Look Upon My Wonders, And Despair!

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

Resulting Story: The Shedu

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

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


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

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

Luxor Temple.png

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

Faceless Sphinx.png

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


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

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

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


Someone like this, but more professional.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Prophecy Of Tammuz

This Week’s Prompt:20. Man journeys into the past—or imaginative realm—leaving bodily shell behind.

The Research:Out of Body, Out of Time

Splendid was the city of Uri-Gaol, high in its prime. Its walls were strong, laid down such that even the seven sages could find no fault with it. Blessed where its people, greatest among the nations of the world, jewel of great Atlantis. Its temples were adorned by conquered idols, its men well versed in the tools of war, its sages knew the movement of the stars.

Yet the crown did not rest on an easy head. Long the Rah paced up and down his halls, wondering at the passing of shadows or the most minor of mumblings. He was tall even for that age, towering over thirty feet in height, his hall shaking every so slightly with every step. But still he stared out into the sea at night.

“Can it be this is all? What more do we have to strive for? And if this is zenith, high noon for the world, when will the descent come?” He would ask to the empty and cold stars. No reply came, not from them nor from the ones priests said set them in motion.

After many nights of worry, he sent his finest ship and his warriors with fiery arrows out once more, the first time in a century. Many recalled fathers who served in the wars before, when Hyperborea stood apart or when far flung colonies sought to rebel. But no, the Rah sent them forth with a simpler aim.

“A seer, a seer like the oracles of old. Find me the greatest who might peirce that final veil of time, and tell me when Uri Gaol may fall, and how such fate might change!” he proclaimed form his enameled throne.

So they set out, over steppe and sea, surveying the wild peoples and settled lands. The found men who saw the future in the order of the stars, women who understood the whispering of leaves and markings on trees, priests who produced portents in pigs stomachs, and prophets who saw it in the movement of birds. The captain of the ship was displeased with these, and asked what sage they all held in common.

The mob gathered in the great ship was silent for a time, then abuzz with murmuring. Great scrolls were drafted by each esteemed visionary, listing backward all the esteemed sages they knew, and how they had died or where they had gone to last. The compilation stretched from room to room, until at last, a common name was found. To the distress and grumbling of all.

“What has taken you now? Or did you not predict this? The captain said with a laugh as the quiet discussion dulled to angered faces.

“It is a man we have all heard of.” one of the astrologers said slowly.

“A man who knows many things, or claims to, about lands to be and kingdoms that will come.” One of the tea women said, biting her lip.

“But his methods, they are unteachable! His precepts go without reasons!” the first continued.

“One day he tells this future, the next day another, as if such things vary based on the wind and weather! Such a man is hardly wise.”

There were murmurs of agreement amongst the gathered diviners. Yes, they had heard of this man, this Tammuz, who claimed outrageous things as truth and obvious things as lies. He once proclaimed that there would be a time without kings from atop his great tower. That one day, Not even the great princes of the earth would still stand before might Time, hound of the Gods. That the wonders of the sevenfold light might be lost forever, that cities of black stone and vile intent would stand on the dust of mortal men.

None of the prophecy was pleasing to the captain of the guard. But it did not matter, this Tammuz was alone in any certainty. He brokered no debate and predicted no thing small enough that others had pressed their sight as far. And if he was charlatan or mad man, he would better entertain the Rah. Thus over the complaints of the crowd, he was sent for.

The men found Tammuz atop his tower of limestone, alone on an island in the great sea. He stared ahead, rising only one they landed. He was an emaciated man, his face long and his mouth too wide. His eyes were shrunken but clearly open, small dots of vision on his tanned face. All along his body were drawings, crude and childish, of people and places. They rambled into each other, some sprawling cites suddenly the roof of a house, who’s windows were man’s face and glimpses into poorly pictured woods.

“Who has come to hear my announcements? Men of battle? Your days are numbered always and forever. Abandon the stupid pieces of metal and become goodly statesman. Then you may at least have pride in your waste.” He said, jumping to his feet and grabbing one of the men by the shoulder.

The warriors with their shining metal armaments looked at each other in confusion, but eventually made it understood that the Rah of Uri-Gaol wished to see him and hear his sage words. Tammuz stared at them for a time, as if amused by some joke they didn’t hear, before suddenly snapping awake and laughing uproariously.

“Then why does he call for me! I am no sage, no. But I will come, and see Uri Gaol, like one visit’s his gardener before he dies.”

And so in darkness, the ship returned to the pacing Rah, who was certain something had gone amiss. Envoys abroad assured him until pressed that there were no enemies, and he was not yet certain if the paltry chieftains and princelings were really disgrunteld and jealous or if his ministers invented them to placate him and hide the real danger. But the arrival of his prized ship brought the sun kissed lord some comfort, or the closest thing a man such as he can bear, a feeling that certainty is coming. Either doom or delight, the die forever cast.

Needless to say he was shocked to behold Tammuz.

“And what is this?” he declared rising from his throne in uproar. The captain of the gurad step forward to speak.

“This is the single man all diviners gave recognition, if not respect. He alone gazes far into the abyss where only the gods might know, or at least he alone claims to.”

“I can speak for myself and my own counsel,” Tammuz said, standing tall and smiling wide, “please good Rah, I am no mute mumbler what must meander through the grains of sand and glass to find what is and is not true. I set my mind and body to the heavens, and toss my self hence, to see the worlds to come. Like a man on a ship monitoring the waves, I know what will be and how each shift moves them. Let me do my work and all shall be well.”

The Rah relented, and Tammuz sat then there on the stone floor, fixing his gaze forward into the throne of the Rah and between the seven lights. Tammuz sat and watched.

Days passed, and the Tammuz remained as still as stone. The courtiers of the Rah walked around the strange man, whom spiders slowly built webs upon. Messengers came forth with tidings, averting the line of his gaze. Eventually it was addressed.

Out Of Body Out Of Mind

“Majestic Rah, who the sun has set upon the earth,” the man from the west had said, robed in brilliant green and gold cloth, “why does this man stand here, unopposed?”

“Worry not, aspirant, he has set his mind to future things, that I may know we reign forever,” the Rah said with a wave of his hand.

“If you wish to be free of doubt, Rah of the Heavenly Mandate, I may supply answer. I know men who can grant you warriors who cannot be defeated, I myself have forged swords that never fail and who’s wound never heal, and other wonders that drive away the darkness of war.”

“What of plague?” the Rah asked, stroking his beard. “Have you wonders for these?”

“Not I, it is not my trade. But ask of the lands in the East, closer to mighty Meru where the Gods once lived and walked. They may have something.”

“Bring your works to my palace, and I shall send to the east.”

Unbeknownst to the Rah, their words disturbed Tammuz sleep, and for a moment he was nearly started awake and his mind nearly returned to the current day, but it was not to be. So the ships went out east, to find a man who could make similar wonders. One who might make elixirs granting wise men eternal life or who knew how to restore the dead with but a draught. And there they found a woman, dressed in blue and silver, who before the Rah said such things.

“Of plauge and age, worry not. I have beheld the most eternal things, the unchanging desert and the unbroken mountain. From them many things can be learned, that Uri-Gaol will stand forever more.”

And she brought peaches stole from the gardens of lost gods, and books written in blue that told the secrets of the heavens. And the man in green and gold returned, with blades of fire that fought by themselves, and a host of men with heads of lions and bears and tigers. So fierce where they that none, the man promised, would stand against the king, not even the gods who’s city was overhead.

And the clamour of alchemists running at the bidding of the woman, and the roars of the beastly soliders, and the clang of the mystic swords, and the out cry of the priests newly revitalized made the silent hall ring with noise. And in it’s midst sat Tammuz, buried in cobweb and dust, such that he resembled a hill of decay. But still he would not wake.

As the ships rose once more to war, that Uri Gaol not fear its neighbors by standing alone on the world, Tammuz did not wake. When the Rah’s court took bestial paramours, Tammuz did not rise. When the sorcererers in green and blue wove new creatures to fight for the king, scaley goats to provide for them, and great serpents to pull his barge through the heavens, Tammuz did not rise.

It was not until the Rah again was in his hall, his paranoia abated at last by pleasures and destruction,that Tammuz stirred from the pile. The moon moved before the sun, as the sages had said it would. A pair of brilliant lights shown out of the pile. And it stirred. Out came Tammuz, his drawings changed with time. His body was like a corpse, maggots crawling through his eyes and flies out his mouth. His forests were burned along his chest, and his skin stretched paler than the moon. His eyes were not the placid eyes of the dead but glowed with a brilliant light, blinding to those who did not burn brighter by the seven rays of heaven. And when he spoke, his joy was still there, though his voice sowed terror.

“Oh Rah, I have seen plentiful futures for Uri-Gaol, forgotten by later days. I watched as it shifted and shattered, as you sowed your own doom. But this you already knew. Who hopes to evade prophecy, without knowing he fulfills it? No, but I saw farther, past when the mountains sink, and when this ocean is a desert, and when the desert beyond is an ocean. Oh the terrors that will be wrought, the canals of blood as many struggles with man over the scraps of kingship you have not squandered. And the beasts will remain and feast upon the carrion, and alchemist will make dark wonders out of sight.

“Oh Rah, I have seen multitudes of dooms upon Uri-Gaol and the heavens above. I have seen how darkness will wrap itself in splendor, how plague will come with trade, how war will come from within, how nature herself abhors you. I speak for the oldest house, the house I saw at the edge of time and who’s owner command rings from all edges. By his might was I held down, by the terror of his house did I survive.

“Oh Rah, thrice on three times will the world rise and die. Know that no generation hence will recall Uri-Gaol, for it will be less than a ruin, less than even a myth or legend, but rather only a place dreamed of in the distance. Know that the nightmares made flesh will be your legacy, who once may have been wise. Know that I and those who follow me, who bear the sigil of death and are born of decay, will linger alone in this place when it is buried beneath the waves.”

And each word Tammuz spoke bore plauge and storm out into the world. Each syllable an aeon of past and present misery washed over the Rah and his court, a lotus unfolding to show a darkened core. There was no weeping, for tears trembled. The court merely stood, all other speech render moot by the litany from beyond. And so they remained, until Uri-Gaol sunk beneath the sands and seas.

I will not deny, my fellow writers and gravediggers, this prompt took many attempts and I am still not entirely pleased with the result. It has some touches, in this latest form, with my attempts on Dunsany and eternity from a time back, and the letter to the commander of the faithful. It strikes me as worse than either of those however. Still, this stiching will have to do. Some day later I might expand this, dive deeper and pull together a better work. But for now, we must move on to the next prompt, the next corpse, the next untold terror.

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Out of Body, Out of Time

This Week’s Prompt:20. Man journeys into the past—or imaginative realm—leaving bodily shell behind.

The Resulting Story:The Prophecy Of Tammuz

Welcome back brothers and sisters of the Undead Author Society. We have quite a bit to discuss in this little prompt, so please bare with me. We have to go to strange and odd places, as there’s a great deal to talk about with time, space, and the mind.

Firstly, the basics. The idea of out-of-body experiences was common and accepted in certain circles by the time of Mr. Lovecraft. Astral projection, as it is commonly called, has a rich tradition dating back millenia. Famous works such as The Divine Comedy are found the world over, detailing adventures into the underworld or strange locations, fairy realms and spirit lands.

In particular, in certain sects of shamanism and the like, astral projection is a means not only to see wonders, but to correct wrongs. The spirits must be battled or confronted, but This is still a somewhat common trope in fantasy, as the successful Nickelodeon cartoon Avatar the Last Airbender and Cartoon Networks Gravity Falls to a lesser extent show.

However, what is less common was it as a means of travel. A common idea in the early days of science fiction was the use of astral projection instead of other more mundane means of interstellar or temporal travel. Examples include the seminal John Carter of Mars and Mr. Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy . The notion has mostly by now been abandoned in favor of spaceships, with actual real world success resulting in the dismissal of more fantastic or pseudo scientific ideas.

Thus the imaginative realm Lovecraft refers has the great potential to be a dream scape, such as the wondrous Dreamlands we have already discussed, or a foreign world. Or even the past. But the past seems more banal, with our modern minds knowledge, then either of those places. How could these be mistaken for one another?

It must be remembered that the past, in Lovecrafts time, was still being uncovered. The age of the world was growing, but how old say, humans, were was less set in stone. Lovecraft and his fellows thus populated the past with human and inhuman nations on a multitude of lost continents, a trait that sadly dates them somewhat. As tectonic plates were just being discovered, to Lovecraft the sudden sinking of Ryleh or Atlantis in a few thousand years seemed totally reasonable. Today, baring the supernatural in the case of both, we also have observation of the ocean that derails the horror somewhat.

This notion of prehuman ancestors also owes it self to one of the…unsettling influences on fantasy, horror, and science fiction of the day, particularly weird fiction. The occult, in particular, the Theosophical society. An oddity of occultism, part of the Theosophical societies doctrine included the notion of ‘root races’ who were increasingly involved in the operation of the world and built large scale civilizations that eventually fell. The society aimed to manipulate or guide human evolution according to heavenly precepts, to better receive a world teacher.


The reason this is appealing to weird fiction authors ought to be obvious. Even at a superficial level, it invokes conspiracy, strange alien masters, ancient relics and technology, and the expansion of humanity into the unknown. The problematic part occurs when considering the ‘root races’, particularly the assertions regarding Aryan superiority over semetic peoples. The inherent racist overtones of Theosphony’s pseudo scientific eugenics make it a poor choice at times, except in the broadest of strokes. Still, some of the fantastic material may be mined (reading the wikipedia page on root races alone, you can see the outlines of Numenor et al. With dark magics and human hybrids)

That in mind, what sort of story presents itself from the prompt? We might begin with the notion of time travel instead of spatial travel. While time travel is a dangerous plot utenzil, it allows for immediate effects and raises some unsettling stakes. There is a paranoia to the idea that, at any moment, the past might be rewritten and we would know nothing of it.

It is best then that we have about five characters, it seems. We have one who travels between worlds, two who dwell in modernity, two who dwell in the past. It is probably best that the travelerer not know he is in the past, but rather believe he is in some new fantastic locale. We want a careless protagnoist, who will unwitting cause damage or change. Such is the Lovecraft way.

That said, we must have a conflict with his new and alien surroundings. This seems easy enough, given that our mystery magnificent culture can certainly provide clash. It would do well to think on what sort of conflicts however. It would be in poor taste to insist that modern virtues are superior in every way to past ones. The past was not a savage hell that only needed modern reason to solve its problems, nor is the present a logical utopia.

On the other hand, the past was not a rosy innocent time where the only problems were solved with simple discussion, nor is the present a cold emotionless hell from which we cannot escape. Some work must be done, then, on this past culutre and determining the present of the story. We might do a present a bit off from ours if we want to make things easier (the sins of two pasts are easier to see then the sins of the present and past, and are less likely to cause uproar).

But that is exactly why we should not do that. This is horror after all, and what’s the point if you don’t leave someone unsettled? Now back to our tales outline. First, we must arrange the present. The when, where, and who. After this, we send our traveler tumbling backward into the past, through some accident (probably of a head injury, though a simple sleep could do in a pinch.Either is random enough). We present the past, and the lead makes choices, causing some change. He returns to the present, only to find it altered.

Now, the alteration itself is tricky. How grand an operation should it be? A great deal of short story work has been done with small changes, linguistic differences or the like. Grander changes have some stereotype to them (how many times will Nazis win WW2? Or the Soviets the Cold War?), so they may have more room to explore.I think a medium is need. Not one small change, but hundreds. Noticeable, but not insurmountable differences reflecting the characters choice.


Onto the character, I have noticed we haven’t done a non-white person. Perhaps that will be worth a swing, to better diversify our cast. I wonder also about the genre. Mr. Lovecraft was not just a horror author. He wrote fantastic tales, such as the Dream Quest for Unknown Kadath and was good friends with the seminal creator of Conan the Barbarian , Robert E. Howard. takes place in the same world as the Mythos. Perhaps we will simply stick to fantasy for this one.

The fullness of that development is more than one of these posts has time for. Needless to say, I will endeavor to make it surprising. What clear paths do you see? What changes would you make? What worlds would explore?

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Damned Spot, Part 1

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

The Research:We Anti-Mused Now

Warning: This story contains instances of stalking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women at work

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

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

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

“And stabbed him?”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Continue the story here or read some forgotten research here.

Intermission Reseach

Well, Lenora is in quite the pickle. But to keep your eyes fresh from our twice as long tale, good friends, I decided to include some things I neglected last time about the nature of muses. Namely, a brief list of examples of hostile and disturbing muses.

Firstly, all credit to the King. Stephen King plays with the nature of creative work many times, and I’ve seen more than one interpretation of Tommy Knockers as a metaphor for various illicit substances that enhance one’s creativity. Certainly that is a toxic muse, and while I have to actually read the book, the idea sounds credible.

The Shining also certainly plays with disturbed writers trying to find inspiration. To avoid spoilers, I will leave it at that, and recommend the film and book highly (The two are rather seperate).

Next, there is Paint It Black, a story from a series of Silent Hill comics. While I can’t speak for the quality of the work, it does engage in the notion of an unwanted muse (or muses) trying to force themselves upon the painter. Again, a similar idea, if less subtle by the monstrous nature of the muse in question.

Lastly, and the one that had the most impact on myself, is a small video from Channel Awesome, a website that hosts a number of pop culture critics. After the cancellation of one of their more popular series (The famous Nostalgia Critic) and the ensuing backlash, as well as a bit of time away from the character, the site released The Review Must Go On. I can’t say it is the best example, but as it was the one most directly connected to a creator I ironically have nostalgia for, it is probably the most prominent. The video is below, the relevant portion being 6.44-24:43

That injustice being rectified, we resume our typical programming.



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Damned Spot, Part 2

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

 Part 1 here
The Research:We Anti-Mused Now

There was something frustrating about the invasive thoughts now, as much as they were worrying. Some she was still able to exorcise with pen and paper. Solar temples holding demonic gods and the courts of fae, tables filled with a humanitarian feast were easy enough. Quick sketches on the bottom lengths of paper, easily buried in a pocket or hidden beneath a shifted pile. But then there were other thoughts, less easily separated from her own. Worries about being late for the train were supplemented by images of crowds of people like cattle to the slaughter of lives and she couldn’t place where her idea started and the interruption began.

As the bell at her desk rang, Lenora carefully picked up all the sketches and shoved them into various coat pockets. They weren’t important, really, but they might be useful in case it got out of control. She’d be able to explain things better with diagrams anyway.

“Night Daniel.” She said pushing her chair in and putting on her stained coat. The red was running down the back and arm of it as well. Must be slow drying, Lenora thought.

“Hm? Oh, night Lenora. Be careful out there.”

“ What about old blood hands? I don’t think he’ll be a big problem.” Lenora said with a shrug.Daniel looked at her over his spectacles for a moment before sighing and waving her out.

The mists of town were as thick as at morning, if not thicker. The moon’s light cut through it in patches with islands of artificial light sticking out of sea. She was careful not to trip over the muck and the mold, making her way to the train station as quick as she could. Regardless of what she told Daniel, the night felt more predatory than normal. The lampposts had some ocular quality, glowing balls of fire examining her every move. She was shaking a bit at the train station when the click clack came and she got aboard.

The night train was less full than the morning one. Less people went home at the same time as came in. Lenora was happy to finally be able to sit down at something more comfortable than the office desk. The train began to lurch forward as she leaned back and let out a long relaxed sigh. The pitter patter of the rain was a relaxing beat as she rode home.

Midway through, the ding of the train woke her from her pseudo slumber. Blinking to awareness, she turned to see the rain still streaking across the window. But there was a pattern to it, she saw. Squinting, each drop fell in order, forming a long fractal grin. Teeth within teeth, as what were once lips became fractures and stretched from corner to corner, growing and consuming the entire window. It spiraled and spread, and Lenora’s throat began to close again as the spark of recognition came. It was Peter’s smile of broken glass, ready to gobble her up from the window.

She nearly toppled over, jumping out of her seat. Scrambling to her feet, she did her best to compose herself, putting distance between her and the window. That pattern had vanished, the dots no longer connecting properly to form the face. She must be seeing things, flustered over strange thoughts and Peter’s presence at the office. It was unlikely he could follow her everywhere after all. He didn’t even know her name.

Lenora walked up the the steps, four floors from the ground, to her apartment. It was an older building, mass produced in its way. Universal floor plan, though the wallpaper randomly went from light green to pink with vines on the third floor. Lenora slipped into her apartment without a second thought.

“Lenny, that you?” Deliah shouted from her bedroom.

“Yeah, just got in.”

“You okay?” Deliah said, emerging from her room. She was a bit bigger than Lenora, a bit taller, a bit wider, and with eyes that were a size too big for her head.

“I’m fine. Weird run-in at work, and no it’s not blood, some freak with red paint on his hands.”

“ Weird. Gaunt guy with a bleeding hand stopped by for you.”

“…was his name Peter?”

“Oh. So, you do know him?” Deliah said, shifting a little. Lenora paused midway through filling a pan with water and slowly turned about.

“No…No I don’t. He’s been following me all day. Why? Do you?” Lenora asked, emptying the pan into the water, and rotating her grip. Deliah began rubbing her arm a bit.

“Ah, well, he said he was a coworker, and that you’d left somethings at work that he wanted to return. Seemed kind off, but chatted up well…Your sure you don’t know him?”

“I met him today, on the train. You told him I lived here?” Lenora asked, leaning forward.

“No, no, just promised I’d get the box to you, that’s all! I figured you were friends or –”

“Damn it, how does he know where I live? What box, get the box.” Lenora said, her eyes flashing like lighting, and the pan banging on the sink formed a parallel thunder. Deliah scurried back into her room and emerged with a large cardboard box. Placing it slowly on the table, she slipped back from the inevitable explosion.

Lenora slowly approached the box, putting the pan down beside it. Opening it carefully, she was unsuprised to find a simple note on the top of the insides.

Dear Lenora Eckart,

I hope this finds you well. It is important, I believe, to encourage our artistic talents, and you are one of the best I have seen. Certainly you understand that? That we must break free of this world if we are going to live, burn it down in our minds in order to escape. You’ve seen the shell the world wears, barely constraining its suffering. You’re perfect for letting that all loose.

You’ve seen it all, after all. Imagine the demons of Mr. Hemsworth, the man you found hanging the closet when you were twelve. What kind of people lurked in those nightmares that sent you screaming into your mother’s room, only to be greeted with shouting and tears? What did you want to do to Leonard, when he mugged your sister? All that potential is inside you, waiting for someone to push it loose, to let out the clawing terror. Let it out, and you’ll see how much brighter you burn.

Don’t worry too much about how I found you or why. That’s not terribly relevant. Beneath this note, however, are a number of quite relevant items. I think you’ll find they give your mind the gentle prod it needs to grasp everything as it is. Look and you will see, search and you will find, please try not to run and hide. I am being as gentle as I may, leaving only a couple stains on you that I must.

Always Aware,

Peter Fobos Phrike, Esq.

Lenora’s hands were trembling as she put down the letter. She hadn’t told anyone about Mr. Hemsworth, except the police. Let alone the nightmares, or the incident with Leonard. No, she’d kept that inside and quiet. Turning back to the box, she felt a rush of cold bone chilling air. There were pictures, pictures of bugs, of swarms, of desolate ruins, of corpses, of landscapes torn asunder, there were old paintings and many eyed monsters, slaughter houses and houses full of the slaughtered, there were piles of bodies, there were laughing madmen with eyes of fire, there were…Lenora stepped back and collapsed against the wall struggling again to breathe. There were thoughts boiling in her brain, thoughts she’d never had, thoughts she’d never seen.

Plagues terrible and visceral, cannibal mothers and fillicidal fathers, dark secrets etched in crooked street stones, boiling over and over. Her head was burning, her shoulder searing. She heard crying and gnashing of teeth, leprous mourners dragged in the dirt, she had to get it out. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably, as she rocked back and forth. Out.

Crawling, she toppled the box off the table. Pictures and papers fell on top of her like a rain of nightmares, tapes and small sculptures of strange many headed men and women beating on her back, leaving bruises and aches. Huddling beneath it all, she felt a larger, longer paper cover her back. Rising slowly, she braced herself for something new. Some corpse of God, some terrible beast, some heinous crime so terrible that it need all of that space.

It was blank.

Lenora’s hands went still, her rocking stopped. It was blank. She began to feel something rising up her throat from her stomach, rolling crackling noise, at last bursting into a bombastic laugh. A fae laugh, a laugh that drove Deliah under her bed in fright. The laugh that women have as their family burns around them, at the sheer insanity and nonsense of the world. A broken and crushed laugh.

Her hands sifted through the pile, grasping at pens and a number of brushes. Several of what she assumed were small statues were strangely shaped paint cans. Lenora in the moment couldn’t distinguish the inspired thoughts from her own, the thoughts from what her hands were sketching. It was as if she was simply observing something unfolding before her, towers slipping free from the pen, rolling red mist seeping out of their windows. Great infernos giving to way sky splitting storms, people crushed under foot, white mobs of inquisitors lashing the starving. More and more through the night, colors bleeding form her mind into the lines, shadows scorching their way across the fields of light. Every dark thing she had dreamed of, every horror her ears had heard, every monstrous thought dismissed poured itself out in its infinite measure onto the page.

Morning broke, and she stood exhausted. It had stopped. Her mind finally felt free, the burning and bubbling and boiling gone. It was done, and her head was calm and at last Lenora felt relief and release, as if her clothes were light as feathers, a serene silence as if the world had stalled for her to enjoy the peace of the dawn. And then there was the creak of the door opening.

“There, isn’t that much better.” Peter said as Lenora turned around. “I knew you had it in you, little Len.”

The weight of sleep was already tugging on Lenora’s eyes, and her head was almost rolling. The exhaustion made words hard to form, all her effort caught up in standing upright. Still she managed to pull together enough scattered thoughts to talk.

“Get out.” She said, her words blurring together as she nearly stumbled into the painting behind her. Peter waved a dismissive hand and paced around her to better see the painting, stroking his chin.

“Wonderful, wonderful really. You’ve made something one of a kind here. Really, not since Saturn Devouring His Young have I seen this sort of wildness in a –”

“Get out.” Lenora forced out again, glaring unblinking at Peter. Peter raised his eyebrow and stepped forward. Lenora felt an involuntary flinch. The toothy smile spread across Peter’s face, shards of pallid glass protruding from his lips. She stepped back again.

“Now? But we just got started. No, Len, this is the start of something wonderful, something terrible.” he said, taking a long stride toward her. “Let us go gentle about it, eh? Don’t want anything to bruise.”

Lenora stumbled back again, tripping over one of the discarded paint cans. As she fell, she closed her eyes and braced for hitting the wooden floor. But the impact never came. Instead she felt something catch her back. Opening her eyes, Peter was smiling down, his eyes almost aflame.

“Let’s have the next one with less fuss, alright?” he said, his red hand stroking her face. Lenora twitched as it burned again, as the boiling started. Her throat was closing and the burning bulbous spider webs were weaving through her thoughts again, and it would never end.

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We Anti-Mused Now

Undead Author Society

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

The Resulting Story: The Damned Spot, Part 1 and Part 2

The nature of this prompt is problematic, as there is not single piece of writing Mr. Lovecraft published in 1907, nor a piece that has been found later (the closest being the Alchemist in 1908). There is a story much beloved by Mr. Lovecraft, The Willows, which matches the stated year. The problem is it lacks the one horror element that is concretely given (a painting of ultimate horror). For that we need to look elsewhere.

Now, paintings have a history in horror. In Mr. Lovecraft’s work they arrive in the form of Pickman’s Model, which we have mentioned before, and is notable in that it lacks anything overtly supernatural about it’s art work. The portrait of Joseph Curwen plays a similar non-mystical role in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, a horrifying revelation that is conveyed by merely mortal means. The most famous use of a painting in fiction, particularly the weird and disturbing fiction, is Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey.

All paintings act as revelers of some truth in their respective stories, and the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” exists for a reason. Any painting we include, then, ought to likewise reveal something, something preferably both universally true and true about our lead and victim. This is reinforced, of course, by the nature of artist, that we discussed in Idle Hands. To summarize here, the notion of pouring one’s soul and life into an artistic work, or any inhuman thing has some degree of horror present in it. But I believe there is another trope that can be tapped: The Muse.

The muse inspires, the muse arguably actually creates the art, by mortal hands. The Muse, as any artist may tell you, is often a fickle beast, giving inspiration one second and decline the next. Sometimes she robs one of sense, other times she lashes with her tongue and scorns the writer with her eyes. I say “her” for two reasons: the first is that the oringal nine Muses are, after all, goddesses (one of a number of triples in Greek mythology). The other is that majority of literature that talks about Muses talks about them as women from the perspective of men. A few exceptions exist (Shakespeare for example seems to have had a male muse at some point, judging by the sonnets), but it is a common trope.


From the hands of Mr. Lovecraft himself.

How would we play with this trope then? Well, the power of both horror and humor, its close friend, lies in subversion. The Muse is a creature of dreams, an ultimately good and beautiful if fickle thing. But let us take a cue from the most famous work of Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu, and his own Pickman’s Model, and examine a more terrible muse. A nightmare to the Muses dream, a Fury to her Grace. This inversion, to be more perfect, must maintain the dichotomy of the muse. If the Muse is graceful and occasionally full of wrath, let our new creature be full of terror and wrath that is at the same time intoxicating and alluring. It should be terrible to behold, a nightmare that draws others into its world.

We should not forget an important part of the Muse myth: the Muse is invoked. The Muse, in the old traditions, is called upon. Is summoned, is asked for. The Anti-Muse, as our entity will be called for the time, should subvert this as well. Unbidden comes the Anti-Muse, unwanted and disturbing.

An arc, it seems, is already emerging for a story involving such a creature. First we must arrange the normal life of our painter. Next we introduce the Anti-Muse, who is frightful when first glimpsed and is sent away rather than invoked. Only such a demon does not yield, and begins pursuing the painter through other means. The Anti-Muse invades dreams, sends forth visions, and harasses the painter, to the distress of his colleges. For a time he holds out, but slowly and reluctantly gives way. The more the painter indulges in the Anti-Muse, however, the less painful it becomes, akin to many poor habits in the world. Eventually the painter achieves that sublime state of artists, becoming one with the Anti-Muse. Does the painter join the Anti-Muse for a hell ever after, or does the vampiric and monstrous nature kill the painter? I’m not yet sure. I believe our muse must maintain the almost puritanical desire to inspire rather than devour.

You, dear brothers and sisters, no doubt have noticed I have yet to gender our lead. And there is reason for that. For while a complete subversion of the myth would have a woman with a male muse, the sort of topics that bring to mind may be too big. It should not be hard to see more real life parallels with a mysterious man who is rejected, who stalks a woman like prey, and harasses her constantly. But this would persist even if the lead was male. I admit, for reasons beyond my knowledge, I am more comfortable writing the latter, but the horror in the former is more concrete. More…visceral.

And on that note, of all the stories I have attempted, this is perhaps the one where description is of the utmost importance. The ultimate horror of the Anti-Muse is the production of the painting, which must produce some sort of revelation. And this must either be expressed with words, my chosen medium, or by acquiring some artist to display a nightmarish landscape in the next few days. On the one hand, words are cheaper and I can rely on myself. On the other hand, a picture is worth a thousand words.

What would you do with this corpse, brothers and sisters? When writing about a visual medium, do you use words or commissions (or draw yourself)? What about auditory?

A brief note, good friends. I will be taking up Philausiphah’s challenge of including the word gentle in the story next week.

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