Minister Elijah and Brother William

Michael Kormack

This Week’s Prompt:  16. The walking dead—seemingly alive, but—.

The Research: Here We Are Again

William Wilbur waited outside the alabaster wall. A rare sight, on a New England night, such a luxury. Wilbur’s form, between obese and gaunt, neither one of the numerous ascetics with stern glares nor an over indulgent maw waiting to be filled if only it was outside of the Church’s grasp. No, Wilbur was a middling man in the mist, squinting into the aged burial ground.
The earth was freshly turned, with gravestone’s sprouting like mushrooms out of the ground. The minister Elijah had been buried just this morning. A man made for his post, he was a tall and terrible figure, his voice filled with fire. To Wilbur, Elijah’s sermons bore some of that sulfur from below as well as any angel. That God had recalled his servant so soon was no strange affair.
William would have let it rest there and then, but this moonless night, something stirred him. The strange motions would come every now and then, moving him like a lone star was pulling him along. And this was one such night. William waited with baited breath for whatever it was that yonder star would display.
After a time, which in the mist choked night was either an eternity or an instant, there was something scratching in the distance. Clawing, burrowing up from the ground. Persistent, it was, probably more so than your average rabbit or rodent that infested such places. Something strange, a wilting wind, wafted through the cemetery. Figures rose, silhouettes in the fog that shook and shambled for a second. In the next instant, they were upon the iron gate, hands reaching out toward him, working at the multitude of locks and bolts.
“Oh, William is that you?” came a voice from the cloud, a woman about William’s age staring back. For a moment he did not recognize her, so long had she been dead. Since he was a lad, his mother had been laid to rest. But now she stood before him, locked behind iron bars. Her eyes, William thought, her eyes looked very much how they did when she was alive. Only, squinting, they seemd paler. Dimmer, as if some flame had abandoned them in the grave. Rats and vermin had gnawed at her clothes, and her skin was as white as gypsum. As white as the walls.
“Mother?” William let slip taking a step back form the apparition.
“Focus, Mariam, we can reach your son in a moment. The lock, the lock is still shut with silver. Get the coffin nails,” another voice said, a man near naked with a long sturdy face, full of grey stubble. The remains fo a black cloak hung loosely on his emancipated limbs as his fingers shook at the lock. He had the tall hat of respectable farmer, but he must predate the time of William. It slowly dawned on William, however, as the metal on metal clanged, that this was no simple apparition, no ghostly visage or unsettled spirit. These things, these semblances of the living, had physicality to them. Strength and corporeal form.
Blood moving quick, William turned and ran, the mist closing behind him. As he ran, there was broken laughter from the broken yard. Locking his own door behind him as well as he could, he paused in a sweat, and lay down to rest. A nightmare, a vision from gates of ivory and horn, that was all this was. Terrible, terrible indeed, but the mind makes such monsters when it wanders. His heart rests, and in time he drifts down into slumber.

When dawn comes, the king of the stars, magnificent and solitary sun scorches away the mist and fog, a day as clear as any. The coming warmth and light stir William from his terror filled rest. Woozy from sleep, he rose and said a dutiful prayer and went to the town to buy food. As he walked, William noticed something strange. No one was around.
The market was empty. Not even a wind blowing through. Concerned and confused, William paced around, through field and farm, but there was no sign of his fellows. Until at last he came upon the church.
The humble wooden church of crisp straight lines was now surrounded by makeshift barricades. Men and women with pitchforks stood watch, gripping them like hunting spears. A dozen or so had muskets. With a quizical look, William approached, a basket of food in his hand.
“Stand back there, brother William!” One of the men bellowed, Jonathan raising his barrel. William blinked, taken a back, and raising his hand.
“What ho, goodly John. Is something a miss in God’s green country?”
“Stand back I say again. Not until we know you are right in mind!” Johnathan said, holding his gun aloft once more. William stood stock still, tilting his head only slightly.
“Looks right as rain to me, John,” one of the other men said, squinting, “Clothes all orderly and his skin nice and full of color.”
“Still, could be fresh. Could be clever too,” Johnathan muttered.
“Clever? Come on John, you saw’em.They aren’t clever, they’re quick and crazy. Don’t talk as nice either and aren’t nearly as decent as he is,” the other man said.
That seemed enough and Johnathan lowered his weapon. Tentatively, William walked forward, toward the armed crowd. He looked about, examining faces struck by the sort of petty fear death and wilds provokes.
“What is going on, John? What’s happening?” William asked slowly.
“Something unholy, something wicked. The dead aren’t staying in their right place or right mind, not since last night. Seen a number of them, friends, family, even the minister, loping about town like nothing’s wrong. At first we thought it was the day of judgement, that the Lord sent’em.” John began, before a laugh interrupted him. Turning behind him, William saw a host of deceased waiting. His mother, his father, his friends, his neighbors, and a multitude he didn’t recognize. Laughing and cackling, barely clothed with slop dripping from their mouths. To William’s horror, some were so intertwined that where one stopped and the other started was impossible to tell. And at their head was the bulbous body of Minister Elijah.
Minister Elijah, his shirt ripped off so that the fat hung out like a barrel. Minister Elijah, with red blood dripping from his mouth, his cross shining in the sun against his pallid body, maggots worming between his teeth as he cackled. Minister Elijah, when he was done, slumped over as if exhausted and spoke.
“And who’s to say we aren’t, Johnny? Who’s to say we aren’t sent by God up in his uppity heaven, to feckless to get in?” the Minister asked, his eye’s flashing. The common mob were laughing and moaning at the speech.
“So much of the world is lost, can you really say your enjoying it wasting your time on your knees when you could be spending time on your knees? Its wonderful, being dead Johnny! Now put down that iron. We’re already dead. What are you going to do to us?” The Minister asked again, tumbling forward, glass clinking beneath his coat.
“Get back! Get back you! By God –” bellowed John, lifting his musket, his fellows lifting their forks and bracing themselves. William slipped behind them, shaking.
“Oh, come on Johnny, you can’t keep what passes for wine and women in this pathetic place? You’ve got to keep the fire going, Johnny! You’ve got to keep that candle burning, or it will catch up with the other side! Move it, or we’ll move you!” the Minister said, pulling himself up right and roaring like an enraged bull. William stumbled back as powder burst from muskets. He ran into the church, pressing the door shut as the mass mob of the dead came pouring down. He held it, eyes closed as moans and screams blended into a cacophony. When silence came again, he opened them wide to see women and children gathered behind pews. Breathing heavy, he nodded at a pew.
“If we have any chance, we best bar the door. Perhaps they will begone in time,” William said in hushed tones, with every bit of authority he could bare. A wet pounding came from the other side of the door.
“Oh, William, not you too. Listen, open up, and I promise to kill you before eating you.”
“Get me a pew now, and Miss Leman, please, some hymns would be appropriate,” William stammered out, pushing back still.
“What are you going to do, Will? I’ve got time forever, and plenty to distract myself with. I can wait as long as I want!” Minister, for even in this state he was still a man of god in Williams eyes. “I’ve got over a hundred men, you think some wood will stop us?”
William was quiet, nodding as the pews were pushed in front of the door. He helped raise the others over the windows. The beating at the door continued for a few hours, until the Minister seemed bored of it all. The moaning grew louder then. William tried to block it out, leading the survivors in prayer around the altar.
And then he felt the tug of that wandering star, pulling him upward like a marionette on invisible strings. His body rose and tumbled to and fro, until he was pressed against the window. The mist had come, the carrion birds gathering round the mass of bodies, snatching flesh between the growths, until only bones remained. Hundreds of decayed bodies, crows and vultures swarming like flies.
“Tis the will of the lord, to show us such things,” William muttered, “For this is the fate of the dead. And we, if we are true, will have eternal life.”
The strings pulled tighter however,and William let out a shriek as he felt his body smash into the glass, tumbling out into the wet grass. Rolling his head up, William saw that Morning Star hanging above him, lofty and bright. And then came eternal night.

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Here We Are Again


This Weeks Prompt is: 16. The walking dead—seemingly alive, but—.

Resulting Story: Minister Elijah and Brother William

Dear necromancers of our esteemed society, we’ve discussed something similar to this before. There we outlined the Revenant, the Daugr, the Zombi(e), and the Ghul. With all this, then, what more is there to say?

Well, to begin with, how may the tradition of the zombie be overturned? Mr. Lovecraft’s plot seems to indicate that the walking dead are far more human then those Grimes deals with. They are alive except in one particular way. There lies the rub. Just what, in essence, are they missing?

The traditional notion is intelligence. Zombies ‘eat brains’ and are mindless shambling hordes, a typical commentary on consumerist culture in many sense. Alternatively, the Haitian zombi lacks intellect in its soul, and thus is mindless in its service. This however is precisely why it should be avoided. If it is the norm, then the space has been worn thin. I mean this variant even has a song!

Warm Bodies posits a stranger zombie, one who’s inhumanity is caused by a lack of compassion or love. This notion, as admittedly peculiar as it is, is repeated in another equally surreal source: A Zombie Christmas Carol. Strange tidings indeed. ‘Inhumanity’ takes on a new meaning when compassion quite literally saves one form becoming the sort of thing that preys on their fellow man. Again, very subtle in commentary.

Another oddity is the short story ‘Re-Possession‘ by Geoff Gander. While the story is far from perfect, the notion of zombies as simply will-less humans is an intriguing one. It completes the triumvirate of body (brain), mind (will), and soul (compassion). If we are to create the walking dead, what else could they lose?

BAron Samedi

To stick to the non-physical for the time, they might lack inhibition. Rarely are the risen dead shown as…well, uninhibited louts. But there is precedent, with figures like Baron Samedi, and the connection between life and death particularly grows in this area. After all, what have they to lose? They’ve already died! Such a story might deal with the consequences of dead rising and releasing hidden desires. What of the minister? The grandparents? The authority in general? Why in the right community, it would be terror and havoc!

To move then to the physical, perhaps like the Chinese vampire, they are subject to rigor mortis? Zombies have this already, shambling about, but if they were other wise alive…oh, brothers and sisters what a hell that would be. Unable to move, perhaps unable to even speak, yet alive. Alive and unable to die, for one has already died. Of course, this contradicts the ‘walking’ part of the prompt, so as entertaining as it sounds, perhaps it is best left alone.

What if they had an impaired or heightened sense? What if the dead saw more clearly the world around them? The dead often have hidden knowledge (This belief is the origin of necromancy after all) and certianly Mr. Lovecraft would say dealing with a creature that looks human but has a greater knowledge of the ‘truth’ of the world would be terrifying. What alien thoughts would the dead have, no longer inhibited by survival instinct and seeing or hearing or smelling things that stand past the horizon? Terrifying indeed.

Of these, I find the lack of inhibition an easier story. So how shall we proceed? Well, first what time and place should this take? If we want the greatest impact, the greatest revolution and disgust, then the clearest example to me seems to be those beloved by Lovecraft, the Puritans. Revolted by pleasure, and no doubt distasteful of the dead (as any good christian ought be, before Final Judgment), a great amount of terror could be built that way. OF course, the trick is to find away to lure the modern reader into over a hundred year old mindset.

Alternatively, the Puritans themselves might present a horror. If contrasted, the Puritans and the inhibition free zombies make a rather nice dichotomy. Neither is desirable, in fact, neither is healthy either. The Puritan mind, so ridged and uncompromising, is as dreadful as the dead risen and riotous, ready to do as they will. If we pick the right narrator (a child perhaps, or a woman) they may fear the puritans order as much as the zombies chaos. There is great opportunity here, I believe. We must move carefully then, fellows, lest we spoil the corpse.

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The Valley Vathek


This weeks prompt is:15. Bridge and slimy black waters.

The Research: Water under the Bridge

It is a known fact with each age, the world becomes more finite and measured. That is the noble duty of existence, to combat the hordes of infinity and probability into certainty, and in so doing, make the world bearable. It was for this purpose, good brother, that myself and my associate Mr. Slim went out to the woods of Eastern Europe, in search of a lost land, Vathek.

A strange land, any account of Vathek will say. Or rather would say. A subject of the Turk, then the Tzar, then the Turk again, Vathek by all accounts was a middling castle on a cliff-side, defensible and alluring. It was a rich city, by all accounts we had when setting out. But the curiosity was not in the city, but in its ending. No record continues Vathek’s line past seventeen sixty, well past the time of excusable errors or time’s hungry maw. It is inexplicable that the destruction of such a place, by famine, plague, or cannon has not been marked. So we went to Vathek.

The valley was cut out of mountain by some glacial passage aeons past. Our guide, who only called herself Sibyl, told us that the forest overrunning it on all ends was older then the rocks. The woods was without green, but rather bark like dust and pitch; no light touched the trunks of the trees and no fruits grew on their branches, only endless thorns. Our guide warned us that there were no well laid paths here, people having abandon the woods for decades.

“It is a wicked place,” she replied when we asked, “full of…how do you English call them? Fae things.”

“Certainly not, there were castles here, and people,” I objected. Any local who warns you of fae in such novel places is a liar, brother.

“They were not here when the Prince ruled in Vathek. But he listened to foreign men, Turks and tartars, and turned away from God. So they came and have stayed since, by invitation.”

“That doesn’t– ah –,” I said, being pricked by the thorns, “explain a thing! The Turks can’t just make a forest spring from the ground.”

“Not anymore,” Sibyl said. I decided to let the matter drop. At last we got deep enough, that we set about making camp. The trees were so tightly packed that there was no sign of the moon, let alone the great cliff face that Vathek proper sat on. Still, wood was easy enough to find, if hard to cut free. The twigs were full of thorns and seemed to delight in stabbing my hands, while the branches were hard to break free.

Sibyl was silent and slept well through the night, but the interlocking branches made the little wind whistle greatly, a terrible harsh noise to my ears. What manner of woman Sibyl was, that such dreadful piping was a lullaby, I cannot say. But I have my suspicions.

In that darkest of nights, where star nor moon came down from above, I saw a twinkling in the distance. A flickering and fluttering light, as if some cruel child had engineered a way to trap a butterfly to a candle. To and fro it flowed, carried by the disharmonious music. They kept me wake all night, staring at them and only just not following after.

In the morn, I asked my Sibyl about the strange sight. She was greatly alarmed by the notion, crossing her heart in the Russian fashion before speaking.

“They are lantern men, who haunt these woods, hunting and waylaying travelers, witch fire that lures men from the woods into hell. Do not follow them, whatever you do. Wicked, they are, and in service of more wicked things. In these woods, they are footman to higher things.”

“Some swamp gas then,” I muttered to my companion. He had a laugh at that. Such stories, he told me, where common amongst those who grew far from noble and Providence protected sorts. The Irish, the Cornish, those near Cornwall, the French, the German all had some version. Not peculiar at all, he explained, that near such a strange place, strange stories would bubble up.

And so we drew through the woods, till at last we saw the castle, though I will not call it such anymore. It was a massive growth of stone, spreading walls like a spider web, adorned in finery. Black blocks tightly packed, great emplacements and cannons that seemed to be bronze or steel. Might towers adorned with brass and silver, iron gates and ramparts in abundance. Keeps sprouted like mushrooms off some fetid corpse, and the armaments made light moss all along the floor. The river, the river was muck and mire, with dark ash running over the surface. Hundreds of arching bridges, worthy of the Thames, stretched over it. As we approached from the shore, I felt the heat blistering off of it, the stench of spoiled eggs sputtering out.

The bridge was covered in grime, such that your hands were stained by the merest touch. We walked carefully across. Vathek proper, I believe, had either torn down the entire cliff-side, or been built so large that the cliffs themselves had sunk. Its walls were now clearly shattered, despite out growths of blade like vines and coral formations growing between the wounds.

“There, you have seen it, British, let us go,” Sibyl said, gesturing at the gate. I stared out onto ashen covered waste, glimpsing bone white at times prodding through the darkness. And squinting I saw it for just a moment. Great looming eyes of fire, on some reptilian frog rising from the deep. A low bellow rung out, a thousand moans of agony or pleasure, dulled into a sing stroke. Dear brother, I saw that strange beast belching and burning. I saw faces. I hear voices and names in that valley.

The island of our knowledge, the place of measured things, is finite and clear. For on that bridge, I heard my own voice echoing back across the shore, I felt the throat of my companion in my hands, and I smelled blood as fresh as slaughterhouses. And dear brother, I cannot say what haunts that place. It is beyond heaven and below the earth, like the ancient Greeks Oceanus or the dread Babylonian Tiamat. Fear that valley, brother, for it has stained your kinsman’s soul.

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