The Harvest Moon Shines Down

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

The Prior Research:We Can Dance If We Want To

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

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

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

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

Harevet Moon 1.png

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

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

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

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

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

The Moon Hills Harvest Moon.png

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

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

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

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

The Harvest Moon Fire.png

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

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

The Red Faced Moon.png

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

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


 

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

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

 

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The Mansion of the Moon

This Week’s Prompt:30. Strange visit to a place at night—moonlight—castle of great magnificence etc. Daylight shews either abandonment or unrecognisable ruins—perhaps of vast antiquity.

The Research: THE MOON

“Why do we go on these walks?” Rene asked, as he and Soren continued down the dirt path. The forest was awash in a sea of mist that night. The moon was large and luminous overhead, a bright yellow harvest sigil.

“I go on them, because the poets talk about fog and futures and truth coming on long walks in nature,” Soren said with shrug as she continued onwards, “You come along to ruin the mystery.”

“You don’t need cold evening walks to find stuff like truth.” Rene moaned. “We could come here during the day. Or during the summer. Or we could go to somewhere warmer, like a nice coffee house. You could find your sublime there, or at a pub, or not in the woods filled with fog after a rainy day.”

“The sublime suprises you! You can’t find inspiration in the terrifying and wonderful at a pub.” Soren said waving her hands around.

“There’s terrifying stuff at pubs and coffee houses. Writers and drunks, and drunk writers. If this sublime is everywhere, it can be in comfortable places.”

“We’ll go to a pub later. For now, just enjoy the change in scenery.”

“It’s the same woods as in the morning.”

“The lighting changes everything. Like, that! Look, never seen that on this track before.” Soren said, poitning in the distance. A couple miles away there was a pale shining light, a small moon amongst the trees.

“No…we haven’t.” Rene conceded. As the drew closer, the light seemed to cyrstalize into a large manor. Pillars rose from the dirt, covered in well kept ivory. Statues held the platform’s atop. The windows shone like stars in the night sky. Wolven gargoyles lay at the gate, guarding it against intruders.

“But how didn’t we?” Rene asked, looking about.

“Maybe we took a different turn this time.” Soren said with a shurg. “We should go inside.”

“I…I think that’d be trespassing,” Rene said, reaching out and touching the iron gate around it. Despite the shimmering light around it, it was solid to the touch.

“True enough. I guess we should come back during the day.” Soren said, stepping back and staring at the manor. Not a single thing seemed to move in it’s windows, not a bit of bright ivy shook in the wind. Instead it stood stoic and solid, a pale pillar beneath the brilliant yellow moon.

“Yeah. Wonder how they got it to glow like this.” Rene said, flicking the gate again. The iron gave a satisfying ring as they turned and left down the stone road, into the foggy night once more.

As promised, the two met the next day at noon. It was silent, as the birds long ago went down with the winter. The snow on the ground was more expansive, a vast white plain stretching on either side of the dark brown dirt road.

“Are you sure this is the right fork?”

“It’s the same road.”

“But the lights different! Things look different at night.”

“Well, we’ll know. If we picked the wrong trail, we can go on another one later. Its not like it’s a big woods.”

“No, there,” Soren said, pointing, “there’s the hill it was on.”

“I don’t see the light though.” Rene said, moving swiftly toward the spot. And sure enough, there was nothing glowing. Rather, there were the remains of of a wall, some bricks stacked on each other. Easily stepping over, the two investigated the remains. Here, where once pillars proudly stood were the remains of cracked bases. Where windows once gleamed, now there were shards of glass. The hand of a statue was buried under some of the snow.

“How…” Rene said, leaning over the hand, examining it closely.

“Who’s to say? It must have been a trick of the night.” Soren said, looking about. “The sublime comes once, like lightining is glimpsed and –”

“It must be only at night,” Rene interrupted, looking around.

“What?”

“The missing condition. At night. Let’s try again tonight.” Rene said, frowning, crevases forming on his brow.

And they did. It was again foggy that night. The sun was pale, lacking it’s old yellow. And they went along that trail. But ruins still remained. Rubble and the crumbling corpse of the original building. Rene paced it’s perimeter carefully, occasionally kicking up the snow.

“Must be full moons only? Or maybe, once a week?”

Soren frowned, but agreed again to come back next week to the same spot. And agreed to try again at the next full moon. And then on the same day the next month, then on the same number of moons since the start of the lunar year, then the next day equa-distant form the solstice or equinox, then on the day that was next in the cycle from the full moon, the next harvest moon, then the next full moon after that harvest moon and so on.

Rene started digging deeper and deeper. The house burned down decades ago, it seemed, although how many times was unclear. It was abandoned. Not a single ghost trail mentioned, not a single traveler besides Rene and Soren claimed to have ever seen it late at night, decked in the moonlight. But Rene kept digging deeper and deeper.

Time passed, and each time the ruin remained. Soren confided in her friend that the house was gone forever, but could tell it made no difference. Rene would head out at the same time, although according to different measures, every night. Even during the day, he would spend hours without Soren, staring into the iron gate. Waiting for it to return.

Soren tried other routes, but Rene twitched and grew irritable when taken from the moon lit path. When Rene told the story of the mansion, Soren heard a longing in his voice. As if he were describing a lost pet or dead friend. Something mysterious and magical that slipped through his finger, and if only, if only Rene said, he knew the combination he could get back again. He could see that pale moonlight in the woods again.

Well, I can’t say I’m proud of this one. The vague outline might have worked as a b-story in another work, but I couldn’t quite get a conflict going. The characters are also a bit flat. Despite the extra time being finals free has given me, it just didn’t click. What about you? Did you achieve greater success with your stories?

Next week, we will discuss pre-humanity, the starts of humanity, and the preservation of the past in icy tombs!

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THE MOON

This Week’s Prompt: 30. Strange visit to a place at night—moonlight—castle of great magnificence etc. Daylight shews either abandonment or unrecognisable ruins—perhaps of vast antiquity.

The Resulting Story: The Mansion of the Moon


The Moon. The Moon, majestic mighty Luna. That, my fellows, is what strikes me most from this prompt. The Moon is one of the greatest and largest forces in the heavens. As such, it’s form and meanings are vast and numerous. We will begin with a few folkloric examples (of multitudes), as well as a few mythic divinities, and of course some more popular recent examples.

The Moon has almost always belonged to the wild places. The moon is a shifting changing thing, and this change has been known for quite some time, particularly in contrast to the more constant rising sun. The pair are often persented as opposites in one regard or the other: in southern Mexico, the Moon is Mary to the Sun-Chirst. Diana and Apollo likewise stand as opposites, in gender and attitude (Diana being a huntress of the wild, Apollo the patron of arts and civilization).

Moon Rabbit.png

The Moon has it’s animals as well. The rabbit of the moon is a vast cornucopia of forms, from China to the Aztec empire. The reason behind the rabbit changes, admittedly, but often involves some form of self sacrifice (failed or otherwise). The owl, with it’s circular white face and nightly habits, makes an important contrast with the eagle of the sun. In the Near East, the Bull comes forward as a lunar creature as well, tied to the necessary sacrifice to the gods.

the-mooncard2

This changing nature of the Moon also gives the moon a reputation for shifting nature and illusion, and by extension madness. Among gods, we can see a number of sorcerer gods associated with the Moon. Thoth of Egypt, Kalfu, and Huitica as examples. The Tarot Card of the Moon reflects this uncertainty and changing state. On either side are twin towers, a wolf and a domestic dog, and across from the moon is an amphibious crab crossing from sea to land. The moon violates and warps divisions, it transcends and works between them.

Several of theses, such as Thoth and Chang’e, are further associated with the transformative powers of alchemy. While the Sun plays a more obvious role in Alchemy symbolism, the moon plays an equal role. The synergy between silver and gold in the philospher stone, the combinging of the fundamental masculine and feminine is key for ‘true’ divinity.

WerewolfMoon.png

The association with madness, however, runs deeper. In English we maintain the notions of insanity tied to the moon with words like lunacy or moonstruck. The full moon is a time between things, an imitation of the sun in a strange way. The wolves howl at the moon then, and in Europe some trade shapes with men. The moon, as delightful as it can be in it’s blurring of borders, can also dangerous. Some borders exist for a reason. Confusion and chaos inspire dread when taken to far. After all, when dreams and reality become blurred, nightmares come to life again.

This is the heart of the solar-lunar conflict, it seems. The Moon blurs what the sun would define. Here, in the prompt, this is a clear under current. The moon shows a vision of a glorious past that is no longer, the sun forcibly reasserting reality. And that conflict, between reality as objective moving phenomon vs reality as a shifting moment, swinging back and forth, perceived and understood differently through many minds, is a rich one. I would recommend looking into Moon Hunters, a game that deals with these themes and others in interesting ways.

After all, the famous opening of the Call of Cthulhu warns us about the boundaries of objective knowledge: “The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. We cannot deny that there is discomfort in uncertainty, that contradiction (especially as large as a castle) of what seems apparent has a hint of madness and horror about it.

The nature of this dichotomy informs the story we must weave, however. As tempting as it is to invoke the moonbeast or the temple of the moon in the Dreamlands, these are unnecessary and may weigh down the plot. Besides, we had plenty of monsters in our last few works. No, this one will flirt with unreality and uncertainty. This we will have almost certainly no non-human characters (except the moon and castle themselves).

moonbeast

This might be a bit distracting, after all. Credit to King of Rats: http://kingovrats.deviantart.com/

Proceeding from that, the first thing that I can think of with the prompt is obsession. An obsession with finding a lost paradise is a common trope, and one that I think can work well here. The nature of moonlight and madness would add to this. I wonder now, is the castle inhabited? Or is this mystical castle by itself enough to lure someone in?

Who, further, would be enticed by the castle? Someone, no doubt, who wishes to escape. A romantic, probably. The sort that are prone to being moonstruck and caught up in memories of the past. Of course, that sort of obvious choice is a good reason to avoid it. Making a man who is normally scientific, normally a futurist, normally despising the preciousness of nostalgia fall into such a trap would be all the more enticing. Cognitive dissonance is a strong motivator, after all.

I think a romantic uninterested would make a good counterpoint. The unenchanted seeker and the disillusioned fool is a pairing I’m unfamiliar with. The interactions before and after seeing the ruins would be the dynamo of the story.

I’ll start there then. What story have you found among the ruins and the dead?

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