At the Hollow of the World

This Week’s Prompt:130. N.E. region call’d “Witches’ Hollow”—along course of a river. Rumours of witches’ sabbaths and Indian powwows on a broad mound rising out of the level where some old hemlocks and beeches formed a dark grove or daemon-temple. Legends hard to account for. Holmes—Guardian Angel.

The Prior Research:Witches’ Hollow and Devils Den

Martin Alexander was an unwelcome sight in the town of Fairbrook. Now, the people of Fairbrook considered themselves hospitable and properly so, offering food and shelter to those in need—often without question of why they found themselves in need. But Martin’s story was known to them already—had been for months now. Maritn had been involved in some unfortunate business down river, and set out on his own rather than make peace about the matter.

As he had no kin in town, and little money, he had been a lingering shadow over the town for months. He helped where he could—he repaired roofs, he carried parcels, that sort of thing. Martin had never planned on staying in Fairbrook long. It was close to home, which meant people knew him. But it was close to home, and people knew of him. So once he had some money saved up, he left town with his dog. He had all he needed to try and raise his own farm out of town some.

Back then there wasn’t as much worry about buying deeds to land or the like. That happened, sure, but not everywhere—plenty of places that if you asked the law, no one lived on and never had. Martin made his way to one of these places, in the shade of a large hill. He figured, rightly, the hill would give some clouds pause, making sure it rained around his farm.

He built himself a house near that forested hill—the trees on the hill where thick, and he considred if they’d make for good timber. But something about the blackened bark and heavy shade convinced Martin that it was best they were left where they were.

*

Often we talk about places in that way, with regards to how they are changed by people. This is especially true of natural places—great mountains are mined, forests cleared, fields furrowed. We talk of places explored, and settled, and shaped. We deny places the power they have, the material’s capacity to shape the maker.

Martin’s dog, Darling, started barking one late autumn night. It stirred the lonely exile from his sleep, groggy and irritable. But the dog would not cease her warnings until Martin stood and came to the door. She scratched and whined and he cursed and swore. When that did nothing he lit his lantern, to see past moonlight, and opened the door. Out she shot, and Martin took in the serene and chilling autumn air.

And on the hill, he saw the trees sway—great storm winds from the sea pressing against their darkened timbers, the spear like tips bending about. The clouds over head passed and stalled over the moon as he looked—and faintly he saw dancing lights in the shadowed depths. Mostly he saw Darling rush and bark at the trees some, before trotting back proudly to the door.

“Did you get it?” Martin teased, staring into the black where Darling barked. Darling wagged her tail and sat at the door, ready with ears to defend the house hold. And the night passed, with only the thundering disturbances of a storm—the clouds over the hill having swelled.

*

The exception we make is when those places have persons in them. When a friend returns home, they return to old habits, old thoughts, and old patterns. We notice, when we see them again—they have their old accent for a time, their old way of moving and holding themselves. It is a part of humanity, not only to adapt our surroundings to our needs, but to adapt to our surroundings. To be both shaper and shaped, like a sculptor made of clay.

*

The next day, Martin decided to climb the old hollow. The lights last night were strange to him—he had heard tale of will-o-wisp and ghost light and others, but paid those story little attention as years went on. More worrying was the idea of strangers nearby. Conspiracy or other shapes in the woods were never good, and he wanted to know if there was something he should forget.

Darling came along, sticking close to Martin’s feet, ears down and pressing ahead. She growled at the occasional squirrel or other small rodent in the roots and branches, barked at a bird sitting on a dying branch. Martin scratched her head every now and then as his feet crushed grass and leaves. The orange and red strew across the floor, whipped by the wind, looked like a paper inferno.

At last, Martin found the spot—a pair of rocks rising like walls. Behind them, the top of the hill opened up—and down into yet greater depths. Martin stood at the edge and gazed down—into a deep pit that reminded him of a frog’s gaping mouth. Darling circled round, tail pressed down as she barked into the dark. The sound echoed down and down and down.

As he stepped closer, the ground cracked like glass—and looking down he saw a dried puddle of glass and white ash.  The sunlight that trailed down into the dark shimmered against other strange drops.

Now Martin was not an educated man, but his mother had raised him to be smarter than most. And he knew not to meddle in things he didn’t understand. Things he didn’t grasp where best left to other folk. Despite Darling’s barking, he went down the hill and shook his head. Some damn party or something, nothing else. Probably just lamps in the storm.

*

But when discussing the shaping of man, we leave out his non-human counterparts. Or at least, in part. We talk often about how a pet might help one recover from grief, how surrounding ourselves with plants makes us more relaxed. If it is something we invite in, we accept that it could have sway over us, influence us. If we return somewhere, it may change us.

Martin’s first harvest was hard work—he was alone on his farm, except for Darling. He didn’t have the cash to hire out help, nor did he want it. The people of Fairbrook and him kept at something of a distance—he would come and buy or sell as he needed, and they’d oblige him. Sometimes they’d send for him, if there was some old job he’d done once that needed doing again.

Fall came with its storms shortly after. And again, a year past the strange lanterns, Martin foundhimself stirred from slumber—not by the barking of Darling, but by the roar and crash of thunder. It rumbled and rolled—rain danced on the roof, crackling on the wood and ready to slip in if it could find a crack. The wind was too heavy, the rain too strong, for Martin to consider again venturing out. The darkness and howling was overwhelming.

Martin had heard stories of locusts—buzzing masses of insects over a farm land. He had seen dogs as a boy, tame and wild, that roamed free in fields. He’d seem them hunt and chase, barking after a rabbit or raccoon. Martin didn’t know what had the wind so hungry as it howled, so enraged as it buzzed and battered about. He hoped it wasn’t him.

What roused Martin out of the comfort of clinging to his bead, staring at the ceiling as the storm shook the entire world around him, was something comparatively small. A knock at the door. Three quick and heavy knocks. His mother had raised Martin right—that in desperate times, you should help those around you. And anyone out in the storm, well, they would certainly need some help.

Now, Martin didn’t mingle much with the high society, such as it was in Fairbrooks. He knew a man and woman of no small means, however. They had layers of fine clothes, and the man took off his beaver cap and smiled at Martin.

*

Far less freely comes the acknowledgement of how those surroundings, still wild, still unkept, might shape us. How the mountains and forests might imprint upon a man certain dispositions. How even the patterns of wind and rain might shape the mind. These we exclude in the modern age—we embrace them only when we discuss the material forces accepted into culture. The way one gathers food, this we permit to shape us. The shape of the river itself, we are loathe to admit.

*

“I hope not to intrude too much, good man.” The man at the door said, his arm around the young lady, helping her stay steady. Martin glanced at them, his hand still on the door. “But we have had a most unforuntae accident. We need a place to stay, only for the night.”

Darling, at his side, growled at the two. She did not like there smell, it smelled of rotting things to the old dog.

“I’d love to, I would really love to sir, but I’ve only got the one bed. We don’t get many guests out here at any time of the year.” He said, scratching his head and opening the door some so they could see the small size of his little cabin.

The man waved his hand aside.

“We need only a night—only a night, good sir, until the storm passes. Can you spare a blanket for the lady, and a store room to sleep in?” He made his way in, Martin stepping aside out of some reflexive politeness.

Despite himself, Martin couldn’t deny he had a floor and some blankets. And if they were really out in the storm, at this hour, this desperate, he couldn’t in good conscience turn them away. The storm was dreadful outside, and Fairbrooks was a fair bit away.  So he showed them to his store room, offering the two a blanket he had. The man thanked him.

When he went back to bed, Martin thought on that some. It was strange that the woman never said a word to him. Didn’t even look at him.

Stroking his beard and scratching Darling’s ears—the poor girl was nervous with strangers, and the thunder had her on edge. Eventually, they managed to get some sleep—though Martin fastened the door shut. He wasn’t sure he trusted those two quite yet.

*

Yet can we deny that the regular flow of the Nile, its floods every year so predictable that one can mark a clock by it, shaped the divine images of the Egyptians? Can we not see how the turbulent  Euphrates and Tigris gave rise to equally petty gods in Ur, unpredictable and ravenous? We are not metal shaping clay, we are clay shaping clay, and shaped by it in turn.

Martin never saw the man and woman leave. He woke when it was past noon, Darling’s barking hoarse. The two of them had left, that was certain—nothing but the blanket was in the store room. The blanket and a small bag, tied tight. He lifted it and felt its weight—heavy for its side, and full of something soft like sand—and something heavy in the middle, bout as round as his thumb.

Martin shrugged off the strangers departure, after checking that nothing of his had been stolen. Not that he had much to steal. As he stepped out onto the grass to begin his day, he heard the familiar crack of ash-white glass beneath his feet.


So this story is one where I ran into the deadline fairly quickly. I hope I captured something uncanny here, a feeling of wrongness instead of just horror. I could see turning this into a proper novel or longer form story at least—there are ideas I wanted to play with that simply didn’t have the time to examine. Next time, we’ll be going back to strange lights in the night—the faux fires that flicker in the woods! See you then!

Witches’ Hollow and Devils Den

This Week’s Prompt: 130. N.E. region call’d “Witches’ Hollow”—along course of a river. Rumours of witches’ sabbaths and Indian powwows on a broad mound rising out of the level where some old hemlocks and beeches formed a dark grove or daemon-temple. Legends hard to account for. Holmes—Guardian Angel.

The Resulting Research:

Witchcraft in New England of course has a proud tradition in folklore—particularly after the Salem witch trials. There is a genre of tales about such witch trials, both as very late in the history of witch hunts and the guilt of the times over such an unenlightened beginning. When the cultural push came for American literature separate from the European kind, witch trials became a common subject of discussion. And the colonial connection between the witches sabbath (which we discussed here) and the Indian “powwow” is not surprising—we can find other notions of secret magic possessed by native peoples elsewhere, even if they are not as nefarious.  For instance, the book Pow Wows or the Long Lost Friend by John George Hoffman uses the term ‘pow wow’ for its magical rights, claims secret Roma knowledge in the testimonials, while remaining a definitively Christian work in world view.

Tracking witch craft beliefs in New England itself isn’t hard. There are stories in Rhode Island of witchcraft detecting cakes and charms. There are stories in Marblehead of necromantic merchants who live on old hills. But harder to find are stories of witches sabbaths and gatherings.

We are told that witches in New England attended such gatherings with a special ointment provided by the devil, and they flew there instead of walked. The Devil himself is involved in every aspect of witchcraft—some attributes here, however, are more unique then elsewhere. A witch cannot say the Lord’s prayer (a theme we see in Britain, where acknowledging the power of the Lord undoes witchcraft).

In Salem, the center of the witch craze, we find references to certain neighborhoods as infected with witch craft—a telling line refers to 40 men in Andover who could conjure the devil. The actual location of the Salem witch’s sabbath was supposedly an orchard, where a perverse Eucharist took place. We’ve discussed Salem at length here, and expansion on them isn’t really needed.

One story of interest that is connected is the arrest of Reverend George Bourghs. The officers of the law, when pursuing him, decided to take an unfamiliar route so that they might take him off guard. However, when they settled into the forest to ambush him, a great and terrible storm came in. Convinced now that he was sending forth the powers of hell to overcome them, the officers panicked. After a particularly bad thunder bolt, all fell silent and terror seized the animals. Then the animals turned and fled, as if compelled and lashed by unseen hands. This was taken in as evidence that the Reverend was in fact guilty.

Moving away from Salem, a place of prominence is the Devil’s Den in Pennsylvania. This cavern has two entrances, kept open through winter and summer by the constant passage of wicked spirits. The interior is apparently opalescent above by torch light. Located near Gettysburg, the stones are believed to be haunted by the spirits of traitor and Union dead—sounds of the battle are still reported. Other folklore accounts claim that the sounds of skirmishes with Native Americans can be heard—although the proof of such a battle remains ambiguous. Still, the Devils Den in New Hampshire provide plenty of underworld guests.

There is also Devil’s Den in Massachusetts. This cavern was once a quarry, and has a strange collection of folklore around it. It was, like the above, believed to belong to the devil. It was a common hide out for adventurous and trickster boys, who hid from farmers here. In order to enter safely, however, one had to go to a nearby stone—the Devil’s pulpit—and say some very irreligious things. This stone was the devils own preaching spot for his infernal band (a continuation of the devil conducting inversions of proper Christian practices). The imitation of the blasphemy might spare the boy some of the effects o the cave…but even then it was unwise to travel into the den alone. Written upon the entrance of the den was supposedly a name that killed anyone who dared enter the caverns alone. The den’s rocks sometimes bore the footprints of the devil and his parties might be heard from the cavern.

Now, like a few prior prompts, this one references a specific book—one I admit I did not have the time or patience to read in full. Still, I found an adequate summary and found the scene of most relevance in question—the scene where the Witches Hollow is observed in a feverish state, and the ghosts of the dead and the strange. There is a cross that burns with green fire but is never consumed, a parade of the character’s ancestors—from a number of lines and locations, from India to New England Puritans. The story itself is of little import—it touches on the notion of conflicting ‘natures’ in blood, and resolving this dual-feeling that…well, I think someone could write a good story on the feeling of conflicting identity, I am not going to read an entire 18th century novel on the matter.

The visual, however, touches on another angle I haven’t discussed. The lonely hill that serves as a center of strance activities, with a sort of natural temple emerging from the plant life, reminds me strongly of the Green Chapel where the Green Knight meets Gawain. It is describe such:

And now, from just beyond a jutting hill,

Came hideous sounds, as of a giant mill

That hisses, roars, and sputters, clicks and clacks;–

It was the Green Knight sharpening his axe!

And Gawayne, coming past the corner, found him,

With ghastly mouldering skulls and bones strewn round him,

In joyous fury urging the keen steel

Against the surface of his grinding wheel.

The place was a wild hollow, circled round

With barren hills, and on the bottom ground

Stood the Green Chapel, moss-grown, solitary;–

In sooth, it seemed the devil’s mortuary!

The overgrow of vegetation in place of stone strikes me as one of the recurring tropes of these places. They are covered in sounds and strange fogs, to hide their presence. The Green Chapel is of course far more gruesome—the bones and hisses and skulls paint a grimmer image than the description from Guardian Angel.

For a story, this gives us a scene more than a place. It gives some themes as well—a place with a mystic history, regardless of culture. It is a place where magic can be worked—and in a horror story, such a place is unlikely to be friendly. It is at best a sublime place—a place both wonderful and terrible, where horror and beauty intermingle.  It is at worst a small opening into hell itself, where the world distorts into something darker and more wild, where rot and decay and the smell of ruined stone are rampant.

Either way, it is by many accounts, a place that attracts travelers. Whether they be miscreant boys, or travelers lured close by lights and sound, or a place where an eavesdropper hides from pursuit, and learns the secret schemes of devils. Many of them are located near hills or in the depths of the earth—places far from ‘civilized’ society, in places that would be haunted by fairies in earlier times.  Our story must involve this place, and no doubt a trip there—but what beyond that? Do we follow it like the character in a Hawthorne story, lured here by promises or by some internal need to escape the bounds of society? Does Dionysus call us to revelry, or to the ruins of a haunted hill?

Francisco Goya – Aquelarre (Basque/Spanish Witches’ Sabbath) a.k.a. The Great He-Goat

A monster could be added of course, or a witch. If we are dealing with a witch gathering however, I think…hm. I think the notion of just eavesdropping has been done too often. I think instead seeking out such a place intentionally is more interesting. Making deals with outside forces for one’s own benefit—and in bad faith, as is common the case—can make for a more poignant story.

I don’t think there is much to gain by connecting the location to Native American shamanistic traditions, but the meaning of that connection to Lovecraft is at least worth touching on. Native Americans occupy not only the role of perceived devil worshippers—taking the place in colonial imagination of pagans from times before Christianity—but also share the role of communal guilt.

I consider the ghost stories of Rhode Island an example of this feeling of guilt in the folklore—the number of places haunted by Native Americans, the pines that are living reminders of innocent souls killed. There is this lingering…feeling in the folklore that I would compare to the Salem Witch Trials literary roll—a guilt, to a degree, without action. A recognition of wrongness, although not always a redress of the source of the wrongness.

While this hill then is on the one hand a place of demonic and anti-social activity, it is also a place of guilt. It is a place defined as the temple of those who once lived on the land, and rightfully should, and was then taken up by those in society who dared reach beyond it. It is a place of murder. Where the past of land died, and where the future was strangled in its crib.

I don’t have a full story formed from these themes, but I think there is something to be mined here—more tragic perhaps than horrific.

I should now say, as I once did for Marblehead and other stories, that I have been beaten to the punch regarding this prompt. Luckily, this time it was by a man over a hundred years old, August Derelth. I lacked time to read the entire story but found a good review of it here.

Bibliography

Drake, Samuel Adams. A Book of New England Legends and Folklore in Prose and Poetry.Boston, Little Brown and company, 1901.

Orians, G. Harrison. “New England Witchcraft in Fiction.” American Literature, vol. 2, no. 1, 1930, pp. 54–71. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2919930. Accessed 21 July 2021.

The Valley and the Modern Men

This Week’s Prompt:  129. Marble Faun p. 346—strange and prehistorick Italian city of stone.

The Prior Research: Between Man and Beast

Oak trees and chestnut branches ran overhead, as the band of four hunters entered the forest.  Careful to step over the roots, they pushed through the underbrush—off the barren beaten path, deeper into the forest than any of them were familiar with. Well, than three of them were familiar with. The fourth, a local boy—Antonio? Americo? They hadn’t cared to keep his name straight—was of this place. His features were, to these modern men, the same as many rustics—dark hair, an almost innocent youth that seemed yet unaware of the mysteries of the world.

The three of them had debated even bothering with such a guide.

“Ah, see here sir, you can have a wonderous view of the rivers!” He said, pointing down at the nestled cataracts that ran through the base of the river—each splitting off from its mother, down and down through the place. Canals of clear water, the snow having just melted, swelled them beyond their normal shores.

“Ah, yes, we’ve seen much of it.” Marcelle, the youngest of the three guests said. He looked over and smiled at the rivers. “There is a simple charm to it, no?”

“It is simply beautiful.” The guide said.  Alessandro, the eldest member of the train sighed as he caught up. He was batting away perceived insects, and scratching at sores that weren’t there.

“It is. Simple.” He panted, looking over everything. “I suppose even such…wastes are prone to a sort of beauty. From a…particular perspective.”

Alessandro had been the most outspokenly opposed to the guide. They had maps of the region—fairly reliable ones, from aerial photographs and other sources. They had no need to waste money on some illiterate peasant boy.

“Oh, come now Alessandro.” The final member of the triumvirate, Luca, said with a laugh. “You can’t simply look at the Valley of Painters and wave off all of its wonder.”

“A painter’s eye renders even the battlefield beautiful.” Alessandro said. “We would not call such things the case anymore, except with regards the most decadent and degraded of art forms.”

For his part, the local boy had lost interest in the conversation and begun the descent deeper into the wood. The modern men were not here for beauty, and while the boy was always in wonder of the woods, he found their talk tiresome. He did not quite understand their purpose on this expedition—it was some matter of state that brought them here, and the boy cared little of affairs of state.

Still, they had good coin and he was fond of wondering in the woods when he had the chance, away from chores and lessons. He could tolerate bickering for that. And of course, he led them through paths in the woods that were…well, no difficulty for him. But for these tired men, the river seemed far less friendly. The ivy more worrisome. The moss and stones slippery. They grumbled and shook, and Alessandro himself swore a few times.

Were their easier paths to the old stones? Perhaps. But the boy saw no reason to use them. They were less fun.

The stones themselves rose from the trees and undergrowth like huge marble teeth. Marcelle took a moment to circle the first set of these stones—laid one next to another, each twice his height. Ivy had scaled them, and small moss grew from the cracks between the cyclopean bricks.

“Well. Perhaps not so precisely laid as we were told.” Luca said, walking in front of the wall segment. “Impressive, but not…well, they aren’t the pyramids, no?”

“The pyramids…” Alessandro grumbled as he ran his hand along the stone…and walked over to the other side. “Have the notable advantage of being in a desert, where neither man nor god would seek to wear them down.”[1]

“And they are plainer than this.” Alessandro continued from across the side, gesturing at the images carved into the stone. There, in the marble, where the lines to mark a scene—separating an upper portion of the wall that displayed trees rising through. There were legs of horses along the bottom, and scant lines that Alessandro insisted marked a procession. Here, Marcelle pointed, where cracks that meant torches. Surely, they agreed, this was not a mere happenstance. And of course, then they turned to see the rest of the stones.

The city, as they had called it in the library, extended over a portion of the valley. Part of the dispute, from the powers that be, was whether it was a city or simply the caste off stones, worn down into strange shapes. An ancient and primeval city was a matter of historical and national interest—the noble ancient past of Italy, the Powers That Be made clear, could not be simply allowed to decay. Such a place would no doubt serve as the gathering site for all manner of undesirable parts of the populace.

So the men had been set out to ascertain the nature of the city, and further to tell if some community had hidden away there yet. For this endeavor, and to satisfy their own curiousity, they endured the train rides and hikes and even the young boy who seemed uninterested in the stones. The boy had seen the stones before, a hundred times. They were another wonder of the wood, a mystery that one day he may solve.

Nevertheless, the three older men insisted they go in deeper—they had daylight yet, and more than enough time to make it back to the village if need be. Marcelle even pointed back to what he thought was a quicker route, advising the boy that next time, they need not spend so long dallying about. The boy pretend to care, and marveled politely at the insights into the forest he knew better than his prayers.

The three went down then, following what they took for an old avenue—Alessandro took the lead now, methodically searching for signs of habitation that had tarnished the nobility of the marble. Here a stone was taken for the base of a great statue, worn down by the years. There, more walls and stately homes. Could these regular lines mark an orchird?

There was little sign of habitation, the men found, at least of the outer portions of the city. It was a serene place—there was no bird song to bother their thoughts, and no serepents lying in wait beneath their feet. There was once, they thought, the sound of something in the bushes—but an investigation found nothing, save a few tracks. A deer or the like had no doubt found the city a safe haven—for there was no sign of predation in this place.

“Strange.” Alessandro said, as they surveyed. “The growth here, it is bare enough to discern the noble marble underneath…we can still see the outlines of this great city rendered out of the chaos.”

“Well, are we surprised marble and stone has prevailed where memory and words have not?” Luca said, looking around. “The sculptures art out lasts painting and posey, that’s no surprise. That the city planner outlast even him is only logical.”

“Yes, yes, but that is not the issue.” Alessandro said, looking deeper into the wood. “The strangeness is rather that…ought the interior be more free of such growths? Why, here…come here, gentleman—and boy, get here.” He said, beckoning to where he stood.

Before them was a large mass of moss over a boulder—and beyond it, the trees grew thick, casting shadows off the depths. The four watchers gathered round, and frowned at the rock.

“What of it? A cast off stone isn’t so strange.” Marcelle said, raising an eyebrow, and leaning down.

“Right, boy. Tell me, what do you imagine this to be.” Alessandro said, pointing an accusing figure at the mass.

“That’s moss, sir. It grows on rocks that don’t move.” The boy said innocently.

“And beneath it?” Alessandro continued as Marcelle examined the rock and moss, moving some aside.

“I figure a rock.” The boy said.

“One that doesn’t move.” He added after a brief pause.

Alessandro nodded, and gestured again at the rock.

“Ah, how the mystery thickens. See, this is how such wonders hide—this is not a mere rock. First, let us examine it’s shape. Look here.” He pointed at the base—and taking a small knife, revealed a flat bottom. “Here we see the touch of the mason—a perfectly flat bottom.”

“Rivers make flat stones, Alessandro, this is hardly an innovation.” Luca said, walking around the rock, and casting a gaze on the vast field of others leading deeper into the wood, where sunlight barely played on the shifting shadows.

“Rivers do, they do. Now let us consider the second point.” Alessandro said, continuing to cut the green away with a knife—and placing his finger on a thin, worn groove running down, and then cutting across. “Here, this is not the work of water—water does not make right turns, does it?”

And this was assented to.

“And the third—let us look over there. See, the walls we observed earlier—do you see any mark of disturbance in their foundations? Surely, a stone of this size could not be lifted into position by rivers—it must have rolled down, if it came here in the age of man. Yet, it was not removed by those who laid the outer ring!” Alessandro said ecstatically.

“Hm…all good points.” Marcelle said, nodding, and turning back to the rock. “Still…if that is the case…why is it more covered then the rest?”

“My question precisely! Ought not the forum and city center, where laid and sterile stone is the most prevalent, rot last? The fields are already barely contained, barely pulled from the grip of nature.” Alessandro pointed a finger at the darkening woods. “So why is it that where once the great palaces and temples would by all logic stand, nature has taken her greatest revenge?”

The three men stared into the forest of cast stones, some with tree roots splintering them, others bent with the weight of ivy, bushes grown rampant. The epicenter of this growth could not quite be seen from where they stood—only that the hill buckled at the top somewhat, a small crater. Still, the inference was clear. The might spears of nature, shooting out of the ground provided unexpected shade as they went deeper in to the depths.

“Of course, here we would expect such things to take their shelter.” Alessandro said, tilting his head to hear closely. “Listen, here that? Some goats lost by a shepherd boy. Do they beat such lazy boys still, boy?”

The boy nodded quickly at the remark.

“If a shepherd loses much of his flock, it’d be best for him to flee home than face his master,” He said, walking up a broken pillar to stare deeper into the woods. “Though, I’m not so sure sheep would like it here. They are not fond of the woods, and would probably be prey for wolves.”

“Ah yes, I suppose sheep should not wander far without a shepherd to guide them. The wolves are always waiting.” Marcelle nodded. “Such simple wisdom. Still, what harm is there if a goat follows us in?”

The three agreed that such a creature wasn’t a threat in the slightest, and move in deeper—although the boy lingered some, savoring the sights before moving. He also listened—and heard the gait of a goat, yes. But a strange one, which moved with some swiftness. His brothers had told him, the goats of the wood were not to be trusted—for they often made wolves their prey.

They arrived where the trees were as thick as storm clouds. No, thicker still—for as they came to the crude center of the crater, where only the faint slivers of light shone through. Here was the greatest of trees—a broken oak, smote by lighting long ago.

“Look how the roots grow—their impression is all that remains of the stones.” Alessandro said, pacing about.

“An echo of an echo…” Luca said, squinting to see anything in the darkness. “Look, is this a root or a stone…” He traced the roots, and felt the dead wood give way to the petrified remains of wood, long fused with the rubble and stone work.

“Struck by Zeus’s own thunder.” Marcelle said, marveling at it’s bent hollow and twisted shape, warped around where the bolt left a heavy gashing wound.

“Tell me boy, have you seen such—” Alessandro began…and realized the boy was gone. Perhaps lost, perhaps bored, perhaps afraid. Either way, the three stared off into the dark of the wood—the light hidden by the hill on all sides.

“Hm. Well, if the punishment for the loss of mere sheep is such a beating that a man would flee town than suffer it, we shall see what the penalty for abandoning officials is.” Alessandro said. His threat seemed all the more fearsome in darkness, when only his fellows could witness it. Yet it was almost ludicrous. Here in the hall of wood, where there was no one to see—what power could such a slight threat hold?

It was then they heard them again—the clicking of goat feet on the stones long buried. The tapping of wood on dead rock.

And there, the strange modern men who thought themselves in a dead land, found themselves surrounded by horns and beards that reached  down to the stones. Hundreds of eyes stared upon them, the three of them against the tree. And the old sages of the city set upon them.

*

The peasant boy heard pan flutes through the wood, the sweetest music he had heard—no doubt the wind playing on the hollows of the wood. He wondered as he went home if the three men he’d met today appreciated the music of the forests and valleys.


Playing with modernism, and the arrogance that comes with it, was the root of this idea. I couldn’t quite figure out how to transistion between the ruins and the inhabitants still there—the ending is rushed as a result, as I had to eventually give up on linking the two together. If I come back to this, I think that would be the part to adjust—a more solid conculsion would help give the entire piece more direction.

Next time, we discuss witch gatherings and spells in forgotten hills!


[1] This is of course patently false—the pyramids were looted, both within and without, many times.

Between Man and Beast

This Week’s Prompt: 129. Marble Faun p. 346—strange and prehistorick Italian city of stone.

The Resulting Story: FORTH COMING

This is another prompt that lead a few odd places. To begin with, I was unaware at the time that Marble Faun was in fact a Nathaniel Hawthorne story–and so a good deal of the research I share with you has the Marblehead character of being related but not necessarily directly intended. Nonetheless, it is interesting material. And the Faun or Satyr’s character does play an important role in the Nathaniel Hawthorne story, and we will come back to that concern in a moment.

When discussing fauns or satyrs, we must acknowledge that they occupy an unusual place. They are creatures that are both men and beast, partaking in parts of civilization but not the whole of it. In Roman Legend, there is the story of the prince who becomes a satyr–we discussed that here. The attachment of monstrous half-beast men and women is not uncommon in the world of folklore, particularly folklore written outside of rural settings. At least one of my sources made this distinction between the folklore wild man and the wild man recorded by artists.

The Satyr or wild man recorded by people outside artistic circles are variable in shape–sometimes very large, sometimes oddly small. They are not universally men either. Wild women are also found, often shapeshifters who’s breasts hang low enough to be thrown over their shoulders. They live in places far from human habitation, on mountaintops–often specifically the highest part of the Alps in Europe, for instance. The appearance varies–hair is a common attribute, but how long and if it is even is unclear. European wild men are known to eat people frequently, a trait that is less universal elsewhere.

And when discussing the medieval wild man, things are different. The wild man in medieval art is not just an inhabitant of places beyond human habitation, they dwell on the border between men and beast. The folklore wildman lives on a mountain, unreachable by most–the medieval art wildman lives in the forests nearby. The wildman is also strongly associated not only as wild but as feral, an exemplar of man in a state separated from the Church. The wildman is also in these cases always larger, and usually ‘dark’–the implications of this to me seeming obvious. That the sexual angle of the wildman is repeatedly stated with wildmen in these contexts is notable as well, and it does seem likely the story of “fallen man who is more like a beast but can be redeemed through civilzing light of Christianity” played a roll in depictions and colonization of Native Americans.

Most wild men have a few notable supernatural traits–ones the Satyr does not share, I’ll note. For instance, it is typical for a satyr to speak. And while strong, the supernatural and ogrish strength of the other wild men isn’t present among satyrs. They do share a wild man’s tendency towards alcohol and sexuality and even kidnapping. Satyrs and Fauns are often blended together, although some differences remain–the image of a satyr as a goat-man instead of a hairy man with donkey tails is do to this bleed together, and the Satyr is largely a wise if dangerous presence, while a Faun is foolish while frightening.

This sort of foolish wisdom comes up in the parable of the Satyr and the Traveler. A satyr comes across a traveler, and seeing him lost, invites him back to his home. The satyr is perplexed when the man blows on his fingers, and learns that this is how a man can stay warm. This causes trouble when, at home and with a hot meal, the man blows on his soup to make it cold. This enrages the satyr, for how can the same action make one cold and another warm? And so he drives the man from his house.

There is also the story of Pan and Apollo, a pair of competing deities of music. Pan played a tone that was full of joy and laughter and wildness that drove one to dancing–and in fact all the wild things and fauns danced. Apollo, the joyless daystar, played a tone that hushed the air and was somber. It was full of sadness, like saying farewell to one’s own mother and father. And all those listening proclaimed Apollo the winner–except, sadly, King Midas. Midas had been asked to judge, and thus judged in favor of Pan. Apollo in turn, to reward Midas’s bad taste, gave him the ears of a donkey to match his decision.

Satyrs and Apollo crossed paths again, symbolically, when Orpheus was wed. For at the wedding of Orpheus and Eurdicye, a drunken satyr attempted to assualt Orpheus’s wife. When she attempted to flee him, she fell into a literal nest of vipers and perished–and thus Orpheus’s despair set in. The satyr’s monstrous nature is here apparent–he is drunken, sexual, and violent. A wild man, devoid of his comic talents.

Yet, there are times when Satyr’s approach something more divine. In some Midas stories, Midas has a spring that satyrs enjoy coming to. There he lays a trap for them, and in some stories succeeds in trapping them. According to Aristotle, he even learned dark secrets about human life from the satyrs–namely, the opinion of the satyr, sometimes the immortal Silenus, that human life was best unlived. The forest god was thought to be a prophet and wise in many ways, and such foreboding declarations from him are…disconcerting.

Let us briefly leave these behind, and discuss the actual Marble Faun. I sadly don’t have a copy of the text to which Mr. Lovecraft refers. I worked off the Internet Archive in this case–which lead me to a summary of the story. There are references in the summary to sections that fit “strange and prehistorik”–I admit, freely, that I did not have the time to read the entire story, but the suggestion that one of the main characters, Donatello, is actually a satyr or a faun is important. So I think is the history that Italy suggests–the author calls attention to the layers of ruin in the countryside; Roman, Medieval, and Renaissance structures. The antiquity of Roman sculpture is repeated suggested through observations, and the specters of the past haunt them–whether in image or in form of stalkers lurking in the catacombs, promising dark secrets. There is a sense of mystery about origins, both in the main cast and the stranger parts.

The Satyr and faun are very, in a way, Lovecraftian characters. They are the sort of thing that Lovecraft, from all we know about him. The satyr moves between social spaces, between animals and men, between past and present. They are associated further with the oldest (sometimes) of Greek Gods, Pan–and of course, the horror story The Great God Pan, by Arthur Machen. This story, which follows the results of a terrible medical experiment to open the third eye of his patient, to her ultimate death and the revelation she is a supernatural being. Their association with drunkenness and wine connects them to Dionysius, even when other stories do not (and several stories do! The Midas one for instance!). And as we have discussed elsewhere, Dionysius is himself a Lovecraftian nightmare as the breakdown of reality itself.

The Marble Faun in question. Several versions of this statue exist in Italy.

Now, this gives us a good ground for a horror story–the collapse of boundaries between ‘wild’ and ‘civilized’ is ripe for horror. The Satyr or Faun has the additional aspect as a bearer of madness and panic. The satyr cannot be contained–to be captured, he must be drunk and his wisdom is terrible. The command of the wild animals falls into this almost ‘pre-Adamic’ nature of the Satyr.

A story here then might be about, yes, a Satyr haunted ruin of in Italy–or the city of the Satyrs, before they became Satyrs as we know them. Such a place would be of interest to many people from artists to archaeologists to bored college students to local farmers. What might be found in the haunt of the Satyrs, who can say?

Bibliography

Forth, Gregory. “Images of the Wildman Inside and Outside Europe.” Folklore, vol. 118, no. 3, 2007, pp. 261–281. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30035439. Accessed 4 June 2021.

Scott Horton, on October 16, et al. “Aristotle – The Wisdom of Silenus.” Harper’s Magazine, 15 Oct. 2012, harpers.org/2010/10/aristotle-the-wisdom-of-silenus/.

Sorabella, Jean. “A Satyr for Midas: The Barberini Faun and Hellenistic Royal Patronage.” Classical Antiquity, vol. 26, no. 2, 2007, pp. 219–248. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/ca.2007.26.2.219. Accessed 4 June 2021.

Metamorphosis

This Week’s Prompt: 128. Individual, by some strange process, retraces the path of evolution and becomes amphibious.

The Prior Research: Back to Tadpoles

It started with my fingers. They’d swollen to about…I think two inches. No, that’s too big, isn’t it? That’d be…I’d have realized something was wrong a lot faster. I think.

But it started with my fingers, they got swollen and sweaty. It was hard to type. That made work hard, because even when I could type, it was not…the keys. I’d hit too many at once if I wasn’t careful, and they got gross. So I had to take breaks. I wore gloves, took my time. But it was annoying. It annoyed other people too.

And everything was itchy. I was really itchy, it was so dry. So dry. I took two or three showers a day and it was still…even when I took four, I was really itchy and dry.

I thought it was the shampoo, maybe. So I stopped that.

But then my hair started falling out. Lots of it. And my arms, it hurt to lift my arms—wait no, it hurt to lower my arms. To put my arms at my side. To bend them like…back, so that my hands were where my knees were. If that makes sense. It kept my hands on the keys, I’d press to many keys—no, no, past that.

My hair was falling out. I took pictures to prove it. We went to a doctor, asking about the aches, the hair. I remember being frustrated when he just…didn’t have much to say. He sent us to another doctor, I think a skin doctor. And he was confused, but said it shouldn’t be too bad.

“So that’s it? Just take some pain pills, rub some oil, hope it goes away?” I asked…someone. We were going down a road, home I think. They nodded, and said something about it passing. I want to remember how long they said it would take, for this to pass. How much longer until this passes.

That’s how my memories are. Little snippets, floating to the surface, dropping away. I don’t know how long, but I can feel…like ripples on a lake, when you drop a rock in. I can feel where the rock used to be. I wonder if it will come back up, skipping across. If I look down and check—if I dive down to find that rock could I tell it apart from the other rocks?

We got home and the oils helped, and medicine helped. In a way, I mean. I hurt less. I itched less. But my fingers were swollen, and my feet hurt. My knees ached, when I tired to get up—but not how my grandfathers, ached, where bending even a little made him groan. No, my legs…they wouldn’t go straight. They jerked a bit but…

“Its nothing. We’ll make an appointment…until then, just lean on me. Did you send those reports in?”

“I don’t think…their next to the laptop, just need to organize them.” I remember saying. My throat was so dry, I rasped and croaked more than spoke. Barefoot I sat down, hunched over my latop, breathing strained. I managed to get…stuff written. I got it done. I could get it done then, even if the gloves were strained.

That was the last one I remember. The last one I remember finishing. The light of the screen hurt my eyes, and my back—it wasn’t good for me. Being hunched over the whole time. It was making things worse, we were sure. We were pretty sure.

We did go to doctors. We used to go to doctors. Now doctors come to us. Or maybe I just…fall asleep when we go. It’s hard to say.

The second time, things were worse. There was shouting. There was confusion. The doctors put me in a heavy vest, in weird machines to take pictures of me. They held them in front of me, they had bones on them. I think they were my bones, all bent and fused and strange.

“You can’t be ser—there’s got to be something wrong with the machine.”

“—never seen anything like it, I don’t even know where to begin—”

We saw less doctors for a while. The ones we saw did poke me frequently. And we met with other people, usually by going to places with big crowds. The doctor, I think he was a doctor, would shout a bunch from his wooden hill. And everyone would shout with him.

There were other people on the wooden hill. They were sick too, I think, and then they were better. But we never went up there. She thought that would just…that would be a bad idea. Something bad would happen if we went on the wooden hill.

Instead, after everyone was leaving, we would go back behind it. We’d talk to people, and talk to other people—and then the doctor would hold his hands over me, and say something. Sometimes they asked me to say things back, but my ears were not as good.

I did my best to say the words back, the words that would fix everything.

Maybe I needed to say more things. Maybe I needed to try harder.

But it was hard. My tongue didn’t sit right, my teeth weren’t shaped write. My head was bent and squished—I think I used to have five fingers, now only four. My nose had nearly fallen off, and that made it—that made it harder to make the noises you need to make to say the things you want to say.

I had to be wheeled—I couldn’t sit right. She made me a bed on wheels, because sitting hurt my back worse than standing.

I don’t think I had a job anymore. I don’t remember the bright light of my computer that much around then. I didn’t type.

There was a part where I had a thing that made my words into lights and text. I could talk, with effort. I could write reports. I could write friends. I was getting used to that, when my voice gave out. I couldn’t speak…right, not for long enough.

Then it was my eye—somehow, I could use my eyes. I think. I’d move my eyes, this way and that, and it would make words appear. It took getting used to. But I managed. And I could do it still, with the box in front of me.

The problem was…the problem is, I think. I think it is a problem. The problem is my muscles ache and my thoughts are a muscle.

“Right here, see if you can—yeah, there you go. See, you can still…I mean, it’s a living right?” she said when we got the first piece and I managed to write…something. I can’t even remember what I wrote. It was important, wasn’t it?

“Okay, so lets try—the quick brown fox jumps…”

It was important, writing about that…fox wasn’t it? It must have been.

It must have been. I worked hard to write that sentence, two or three times. So many times. When did I forget why that sentence mattered?

When did I forget what those small dark spots on the white field meant? When did I forget? I remember, I remember—I drop rocks in a lack, hoping to drain it, to remember to remember, to see beneath the dark water. Is it deep? It is dark, it is wet, it is cold, it is still until a rock drops in it.

“The oil’s helping, yeah? So that’s a start. And hey, you don’t look too bad bald, if I—”

I drop a rock in the lake, I drop and hope it bounces back, it skips, it passes by the pond lilies, it moves, it builds an island. Build an island in the water.

“—she thinks we need a vet, not a doctor, but that’s not right that’s—”

A rock falls, it ripples, thing stir, scents and colors I can’t see. I can’t remember them all. It drops away, and maybe it will wash near me again. It’s gone.

“—okay—”

“Tomorrow we—”

“—at the end of the week—”

“Next month we—”

“—a year or so—”

“—twice—every other—three times—”

“Okay.”

The rock sits, a bit above the water. Stacked high and higher. One rock sits on the top, just above the water.

“Now can you write your name?”

Was it when I wrote with hands? When I could use my voice? My eyes?

It doesn’t matter. I cling to the rock in my head.

And don’t remember the answer.


The original version of this story was a bit…off target I felt, focusing too much on the ‘burden’ of care in a way that could be read as ableist. I rewrote it as such, and I still think I missed the mark–the sort of Kafkaesque story that it is attempting requires a more finely tuned bit of editing and revising than I had. Next time! We will discuss Fauns and Satyrs!

Back to Tadpoles

This Week’s Prompt: 128. Individual, by some strange process, retraces the path of evolution and becomes amphibious.

The Resulting Story: Metamorphosis

Today we come back to the squamous, the monstrous, the amphibious and the frogs. There is quite a bit to cover. First is the nature of ‘retracing the path of evolution’—this to me calls to mind a very old horror film called the Maze. I haven’t seen the Maze itself, but watched a review of it on YouTube a while ago. The story features the heir to a castle that, being born premature, is frog like. This seems to draw from the story of Glamis, where a child was born malformed and sealed away. This child lived surprisingly long, living over a hundred years. This gossip tells that the child resembled an egg, had a hairy chest but no arms. The rumor seems to have been started by the family of Glamis themselves, in what I must admit seems to be a fit of boredom.

Another unusual amphibian I came across, before doing in depth research, was the Loveland Frog. This is one of many extraterrestrials found across the United States. The Loveland Frog is a large frog like creature, spotted on the road meddling with strange lights. A traveling business man observes the meeting of two or three of these amphibians, before driving off—sometimes startled by their sparks. Further stories by police officers and those near the river fill out the story to include exact sizes and hairy palms to the clawed amphibians. Attempts have been made to link this to stories of frogmen by the Shawnee in the area, but my primary source suggests this is ultimately a doomed endeavor and probably a fallacious one.

The idea of frogs as ancestral beings is of interest to me. We have an example of the Buddha using a golden frog to make the world from Mongolia. We also have the Egyptian deity Keket, a frog like embodiment of the cosmic darkness before reality as well as his female counterpart, and the other watery frog goddess Heqet. Heqet was a water goddess of the Nile and flooding in particular, a source of life for Egypt.

In Australia, we have a story of a particularly greedy frog. This frog, Tiddalik, drank all the fresh water of the world. This of course causes a wilting drought, which the frog must be tricked into ending. An owl and an eel take the primary role here, convincing Tiddalik to take on a number of comical shapes in order to release of the water.  Eventually he does so,  flooding the world and restoring prosperity. This tale does call to mind the water thieves we discussed on patreon, who often met more violent ends.

Frogs as human ancestors might be derived from more common  material, like certain physical commonalities—hands with observable webbing, fingers, and so on. Some frogs, tree frogs notably, even grip objects. The frog’s place as between places—moving from river to land during the course of life—also gives it a place as an ancestor of sorts.  In Hmong stories, a frog has a special place as a creator spirit of humanity. However, humanity killed this spirit—Nplooj Lwg—for lying about the size of the world. The frog cursed humanity, that they would know sickness and death and that the world would experience withering and seasons. He separated humanity from spirits, and set forth extreme heat and deadly rains and so the world would be sick.  Further, death would be a permanent affliction—not one that only lasted thirteen days, as it had been before.

In  Jewish legends, there is a story of a knowledgeable frog shaped demon, born of Adam and Lilith. This creature served later as a teacher to a Rabbi Hanina. The rabbi’s father instructed his son to purchase the item, and died shortly after. The frog was purchased—by mistake, being contained in a silver plate, within a larger silver plate—and ate so much at Sedar that it needed a cabinet to be stored in. The frog continued to grow, however, and ate Rabbi Hanina out of house and home. At last, being vast, it offered to grant him any wish. The pious Palestinian rabbi asked that the frog teach him the Torah—which it did, along with the seventy languages of men. His method of teaching was…eccentric, writing a few words on a scroll and telling his student to swallow it. So he taught the rabbi the languages of beasts and birds. And as a final reward, he went into the woods, and called on the beasts of the woods and all the birds, and they produced jewels for the Rabbi and herbs for his wife.

When discussing amphibious persons, however, it is hard not to add other things to the list. We have focused on frogs, but there are also folklore persons who live in undersea cities.  The Blue Men for instance, are a race of mortals born of a third of the fallen host of Heaven—having fallen not to hell, because they were neutral not on the side of Lucifer. They live lives like mortals in many ways, but had some differences. They could create storms—although these might also be their skyborne brethren fighting. They would swim like a porpoise, not like a man, and if their poetry was not matched they would capsize any poor vessel that crossed their path. 

While these particular amphibious men are not accounted for elsewhere, the underseas and rivers of the world are overflowing with civilizations. We discussed some of them on patreon, and some of them here. We can also find a shared inheritor of humanity in the Mayan story of Kumix, where two of his brothers run afoul and are turned into frogs. In the Mayan stories, frogs are padrinos or rain priests, charged with petitioning for rain. This can be heard when they croak before rain fall, and their powers extend well past mere request. One source called them “angels of thunder and rain”, and one divine frog waits in each direction. They sometimes share this duty with toads, a common confusion yours truly makes regularly.  In the story of Kumix, we get a particular origin. Kumix’s full story is perhaps saved for another time, but towards the start of his story he is killed by his four older brothers, and his parts are eaten. He revives himself, and has a series of adventures against the Bronze King, culminating in his ascensions to the heavens. His four brothers also wish to join him in heaven, as he now commands the winds and rain. They construct four large mountains to reach the heavens, and eagles descend down to destroy them and humanity. Kumix uses thunder bolts to level the mountains, and tells his brothers to hide their heads, but being older brothers they stick them out. They were blinded as a result, and turned into frog rain priests, their tears now bringing the rains in November. Kumix ends the tale becoming the sun.

Moving back to popular culture, there are the frogmen of Hellboy–a horror-superhero comic with folkloric influences in spades. These frogmen are connected with the frogs of the Book of Revelation and are in fact quite…sinister, alien, and dangerous, spreading like a plague from ancient deities imprisoned beneath the earth. The frogmen here are connected not to humanities primeval past, but as a disturbing future. Here again they take on a transitional and arguably evolutionary sense, but one of an alien future that is unsuitable for humanity.

So what can we make of these stories? What does it mean to retrace one’s evolutionary steps—a topic I have sidelined here, because we have researched it here and here before, and I have little more to add—and become amphibious? We don’t need the exact cause of this transformation, a Kafka-esque happening is enough. There is a clear undercurrent of ‘degeneration’ in the idea of going ‘back down evolutionary steps’—it is entirely steeped in pseudoscience already to the point of being magical. One perhaps interesting, horrific exploration is the simple horror of one’s body changing, losing functionality, both mental and physical. Losing one’s limbs, one’s ability to walk upright, becoming dependent on water nearby, losing senses as one slowly shifts down and down into an amphibian. Vocal chords shift, thumbs become difficult to use, do even thoughts decay as one’s nervous system shrinks and reverts away? Does the mind?

 That is a rather … heavy load for the idea, but might be the best serious approach. I’m not sure I could stretch a simple story of ‘and then Tim was a frog’ for fifteen hundred words. We will have to see how it turns out! What stories of frogs have you heard? What tales of amphibians? We haven’t even touched on salamanders or newts! Let us know in the comments!

Bibliography

Braakhuis, Edwin, and Kerry Hull. “Pluvial Aspects of the Mesoamerican Culture Hero: The ‘Kumix Angel’ of the Ch’orti’ Mayas and Other Rain-Bringing Heroes.” Anthropos, vol. 109, no. 2, 2014, pp. 449–466., jstor.org/stable/43861785. Accessed 21 Feb. 2021.

Campbell, John Gregorson, Superstitions of the Highlands and the Islands of Scotland, J. MacLehose and sons, 1900.

Tapp, Nicholas. “Hmong Religion.” Asian Folklore Studies, vol. 48, no. 1, 1989, pp. 59–94. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1178534. Accessed 9 May 2021.

The Bird House

This Week’s Prompt: 127. Ancient and unknown ruins—strange and immortal bird who speaks in a language horrifying and revelatory to the explorers.

The Prior Research:Birds the Likes of Which God Hasn’t Seen

It was perched like a bloated dead spider on the hill, waiting for its children to well up and devour it. Sprawling gardens and forgotten mazes, hedges long dead and fountains over grown with mold and moss, formed its stone web. The baths that once bubbled with mineral spring water were now entirely consumed. Even the wolves gave it distance.

The only wholesome thing we saw, walking up in the night with our flashlights, were the birds. Nests of birds across the abandoned rooves and long collapsed balconies. Well, wholesome might be the wrong word. There were sparrows and robins and such, birds that sang in the morning and all that. I never was good with telling birds apart without bright colors. But I know ravens and crows, and the sound of owls in the night.

Place was full of vermin—mice, rats, insects, all of them flocked to its walls. Course they lured in birds. And in a few years, when the ceiling gave way, the bird’s lure in something bigger. What, I don’t know.

“My uncle says grandpa use to come here.” Jordan said, shining his light through the front gate. There is flicker of a fox moving away from the light. Had something with feathers in its mouth.

“Yeah? Like as a butler or something?” I said, looking around. The trees were full of dead leaves. Jordan’s clipers break the rusty lock.

“Nah, before that.” He said, pushing open the gate. “When, yeah, some rich guy owned it—that guy who always watered down his food? Apparenlty apart from running workshops and stuff, he opened up a bunch of baths. Cured every sort of ache.”

“Huh. You’d think that sorta business would’ve kept it open.” I said, as we walked down the broken cobblestones. You could still see the baths, rising in rows down the path to the backdoor. What had been a pool of water was both dead and oh so alive, the water mostly sunken into the very bottom, but moss and mold growing up the walls. Only the uplifted hand of the statue was visible. A confused crow was pecking at it.

Renovating a new wing onto the manor took time. During the day, the dolorous toll of hammers and cranes drove all life from the place. Even the owner, Gerald Copperson, retreated upward  and away, in an isolated study from the clamor. There he studied heavy books and answered letters as his designs for the building were carried out. It was only at night, when silence fell over the structure like a curtain, that Gerald ventured out to survey the work.

Slowly, the new wing was rising—by summers end, it would be finished. A whole new set of rooms, including a parlor for entertaining more properly. A spare kitchen perhaps. He walked along the currently bare walls—ones that would be filled with engravings to memorialize the effort. He had even found the perfect statue in an Italian graveyard—once the purchase was finalized, the Renaissance marble.

On such a nightly walk, in the warmth of a summer night around the bubbling fountain with its angel statue, that Gerald felt the chill of a passing shadow. The owls of the surrounding wood sometimes came to pass over his well lit home, and as an avid bird watcher, Gerald instinctively turned to catch a glimpse. And sure enough, there was a bird—but not an owl of any kind he’d seen. It had wide wings like a condor, with thin feathers flayed out, and a heavy tail as it descended down. It circled for a moment before affixing itself to the lance at the top of the roof. The knightly statue, placed over where one day his children would slumber, seemed to sag ever so slightly with the weight of the bird.

*

Each of the baths had been an effort to make.

“We should be able to get six baths.” Sheryl muttered, drawing out the locations on the map under the gaslight. “It’s not exactly the Hanging Gardens or Bath, but its more than enough I think.”

“I was hoping to get some of the water to the gardens.” Yohan sighed. “But there isn’t a convient spring—not with those minerals.”

“The water and the vegetables might not mix well anyway.” Sheryl said tapping her chin. “I mean, whats good for the outside isn’t always good for the inside.”

The aquafir beneath their feet went into a number of local springs—with some effort and piping, the water was funneled into baths and fountains. A rare, dare Yohan say it, unique mixture of minerals was just beneath the surface—fed by rain water and underground rivers, the aquifers water was bountiful. It worked wonders on illness…or it should. Similair chemicals had been found down river—not the same, but similar. Bottles had been kept as household cures for a while now.

“Still, six baths for now. Maybe we can make more later.” Yohan said, rolling up the plans. “With a field for exercises, and a vegetable garden—I think we might be onto something here. The sort of thing people really need.”

The inside of the building wasn’t any better than the outside. The wallpaper had peeled and cracked—the cheerful pink flowers faded away. Gashes and grafitti covered walls as we went down the alls. Doors ripped off the hinges. I’d say by some crazed monster, but probably by some idiot drunk teens. The smell of piss and the sexual history documented on the wall seemed more their work than Bigfoot’s.

Chunks of the upper floor had given in—rain broke the way for wind.

“You’d think, but you know—after  a bit, fads fall out of fashion, people stop having the money to go to a health club to get told they need to eat nuts and wear sackcloth.” Jordan said with a shrug as he stepped over some rubble. “Then you can’t make rent, and no one can buy it because you know. It’s a building this big, what are you going to do with it?”

“Make  a hotel?” I said, looking around, light catching on a nest of cobwebs. “Or maybe…like…a business park?”

“For who?” Jordan said, pushing open the door. “No one’s buying that sort of thing when there’s no money to go around. And by the time there is…well.” He flashed a light at nearest example of spreading mold, a cancerous growth along the walls.

“Anyway, its this way I think. Up the stairs, shouldn’t be too hard to spot.” He muttered, as we entered into the lobby, the dome over head as dark as the night—darker, because not a single light shone down.

*

Copperton was a simple man. He considered himself an appreiator of nature. He even enjoyed bird watching on occasion. But the nosies that came from the knight, whenever that strange bird arrived, were unbearable. A warbling song filled the room, and disturbed his dreams—dreams that once had been of fields and boyhood dreams where now stained with a familiar red.

He did not like his rifle. That was perhaps a peculiar thing to say, when the tool had been his most constant companion. Even when family faded, and friends perished, his rifle was ready at his side. It’s bayonet able to be fixed. His hands knew it’s shape and grooves better than his kitchen tools. Still. He did not like his rifle, as he took it outside in the dark of the night, stalking again through the bushes.

The Bird was there again—how had he known, this night of all nights? It had no rhythmn, it had no pattern he understood—but it descended down regardless. And then, as he raised his rifle—one shot, to frighten it off, one shot to get some sleep, one shot above those majestic wings—

*

“It has to be some sort of…Rodent?” Yohan said, examining small, but noticeable scratches on the top of the bath houses. “Right? Like, I guess a bat or owl might, but these look a bit big for that.”

“Well, whatever it is, we should try and stake out for it.” Sarah said, looking off into the woods. “Its scaring off the guests, making some sort of noise.”

“Are we sure that’s not exhaustion? Steam maybe?” Yohan said, stepping down the ladder. Sarah shook her head.

“Probably not. But even if it is, it’d be better knowing what is causing the steam to screech out of the baths. Figure out how to stop it, calm everyone down.”

“That’s fair, we don’t want them stressed here.” Yohan sighed. “That would defeat the purpose of our institution.”

So the two of them made plans, lantern in hand and with a bat ready. If it was just a large bird, some stones or the like should keep it away. Yohan brought a looking glass as well, to get a better glimpse of what was happening on the roofs that caused such a strange and disturbing noise.

The moon was high, when the shadow first moved across the ground. Wings spread wide, feathers trailing—the air shimmering as it spun into the world. The stars flickered as the bird danced down to the top of the bath—steam that rose from the spring wrapping around it, woven into dense bits of rain. In the veil of droplets, Yohan could make out the long neck of an ostrich rising from the plumage—plumage that became sharp under the light of the lanterns. And before he could cast his stone, it began to sing.

The stairs were creaky, walking all the way up to the office. The stairs were rotten as we walked up to the office. The stairs spiralled up and around and around the spine of the building, that nearly touched the concrete cranium, the dome overhead. And then the stairs stopped at the top, at the office.

The door wasn’t that broken. It’s hinges were rusty, it squeaked loudly as we opened it, but all things considered, it was in good condition. It was still a door that could be closed. There were the remains of papers on the floor, bureaucracy coating everything. The ceiling of the office had collapsed in, under god knows what weight—maybe nothing more than rain.

 I rested my crowbar on my back, looking around.

“How do you know its still here even?” I asked, shining on the walls. Graffiti was absent, but there was a crumbling corkboard. You could faintly see where paintings had been removed, where furniture had once been. The desk was gone, but there was still a chair sitting there. Apparently no one wanted it.

“Just trust me, I checked. Just need an extra hand getting it out.” Jordan said, walking to the wall and tapping along for a moment—the wood seeming to recoil from his touch until at last he hit upon something. He put down his sack and took out his hammer, striking away at dry wall. It was after the third whack that a shadow past over head—a vast shape plunging the room into darkness for a moment. And when it passed, we were no longer alonge.

There it sat, atop the chair, a grotesque parody of a bird. Its entire body was covered in knife like spines, crackling as it cut the air in it’s motions. Its long neck ended in a hardened beak, with holes running up the neck. And as I started back, and Jordan turned, it raised its beak and began to sing.

*

It sang and the walls fell away.

It sang and what we saw was rot and life, healing and hurt. We saw a thousand fold this building, this roost that it sang on once, but many times. We saw vibrance of life here, a rainbow that washed over the world. The stars, they no longer seemed so far. We saw each other—felt the rifle in our hands, felt the stone, the lantern, the crowbar, the fear, the joy, the brilliance, the memories of trenches, the memories of hospitals, the desperation, the smell of unfamiliar shores, things collapsed together as it sang. Its notes stiched across time and space, all at once, were we all speaking and seeing each other or was it a messenger bringing with it all those touched before? Was it here or there?

It sang it sang and the air vibrated with its song, refracted and spread and folded in on itself. It sang and then it was gone.

And we were left, unsure what parts were us and what parts were other.


This was along time coming. I found the idea of a song as the uniting element of revelation made sense–songs are after all a means of connection that, in theory, transcend language. I apologize for the recent delays, my burn out spat ran long than I expected. Still, I think this is a good story to come back to. If anything, I can think of ways to expand on this idea–drifting the stories together more at the point of impact, reflecting after the song has ended.

Next week: We discuss frogs and royalty.

A Delay

Hello everyone!

Work and other commitments have sadly greatly increased this month. So until April 16th, we will be going on hiatus–during this time I’ll try and build up a backlog of material, to avoid the delays that have become pretty common this year.

Thank you all for understanding.

Birds the Likes of Which God Hasn’t Seen

This Week’s Prompt:127. Ancient and unknown ruins—strange and immortal bird who speaks in a language horrifying and revelatory to the explorers.

The Resulting Story:

Avian lore is not an unfamiliar branch of study for the Undead Author Society. Our most recent delve into the birds of feather can be found here—and in fact, given the emphasis on the voice of the bird here, much of it is still applicable. That said, there are still a number of strange and interesting birds to examine in the folklore and mythology of the world.

One of note is the Luan bird—a bird that in some ways resembles the phoenix or Feng Huang. This bird is a bright red bird, with a rainbow plumage, resembling a pheasant. One of it’s most notable characteristics is its song—a song that often is described as piercing the clouds or heavens. The bird is known for its vanity in folktales, as well for it’s singing with joy upon seeing another of its kind. Over time, it gained further associations with a longing for freedom in the sky, as opposed to captivity—and such associations tied it neatly to those Daoists who transcended all things, as well  as the Queen Mother of the West. The bird’s association with gentlemanly behavior and proper action, as well as linguistic ties to the Emperor’s banner, are also worthy of note.

The luan in the article I read was glossed as “simurgh”—a bird that we have neglected somewhat so far. The Persian Simurgh is a great bird that lives in the forested third heaven, and raised the hero Zal. Zal took with him one of the feathers of the bird down with him, and its feathers healed all wounds when applied. It is also a creature that brings the rain with it’s wings, and scatters all the seeds of the world from its island roost.  Next to it sits Carmosh, who catches seeds that fall from the roost and takes them all over the world. When enemies invade Iran, Carmosh eats the men as a bird eats corn—a horrifying and powerful bird indeed!

The other bird that comes to mind when examining ruins, to me, is the Roc or Rukh. This bird is perhaps the most famous massive bird these days, appearing in videogames and tabletop roleplaying games, but rooted ultimately in Arabic folklore and travel tales. There the Rukh has a few stock stories—the most common of which involves a group of sailors shipwrecked on an island. Here they find the great bird, who feeds upon elephants, whales, and great serpents.  Sometimes the storm that caused their misery is from the Rukh itself, sometimes it is just a chance storm. In one variation, the Arabic sailors carefully leap from a tree to grip the feet of the flying rukh—and are transported to a mountain top. Upon finding a shepherd, they realize their in India—and gradually make their way home.

Another version has the men coming across a vast egg—and breaking it open, stripping the baby Rukh of its feathers, and cooking it with sticks they found in the tree. Either the flesh of the Rukh or the twigs—which are actually the tree of Youth—restore their age and beards. When the mother bird returns, however, they are scattered and have to flee the island or suffer the terrifying bird’s wrath. They do keep the feathers of the baby rukh, however

The article I read suggested a relation to another bird that was supposedly worshipped in Pre-Islamic times, called the Anqa . This bird lived 2000 years, and took a wife every 500 years. This bird features in a tale about King Solomon. King Solomon spoke often of the will of God and the destiny of birds, to the Anqa’s objection. The Anqa asked how Solomon could know the will of God—and Solomon prophesized that two lovers, one in Africa and one in China, despite being raised far apart, would come together as proof of god’s will. And so the Anqa and the owl set out to upset fate—the Anqa flying off and kidnapping said girl while she was but a babe.

Briefly, the Anqa’s description is a tad unusual—for it is as large as a camel, but with the face, fingers, hands, and breasts of a woman. This brings to mind a harpy, in a way, more than a Rukh. Regardless, the Anqa took the baby to a great mountain in the middle of the sea, atop a large tree. This tree provided all things the girl would need, connecting to the great tree of life the Rukh nested in.

Meanwhile, the boy grew up to be a great king and avid hunter—and having hunted everything on land, he moved to hunting on sea. And there, God sent a wind to his ship, sending it towards the island of the Anqa. Even from the sea, the tree of the Anqa was entrancing in its beauty. So they landed to investigate the wonder that towered from the high mountain. At this time, the girl who had never seen a man came down to see the ships—and the two fell in love. But they needed a scheme to be together—and the king proposed he would hide in the corpse of a horse, and be carried up by the Anqa to his beloved.

The plan worked, and the two made love that night. The Anqa, embarrassed and ashamed, fled to the west to never be seen again. The Owl, their conspirator, hides at night for this exact reason as well. Its name even hints at this fate, being the bird of the west.

On the more mundane, but still fantastic level is the Peacock. The peacock is an amazing animal, with a number of interesting folktales about it—and one of the most fascinating ones to me is about how the dissonance between its voice and appearance happened. There was a king who promised a fortune to whoever could teach his mute son to speak. A rogue wished for the riches, and learned from an old man that all he needed to do was find the most beautiful bird song and ask the prince to sing what the bird sang. And what bird was that? The peacock.

Alas, the peacock prince of the birds was tricked into this task—and was outraged when he traded voices with the mute prince. The king was pleased his son had such a voice, but did punish the rogue for his trick. While the rogue received food and riches, the room of wonderous clothes that he had been offered were given to the peacock instead. And thus the peacock got its wonderous coat.

This reminds me of a story of the crow, which I’ll link here, where the beautiful crow lost much of its brilliance to the sun as it flew.

The stories of these island birds are very similar—had I known about the prevalence of a large tree, I might have tied this into the last one! Still, I think three stories dealing with the same framing device would have been a bit …much. For this story, we do have an island, some ruins, and a strange speaking bird—strangely, none of these birds resemble the most famous speaking bird, the parrot. Hm. Regardless, we covered that sort of story here a few months ago.

Our current story would then have to do with either the discovery of an ancient talking bird that speaks in terrible revelations—or perhaps the aftermath of such an encounter. The symbolism of the bird is interesting in this respect, tied to life in many ways, freedom, and soaring into the heavens. One angle we could approach is that of an alien life form, mistaken for a bird—a reverse of the Flatwood monster, an owl mistaken for an alien. This might give it’s revelations a strange pertinence.

One issue as a writer is making these revelations truly horrific—Lovecraft often simply left them unsaid, and personally that always undercut the potential impact. Forbidden knowledge or knowledge that drives one mad is difficult to write. That I think is the challenge I’ll undertake this week—to give the voice of the bird a genuine horror to speak.

What stories of talking birds have you heard?

Bibliography

Al-Rawi, Ahmed. “A Linguistic and Literary Examination of the Rukh Bird in Arab Culture.” Al-‘Arabiyya, vol. 50, 2017, pp. 105–117. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26451398. Accessed 2 Mar. 2021.

Goodell, Grace. “Bird Lore in Southwestern Iran.” Asian Folklore Studies, vol. 38, no. 2, 1979, pp. 131–153. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1177687. Accessed 2 Mar. 2021.

Nair, P. Thankappan. “The Peacock Cult in Asia.” Asian Folklore Studies, vol. 33, no. 2, 1974, pp. 93–170. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1177550. Accessed 2 Mar. 2021.

Suhr, Elmer G. “The Phoenix.” Folklore, vol. 87, no. 1, 1976, pp. 29–37. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1259496. Accessed 2 Mar. 2021.

Baqi and the Golden Fruit

This Week’s Prompt: 126. Castaways on island eat unknown vegetation and become strangely transformed

The Prior Research:Fruit of the Sea

The Sea Dane would tell this sailor’s tale, both in the humble halls he washed ashore in, and in the ruby lit halls of Dahut. He had heard it himself at a port of call in Iberia, from a sailor named Baqi. Baqi had traveled many seas, from the city of Caesars to the west coast of Africa to the seas about Arabia. He had many tales of strange ports and stranger things he had seen—but this story was the strangest.

Baqi and his crew were sailing towards the Pillars of Hercules, the great white cliffs that rose into the heavens. They had brought a fine hall from the coasts, to markets in the Mediterranean. Spices and ivory and gold from the coast of Africa—but as they sailed, a terrible storm rose from the great sea in the west. The ship was sturdy, but the darkness and wind overcame them, unseen stones cutting the hull to pieces, and casting them into the waves.

They awoke on an island with shores of golden sand and emerald trees. Of the crew, maybe a dozen survived. The wreckage that floated ashore was naught but drift wood and some rations for their journey. Baqi and his men gave thanks for surviving the storm—they prepared to burn the driftwood for warmth at night, and salvage what they could, bury those who had perished. And Baqi took his first mate, Alaric, to see what life might persist on this island.

They traveled sometime, before they found the center of the island. A lake, clear and placid, surrounded by large trees. And upon the trees grew a strange fruit, like an olive perhaps but as big as a man’s head.

“Do you think we can eat those?” Alaric said, scratch is head. Baqi frowned and considered.

“Who’s to say? It might be a dreadful poison.” He said turning to the lake and looking down at the fish that swam in it’s depths. “We have fish, though, and some supplies. We have wood a plenty.” He gestured around him. “We’ll wait to eat the strange plants until we have no better option.”

And so the crew set up shelter on the shores of that lake—the water pure and fresh and sweet, and the driftwood burned easy. The wind was calming and soothing in the night, as the moon came over head—except when it shifted direction. Then it made a terrible rustling, like a great cloud of locusts was going to rise from the branches and consume them all. It made it hard to sleep.

*

They ran out of provisions before they finished cutting trees for their ship. The great fire they lit on the shore lured none to harbor—although perhaps it was simply not seen. Only once did the nightwatchmen spy a ship passing over the horizon, and even that was from a great distance—and the sounds at night made many question his health.

The crew split in two on the matter—one group went out, armed with what weapons they had to repel pirates to hunt boar or other animals of the island. The others would draw lots, and see who would try the new fruit. Boar or berry might claim one or two, but might sustain them longer.

Thus, Alaric  climbed a great tree and cut free one of the sweet fruits and Baqui went out into the forest with spear in hand. It was on this venture, moving far from the lake, that Baqui found strange sights. He found piles of stones, aligned as if great walls—but within their borders, he found naught but more trees. Before he lingered long on that outcropping, he and his men spotted a small deer—and the chase resumed.

When they returned, they found the rest of the crew seated in a circle, observing the young man who drew the shortest lot. There was a fruit in front of him, with a sliver cut from it by his knife—the flesh of the fruit seemed to be a shinning white like an apple’s interior.

“It’s sweet…savory too. Like cattle made of honey.” He said, cutting another slice and eating it. Alaric looked over at the arriving hunters, with their own catch—a pair of small deer they had found. Baqi chuckled.

“Well, if it tastes better and is easier to find…how much has he eaten?” He asked his first mate.

“This is the second fruit—nothing strange has come over him yet.” Alaric said. “We’ve watched closely—not even the slightest sign…”

“Then it seems safe enough for now.” Baqi said—although later he regrated his eagerness. “We can hunt and build, but this will make good reserves. Plant some of the seeds, and perhaps we will be rich from them when we return to friendly and familiar shores.”

*

They did find, in time, that there was good timber for building boats—but there was little eagerness to leave the quaint island. For the lake and fruit kept them fulfilled, and each found their own entertainment. It was like a paradise, and they told themselves surely the wind was still foul and the waves still treacherous. They had best give it a season or so before trying the waters.

Alas, Baqi mourned that time—when the gates were open for any to leave. And he recalled to the Sea Dane, the night they were closed forever. For one night, not even two weeks past when the first fruit was eaten, a man woke the whole camp. He had seen a shape moving past the fire. It looked much like a man, but without a head and with long limbs. The sailor was convinced that they were not alone on the island—that this was the source of the rustling sounds at night and other strange things.

Now, it is no secret that sailors are superstitious folk. Any who rely on the vagaries of wind and wave are prone to beliefs in all manner of fortunes. So they made plans that night—they stayed together, and appointed their bravest, including Baqi, to keep an eye out for the strange shape the next day.

That night, the wind rattled the leaves worse than before, filling the night with hoarse laughter. Baqi, days staying on the island, was still unused to the sounds of the nightly winds. He stood about with his fire, watching the darkness for any strange sights or shadows.  Any wild dogs or deer, as he privately thought the shapes must have been.

And then the arm darted across the tree line.

He and the men instantly rose up, and moved quickly, silently as they could—the shape was large, like a bear but walking on all fours. It fled from them, quick as a deer—but they were used to hunting deer. At last, they chased it to the shore of the sea. AS they drew close it turned—two golden eyes like a great lions shown in the moon light. Baqi felt a primal terror come over him as those eyes stayed fix as the head rotated away—and the beast leapt into the sea.

*

They built walls of wood to keep the beast at bay. They made wind chimes and trap wires—for they did not know what the beast desired, but it seemed fearsome and ill tempered. They sharpened spears for their defense, and laid  pointed sticks around the places they planted new fruit trees, hoping to keep the creatures away from their prized plants.

They did this in vain.

*

They did not wait until night to descend upon the camp of the sailors—oily scaled skin and eyes like a lion. They came with a roar that sounded of death and put fear into every man’s heart, sending them fleeing from the walls they crudely made—carrying only a dozen or so of the golden fruits. They came and a mist of darkness swallowed the land behind them, as if the sea rose up.

The sailors fled up the island, behind the stone walls Baqi found long ago—where it seemed the strange beasts were loathe to go.  They lit torches, and as night fell they stationed guards to see that the strange beasts did not overwhelm them.

“We cannot hold for long.” Baqi said as he walked in front of the flames. “At any moment, they might come upon us—and they are far more numerous then us. Still—we have trees in these walls, ones that might be of use. We can build a raft in the night, and flee before they come upon us stronger.”

“Flee? While they hold our gold?” Alaric said, standing up. “No, no, they cannot be allowed to keep it. We have arms—stones and slings we can make, and strike them down from this fortress, recoup our losses, and take back that grove!”

His response was met with cheers of the others among the grovesmen, although the hunters remained unsure.

“We have tools for hunting deer, Alaric, not for killing beasts bigger than a man.” Baqi countered. “We have a few spears and knives—”

“We have courage and will—and fire!” He said, gesturing at the bonfire. “And those can more than startle and scare away monsters of the night! If we aim true and with care, we can do so without our gold igniting!”

“Who cares for the fruit, our lives are on the line!” Baqi shouted. And when Alaric looked at him with rage, Baqi saw his eyes had taken on a gold shine.  He did not remember what Alaric said, with those leonid eyes. But he felt them call to his blood—to the fruit he had consumed.

And then he knew he must flee in the night, or he too would be consumed.

“Do what you will.” Baqi said, stepping back, cutting through the haze of Alaric’s speech. “And I do what I.”

*

Baqi confessed he didn’t stay for the fight—he gathered those who were sane, and as the others heated spears and stones to make tools of war, they built something like a ship. Some drifted away from their work—eyes taking on a bronze or gold hue whenever they left.

As Baqi set the raft to shore, he turned to his fellows.

“If any of us are gripped by that madness, we must tie him to the raft and hope for the best.”  He said solemnly. And then he inhaled sharply and sighed, and confided to the Sea Dane—he was the first to lose himself to that golden sound. It was like a great bell resonating in his ears. It was a thirst that couldn’t be slaked, a fire in his stomach that threatened to boil through his skin. His comrades restrained him, bound him to the crude mast.

At last, they came to friendly shores. And there, he told the Sea Dane, he began to recover—but the fire never really ended, and still he dreams of those stone walls and strange beasts.


I decided to tie this story in with the prior one (here) slightly, as a framing device. The story concept I think could be fleshed out much more, and I probably took on a longer narrative then needed. Next time! We return to the birds!