Marshlights

This Week’s Prompt: 114. Death lights dancing over a salt marsh.

The Prior Research:Death Lights on the Marshland

My mother told me this story, which her grandmother told her. The fens on the other side of the wood, down the hills from us, have never been lived in. Everyone asks, when they get old enough to ask questions but still young enough to expect answers, why we avoid the fens. Surely, going through the old marsh would be faster than around. Especially in the Summer, when it was dried out.

They would tell us then of George, Geffoery and Gerald—three hunters that were out in the woods near the fens. They were well off men, the kind who could afford to spend their summer chasing a stag through the woods. It was a lucky day, despite the fog. Gerald had consulted an almanac for the weather before, and George had asked a local woman how the winds would be. So they set out into the fogged wood, with their hounds and their guns, looking for a stag or dear or bunny.

Yet they found nothing as they searched—not even a sparrow was in the woods for the day. The dogs were confused, barking and chasing shadows. Still, the three persisted in the woods, and out onto the empty fen. And it was there, among the grasses, that the dogs started barking—and soon gave chase into the high grasses and bleakness.

The three hunters turned to run another, and raced after their hounds. They had not seen such eager dogs on the dry fens.  There was little that lived there, except rabbits and birds. But they followed the dogs, chasing and shouting after them encouragingly until at last they saw a deer running ahead, their hounds darting behind it. The creature’s horns were the most beautiful ivory white, like someone took down the moon and put it around its head like a halo.

The white-eared deer ran in circles round the fen, round and round. Round and round. But they could not catch the starling beauty, and night was fast upon them.  So the three paused, alone on the fen that night, and turned to one another.

“I will go home—the stag is fine, but we have lost her.” George said, lighting his lantern.

“No, no I can hear the dogs barking—we are not far yet from the stag. And think of those horns!” Gerald said, shaking his head and lighting his. “I will chase it, if I have help. The fen is not so big that we could get lost.”

“Ah, I will help then.” Geoff said, taking up his lantern. “We can follow the strange thing across the fogs and mists until morning—then we must retire. I cannot spend two days hunting one deer, no matter how wondrous.”

And so, they parted ways, on the misty marshland—two chasing the strange deer, one wiser and heading home. But it mattered little—for through out the night, the mist grew in every way. The sky grew heavy with clouds as Gerald looked for a way home. The rain began to rumble as George and Geoffery found their prey. And at last, the fen flooded—faster and with greater vigor than it had ever in the past. And all three men were swallowed, their dogs too, leaving only their flickering lanterns to float on the waters. On misty nights in the fens, you can see the three men still sometimes—Gerald trying to climb the hill to the forest for safety, Geoffery and George still racing in the marshland, the sound of dogs still barking.

And that was the story I was told about the fen. As a child, I at first could never dream of someone walking in such a haunted place. But as I became a teen, and less likely to believe my elders, I wandered into the woods and marsh on mist-filled nights. It was a rite of passage, marking the end of pre-teens, to go and see the lights. Or rather, the lack there of.

No one I knew saw the lights, the deer, or anything of the sort. Some saw fire flies, some saw rabbits. But it was an empty fen. So, when it was my time, I had little to fear. I was coming back from a trip the next town over, and with some ceremony I said I’d take a short cut through the foggy fens. There was some laughing at my dramatics as I headed out, tipsy and confident, to see cross over back home again.

It was a full moon that night. There was nothing but the sound of grasshoppers and the small flicker of fire flies. And the sound, the squishing sticking sound, of mud sticking to my steps. I stumbled home, torch in hand and coughing from the effort of walking in something like a straight line. It was then, on the edge of the fen, that I saw it.

It was bigger than I thought it ought to be. It was big for a deer, like a moose more than a little scared thing. An elk I guess, red as blood and with sickly glowing horns. Now I’ve not seen many a stag or elk. I don’t hunt, I stay from the woods usually, and their skittish things. But I know horn. And those were so smooth. Looked like someone froze milk into a steel mold.

It stomped a foot at me, spooking me back a bit. I know people who get punch happy with some liquid courage, but that isn’t for me. Thing was tall as me, and horns looked dangerous. I stumbled back, held my hand up as it watched me. Kept my hands where it could see me as I shuffled and tripped over a rock. I heard a thud of bounding legs, and for half a second expect the thing to trample me in a moment of weakness. Yeah, I know elk or deer or moose or whatever, big horned things don’t eat meat. But still, out of it like that, I swore it would take an arm off. I mean, you know horses think fingers are carrots, right? What do I know.

Hands around my head I shouted, and felt a shadow over me—like walking through a cold patch. When I opened my eyes, I turned about to see what I’d been missing.  I stared down into the mists, where the horns still shone, dancing away as it bounded. I knew then and there I could chase it if I wanted—and maybe, if I was quick, I’d catch it. And they were amazing horns.

But I saw them then. Two at first, then three, then four—then a dozen or more, dancing lights, flickering in and out of view. They chased after, dancing from place to place. Only one stood steady, far away—small like a star.  I stumbled and tripped and chased that stationary solitary star.  Up I followed it, up and up to the hill and then the forest—and there it stopped, and fell back into the mists, sinking away.

The woods was long shadows and sharp winds, leaves rustling and snaking across the ground. Dark and empty except the street lights filtering from home. Sometimes the fog was thick, and the light seemed dim—maybe that was the lights I saw, that I imagined where men and dogs in my drunken haze. When I made it home, I didn’t understand what I’d seen—I scribbled on a scrap of paper what I remembered, so I could tell Josh all about it. It was crazy, I thought.

The next day, when we were all together again, everyone asked how I’d made it—did I see anything? How’d I get around the fen? Josh thought he saw my torch going off on the edge of the water when they got there.  A bit after I left the rain started coming down, cold enough to shock even a drunk like me to my senses.

It was then that I remembered the bright red dear with the dreadfully pallid horns, like someone stole the moon. Though I laughed with them over the idea of haunts and hunters, I will never set foot in those fens again.


This week’s story fell a bit victim to deadlines. I decided to go with more a ghost story and feel like the narrative could have been expanded some—layered, so that you, the reader, were diving into these various folktales about lights on the fens. It could create a sort of patchwork feeling, but unfortunately I ran out of time to expand on the idea. Aw well, that’s what Patreon is for!

Next week, waterfalls and castles!  

The Severn Valley

This Weeks Prompt: 58. A queer village—in a valley, reached by a long road and visible from the crest of the hill from which that road descends—or close to a dense and antique forest.
The Resulting Story: 
The Pale Hound

Mr. Lovecraft’s love of isolated, small communities is well documented. And given one of his original sources of inspiration, Arthur Machen, it’s not too surprising to see a fondness for the wilderness and great forests. But what to make of this hidden village, that we didn’t perhaps already do with Saint Silvanus? Well, this strange village is hidden. Perhaps it is stranger than it seems.

We discussed hidden lands to some length with Irem, but I believe we can yet go farther. The village is visible within a valley, and I think to keep it separate it will be a valley not a forest, isolated and away from the world. In the world of Mythos, there is a particular valley that this brings to mind. The Severn Valley.

The Severn Valley is, of course, a real location. It is, appropriately, in Wales and is run through by the river Severn. Folk etymology suggests that the name comes from a drowned nymph, a…curious notion. Alternatively, there is also a Celtic god Sabrina who may be responsible for the name of the river.

Severn River VAlley.png

Some notes, however, from Welsh folklore as recorded in the 1800s. Particularly hills. Hills have a couple of associations in the Severn Valley. Giants are said to have built them, particularly the large hill Werken. The inhabitants of the hills and stones are often giants, and attempts to build churches are frowned upon by these large natives. Often, stones were thrown at the churches, in an effort to destroy them.

Such giants in their constructions often carved out sections for water to flow through, making the rivers and causeways, with their massive spades. On a few occasions, they turned theses spades on each other in fratrcidal murder. Such is giants: Grand, mighty, and quarrelsome with each other.

An even more bitter resister of the churches is the arch enemy of mankind. The devil himself often disassembled churches that were raised on hills, until at last the builders gave up and went elsewhere. The devil also built a vast roadway, which he rides. His horse is pale, like all ghostly Welsh animals, and he has a cow’s horns and feet. Should he find a sinner on his old, Roman road, he will scoop them up and carry them off.

The devil also sometimes sits atop the Stiperstones mountains, hoping to send them back into the earth and in doing so doom England. He has, of course, not managed it yet. But the devil is nothing if not persistent.

Devil's Chair.png

Other mountains are haunted by Gywillion. The Old Woman of the Mountain would lead, by voices and cries, travelers up the mountains and leave the trapped in the wilderness. Other mountain faires frequently take the forms of goats. One Cadwaladar was taken away by such a goat-fae, to the meeting of such fae. He was promptly knocked off the highest mountain in all of Wales.

Further, the hills near Vicorium held once a wicked city, a heathen city that denied it’s prophet. A nearby mountain erupted and sent fire down, while the river rose in flood. The prophet survived, but searched for the governor’s daughter, who he loved. But she had drowned. And now, still on Easter, the figure of such the prophet, a Roman solider, can be seen rowing. Looking distantly for his beloved forever.

From another mountain, a Saint saw the land of a faerie king. Enraged at the faerie king’s presumption, he toured it, seeing armies with weapons of hot and cold, and dispelled them and their galmour with holy water. This apparently sufficed for him.

Alternatively, an antique forest. Faeries of the wood eat poisoned mushrooms and lead based butter, wear gloves of sedative leaves and lurk in every corner. In their ranks are the faerie fires, sometimes the will-o-wisp, sometimes the pooka. The will-o-wisp is often merely a luring fire, while the pooka takes many forms to taunt it’s prey.

Pooka

A Pooka, as illustrated by a Welshman

Some of these locations are haunted by ghostly dogs and pigs, often pale things without heads that bark or growl or hound their prey. The association of the color white with terrible creatures extends, as we have seen, to the mount of the devil. And it associated with a great hero of the region, Wild Edric. Edric, according to historians and folklorists, was a resistor to William the Conqueror.

Wild Edric’s traits are like many golden age kings. Eventually, however, he made peace with William. His lands, however, failed to stay in his family. He has since taken up residence…elsewhere. Some stories place him in a lead mine out west. Others say he rides in a wild hunt on a white horse, and if emerges during wartime, the war will be dangerous. His condemnation is said to last until the English are driven out, and all is repaid. Edric further made that awful mistake and married an elf maid. His sword is currently held by a fish-knight in the river, waiting his heir.

WildEdric.png

So what have we then? A haunted landscape, of ghosts and faeries and lost cities and giants. Much as can be found in any place. We need now what makes the village weird. What is it, from the hill or forest, that makes this small village that is hard to see from without, strange or bizarre?

Another facet to strange here is the role of ghosts and fae as ominous. Sightings of unnatural or bizzare creatures are often signs of greater dangers or terrible fates. And there is a peculiar event that I have wanted to include in a work of weird fiction or horror for sometime now. The Carrington event, which disabled electronics around the world. Aurora’s were seen all the way in the Carribean, with those over the Rockies being bright enough to wake gold miners from their slumber.

Such an event no doubt drew omens and signs and activity from the world invisible. It is a date in time which can ground the story we tell, as much as the Severn valley grounds it in place. From here, the encounters with these omens, and whatever really caused the auroras and activity (this is horror after all. The sun is a rather dull explanation when there are so many other options) can be disclosed. Perhaps one of the giants awoke again in the hills. Perhaps some grand hunt occurred through time and space. Who’s to say?

What do you think? What strange village lies in your writing?

Bibliography

Jackson, Georgina F. Shropshire Folklore. Edited by Charlotte Sophia. Burne, 1883.

Sikes, Wirt. British Goblins: Welsh Folk-Lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions. James R Osgood and Company, 1881.

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