St. Silvanus, Pt 2

This Week’s Prompt:56. Book or MS. too horrible to read—warned against reading it—someone reads and is found dead. Haverhill incident.

The Relevant Research:Forbidden Texts And Wild Men

Find Part 1 here.

The branches and roots made an effort to scratch and trip me as I went, following Charles’s map as best could be managed. The air was empty, the wind having wasted away any crickets. The warm blooded creatures of the wood stayed silent as I went through, either hiding to pounce or hiding from tooth and claw. There was only the crunch of my feet in the hillside wood, with a fog slowly setting in.

Eventually, I made out through the fog crags that were circled in Charles’ map. For a moment, I saw a huddled mass waiting at the top of the crag, leading up to the rectangular stone building at the top. I saw women and children and men in rags as pales as the moon with gasping mouths and pleading eyes staring up ward to the structure.

The Shrine.png

But as I drew close, my flash light illuminating them, the masses faded away into piles of stones, stacked one on top of the other and draped in leaves or rags. The leaves shook to give the impression of murmuring as I approached, the wind whipping this way and that. I wondered how, with so many trees to get in the way, the wind managed to stay so strong.

It wasn’t grand. It was a few slabs of stone, arranged and stacked into an almost crude shelter. Peering inside, however, I had to stifle a scream.

A body lay at the center of the hexagonal room, flesh having darkened with cold. A rotted tongue was still slumped out the side of his mouth, and much of his face had become bone, maggot holes punctured along it. I slowly walked closer, transfixed at the mutilated remains of Charles. If his body was clawed or cut, I couldn’t tell. Clearly, some thing had fed on him, and not that long ago.

As I recovered…Well, as I regained my ability to suffer and search, instead of suffer in stillness, I looked around the room cautious for the culprit. My light quickly found the statue, at who’s feet Charles lay. It was a robbed man, with curved ram horn, a thorny carved club in one hand, while the other pulled back a veil of hair. Beneath those locks, there was nothing. A blank stone, unmoved and unmarked, faced me. I want to say it stared at me, but there were no eyes, no even vauge lines that I could make into eyes. It didn’t grimace, it had no mouth. It was just the void, reaching out into my mind. It was disconcerting, so I looked down back at the body with some sense of shame.

Carefully examining the body, I found Charles’s hand clutched around something. Leaning close, it was a rolled piece of…something. It was a bright green scroll with a sweet smell strong enough that it overpowered the odor of death around the hand. I lightly kicked it with my shoe, and it fell out of his hand. A think coating of light green sludge coated it, the left overs of decay.

Holding my breath, I slowly took the sheet. It looked like paper, but it felt smoother than paper. I kept it rolled and turned to leave, planning on reading more when I slipped back into Morgant’s room. My light turned towards the entrance, out towards the woods, and the howling wind. The fog was still heavy on the ground and the grass crunched as I walked. And all the while, I felt the statue reaching down with it’s formless face, seeing without eyes. A hundred small eyes feeling down my back.

The crackling of the grass stopped in the forest, where all seemed softer. My mind slowly began to realize what I’d seen, what I’d done. Charles’s dead body, left at the altar, called out and I saw signs of it’s decay everywhere. The brown leaves reminded me of rotting flesh and breaking skin. He was dead. He was dead, and no one knew. Or worse, the thought that had been buried deep returned. Everyone knew. Everyone knew he was dead when I got here, and had tried to hide it from me. Morcant knew, but didn’t know I’d find the body.

The scroll, I realized, the scroll was the only proof I’d been there. But they’d find out I took it. If they all knew Charles was dead, and had left him there so long, they’d know the scrolls, the strange green thing in my hand, should be there. I’d have to leave immediately.

It was as this ran through my head that I heard them. A distant set of pipes, playing softly. Standing still, I heard an accompanying set of steps, slowly echoing mine almost perfectly. When my light turned about I saw only dimly something in the woods, a pair of eyes staring at me through the darkness. The owner of the eyes was at least six feet tall and drawing closer, not breaking eye contact. That was the last I could bear.

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My legs out paced my mind, and my memory of fleeing out of the woods and to Morcant’s house. My hands dropped the light at the base of the tree, gripping and scurrying up into the branches in order to get to safety. As the window closed behind me, I began to breath again. Laughter bubbled up in my throat, out of nowhere. Laughter and sobbing while leaning on the wooden bear that guarded the bed. I pulled myself up, and turned back to the window. The moon was still gibbous and full, and as I sighed, I looked down upon the ancient wood and at the edge I saw it, for a moment. Glimmering eyes staring towards the house from the depths of wood, before vanishing into darkness.

With that in mind, and my heart still racing, I collapsed back onto the bed. Sleep wasn’t comfortable, and I don’t know if ever entirely came. There were moments that felt like waking, staring out the window to see a thing walking up right like a man, with ram’s horns and a leonid face. It’d pace the floor around the tree, it’s clawed hand outstretched and feeling the little marks I made when I climbed. Other times it’d stare up with very human eyes, beckoning me down with an outstretched hand and playing a set of pipes. Other times, I’d feel awake, but surrounded by darkness, and music would come from the floors.

I was relieved when, finally, the cold grey winter sun woke me. My legs ached from running, and my back was killing me. I stretched and, nervously stared out the window. Nothing but the old tree, and some scratches that were either from me last night or a startled wild cat. A black bird was on the branch, not yet left for winter.

After I got changed, the smell of syrup began to waft into the room from down stairs. Morcant was smiling, making pancakes that were maybe an inch thick. Coated with syrup and topped with a small mound of butter, I nearly bolted down the stairs with exhausted hunger. Morcant chuckled as I nearly toppled over the chair.

Sleeping exhaust you that much or did you skip supper?” Morcant said, as I pulled myself up.

Uh, yeah.” I said, yawning. “Kept me up a bit even.”

As Morcant served an inch thick pancake to me, I forgot most of the night before. It faded into a vauge notion of something terrible having happened. Something awful, like a nightmare. And the ‘like’ slowly faded as we talked about the weather and chatted about Charles and the differences between this cosy hill town and the city. Both had a tendency, I observed, to become a washed out, gray place.

Well, perhaps, but here at least spring brings green things.” Morcant said with a laugh. He picked up the plates, and asked if I was staying any longer. At the sound of green, something reminded me. That I needed to leave.

No, no, I’ll be heading home. Don’t want to impose.” I said, wiping my face with a napkin. “And without any leads, I think I’d better head back. See if I can find someone more proffessional.”

I packed my things without interruption after that. I tucked the slimy green paper in my trunk, careful to leave it bound. Something might be stuck inside, and some impulse, a memory wraned me against reading it. There was something powerful bound up in that small leaflet. Next to it I put the new manuscripts, figuring post-mortem publishing would be best. I couldn’t remember, quite yet, the circumstances I found him in. But I knew Charles wasn’t going to be editing his thesis any time soon.

Well, tell me if you need any help to the station.” Morcant said, as I lugged my case down the stairs. I politely said I could get myself home.

The road to the station was covered in sleet and snow, muted as I walked and pulled my trunk along. The only sound I could make out was the was the fluttering of wings. As I trudged that long walk back, train station in sight, I saw one more unusual sight. An owl. A large, white horned owl. Staring at me sleepily as I walked. As I sat, waiting for the train, it seemed to never move. It’s two eyes held fast to me, even as the train was heard coming closer to that old wood.

When I returnd to the city, the birds were strange there as well. The moment I set on the sidewalk home, a pair of pigeons cooed and followed me. They walked at my fight and, unafraid of my imposing stature, pecked at my shoes. A number of their fellows watched on from a wire, dozens of little eyes training on me and my trunk, as we came at last to my apartment. A number sat on the branches of the tree rising not far from my house, like feather fruit on an apple tree. A brave black bird sat atop the lamp post, staring pensively at my door and squawking when I went inside.

I spent the afternoon reading my mail, and preparing dinner to replace the lunch I missed on the train. Trains always make me sick when eating on them, so I’d grown accustomed to making large meals at the top of the three story apartment. And my aches from carrying the trunk with me all day were pressuring me towards sustenance even more. Either that, or collapsing on my bed.

After the hearty meal, I retired to bed, expecting nothing more to happen that night.

I awoke in the later hours of evening, to the sound of a thumping on the roof. Starting up, I rushed to the kitchen with a light. I intended to get a knife to fend off the intruder, whoever he was. Further, the kitchen had the most immediate window, looking out onto the street. I would see him if he made for a get away.

When I entered the kitchen, my light hit the window and immediately I was transfixed. A large face, leonid in form and with shimmering eyes, stared back at me.

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The creature was evidently hanging from the roof tiles, staring in with those treacherous eyes. My heart seized as it, almost gently, scratched at the window. The sound cut through the air, claws carving into the glass. I wanted to scream, but my voice had already taken flight. The thing’s gaze held me fast as it brought forth a gnarled and thorned branch, a crude club. With a single blow, the glass was shattered on the floor.

The beast was too big to fit in the window, but like a rat squeezing it’s skeleton through the smallest of spaces, it managed. At this, my sense regained and I turned to run, opening the door to the stairs and slamming them behind me. I ran down the entire stair case, still in nothing but my night clothes, never looking back to see if that beast was still descending behind me. Never looking, in case those glowing eyes caught me again.

After reaching the outer most door, I stumbled into the cold winter night, and turned towards the building, the rush a bit to much for my lungs. Desperate to catch my breath, I saw that lumbering thing emerge from the window. It paused, crouched like a gargoyle on the roof tops. And then, it vanished like fog in the daylight.

When I returned to my room, I found everything in dissaray. Most notably, the beast had smashed open my trunk, splintering the top. The contents of the trunk were tossed everywhere, and bits of Charles’s manuscript were smashed onto the floor. All, however damaged, was accounted for. Except, the small green scroll.


This story is one I’m proud of in concept, and a degree execution. The original draft would have taken us into 6000 words, and that simply would have been too far over the goal. I intended to cut this down further, but ran out of time to edit, and only presenting on half of either story seemed unwise. So, another two parter.

Come back next week, for research into unseen ships at sea that reach into the sky.

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Saint Silvanus, Part 1

This Week’s Prompt: 56. Book or MS. too horrible to read—warned against reading it—someone reads and is found dead. Haverhill incident.

The Prior Research: Forbidden Texts And Wild Men

It is a well known but rarely discussed fact that a good number of local traditions practiced by in nomine Christian men and women are in fact of older and more pagan origin.”

The first draft of my good friend Charles’s paper began with that somewhat uncertain line. He had begun conducting research, detailed to a good degree in the paper proper, on an unusual example of such a “survival”. A small, local icon of a Saint Silvanus, nestled where it had been “found” years prior. The research was not terribly interesting to me. But I was not a native as Charles was, and thus perhaps lacked his fascination with this small miraculous icon and it’s pre-Christian or at the least pre-Niceaen potency.

All this was secondary, however. I was on a train bound for the nearest road to that old hill village for entirely personal reasons. Charles had sent me his drafts of his paper, and I’d done my best to edit the work into something respectable. I’d sent my revisions to him, expecting to hear back in a month.

The response never came.

At first I reasoned that Charles may be stewing, my red ink having perhaps drawn some genuine blood. Then worry that Charles might not have received my edits began to sink in. After my letter of reassurance received no reply, I began to suspect that either the postman was guilty of some strange academic sabotage, or that Charles had encountered a great deal of difficulty. I decided then to visit him personally, or at the least to begin the process of tracking him down.

The post office had confirmed my edits had been delivered to the last residence of Charles. Charles’s land lady there had explained that last she heard, he was headed back into the field, perhaps re-invigorated with questions, or searching for the semi-mythic shrine he had detailed in his notes. Where exactly the field was took even more work. But at last, I was on this train to the crumbling remains of an old town.

The town was, per Charles’s notes, about two hours walk from the train station. I, personally, would not have described it as “mushrooms rising from the corpse of a dying industrial town”, but I suppose Charles wasn’t wrong per se. It was his home to decry as he wished.Trunk in hand, I looked for the house that Charles had said he’d resided in during his research.

I found Charles’s informants house. It took a bit of seraching, but the two story house was recognizable with it’s white bark trees growing around it. After a few knocks, I had given up and was about to try the neighbors when a man shouted at me from the road.

Wait, wait! At least let me here what your selling!” He had a beard down to his waist, and looked like someone had draped skin and muscle over a carefully arranged set of barrels. Smiling, he walked to the house and held out an expectant hand. We shook lightly.

Well, I’m not selling any—”

No? Well, your not from around here. And I don’t think the Jacobs are selling yet. Census already?” He said, suddenly less amused.

No, no, not with the Census. Um, I’m actually looking for someone.” I said, rummaging in my jacket pocket and producing a picture of Charles. “He said he was staying here about six months ago. Haven’t heard from him sense, and I’ve been sending mail his way for a while now. Have you seen him?”

The man leaned down to look at the picture for a moment. An owl that landed on the branch of a nearby tree, rustling the leaves loudly. Normally nothing of note, but the sounds of the town were muted by the snow.

Horned Owl1.png

Hm, yeah, Charlie. Thought he went back already. Or away I guess. That’s Charlie, always going where winds are taking him.” the man said, frowning and scratching his beard. “Well, its getting dark out. Why don’t you come inside for a bit, it’ll be cold out soon.”

The wind was getting stronger, and the sky seemed read to disgorge more snow. I decieded to take the risk, and see if Charles had left anything behind from his stay. Letters, notes, hints at habitation.

The inside was toasty, a fireplace in the front room. Off to the side was a kitchen and table, with some stairs leading up to where I presumed the bedroom was. At least two, judging by the windows outside. My host, who it slowly dawned on me was still nameless, lay down his tool set and sat down on the couch by the fire place to warm up.

So, you know Charlie? Where from?” He asked, glancing over.

Met him at university. Never talked about home much, and uh, for ethical reason’s his paper doesn’t say who he was staying with.”

Ethics, huh? Nice of him I guess. Names Morcant Mael. Parent’s wanted a Celt name.” He said, waving off my look of confusion. “Get a lot of them around here. Hell, Charlie’s birth name was Cartacos, then he started going be Carl, then Carly, then Charlie. Guess he got around to changing his name properly.”

You knew him for a long time then?” I asked, sitting down near the fire.

It’s a small town. Everyone at least knows everyone. Sometimes more. So, you read the stuff Charles was writing?” He said, clapping his hands together and rising, “And would you like anything? Coffee, tea, beer?”

Ah, a warm tea would be wonderful. Winters are cold up here.”

Well, the winds come right over the coast. So how is his writing?”

Lucky it has an editor. The man rambles in some parts, and leaves out whole sections in others it seems.”

Like folks names?” Morcant called from the kitchen.

Again, thats becoming a bit standard. More like, he just alludes to the story he was studying as ‘famous and well documented’, but never prints it.” I said back. Morcant emerged with a pot of tea and placed it on the coffee table between us.

Oh? Strange. I guess he forgot about it. He was looking into the statue of St. Silvanus, way out in the woods right?”

Yeah, that’s the one.” I said, sipping the tea. After a moment’s pause, I continued the thought. “Can you tell me what it’s story is ? For context?”

I suppose so. It’s no big secret really. Back when the town first got going, it was one of the few to stay with the old church, back with Rome. And the times were not good to be part of the old faith. People didn’t trust Cathloics more than almost anyone. Couldn’t have Mass, couldn’t settle, couldn’t vote, everyone thinking you were a spy for the pope. Most of them fled to Pennsylvania, I hear. But anyway, rumor happened that a bunch of rowdy Puritans, out of Indians to shoot and witches to burn, were going come and sack the town. Everyone figured now was the time to pack up and leave.

But this one woman goes out in the forest, trying to get to gripes with it all, and suddenly heres a crashing sound. Looking towards it, she sees something falling from the empty sky onto the ground. A statue!One of those old Italian ones, with horns coming off the old man’s head.” Marcont mimed two horms curling out of his head. “She thought it was Moses, but when she prayed at the shrine, the statue told her he was Silvanus. The statue asked why she was weeping in the woods, and she told him everything. The statue told her, go and have the town promise me one priest and one feast day, and God will deliver you from the English dogs.

PreachingSketch.png

An image from another folktale of St. Silvanus. Charles recorded more than a few.

So she goes, and the town’s desperate enough to have faith again. So they pray to the saint, and send off some lad to be a priest and clean up the statue. And then, just as they can see the mob coming, there’s this roaring sound. Some beast emerges from the woods, looking like a bear with the head of a mountain lion, horns of a ram, and the arms of an ape. The whole mob runs off as this huge thing chases them back. Some stories say it killed a few of them even, and ate them then and there. Story says it was a holy thing, an angel made to terrify and protect the town. Statue’s still there, though I’ve not seen it in a while, and folks around here claim to see the creature every now and then. Local bigfoot, you know.”

And Charles was looking into it?” I said, thinking back to the manuscript. “Yeah, that makes sense. No reason not to mention the whole story though.”

Well, Charles wanted to find it I guess. Its out in the woods, somewhere.”

And he stayed here?”

Sure did. Charles knew the place pretty well, and the rent was free. His room’s still free if you need somewhere to spend the night.”

The rattling wind outside filled the air with tinge of cold over the firelight. I had planned on making the stop and then immediately heading back to the train. But the darkness had washed over the town faster than I expected. The dirt paths and paved roads from here to the trains station would only be lit by moonlight or the stars, and clouds could cloak those at any time.

Yeah, if that’s alright, just for the night.” I said. Morcant nodded understandingly, and showed me Charles’s room upstairs. It’d been Morcant’s son’s room before that but the boy was off with his mother for the next few weeks anyway.

Honestly, it didn’t look that childish. The waxing moon illuminated the barren room, the dust flowing up into a little bit of mist or frost amongst the trees. With the flick of the switch, the illusion was gone. The bed was big enough for a grown man, maybe two next to each other. The woodwork was hand made, with carvings on each post of bears. Probably the boy’s favorite animal. I could imagine them, like Silvanus, coming at night to protect him from the sorts of things that lurk down in the nightmares of children.

Inspecting the drawers as Morcant closed the door, I found what honestly was to be expected at a place of Charles’s habitation. Well kept coffee grounds and a few packs of cigarets stored between clothes. A hidden habit everyone knew about. But what was more intreasting was on the bottom drawer, beneath a large coat. My manuscript notes had made it, it seemed, covered in red ink as they were. More pressing were the pages written in Charles’s tight and squished hand writing.

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I carefully removed them and laid them on the desk, away from the window to read. An owl had landed there, and something unnerved me about the birds of this place. They were watching me. I just didn’t know for who yet.

The notes Charles had left behind, apparently undiscovered, included a detailed recounting of the story of Saint Silvanus, with a notable change. Charles refereed to the thing that came from the woods not as an angel, but as a “beast of god”. Given his theorizing in the margins, that this Silvanus icon was really an image of the god Pan that had only recently been rechristened in his Roman name, that wasn’t too surprising. What was more suprising was his reference to a “Green Bible”.

As I read through the notes in earnest, the citations of this text made it clear that Charles thought he had found the primary source, some great ur-text in the woods that if read would reveal everything. His sources on the book itself included mainly a few town elders who talked about a Bible belonging Diana—his name for the woman who first found the statue—that she had hidden away holy power in and left for the priest attending the church. The Bible supposedly held all sorts of secrets meant only for the priest.

I admit my first response to this nonsense was to shake my head at Charles’s overabundant conspiratorial mindset. While a secret Bible with unearthly powers wasn’t uncommon in the wide scheme of the world, presuming that because some older townspeople mentioned it exists was woefully naive. However, it was fairly apparent that Charles had gone out searching for this Green Bible. And hadn’t returned.

The room seemed to shrink with that realization, the gaurdians of the bed now grimacing at me as I flipped through the pages to find the map of the area. He had marked a spot with some scribblings I couldn’t make out. No doubt that was where he intended to go. As I considered whether to rest or pursue him into the cold immediately, a thought began to dawn on me.

Morcant must have known Charles was heading into the woods. Or had, at the least. Given all that had been left behind, he was no doubt still somewhere in that woods. Looking out the window, I figured I could make it across to the tree outside. Even with the wind. Morcant certainly didn’t know about Charles’s notes, and couldn’t have suspected that I’d find anything giving away what might have happened.

So I flicked off the light, and climbed on the window ledge. I wrapped myself in a jacket with a scarf hiding most of my face as I opened the window and exposed myself to the cutting winds again. As quietly as I could manage, I slipped out of the house, onto the tree branch. The branches were difficult, but there was something familiar about setting my feet down on the soft grass. I turned and slipped into the moonlit and snow crusted forest.

Continue to Part 2 here.

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