My Brother

This Week’s Prompt: 33. Determinism and prophecy.

The Resulting Story:Fates and Fancy

My brother was born when the moon wasn’t out. He was born without mama getting big either. Just one day, in the middle of the night, when no one was expecting it, he was born. Well, not no one. Ms. Lester or Lichster, the old lady that walked with her herd of chickens past our farm every morning, she’d known. She’d walked up to mama one day, her big eye looking her over, and the pronounced that Mama would have another child. Mama laughed, and moved on. But my brother was born the next day.

Ms. Lester was like that though. Pa says that folks like that back east are called ‘cunning folk’. And back east, some of them ride with wampus cats or speak with Indian ghosts to learn their tricks out in the hills. Ms. Lester, though, she’s just a little kooky Pa says. And a little lucky.

When my brother was born, he didn’t cry. Mama nudge him awake every now and again, but he never cried not even when we bathed him. He’d sqaull, but it wasn’t like any baby Mama had heard. But Mama insisted he’d just grow into it. She named him Duron, after the mute in her Book of Saints. And that was it for Duron for a while.

A few weeks later, though, Ms. Lester was walking with her chickens again and stopped in front of Pa while he was plowing. The cow wouldn’t move it while she stood there, feeding the chickens. When Pa went around to yell at her, she just stared at him for a bit. Then she said back.

“The boy’s going to go back to where he’s from. And they’re going to burn the whole of you down, you wait and see, before that boy is eighteen.”

Pa just stared at her for a bit, and she walked off like she was bored, smiling like Pa had said some dumb joke as she teetered off. Pa just went back to planting and told me and Mama about it when he got home. Duron didn’t care much, he just stared around space like normal.

Ms. Lester never talked about Duron again, and I kinda forgot about it for a while. After a bit, around when he started walking, he’d stagger around, like he was following something. Pa and Mama figured he probably was just exploring like some kids do. But then I saw him talking his first words, when I was ten and him three, up into the air. Not only that, but he was bobbing his head like he heard someone talk back.

Mama and Pa were not happy to hear that.

Durgon, or Dug as we had started to call him, had to stay inside from now on. He wasn’t to wander in the fields, in case something snatch him. And he was to stop this nonsense about invisble friends with tall hats and long jackets wandering around the house. Pa nailed a cross over the door just in case.

I was little, so I didn’t mind much. I liked having a brother who was as smart as this, and quiet most of the time. Back then, he’d only talk in quick whispers. Usually stuff like “no” or “yes” or “want” with some feeble gesture of his little arms. Being a few miles from an other kids my age, I figured he was a decent enough playmate.

We’d play ball, and as he grew older he got quite the arm on him. Mama said we had to stop eventually, after we nearly hit her as she came in the door. The ball was for outside, and Dug was an inside boy now. So instead I taught him dress up and we played house. Except he always, even as he got better at talking, wanted to be the preacher.

“He’s got nice clothes,” Dug would say, his face doing it’s best attempt at a pout. His lips didn’t move much, so it was quite the struggle. But he managed.

“But they’re all black and borning. Come on, why not be a cowboy? Or an outlaw.” I’d say, putting my hands on my hips like Mama did. Goodness knows, I still want to be a cowboy or an outlaw. Or even a marshal. Ride around with a gun and horse, fighting and drinking.

But no. Dug had to be boring each time. Except he wouldn’t even be a preacher right. He’d forget his Bible everywhere, he’d just babble jibberish or Indian instead of preaching like Pa did or like the minister at the church did. Made just as much sense as the minister, with his Latin and all, but wasn’t the right sounds. To many ‘k’s and ‘z’s.

But all was fine. When he got big enough to work the fields with Pa, there was talk again of him going outside. He hadn’t told them that he still saw things, mainly because he thought Mama would lock him up and Pa might try and beat them off with his Winchester. So they thought they were gone. And personal, I thought it was wrong having him stay inside, so I kept my lips shut about all the things he’d tell me about. After all, if he went outside, he could become a proper little brother. His muscles looked like they’d wasted with only candle and windowlight on them. He was quick and smart, but quite. Sometime under the sun would do him some good.

Dug had grown tall and lanky, a chest too small for his limbs and head. He had big old teeth, an extra set of pointy ones beneath the rest. His eyes were big and brown and his hands were too big for his arms. He nibbled on his nails, because if he didn’t they grew fast into almost claws. He walked with a hunch and still stared out into space at times. He was five years younger than me, but was head and shoulders taller than Pa. With all that, they figured he’d be good on the farm.

Still, Dug had rules. Pa was going to show him around and he’d work within eyesight of Pa the whole time. In case something went wrong, Pa said. He never said what that something was, granted, but something was a good by word for Pa. There was always something. Something ate our grain stockpiles, so we barely scrap through winter. Something spooked the cows, so the plowing took three more hours. Something was messing with the fences.

But Pa kept working, and with Dug helping him, the farm started to make some money back for once. Pa stopped swearing up a storm everyday, and started smiling.

“They said nothing would ever grow here, that it was bad lands only fit for the redskins. Well, wait until they see all this golden wheat. Nothing grows here my boot.”

Dug was happier too. Always wanted to go out farther, out of the fields and into the hills and plains. Out to see the great Missouri, or east to see the marvelous Missippi. I guess that’s what happens when your locked up so long. You get filled to the brim with wanderlust. But Pa was clear: no leaving the farm, unless coyotes or the Lakota or Blackfeet took him away to the badlands up north. And as Dug approached eighteen, there was no arguing with Pa. The fields went sour again on us, the heyday of golden wheat was gone. So Dug stayed on the fields, pining for those far off hills where Ms. Lister once lived.

Until one night. One night dug shook me awake, his lips still not quite wokring right. His eyes were bulged a bit, and his smile was bigger than normal even for him. Not long, more tall. His teeth were real big.

He told me then and there he was headed over the hills. He wanted to see where the men in tall hats and black cloaks went. Wanted to know what they knew. Where he was from.

“Your from here,” I said, barely awake. “Go back to bed.”

He shook me awake again.

“But why’s Pa always keeping me away from the hills? What’s up there?” he asked, biting his lip.

“Indians.” I said, rolling over. “Go back to sleep.”

He shook me awake again.

“But how come they never come over the hills? I’ve never seen an Indian my whole life, and their right there?”

“Look, Dug, just go to sleep.”

I felt something shaking me again, and nearly bolted up to give him what for…only to find the room empty. Except a long shadow against the wall, a looming shadow of something tall with a long head. It was there for a while, almost floating. And then, slowly, it slipped down the wall and out under the door. I stared, I couldn’t move. It was gone.

A rightful scream began to bubble up in my throat. It started as loud sputters, trying to grasp what I had seen. Trying to put the shape to a face or a face to the shape, as to what kind thing had snuck in. Then it started to flood out of my mouth, a loud hoarse scream across the farm…that echoed into my door and bounced around my room.

I got up and ran out to see if the… whatever that shadow was, was still there. I ran out and saw Dug loping off in the distance, off to the hills. And I remember what old Ms. Lister had said. I turned to shout for Pa, to warn him about what happened.

And then I saw that shadow again, much closer now, cast on the air. A big shadow, floating like clothes on the line, tall and with a thin head. A long limb came out from it’s chest and pushed me to the ground. I couldn’t move after that, just stare as it dragged me away to the hills and left me on the side facing the farm. It’s grip wasn’t real. Or, well, I couldn’t feel it as it moved me. It was like I was gliding on the ground against my will.

From where I was, I saw great black shapes as tall as trees, riding on the wind. The wind was cold, colder than it had ever been. Most of them were missing their feet, and the one at their head towered over the farm house. He was the biggest, with gleaming red eyes and long limbs like Dug’s. Even from the hill, frozen as I was, I could see that he had no feet, and his mouth was full of teeth.

mybrothercover

And I watched as they rent the farm apart. I saw them, shadows of men with great horns, devour Pa, tear him apart like he was a pig. I heard Pa scream for a moment, before passing on. I couldn’t close my eyes as they smashed apart the house like a twister. As the big one lifted Mama, and tossed her in his hand like he was weighing a sack of potatoes before tossing her out of sight. And with a howl, the others looked up at that chilly creature. Slowly it turned it’s red eyes towards me.

Next thing I knew, I was far away, lying in bed. And someone had put a child in my arms, swaddled already, a newborn babe. There was a woman, a nurse there. And she smiled, told me how they found me out in the cold. How lucky I was, because a bit later me and my child would die of frost bite. I stared at the babe, as she told me how well behaved it was. It didn’t even cry.

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Fates and Fancy

This Week’s Prompt:33. Determinism and prophecy.

The Resulting Story:My Brother

There is a lot that can be talked about prompts and notes so brief. And there aren’t many subjects as full of potential discussion and possible exploration in stories as the nature of time and fate. Which, make no mistake, is what determinism and prophecy refer too. But given how short of a prompt this is, we will also be extending some of our discussion of story crafting at the end. In other words, this one will be a doozy.

Prophecy is probably the first one we should start with. There are a number of concepts behind prophets and prophecy, and a few of them need some parsing. First there is the sort of divination by divine inspiration that most readers are familiar with. Apollo is the Greek God of such visions, Mimir has a similar role in the north, out of the East Fuxi among the Chinese, Smoking Mirror among the Aztecs. . Across even more cultures, unnamed divinities provide visions of what is to come or what is occurring to mortal voices.

fuxi

Fuxi

The second aspect of prophecy is bound up with the first, and is most commonly at home in the Near East. These are prophets, yes, but they are not viewers on some great cosmic scheme. Rather, they see the transgressions of society and seek to reform them, often by special gift to mankind. Zoroaster, Elijah, and Mohamed, peace be upon him, are of this sort of prophecy. The future forecasts here are not quite divination as much as impulse to alter the world in a more virtuous way.

While the second aspect has some more interesting aspects to it, if we are being honest with the prompt, it is more fascinated by the first. Determinism gives it a way, really. The philosophy or more properly metaphysics of determinism often relates to whether the future is cast in stone (determinism) or whether we may yet shape it (Self-determinism). While both are filled with potential horror, prophecy leans towards the former.

That being said, there are some interesting facets to consider. And here I must admit, I have primarily knowledge of the Greek thoughts more than the vast Hindu or Middle Eastern thoughts. But I imagine such debates have some universality to them.

achillesshield

Achilles Fate, Reflected In His Shield

Among the Greeks, there are two stories of fate and choice that come  immediately to mind: Achilles’s choice in The Iliad between two fates and the tragic choice of Oedipus in his eponymous tragedy. We’ve discussed something of a Greek tragedy way back in our very first research post almost a year and a half ago, found here. But now we can discuss it’s Aristotelian elements in full.

First we are in need of a flawed man. Preferably one with hubris, narcissism, or curiosity as a flaw (while today we rightly laud curiosity, there is a reason for the ‘what men was not meant to know’ trope). Next we need his or her circumstance that begin tragedy. In all likely hood, this moment of action will be some mystery or another, given both Lovecraft and the great Oedipus. Some also involve homecomings and strangers, as the King in Yellow and Agamemnon’s tales do. Or, lastly, a simple strange phenomenon. Anyway, we must then show how, by means of the flaw inherent in our protagonist, he or she comes to a foul end. And end that they have been warned of repeatedly through out the narrative.

oedipus

Oedipus Rex by Sir Tyrone Guthrie

So, where to begin? Fate, flaw, or phenomenon? To be honest, it is probably wiser to develop a compelling character first. But I am not necessarily wise. So we’ll start with what has happened. As a writer, I enjoy finding these on weird news sites (like these and these). Sadly, these rarely have ‘ironic ends for those involved’ listed. Not to say that some aren’t interesting reads in a ‘what the hell’ kind of way. Tragedies classically end, however, in the death of all involved if possible. Odd crime sites are better for these (they even have a murder section!) but I must caution those who value animals and humanity from looking too long at them. For short works, a strange murder can often be tweaked a bit to make a good horror or mystery story.

For my purposes, a situation of the supernatural seems well favored. I read Castle Orlanto recently, and the madness that came about there from a sudden and supernatural death of a child has stuck with me as a good starting place. Proceeding, however, I’d suggest swinging in the opposite direction of Orlanto. Rather than the death of a child, a mysterious birth of a monster. A creature like the Jersey devil, strange and alien. This has been done (yes by the Simpsons) but it gives an easy avenue to explore the nature of determinism and the essence of people. Is such a thing, born of an alien mind in human flesh, necessarily wicked?

That brings to mind, for me, my favorite work of horror: Frankenstein. While there is no prophecy there, and ours will certainly have a prophet or seer to warn all of the doom they embrace, there is a discussion of why is the monster a monster. If circumstances were better, would the result be better? Do we control our fate or is it out of our hands entirely?

As a well crafted tragedy, almost all characters must feature some of this conflict (even if the monstrous child is at the center of it). Not that some ancient prophecy involve all of them, but rather that they all struggle in smaller ways to assert agency. And being a tragedy, said assertions are all doomed to fail or to backfire in horrible ways.

This ties the nature of determinism very nicely into Lovecraft’s own notions of cosmic horror. The smallness of one’s self in the face of the universe, how vast it is and uncaring, seems alien to any sort of individualistic notion of self control or determination. The horror comes with the inevitable march of time, and you as a small, singular human cannot stop it anymore than the Elder Things could slow their decay. The modes of escape presented are immortality in the Dreamlands or small, temporary victories that will eventually be overturned.

With that grimness in mind, we can set about our characters and setting. We must assuredly have at least four or five it seems, a large number for our stories. We need something like a family. With all our talk of prophecy and the Bible earlier, I’d say a new and full family. A father and a mother and perhaps an older sibling, as well as the child. Next we are in need of a prophet or prophetess. Not only that but we need a place where such people are somewhat believable. I have heard little of fortune tellers giving dire warnings about children in Phoenix Arizona in the last century, for example. The practice of speaking in tongues is more common in the South East of the United States but…well, frankly, I’ve only been to Florida to see Disney World and fear I would do a disservice. We could instead move in time, back to an era where perhaps such things were more common. It is easier to believe that a small desert town has a fortune telling old woman in the eighteen hundreds then today. It would also, depending on the location, permit for more of a regulated society with which our characters might combat with.

Of course, our point of view should be within the family. Otherwise, we are too distant to appreciate the horror and the tragedy that comes about. But who? I can’t yet say. But that is what I can dissect from this corpse. What about you? Did you find anything of note?

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The Siren Song

The prompt this week is: 22. Mermaid Legend—Encyc. Britt. XVI—40.

The Resulting Story: The Shack by the Shore

This was nearly a damnable story to find, as I do not own a copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica. And if I did, well, there’s been about one hundred years, and no doubt editions would change. Luckily, however, the glorious mind-web of the Internet has preserved the Encyclopedia and in it’s current form it does contain a legend or two.

 

“Many folktales record marriages between mermaids (who might assume human form) and men. In most, the man steals the mermaid’s cap or belt, her comb or mirror. While the objects are hidden she lives with him; if she finds them she returns at once to the sea. In some variants the marriage lasts while certain agreed-upon conditions are fulfilled, and it ends when the conditions are broken.

Though sometimes kindly, mermaids and mermen were usually dangerous to man. Their gifts brought misfortune, and, if offended, the beings caused floods or other disasters. To see one on a voyage was an omen of shipwreck. They sometimes lured mortals to death by drowning, as did the Lorelei of the Rhine, or enticed young people to live with them underwater, as did the mermaid whose image is carved on a bench in the church of Zennor, Cornwall, Eng.” — Encyclopedia  Britannica

Siren

The horror in this legend is manifold, and might be illustrated by examining the mermaid’s kin in some regards. The most obvious is the Siren, who lures sailors to their death by songs.

The more immediate kin are the Swan Maidens and then Selkie, who shed skin and walk among men. And have their skins stolen to compel them to marriage. Like the mermaid, the marriage between man and selkie never goes well.

Weyland Smith

The idea of inhuman lovers being a…poor if attractive idea resonates farther north with the Valkyrie. As the story of Weyland Smith will tell you, Valkryies are beautiful warrior women, who occasionally are compelled into marriage. And then become enraged or leave, because they are spirits of death and battle, and such things are not suited to domesticity. The disconnect between human nature and the inhuman-but-beautiful was also highlighted by Lord Dunsany in The King of Elflands daughter. The horror of something so human being so alien is rife with paranoia worth fear and the effects of the uncanny valley.

The other horror is what damnable fool sees something so alien, a wonder of nature that desires him dead, and is as much beast as human…and strives to kidnap them for marriage and presumable copulation. There is deeply depraved about such a deed. Leaving aside the undertones of sexual violation, there is almost a sublime shallowness to someone who’s response to such an encounter is unbridled lust. A lust that is strong enough for one to try and violate the divine.

That sort of person is doubly unnerving, in how well they may blend with the rest of the world. The legends and tales never remark on the strange behavior of such men, despite the relatively juvenile goals of a an object of beauty. I would be a liar if I said such people don’t exist, and that they are easily recognized or somehow distinguish themselves. The element of “artistic inspiration” that may underlie these themes is given a great treatment in Sandman by Neil Gaiman.

The third aspect of this is captured, somewhat, by the story the Shadow over Innsmouth: what is the result of the inhuman coupling with mortals? Now, Mr. Lovecraft’s own point was, frankly, the fear of racial impurity and horribly insensitive and racist (as his Deep One descriptions sometimes give away). It is a simple fact. However! There is a bit more that can be taken from this, albeit from older sources.

Jersey Devil

Behold, my gathered brothers, the terror of the Gods! Their kin! The Nephilim of Apocyrhpa and Midrash stand as couplings between angel and man, and the results are terrors that prompt the flood as they ravage the earth. The heroes of Greek Myth, towering figures of might, also bear a sort of inhuman terror. The Jersey Devil reportedly has more-than-mortal stock, as a straight horror creation.

This mingling can be condemned for a variety of reasons (the violation of the profane and spiritual by the mortal, the breaking of the tradition of immortals being unable to breed, the might of immortal beings combined with the desires of mortals, sex is scary to some, etc), but such a fear persists to this day. Rosemary’s Baby plays the fear with a perverse power of generation and demonic ailments as well.

So with all the horrors in mind, how can we best exploit this? Well, for the paranoia to play out properly, we must have three characters: The mermaid, the kidnapper, and the protagonist. If we put the protagonist as the mermaid or the kidnapper, then the mystery of who is who is lost. The obvious tension in that regard is gone. The danger of generation and disturbed offspring can be worked in as a final act. The nature of such a creature is something that we will each have to determine.

Who would you throw into the disturbing house on the lake? How would you frame the terror of twin monsters, one mortal one divine? What corpse family have you found of the story?

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The Prophecy Of Tammuz

This Week’s Prompt:20. Man journeys into the past—or imaginative realm—leaving bodily shell behind.

The Research:Out of Body, Out of Time

Splendid was the city of Uri-Gaol, high in its prime. Its walls were strong, laid down such that even the seven sages could find no fault with it. Blessed where its people, greatest among the nations of the world, jewel of great Atlantis. Its temples were adorned by conquered idols, its men well versed in the tools of war, its sages knew the movement of the stars.

Yet the crown did not rest on an easy head. Long the Rah paced up and down his halls, wondering at the passing of shadows or the most minor of mumblings. He was tall even for that age, towering over thirty feet in height, his hall shaking every so slightly with every step. But still he stared out into the sea at night.

“Can it be this is all? What more do we have to strive for? And if this is zenith, high noon for the world, when will the descent come?” He would ask to the empty and cold stars. No reply came, not from them nor from the ones priests said set them in motion.

After many nights of worry, he sent his finest ship and his warriors with fiery arrows out once more, the first time in a century. Many recalled fathers who served in the wars before, when Hyperborea stood apart or when far flung colonies sought to rebel. But no, the Rah sent them forth with a simpler aim.

“A seer, a seer like the oracles of old. Find me the greatest who might peirce that final veil of time, and tell me when Uri Gaol may fall, and how such fate might change!” he proclaimed form his enameled throne.

So they set out, over steppe and sea, surveying the wild peoples and settled lands. The found men who saw the future in the order of the stars, women who understood the whispering of leaves and markings on trees, priests who produced portents in pigs stomachs, and prophets who saw it in the movement of birds. The captain of the ship was displeased with these, and asked what sage they all held in common.

The mob gathered in the great ship was silent for a time, then abuzz with murmuring. Great scrolls were drafted by each esteemed visionary, listing backward all the esteemed sages they knew, and how they had died or where they had gone to last. The compilation stretched from room to room, until at last, a common name was found. To the distress and grumbling of all.

“What has taken you now? Or did you not predict this? The captain said with a laugh as the quiet discussion dulled to angered faces.

“It is a man we have all heard of.” one of the astrologers said slowly.

“A man who knows many things, or claims to, about lands to be and kingdoms that will come.” One of the tea women said, biting her lip.

“But his methods, they are unteachable! His precepts go without reasons!” the first continued.

“One day he tells this future, the next day another, as if such things vary based on the wind and weather! Such a man is hardly wise.”

There were murmurs of agreement amongst the gathered diviners. Yes, they had heard of this man, this Tammuz, who claimed outrageous things as truth and obvious things as lies. He once proclaimed that there would be a time without kings from atop his great tower. That one day, Not even the great princes of the earth would still stand before might Time, hound of the Gods. That the wonders of the sevenfold light might be lost forever, that cities of black stone and vile intent would stand on the dust of mortal men.

None of the prophecy was pleasing to the captain of the guard. But it did not matter, this Tammuz was alone in any certainty. He brokered no debate and predicted no thing small enough that others had pressed their sight as far. And if he was charlatan or mad man, he would better entertain the Rah. Thus over the complaints of the crowd, he was sent for.

The men found Tammuz atop his tower of limestone, alone on an island in the great sea. He stared ahead, rising only one they landed. He was an emaciated man, his face long and his mouth too wide. His eyes were shrunken but clearly open, small dots of vision on his tanned face. All along his body were drawings, crude and childish, of people and places. They rambled into each other, some sprawling cites suddenly the roof of a house, who’s windows were man’s face and glimpses into poorly pictured woods.

“Who has come to hear my announcements? Men of battle? Your days are numbered always and forever. Abandon the stupid pieces of metal and become goodly statesman. Then you may at least have pride in your waste.” He said, jumping to his feet and grabbing one of the men by the shoulder.

The warriors with their shining metal armaments looked at each other in confusion, but eventually made it understood that the Rah of Uri-Gaol wished to see him and hear his sage words. Tammuz stared at them for a time, as if amused by some joke they didn’t hear, before suddenly snapping awake and laughing uproariously.

“Then why does he call for me! I am no sage, no. But I will come, and see Uri Gaol, like one visit’s his gardener before he dies.”

And so in darkness, the ship returned to the pacing Rah, who was certain something had gone amiss. Envoys abroad assured him until pressed that there were no enemies, and he was not yet certain if the paltry chieftains and princelings were really disgrunteld and jealous or if his ministers invented them to placate him and hide the real danger. But the arrival of his prized ship brought the sun kissed lord some comfort, or the closest thing a man such as he can bear, a feeling that certainty is coming. Either doom or delight, the die forever cast.

Needless to say he was shocked to behold Tammuz.

“And what is this?” he declared rising from his throne in uproar. The captain of the gurad step forward to speak.

“This is the single man all diviners gave recognition, if not respect. He alone gazes far into the abyss where only the gods might know, or at least he alone claims to.”

“I can speak for myself and my own counsel,” Tammuz said, standing tall and smiling wide, “please good Rah, I am no mute mumbler what must meander through the grains of sand and glass to find what is and is not true. I set my mind and body to the heavens, and toss my self hence, to see the worlds to come. Like a man on a ship monitoring the waves, I know what will be and how each shift moves them. Let me do my work and all shall be well.”

The Rah relented, and Tammuz sat then there on the stone floor, fixing his gaze forward into the throne of the Rah and between the seven lights. Tammuz sat and watched.

Days passed, and the Tammuz remained as still as stone. The courtiers of the Rah walked around the strange man, whom spiders slowly built webs upon. Messengers came forth with tidings, averting the line of his gaze. Eventually it was addressed.

Out Of Body Out Of Mind

“Majestic Rah, who the sun has set upon the earth,” the man from the west had said, robed in brilliant green and gold cloth, “why does this man stand here, unopposed?”

“Worry not, aspirant, he has set his mind to future things, that I may know we reign forever,” the Rah said with a wave of his hand.

“If you wish to be free of doubt, Rah of the Heavenly Mandate, I may supply answer. I know men who can grant you warriors who cannot be defeated, I myself have forged swords that never fail and who’s wound never heal, and other wonders that drive away the darkness of war.”

“What of plague?” the Rah asked, stroking his beard. “Have you wonders for these?”

“Not I, it is not my trade. But ask of the lands in the East, closer to mighty Meru where the Gods once lived and walked. They may have something.”

“Bring your works to my palace, and I shall send to the east.”

Unbeknownst to the Rah, their words disturbed Tammuz sleep, and for a moment he was nearly started awake and his mind nearly returned to the current day, but it was not to be. So the ships went out east, to find a man who could make similar wonders. One who might make elixirs granting wise men eternal life or who knew how to restore the dead with but a draught. And there they found a woman, dressed in blue and silver, who before the Rah said such things.

“Of plauge and age, worry not. I have beheld the most eternal things, the unchanging desert and the unbroken mountain. From them many things can be learned, that Uri-Gaol will stand forever more.”

And she brought peaches stole from the gardens of lost gods, and books written in blue that told the secrets of the heavens. And the man in green and gold returned, with blades of fire that fought by themselves, and a host of men with heads of lions and bears and tigers. So fierce where they that none, the man promised, would stand against the king, not even the gods who’s city was overhead.

And the clamour of alchemists running at the bidding of the woman, and the roars of the beastly soliders, and the clang of the mystic swords, and the out cry of the priests newly revitalized made the silent hall ring with noise. And in it’s midst sat Tammuz, buried in cobweb and dust, such that he resembled a hill of decay. But still he would not wake.

As the ships rose once more to war, that Uri Gaol not fear its neighbors by standing alone on the world, Tammuz did not wake. When the Rah’s court took bestial paramours, Tammuz did not rise. When the sorcererers in green and blue wove new creatures to fight for the king, scaley goats to provide for them, and great serpents to pull his barge through the heavens, Tammuz did not rise.

It was not until the Rah again was in his hall, his paranoia abated at last by pleasures and destruction,that Tammuz stirred from the pile. The moon moved before the sun, as the sages had said it would. A pair of brilliant lights shown out of the pile. And it stirred. Out came Tammuz, his drawings changed with time. His body was like a corpse, maggots crawling through his eyes and flies out his mouth. His forests were burned along his chest, and his skin stretched paler than the moon. His eyes were not the placid eyes of the dead but glowed with a brilliant light, blinding to those who did not burn brighter by the seven rays of heaven. And when he spoke, his joy was still there, though his voice sowed terror.

“Oh Rah, I have seen plentiful futures for Uri-Gaol, forgotten by later days. I watched as it shifted and shattered, as you sowed your own doom. But this you already knew. Who hopes to evade prophecy, without knowing he fulfills it? No, but I saw farther, past when the mountains sink, and when this ocean is a desert, and when the desert beyond is an ocean. Oh the terrors that will be wrought, the canals of blood as many struggles with man over the scraps of kingship you have not squandered. And the beasts will remain and feast upon the carrion, and alchemist will make dark wonders out of sight.

“Oh Rah, I have seen multitudes of dooms upon Uri-Gaol and the heavens above. I have seen how darkness will wrap itself in splendor, how plague will come with trade, how war will come from within, how nature herself abhors you. I speak for the oldest house, the house I saw at the edge of time and who’s owner command rings from all edges. By his might was I held down, by the terror of his house did I survive.

“Oh Rah, thrice on three times will the world rise and die. Know that no generation hence will recall Uri-Gaol, for it will be less than a ruin, less than even a myth or legend, but rather only a place dreamed of in the distance. Know that the nightmares made flesh will be your legacy, who once may have been wise. Know that I and those who follow me, who bear the sigil of death and are born of decay, will linger alone in this place when it is buried beneath the waves.”

And each word Tammuz spoke bore plauge and storm out into the world. Each syllable an aeon of past and present misery washed over the Rah and his court, a lotus unfolding to show a darkened core. There was no weeping, for tears trembled. The court merely stood, all other speech render moot by the litany from beyond. And so they remained, until Uri-Gaol sunk beneath the sands and seas.

I will not deny, my fellow writers and gravediggers, this prompt took many attempts and I am still not entirely pleased with the result. It has some touches, in this latest form, with my attempts on Dunsany and eternity from a time back, and the letter to the commander of the faithful. It strikes me as worse than either of those however. Still, this stiching will have to do. Some day later I might expand this, dive deeper and pull together a better work. But for now, we must move on to the next prompt, the next corpse, the next untold terror.

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Damned Spot, Part 1

This weeks prompt: 19. Revise 1907 tale—painting of ultimate horror.

The Research:We Anti-Mused Now

Warning: This story contains instances of stalking.

Lenora Eckhart woke up in a room to find herself haunted. As she put on her office button up, it felt heavy and ill fitted, too long sleeves and too high a buttoned collar. The eggs she made with mechanical regularity were unpalatable, smelling ever so slightly of sulfur. The yoke was too runny, watery and sluggish. That would all be bearable, Lenora thought, if it weren’t for the boarish and booming snoring of her room mate. She’d have to find some cure today for Deliah’s sleeping problem. In such a mood, she headed out to work.

Walking along the moss and mist filled streets, Lenora wondered how it was that modernity had not made a mockery of the refuse. Eventually, she came to the train station, and found the benches crowded. The concrete slab that rose from the ground, cracked and encrusted with mold and muck, was crowded. And the rumbling grey train was crowded when it arrived. Waves of people trying to escape battered against the masses pushing in. Lenora stood in the sardine can as near the window as she could manage.

The bleak and broken buildings of Livingston began to give way as time rolled by. The train would click to a stop every now and then, and Lenora braced herself for the chaos. Otherwise, the ride was mostly silent, save the mumblings of mad men who stayed aboard the train or the cry of babes. As they rolled past the smoke spewing factories, the mass began to ever so slightly thin. And then he lighted aboard.

Lenora wouldn’t have noticed him at first, a man of middling height and weight, except he stumbled into her as the train lurched forward. Turning about, she barely gave him a second thought at first. A bureaucrat or functionary, in a black suit and with black parted hair and beady eyes. Had she recounted him then and there the most noteworthy thing perhaps would be his nose that seemed slightly askew. But her eyes found something else more worrisome. Something red was dripping from his right hand.

“Sorry, miss, ever so sorry. Still not completely steady on trains such as this,” the man said, smiling as best he could. It was a jagged smile, Lenora noted. Teeth like glass shards.

“Oh. It’s fine. Trains and all.” She said looking ahead.

“Yes, well, they are strange things aren’t they? Do you ride them often?” the man asked. Lenora could feel his eyes on her.

“Occasionally, every now and then when I need to get downtown.” Lenora said, focusing on the steel bars that served as ribs for the roaring machine.

“A lovely lady like you can’t drive all the way down?” the man asked. Lenora’s hair went on end as she felt a hand flop onto her shoulder.

“I’m sorry, do I know you?” she asked, pushing the hand off as she turned. She could feel something still itching there.

“Not yet, no I don’t think so. I go by Pete, but you can call me Peter.” He said, with that crooked smile. There was the click click of the train stopping. Glancing up, Lenora sighed with relief.

“Well, this is my stop.” She said, rushing out with the crowd. Over the mumble and mass, she heard Peter shout something, but she wasn’t sure what.

The building that housed her office was a devoid of any real color, instead appearing almost washed out. Or stained, stained grey with the refuse and detritus of destroyed dreams and savaged souls. Lenora paused. The thought felt alien, intrusive, a voice in her head she didn’t recognize. Scratching her shoulder she dismissed it and went in to the building.

The interior lobby was better, somewhat, than its wasted exterior. It was painted white with a peeling blue paint on the ceiling. The carpet was soft and only slightly covered in dust. The stairs up were wallpapered with faded birds and flowers. Lenora had wondered if they ever made wallpaper like that fresh, or if it came off the assembly line old and worn.

Women at work

Her office was more a workroom, with lines and lines of tables. Paper palisades protected them from actually seeing each other, while the click-clack-ring of the typewriters beat on and on. Hers was nearest to the barred windows (supposedly to prevent people breaking in, though she suspected it was more to prevent people from breaking out), next to Daniel. Daniel was a bespectacled man, overweight and hunched. He had been in the office since it was a single story, since scrivener was a respectable position, since the sun actually peered through occasionally.

“Good god, Len, are you all right?” Daniel asked looking up as she squeezed past.

“I’m fine, Dan. Ran into a weirdo on the train is all.” Lenora said, sitting down. Daniel blinked a few times.

“And stabbed him?”

“What?”

“Your shoulder. Len, you’ve got blood all over it.” Daniel said, pointing with a pen. Lenora pulled her jacket some, and sure enough something dark and red was resting there.

“What on – oh for Pete’s sake this was my good one too! Ah, nothing to be done. No, the freak was bleeding from his hand I think. Probably got it on me too. Health nuisance.” Lenora said, forgetting the matter entirely. She hung the jacket on the back of her chair and set herself to labor. The pitter patter of rain gave a rhythm to the work that was almost pleasing.

Lenora spent several hours copying along, form letter after form letter, letter form after letter form, until she heard something whack against the window. Blinking for a moment, her trance of work disturbed, she turned in time to see a stone smack against the glass. Leaning over she saw a figure in the rain and fog waving and smiling. Blinking, Lenora saw a familiar glimmer of red.

“Oh Christ, he’s down there.” Lenora muttered, turning back to her work.

“The man from the train?” Daniel asked, his concern having been worn down to apathy.

“Yeah, him. How did he even find out I was here?”

“If his hand is bleeding that bad he should be in a hospital, not out in the rain.” Daniel muttered, resuming his typing.

“No, but seriously, did he follow me? I didn’t even tell him my name.” Lenora said, glancing outside again. There was no sign of Peter, not a bit of the red blood. When she turned to type again, the letters looked suddenly strange. To beat of alien drums, strange glyphs impressed upon scroll – no, no Lenora thought rubbing her forehead. That made no sense anyway. It was a type writer, for god’s sake. And complaint response letters weren’t any more ‘strange’ than anything else. Whatever thing was making these thoughts, it needed to stop. Must have been the eggs this morning.

Or hell maybe it’s Peter. They had started once she’d seen him, maybe something about his eyes vulturous leering eyes like a cannibals was doing this to her head. Inspiration comes from strange places, though she wouldn’t call this inspiration exactly. No, it was more like interruptions, breaks from the flow of thought. Invasions might be better. Lenora focused as best she could on the letters, careful to keep her thoughts from intruding.

She found, in time, that she could scribble somethings on a piece of paper. Little drawings that helped focus her thoughts. The interruptions weren’t a problem if they slipped out of a pen onto the page, a self-done exorcism. As she finished a sketch of a skull full of spiders, in between the one hundred and thirtieth and one hundred and thirty-first letters, the door to the office opened again. Peeking over, Lenora already guessed who was there.

There standing next to a familiar suit and red hands was Mr. Levington, her manager. A recluse with a head perpetually bent upward and a hunched back, Mr. Levington rarely ventured out of his office except to give tours to visiting salesman or investors. And even then he avoided the utmost floors. Too dreary and his voice was already a tad depressing.

“And this is the main office. Not much, but it gets work done.” She heard Mr.Levintgon drone on.

“Ah well, what can you expect.” Peter’s said, droning over the typing and mutterings of dozens of clerks. Lenora ducked behind the palisade and quickly busied herself working again.

“You can expect higher profits Mr.Phrike. We process hundreds of notes like yours daily, and with so many clerks, working so fast, it’ll triple your returns.” Mr. Levington replied, footsteps tapping down the rows.

“And how do you keep the people so busy? Certainly there is some rest for even the wicked.” Peter said, a clop-clop steps matching the manager’s. Lenora fought the curious urge to glance up, staring into the black type so long that it flickered red. Red writing, bloody books bound in human hide, wonders of bygone times… Lenora suppressed the thought, moments before it absent-mindedly drifted on the reply to the customers complaint of a defective sink.

“Well, sometimes, yes, but you see coffee is a miracle!”the managerial voice continued on.

“It is indeed. But from heaven or hell, who can tell? Now-Ah! I know you, don’t I? The train this morn?” Peter said. Lenora kept her eyes locked on the paper.

“What is a man like you doing on the train?” Mr. Levington said.

“Well, there are times when traffic is awful, so occasionally I take one when going down town.” Peter replied. Lenora typed as calmly as she could, pretending not to have heard him.

“Punctual! A great trait in an investor.” Mr Levington replied. The clop-clop of Peter’s steps began again, and Lenora felt a familiar weight on her shoulder as Peter’s shadow fell over the typewriter. Something in the air smelled foul as well, like smoke wafting upwards from a blazing cesspit, a dread Gehenna born anew.

“Uh, sir, is there something you need?” Mr. Levingston asked. “We’d ask you not disturb the clerks.”

“No, nothing. That’s a lovely drawing, Miss. Might want to keep them up.” Peter said, patting her shoulder. Lenora winced a bit before continuing typing. Acknowledging him might be encouraging.

“Well, I’ll be seeing you. Now, Mr. Levingston, you said you did factory work?” Peter said walking off. Lenora’s throat closed as his fingers lingered a bit, and soon she was seized in a coughing fit. Her shoulder itched again, like a blistering bug bite a vampiric strain carried by hand. And there was that,that constant invasion of her thoughts and God dammit he had gotten more of that gunk on her, a red brand burning on her skin. It itched something fierce.

She focused though, through the stinging and the shaking. Lenora ignored pressing questions about chance and fate and destiny and how on earth had he found her? That had to have been him in the rain, but he’d have set up a meeting here for months. How long had he been following her? Had he only now decided to make his presence known? Why?

————————————————————————–

Continue the story here or read some forgotten research here.

A Humming in The Dark

Mrs.Vel.png

This Weeks Prompt: 14. Hideous sound in the dark.

The Research: In The Dark of the Night

The year is one thousand nine hundred and sixty-eight. And something isn’t right. Mrs. Vel knows this, as she sits in her house, staring out the window into the night. She’s known it for quite some time. The neighbors have stopped coming to visit. They’ve not left their houses for days. Mrs. Vel knows this, she’s watched every morning.
“I wager they’re just down with some sickness dear. Don’t worry much on it,” Mr. Vel said when she asked. Mrs. Vel was smarter than that though. There wasn’t any sickness coming through.
She’d seen the Spanish flu came rolling through, and polio, and the Asian flu. She’d seen what a cold looked like, what sickness smelled like. And the neighbors certainly weren’t sick. No,something else was going on.
Mrs. Vel watched for cars at night too. Sometimes black ones would drive by, with their front lights off. She’d see them in a glimmer or two, or under a street lamp for half a moment before they faded away. Black long cars, tinted windows. Always driving the same way, down the block.
“They just circle around somewhere else. No need to make a u-turn in a suburb,” Mr. Vel said when she mentioned it one night. Mrs. Vel doubted that too, however. So many cars, and they couldn’t be the same car. Unless that particular car was able to circle the lot in a matter of seconds. No, that wouldn’t make sense at all.
At night, there were noises too. Deep humming noises, somewhere in the distance. She swore it started eleven years ago, but Mr. Vel said otherwise, as you might have guessed. Mr. Vel, in his button up and perpetual slouch, little more than a jelly roll of a man, never believed her. But she heard it. A deep, resonance in the air. Like someone had left the fan on miles away.
“Weren’t there more bees?” she asked one day, staring again outside. It was daylight, though the streets were empty.
“What?” her husband asked, looking up from the paper.
“Weren’t there more bees when we grew up? I hardly see any anymore,” Mrs. Vel replied.
“Course there were, but we were in the country then. Less wild things in the suburbs,” Mr. Vel said with his predictable shrug.
Mrs. Vel bit her lip. No, no something had happened to the bees. Something smoked them out. Maybe they heard the humming too?
And in 1965 the lights started. In the distance at first, great orbs of light humming through the sky. Mrs. Vel would see them, or maybe their shadows, floating above houses. Houses no one lived in anymore, and that Mr. Vel asserted no one ever had. Failed public housing, he would say. But they had neighbors, she knew that.
Mrs. Vel wondered at all this, as the dull humming in the night continued. Sometimes at sunset she would feel it before she heard it.186. 186. 1234567890. Sometimes she thought if she listened close enough, awake in her bed, that she would understand it. That it was saying something.
She started seeing things out in the houses. Men with strange long tongues hanging out, and big wide mouths gaping. Mr. Vel always looked bemused when she pointed at them, hand to her mouth.
“They’re neighbors, dear. Sure, little funny looking, but hey, it could be worse. Not any homos or blacks among them,” he’d say.
“Look at them, Bill! Look at them!” she whisper in panic. They weren’t people, not proper people. Hunched over and carrying crates in. Mrs. Vel stared as they unloaded things. Their TVs made horrible blue lights, with tik-tiking sounds on the static. Mrs. Vel knew they weren’t what Bill said. She’d park her car outside, peering inside. She saw them, flat faced, big eyed, big-mouthed creatures. Monsters, she’d mutter.
Mrs. Vel knew monsters. Her father had a cleft jaw. Her grandfather had some illness that made him swing about wildly. Something he caught overseas. She’d seen the sort of people who came back not-quite-right from the wilds. She knew them well.
She talked to a friend on the phone about moving.
“Nothing like that no,” she heard from the other end. Yes, Mrs. Vel’s friend hadn’t heard the humming either. But it was perfectly natural, she said, just the sound of so many jets these days. Did she know how many more jets flew these days?
Mrs. Vel called her son. Her son, off in college, told her that he had seen them too. She was relieved, until he told her he had seen them inside out. That they had flashing lights inside their hearts, and only ate honey. He had seen it, he explained in his dead-eyed way, in all his dreams.

When Bill didn’t come home one day, Mrs. Vel boarded up her house. She knew they did it. The humming did it. She wouldn’t go outside, she ate what she had in cans. She’d stare out the window, certain they were coming. She didn’t know if they left there homes. Maybe they were sick.
Mrs. Vel was certain that something had gone wrong. The humming was doing something to the world. It had smoked out the bees, it had messed with people’s minds. This wasn’t normal. The year was one thousand nine hundred and sixty-nine, and something wasn’t right.
Mrs. Vel saw men in suits, in every shadow. They came to her door, right up to her door, at her door with suit cases and papers. Mrs. Vel never answered. They might have made the noises. She kept as steady as ever, unmoving if she could. Mrs. Vel only made noise to nail in boards. More boards, covering everything except the window she looked through.
When Bill returned a few days later, he’d wonder at his neighbor, who never came out anymore. Poor thing, he thought, must have gotten sick. And then he would get back to his paper. And Mrs. Vel, across the street, would scream silently at night.

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Flights of Fancy

Today’s prompt is: 10. Dream of flying over city.

The Resulting Story:The Lands I Know

I’ve talked of dreams already, and won’t repeat that entire realm of the subconscious here. But the idea of flight is tied in with many others, and the first thing my mind leaps to when restitching this corpse is Icarus. For those somehow unfamiliar with the notion of Icarus, it is the story of mad science by the arch-inventor Daedalus, and how he attempts to escape with his son by gluing feathers to their arms. He famously warns his son to not fly to high or the sun will burn the wings, nor to low or the waves will catch him. Icarus enjoys flying too much, flies to high, and proceeds to fall to his death. Tragic in the oldest style.

 

So there is precedent for taking flying as arrogance. A tad obvious, but worth remembering. More interesting is the city. Whether this dream is a nightmare or a fancy is dependent on the city. Do we swerve through a beautiful metropolis or flutter between Gothic towers or slip betwixt nightmarish engines and towers and so on. The potential in cities is manifold, and what sort of experience we give is deeply dependent on the city itself.

The model that occurs to me is the travelogue, where the audience and the narrator both wonder together in some forgotten vista or new found land, and give we will be entering a dream, exploiting this for the growth of our narrator’s character seems natural. Perhaps he or she (I haven’t had a she in some time, I must remedy that) will not change, but certainly something ought to be revealed. After all, the subconscious is rarely uninteresting. And often more opinionated then its host. I wonder what edifices lurk in the skies of a dreaming mind. I’ve never looked up, you see, while dreaming.

I’d be remiss, my dear fellows, not to recommend Dave’s Lovecraft list as well, for those who have not enjoyed Mr. Lovecraft’s actually completed works.
https://davescorneroftheuniverse.wordpress.com/2016/01/19/a-lovecraft-reading-list-for-beginners-part-i/

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