighting for justice. Help ensure safety of those arrested and donate to the community bail fund here: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bail_funds_george_floyd

7. THE NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. is America’s premier legal organization fighting for racial justice. Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans. LDF also defends the gains and protections won over the past 75 years of civil rights struggle and works to improve the quality and diversity of judicial and executive appointments.


Bath Bombs and Abandoned Houses

This Week’s Prompt: 111. Ancient ruin in Alabama swamp—voodoo.

The Prior Research: Ruins in Alabama

This story in part brought to you by our patrons on Pateron

The forest was fog filled when we snuck past the security guard. I could see my breath in the moonlight as we went down the park paths. Marjane was leading the way, holding her hand up every now and then to signal a stop. We held fast and listened for a sound on the wet autumn grass. Once or twice we saw a patrol car, a tired volunteer in a golf cart with the headlights on. I clutched the bundle in my pocket—the first bit of magic I’d ever done, to not get noticed if I didn’t want to.

There were paths to where we were going. Nice and clear paved roads most of the way. But those were where security patrols were expecting people, we figured.  We had made charms to keep ourselves hidden, and mapped out a path of least resistance to get deeper into the old park.

*

“Are you sure you need to do this?” George asked Marjane, looking over the map I’d printed.  The baths were marked with a red pen, and we’d tied string to some pins. “Like, doing some palm readings and stuff isn’t exactly…this.”

“I’m sure. Who knows when we’ll have a chance to try this again?” Marjane said, biting the middle knuckle of her index finger in thought. “We’ve got to do it under the full moon, I’m sure of it.”

“It’s just…this is trespassing, on like. A place with actual security. Not breaking into an old house for a séance or something.” George said, scratching the back of his head. “Hell, this is vandalism on top of trespassing..”

I looked over the map again, thinking over what Marjane had said. The baths were old, ancient really. Who knew what secrets she’d be able to pick up there? What ghosts she’d be able to speak with? She’d had a knack for that sort of things since we were kids, and was only getting quicker at it.

Old Stephen Baths

The baths are a pair of large, rectangular cuts into the ground lined with stone. I guess they might not be baths—to night they looked kinda like big graves, but they were too clean to be ever used. Freshly dug out of the stone.  The fog was settled over and around them, like a witches cauldron.

My job was the easiest.  Marjane had given me some gems and featers to make my inner spirit sharper—it helped me spot guys waiting to jump in the hallway, or on the walk home. Now it was to help spot security guards. I had a dog whistle—Daniel and Marjane had sharpened hearing that could pick a dog-whistle out of nowhere. And there was my first sack, filled with some special stuff I’d kept hidden all my life. Now they’d keep me hidden, as long as I held them.

I looked over my shoulder as Daniel and Marjane poured out bottles into the baths—bubbling and hissing as they mixed. Marjane had her notebook open, papers stolen from old libraries stuffed in with sketches of what she’d seen in seances and dreams, packed into a leather cover she’d made herself—the old cardboard was long gone by now.

*

The Sycamore house was a lump of rotting wood sitting a mile out of town, sitting on a hill of weeds. It had been condemned by the town for about three years—it took two more for it to get the demolition stamp. Not that they every got around to demolishing it. No one seemed to care about the old house, no one wanted the land just yet—it was in a nice spot, honestly. I’m pretty sure the local realtor just…forgot about it.

Not that everyone forgot about it. I mean, we heard about it from some potheads, and Marjane decided that a house that kept attracting people despite being condemned and dangerous must have some magic in it. She didn’t listen when we pointed out that magic was probably privacy. I don’t…really remember how she talked the four of us into going out to the house that night, when she said the stars were right.  Something about the house of Aquarius.

So we opened the creaking rotten door, and found a room that was mostly lacking in graffiti—well, no. It just had a little less graffiti then the rest of the rooms. And the few patches of clear wall that were there, Marjane carefully drew over with chalk.

“That way, the door we make only lets the right ones in….oh I can’t wait to see what’s in here!” She said, stretching with a flashlight to finish the circle and weird letters around the edge. Or I think they were letters, one looked like a little dude holding a crescent moon. Finally, she got to the center of the room, drew a big circle—a really good, solid big circle.  Ashley put down some candles with George, on little Xs that  Marjane marked.

Old Stephen Woods

The big worry wasn’t noise around the baths. We could be pretty quiet, and Marjane’s whispering incantations hadn’t every really been noticed before. No, the problem was smell. Marjane’s concoctions had this…tang in the air, this sickly sweet smell, like a tootsie roll stuck in your teeth. The incense she burned, the candles, it made this tangible cloud of smells that didn’t belong in an old building, let alone a foggy woods at night.

The moment I got a whiff of it, I glanced back—a colored smoke was coming from the baths, and Marjane was sitting cross legged, holding hands with Ashely and Daniel, chanting their secret words. The smoke was heavier than normal, weighed down by the fog—it looked like a bubble waiting to burst through the surface of the sea, streaks of oily shapes in its substance.

We didn’t know if the security team had dogs that would catch the smell early—but now was my time to stay focused. I found a cool tree to hide behind, gnarled and old. Marjane said you could tell magic things just by looking at them, they felt different if you had refined your gift. And this tree…looked special. Knots placed in a way, I could almost make out a pattern. I sat there and listened to the wind and the patrols—waiting for one to turn this way.

*

The room in the Sycamore house changed when Marjane chanted. It got colder. Damp, heavy hair without any water.  Everything was quiet, oppressively silent. I turned as she spoke, so soft that even in an empty world I couldn’t make out a word.

But there was something there. She’d called someone there, and she was speaking to them. I knew in my bones, in that small room in the Sycamore house—something magic was talking to Marjane. Something that called people to this place.

No one goes to the Sycamore house anymore. If you ask why, they say it just seems dangerous or strange or cursed. I went back once—it doesn’t feel cursed.

It feels empty.

Abandoned House Alabama

The tires skidded down the road. I tilted my head to hear them turn—but they were followed by a crash. And then barking. I grabbed my packet of collected things and hesitantly walked after the noise. Under a flickering streetlight, I saw a tilted golf cart crashed. No dog though…no dog anywhere. There was more barking though—I could hear them, somewhere close. No security guard either.

As the light flickered again, I felt the fog get heavy. My breathing slowed, becoming a regular relaxing rhythm with my slowing heart beat. I heard a distant crack—a loud sound from the baths, as if a great bubble had just burst. I held tightly to my pack in my pocket as I slowly headed over, stifling a yawn.

Halfway back I leaned against a tree—all the running had taken something out of me. I needed to catch my breath, I needed to rest my legs. I somehow fell asleep there.

The sun woke me up…everything felt cold and damn, my jacket covered in dew. I looked around—maybe my magic had worked so well, I thought, they didn’t find me when they left. As my hearing came back, I heard the smouldering and the sirens. It wasn’t until I saw blue and red lights that I realize I had been color blind for a moment—my senses returning as I grip my pouch and crept closer.

And I saw them, still sitting there—holding hands around the bath, police officers looking around, an ambulance pulling up. Their heads were turned up, to look at something floating just above Marjane. Something that must have been horrible, or beautiful, to make their eyes go so wide and turn their skin paper white.


I like this story. It’s small, compared to others, and not as clear…but I had a good time writing it. Not much else to say, except that part of the notion for this story was from late research on the “Indian Baths”–now believed to be made by European settlers–at Old Stephens as an example.  I feel like I left very few traces of “Voodoo” in this story, but that might be for a rewrite with more time and space.

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