Long Pig

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

The Following Story: Gerald Report

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Cannibalism. The answer is cannibalism. I mean, I suppose we could look into more esoteric explanations, about smuggling food in or feeding off vapors. We might even indulge in the idea that the man who lives near the graveyard is not a man at all—he is some spectre or spirit that is never seen eating because he does not eat. He is something numinous and otherworldly and frankly the simplest answer seems most fitting her. Cannibalism.

Cannibalism has a long history in folklore—I’ve discussed some of the creatures that live near or in graveyards to feed on the bodies interred within here, and the aswang here, and the witches sabbath here, and the nightmare here. I decided to go a bit further afield this time, to see what I could find that involved cannibalism, so today will be a survey of a number of stories and characters associated with cannibalism.

 One story that stuck out was from Swedish Finland, and recounted the fate of a poor girl who was lured into a cave or grotto by a band of robbers. The exact number of robbers varies from telling to telling, but she was married to all of them and forced to cook, clean, and bed them for nine years. Each year she gave birth to a child, and each year, the bandit king cooked and ate the child’s heart. After nine years, they came to trust the girl and sent her on some errand—however, she escaped and told the towns people, who had assumed she was dead.  They went and arrested the murderous robbers, and buried them alive in a nearby wall. The spot is marked with painted hearts, one for each child eaten. Many of the stories mention that the cannibalism was preformed to gain immortality or devilish powers, such as flight.

Ghoul 3

Among the Xam people of South Africa, we have other stories of cannibalistic monsters. One was ||khwai-hem, translated as “All Devouring”. The creature’s appetite was enormous, devouring sheep, then trees, then objects and finally people with a great firey tongue. It was so large it’s shadow resembled a cloud, and was so bloated it’s stomach reached to the ground. It was invited by one of the chief gods to take part in the bounty that resulted from the liberation of livestock. Another such creature from the Xam is the !nu!numma-!kwitƏn, a beast of prey who ate crying children.  While monstrous in appearance, these creatures were not human and thus not “cannibals” in the technical sense. However, their attributes—and the attributes of their more normal relatives, the lion and hyena—were attributed to European settlers by the Xam people during the colonization of West Africa. 

In Russia there are of course the famous cannibals, revenants and vampires. Often the result of sinful corpses buried in the earth, they are restless and may hunger for unwholesome meals. Interestingly, the dead being hungry is not limited to the monstrous—wholesome and clean dead may still be hungry and thirsty for their last forty days on earth. But the unclean dead long for terrible things—flesh, blood, clothes of children. Their monstrous forms can include long tongues that reach to the crown of the head, iron or steel teeth, and large heads. They might sharpen their teeth with a whetstone or grind them together rasping as they hunt their prey, and they caused poor weather near their remains. They in some ways resemble of course the nearby Balkan and Romanian vampires which we covered before–both in the possession of iron teeth and in the draining of vital energy and fluids from not only people but the landscape.  

Then there is of course the Arabic ghoul or ghul, a creature that may be a demon, a male genie, an enchantress,or any of the above depending on the tale. The creature lives in deserts, with cloven hoves and an ugly appereance, and seeks to lure travelers away from the road to murder and eat them. Sometimes this ghoul feared iron, and often needed to be dispatched with a sword to be done in. Many could shapeshift, and some had even more incredible powers—one common one was that a ghoul must be killed with one blow by a sword. Two and the ghoul would survive until one thousand more had been delivered. 

Ghoul 4

A Palestinian folktale has a young farm boy guarding his father’s flock after several sheep have gone missing. When on watch, he catches a ghoul stealing the sheep, and taking them to a nearby well. When he descends the well, he finds many beautiful women and swears at once to save them—striking the ghoul dead and ignoring its please for a second strike. Here the ghoul, like the weather stealing vampire, drains vitality from a region and stores it up elsewhere (see our writings on similar creatures on our Patreon here). Another tale tells how a group of women accepted milk offered by a ghoul, against their friends wishes—alas it was poisoned, and they all perished. 

 However, not every ghoul fed on human flesh. Some provide guidance for humans during their life to achieve their own ends, while others married and lived happily with mortals until they grew homesick. In this way they resemble vampire’s we have discussed earlier—and in fact, some blurring of the two is to be expected. One of the common traits associated with ghouls, that they dig up and devour corpses in graveyards (which I reported above) appears to be mostly an invention of the French translator of Arabian Nights and explains the confusion. Another paper places the confusion in Persia, where the ghoul is the shapeless monster of ruins who feeds on the dead, and is repelled with the name of the prophet–the closeness of this to the notions of the vampire makes me wonder which writer is confused.  The Persian ghoul faces and is defeated by the great heroes of the land, such as Rostam, a hero I must cover in detail some day.

By chance, this week I was reading on Tanith Lee’s Tales from a Flat Earth: Night’s Sorceries, which features  a city of such ghoulish delights. The city’s origins begin with the scheming of cruel vampire lovers in long forgotten tombs, cannibals that fed on the blood of the living and marrow of the dead. They are creatures that think themselves immortal from their cannibalism, and have gained superhuman strength and invulnerability to blades and fire from their feasting. Only their shadow remains vulnerable.  Their children possess even greater strength, and cunning power over the dead. I won’t spoil what becomes of this city of portioners, but it is a fate that is common to those who can only devour.

Ghoul2

Mr. Lovecraft himself presented ghouls in graveyards in a number of stories–most particularly, Pickman’s Model and Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. Here we encounter ghouls as graveyard living creatures, very solid in nature, relatives of human kind. Relative enough that they are capable of changeling plots, and traveling between the Dreamlands and the waking world. They are canines as well, recalling the Bendanti who traveled to do battle with the devil as werewolves. 

That sort of grand pulp nightmare is a bit beyond the scope of this story, however. This reads more as a local oddity. In fact, such oddities do appear in British folklore and beyond murderous food stuffs. Dickens gives us reports of men being quietly murdered and baked into sausage, and another of Captain Murderer who resembles in no small part Bluebeard’s more cannibal forms, killing and devouring his wives. Cannibalism and those who feed on the dead are fine nightmarish creatures for a small story I think. We could approach this as an investigative and overly curious lead learning the truth of an otherwise normal but eccentric seeming neighbor. Or we can take the opposite approach than the sedate state suggested, and present the man in the cemetery as a proper ghoul–perhaps hunting for the last heart he needs to attain mystic powers.

Part of the nature of the ghoul, what makes the cannibalistic creature terrifying, is not just that it turns men into meat, flesh into food, but also that it is the spectre of death itself. Rare are ghouls who lurk in safe places–the haunt of caves where the underworld is close by, the graveyard full of corpses, the butcher shop where meat is ever present–all these are the calling cards of the ghoul. The man who tends to the graveyard, the undertaker, is something like this–a man who is familiar with the dead, yet is among the living. I think that familiarity breeds suspicion and distrust, something that might lead to uncomfortable questions if the man is in fact innocent for our tale.

How about you–what strange and terrible tales of cannibals have you heard?

 

Bibliography

Al-Rawi, Ahmed K. “The Arabic Ghoul and Its Western Transformation.” Folklore, vol. 120, no. 3, 2009, pp. 291–306. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40646532. Accessed 27 May 2020.

Lindow, John. “Kidnapping, Infanticide, Cannibalism: A Legend from Swedish Finland.” Western Folklore, vol. 57, no. 2/3, 1998, pp. 103–117. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1500215. Accessed 27 May 2020.

McGranaghan, Mark. “’He Who Is a Devourer of Things’: Monstrosity and the Construction of Difference in |Xam Bushman Oral Literature.” Folklore, vol. 125, no. 1, 2014, pp. 1–21. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43297730. Accessed 27 May 2020.

Simpson, Jacqueline. “Urban Legends in The Pickwick Papers.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 96, no. 382, 1983, pp. 462–470. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/540985. Accessed 27 May 2020.

Warner, Elizabeth A. “Russian Peasant Beliefs Concerning the Unclean Dead and Drought, Within the Context of the Agricultural Year.” Folklore, vol. 122, no. 2, 2011, pp. 155–175. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41306584. Accessed 27 May 2020.

Romanian Vampires

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

The Resulting Story: Forth Coming

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We’ve discussed the nature of vampires many times—in fact in the last six months, we’ve discussed it at least twice, once focused on the Philippines, once on the Balkans. For this third venture, I decided to move to a more precise examination of the Vampire as Family member, especially in the Romania. These vampires have something in common with their Balkan kin, but are strange and horrifying in their own ways.

One early difference is that not all vampires in Romania are dead. People destined to become vampires when they die can send out their souls or even bodies far from their bodies—akin to the story of the Jack we discussed last time, where a solider sent out his form with a playing card. These living vampires can be contrasted with the dead vampires that possess their corpses to wander out at night. There are other types of vampire we will discuss.

Like Balkan vampires, Romanian vampires often target their families. However, unlike most of their Balkan counterparts, reports exist of vampires returning home at night and doing house work or tending to children, even as they feed on them. And the life cycle of a vampire is more expansive than in the Balkans. A vampire, after seven years, will devour its whole family, then the whole village. Eventually it returns to life, and leaves to another country (or at the least, a place where a different language is spoken). Here, the vampire will settle down and start a new family, with children destined to also become vampires when they die. Thus, the vampiric plague spreads outward and onward, from one community to the next.

The signs of a vampiric fate are readily apparent. The most common is to be born with a caul, but others include simple wickedness among men and women, especially witchcraft. A child that is unbaptized will become a vampire after seven years, and its burial site will become unholy if not well looked after. If a pregnant woman doesn’t eat salt, her child will become a vampire. If one can break the fate of a vampire, the person becomes an omen of good luck. Suicides can become vampires as well, and have to be carefully treated to avoid that fate. Those doomed to be a vampire, in some reports, leave their bodies at night. Their soul emerges as a fly and goes about the world—a true vampire’s soul emerges as death’s head moth, which can cause sickness in a home. These can be pinned to prevent their escape or mischief, although most are unwilling to subject even a vampire to a second death.

Deaths Head Moth

A deaths head hawkmoth

Vampires have a variety of powers, even while alive. In one town, Michaela, vampire women were said to be tied to specific animals or phenomena from whom they drew power. Drawing this vitality is dangerous for the victim—a vampire who draws from bees may render them unable to gather pollen, and thus starve them. Another, more domestic vampire drained the power of bread from other households to make her bread the best anyone could manage. On St. George’s Eve they gather this power, either for themselves or for others—a vampire might gather beauty for a woman, rivalry for men, and so on. The women appear as red faced and dry, often in rags on St. Andrew’s Eve. The male vampires are bald and have hooves and a tail.

St. Andrew has a few other ties with vampires. One informant claimed that St. Andrew helped vampire women who had achieved their state rather than being born into it. St. Andrew’s Eve is also when they begin to travel the world, and are at their strongest (except wizard or witch vampires, who are strongest at the new moon). They weaken in spring, with either St. George’s Eve or Easter, no longer able to work as terrible powers as they once could.

The most dread vampire is the varcolac, a species of celestial vampire. These creatures cause eclipses, and bloody the moon when she is red or coppery. They appear as dogs, dragons, many mouthed creatures, and more when they go to eat the moon. Otherwise, they dwell in mortal bodies that enter a deep sleep when they sally out to eat the stars.  Their origins range from again cursed children to spirits born of dust swept towards the sun, and some of the stories are almost comedic—for instance, that spinning by moonlight allows them to ride the string up to the Heavens and eat the moon and sun.  The sun defeats them with the lion he rides on, while the moon is too strong to be so easily devoured. In one story, it is God that has given them this mission, to inspire penance in humanity.

Solar Eclipse

A recurring story in Romanian Vampire lore is the vampire who takes a lover. In one story, a young man and a girl were deeply in love, and carried on a tryst without the girl’s family knowing. Eventually the young man’s relations approached them for marriage—and were rejected, as they were very poor. So the young man hung himself and became a vampire, and continued to visit the girl—except the girl did not love him, evil spirit he had become.

A wise woman advised her to attach some yarn to the coat, and follow the thread. She followed him back to his churchyard, and waited at twilight. She then saw him feeding on the heart of a dead man. When the vampire confronted her about her delay, she denied knowing anything. Even as he threatened her father, she asserted she knew nothing. And so her father died. The next day, she again refused, and her mother died. At last, he threatened to kill her—and she claimed to know nothing. She instructed her relations that she was going to die soon. She asked to be held in wake near an opening in the wall, and buried in a forest not a church yard.

And so it came to pass. She was buried in the woods, and a wonderous flower grew over her grave. The son of the emperor passed by one day, and saw this flower—and took it with him, digging it up and transplanting it to his garden. At night, the flower became the girl again, and she and the emperor’s son came to be married. She would not leave the house, however, in fear of the vampire—except once, when her husband asked her to go with him by carriage. And there by the road, who should they pass? The vampire himself! She fled the carriage at once, and the vampire pursued, until they came to a church. The girl hid behind a holy picture, as the vampire reached to grab her. And then that holy picture fell down, and struck the vampire, rendering him to dust.

Variants on this story can be found, repeating the same pattern and tricks. A detail that isn’t mentioned in this version is the meeting on St. Andrew’s day. Some variants specify she can’t go to church for four years—and going early, her vampire lover murders her husband and son. Her grandmother provides the solution, with water of life and holy water—the first to revive her family, the second to murder the vampire.

St. Andrew

St. Andrew, wondering why he’s associated with all these damn vampires.

Another tale about vampires and women tells of how a vampire approached a group of girls at a river, disguised as a youth. He told such wonderful jokes and made such good conversation that the whole group could not help but laugh. But there was one girl in particular that he teased remorselessly, pinching her until she was black and blue. Such torment caused her to drop her distaff with linen—and see his tail. Realizing what he was, she tried to leave with her friend—but her friend’s laughter made it impossible for her warnings to be understood. So she fled into the woods alone( “into the forest as old as the world and as black as her fear”, which is such a lovely phrase). Her companions waited for her return, until it became apparent she was not returning. The vampire, enraged, demanded he be found—and when she wasn’t, he brutally murdered the other girls.

He then found the girl in the woods, and asked her to come with him—and in her state of shock and fear, she followed the monster to a hole in the woods. He asked her to descend, but she insisted he descend first. He agreed, and she trapped him with some linen before fleeing east to a house. Here she found a strange sight—a dead man with his arms crossed over his breast and a torch at his head. She decided to sleep her, and would have slept well if not for the pursuing vampire. The vampire arrived, and fought the dead man for some time, both vanishing when day arrived—for the dead man was also a vampire. Awakening three times in the night, the girl was terrified—except the third time, when she beheld the beauties of the woods. At last she left in the morning and returned home, telling her parents of all she’d seen.

And she began to sink into the ground. For the vampire had enchanted her, and she too had become a vampire.

This tail, a unique signifier of the vampire here, is the source of another amusing fact of Romanian vampires—when they wash, it rains. Unlike other vampires, for whom running water is a bane, Romanian vampires cannot drown and always float.  Kings would send their armies to bath during drought, in case one turned out to be a vampire.

The Romanian Vampire is much more a creature of nature than some its counterparts—we have a strong association with power over natural things (bees, beasts, and insects), we have them living in wild places, often on the borders of villages or in ancient woods. Some are great, terrible, even cosmic threats that consume stars, while others are much more mundane and lurking creatures. And their capacity, nay, fascination with family works well for this story. We anticipated this in our story about the returned father before—I admit, this prompt was on my mind even then. But this story I think could take a stranger, darker turn—the vampire’s Gothic roots and the notion of it as a hereditary condition are all at play in a way that was less relevant for the Balkan vampire. What horror will we weave? Come next week and see!

Bibliography:

Murgoci, Agnes. “The Vampire in Roumania”, Folklore, Vol. 37, No. 4, pp. 320-349. Taylor & Francis, Ltd (Dec. 31, 1926).

Perkowsky, Jan. Vampires of the Slavs. Slavica Publishers, Inc. 1976

 

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A Lightless Room At Night

This Week’s Prompt: 103. Sealed room—or at least no lamp allowed there. Shadow on wall.

The Resulting Story: FORTH COMING

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This prompt is an interesting one—and one that has a number of routes we’ve covered before. The most apparent to me is the hidden rooms of Eros and Bluebeard—often here, the bedroom of the husband or some other secret room is forbidden. In the case of Eros and Pysche is even specific about the oil lamp that wakes and frightens off Eros. We’ve also discussed Balkan Vampires—ones that in fact do fear light or are kept in secret places and pits. However, there is no shortage of strange and monstrous creatures in the night. And one I would like to go over tonight is a vampire from another part of the world: The Philippines.

The creature in question is the aswang—a vampire like creature that has a long tongue with a sharp tip, which it uses to suck blood or viscera from a victim. There are other sorts of creatures called or compared to the aswang in the Philippines, which we will discuss further on. The vampire, however, has some key and common traits. Vampiric aswang are often foreign husbands or wives, who feed on their partner or use their partner as a home base from which to work their havoc. The vampires that are dead returned to the living live in distant forests by day, and come to feed at night.

Viscera Sucker

The viscera sucker, sometimes called naguneg in Iklo and kasudlan in West Visayan, like wise has a long mosquito like proboscis or long tongue—but this isn’t sharp. At night it’s arms become wings and it abandons its legs to go hunting. It leaves these in a closet, on a bed, or hidden in a banana grove—if they are disturbed or salt is tossed on them, the creature will die. The viscera sucker targets pregnant women and the sick, drinking phlegm or feeding on internal organs using it’s straw like mouth. They may live in a jungle, hanging from the trees or in small huts, but a number live as wives in villages. Unlike the vampire, their fears are clearly documented—spices, light (as our prompt requests), big crabs, sting ray tails, salt, fire, guns, and knives.  I find these last three fears to be well founded in general, frankly. Salt of course is a weakness of the creatures—and marine life reminds them of that dangerous mineral. Lastly, a bamboo stake in the back of such a creature will kill it instantly. One becomes a vsicera sucker by either eating food spat up by another viscera sucker, or by eating a creature that emerges from a dead viscera sucker’s mouth that resembles a black chick.

A comparable creature, with the same fears, is the weredog. This creature resembles a man during the day, but at night becomes a large dog or cat. It sets upon people in their homes and—perhaps a bit tellingly—on youngsters who are too loud. The weredog and the witch however especially fear the sting ray whip—wounds it suffers from the whip appear again when it becomes a man. Villagers suspect wandering salesmen and laborers on government projects are suspected of being weredogs often.

The next creature of the aswang variety is a witch. The witch is a vindictive man or woman—usually woman—who slips cursed items and talismans into people’s orifices to get their revenge. Witches are described as having eyes like a cat or snakes, which reflect images upside down. They therefore avoid eye contact. They are also shy and live on the edges of town, in abandoned houses. They employ insects as agents to spy on victims or plant curses, and some cases argue they also make use of dogs for this purpose.

The last of these creatures is a ghoulish one. These creatures have long nails, fetid breath, and sharp teeth. They can hear the groans of the dying miles away, and eagerly gather at night around trees in cemeteries to feast on the corpses within. If they come across a funeral, ghouls freely make off with the living and the dead. Loud noises and fire frighten off the creatures, however, so proper celebrations keep them at bay. If they manage to get the corpse, they will turn it into a pig and make off with it—and try to feed it to another human being, turning them into a new ghoul.

The aswang first came to my attention from an episode of Grimm. I don’t remember any of the other elements of that episode, but the image of the long tongued creature horrified me. I don’t believe it separated its body as it does in these stories, but the distinctive appearance and feeding habits have made the aswang famous. There is even a resource on Philippines folklore and mythology, the Aswang Project, named for the creature.

A story from nearby Java also caught my attention. Here two men are lead to a cavern, to marry a magical serpent. They went to a spirit gateway, and after burning incense and making offerings, they were told to close there eyes. One obeyed, the other kept his eyes open. The one who closed his eyes waited until told to open them—and found the cavern replaced by a great palace, the dirt road a grand highway. He was invited in and asked to choose a princess to marry. They were married and agreed to meet Monday and Thursday, and she would give him money each time until she ran out. After that, he would return to serve in the palace.

Candi Naga

The friend who kept his eyes open saw none of this—just a cave full of large snakes. He of course didn’t have the heart to tell his fellow about the illusion. Here the revelation isn’t dangerous itself—rather it denies one the benefits and luxury they might have had.

Our story is thus about finding and revealing secrets, although the sort that are perhaps not disclosed in full. The prompt mentions a shadow cast on the wall, which calls to mind an onlooker. Crouched near the opened door frame, looking into this forbidden room. Another has come into the darkness. A light is lit—and their familiar silhouette appears on the wall. Only, moments later, something horrific wakes. Perhaps a winged shape emerges, or perhaps long clawed appendages reach out. And the intruder is gone.

There is a Lovecraftian creature this reminds me of—the Haunter of the Dark. This creature, associated with the artifact the Shining, can go anywhere abroad at night. It cannot emerge during light, and thus modern electrical lights leave it trapped in an abandoned church. Yet when the power grid comes out, it seeks the one who freed it—on black wings, with three eyes, on a whirlwind it arrives. This creature has since been viewed as an embodiment of the great Nyarlathotep, which then possessed the body of the viewer. He and it perished luckily when lighting struck.

Haunter in the Darkn.png

This Lovecraft story is situated between two other stories by Robert Bloch, which feature an invisible vampiric creature that rides on cold winds to devour a man from Providence after being summoned and a Doctor Ambrose Dexter being possessed by the lord of a thousand forms. While working on nuclear weapons, which of course is a horror all its own. The details of this creatures functions can be found examined on Lovecraft Science here.

Our story could be instead arranged around this as a midpoint. The discovery of a strange monster in the darkness of a room—one that, drawing upon the Bluebeard stories and Vampire ones, wants its presence hidden—could serve not as the rising climax but as the discovery that incites action. In the middle of the night, you might see strange shapes coming from the older house or the abandoned churches, down from the hill in between flashes of lighting. I do think Lovecraft’s idea, a blackout in a modern city allowing it free and a thunder storms lighting bolts revealing the creature for mere moments, before it flees and moves away. That’s a strong way to build tension in a very visual way—one that I think can be communicated in writing, albeit in a way that would be more clipped than my normal writing.

Oh the terror.

What creatures of the night do you know and dread? What things fear the light or despise it’s presence? Comment below!

Bibliography

Ramos, Maximo. “The Aswang Syncrasy in Philippine Folklore” Western Folklore, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Oct., 1969), pp. 238-248.

Wessing, Robert. “Spirits of the Earth and Spirits of the Water: Chthonic Forces in the Mountains of West Java” Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 47, No. 1 (1988), pp. 43-61.

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Something Gnawing Inside

This Week’s Prompt: 92. Man’s body dies—but corpse retains life. Stalks about—tries to conceal odour of decay—detained somewhere—hideous climax.

The Prior Research:Bloodsucking Bodies from the Balkans

Ever since the man in uniform brought Leslie Edgarton news from the front lines—maybe ever since Thomas’s name had shown up in the obituaries—she had made a point of going on morning walks. Abigail, her oldest, found it a bit disconcerting. Leslie would go and walk, and at times it didn’t seem clear she knew where she was going. She usually walked in the park, meandering for an hour or so.

Today, however, she lingered a little longer. She found the grass and trees soothing. Cars and sirens rarely came around to the park, especially in the morning on a Monday. She breathed in, trying to let that peace of mind in. It was then that she saw him.

The man was feeding the ducks some bread out of his pocket—he was wearing a long jacket and heavy shades, his hair a buzz cut. Leslie frowned as he approached. He looked a bit pale, unshaven, but—but something about him seemed familiar. He looked just like Thomas—not just like, maybe after losing some weight, maybe after a bad few months. But he couldn’t be—she’d discussed this with Dr. Reddington. They’d been over this. They’d…but he was right there. Smiling as he fed the ducks along the path.

As Leslie got close, the wind carried the smell of alcohol ahead of the man. He didn’t seem to notice her, stopping and leaning to look in the lake. But it was Tom. It was definitely Thomas, right there. She stopped dead ten feet away and stared. Something held her back, something was unsure. Something in her said this was dangerous.

The man got up, turned, saw her—and left with nothing more than a small smile. She wanted to say something, she wanted to ask if it was him, where had he been, why he had taken so long to come back, was it really him. A hundred questions stuck in her throat, as he continued along the road, and behind the hill. Out of sight.

Vampire DAd From Afar.png

Leslie struggled not to tell her children about the man. She had considered calling the police, but…well, he was probably just a homeless man who happened to look like Thomas. There were seven billion people in the world. And Dr. Reddington said her pattern recognition might be on the fritz. It wasn’t anything for a few days, it was a thing that nagged her.

And then, that Monday, she got a call from Jesse’s school. A very worried and hushed call.

Hello, Mrs. Edgarton?” the voice said, quietly.

Speaking—is something wrong?” She said, quietly closing her office door.

I’m afraid there is. There was a small incident with Jesse.” the voice continued.

He’s alright, and everything seems fine but—well, Mrs. Edgarton–”

Don’t tell me he lashed out again?” Leslie said, rubbing her temples.

Not exactly. Mrs. Edgarton, Jesse—well, he says he saw his father.”

Excuse me?” Leslie looked straight ahead.

He saw his own father. Ma’am, if you could come down here, we’re…well, we’re obviously all worried. Some of his friends saw a man near the school fence, and Jesse ran towards him. When the teachers got there, the man was gone.”

And Jesse says…”

It was his father, yes.” The voice said, hesitating a moment. “I know this is hard, Mrs. Edgarton, but you have to understand how worrying this sort of behavior is.”

Right, I’ll be there right away.”

VampireDad1.png

Leslie felt her heart in her throat. It had been hard enough the first time, explaining what had gone wrong, what had gone terribly wrong. She felt like maybe she should have laid the groundwork—maybe if they had known where Tom was, maybe if the understood his job. Lauren took it best. She was older, she knew a bit better. She resented it more, but still. Jesse had…hadn’t understood for a while. It made sense, in a way, that he’d start seeing things too.

Jesse had been insistent that it was his dad—wearing sunglasses and a heavy coat and gardening gloves, but Leslie…Leslie couldn’t get him to believe it was someone else. Worse, he mentioned seeing him around school for a couple of days. She called the cops—she didn’t want to, if it really was just a homeless guy.

They hadn’t found any trace of him, but someone else had seem him near the high school—near Lauren, Leslie thought. The guy had some sort of cloth over his mouth, but school security chased him off.

Jesse said he smelled like alcohol and eggs, and that he’d been waiting near the playground for a while. Which—the playground butted against an old orchard. It wasn’t unbelievable he’d gotten back there. It was just…she couldn’t understand why Jesse had gotten close. They went over stranger danger a hundred times, but of course…of course…

He wasn’t a stranger! It was dad!” Jesse said. Leslie held back tears.

It was for the best they stayed home anyway. Jesse had been lethargic since—stress no doubt, plus spring allergies were coming in. He stayed in bed a lot, watching TV. It probably wasn’t healthy, but Leslie didn’t know what else to do.

A week after Jesse saw him, Leslie went a walk again. She made sure Lauren was safe and at school. She even managed to get Jesse to go on the walk with her—she hoped fresh air would help with whatever was going wrong. Fresh air was a cure for everything—and it would stop Jesse from developing cabin fever at least.

There was a lake in the park that they walked to. There were ducks they could feed, but Jesse just liked watching them and walking along the shore. Sometimes things drifted—usually just broken reeds and grass, but sometimes toy boats or bottles. Pencils, pens, lost letters. Not often, but five years walking in the park as a family, looking, you found the strange litter.

Leslie breathed easy for a moment, as the birds sang and flew. Spring was on it’s way—warmth was coming back. Even as the rains and thunder rolled, live was finding away. She watched as Jesse looked through the reeds for a treasure.

Mom! Mom, you’ve got to see this!” Jesse shouted from the shore. Leslie blinked awake and walked over, smiling—and then she saw what Jesse was holding.

VampireDad No Hat

It was small, as he held up in the sun. It shone in her eyes, a small coin with red and blue on the back. Thomas had shown it off, before his last deployment, it was one he’d won in France. Leslie felt her hairs stick on end as Jesse got closer. She looked up, and saw—across the lake, walking measuredly—a man in a long coat and gloves. He had a beanie on, his mouth was covered by a full bandan, and he had sunglasses on. Still. He was the same height, the same shape.

Jesse we’re leaving.” Leslie said, standing up, staring as he walked—his legs seemed to bend to far, bending and shaking at the joints. She could—the pants where bending, like his legs were breaking.

Mom–” Jesse started.

No, now.” She said, grabbing the hand and coin. They walked fast—not too fast, not running, walking quickly and certainly—toward the car. Jesse complained, but Leslie kept going. When they drove off—she saw him. Standing there in the parking lot. Was he looking at her—he stood and stopped at the end of the path. Slowly…he stepped off onto the asphalt as they drove away.

Leslie didn’t explain much to Jesse when she got home. Just to pack his things. Leslie had noticed he was lethargic again, slumping a bit, yawning, complaining about aches or grumbling and groaning. Contact with the coin wasn’t healthy—or maybe it was just seeing that…that thing. That man.

She had already called her sister—they were across town, but she couldn’t stay in the house tonight. If it was Tom…if it was Tom–which she had to now consider, she had to whether she wanted or not—he’d try and come home next. He knew they’d be home, and she couldn’t risk it. Her sister had moved recently—Tom wouldn’t know where she was.

No Mask Vampire Dad.png

Doris understood, mostly, and the kids treated it like a sleep over. They put on Toy Story to settle in a bit better—it was Jesse’s favorite. Lauren could tolerate it—she’d pick the next movie, that Jesse would probably sleep through. He was barely awake as it was.

Leslie tried to ask about if she’d been followed by anyone, if she’d seen anyone. Anything at all. Lauren wouldn’t answer—but Leslie saw the old luck charm Tom had. She sighed. After tonight, they could talk. They would talk, after a night over.

They were almost done—at the scene with the weird baby spider that somehow didn’t give Jesse nightmares—when Leslie’s phone rang. She glanced down and her blood ran cold.

Mrs. Edgarton? This is Office Randal. We received a call about a break in at your house, and wanted to make sure you were out of the building.” The voice on the other side buzzed.

Yes,I’m at my sister’s at the moment. Should—should I stay here longer?”

There was a pause.

Ma’am, I don’t think that will be necessary. We…we believe we have apprehended the suspect. I would recommend coming home tomorrow afternoon, the clean up will take some time.”

Leslie was quiet for a moment.

Can I see him?”

Ma’am, I’m not sure that’s–”

Just for a second, if it’s safe.”

There was chatter on the other side, talking and sighing and what she imagined was shrugging.

Ma’am, I can’t stop you but I strongly suggest against it.”

She parked the car on the sidewalk nearby, leaving the driveway open. Stepping out, she saw the smashed window. There was a red stain on the door, blood and cloth on the broken window. There was alcohol and blood and rot rising from the window—the officers nearby saw her and beckoned her closer.

On the other side of the smahsed window, splayed on the couch, was Tom. Or what was left of Tom. His shir twas stained, and looked ten sizes too big. A rib poked through. His coat had nearly slumped off. One of his gloves was gone—fallen on the floor a few feet away. Outstretched was a withered limb, bones poking through in a few places. And then there was his face.

FinalVampireDad

His shades had fallen off, revealing empty holes for eyes.The beanie had sunken down, pushing down bits of hair and skin. His nose was gone, and his bandanna had fallen away. His mouth—the lips were pulled back, making his yellowed teeth look long and sharp. His tongue dropped out and was blackened with decay. Leslie couldn’t help but stare as Tom’s body buzzed with flies, rattling one more time before collapsing.



For this story, I knew I wanted to do something with the idea of loss coming back home. I don’t think I handled the analogy entirely well or to my satisfaction–this week was busier then expected. Still, I think this is as good as some of the earlier “horror laced into reality” stories I managed.

Next week, we talk about villages and towns lost to memory! Come and see!

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Bloodsucking Bodies from the Balkans

This Week’s Prompt: 92. Man’s body dies—but corpse retains life. Stalks about—tries to conceal odour of decay—detained somewhere—hideous climax.

The Resulting Story: Something Gnawing Inside

We have discussed the restoration of corpses before, but for this one I would like to examine in detail a particular case—one that we discussed towards the beginning of our work here at the Undead Author Society. To limit our discussions, I will focus on living corpses of the vampiric kind, from Slavic and Balkan areas. In particular, this calls to my mind the story of a man and his vampiric brother, both in the attempts to hide the bodies nature and its attempts apparently to maintain its life.

The story goes that a woman died, leaving her husband and son behind. The husband remarried, but the woman was—as often is the case in these stories—a wicked woman who loathed the son. She demanded he be driven out and out of love for his wife, the father agreed. So the son went out into the world with twelve dinars.

As he entered a new town, he found a body, that people cursed and spat on. When he asked why, he learned the man died with many debts. A compassionate soul, he spent his little money paying the debts and arranging a proper burial. Leaving town, he passed the cemetery where the man was buried. The man, now a vampire, approached him in disguise, and offers to help him along his travels.

At the next town, they learn of two tragedies! One, the Turkish pasha’s daughter has passed. Two, every guard who holds wake over her body is found dead the next day. The vampire-brother gives the young man a holy scripture and tells him to focus on it every night, or he will die. On the third night, he reveals what you dear reader already suspect—the woman was a vampire! He tells the young man to lie in her coffin when she rises—and when she returns and cannot move him, the curse is broken and she is freed. The pasha, delighted, gives the young man his daughter’s hand in marriage(the other daughter, presumably).

Vampire Woman

Then the young man heads home, without his vampire assistant or wife. Along the way, he stops at a coffeehouse and is convinced by the two men there to begin playing cards. He loses everything rapidly, and is forced to become a cowherd. However, the vampire and wife head out to find him—and the vampire sees and understands all their tricks. He wins everything back from his fellow vampires, and restores the young man.

Returning home, the vampire asks to divide everything he’s earned between them. This is done easily, as most things are split with a saber. But when the matter of the young man’s wife comes up, it becomes a bit more difficult. For the young man. The vampire splits her in two anyway, and kills the serpent that emerges. Given his dialogue, listing the good deeds, it seems probably that the wife was restored before the vampire returned to the land of the dead on his fortieth day.

A similar story comes from Ukraine—here a rich man gives a poor man a loan on the advice of an icon of St. Michael. The rich man’s herds and land are blessed, but he is unhappy until he recieves the loan back. When he learns the poor man has died in debt, he gouges out the icon of St. Michael’s eyes and beats it—until it is bought by a young man passing by. The young man in time travels with his rich uncle merchants, and comes to a czardom where the princess has fallen ill. No manner of healing can help her, and every man sent to pray over her in the church is devoured down to his bones.

The Icon of St. Michael however advises the simple young man, telling him to lay pears in baskets around himself to keep the vampire princess at bay. When she attacked, he tossed the pears on the floor—and had enough baskets to keep her at bay until the cock crowed. Each time he threw the pears she pursued, until in the end it was her doom. This happens the next night as well, but with nuts. On the third night, like his companion in the Balkans, the young man enters into the coffin—although he is covered in holy water and incense. This time, however, he does leave after she promises to be her consort.

VampireWoman2.png

The two are found the next morning praying, and the princess is baptized again to drive out the unclean vampire holding her body. In this case, we have an incident of a woman possessed—and in a coffin—but not dead yet. But the stories are otherwise so close that one can’t help but wonder about them.

The most common of these dead rises in the forty day period between death and arrival at the afterlife. In this case, the creature somewhat fails our materialist prompt which specifies only the body remains. The body and soul are seized by the power of the devil, and compelled to stay together—in some sources this is explicitly a lower or more base soul. The animated body then pursues its own kin, either as an animal or as a human, drinking their blood. Such a creature has a loathsome fate, for the rituals that remove the devils own power over the soul/body and annihilate it entirely. Such a terrible fate befalls only a select few: Those who die a violent death suddenly; those who’s burial rites are preformed improperly; those who die due to curses by parents or themselves; those who die unbaptized; stillborn children born on Christian holy days; those who participate in sorcery; those who eat the flesh of a sheep that was killed by a goat; those excommunicated; and those who’s body is, during burial, past over by a cat. Unlike the uncorrupt dead—sometimes called vrykolakoi, a term elsewhere reserved for vampires properthese creatures are extremely predatory. The lack of decay in a corpse is thus sometimes a mixed blessing—generally one has to look at the health around such a body. If people begin to suffer and grow exhausted, its a vampire. If nothing happens, a revenant. If oils are produced, perhaps the dead has become a holy saint.

Killing A Vampire

This physical tie, between corpse and soul, relates partly to the description and understanding of Death in some rural parts of Greece. Here, the angel of death descends and slits the throat of the deceased—taking their soul to judgment. The blood is splattered on the family and their clothes—which must be set aside and not worn for several days after. The body achieves its final point of judgment upon fully decaying. However, before that time, the devil can seize the body. And just as the flow of blood out released the soul, the return of blood forces it back into the body. Drawing it into an intolerable state. Removing this creature requires pouring boiling oil into its grave and reading an exorcism over it. Others suggest the more famous staking or even hamstringing the creature in it’s grave to prevent its return.

A story out of Montegro reports that a pair of lovers were seperated against their will—the woman forced to marry her foreign betrothed. The man died of despair and returned as a vampire nightly. While most vampires are corpse like, this couple had a child that was identical to the deceased man—and his distance meant resolving the manner was nearly impossible.

Another story tells of a group of four siblings—three brothers and a sister. The story goes that the four siblings set out into the world, as their parents could no longer support them. After nine years apart, they came home. On their way home, the three brothers spend their earnings from nine years ransoming animals from torturers. The sister, however, comes across a curious trade: A hedgehog buying iron teeth from a mouse. She buys herself a set, and after testing it on an oak tree, buys a whetstone from another mouse. With sharpened teeth, she finally arrives home.

Once home, the siblings celebrate—the brothers, with their animals, assume their sister has simply made a small fortune. The celebrations are cut short however, as their father dies just a bit later. The brothers decide to invest in the land, setting three horses to work with a plow. However, the first day they set to work, they find one of the horses almost entirely devoured. After nights of watching, the elder sees a pale creature coming at night to feed—and determines its his sister! Not long after, proof comes when the youngest brother stays behind without the sister’s knowledge. Spying, he sees her devour their mother, all the way up to her head. She sets out in pursuit of the other brothers, not finding the youngest.

A strange omen follows her chase—a kettle of boiling water became blood, and as she grew closer and closer to the brothers, the bubbles rose faster and faster. As she gave chase, however, she was purused by the youngest’s dog, and chased against a tree. The brothers, seeing her coming after them, did not stop the dog from tearing her to shreds.

Weird Vampire

A more esoteric form of Vampire, from the Slavic regions, is not the body of a dead man but rather his shadow. This version was attributed to Muslims in the region, as well as Romani, and also was supposedly able to breath fire from its mouth. Other vampires of the region rise from the dead as strange things of water or jello, that scatter when bitten by a wolf or banished by a magician.

Serbian vampires sometimes hold weddings in mills—they find wandering and lonely travelers and give them a bottle made of a horses head. This brandy, of course, makes the victim instantly sick—especially if they are struck with it. Such behavior is more innocuous then other vampires, that appear like roaring winds and mists on the ground. Serbian vampires are also longer lived, lasting sometimes for three months, instead of the Greek forty days.

In both Balkan and some Slavic areas, vampires cause a variety of nuisances—they break tiles, lurk in attics, tire out horses, and so forth. While in some regions they are absolutely predatory, the more common fear is their attacks on small domestic animals such as sheep. These vampires of all types strangle and murder with glee.

Of all of these, vampires play a number of predatory roles. The number of women that emerge as vampires—particularly daughters in either far away places or returning from their travels—is interesting. The fact that vampires are, in a way, both foreign and familiar in these stories perhaps links to their liminal nature as dead and living things. The corpse here is a similar sort, given it’s detention. While perhaps Lovecraft meant something more like a revenant, those corpses are less troublesome and not nearly as retained. We’ll see what our body gets up to, after the angel of death visits and makes its lethal cut.

Bibliography

Du Boulay, Juliet. “A Study of Cyclic Symbolism in Marriage and Death”, Man, New Series, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Jun., 1982), pp. 219-238, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland

Durham, M. Edith. “121. Of Magic, Witches and Vampires in the Balkans”.Man, Vol. 23 (Dec., 1923), pp. 189-192.Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland

Marshall, Bonnie C. Tales from the Heart of the Balkans. Libraries Unlimited Inc, Englewood Colorado, 2001.

Perkowsky, Jan. Vampires of the Slavs Slavica Publishing Inc. 1976

 

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Mirror Mirror On The Wall

This Week’s Prompt:42. Fear of mirrors—memory of dream in which scene is altered and climax is hideous surprise at seeing oneself in the water or a mirror. (Identity?)

The Resulting Story: Catoptrophobia

Mirrors roll in identiy and illusions is one with a long traditon, as many tropes are. There is the understanding that a mirror, fundamentally, provides an accurate but false image. It reflects, but because it is imperfect it distorts. Thus we have the term smoke and mirrors, and the quotation from the bible on troubled perception:

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13. 12, NIV)

The Mirror’s reflection is not the thing itself, any more than the moon is the sun. But, as this prompt also points to, a mirror can be revelatory. You cannot see yourself but in a mirror. And so, self reflection requires this mild obsfucation. Shaksepeare’s…oddly topical play Julius Caesear provides an excellent view of this:

“Therefore, good Brutus, be prepared to hear.

And since you know you cannot see yourself

So well as by reflection, I, your glass,

Will modestly discover to yourself

That of yourself which you yet know not of.”

(Cassius, Act 1, Scene 2, 68-72)

Mirrors roll in idenity and illusion are alluded to in folkloric sources. The Romans attribution of life renewing every seven years is where the destruction of mirrors leading to seven years bad luck originates. Mirrors are often attributed as means of detection among the living from vampiric predators, as vampires leave no reflection. This, like the Roman tradtion, stems from a notion of identity. Vampires, being souless, have nothing to reflect. In a strange way, vampires have no ‘self’ as commonly understood.

Mirrors, because of their connection to the soul and self, were feared as possible traps for ghosts or means of contacting the world of the dead. After all, if the soul was there once, perhaps it is there still. Some Jewish traditions prescribe covering a mirror on the death of a relation, in case the dead was trapped there.

Mirrors self-knowing, however, was sometimes dangerous to the living. Mirrors are often a symbol of vanity, as they only show one themselves, rather than the world around them. It is easy to critize someone who is constantly looking in the mirror, after all. The ancient Greek tale of Narcissius, Narcissism’s root, tells of a man who was so pleased with his reflection he wasted away staring at it, lost in love. Or he drowned, trying to embrace his beloved image. Neither is a pleasant end.

Sometimes, however, the emphasis is on knowledge more than self. Obsidian mirrors were common tools for Mesoamerican shamans, and the Smoking Mirror was a powerful royal god to the Aztecs. Mirrors role as oracluarly devices in this case was linked to the dead of Xibalba, who were believed to possess knowledge of the future and past that was beyond the sight of mortal kin.

So with this all in mind, what are we to do with this story? Mr. Lovecraft has a fondness for bloodlines and lost histories that we’ve noted before. But more pressing here is the transformation of humans into something…else. Shadow Over Innsmouth and Pickman’s Model both do such transformation quite well, and emphasis perhaps the horror at play here.

For, to indulge in pyschoanalysis for a time, few people actually know themselves. And I sometimes wonder how much of our internal thoughts and forces are what we would socially call human. How many monsters do we make from our own vast inner landscapes? But I digress slightly.

A dream revelation of self is certainly fitting, and there is an uncomfortable horror in changing without intending it. There are the normal anxieties in that process that occur through out life. There is puberty, there’s growing old, there’s death. These are all things that change us, that we cannot control.

The Metamorphisis by Franz Kafka touches on some of this horror fairly well. I won’t spoil the classic of horror, but merely link it here.

Working this into a story is still difficult, however. We have a climax, a tomato in the mirror moment that will define the rest of the story. A mystery then seems in order, but the resolution is…well, it’s kinda given away by the prompt isn’t it? If we do a mystery, it is absolutely imperative therefore that the murderer not be the dreamer. I say murderer, because murder is the most common crime in mystery novels.

So if we are telling a mystery story, I think Shadow Over Innsmouth’s mystery was better. The climax there is very similair (though not enough for me to call it entirely from this prompt), and points towards a resolution that is horrifying but not…spoilerific? I won’t divulge the entire plot, but the ending is more adjacent to the more common form of horror in the story.

A possible break from Lovecraft is to remove the normally familial or hereditary component of the transfromation. Rather, make it seomthing like the origin of many demons of the Journey to the West. In Journey to the West, most demons come about from normal creatures overhearing the reading of holy (and thus powerful) scripture, growing powerful in their own right. Our monster-revel might be something similair. Something has imbued the main character and at least on other, maybe dozens, with massive amounts of power/awareness. We’ve seen what Lovecraft thinks of those things, and that horror might feel more original. It’s not in your blood, it in your experience.

I can’t say exactly what form said transformation will take. Nor how it will begin. But seeing something over take everyone you know and love or cherish, and then looking in the mirror to see it changing you certainly is the beating black heart of what we are looking for.

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Down Below

This Week’s Prompt: 29. Dream of Seekonk—ebbing tide—bolt from sky—exodus from Providence—fall of Congregational dome.

The Research: Rhode Island and More!

There were less of us when I woke up. The lower part of the ship had a great gash in it when I woke up. At the end of the ship, leering out of the waters, was a misshapen man with spindly arms and legs attached to a corpulent bag of flesh. There was a white man’s captain cap atop his ball of blue flesh head. His teeth were stained with red blood and strains of gore. The midsection of a man was in his hands, like some bloated brown fruit.

I rose to run slowly, feeling the iron around my feet pulling me down ever so slightly. Following the chain with my eyes, I saw it’s end in a broken off leg near the monster’s maw. The beast, were it aware of my wakefulness, could with a twist pull me down into the oceanic depths. Slowly, I retreat. Step by step I withdraw upward. The pale demon tilts its head at the scratching of the iron on the wooden floors.

Breath flows easily as the creature resumes it’s putrid feasting. I test the links of the chain as the steps are at last in view. They are, sadly, firmly in place. I search about for something, anything to break it with. And there, against the supports, is a solution. A well worn blasting spear the men had carried, to be safe from pirates. Attached to it’s end is a long dagger that, with effort, could pry me free. With a bit of work, I figured I’d pry myself free. I flung my self down toward the support, grabbing the butt of the spear.

The cutting causes sparks and scratches. I move slow then swift as the bone crunching below overwhelms around me. Escape drives me more certainly then shock can hold me. It takes some sawing, long enough for the energy to start slowing. At last I cut through, and slip free from the first set of fetters. The clack of the chain on the floor gives me away, and the beastial thing turns to me.

It roars and I run, wet sloshing steps behind me. I run up to the deck, turning to see blue arms stretching out from below, spider fingers clawing about about for a lost fly. I stumble backward, overboard, onto a sandy shore. Chunks of blue rock shine in the sunlight. In the distance, the green starts to form on hills. The old island, from what I can see, is several hundred feet away. As I stair, there’s a sudden flash. Lighting on a clear day, dashing down from nowhere and scattering trees on the island. What could it be?

The alternative is back into the sea, where ghosts and serpents dwell. And around me feet fetters of steel still remain. So I march ahead, hoping beyond hope to find some release or at least relief on the strange island. I made out a great dome over the shore. I’d head there first, see if in the house of the gods some release could be felt. The island is like a dark green hill rising out of the desert, with a glimmering dome shining as a lighthouse for lost travelers.

I nearly collapsed after scaling the limestone walls along the shore. The trees a few feet away were dark, thickly rooted things with pale green leaves. I slouched against one to rest, the sun high in the sky as I took in deep breathes. I stare wistfully over the valley and the ebbing tide. From here, it seems almost still. Every now and again some movement disturbs the sand or sea, but it is only a flicker or ripple on a lake. My eyes grew heavy, and bit by bit I began to fall away.

When I awoke, the sky was red. The sun had finished it’s journey west, it seemed. I was dizzy as I tried to stand, pulling myself up by the branches. The stars would come soon, and I would rather not learn the ways of the wood by night. No, no, I’d make my way through now as best I could. There was a foul smell in the air, a feeling of doom rising from the earth. The wind was more like waves of water pushing at a swimmer than the cool gentle breeze I had hoped for.

The city was dimmly visible through the trees, so I again made my way towards human civilization. At least, I wanted to believe it was human. The things on the ship and shore seemed certainly strong. Perhaps some had returned, or made their way up the shore in search of prey. But that sort of thinking is what damns a man to a lonely and forgotten death.

As I mulled it over, I saw something run in the woods. Short and pale, it flickered between the trees. Then again it came, another thing rushing, scampering and small between trees in the shadows of the setting sun. Pale and white as the moon, it goes again and again. I hold still for a moment, curious and afraid. Slowly, I grab a large fallen branch by the roots of an aged tree.

“Hello?” I ask carefully, waiting with bated breathe for the invariable out cry. There is a noise, a crack of branches above me. I raise my eyes to the heavens, and a small girl looks down, dressed in all white. She is as pale as flour, and smiles showing a pair of viscous fangs. Drips of red blood drop down. Another child falls onto the branch next to here. He is dressed in the black of white men on sunday. His face is dour and grim, but red lines flow from the edges of his pale lips.

They dropped down, screeching like struck cats. I whacked the girl as hard as I could, before the boy pounced on me. He tried to bite down on my arm, but I managed to pry him off before he got anywhere. I toppled over as the girl gripped my legs, having recovered from the blow. I began to crawl back, kicking as best I could with my iron fetters. There was a crunch and the strange girl went back a bit. As the two recovered, I took my moment and started again toward the city in the dark. The sun was gone now, the stars and moon shining down.

I heard the children howling as I ran. More figures moved in the forest, pushing me onwards. But as the city roads came into view, by some Providence, they began to slow. In fact, after passing a few houses, they stopped entirely. In Providence, there was not a sign of the strange pale men and their bloody maws. At first I thought the city was abandoned, that some strange plague had swept through or some terrible rain or drought had driven out all the inhabitants. But I found them.

I found them gathered in a crowd before the church. They were a pitiful lot. Their clothes were not only ragged, but clearly had once by greater and more beautiful. Red jackets stained with mud and wear, broken banners of doubled crosses. At their front was a man dressed in black with a tall hat, holding a dimly lit torch.

He was saying something, waving his arms in wide gestures. The crowd seemed eager when he pointed east and shook his fist. I did not understand a word of it. But his face grew red, and he grew louder and louder. The man in black began to bellow, now turning his attentions to the heaven. It lasted for but a moment. And then his rage vanished and became pleeding. He collapsed to his knees, a supplicant to some unseen king, and spoke softly. I began to back away, fearing the crowd lead by a man who threatens and begs with the same breath.

As I considered where I might hide, amonst the woods or houses, there was a crack like thunder. I turned towards the source, the great shining dome of moonlight above the towns temple. The crowd stared silently as it began to buckle and break. Smoke black as basalt began to billow out, green light shining within the church. A fire must have begun within, but the noises that came rushing forth were not of crackling woods or breaking bones. No, a shrieking rage came roaring from the dome. Innumerable hands came forth, with axes and spears and guns. Out came a ghastly host, born on raven wings, with a hundred arms and a hundred faces, with women and men in equal number. The apparition towered over the crowd, it’s eyes glowing red through the miasma around it.

I knew then this was what kept the sea and forest at bay. This great unclean thing, with jaws and limbs to rend earth and sky. As it descended down onto the crowd, there was a sudden silence. All was undone in that moment. I hid on that island for years, untouched by that strange thing. The sea eventually returned, the strange woodland people went back to the earth. But the dome remained broken, and the ground before the temple was forever stained red.

This particular corpse was bloated to the point of nearly consuming another post! Still, I wanted to maintain some brevity. What did you find in Seekonk?
Next week, a new prompt:

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

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Rhode Island and More!

This Week’s Prompt: 29. Dream of Seekonk—ebbing tide—bolt from sky—exodus from Providence—fall of Congregational dome.

The Resulting Story:Down Below

This prompt brings us to another of Mr. Lovecraft’s loves: Rhode Island. In particular Providence, the city where Mr. Lovecraft is interred. Rhode Island was a place of particular fondness to Mr. Lovecraft, a native of the region as he was.

KingPhillipsWar.png
That said, let us proceed. Seekonk is a town in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It’s history, from what I can understand as a non-expert in the region, is marked mainly by conflict between settlers and the Wampanoag, a group of Massachusetts natives. Notably there is the instance of King Phillips War, a conflict that ended the way most conflicts between European powers and indigenous populations goes. King Phillip (real name Metacomet) had the privilege of having his head removed and stuck on a pike outside an English settlement. Grizzly.

Hanton City.png
Seekonk is also near another interesting location: Hanton City. Hanton is an abandoned town, founded during the revolutionary era by…someone. It is still uncertain who, with theories ranging from runaway slaves to loyalists in the war. Now, with the term “exodus”, I am inclined to think of slaves. I bring Hanton up not only as an oddity, but as a place as abandoned as Providence appears to be

CongDome.png.
Pinning down the Congregational Dome has been tricky, as two different churches have congregational domes. However, where I to pick one, I think I would stick with the 1700s possibility. That would mean the Central Congregational Church, pictured below.
That all being said, what is happening in our story? Well, the language of the prompt clearly points to something divine in nature. The term exodus is loaded in Western works, conjuring immediately the book of Torah. There is, also, the fact that Providence is the site of our story. Yes, it is the capital of Rhode Island, but the name brings divine insight to mind. The Congregational dome is a holy object, and it’s fall is…ominous in the most literal sense of the term.
That brings us to the two omens: the ebbing tide and the bolt from the sky. What these means, I cannot say precisely except that they are common symbols. If I was to give them anything in particular, I would have the ebbing tide reveal some sea stones best abandoned, or some wrecks best lost. The sort of thing that haunts a lot of the North East in Mr. Lovecraft’s work.

I was able to only find one good source on Rhode Island folklore, and that from the 1950s. Still, it has a few elements that may be useful. Rhode Island has an apparent history of witches with cases ranging from a child named Sarah during the revolutionary war to an unnamed woman in 1892. Witch stories abound, particular in North Kingstown. Silver buttons were said to disrupt such spells. But a witch is not divine enough to call an exodus, nor do they lead to the sea.

220tonshi

A contemporary of the Palatine

The Sea Tales are just as extraordinary, however. The Palantine, a German vessel, has been seen off the coast for over a hundred years shining out from the night. Ghosts from the old harbor call out at night for help, but ghosts are wont to do that. At least one captain, cursing the world as he drowned, became an ogre down below, and assailed ships from beyond the grave.
Of all these folk tales, vampiric and ogrish elements seem the best. Perhaps a number of ghosts, trapped as wrecks, begin to emerge as the ocean ebbs back. Perhaps dark creatures come forth. But why? And what is our story in all this?
It seems clear that the travel and exodus is itself the story. We would do well then, to begin in Providence. Some warning will come, as always precedes divine wrath. In all likelihood a mad prophet will come, not be believed, and then become leader as the omens grow. I suspect there will be no survivors of this incident. Given the wreckage at Hanton, I would think they escaped a slave ship. Perhaps, actually, the ship has run aground with the ebbing tide.

Surviving the walk to the ‘island’ proper then becomes key to the story. Beasts and ocean creatures must be contended with along the new beach, and then there are the panicky colonists on the island that must be avoided or reasoned with. I think this certainly has promise, with the danger of a new land and the growing threat of holy retribution. The Congregational Dome, I think, ought to fall last. As a climax, with some horror revealed beneath it or flying out of it. What is lurking in there, I don’t know?

I found all of my Rhode Island folklore here, from this lovely blog. If you know more horror stories of Rhode Island and providence, please share them! Maybe you’ll find a strange corpse in the deep!

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A Letter to His Most Sacred and Imperial Majesty

Crete Cliffs

This Week’s Prompt: The shores of Attica respond in song to the waves of the Aegean.

The Resulting Story:Greece, But Not As You Know It!

To His Sacred and Imperial Majesty, Commander of the Faithful,

I have returned from your sacred majesty’s mission, and wish to make account of what I have seen in those lands that are farthest west in your domain. The Attic peasentry remain resentful of your righteous rule, but your loyal servants keep the peace. The taxes are collected in a timely manner, the people are protected, and the grain is bountiful. There is, however, a peculiarity to this goodly report. I write this to inform your imperial majesty, and for no other purpose.

The mothers ina village along the Attic coast, some distance from Athens, have had only young girls. Not a single healthy male for your service has been born. When I inquired to the your local servants about this oddity, they insisted that it was a strange miracle or simply misfortune that the village had borne only women, and that men have been found outside the village. Not one boy for the Janissary, they said, but not one for the fields either. Unsatisfied, I made to survey the village myself.

The village priest was welcoming, speaking well of your reign and of your just laws. When I inquired to the strange pattern of births, he showed me a detailed account of the baptisms, from the time of Caesar Justinian. Several boys were listed, but disaster had struck, funerals occurring when the boys were just at the cusp of manhood. Broken legs, ribs, and illness were time and time again listed as the cause. I asked where this plague of miseries came from and the priest was at a loss. Simply misfortune he said.

I stayed the night in this quiet town, boarding with a woman who was alone at the time. Her husband, she explained, was in town showing his itqa records to your loyal servants, to ensure that they both did their proper duty. While serving dinner, she inquired at my reason for coming so far from my homeland. I explained that the peculiarities of this village had attracted the attention of your majesty’s loyal servants and ministers. In passing, I asked if she had any knowledge as to why not one son native to this village yet lived. At this she was silent.

I asked her if there was something she could say, but she held her hand aloft and told me to be silent for a moment. There was a song in the distance, its pitch sinking slowly, a choir invisible. She said that her mother told her it was the song of their souls, going onward to heaven. Perhaps, he said, I could find them there. I asked for a lantern and a coat, and the woman warned that the stones are slippery near the shore. I thanked her and left for the caves.

The sea wind was cold, but the brilliance of the moon made the night into day. As I made my way along the grass, a good distance from the shore, the distant tone continued to sink. The once wavering and high pitch settled deeper and deeper. As I at last arrived at the cliffs, the noise was like a man striving to hold a great weight over head, as it slowly pushed him to his knees.

The caves were low set, domes carved by the Creator’s own hand, and now half full with water. Bits of wood and mangled rope floated on the surface. How many ships had been smashed into these great cliffs? How many since the time of the Prophet, peace upon him?

As the din grew deeper, a roaring as strong as the sea, I saw something else floating in the caves. A pair of long fingers gripped the stone, floating in the water. And lowering my lantern to see what poor soul was victim of the waves, I saw arms with veins barely held in their skin. A great bloated form pulled itself out of the water, slowly. Its limbs shook as its long claw like fingers gripped the stone. I was transfixed, as the creature rolled to face me, its eyes catching the moon light. Its maw opened and revealed that, despite it’s human form, its teeth were like a great dogs. And bones, such small bones floated out of its jaw. I felt great hands upon my very mind. I am unashamed to say I fled, hearing the moaning of the caverns.

I send this story simply to inform and advise. Whatever the creature is, it must be destroyed. It is anathema to your just rule and a danger to your subjects. As for what is to be done, about this village that tolerated such a beast, and what horrid rites they may have practiced, I leave that to the wisdom of the Commander of the Faithful.

Your Humble Servant.

Well, that scrap of flesh had a lot to say. What did you find in the waves?

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Greece, But Not As You Know It!

This Weeks Prompt: 3. The shores of Attica respond in song to the waves of the Aegean.

The Resulting Story: A Letter to His Most Sacred and Imperial Majesty
Alright, so proper nouns: Attica is part of Greece, namely the region around Athens. The Aegean is the sea next to Greece, separating it from Anatolia. So, we’re back in the same region as we were for Demophon.
map-of-attica-1
Except, this time, we’ll examine another portion of Greek history: The Ottoman Era. Specifically, the time between the Ottoman conquest of 1500 to the Greek War of Independence of 1821. This is a rather long era, but some broad commonalities existed through out.

Firstly, the Ottoman empire’s most infamous policy, child taxation. The Ottoman Empire was partly run by a group of bureaucrats called the Janissary, Christian children raised by the state and forbidden to have families. The Janissary were acquired using the Child Tax, which require 1 in every 5 children that were male and able-bodied to serve.

The tax collectors, who often collected said children along with normal taxation, were often in the upper strata of society (This isn’t as weird as you might suspect. If your not a land owner, tax collector is usually a decent job. The government often doesn’t notice if you’ve swiped some.). Greek’s, as most people, did not like the tax man. Or the Ottomans, for that matter. Greek monasteries played a key role here as well, as Orthodox Christendom was key to Medieval Greek identity. And while the Ottomans never forced conversion, they did demand the typical additional tax from non-Muslims.
In this climate, came one of the most fascinating creatures I’ve ever read about. Greek folklore at the time conjured forth the vrykolaka, a fascinating variant on the Slavic vampire. The vrykolaka has numerous attributes in common (powered by Satanic and nefarious forces, hungry, infectious, from a dead body), but some truly interesting original twists (body like a drum, limited vocabulary at times, crushing victims in their sleep). I would speculate that the origin of such a creature has a common cause in both Slavic and Greek fears: Conversion.

In modern times, the vampire is a frightful specter, but we seem to have forgotten that originally, the vampire was a lieutenant of hell. The bite did more than force you to walk the earth post-mortem. It was damnation and hell-fire. It was a forced violation of the soul by an embodiment of sacrilege. Now, the Ottoman Empire had many benefits, but it is hard not to imagine such a fear growing in Christians that were occupied at the time.

But back to the story. How to make Attica sing? Well, a rather peculair trick occurs to me: Caves. Caves, if of the right composition, can produce sound with enough air. There’s an interesting set in Iceland that produce rather strange noises in this manner.

And as for the waves of the Aegean…well, what would happen to the tone as the water rose? Deeper and deeper it would go. And things from the depths of the cave would rise to the surface.

I wonder, what corpse I can make inquiry of next week.

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