The Dead Man’s Rites

This Week’s Prompt: 53. Hand of dead man writes.

The Research:Dead Man’s Hand

The groundskeepers walked quietly between the fading stones and fog. Willis gestured for the senior of the pair, Morris. They were wandering on a moonless night, shovels in hand, towards those graves that were freshly dug.

“Listen, listen, you can still hear it!” Willis said. Morris strained his ears to hear the distant sound of a small bell. Willis was hurrying a head, careful to not actually walk on any of the graves. When rescuing the living there was no need to disturb the dead. Tiptoeing across the beaten paths, they followed the sound.

Morris had been on station for almost three decades now. He was slower in his approach, his eyes perpetually searching for the source of the sound. If it was a grave bell, if a man had been buried alive, then this would be the first. Of course, when they traced it to the source, there was little surprise.

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“Figuers a poet would resemble the dead.” Morris said, heaving his shovel over his shoulder. The fresh dirt was a funeral this morning. Arthur Dolander, a small poet from what Morris could tell. His grave had some tripe about going bravely, bravely into the night. That was the mark of an artist among the dead. A desperate insistence that there was something sublime to the last.

The two men began to dig. Willis moved faster, in a near panick. The notion of being buried alive had haunted him for a many years. Even know, as the dirt cleared around the coffin, he could hear the trapped man’s fingers scratching at the wood, a trapped animal buried beneath tons of dirt.

“Mr. Dolander? Can you hear us?” Willis shouted as the coffin came into sight. He tapped lightly with his shovel, and sure enough Mr. Dolander tapped back through the thin wooden coffin.

“Well, I’ll be damned. Guess the poor sod is in shock. Alright, lets get clearing this.” Morris said, setting the shovel aside to get the rest of the dirt out by hand.

“Probably best to take him out before taking out the coffin.” Willis said,bending down to help. Morris nodded, and grabbed the crowbar they had brought.

“Hope it’s actually him in there. Mum used to say the devil himself was in the graves.”Morris said as he passed the crowbar off.

“We got two shovels, and a strong arm. We could knock the devil back down,I’m sure.” Willis said with nervous chuckle. But then he set about his work, placing the crowbar to the coffin. Slowly, he pushed it open. The wood creaked and all was still as the nails were plucked out. Until, at last, Arthor Dolander’s body was staring back at them.

But it was not the lively form they had expected. No, it was still a pallid body, laying still as a stone. With one difference. The right hand was missing. In its place was a cut stump, and a trail of blood. As the two groundskeepers followed the flood up the wooden paneling, they saw what at the time they assumed to be a strange and persisitent rat, curled up and maybe with a finger in it’s mouth. Before they could make it out clearly, the thing scurried up the walls and vanished into the fog of the night.

“Well, best bury him up again.” Morris said, shrugging as he replaced the coffin lid.

“How they hell did a rat get in there?”

“Rats get wherever they want. Did you know their skeletons can collapse?” Morris said, as the two shoveled dirt back in the hole. “Probably fell asleep underneath his arm before they buried him, flattened out to hide.”

“And figured out the bell?”

“Rats are smart, Willis. Rats are damned smart.”

Willis had kept an eye out for the anthrophagus rat over the next few days. He was fairly certain the rat was still around, but its tastes had gotten odd. He’d started collecting things, things he’d notice while walking the fields.

“Are we out of paper again?” He asked Morris when he came back, pockets full.

“Again, yeah. Find out what’s going on with that?” Morris asked, barely glancing up from his book. Willis turned out his pockets, revealing around thirty pages of crumpled paper with strange scribbled equations and symbols.

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“There’s more outside. And I saw this one the other day.” Willis said, kneeling down to pull a tightily folded piece of paper out of the floorboard. “Think our friend learned to write?”

“Hmph. Rat is as good a thing for this to be as any. Might as well all be Greek.” Morris said, taking the page Willis held out. “Though it explains the creaking.”

“Doesn’t explain the birds.” Willis said, thumbing at the tree outside. For the last three days, exactly eight birds had sat on the tree. If one left, it was only for another to replace it at the exact same moment. They were all blackbirds, but whether they were blackbirds, crows, or ravens was a distinction that always escaped Willis. They stared at the door, which had been terrifying at first, then startling, and now simply unsettling.

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“Maybe they want our friend?” Morris said with a chuckle, tossing the paper aside.

“I imagine rat scholars are rare. But seriously, think we should start walking out at night to catch whoever doing this? Their stuffing papers into graves, pretty sure that’s a problem.”

“Hm…I mean, yeah. Probably better not having gibberish garbage everywhere.” Morris said stretching. “Flashlight and a spade, I think I’ve still got a taser nearby if the idiot causes trouble.”

“Think troubles likely?”

“Well, no, but you gotta wonder about a guy who breaks into a cemetery to stuff papers into graves for no real reason.” Morris said. “Who knows, maybe their spy codes, or messages to drug cartels, or maybe he’s trying to raise the dead. Crazy man it sounds like.”

“True…wonder if we could solve any of this. I mean, its just funny math, right?”

“You figure out what the triangles, crosses, and circles mean, and sure, go for it.” Morris said.

The two again headed into the foggy night. Morris had lent Willis a spare taser of his own. So, Willis with a hand at his side, survey the graves with his light. The columns of moonlight shot between graves and vast shadows of angels and tombs. They began their patrol near the fence of the graveyard.

And there already, stuck between some of the bars, wrapping around them in the wind.

“Well, there coming from outside, at least.” Willis said, shining his light on a few pages scattered in a frenzied paths into the yard. Turning to follow on strand, they found more shoved into the claws of gargoyles, or beneath the chins of votive angels.

Eventually, they heard the crinkling of paper folds nearby. It was from down in the earth, no doubt the sign of the trespasser pressing the messages into the ground. The lights of the two men where brighter then the moonlight and quickly fell on the source of the sound.

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There was something like a mangled hand, holding a pamphlet between its fingers and driving it into…something else in the dirt. It looked like roots that sprang out of the scroll…or, it seemed to Willis for a moment that had risen to meet it. There was silence, except the buzzing of a fly bursting from the severed limb, frozen in place by the light. The fly rose, in a swerving path as the hand curled towards them. It was so small, bits of bone showing through the peeling skin and ligaments bent spider like. It crawled towards the men. Morris let out a shout and shot it full with the taser. For a moment, it convulsed violently, and the smell of burning flesh was in the air.

And then silence. Willis watched as the roots recoiled down into the ground, taking the writings with them.

Willis made no effort to translate the writings of the dead. He gathered all he could, and tossed them in a great fire. Only one sheet he was aware of survived, buried beneath the earth. And elsewhere, maybe it would return. The final formula of a dead man.

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Calling Up the Dead

This Week’s Prompt:52. Calling on the dead—voice or familiar sound in adjacent room.

The Resulting Story:A Dreadful Tapping

Necromancy is upon us, fellows! Dark sorcerer at last revels itself! But perhaps you are confused…this is about only sights and sounds. How does this relate to Necromancy, which much of popular culture conflates with zombies, skeletons, liches, and the summoning of undead war engines or hordes?
Necromancy, at it’s base, is much simpler then all these things. A necromancer attains knowledge by communicating or contact the dead. The modern word has it’s roots in just that meaning (Necro meaning dead, mantiea means divination). This has a number of cultural ties to be discussed at length here, as it might give insight into the unsettled spirits above. And of course, we are necromancers here aren’t we?

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The first place to start, although not the oldest, would be the Greek conception. Necromancy here is most apparent in the works of Homer, specifically Odysseus’s voyage to the Underworld, where by blood offering he acquires the aid of a long dead sage. These could be elaborate rituals in later times, and often relied on the conjuring of specific shades for their precise knowledge.
Related to the Greek school of thought is the Jewish and Old Testament relations of necromancy. Necromancy, for a variety of reasons, is forbidden under the Law. It was a Canaanite practice, and further, it disturbed those God had claimed. The existence of shades to conjure was also severely questioned by later Christian critics. However, there is a noteworthy account of necromancy here as well. The Witch of Endor.

Ewoks

Wrong Endor, ya dolts.

The Witch of Endor episode occurs during the book of Samuel, where a Canaanite woman is asked by King Saul to conjure up a dead prophet and judge in order to learn his fate. This resulted in the King being roundly condemned for daring to disturb the dead in his quest for certainty.
Moving farther abroad, the means of contacting the dead are known in China as well as the Mediterranean. More often, mediums are used there to contact the dead then conjuring as we know it. However, the Chinese authorities have perhaps a more elaborate arrangement of the dead, divided into forms based on death (In the way that other faiths might assign punishments). The hungry dead, those derived of ritual, are the primary ones to be kept at bay, while other deceased relatives might provide comfort or aid to their descendants.

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Note the bowl of scrolls, which would have been stained with her own blood.

The Maya priests also engaged in a sort of necromancy, consulting the spirits of Xibalba by shamanistic or hallucinogenic rituals and blood letting. They contacted otherworldly spirits this way, in a manner that might seem familiar. Ancestors again were a protective force at times, and knowledgeable about many things.
In the Northern European climes, there are records from a seventeenth century poem of a mother being called forth by her son after death, in order to defend him and free him from his stepmother. The mother adds her son by casting a series of spells to defend him.

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Among the Buryat people today, ancestors are the primary group to be consulted by shamans. After almost a century of Soviet oppression, however, many of the names of these ancestors have been lost. And worse still, several have found the places they inhabited to become nightmarish, with ancestors killed in Soviet prison camps manifesting as tortured and angry spirits barely intelligent to the mortal sense. These ghosts all need appeasements, as the various ills that befall a Buryat household are often ascribed to angered ghosts and displeased ancestors. These rites might involve sacrificial sheep or promises made with a shaman as an intermediary.

I could go on, my fellow society members, but the number of ghosts in the world is vast indeed. The dead are often restless, sometimes manifesting in human forms, sometimes in frightening ones. But to close this portion of research, I might bring attention to the phenomena that Mr. Lovecraft was particularly thinking of : Spirtualism.

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Spirtualism was a movement in the late 18th century, brought on by speculated causes, of conjurers and contractors of the dead. Mediums and seances spread through Europe, claiming to speak with the long dead through various devices they had. Now, whether the craze was built upon the notion of invisible forces as revealed recently by sciences, or the sudden access Europe had to Egyptian, Buddhists, and Hindu manuscripts through it’s vast colonial empire can’t be said. What can be said is that the séance was a common occurrence.
And the remains of these séances are wide spread. The Winchester house might be the most famous. Built by the wife of the inventor of the Winchester rifle, the house was always being built. Why? At a séance, the builder Sarah Winchester was told that she would be haunted by all those who were killed with the Winchester rifle. The house was thus a never ending labyrinth to confuse spirits that sought to harm Sarah, so elaborate that even within the last year new rooms were discovered.

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The Winchester House

Another séance inspired the religion of Spiritism in a young Frenchman, who believed he had come in contact with the souls of ancient druids. While Spiritism proper might balk at being termed necromancy, Allan Kardac’s discovery was of the secret knowledge held by spirits that had past on. The religion spread across the Atlantic and took roots in many Caribbean and Latin American countries, as well as to the French colony of Vietnam. Recently, I read an article detailing how the French movement influenced moral teachings in Iran as well. The faith maintains a following to this day, with thirty five countries on an international council.
This is all to bring context to the scene we have hear. A séance, a contacting of the dead is by it’s nature a strange and uncanny event. But here, we have a contact that was actually achieved. A voice is heard or a familiar sound (in proper tradition, probably some musical notes). So, what is the horror and dread here?
This won’t be a story, I feel, of a great overt horror. No one is going to be dismembered in gory ways. No one is going to go mad in the overt, grand, Gothic sense. A séance may be dripping with Gothic forms, a Victorian melodrama that disturbs the barrier between the living and the dead. But the horror is going to be…different.
Atmosphere seems key to all horror, but I think with something as small as a séance, where the shift is merely a sound, it will be primary. The horror here will rely on who is attending the séance, and who is conjured. And maybe what they say. After all, the voice of the dead might be one full of knowledge. But in a Lovecraftian world….well. Who’s says knowledge is a good thing? Ignorance is bliss.

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The Trial of the Fisk Family

This Weeks Prompt:46 . Hawthorne—unwritten plot. Visitor from tomb—stranger at some publick concourse followed at midnight to graveyard where he descends into the earth.

The Research: The Sins of the Father

The court room held their breath for the sentence that the right honorable Waites would hand down. The good judge had been holding private counsel for around ten minutes, examining the various notes and passages of law that lay at his access. The anticipation and dread in the room reverberated, and killed the noise of animals around. The birds seemed to sing more quietly, less they disturb the elder thoughts of the right and honorable judge.

The only noise produced at all was the quiet crying of the Fisk boy. He had been afflcited the least by his ancestry. His eyes didn’t have the strange shaped pupils yet, the dark hour glasses that seemed like a goat’s gaze. Unlike his miscreant brother and deceitful sister, his fingers seemed firm still, not slightly long and perpetually bent like claws. Hands that seemed almost webbed at times and jointed in the wrong places. His hair was still dark, not yet the motley red and orange of his sisters. The youngest Fisk, if it weren’t for the company he kept, might have been mistaken for a normal child.

But the court knew better. The right and honorable judge Waites had seen each generation of the Fisk family. They lived in the woods and hills, among strange and wretched things that they often took as wives and husbands. Elfin creatures, the Fisk children always looked the part of Adam’s children at first, but grew into Lilith’s before all was said and done. Some grew horns, small though they were, in their hair like rams. Some had shining eyes, and over the years the charges of witchcraft merely grew. The Fisk women bewitched husbands from town to continue their awful brood. If Leah Fisk hadn’t done so yet, it was only because she had not been given the opportunity.

Leah Fisk dressed in decadent finery as it was. Even in court, she wore a long red dress with sewn patterns along it’s edges that guided the eyes and entranced them as she walked. The right honorable judge need no witnesses of her character to know what the purpose of such adornments were. Her gold earings, enameled with red gems and sea shells. The work had been in the Fisk family for sometime, and they had paid little mind to the pastoral warnings against such vanity. Gifts, the right honorable judge Waites was convinced, from their less than savory side of the family. Such ornaments were borderline idolatry for the reverence the Fisk clan held them in.

But that had never been enough. The Waites, and the Wyatts, and the Smiths, they had all known what the Fisks had done. The judge ponder the years of court cases, of slowly working down the Fisk clan one by one. They were numerous and hounding them down, whittling away their taint on the world, had taken decades. And here now was the last of them, only one willing to look him in the eye defiantly as he prepared to read the crimes and proclaim his sentence.

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“Michael Fisk,” he said, staring into the hour glass of darkness. The edges of the eldest Fisks skin looked like they had been stretched over extra bones. “We find you guilty of bearing false witness against Jonathan Smith, Rachel Smith, and Timothy Wyatt. You are found guilty consorting with the barbarians of the woodlands and the demons with in their rites. You are found guilty of hersey and witchcraft employed in seducing the wives of your fellow man, sodomy, theft, and murder.”

Michael Fisk stared ahead at the right honorable judge, his eyes unwavering, unblinking. They seemed to stare through judge Waites own pupils, into his soul. The unearthly eyes did not dissuade Waites soul. His ancestors had hunted and hounded witches on the isle of Britain. He had no fear of demons.

“Leah Fisk,” He said, his eyes resting on the woman’s down cast head. “We find you guilty of false witness against Jonathan Smith, Sarah Wyatt, and Leah Waites. You are found guilty of hersey and witchcraft, of blasphemy against the Lord, and of inviting foul things in your home.

“For these crimes, the court finds fit to sentence both of you to death by hanging, to be carried out at the soonest possible interval. In light of the rampancy of these crimes by the Fisk family, the people of the parish have moved to preempt the degeneracy of the youngest, Matthew Fisk, and send him to his kin as well.”

There was quiet sobbing from Leah Fisk now, but the sentence was as expected. The only question was whether they would be hanged or crushed by stones. The right honorable judge Waites was wary of stones, despite the precedent set by the Old Testament and other works on the proper punishment being stoning. Being crushed by the weight of stones was too much like a proper burial for judge Waites’ taste. So they would hang. Judge Waites scanned the rest of courtroom as the Fisks were lead out. The gaze from the various parishioners was approving, some even nodding to each other and whispering about his wisdom. As he scanned the crowd, judge Waites’s eyes fell on a singluar figure in the back. He appeared to be an elder, dressed in proper black and with a pale complexion. His eyes were hidden by the shadow of his hair, but his grimace was strange.

It was not strange to see determination or even a degree of gravity in a court room. That generally was Mr. Waites posture as well. But as he descended from his seat and saw the strange man leave, he couldn’t help but feel there was something more to that strange expression. It looked rigid, like it was carved into a stone or worked into wood. It was a face that appeared to have taken on a form that was forever it’s own. Mr. Waites, finding himself out of his office of judge, realized that despite a familiarity in form and bearing, he did not know the man who had just been in his court room.

Mr. Waites was never one to miss an opportunity, even in his great and venerable age, to speak with a man possessing more age and thus more veneration. Power by association and education were well known principles in his profession. To be isolated was to be in danger. So on foot he followed the stranger out, walking along the road and out past the courthouse.

It was already nightfall when Mr. Waites set out, lantern in hand, to follow the mysterious man. There was only the dim light of the other man’s lantern ahead, and the moonlight all around. The trees took on a pale color, as if suddenly faded or seen through a thin fog of winter. But Mr. Waites, who would never forsake a path once he began unless danger was so overwhelming that his animal mind overcame his mortal soul, trekked on through the wets following the fair light.

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At least, he came in sight of another building. An old wooden ruin of a small house. He passed by with out another thought. A few more such cabins dotted the path, as the flickering light grew somewhat dimmer. The flickering made the shadows inconstant, long things. Mr. Waites’s eyes caught them rising and falling, more than once mistaking the simple shifting of light for the approach of dread, shadow forms. His mother, God rest her soul, had once told him that in the woods, among derelict and failed ghost towns, there dwell creatures unsightly and unseemly. Dead things that were always hungry.

But he had walked the woods before. Mr. Waites was not lost. He knew these buildings, now that he had a better grasp. His prey had come through the old settlements the Fisks had, when men were foolish enough to trust them with money and wares. It had been a beginning of a great bush, a weeds roots that had been set fire long ago. Mr. Waites remembered. He was young then, when they burned it all down.

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At last the light ahead stopped. Waites followed, and by lantern light saw the great broken steeple of a church. The graves beside it were arranged in neat rows, almost perfectly aligned. He watched as the old statesmen he followed walked slowly among the graves. At last, the man approached a long, open grave. The light of the stranger’s own lantern suddenly shone bright, brighter than anything. It was a green light that obscured everything else around it, a glimmering fog that rose out of the crypt. The man paused, and turned to look out at the world. His eyes settled on Waites, and Waites felt a chill down his spine and a great weight on his shoulders, affixing him to the spot. The eyes had that hourglass shape, that stark yellow hue, of the Fisk family. There was some judgement left in those eyes. The weight did not cease when he turned away. There was the sound of song and sea from the grave as the man descended, vanishing into the mist.

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Kobolds, Goblins, and Demons Beneath Your Feet

This Weeks Prompt:43. Monsters born living—burrow underground and multiply, forming race of unsuspected daemons.


The Resulting Story: Invasion From Below

Well, this prompt has lead down some strange rabbit holes. The corpse specifically deals with creatures underground, burrowing in a method that reminds me of locusts or cicadas. The underground is full of strange creatures, but when it comes to sheer numbers and the sort of clamoring that forms indicates only a few key cases, from folklore and urban legends that is.

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First is the Kobold, who resembles a diminutive man, despite claims by Wizards of the Coast and Paizo. Kobolds dwell either in mines, aboard ships, or in houses, and are creatures of German extraction. We will be focusing on the mining branch, who have the most mixed reputation. These kobolds are reportedly expert miners and desirous of precious metals. They themselves can enchant metals, making fools gold or metals that cause a burning sensation. They are also responsible, it is believed, for the creation of cobalt. It is they who give cobalt it’s arsenic content and poisonous power.

Kobolds sometimes preform helpful deeds, debatedly. They get the name Koblod for their tendency to knock on mine walls. The knocking either marks a region that miners ought to avoid, as it is dangerous, or one that they should mine for a thick vein of ore. This knocking habit persists into the Kobolds relatives, the Coblynau. The Coblynau are, however, always malevolent and frequently cause landslides in their never ending mining.

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In South Africa, far yet close to the German Kobolod, we have another creature. A favorite of mine: The Grootslang. The Grootslang was the first creation of the Gods, when they were new to the work of making life. They made the Grootslang too mighty, and split it into two creatures (snakes and elephants). But one of the Grootslang escaped, and from it came the whole dread species. Grootslangs lust for gems and gold, akin to dragons. They are cunning and cruel creatures, but susceptible therefore to bribery.

There are less …demonic inhabitants below of course. We have the urban legend of ‘molemen’, groups of homeless and oppressed people driven into subways and sewers for their entire lives. There they form, according to myth, tribes and nations of their own, governed by their own laws. There are some…obviously uncomfortable implications to discussing those that society has suppressed as living in underground societies of barbarity. But that is the legend. There is something in this myth in particular that could be reversed, the rising of those condemned against those that would damn them. The oppressed gripping the oppressor by the throat…

But that might be leaving the prompt a bit.

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In more typical realms of genre, there is the field of Subterranean Fiction. Jules Verne is perhaps the most famous here, but given that his explorations do not deal with something intellgient enough to call demons, we will look instead to a few other authors in the genre.

It would be strange to leave out Mr. Lovecraft himself, with the world of K’n-yan. The underground of K’n-yan is ruled by people who resemble First Peoples and possess advanced technology. They can materialize and dematerialize at will. The command undead slaves of conquered races and are ruled by eugenically engineered men and women. Once they worshiped Tsathoggua, but learned his nature and abandoned him.

With them dwell the remains of the snakemen, who we discussed more here. And in the depths of the cavern is Tsathogua himself, dread great old one surrounded by living oozes.

Mr. Lovecraft then aside, there is the work of Edward Bulwer-Lytton. This accounts not for demons, but rather a race of ‘superior’ subterranean humans that manipulate life energy. This ties into the accountants by Theosphanists, a group who’s writings make fine genre work but are tinged forever by racist and white supremacist implications if not handled properly. Ironically, I wonder if the people of K’n-yan were meant as something of an insult to the work of Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Intriguing if true.

With all this in mind, what are we to do? Well, we have some compelling examples of complex relations between surface dwellers and those below. The idea of inherent hostility in the underground works well for horror, and the setting in a liminal place between above and below would work well. A subway, a mine shaft, a cave entrance. A place between the two worlds, perhaps the spot of their divergence.

The action of the story is probably the arising of the ‘demons’ whatever form they take, coming up from the underground. The analogy of locusts rising might be fitting here, a wave of death arising from below. There is some revolutionary undertones to that …well, phrasing. Revolutions often have horrors in them, either in the build up or execution.

The other solution, perhaps the one that can mesh into this as easily, is a stranger stumbling into the hostile world below. A journey into the literal underworld, as Dante and Aeneas have undergone. We’ve gone over such journeys elsewhere, but those where far more metaphorical journeys below. This would be tumbling into a strange, hostile land of demons waiting to overtake the world. Whether they are revolutionaries or conquerors, such a place could hold a host of horrors. It must have wealth, that much is clear from most myths. And that makes a fairly good amount of sense. The ground is where growth comes from and where ores are found.

It might be wise to blurr the line between conqueror and revolutionary, to make the nature of the demons uncertain and unclear. I would point the group as coming up from below, surging beneath some manor or castle, in order to begin either a revolt or a conquest. It is probable that the footmen do not know which the sudden surge of demons is. If that is the case, then there is horror to be found in being swept up in a terror that you bear little knowledge if not responsibllity for.

I will have to think this over, I don’t quite have a full story in mind yet. There is so many possibillities that I have yet to narrow them down in a meaningful way.

I will note one other obvious source of inspiration: the videogame Undertale. I…have not finished it, so can only recommend it by reputation and the little progress I have made so far.

In a similar vein, I’d like to call your attention to a horror contest that might interest you, as it’s themes resemble this prompt. You can find it here. My story here will, of course, not be an entry in that competition. </span

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Black Sun, pt. 2

This week’s prompt: 25. Man visits museum of antiquities—asks that it accept a bas-relief he has just made—old and learned curator laughs and says he cannot accept anything so modern. Man says that ‘dreams are older than brooding Egypt or the contemplative Sphinx or garden-girdled Babylonia’ and that he had fashioned the sculpture in his dreams. Curator bids him shew his product, and when he does so curator shews horror. Asks who the man may be. He tells modern name. “No—before that” says curator. Man does not remember except in dreams. Then curator offers high price, but man fears he means to destroy sculpture. Asks fabulous price—curator will consult directors. Add good development and describe nature of bas-relief.

Read The Rest Here: The Black Sun, pt. 1,Black Sun Finale: The Account

The Research: Part 1,Part 2,Part 3

The board of directors and there various associates agreed to meet on Walpurgisnacht. Mr. Derelth’s complaint (or as he preferred it, concern) was not as it turned out unique. The various associates confirmed to him the date must be Walpurgisnacht, because no other time was amicable to all the directors and yes, sadly, all of them would be necessary. The meeting would be held in Germany, per the old meetings, and because the location was of easy access to the majority of the directors.

After all, many were buried in the Teutonic forests, and dragging them any great distance would be a hassle.

Derelth thus found himself in a small carriage (the directors found the booming of a combustion engine intolerable and bothersome), dressed as best he could manage and quite terrified. He had never attended such a meeting. The board had spoken to him after the Great War, briefly, to inform him of some of the relics he had and to ensure he knew what signs to beware. And then, it had been through an agent who seemed only dimly aware of his purpose.

The meeting place was a large house atop a hill. It was built, from Derelth’s best understanding, before. Before what was a hard fact to nail down. Certainly before the Great War. Likely, by all accounts, before the unfortunate business at the Bastille. Possibly before the British lost their colonies. And after that accounts drifted farther and farther, with on deluded attendee that traveled with Derelth asserted it was nothing less than older than the forest itself.

Derelth arrived at the cyclopean stone structure. Outside was a man dressed in the old manner of a manservant. He was a tall balding man, almost pale blue around his veins. He bowed greatly as Derelth stepped out.

“Mr. Jonas Derelth? Is that you?” The man said, standing up right with a tedious clik-clik-clik noise. Jonas Derelth nodded slowly, taken aback by someone knowing his first name. It was a secret he had made some effort to keep, avoiding even public records where he could.

After all, even he knew that in the secret places of the world, names are powerful things.

He was lead into a room lined with veiled portraits. The tall footman stood beside three hundred others, each leading a new guest gripping some package or another. They were shown seats, a long a great black wooden table. On the otherside of the room, an identical desk stood. And behind it, the directors.

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A number of them were grim visages, men dressed in hides of beasts and adorned with antlers and skulls. They seemed for a moment to be mere smoke, shaped like men as they sat. Some were women wearing helms of battle, some were almost child like if only they were not so terrible to behold. And a host swirled behind these, phantoms with swords and spears and staves.

In the center of the directors, on the greatest seat, was a man eight feat tall. He had a long beard, kept in orderly curls. He’s skin was bronzed, and his suit was green with gold ornamentation. Attending him were forty nine other men, dressed in long robes and veiled. Their eyes flashed like lighting from behind the robes. When Derelth and the others got seated, he was the first to speak, with a voice that boomed and shook the seats.

“We are gathered here to see this proof, that something troubles our great woods and shakes the cedars again. Show us what has come, that we might render judgement upon you.”

The procession was quickened by fear. Derelth saw great statues of seashells brought forward, with scorpion men or many headed dragons. His own great disk stood beside numerous others, each featuring that strange black spiral sun. All looked erratic, irregular shapes, unfinished ideas that still seemed real. Like the worst of a Bosch painting, or the troublesome drawings of a half sane man.

Each told the selfsame story, of some strange and half awake artist bringing in dread drawings of cannibalistic cadavers or crawling criminal crocodiles or other worse creations. All they said from their dreams. And this troubled the directors greatly. Particularly the man in the middle who’s voice was akin to thunder and who’s glare was like lighting.

But it was another man, one of the ghastly host on the periphery, who first spoke.

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“This is…troubling. The border between dream and reality ought to be more sure than this. Why, I know this stone,” he said fluttering over to one of the dark stone sculptures, “and it is found in those deepest of dreams, that come perchance once a century. The dreams of deep things that know this sort of slippery stone. The dreams of deep and wide-eyed sharks and that kind. Dreams that no mortal man should see.”

“Something has dredged it all up, then,” another director with bark skin and branch fingers said. “Dragged up all this to the mortal mind. What of it? We saw the sun rise and set over these very woods in the minds of men. Veles comes, Veles goes. The winds rage for a time, but all is gone by the end except perhaps a new scar.”

“No, no,” the man in green said, standing again, “no, my good Leshy, these things do not rise. This sable sun, this pitch colored star is an omen of old. Before the forests where trees, back when they were the Great Mother’s hair and when the lakes still ran with her blood.”

“The earth turns all things back again,” the Leshy said, standing tall, taller even then the man in green. “What of it? Why call this conclave to speculate?”

“We are not speculating, you indignant sprite!” the man in green boomed. And the room shook. “No, no, mere speculation would be welcome. In the hazy realm of possibility and chance, things may change and perfect. But this? No, no, I know these signs of old. The Black Sun across the sea, that dread fertile mother is rising again to zenith. The father flame, from which all terrors spill, it rises once more from the embers.”

“Your talking nonsense. What is this of fathers and mothers? Dreams have been bent by other calamity.”

“Once,” the man in green said, suddenly calm, “there was a mother-father, who dearly loved her children. For he-she had a thousand fold a thousand children. Each a different face, a mind of its own, cleaving and tearing at the skies and seas. For you see, in those days, there was no earth. But in time, some of her children got the mind to slay others. There was much fighting. And the mother-father, torn at the devastation, slept, and was content to sleep until the blood stopped flowing.

“And so it was for many a millennia. Most of the children died. The others built halls out of their bones, made their skin into lands and their hair into trees. The children taught the animals, the plants, and eventually the men and women of the world their arts. How to fight as they did, how to write as they did, how to bend fire as they did. In time, the squabbling children came to accord. But there was still the matter of the mother-father. For should she stir, again she would have children in multitudes. And again they would tear at the world, until all was naught.

“So they taught the world how to lie to it’s mother-father. To make mock battle, to wage war in the ways he-she expected. And the children rested. But in time, they too died. Most anyway. Children rarely live long. Others left, to find new places and new homes. Such is life, that the men, women, plants, and animals forgot or fought those ways. The last few trickles of blood ran dry perhaps four centuries ago.

“Not that war has been forgotten, but war as the children fought it? No, it has been lost. And so he-she has begun to wake. First he-she comes in dreams, an echo of the world primeval. We must gird ourselves for battle, for soon he-she will come as the doom of thrones and crowns. And their will be new children born, and the world will break and bend if nothing is done.

“But what perplexes me,” the man in green said, as all stared stunned, “is why no more such shapes have come? What has silenced them, who perhaps lulled her back to sleep?”

For part 1.

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Things Unseen

Poltergeist

This Week’s Prompt:17. Doors found mysteriously open and shut etc.—excite terror.

The Resulting Story: Under the House
This is, like the sounds that go bump in the night, something that might have been original in Mr. Lovecraft’s day, but now has become a staple of poorly told stories. Still, perhaps we should examine what exactly is implied mysterious doors opening and closing.

We will begin assuming the doors in question are literal doors. It seems cheating to call up a spirit that saw flickering portals spilling creatures from a nightmare realm onto the earth. There is little challenge in that. So, with literal doors, what do we have?

Well, the fundamental fear is the unknown, of course. But this isn’t being unknown as grand as the cosmos. Its something in here, with you. Something intelligent, capable of using doors and recognizing when something is looking for it. In the mundane sense, this resembles the urban legend of the clown statue, or the dread of a breaking and entering. Someone unwanted wandering a familiar place renders the safe dangerous, the known now unknown. After all, in a very real sense, we control our homes and, excepting other human beings in the area, we think we control our surroundings. Especially if they are as civilized as some place that has doors.

The stranger takes all that control away.

In the paranormal, this unseen manipulator has many forms. The first and most famous is the ghastly poltergeist. Made famous by the movie(s now, apparently) that proved Steven Speilberg fears light, the poltergeist is a German ghost capable of manipulating objects. The movie added an association with electricity and lights. The ghost often haunts a particular person, and as the Harry Potter movies and books show, they are often merely troublesome.

Alternatively, there is the diabolic creature of Paranormal Activity. This plays up the mystery, and takes some time hinitng at the beast. Better still, it subverts the nature of our modern well light age. Making technology isolating, as we have said, works to our advantage.

The excellent horror story, however, Over the Garden Wall features an alternative to the mysterious stranger. Briefly though:

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All clear? Alright, Over the Garden Wall Chapter 5 Mad Love features a pair of old, wealthy individuals who have (unaware of each other) built there massive mansions into each others. Both ascribe the actions to a frightening spectre, approaching the unknown as a terrible thign that turns out to be quiet friendly.

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This, however, doesn’t fit the rising tension. To induce that, we need something actually horrifying. Personally, the description reminds me of gas-lighting, a method of psychological torture where changes are made to the subjects environment, but then are denied as actually occurring. Alternatively, the changes are too small to be noticed (famously, moving everything to the left). This all leaves the subject questioning their sanity.

This level insisdious manipulation, or even simply the movement of strangers through one’s home without them being seen or heard (except the opening and closing of doors) seems far more frightening than a simple ghost. Ghosts moving things have become simple, common, even busted. But a stranger? Who knows what they’ve done. The paranoia, I can taste it my friends. Like a fine wine it ages.

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Minister Elijah and Brother William

Michael Kormack

This Week’s Prompt:  16. The walking dead—seemingly alive, but—.

The Research: Here We Are Again

William Wilbur waited outside the alabaster wall. A rare sight, on a New England night, such a luxury. Wilbur’s form, between obese and gaunt, neither one of the numerous ascetics with stern glares nor an over indulgent maw waiting to be filled if only it was outside of the Church’s grasp. No, Wilbur was a middling man in the mist, squinting into the aged burial ground.
The earth was freshly turned, with gravestone’s sprouting like mushrooms out of the ground. The minister Elijah had been buried just this morning. A man made for his post, he was a tall and terrible figure, his voice filled with fire. To Wilbur, Elijah’s sermons bore some of that sulfur from below as well as any angel. That God had recalled his servant so soon was no strange affair.
William would have let it rest there and then, but this moonless night, something stirred him. The strange motions would come every now and then, moving him like a lone star was pulling him along. And this was one such night. William waited with baited breath for whatever it was that yonder star would display.
After a time, which in the mist choked night was either an eternity or an instant, there was something scratching in the distance. Clawing, burrowing up from the ground. Persistent, it was, probably more so than your average rabbit or rodent that infested such places. Something strange, a wilting wind, wafted through the cemetery. Figures rose, silhouettes in the fog that shook and shambled for a second. In the next instant, they were upon the iron gate, hands reaching out toward him, working at the multitude of locks and bolts.
“Oh, William is that you?” came a voice from the cloud, a woman about William’s age staring back. For a moment he did not recognize her, so long had she been dead. Since he was a lad, his mother had been laid to rest. But now she stood before him, locked behind iron bars. Her eyes, William thought, her eyes looked very much how they did when she was alive. Only, squinting, they seemd paler. Dimmer, as if some flame had abandoned them in the grave. Rats and vermin had gnawed at her clothes, and her skin was as white as gypsum. As white as the walls.
“Mother?” William let slip taking a step back form the apparition.
“Focus, Mariam, we can reach your son in a moment. The lock, the lock is still shut with silver. Get the coffin nails,” another voice said, a man near naked with a long sturdy face, full of grey stubble. The remains fo a black cloak hung loosely on his emancipated limbs as his fingers shook at the lock. He had the tall hat of respectable farmer, but he must predate the time of William. It slowly dawned on William, however, as the metal on metal clanged, that this was no simple apparition, no ghostly visage or unsettled spirit. These things, these semblances of the living, had physicality to them. Strength and corporeal form.
Blood moving quick, William turned and ran, the mist closing behind him. As he ran, there was broken laughter from the broken yard. Locking his own door behind him as well as he could, he paused in a sweat, and lay down to rest. A nightmare, a vision from gates of ivory and horn, that was all this was. Terrible, terrible indeed, but the mind makes such monsters when it wanders. His heart rests, and in time he drifts down into slumber.

When dawn comes, the king of the stars, magnificent and solitary sun scorches away the mist and fog, a day as clear as any. The coming warmth and light stir William from his terror filled rest. Woozy from sleep, he rose and said a dutiful prayer and went to the town to buy food. As he walked, William noticed something strange. No one was around.
The market was empty. Not even a wind blowing through. Concerned and confused, William paced around, through field and farm, but there was no sign of his fellows. Until at last he came upon the church.
The humble wooden church of crisp straight lines was now surrounded by makeshift barricades. Men and women with pitchforks stood watch, gripping them like hunting spears. A dozen or so had muskets. With a quizical look, William approached, a basket of food in his hand.
“Stand back there, brother William!” One of the men bellowed, Jonathan raising his barrel. William blinked, taken a back, and raising his hand.
“What ho, goodly John. Is something a miss in God’s green country?”
“Stand back I say again. Not until we know you are right in mind!” Johnathan said, holding his gun aloft once more. William stood stock still, tilting his head only slightly.
“Looks right as rain to me, John,” one of the other men said, squinting, “Clothes all orderly and his skin nice and full of color.”
“Still, could be fresh. Could be clever too,” Johnathan muttered.
“Clever? Come on John, you saw’em.They aren’t clever, they’re quick and crazy. Don’t talk as nice either and aren’t nearly as decent as he is,” the other man said.
That seemed enough and Johnathan lowered his weapon. Tentatively, William walked forward, toward the armed crowd. He looked about, examining faces struck by the sort of petty fear death and wilds provokes.
“What is going on, John? What’s happening?” William asked slowly.
“Something unholy, something wicked. The dead aren’t staying in their right place or right mind, not since last night. Seen a number of them, friends, family, even the minister, loping about town like nothing’s wrong. At first we thought it was the day of judgement, that the Lord sent’em.” John began, before a laugh interrupted him. Turning behind him, William saw a host of deceased waiting. His mother, his father, his friends, his neighbors, and a multitude he didn’t recognize. Laughing and cackling, barely clothed with slop dripping from their mouths. To William’s horror, some were so intertwined that where one stopped and the other started was impossible to tell. And at their head was the bulbous body of Minister Elijah.
Minister Elijah, his shirt ripped off so that the fat hung out like a barrel. Minister Elijah, with red blood dripping from his mouth, his cross shining in the sun against his pallid body, maggots worming between his teeth as he cackled. Minister Elijah, when he was done, slumped over as if exhausted and spoke.
“And who’s to say we aren’t, Johnny? Who’s to say we aren’t sent by God up in his uppity heaven, to feckless to get in?” the Minister asked, his eye’s flashing. The common mob were laughing and moaning at the speech.
“So much of the world is lost, can you really say your enjoying it wasting your time on your knees when you could be spending time on your knees? Its wonderful, being dead Johnny! Now put down that iron. We’re already dead. What are you going to do to us?” The Minister asked again, tumbling forward, glass clinking beneath his coat.
“Get back! Get back you! By God –” bellowed John, lifting his musket, his fellows lifting their forks and bracing themselves. William slipped behind them, shaking.
“Oh, come on Johnny, you can’t keep what passes for wine and women in this pathetic place? You’ve got to keep the fire going, Johnny! You’ve got to keep that candle burning, or it will catch up with the other side! Move it, or we’ll move you!” the Minister said, pulling himself up right and roaring like an enraged bull. William stumbled back as powder burst from muskets. He ran into the church, pressing the door shut as the mass mob of the dead came pouring down. He held it, eyes closed as moans and screams blended into a cacophony. When silence came again, he opened them wide to see women and children gathered behind pews. Breathing heavy, he nodded at a pew.
“If we have any chance, we best bar the door. Perhaps they will begone in time,” William said in hushed tones, with every bit of authority he could bare. A wet pounding came from the other side of the door.
“Oh, William, not you too. Listen, open up, and I promise to kill you before eating you.”
“Get me a pew now, and Miss Leman, please, some hymns would be appropriate,” William stammered out, pushing back still.
“What are you going to do, Will? I’ve got time forever, and plenty to distract myself with. I can wait as long as I want!” Minister, for even in this state he was still a man of god in Williams eyes. “I’ve got over a hundred men, you think some wood will stop us?”
William was quiet, nodding as the pews were pushed in front of the door. He helped raise the others over the windows. The beating at the door continued for a few hours, until the Minister seemed bored of it all. The moaning grew louder then. William tried to block it out, leading the survivors in prayer around the altar.
And then he felt the tug of that wandering star, pulling him upward like a marionette on invisible strings. His body rose and tumbled to and fro, until he was pressed against the window. The mist had come, the carrion birds gathering round the mass of bodies, snatching flesh between the growths, until only bones remained. Hundreds of decayed bodies, crows and vultures swarming like flies.
“Tis the will of the lord, to show us such things,” William muttered, “For this is the fate of the dead. And we, if we are true, will have eternal life.”
The strings pulled tighter however,and William let out a shriek as he felt his body smash into the glass, tumbling out into the wet grass. Rolling his head up, William saw that Morning Star hanging above him, lofty and bright. And then came eternal night.

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