The Fall of Ziegera, pt 2

This Week’s Prompt:24. Dunsany—Go-By Street. Man stumbles on dream world—returns to earth—seeks to go back—succeeds, but finds dream world ancient and decayed as though by thousands of years.

This Week’s Research:The Fantastic Fae From Faraway!

A flood, my savior told me, had nearly washed me under and away. I thanked him bitterly, he knew not what he had done. The next night, for naught but a few hours had passed, I went in search of that emerald bridge. But it was gone. The planks of the old bridge were ripped asunder. There was nothing. I took some solace, reckoning that in my dreams I would witness great rivers and iron mountains.

I was wrong.

I did not dream. I slept and my body seemed to fade into nothing. My mind followed shortly, subdued by slumber. And then I simply was again. If this was always the case, perhaps you cannot grasp the little death that accompanied me.

At first panic seized me. Those priests, who my friends told me where but figments of some over active mind, had banished me back. Cast me down to world that more and more seemed to be the slag and ash of a great wonder. I raced wild for some time, I will not lie. I sought dens of those trying to escape. I went to places that dealt often in dreams.

Panic gave way, however, to his older brother Terror. Day by day the sky turned stained. Hour by hour I saw color slipping through my skin. The woods faded, the roads grew. The great factories continued to rise, and then became ruins in time. The castles and manors were lost, first to monks as stern as stones, then to nothing in particular. Perhaps just to rot.

In time, I grew to look at my sickness as a science. I had heard, from a friend in the Indes, that certain holy waters were said to grant visitations. That if one wanted to cross a fabled river, a glass of its water would do the trick, whisking one’s soul away to that forgotten place. Of course, few had heard of the great river the emerald bridge. A nameless river is, after all, hard to find.

It was a rainy day when at last I found a small store that prided itself in such things. Its own defense against the world I suppose. There were jars of preserved bones, each with the saints’ name slapped on with tape. True crosses lined its walls. Such places are dime a dozen, and grew like weeds in desperate times. But what this place had, it’s perhaps one claim to true fame, was the bottles along the wall. Each had a paper tag, this one from the Egyptian Nile, that one from Roman Tiber, here the great Jordan, there the eternal Ganges.

One of these, I reckoned, was that fateful river of the emerald bridge.

I waited until a night when all was quiet and I was alone. I wanted my passing to be swift and sweet, to avoid interference by misguided relatives. I mixed the ashes of a dove’s feather in the cask and drank a single cup. I heard the steel mug clatter on the floor as my hands began to numb. The numb spread over me in a matter of seconds.

When I opened my eyes, I saw that verdant bridge stretching before me. The ground clinked as I ran and danced down the way to that old familiar shore. My laughter rang unopposed through the sky, the stars shining with all the lights of heaven. I nearly collapsed and kissed the ground when at last I set foot on the firm familiar shore.

But not all was right. The woods I knew was no more, nothing but rent stones and thorny groves grew there.  I thought perhaps this was some new season I had missed. Some strange tide that brought oddities. I resolved to head northward, to follow the river to Allnar. After all, perhaps the cunning priests had moved the bridge.

Northward was not as I remembered. When I reached that place that I supposed the great city of shining crystal stood, I found instead a grim sludge. It was as if the earth was bleeding into the river and ocean, a bloody blaze bubbling out. Great shining pillars still stood, but bit by bit they were dragged down. One day I suppose they will sink.

Something had gone horribly amiss. Perhaps, I thought, perhaps I had the wrong cask. Perhaps some curse of the priests had sent me elsewhere. But even I knew this wasn’t right. The pillars bore the old sigils of the Allnar, and some I recalled from my escapades on the ballroom of crystal. I decided to head west, to see the mountains of iron and the priests therein.

There was a distant clicking behind me of hooves as I walked onto those plains, covered in white grass. You would think snow had fallen if it weren’t for the cracking and crinkling sound they made as you stepped. I turned behind myself to see if anyone was following, to confront whatever grim specter waited. But there was nothing to the horizon, except a storm cloud swirling out by the sea where the river came to an end.

Carrying on west, I found the lands of Ziegera no less terrible. The mountains still loomed tall and might, but there were no temples. Instead, great craters and caverns of fire lined there sides, hungry maws of Moloch roaring with smoke. But unlike Allnar, I did here see some living souls. From a ridge I watched them, broken and bent shapes that resembled men. They pushed mighty carts of gleaming gold and burnished bronze, up paths and dumped them into the maws.

As I watched, strange creatures came and went. They looked the part of mortal men, but stood twice as tall and with the heads of lions and tigers. Their mouths spewed fire, and in their hands were great serpentine whips. In iron chariots they rode, taking glee in assailing the poor workers.

I would have turned tail then and there. I heard the distant hoof beats growing quieter now, and if I was to slip by, now would be the time. But one of the older works spotted me. As I made to leave, I heard an aged voice call out.

“Jared?” he said. I stood stark still, a child caught by his parents. The voice, I recalled it dimly. But I could not, even in the land of dreams, place it. I turned as the old man limped away from his cart. Some of the other workers stared on in hushed silence.

“Jared!” he shouted, rushing towards me. His fingers were so thin, they were like claws on my back. I could feel each rib as he embraced me. “I had thought you only a dream from boyhood, a fiction I’d long forgotten! But at last, at last you’ve returned.”

I stared ahead blankly as he turned to the crowd and told of all the things I’d done when I was a younger man. How I had fought against the winds of the North. How I had quested to see that glimmering lion Sharur. How I had only left when the priests drove me out.

And the hoof beats faded at last. I let out a sigh for a moment, glad that at least I had not been caught unawares by whatever foe pursued me. The workers began to stumble back however. And a voice, a voice of pealing thunder, came from behind me.

“Go on, good sir, and finish your story. I have just arrived, but make no pleasantries for me and mine.”

I turned to face the voice, the elder hanging from me like a sash of flesh. And there he stood, atop a great steed. He was tall, taller than I could quite work my head around. I could feel his shadow, stretching from his feet and out over the land until it dimmed even the distant fires. His skin was dark like soot and slag, his breath a venomous green gas full of flies. And his steed, his steed was a wicked thing. Its head was a rabid dog, its tail a serpent, its feet like a lions.

Jared And The Hunt

And behind him were gathered a vast host, each a towering figure atop a monstrous steed, with many heads and mouths. Each bore sword or spear or hammer or whip, cages on their sides and backs. Many roared and bayed as the leader spoke.

The old man stayed silent, his eyes wide.

“No? Then let me intrude. For once I heard of your return, whispered on the winds of the desert, I had to come and pay respect Jared Jahpeth. For without your sturdy bridge of emerald, how could I cross the great river of all torments? Without your cardinal march, I would be bound between the shores. Yet you in your kindness let me in. And now the bridge, broken by the iron of Ziegera a thousand years past opens again! Come, ride with me to glorious conquest and ruination! A thousand year reign, a ten thousand year reign!”

And he reached down a palm the size of nations towards me, aiming to pick me up like a small insect lost in a house. As he lifted me up, I saw that he had a hundred heads stretched above the clouds. Each a new beast, a menagerie of horrors. Each grinned with a thousand teeth and mandibles and in the multitude of eyes I saw cruel delight. And terror held me in place for a time.

I saw stretching before, in those eyes, a mind capable of thousand cruelties upon the soul, a mouth that in ancient times bore plague and war with its breath and words. And when the iron chains of terror loosened on my legs and arms, I turned and leapt off the arm. Limbs outstretched, I flew as only a dreamer can. I dove and swerved over the mountain tall host. A hundred hissing beasts burst from their skin and soared after me, but the mind is faster than the host.

When the familiar green stripe of the bridge appeared, I descended down.  For a moment I let myself breathe, but recalling the hosts earlier trick, the silence was no comfort. I sprinted in a panic towards the bridge. My footsteps in panic trampled their former steps of joy.

At last I found myself in my study. At once I began to pen this note. Trust me well dear reader, for this is locked in my bottom cabinet. Forsake boyhood swiftly, or the realms of dream become a nightmare. Never seek the paths to Allnar, lest they follow you in your steps. The bandits lie in wait on the other side of the emerald bridge, and the once good paths are filled with vipers.

There is no refuge in dreams any longer.

I hope you enjoyed this tale of horror! The body was so big, I couldn’t cut it down to the normal size. Next time, we will have a lengthier research section, as we approach our fiftieth corpse un-interred. Oh, and if you missed part 1, it’s here.

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The Fantastic Fae From Faraway!

This Week’s Prompt: 24. Dunsany—Go-By Street. Man stumbles on dream world—returns to earth—seeks to go back—succeeds, but finds dream world ancient and decayed as though by thousands of years.

This Week’s Story: Part 1, Part 2

This prompt brings many things to mind. For starters, we have Dunsany again! We talked at length about him here, for those uninformed. Great author, and all of his works are available online. Go-By Street included!

And Go-By Street is…interesting as an inspiration, since it is a sequel to the Idles of Yann. I will spare you the summation, since the basic premise is outlined in the rest of the prompt. And what a prompt. We have a reversal of a folkloric trope here: Fairyland.

Do not mistake the lands of the fae for kind ones, however. Distant though they are, the fae are a capricious lot. Even when they intend the best, they often do harm. The most famous harm, and one that this bears more than a passing resemblance to, is the habit of changelings. Fae will, for a variety of reasons, make off with a child who isn’t properly guarded by iron (or cold iron, to distinguish from steel). They replace the child with one of their own who is elderly, or a wooden doll.

Changeling

When Subtly Is Secondary To “Screw The Fae”

The replaced child dies soon, and the stolen mortal suffers whatever fate the fae has in mind. Sometimes it is noble, as Oberon and Titianna’s during Midsummer’s Night Dream. Of course other times it is sinister. Fae are always in need of servants, you see. Even in Arthurian tales, there are stories of fae making off with brides and cattle of mortal lands, and taking them into their misty home.

The other story, and the more direct parallel to our prompt, is that of the traveler who comes to the Fae unawares. He falls in love with the extravagance, partakes of its food and perhaps falls in love with a woman. And then, one day, for whatever reason he decides to leave. This…never goes well. Typically, a condition is placed. The most famous is he must never leave his horse. And if or when he does, he will find age and time lost catch him. He is then rendered to dust.

The fate of faerie gold is likewise dim, turning to leaves upon returning. Beautiful steeds become donkeys. The gifts of the fae are only valuable in their realm, and like dreams, they fade in the realm of mortals. The nature of the fae (immortal, naturalistic, romantic, and captivating but fleeting) has captured imaginations of British authors for a good deal of time, and many a case they have played the role of the dead for cases like Sir Orfeo (the name may ring a bell).

OberonandTitianna

The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania, by Sir Joesph Noel Paton

On the positive end, the Queen of Elfland supposedly granted Thomas the Rhymer prophecy and other gifts. The Faeire Queene ( an epic poem of truly vast proportions) grants also the eponymous character status as a benevolent entity. The authorities in the fae realms tend to be more fickle, but these diamonds cannot be left out.
The mingling of medieval and pre-Christian thought have given the fae the odd place as “not demons, but not angels” in some literature. The origin sometimes given is angels unwilling to revolt or remain loyal (a characterizations perhaps rooted in dreams as paradise, but mortal. Or the fae’s own complex nature). Other times, the fae owe great debt to those below, and pay tithe of seven men and women to the Enemy yearly (again, yes, this is familiar to a certain Greek fable).
The dream world of the fae is therefore, to say the least, complicated. Other similar stories include Rip Van Winkle and the last knight of Charlemagne, who dose off only to find the world shifted centuries in their sleep. The existential dread, then, of one’s world changing while one ‘rests’ is old. Waking up to an unfamiliar place is perhaps, however, a good deal better than sleeping into one.
For dreams are often places of fantasy and desire. Dreams, dreams are escape from reality-as-prison. Even nightmares are escape for more mundane and decaying terrors. Dreams decaying into derelict and destitute ruins is …disheartening. What could so destroy the land of fancy?

TheWildHunt

Asgardseien by Peter Nicolai Arbo

This pursuit raises perhaps one last story of the fae. The hunt. Oh the Wild Hunt. Trumpeting they come, on the clouds and riding dark horses. Sometimes, they are fae. Sometimes they are the souls of the damned, doing the devils due. Sometimes they are spirits of storm, laughing in thunder. The Wild Hunt is always a terror, bearing pestilence and power. They make off with souls to the land of fae or the dead, and their leader is often the Grim One, the Allfather of the land (Odin to the Norse, Arthur in Brittany) or a particularly cursed man (Count Hackleburg, oddly enough).

The fae version has a unique touch, however. As they draw close, the footsteps sound more distant. As the victim escapes, they sound closer. Thus, the prey runs itself ragged, and rests in the time of emergency. The fae rider is often the color of storm clouds (Dark grey or pitch black). The force of chaos perhaps could be the source of the age and ruin in the dreamland.
Mention must be made of the more obvious notion (albeit after this prompt was written): Narnia. For those unfamiliar…go read Narnia. I don’t really have other advice. It likewise has time skips between visits to a fantastic realm by accident. Go read it. It’s no Dunsany, but Lewis is a decent writer for the most part, with bits of brilliance when he remembers he’s not writing theology.

CSLewis

I love pictures of old authors in black and white. Have you noticed yet?

Structure is heavily preset in the prompt, but I will suggest one theme/scene that occurs in a favorite modern show of mine. That is, the realization that this is a shifted time isn’t simply another land is the recognition by a small child who is now an old man. Otherwise, the structure works out as described above. I have an idea for this work, and with regards to that I will keep my own counsel.

Mr. Jared Jahpeth

This Week’s Prompt: 23. The man who would not sleep—dares not sleep—takes drugs to keep himself awake. Finally falls asleep—and something happens. Motto from Baudelaire p. 214.

This Week’s Research: Insomnia and the Infernal

Windgift is not a place for lost souls. If you ended up lost in my fair city, it wasn’t by accident. The gird would guard against it, and the constabulary was always on the alert for misplaced workers. And when someone wanted to find you in the fog and cloud, beneath the factories churning light, they came to me. Typically, it was over money or marriage. But rarely, ever so rarely, it was to find out why you ran in the first place.

You in this case was Jared Jahpeth.

“He’d been erratic. Kept getting up in the middle of night, staying out late, and then just vanished. Muttering to himself a lot too. I caught him mixing something into his coffee, some pills. He even admitted to taking them at night, to keep himself working through the night. We were going to see a therapist that day, but he never made it to work.” Mrs. Jahpeth said, staring into my eyes. It was a tad unnerving, her eyes staring straight ahead as she talked. I don’t think she blinked.

We went through the more standard line of questioning after that. What did he look like, any enemies, any hangouts, friends, and so on. All out of town. Jared must have deep debts if he had to jump ship. She left a little more than an hour later, and I packed my things to make my way out onto the sky lit by the crimsons sun and steely clouds.

There was a chance that Luke, down at the pharmacy, had heard of him. There were only three pharmacies in town, and if you’re aiming to stay awake for more than a few days, you’ll need some memorable stuff. Coffee can only carry you so far.

Luke was a portly old man with only a few grey hairs left. He felt out of place in the slick and clean pharmacy, full of plastic cases and pills.  He always reminded me of a candy store salesmen from another world, more than happy to sell things that help people go on living.

“Martin! What are you in for? Anti-depressants? Tums?” he asked with a smile. Luke liked to pretend I was a regular for legitimate reasons. Poor guy.

“Nothing of the sort. Listen, anyone strange come in lately?” I asked, leaning on the white counter.

“Strange?”

“Yeah. Unusual new customers or the like.”

“Not that I can think of. Few kids trying to scam fake doctor’s notes by me, but that’s hardly new. Who’s the suspect this time?” He asked with a sigh.

“Guy named Jared. He’s getting something to keep him up. Anyone like that come by? Might have a doctored note. Kinda lanky, bags under the eyes, skittish.”

“Muttering to himself?” Luke asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Yeah. Probably carrying some coffee.”

“Guy came in a few hours ago. Can’t say much past that, patient confidentiality and all.”

“ Did you get word where he was staying? Just in passing?” I asked, leaning over the counter.

Luke shook his head. A dead end. Well, there were other sources. Outside of Luke’s and across the street there’s a timid old lady. Mrs. Wilcox, poor thing thinks the world is out to get her. Her paranoia makes her sharp, however, and a few years back I convinced her I was a double agent for the nefarious powers that be.

“He went east, looked awful. They’ve gotten to him, clearly, they have. Poor man,” she said through her peephole.

“Gotten to him how?” I asked, scribbling on a note pad.

“His limbs, they’ve injected them with some of the chemicals from their homeworld. They want to see if people can survive. You can tell, his limbs were twitching all the time.” She continue, her eye darting about.

“Thank you, Mrs. Wilcox.” I said, noting to confirm it when I found Jahpeth. Waking drugs will do that.

“And your end? What’s the latest you and your partner have found?” she whispered.

I got halfway through rattling off a list of local politicians that ‘were actually lizardmen’ before stopping.

“Partner?” I asked, turning around. The street was empty.

“Yeah, your partner. He’s in the alley, isn’t he? He’s been walking with you since you left the pharmacy.”

I nodded a bit, finished the tin foil hat wearing nonsense, and walked down the street for a bit. I waited a few blocks before turning around. Sure enough, I saw a shadow dart behind a building. It was a glimpse, but it was there. Sprinting down toward it, I began reviewing a list of possible enemies.

The alley was empty when rounded the corner. The alley only had one exit, and was completely bare. Past that, however, was Main Street. I continued the chase and looked about. I hadn’t caught a good enough glimpse to spot him by appearance. But behavior? No one was running, or looking over their shoulder. Just, vanished.

I retraced my steps with Jared. Wilcox said east. East was easy. There was a common hidey hole out east. See, the coal plant wasn’t in use any more, but it was still burning. There was a gas leak that caught, and well, the fire kept going.

It was evacuated not long after. Eternal fire isn’t exactly a habitable place. Past the warning fence was a preserved town, untouched and uninhabited for twenty years according to official records. Most of the time they were right. The odd squatter got the idea to hide out here for a month or two before leaving. Place almost radiated a sense of unease.

The dust brushed against my feet as I walked through ashen streets, listening. There was a breeze billowing broken doors and a growling flame still deep in the ground. I walked carefully down the streets, scanning for the remains of tracks before the winds washed them away. There wouldn’t be many, but if you looked closely, you could see shifts in the bigger piles of debris.

Eventually, the little impressions and shifts lead me to an small store front. The door was open, either because of the wind or negligence. I closed it slowly. I could hear someone breathing the stairs, hasty gasps, like he was had just run a mile.

Running up the stairs, I stop to see a single room with a bed. There’s a man, Jared, lying there. There are some packages on the desk next to him. A couple books were scattered on the floor. I stepped over them to get a closer look.

“Mr. Jahpeth?” I asked as I approached. His head bent back a bit, and his mouth fell open. And there was a loud, heave, followed by a rustling sound. And then, out it poured. His lung’s, his entire chest collapsed and ash spewed out of his eyes and mouth. His skin greyed and cracked, broken clay revealing an on rush of darkened blood. His bones were charcoal, an unseen fire burning him up.

I gripped the door frame as, after only a few moments, Mr. Jahpeth was naught but dust and bone. That insatiable curiosity of my profession, however, that demon of dark ambition bit my brain. I hunched over to look at the books scattered on the floor.  The ink was splotched, hard to read, but there were diagrams. A drawing of a horned figure, a thing rising out of a skull. I picked through a few more.

The writing was more legible, at first.

“There is a thing ticking in the back of the mind. There is a thing that I see in window panes in the alleys of my dreams. In eyes of distant mountains, in dark places growling things lie. Something is wrong in the skies.”

But the vague poetics began to decay. No doubt his ability to write decayed with Jared’s health. Sleep deprivation does not refine the motor skills.  Gradually, the ink bled into drawings again. Eyes in the ‘o’s, little trees out of ‘t’s.

But then, as I sat scanning book after book, great diagrams of trees full of fire and great birds with many eyes, I noticed something strange. The process seemed to be reversing. Letters were returning, although not English characters. Nor Greek or even vaguely Eastern letters. No, it was strange blockish script, dotted and swirled within it’s confines.

I collected all of it, all the books I could carry and began to leave the ashen place, the fiery pit beside the city roads. But at the door, I noticed some small impression in the ash. A set of tracks entering the house beside my own, visible only a moment before the wind swept them away.

I followed there general direction as the moon rose, yellow and worn. Starlight showed shining hoof tracks, a goat.  But I never found anything. What took Jared I can’t say. His wife didn’t show up at the deadline to hear what happened. When I got to the station, they denied ever hearing of him. Mrs. Wilcox didn’t open her eyehole after that, and a few weeks later her house went up in smoke.

I’m still trying to make sense of it all. I’m grasping at straws and chasing shadows. I’m lost, and the red high noon sun seems to be mocking me for it.

I am not proud of this story, to be honest. I feel it is truncated, missing an underlying horror, and doesn’t properly exploit the fear in dreams and devils. But perhaps it provided some fright or inspiration for your own work? What did you dredge up from the graveyard of dreams?

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Insomnia and the Infernal

This Weeks Prompt: 23. The man who would not sleep—dares not sleep—takes drugs to keep himself awake. Finally falls asleep—and something happens. Motto from Baudelaire p. 214.

This Week’s Story:Mr. Jared Jahpeth

This prompt is a strange one. Like last time, it refers to a text I do not have (that is the poetry of Baudelaire), and while certainly the poems are preserved (we will get to them shortly), there is the problem of determining a motto from the manifest works.  Before that, we have insomnia for some dread reason.

Insomnia, especially self imposed insomnia, has echoes in other existing stories. In fact, I do believe this prompt to have been fulfilled in the story Hypnos written some five years after this prompt. That in mind, I will endeavor any way to see where this seed goes. My own mind is not, after all, that of Mr. Lovecraft.

Devil1

The best beginnings of the plot are with Baudelaire. Baudelaire was a translator of Poe and a poet of no little skill in his own write. My research to narrow his wide catalog relied on letters between Mr. Lovecraft and a friend, bringing me to three of said friends translations: L’Ennemi,Au Lecteur,Remords posthume. Now, the prevailing theme of this poetry is a familiar Lovecraftian one. Decay, time, and the eventual destruction and ruin of things.

But where Baudelaire stands a part is in two precise areas. Unlike Mr. Lovecraft, Baudelaire presents the most important aspect of decay as it’s slowness. Gradual, barely noticeable changes culminate in the dead and desecrated world we now have. This is not unheard of in Lovecraft, but the subtle movements are hard to do in horror literature so focused on the current activities of the character.

The other area is more rich with lore and story. That is, there is in Baudelaire, an active agent of decay. An Enemy, a Devil. Mr. Lovecraft’s personal beliefs on such matters are complex, as while an avowed atheist, the role of devil is occasionally played by the ever valuable Nyrlanhotep. Yet, I think this raised corpse of Howard does it well.

I am intrigued then, in the notion of making a religious horror story from this seed. The motto in this case would be the simple one “The Devil’s in heaven, all is wrong with the world.” But what is the nature of the Enemy?

Devil2

If there is any character who looms as large as God and Christ do over Western literature, it is the Devil. Even the irreligious can recognize his features at times. But the features are vary…variable. That is a topic of such vast consultation that I will only do in broad strokes, and only in western lore, what the nature of Evil may be. Needless to say, from a popular culture perspective, there are two major works that provide the template of the modern devil. Folkloric works vary greatly, however, and from region to region.

DevilCover

Look At the ANGST! Look At It!

Modern conception, however, draws from elsewhere. Namely, from the works of Milton and Goethe. Here the Devil or at the least, his representative, are portrayed as wily rebels, tempters supreme, and as possessing good, or at least artistic, taste. Here we have the origin of the soul bargain and contract in blood from Faust, and the notion of a sympathetic devil from readings of Milton that were common in the Romantic period (Though, not universally agreed on). These traits, rebellion and temptation, were always to a degree present but both Faust and Paradise lost thrust them to the fore and burned them forever into certain forms.

Neither of which are conducive to a horror story. The deal with the devil perhaps is, especially unwittingly, but that hits many beats of earlier tales on this site, including the Damned Spot. But the devil plays into our themes of Baudelaire especially well. Yes, even better as a simple devil.

Devil3

Tales of tricking the devil abound in Ireland and Irish influenced lands (such as the south), but the tale of Ysyr also invokes the devil as a trickster who leads to the destruction of a golden land. There in, he deceives a wicked noblewoman and her ogre helpers and leads to their sinking. Some say the key to the kingdom still sits in Ireland, under an unmarked grave.

Stories from Cambridgeshire tell of a man who met the devil on the road, and found his body turned into a burnt skeleton the next day. His hounds, large black canines the size of horses, occasionally hunt across the sky. In other regions, he arises as the source of local ills and dark powers. Salem I will leave untouched, until again witchcraft crosses our table. Needless to say, the great malicious spirit than maintains in folklore only that.

Folklore provides that ghost story aspect, a simpler character. And while in a longer tale, the monster may have many facets, many meanings, works as short as ours need something simpler. Something a bit baser. So folklore, in structure, might serve us better than lengthy novels and epic poems.

Devil4

I’m not saying basically this. But basically this.

As I said, neither popular culture icon works well at the start. The tempter is a tad horrifying, but overdone. The rebel is an excellent hero for a war story, a fantasy epic even, but would be difficult in a horror tale (unless as in Hypnos, the rebel attempts to recruit the hero). But! The Rebel victorious? That has potential. Particularly if he is as petty as the devil of some folktales, an impure creature that delights in small suffering as well as lofty goals.

Keep in mind the nature of dreams. They are often where divine visions or ghostly apparitions emerge. The devil, as arch-divine rebel and bringer of discord to the realm cosmic, then works well in the disruption of dreams and the cause of nightmares. The devil is in Heaven after all, and thus all is wrong in the world.

I will not dwell long on the horrors a successful revolutionary can inflict on the world. History provides enough of that, and I wish to avoid politics. Oh, the fates of the Muses who once inspired. Oh the Graces who brought virtue. The heavens under hellish reign are never better off. The rebellious prince of sin, if victorious, would be a terror indeed. If such visions pursue a man, no wonder he doesn’t want to sleep.

But! But our story ends when our troubled sleeper rests. This is difficult, since a terrible fate that sudden is hard to betray from the first person. Perhaps, we might structure it to resemble an investigation. After all, the rapid and large number of drugs needed to stay awake for a long period of time might attract attention. This would push much of the above research into subtext, as our investigator (true to form) is unlikely to know the cause of the erratic behavior until the end.

Still, it keeps suspense longer. Odd nightly behaviors can be ascribed to numerous things, a number of strange phenomena. And investigation is one of those knowledge seeking professions that, most often, lends itself to horror.

We likely then will have a number of characters as the investigation proceeds, though perhaps backwards from what the prompt has proposed. We perhaps start from when he wakes and piece together what went wrong.

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The Shedu

Prompt This Week: 21. A very ancient colossus in a very ancient desert. Face gone—no man hath seen it.

Research: Look Upon My Wonders, And Despair!

Dear His Imperial Majesty and Protector of the Faith,

As you requested, I have continued to take a record of the disturbances that plague your kingdom. I have ridden far, from the jewel of Istanbul to the southern lands where Arab tribesmen dwell. And it was there I encountered my unfortunate delay.

I was investigating reports of a lost manuscript, one from Bablyon that had been smuggled south and lost in a sand storm, when I heard from a travelling merchant of another oddity: a statue in a mountain, near the Basket of Gold.  Raiders from the early days of the Caliphate had settled around it, and was haunted by djinn of ill repute and fickle nature.  The merchant, who introduced himself as Rostam Al-Dahak, offered to guide me to those who inhabited the area now, who he assured me where more civilized folk.

Thus, with steel by my side, I made my way out into the Azir Mountains, south of the City of the Prophet a good ways before we arrived at the strange tribes men. The merchant made good on his introductions, speaking some unfamiliar tongue. He explained that besides the Holy Koran, the people here knew not a wit of Arabic. They spoke some language of their own, precious to them since Babel. Despite that, he spoke some as well.

The tribesmen, simple folk with iron weapons bought with wool and sheep, where a bit alarmed at my presence. Rostam explained that they were very wary of outsiders, particular men from Medina. They thought the secrets of iron and textiles the work of ghuls and desert spirits that conspired against the Prophet. The belief seemed strange at the time, but we shall get to that shortly.

For the time being, Rostam brought me to the headman, a man that the Lord of Creation granted a long life and a healthy mind. His beard was short and white, a cloud puffing out of his chin. He wore a woolen robe and hood even indoors, and spoke with Rostam briefly in their own language.  The elder meddled with some beads before nodding along a bit. What follows is the best transcription I can manage, translated by my dear Rostam, and summarized for purposes of time.

There is, according to the esteemed elder of the tribe, a mountain that was hollowed out by an ancient sorcerer, who tamed the winds and forced them to raise metals and jewels, that he might have a paradise hidden form the eyes of the Lord. Vain in his deeds and hopes, he made metal halls and shining stars, binding strange servants of brass and light. Fiery ifrits were forced to serve him, and in the dark halls he prayed wastefully to idols carved in stone and offered sacrifices atop fiery altars made by the giants of Ad and Gog.

The foul sorcerer could not, of course, avoid the gaze of God. Even in that time before the Prophet, peace be upon him, walked the earth, holy men abound. A number of them gathered around the entrance to the sorcerous chamber.  They pounded their staves on the ground, and uttered many prayers to end the abominable practices that occurred there.  And there faith was that of the esteemed desert hermits, such that the Ineffable One moved the mountains.

The earth shook and scarred as the, as Rostam put it, wind of death descended into the hold from its resting place in the peak. Howling like raging wolf, it descended upon the halls, many armed in its terror and strangled all it found with a hundred limbs of smoke. And it tore and rent all of its contents, its singing swords, its women of metal, and its dark writings.  But the power born in Ad’s statue frightened the wind, and it cowed about it, before being recalled unto heaven. So the place still stood, surrounded by the work of the Carrion Wind.

The elder started then speaking in hushed and more rapid tones, and Rostam did his best to convey the knowledge.  They said that the mountain had laid abandoned thus since, but raiders and nightly demons still made offerings to the strange statue, that its foul powers aid them.  They walk atop desert storms and storms with drums of thunder when it is pleased. When it is not sated, the shepherds see hosts of locusts and worse growing on the distance.

The elder admitted to Rostam that he could show us the way to the strange fortress. It was not a hidden place, he said, to those who knew the mountains. He sent with us a shepherd who had slipped into sleep that day. He laid us faithfully, if reluctantly, to the mountain. A pillar of stone that was stained black in places. Wounds seemed to have been struck along it sides, such that a number of springs bubbled strange rivers out. A great cavern stood along the side, between the four rivers of bile. Surely, great shadow of the Lord, it was something forsaken by Nature and Man if not by the Lord of the World.

Rostam and I proceeded alone. Not even the stern shame of sloth would motivate our guide to enter that dimly lit cavern. Lanterns in hand we entered the belly of the beast.  Its sides shone as if wrought from iron and steel, and were cool to the touch. The ground was a single piece of metal, a passage way more completely crafted than any other. The reflection of the fire danced upon the sides. The air was thick as we descended deeper and deeper. At last we lighted upon the room of the Carrion Wind.

There was in fact a statue there, a colossus unlike anything these tribesmen had ever seen. I, however, and no doubt yourself, Commander of the Faithful, recognized it swiftly. A tall and might form, that resembled a lions, with something like a man’s head, and a pair of thrown back wings. Two bull horns poked from its top. Certainly, it was nothing more than a mere pagan idol. It was well made, certainly, with the only flaw being the cracked and smashed face.

There was blood splattered, of course, along the bottom of it. And a number of shimmering swords were cast about it, shimmering like the walls in the lantern light. Rostam shivered as a chilly breeze came up from the depths of the mountain. No doubt greater secrets or oddities lay there, a treasure trove lost to time.

I was examining the statue when the light first flickered strangely across it. The smooth skin grew small dusty hairs.  As I raised the lantern closer to examine the workmanship, I saw it move more certainly. With a low moan it breathed in. The cavern shook as it breathed out. I started back as the lumbering thing stirred, its shoulders stretching. Its beard unfolded, slowly, into a multitude of limbs. Its wings rose and fell, the entire cavern swept by its movement.

It had no face still though. Its head was jagged and broken, it’s face and skull apparently smashed in.  It slouched forward and lumbered off its platform with cool assurance, swords breaking under its paws. The tendrils flickered out, stroking the air absent mindedly. I sat silent and still as it paced about. Rostam…Rostam did not. He cannot be blamed. The beast’s visage was the fear work of nightmares, its face bleeding sap and its body bestial. I must commend Rostam, for only shouting in panic and attempting to run.

The creature, if it had any sense, surely had excellent hearing, and immediately pounced upon, a boulder of muscle crushing him. The beast made a noise, a gurgling noise, and raised its head a triumphant lion over a lamb.  Its tendrils gripped Rostam’s clothing, and tore flesh and cotton apart with ease. I rose slowly, considering what could be done against such a creature, faster than the wind and stronger than steel.  I decided swiftly that if this was to be driven from your Imperial Majesties lands, a division of men twenty strong, armed with rifles, might suffice. If the Most Generous be willing.

It shouldn’t then be noted among my sins that I fled. I did as quietly as I could, careful not to step upon a single blade or piece of rubble. I moved as slowly as I could, the steel floor catching only the slightest of my movement. The beast was pre occupied with tearing into Rostam’s flesh, though as I began to pass it, I noticed it was not actually devouring him.

The creature was instead jabbing the pounds of meat onto itself, probing its own face for a mouth. It turned about sluggishly, making a strange moaning. After several ponderous steps, it lowered its head and pushed about several of the swords, its  root like limbs struggling to grip them.  Gradually it pulled its head up, stuttering as it did. A beard of blades surrounded it as it turned toward the exit, it long breath growing strained.

I have, I admit, put little effort in placing the location of that fortress. Nor can I explain what occurred to the beast, although I speculate that perhaps the elder misunderstood the story. I suspect, possibly, that the great creature has –unfortunate for itself – a great intolerance to blood. Whence it came I cannot say, nor whether those blades were its or others. The mountain is a strange one, but it is a danger that can be avoided, should we simply wall it up with stones and boulders. A simple solution, I think.

 

Your beloved Servant.

 

I believe this story may have been a misstep. I could not quite get a grip on a deeper horror, or rather, found it much harder to express than an initial draft focusing on a British empire. I was a bit too eager to return to a good corpse I think. Something I will keep in mind as I go on.

What about you, my brothers and sisters? Was it frightening?

If you enjoyed it, consider looking at the previous visit to the Ottoman empire.

Also, a note: This story did draw some inspiration from our good friends at horror prompts. Check them out for some good off-kilter poetry.

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Look Upon My Wonders, And Despair!

Prompt: 21. A very ancient colossus in a very ancient desert. Face gone—no man hath seen it.

Resulting Story: The Shedu

This prompt brings to mind a number of the things. Firstly, and most obviously, the poem Ozymandias :

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.” (Shelley)

OR

In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place (Smith)

Luxor Temple.png

The poem of course relates to the great Pharaoh Rameses II, and supposedly the Pharaoh of Moses time. Egypt held British imagination, and by extension Mr. Lovecrafts, for a multitude of reasons. Firstly was its staggering age. Egyptian civilization ranges from 5000 B.C.E. to 0 C.E., longer than any civilization elsewhere in the world. The preservation of that nation, the elaborate burials and the sand covered monuments, also elated the modern world which played with the notion of eternity. It was a bit of otherness that was nearby and attached to antiquity.

Faceless Sphinx.png

And Egypt is famed for a number of monuments, perhaps most famously the Pyramids and the Sphinx. The Sphinx surely is more in line with our prompt (since the pyramids bare no face), and is common in Mr. Lovecraft’s conception of Nyrlanhotep. The Crawling Chaos’s most famous name is ascribed to ancient Egypt, as a lost Pharaoh lost Pharaoh of a bygone age. His faceless form (here conceived by cyanyurikago) may well have been created in response to this prompt.

Sphinx

But the sphinx offers some interesting potential. The prompt elicits some prehuman creator, and if we are to construct a monument that has been created by something inhuman, an inhuman body might help. There is the precedent of similar forms across the ancient world (as the ancient aliens people have noticed, albeit incorrectly), particulary with Greek sphinxs, the Lamassu of Mesoptamia, and a number of creatures in Southeast Asia.

We then have a few notions tied up in the story. Firstly, we have the idea that some knowledge has been forever lost to humanity (the face, at the least), and that some intelligence has robed mankind of its place as the first to build (an existential dread, as others have come and gone before), something of the nature of time (the desert evokes worn down nations, and with certain organizations attacking the remains of desert dwelling civilizations lately, a topical fear), and something of the nature of life. After all, if the makers cast it in their image, they certainly only barely resemble human beings.

To its lost nature, we certainly have a precedent in Lovecraft and elsewhere, with a number of lost cities to pick from. To leave Egypt, we have the city of pillars,Irem. Located in the Arabian desert, Irem was supposedly the home of occultists and things worthy of God’s wrath. Mr. Lovecraft expanded it as the home of disturbing and alien creatures, particularly reptilian things. We might also look to the ancient Zoroastrian and Persian texts that talk of Hankana, a fortress for Afraisiab.

IndianaJones

Someone like this, but more professional.

From all this, however, we can gather a notion of who serves the best protagonist. Whoever suffers the most from the horror, feels its stings the most accutely, should be the victim. Best, then, some archaeologist or antiquarians, who worries about what has been lost. Given the Middle Eastern nature of most of these, our good friend the British Empire might provide a good servant. There is some trouble, constantly poking at the Empire for protagonists, however. Some other arrogant power would have to do. A cold war expedition, perhaps from the United States in the region?

The problem there is that the Union has never felt eternal. Always it seems to be at risk, and its reign as superpower has been punctuated by existential dangers (from within and without). Perhaps the other direction then? Something more ancient? We could return to the era of the Ottoman Empire,who held sway over both Egypt and for a time Arabia. Certainly we could lead into our story with a discovery by our lost investigator. An Ottoman occult investigator certainly is something I haven’t heard of. Or an occult institution.

What is added, however, to the horror of each empires? The British discover of course, that their place is not special. That civilization did not spring from the Isles or Rome, but somewhere they would right off as backward and worthless. The Union finds that as well as increased dread that something that cannot be known exists in the world. The United State’s age of supremacy was built upon an understanding of the world that was near complete (or felt so). What wasn’t known could be discovered, nothing was beyond the pale of human understanding.

The Ottoman Empire of course suffers a bit like the British (though depending on the placement of the desert, not nearly as much) and its own eternity is a bit more imperiled. Depending on the time of it’s discovery, the dual element of declining empire and the lack of men as mighty as the prophets may play into the decay as well. The British and the United States lack a belief or idea of decline, for the most part. The old man of Europe died a much more awful death than England did, a decay more than a sudden dispersal. Still, I’m torn.

What do you say, dear brothers and sisters? From which land shall we sew our lost story? For some added difficulty, I may try and complete the latest horror prompt from these fine folks, and draw from the word “seed pod”.

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Damned Spot, Part 1

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

The Research:We Anti-Mused Now

Warning: This story contains instances of stalking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women at work

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

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

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

“And stabbed him?”

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Continue the story here or read some forgotten research here.