The Dead Man’s Rites

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

The Research:Dead Man’s Hand

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

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

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

Graveyard.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And figured out the bell?”

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

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

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

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

ALchemicalNotes.png

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

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

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

Raven.png

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

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

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

“Think troubles likely?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DeadHand Cover.png

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

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

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

Advertisements

Dead Man’s Hand

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

The Story: The Dead Man’s Rites

This will be the second week of the dead speaking! But this is a bit more strange form. The form of a dead hand has a particular piece of imagery associated with it, the Hand of Glory.

HandOfGlory.png

 

The hand of glory is an infamous bit of black magic, made for thieves and burglars. It, unfortunately, requires the failure and hanging of another man. The hand is removed from the hanged man, and enough fat is removed to construct a candle. The candle, while lit and occasionally after a spell is spoken, will paralyze all who are in the house, or alternatively put them to sleep.

The hand of a dead man, that of a not necessary criminal, is cited here as a source of healing among the Americas. Notably, rubbing the hand of a dead man on the thyroid. Similar cures are suggested for blackheads and moles.

In Lincolnshire, there is a report of another dead hand, more sinister in nature. As related by Daniel Codd, the Dead Hand is a hand without a body that searches out individuals and drags them deeper into the marsh. In this way, it is sort of a flesh and more proactive will-o-wisp. The origin of this mysterious monstrous hand are not reported.

WritingOnTheWall.png

Other free hands are more noble caliber, especially regarding writing. The most famous precedent is from the Bible, specifically the book of Daniel. Here the hand is not dead, but is a supernatural agent anyway. It communicates a divine message, as the dead often do. The message is ignored, and then what happens when you ignore the messages of the gods happens.

The power of a hanged man’s hand to heal is a novel to me. The role of the dead as a sort of healing means is not terrible new, if only as ancestors possessing mastery of the dead by association. In popular culture, the dead are more malicious nowadays it seems.

SaintSkullIVo.png

The context, however, is less jarring when compared to the notion of saint’s relics. Saint relics frequently have healing capacity, being empowered by the holiness they bore in life. Often, though not always, portions of the body are considered relics of the saint. These relics are, of course, not the regarded as the same sort of person as a criminal is. However, many saints are martyr’d or sacrificed by the state. This might be a point of connection between the two, but little else. I have yet to find a saint who’s hand wrote beyond the grave anyway.

The idea that portions of the body contain portions of the soul or vital parts of the mind is rather old as well. The humor theory of medicine attributes emotions to various fluids. While the soul itself is not a physical component, it’s possible to alter thoughts in that way. The Egyptian theory of the soul traced the various portions of it—in Egyptian theory, there are five portions of the soul—to specific organs that were preserved in canopic jars.

Canoic Jars.png

The discovery of a dead writing hand is probably a good portion of this story. A novelist dies, but then suddenly his hand is heard scratching at the coffin. There is a record of many forms safety coffins, that warn people if they have buried their loved ones alive. The scratching of a hand or the ringing of a funeral bell therefore serve as a good start. Imagine the horror of only the hand, the instrument of art, being alive and crawling spider like out of the crave after it was dug up. Then, such a thing produces art…but art of what sort? What writing does it bring froth from beyond the world? What poetry does something that is only a hand produce? Which has no eyes to see, no ears to hear, no mouth to speak, that operates only on a detached sense of touch?

The role of inhuman or altered art in Lovecraft is something we explored before, although there it was more in the form of inspiration. Here I think we have the chance to return, from the perspective not of an artist but of an audience for the audience.

We would be remiss not to note the notion of quite literal posthumous publishing seriously. After all, it is what we claim to do here.

Dreadful Tapping

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

The Previous Research:Calling Up the Dead

The four of us had heard of Master Dorthman’s services before the unfortunate accident. In that age, seances and masters of spiritual sciences were arising in a way that honestly spoke to either the authenticity of the science or the ultimate capacity for forgery and profit it presented to a bored elite. I will not say personally which I believe it is. In recent years, as my hair has greyed and age has slashed my face with a thousand daggers, it has become apparent that neither is forgery terribly profitable nor is the science as certain as once believed. However, this encounter of mine was at the heyday, and it is more of the certain then the profitable to record.

Master Dorthman was a medium that Timothy knew well at the time. Through some telegraphs and informal meetings, the Tim, Robert, myself, and Liza had agreed to seek out a medium for the upcoming anniversary of the departure of a devout spiritualist friend of ours. Drew had died in an ignoble way after a string of misfortune, and it was of our interest to see what had become of him in the hereafter. At the time, my curiosity was genuine.

 

Master Dorthman’s reputation was, according to Timothy, on the rise. We invited this up and coming man to meet us a few times before and he seemed charming enough. At the least, he would not be a bore if nothing came from his various devices for revealing letters of the dead in paper or hearing their sounds through a special silver horn.

So we sat in darkness, with the only illumination being a set of four candles at the corner of the board with letters. Dorthman, a lanky gaunt man with something of a goatee, all from his many prescribed ascetics, stared into space. The burnt incense formed a haze around his eyes as he hummed, to better receive the ghost of our dead friend before moving the viewing glass on the table. It was, Dorthman had explained, an old oriental trick to commune with the dead. The room was silent yet brimming with anticiation of some sign.

Dorthman Reshoot.png

And yet, it was still shocking when it came. We had expected Dorthman to open his eyes and proclaim something or in trance suddenly speak with dearly departed Donald’s voice. But no. It was a much smaller sign. From the hall outside, down the stairs towards the living room, came a tapping noise.

“Did you hear that?” I asked, turning from the cirlce.

“No doubt a rodent.” Tim muttered as Dorthman continued to hum.

“I doubted rodents made that sort of noise.” I said again, before the tapping resumed in a cascade.

“No, that’s no rodent.” Dorthman said, standing suddenly. “It is the spirit of the departed making his presence known. Right now, he makes clear his idenitity. The tapping, it is the way spirits show themselves and say who they are in their higher language, where the complexities of language are made more simple! Now, allow me to attend to you spirit!”

Seance1.png

And with that, he walked around the table his head held high, a candle in hand to descend down below into Donald’s ancestral home. The four of us sat in silence, unsure of our showman’s return. At last, Liza broke the silence.

“It did sound like a song I’d heard before. I hear out in the Americas, the mediums set up songs to lure the dead back.” Liza said, adjusting her dress.

“Well, that’d make sense. Music, it’s said, is the highest form of expression. The German barbarian might not understand much in his mechanical brain, but even he is susceptible to music. Why, in Africa–” Robert began, before I cut across.

“Yes, but Donald didn’t exactly have a knack for it in life did he?” I said, frowning. “He was rather unrefined in that–”

“I’ve found it yes!” Dorthman’s voice came up from across the hall. “I have found it, yes! Come and see, it’s wonderful! Though you will need a candle to see!”

“Don’t go down there yet.” I said, glaring at Tim. “Mere tapping might be many things. And I’m not so sure approaching a strange man in the dark is wise.”

“But if he’s found it, we ought to see!” Tim said, picking up one of the candles.

“What if it isn’t Donald? What if some robber has him by the throat, the tapping being some glass? Or worse, what if it’s some other apparition.” I said.

“What makes you think that?” Liza asked.

“When was the last medium who hollered at you to come down?” I asked.

“Perhaps he’s–” Tim’s discussion was stalled.

“Describe him!” Robert shouted, lifting a candle and nodding toward me. He slowly stood next to Tim.

“He has a long face, and lantern eyes! His left eye is a bit deformed!” Dorthman’s voice said. The gentlemen glanced at each other.

“Stay here. If it comes to something, we’ll come and get you.” Robert said. “The two of us, with these sticks between us, should be able to sort this out.”

And the two of them left us in the room. We could hear now the tapping from down stairs as they descended, thumping down flawless wooden steps. The tapping was a pattern, but not one we could determine. It was to music what glossolalia is to speech. Recognizable, but utterly divorced from familiarity.

“Maybe…Maybe we should try to finish the séance without them?” Liza asked, shuffling so she was across from on the spirit board after what I later gathered were about ten minutes passed. The tapping had decayed again into silence. With a shrug I joined her on the other side.

Liza had been to a séance before this, and so was more than willing to guide me along the process of the spirit board are erstwhile medium had left behind. Putting both hands on the piece, she gestured for me to follow suit. She closed her eyes and said something I couldn’t hear. At the first feeling of movement, I started my hands back, as did Liza. We stared at each other, expecting the other to confess to being the source of the motive force. Then slowly, we turned our gaze to the viewing piece, as it slowly began to move across the screen.

Some may ascribe this motion to a number of spiritualist tricks. Magnets and electricity are often involved in such deceptions, or perhaps subtle motions by some unseen mechanism that Dorthman had told Liza of before hand. But for myself, Liza seemed to startled to be implicated. Again, it is possible that what occurred was some forgery with which she was complicit. As she left the world in the sieges since, and never confessed any such thing to me, I am doubtful the truth will be known. Thus, I stress, I am only putting to pen what I myself saw.

For the small viewer began to move hesitantly across the table. It gained confidence as it did, finding its bearings and at last with precision began to spell out a phrase: Not Me.

There was a moments confusion, before we heard Robert and Tim’s voices from the stair well, and Dorthman’s from the ground floor.

“Its Donald! Come down, you have to see this! Donald’s back!” Tim’s said, his footfalls coming closer to the door. Recalling the promise the gentlemen had made, we wait. But there was silence as Tim stood before the door. No light cast from his candle inward. The door, held shut, betrayed nothing but darkness beyond.

Then, that dreadful tapping sound began on the door.It was more layered now, as hundreds of fingers rapping on the door, prodding it and testing it.

“Won’t you let me in?” Tim’s voice said from some far off distant cavern. I put my hand on Liza’s knee and shook my head in case she had not yet understood what danger we were in.

The rapping continued, and the voice did as well. Sometimes Robert, sometimes Tim, sometimes Dorthman. But never Donald’s. So we stayed there, vigilant as the night slowly faded into day. Then, when the rapping ceased, the door opened. For a moment, we saw a terrible Hecatoncheir, arms outstretched in a web of flesh and muscle around the door frame. But it was quick to become smoke before it could become anything too real.

HundredHands.png

We found Robert and Timothy slumped on the stairwell, candlesticks still in hand. We roused them with some difficulty, fearing at first they had joined Donald in the here after. As for Dorthman, his location was revealed with the sound of the slamming of the front door. We last heard he had headed across the channel to seek more continental success. I wonder if this was his first encounter. I wonder also, how he awoke before the others.


 

I’m rather fond of this one. I think the basic presence of a seance gone awry is a good one, and allowing the iniatal contact to be a false ghost might be a good start. I think it could have been doubled in length, but finals week is upon me, so doing so was not plausible at the moment.  The images used likewise are not ones I am particularly proud of.

Next Week! We return to the dead, but not an entire corpse but rather a single dead hand, scrawling out its will.

Calling Up the Dead

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

The Resulting Story:A Dreadful Tapping

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

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

Ewoks

Wrong Endor, ya dolts.

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

MayaBloodLetting.png

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

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

BuryatShaman.png

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

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

Spiritualism2.png
Spirtualism was a movement in the late 18th century, brought on by speculated causes, of conjurers and contractors of the dead. Mediums and seances spread through Europe, claiming to speak with the long dead through various devices they had. Now, whether the craze was built upon the notion of invisible forces as revealed recently by sciences, or the sudden access Europe had to Egyptian, Buddhists, and Hindu manuscripts through it’s vast colonial empire can’t be said. What can be said is that the séance was a common occurrence.
And the remains of these séances are wide spread. The Winchester house might be the most famous. Built by the wife of the inventor of the Winchester rifle, the house was always being built. Why? At a séance, the builder Sarah Winchester was told that she would be haunted by all those who were killed with the Winchester rifle. The house was thus a never ending labyrinth to confuse spirits that sought to harm Sarah, so elaborate that even within the last year new rooms were discovered.

TheWinchesterHouse.png

The Winchester House

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

There is a Garden atop a Mountain

This Week’s Prompt: 51. Enchanted garden where moon casts shadow of object or ghost invisible to the human eye.

The Research:In The Garden I Saw A Shade

Let me tell you a story.

Once there was a mountain. The mountain was a wall of milky marble at the top of the world. It was said by wise men and sages that the core of this mountain was ice, giving it it’s hue, and that layers and layers of snow kept it so. The stones striking out of it, the dirt and dust forming a coating several feet thick, were the products of the great winds that whipped along it’s sides. These winds brought with them every storm of the world, that they might come to the summit of the world and there deposit themselves and die. So the top of this mountain was obscured from mortal sight.

It was said then and I say it now, there was a garden atop that most desolate place. How? Well, through the mountain of ice and stone ran a singluar capillary of warm water, a bubbling spring. And the winds, dreadful as they were, brought seeds from the world over. And the rains watered them as the storms sank dying, walls of clouds falling away. And such was the garden, that it was known the world over by those invisible things. Gods, demons, and magicians of the most subtle art came to the garden, blessing it with their own additions. They brought animals to hunt and run, they brought sweet companions to entertain, they brought houses and thrones, to enjoy the top of the world.

LighitngAcorn.png

It was said further that only one tree of worth was not planted by the gods. Priests and sages said that once, an acorn was taken on the wind. Now an acorn is a sturdy seed, and when planted gives birth to an insatiable and marvelous tree. And it must have been doubly so for this seed was whisked on the winds, through the feircest of storms. Lighting laced it, and refined it in the way that fire forges steel and purifies water. To an untrained eye, the seed was shrinking, growing thin and barely there at all. But to those with proper sight, it was a terror, glowing with vitality. It was something like a divine, waiting to be born.

And so it landed on the ground, and by it’s own will dug down.And they say, pilgrims and mystics, that a tree did grow. And from this tree a fruit, every ten thousand years, will sp ring. A fruit that holds that infinite vitality, which is invisible to the untrain eye, but casts a shadow in the full moon.

Three such pilgrims, the story goes, had made their way to the great mountain at the top of the world. The three had all grown old and foolish in their wisdom, as all do when they think themselves wise. They had traveled far from their warm homes among shifting sands, far from their monasteries and temples and scholarly halls. They knew much.

The first one, we’ll call him Ib, was the one with the notion to scale the impossible mountain, and see the garden of the gods. Ib had long desired, as a lost priest and slowly blind scholar, to see the gods before all was lost to him. It was presumed by learned men like Ib that the fruit of the tree born of thunder would given him that much, at least, if not more. Ib walked bent over with a crooked staff that at the top split in half, forming a Y shape. It was said by his companions that only things within the branches were visible to old Ib.

Nel was the second one. Nel was no fallen pilgrim. She wore a birght robe of scarlet, and a silver staff helped him up the mountain. Nel was a pilgrim who had supped all the wine of the world, and was glorious in her own time, having broken kingdoms and temples with swords and axes. She scaled the mountain after scouring the location from priests and fleeing wisemen and loyal sorcerers, who predicted to the last that atop the mountain was a power. That to surmount the world’s head would grant the conquering queen unlimtied power.

The third was a nameless one. They were neither beggar nor queen, but someone from the mass between. What was promised to the third traveler is not well remembered, and there is no small amount of disputation and disagreement on the matter. It was something of great worth to them, and to no other, yet their common nature obscures what could be of such worth. It is said, sometimes, that it was merely to taste the wonder, regradless of it’s properities, that impelled this pilgrim forward.

So the three walked up the mountain, to the top that was shrouded in whirling winds and perpetual clouds. The hike above was perilous, and lined with shrines that other, less successful voyagers had left. Frozen bodies were left, that the winds might carry them one day up to the top. The oldest were buried into the sides of the mountain or had fallen around the edge of the bottom of the great mountain. Few of the most ancient priests were no longer recognizable as men and women…of course it was possible that they were never human to begin with and were of some older and nobler sects. Their bodies were past over without much remark.

MountainCover

At long last, the top came fully into veiw. And there was but a single gate, which was dimly visible beneath the thick and storm burdened fog, crackling with the dying streaks of lighting. There, at the great gate, was one of those things that are gods and demons, but niether. It stood as tall as a giant, they say, with a great sword that struck the four corners simeltaneously. The sword was cracked and broken into seven shards, but still stood in the guardians hand. For the gaurdian would not permit something as simple as age to end its weapon.

The guardian’s head was like a great golden bulls with a mask of an iron eagle. It had a robe of darkness about it, that blurred the line between it and the walls of clouds around it. With a single gleaming eye it gazed down upon the pilgrims, waiting for them to speak. For some come to the guardian for sage wisidom and leave, they say. For none have overpowered the guardian.

And old Ib approached, bowed and humble. He knelt as best he could, and muttered before the one eyed guardian the prayers for entry as known in a hundred temples. He rendered himself meek before the holy, that it might embrace him.

Mountain2.png

And so the guardian with ease thrust him down the great mountain, to join his brother beggars and saints.

Nel stepped forward, hand upon her staff and a scarlet rob flying in the wind. Like a fire she stood, staring at the guardian defiant. It’s eye alighted on her, as she waited unmoved and unbowed. And the guardian moved aside that she might pass.

The third one gave no pause and merely walked passed the guardian, who could not make out the third figures form or nature. Nothing was so subtle that the guardian of the garden could not see it. But rather, there was too much in the third one that they were a multitude as they walked for the guardian to rend judgement. And the third one did not care for the guardian in any matter.

The Mountain Top.png

The garden within I have already spoken of, and yet it was more beutifiul then words could commune. A dim silver light, shone down, as if all of heaven was the moon. As Nel strode through the garden, she searched for the great and rarified tree of legend. She found many strange tees, with fruit like meat or limbs that had fire for sap. But no sight of the strange tree.

Nor, to Nel’s confusion, of any of the gods or spirits that frequented the garden. None, that was, until she saw dimmly on the walls a multitude of shadows of hunters riding beasts. And heard a sound all to familiar to her warrior ears, of a bowstring drawn and arrows flying. And so the queen fled the hunters in the garden. For the gods have no use for beggars, and the lords of the earth are their hunting game.

The Third One walked in ignorance, and found that legendary fruit as the gods chased the red deer. They supped on thunder and lighting, sitting beneath the tree, now a thing like it. And they faded from sight, a thing boundless like thunder and immovable like wind, descending down onto the realm of mortals on the occasion to delight in earthquakes and fires.

In The Garden I Saw A Shade

This Week’s Prompt:51. Enchanted garden where moon casts shadow of object or ghost invisible to the human eye.

The Resulting Story: There is a Garden atop a Mountain

Now we begin a venture into two separate realms, both of shadow and of gardens, and what is in between. The central place in this story is something of an uncanny places, where the unseen is temporarily perceptible under the moon (who’s various shapes we recorded here). A moonlit walk in a garden is an almost romantic view of something unseen.

CarlLineaus

Look at this dork. Hey Carl.

The role of a garden is important however. Garden’s have long had a place in Western thought, as places of cultivated nature that appear wild. Carl Linnaeus, an advocate for the idea of a fixity of species, viewed the world as a well cultivated garden, with the Lord as it’s gardener. This connects to the presentation in Western mythos of the Garden of Eden, where the lord tends to all things. It is a symbol of cultivation, growth, and to a degree riches. YHVH is not the only god with gardens however. The Greeks had the Hesperedies and some sources point to Indra possessing a celestial garden. Peach trees were cultivated by the celestial bureaucracy of China, and fruits of immortality were also grown by the Norse gods.

GardenofEarthlyDelights1

This is cropped from the Garden of Earthly Delights. It gets weirder. See the cover pic? Yeah…

The connection with gods and gardens is more than something exclusive. Temples and monasteries often maintained gardens, either for contemplation or meditative purposes. These are separate from the wild places of the world, sacred groves and mountains that are maintained as wild as opposed to cultivated, and separate from those agricultural lands devoted to a temple that would often be redistributed among the public.

The most famous of these gardens are the Zen gardens of Zen Buddhism and Mary gardens of christian practice. I would point, briefly, to a wonderful story concerning monastic grounds and the discovery of a statue there in. It’s either a horror or humor story,depending on your own take. For me it was both.

ZenGarden.png

The connection between gods and gardens is more than just a potential connection of cultivation of the earth and tameness. It is also one of riches and authority. Gardens in ancient Egypt were known for providing nobility shade. Assyrian gardens were vaster complexes, given over to hunting areas of leisure. Gardens often in later times provided vegetables for manor houses. The garden was, in many ways, a symbol of riches and cultivation.

HangingGArdens.png

The most famous of this category, without a doubt, is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon…which there is no archaeological evidence for in Babylon, although Nineveh may be their true home. All the better, if we are to work in mythology then. The gardens, one of the Seven Ancient wonders of the World, were built according to multiple informants to replicate the green hills of a queen’s homeland that she dearly missed. They are often raised or tiered, hence “hanging”, and have marvelous aqueduct systems to supply water to the trees.

Gradens thus already have something of the uncanny in them. They are close to gods, and by extension kings, and could be arranged as something liminal between the wilderness and the civilized lands. Particularly in periods where a garden served as much as a hunting reserve as it is a place for the gathering of fruits. The shadow is just as much, if not more, of a liminal thing.

Shadows have been tied to the realm of the dead for a considerable amount of time. The word “shade” shares an origin with shadow, obviously, and many descriptions of the afterlife in the near east place it in shadow. The shadow or shade is where the dark and light intermingle in a way. There are also reports, in the last few decades, of mysterious shadow people who may be reiterations of this older mythology.

ShadowMan.png

The loss of a shadow is bemoaned in many stories, although I cannot find any particularly old folklore. We have works by Dunsany that involve selling one’s shadow, a darker tale by Hans Christen Anderson where one’s shadow leaves and becomes a rather wicked man, a story of being shunned by society for lack of a shadow. In older mythology, the shadow sometimes reveals a creatures true intentions, as a reflection might. For instance, the Kitsune’s shadow is that of a fox demon regardless of her form. The devil has some associations with the shadows as his role of prince of darkness, helped by the Jungian concept of the shadow (We will get to that shortly).

KitsuneShadow1.png

I feel like linking to “She’s a Maneater” here would be tasteless

Not all creatures of shadow are wicked, however, as the Sun god Surya in Hindu myth has married the goddess of shadow, and biblical passages often refer to the Lord as providing shade from the harshness of the sun. Dark isn’t evil I suppose.

Which brings us to the psychological shadow. The shadow, as conceived by the pyschoanalysist Carl Gustav Jung, is the result of repressed emotions and thoughts from the self. It has something in common with the Id of Freudian analysis, but is less inherently antagonistic and sexual. The shadow is better thought of as the opposite in the mind, rather than the barely contained chaotic.

carl-gustav-jung-160393

Ha. Look at this other dork. Also named Carl. Hi Carl.

The shadow as the source of a true self, as hidden hold of the soul, actually works fairly well with the notion of the Garden to a point. The graden is a place of divinity and sacredness, and while the shadow may be something profane, it is also a signifer of something human and sacred.  The shadow, like the garden, is something of revelation of character. It is the place where perhaps truth about the self comes out.

Alternatively, it might be better to have the garden by a place of confrontation with some spiritual force. This could call on a Lovecraft theme of seeking forbidden knowledge (And oh, wouldn’t that have a western parralel in Christianity!), and the shadow is often an uncomfortable thing to confront.

Said gardens, especially those that have been trespassed before, have guardians. The Hesperedies have the great dragon, and the Garden of Eden has the four headed cherubim, an angel of truly terrible appearance and power with a flaming sword that strikes in every direction. The Lovecraftian equivalent is an embodiment of time, of Yog-Sothoth, who guards the sleeping ancient ones. In the story of Death’s Master, Tales of a Flat Earth points to another sacred garden guarded by many fierce beasts.  So too will our garden be guarded by dreadful things.

Ezekiel

Pop Quiz: Are these four-headed winged warriors from Lovecraft or Ezekiel?

But then we have a new problem. What is in the garden that is so valuable. We could do well with fruits, I think. Fruits of immortality are common, but something interesting might come of using the apples of an odder sort: the golden apples of Perun. These are not tools of eternal life but items of ultimate destruction. Of course, perhaps there is a connection between the two concepts. Lighting and diamonds are often connected as symbols of enlightenment, power and durability. But that is secondary to the goal.

So our story will be of an expedition. I think at least two maybe three individuals, climbing the mountains in some far off land, to find the garden. The second portion will be the confrontation with the guardian, perhaps at the cost of life for one or two members. And then in the garden, they will find the shadows of those unseen. Perhaps hidden masters who have already partaken of the fruit, perhaps new guardians and gods enraged at being disturbed by mortal hands.

Or, perhaps, hunters in their garden surprised at new prey. We shall see.

 

 

An Ill Fated Boat Ride

This Week’s Prompt: Phleg′-e-thon: a river of liquid fire in Hades.

The Research:River of Fire

The river was great drain down the side of hills, a bright reddish brown even on the best of days. A dead snake constantly inching it’s way down, Mel would never normally go down near it. But she and Donna had made the promise to go and see if it was really true. If past the old statues, through the bent woods, and right before the lake that had somehow kept it’s clarity, on a moonlit night with no clouds in the sky, you really could see the dead.

You know it’s a rock formation, right? There’s a bunch of those. Or some mist or something.” Mel said, putting a white mask on as she got aboard the boat with Donna. They’d considered renting one, but the only boat at night was run by Mr. Gills. And Mr. Gills had one eye, kept three barely tamed dogs, and looked at people like they were meat. Donna was convinced he’d killed someone before. So they “found” an old rowboat.

Or swamp gas, maybe. But come on, what if it’s not?”

We’ve traveled down a dangerous river of slurp and who knows what to see the dead.”

And that’ll be awesome. C’mon, I borrowed a knife and got a new can of mace for this.” Donna said from the old boat. “We’ll pull over on the lake and see the moon at worst, and then trek back, and you can blog about how we wasted a night on an adventure! Or seeing the dead, now come on!”

Mel frowned, looking down the sides of the river, checking for the tenth time that she had her phone and keys. And then the began down the river.

RedRiverCover.png

The moonlight seemed to foul on the water. When you could make out it’s reflection, it was an outline of rotting cheese instead of the orange disk overhead. Mel saw some distant lights over the hills, probably a summer camp bonfire. It was oddly cold along the river, the summer heat sucked into the porous earth.

And who’s that?” Donna asked, shining a light on a marble calvary man covered in moss, his head having fallen off.

Judging by the…colorful base.” Mel said, squinting at the layered graffitti. “He’s at the least had an eventful love life. Name starts with an H…Henry?”

Henry, huh?” Donna said, shining the light at where the head would be. For an instant there was a face in the branches, grimacing from with flashing eyes and fading translucent skin. The tree lines became veins of invisible wounds along a shadow of a face. Mel blinked, and it was gone.

What war did we have that’s got a statue these days?”

Plenty?”

Okay, but which one that people leave in the middle of the woods?”

Mel had to pause at that. Yeah, you’d think a place that could afford a statue would move it. But they were drifting into older parts of town, which were more wild than others.

Maybe they tried. I read about that, back in Spain, that saint statues went back into the wilds if you tried to bring them back.” Mel said, pointing her flashlight into the nearer woods. The sudden movement of the flashlight caught some of the branches and a few birds fluttered away, cawing at being disturbed from sleeping.

Yeah, I would rather be asleep too, Mel thought. But a deal’s a deal.

That’s dumb. It’s a statue. Just move it back again.” Donna said frowning, her light catching on glittering cans that poked above the river’s sludge surface. With a flashlight instead of the moon on them, the metal became rusty detrius again. Mel wondered if stars worked like that. If you saw them too clearly, were they no longer beautiful?

I think the idea was it was the saints that moved them.” Mel said. The river had carried them past the last of the statues now. The gray and red iron of the cemetery was coming into sight now. Probably, Mel thought, the statue was a grave not a war memorial. Probably, the idea was that the cavalry man buried beneath would stand in an unstained, well kept forest of stones and sarcophagi. Maybe even surviving family or service men would visit him.

The Old Town cemetery had been so thoroguly reclaimed by the forest that there was burial a tombstone that could be read. Some tomb stones and family lots were knotted together, moss layered over them like a blanket over a group of hiding children. Some of the longer stones had croaking frogs on them, large white eyes reflecting the light perfectly back at Mel and Donna, little lanterns on the edge. And of course there were spider webs. Spider webs from branches to roots, among graves that could still be seen, running as a second fence between the iron one. Some spiraled, some just ran straight, a net of silk to catch flies that no doubt had been plentiful from all the bodies once.

Maybe the reconstruction club should do something down here.” Mel said.

The reconstruction club?”

The Historical society, the ancestry commune, I don’t know. People who have money to fix old stuff.”

Huh. Wonder if anyone related to the old town still lives around here. They’d probably want their grandparent’s old stuff fixed up.”

Charon's Boat.png

Mel nodded, before glancing over the hill. A dim orange light was starting to rise in the distance. It couldn’t be sunrise already, could it? No, no they’d been out here only a few hours. It must still be that bonfire. Man, that was a long party.

There was a sloshing not far behind as they passed the graveyard. A black boat gradually pulled up along side them. Mel and Donna exchanged looks as the growl of an angry dog was heard from what was clearly Gills ship.

Well, row! Mace probably won’t reach that high if he’s gonna kill us.” Donna said in a panic.

Mel began as best she could to push faster along the sludge. The larger boat moved along, foot steps echoing on deck as their smaller shipped slowly pulled ahead. At last they seemed safe, a good distance established. Unless, of course, he had a gun.

If he had a gun, we’d be screwed anyway.” Donna muttered when Mel mentioned it.

Maybe we should land?” Mel said, looking to the side of the river. The coast was a thin outline of reeds, but she could still make it out from the pebbles on the shore.

No, no. No. He’d just jump us there.” Donna said, not taking her eyes off the boat. “Damnit, what assholes is he bringing out here.”

Maybe he just sails down river at night?” Mel said, still catching her breath.

What, in the midlde of the night in this–” Donna stopped as Mel gestured at their boat with her hands.

Okay, but we have a good reason.”

We’re chasing a ghost story.” Mel groaned.

Look, I just-Oh shit, he’s started again. Paddle!”

You paddle.” Mel said, lying back and looking at the handful of dim stars in the sky. “I’m tired.”

Donna groaned, but grabbed the oars and began driving their boat back away from the ceaseless march of the more proper river boat. Mel watched as a figure came out with a lantern in hand on the prow. It seemed extremely reckless to sail without anyone steering. Donna’s rowing pushed them ahead again, past the cemetery and far from the boat.

Is he still following us?” Donna asked, sighing.

No…No, he pulled off, seems to have run ashore.” Mel said squinting. The orange on the horizon was growing behind the ship. Mel now heard the hiss of steam. The smell of burning filth came down on the wind ahead of the stream of fire that was snaking it’s way towards them. Fire full of smoke and dancing shadows, tongues of flame licking the sky.

Oh god, oh god.” Mel said, pointing vainly over Donna’s shoulder. Gills boat sat in front of the fire, back-lit by it as he waited by the side. The thick smoke and fire was gaining steam as Mel grabbed the oars from Donna and started peddling towards the shore.

River Of Fire.png

Adrenaline was pumping the oars, giving Mel’s arms any strength. Furious movement away from the fire was the best she could manage some of the water splashing over and into the boat as Donna turned herself to see the encroaching light. As Mel felt exhaustion take its toll, as the boat bumped against rocks hidden in the river, ruins of some long forgotten damn and bridge, the flames seemed alive. A mass of red and green and orange and blue teeth teetering over the water through pumes of smoke that masked it’s true bulk. It was almost transfixing, fire having that special power that it does over terrified and desperate minds.

The boat hit a final rock and Mel felt it slipping out from underneath, rolling onto it’s side. The water tasted worse then it smelled as Mel tried to swim out from under, flailing vainly towards the shore. There was a brief, panicked comfort in the cold water, even as a branch clung to Mel’s leg. Kicking violent, Mel pulled herself free at last and pulled herself to the shore.

RedRiverCover1.png

Only then did she turn back to see the branch, slumped in the river, overcome and lit by the fire. The smell of burning flesh filled her nose as she saw the dead floating down the stream.

****

Midterms put a great deal of temporal stress on this story. I like the idea of playing with the reality of the horror vs the literal tricks of light and shadow, but the ending is rushed and to be honest it doesn’t have the symbolic resonance the story deserved. But it was either wait another 2 weeks perfecting it, or sending this out. I’m disappointed that the fiftieth isn’t my best work, but that is nature of things sometimes.

Next week, we journey to a strange garden with stranger shadows.