Mirror Mirror On The Wall

This Week’s Prompt:42. Fear of mirrors—memory of dream in which scene is altered and climax is hideous surprise at seeing oneself in the water or a mirror. (Identity?)

The Resulting Story: Catoptrophobia

Mirrors roll in identiy and illusions is one with a long traditon, as many tropes are. There is the understanding that a mirror, fundamentally, provides an accurate but false image. It reflects, but because it is imperfect it distorts. Thus we have the term smoke and mirrors, and the quotation from the bible on troubled perception:

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13. 12, NIV)

The Mirror’s reflection is not the thing itself, any more than the moon is the sun. But, as this prompt also points to, a mirror can be revelatory. You cannot see yourself but in a mirror. And so, self reflection requires this mild obsfucation. Shaksepeare’s…oddly topical play Julius Caesear provides an excellent view of this:

“Therefore, good Brutus, be prepared to hear.

And since you know you cannot see yourself

So well as by reflection, I, your glass,

Will modestly discover to yourself

That of yourself which you yet know not of.”

(Cassius, Act 1, Scene 2, 68-72)

Mirrors roll in idenity and illusion are alluded to in folkloric sources. The Romans attribution of life renewing every seven years is where the destruction of mirrors leading to seven years bad luck originates. Mirrors are often attributed as means of detection among the living from vampiric predators, as vampires leave no reflection. This, like the Roman tradtion, stems from a notion of identity. Vampires, being souless, have nothing to reflect. In a strange way, vampires have no ‘self’ as commonly understood.

Mirrors, because of their connection to the soul and self, were feared as possible traps for ghosts or means of contacting the world of the dead. After all, if the soul was there once, perhaps it is there still. Some Jewish traditions prescribe covering a mirror on the death of a relation, in case the dead was trapped there.

Mirrors self-knowing, however, was sometimes dangerous to the living. Mirrors are often a symbol of vanity, as they only show one themselves, rather than the world around them. It is easy to critize someone who is constantly looking in the mirror, after all. The ancient Greek tale of Narcissius, Narcissism’s root, tells of a man who was so pleased with his reflection he wasted away staring at it, lost in love. Or he drowned, trying to embrace his beloved image. Neither is a pleasant end.

Sometimes, however, the emphasis is on knowledge more than self. Obsidian mirrors were common tools for Mesoamerican shamans, and the Smoking Mirror was a powerful royal god to the Aztecs. Mirrors role as oracluarly devices in this case was linked to the dead of Xibalba, who were believed to possess knowledge of the future and past that was beyond the sight of mortal kin.

So with this all in mind, what are we to do with this story? Mr. Lovecraft has a fondness for bloodlines and lost histories that we’ve noted before. But more pressing here is the transformation of humans into something…else. Shadow Over Innsmouth and Pickman’s Model both do such transformation quite well, and emphasis perhaps the horror at play here.

For, to indulge in pyschoanalysis for a time, few people actually know themselves. And I sometimes wonder how much of our internal thoughts and forces are what we would socially call human. How many monsters do we make from our own vast inner landscapes? But I digress slightly.

A dream revelation of self is certainly fitting, and there is an uncomfortable horror in changing without intending it. There are the normal anxieties in that process that occur through out life. There is puberty, there’s growing old, there’s death. These are all things that change us, that we cannot control.

The Metamorphisis by Franz Kafka touches on some of this horror fairly well. I won’t spoil the classic of horror, but merely link it here.

Working this into a story is still difficult, however. We have a climax, a tomato in the mirror moment that will define the rest of the story. A mystery then seems in order, but the resolution is…well, it’s kinda given away by the prompt isn’t it? If we do a mystery, it is absolutely imperative therefore that the murderer not be the dreamer. I say murderer, because murder is the most common crime in mystery novels.

So if we are telling a mystery story, I think Shadow Over Innsmouth’s mystery was better. The climax there is very similair (though not enough for me to call it entirely from this prompt), and points towards a resolution that is horrifying but not…spoilerific? I won’t divulge the entire plot, but the ending is more adjacent to the more common form of horror in the story.

A possible break from Lovecraft is to remove the normally familial or hereditary component of the transfromation. Rather, make it seomthing like the origin of many demons of the Journey to the West. In Journey to the West, most demons come about from normal creatures overhearing the reading of holy (and thus powerful) scripture, growing powerful in their own right. Our monster-revel might be something similair. Something has imbued the main character and at least on other, maybe dozens, with massive amounts of power/awareness. We’ve seen what Lovecraft thinks of those things, and that horror might feel more original. It’s not in your blood, it in your experience.

I can’t say exactly what form said transformation will take. Nor how it will begin. But seeing something over take everyone you know and love or cherish, and then looking in the mirror to see it changing you certainly is the beating black heart of what we are looking for.

There Is Another In The Woods

This Week’s Prompt: 41. The Italians call Fear La figlia della Morte—the daughter of Death.

The Relevant Research:Frightful Night Terrors

Elise had been stolen from me. Elise, Elise had been stolen in the middle of the night. Again. I was out in the old forest with my flashlight, searching as best I could. Again.

The first time she was small. Only six. Only six, and out of the house. Well, that doesn’t give the full story. Her door was locked, a nice iron pad lock as well as the normal lock. The windows had been barred, in case some of the more adventurous squirrels or raccons lept in at Elise. It was a secure as secure could be. I even moved her bed, in case someone through something through the window. It was safe and close.

Foggy forest nights where the clouds seem to have come down from the sky and subusmed the moon are not exactly comforting when you’ve lost something. Your feet catch on the roots, and after the first few you times you fall over, you start thinking they are trying to drag you down into the ground. The flashlight can catch the branches, giving me time to duck and weave through the woods. It wasn’t a quite night this time.

Last time, there was almost no noise in the woods but my footsteps and heavy breathing. I knew Elise was in the woods. There hadn’t been any signs in her room, the lock and bars still intact. But I saw her steps going off towards the woods. I grabbed a hand gun, my flashlight, and went running. I didn’t think to call the police. Not yet.

Tonight there was the occasional clinking when my footsteps hit a broken beer bottle. The wind drove the branches against each other, scratching at the sky. There was an occasional howl in the depths, towards the old hills. I ran faster, my flashlight bumping up and down. I called out for her again. Last time, last time it had taken two days to find her out in these woods.

I spent a night running around screaming, last time. I wasn’t even the one who called the cops. Neighbors around the woods called complaining about the noise.

“Now sir, calm down. How long has your daughter been missing.”

“I don’t know, three hours? I noticed she was gone when I went to bring her water for the night, she always gets water at around nine, and then she wasn’t there, so I went out–” I said, my voice beginning to pick up speed as I talked.

“And there was no one else in the house? No one at all? No visitors, babysitters?” the man in blue asked, tilting his head to look inside.

“None, no.” I said flatly.

“Door was locked and everything.” He said, thinking for a moment. “Well, we’ll get a search party together. You mind coming down to the station, so we can a statement on the record?”

“Yeah, yeah, sure, just let me get some things.”

“It’d be better for it to be right now.” the man said, stepping out of the doorway.

The station conversation was much the same. They asked again about the room, why was it so secure, if I heard anything, if I saw anything. I had heard tapping on the top floor I said, but I thought it was a door in the wind or something. They held me there, away from the search party, for about six hours.

It wasn’t hard to piece together what they thought had happened. It was suspicious, it was frustrating. You do everything you can to keep your daughter safe, after her mother vanishes into thin air, and people start to wonder what your hiding her from. What’s out there that warrants bars on the windows, iron locks, and a fence? Then the start asking if it’s something inside instead. And it goes down hill.

Not like I don’t know what did it. I do, I do know. Out here in the woods, there’s only one thing that steals away with children. Mother told me about night like these, and I told Elise. These are old woods, and her mother didn’t understand that either. They’re fairie woods, woods were you better carry a cross even during the day.

They found her in the woods last time, sleeping in the roots of a tree, with a few scratch marks and a sprained ankle. She said she didn’t know how she got there. And maybe she didn’t. I hadn’t put all the stuff up yet. Just the one lock. It’s possible, I guess, she just snuck out. But how did she get so far away, from the second story to the woods with barely any sound? No, it took here there.

I tried telling Elise once, but she was so young. So very young, she had trouble grasping what I meant by faeries.

“But wouldn’t they be scared of you, papa?” she asked. “I mean, Tinkerbell would be frightened off by you. All you have to do is say you don’t believe in faeries.”

And I smiled and said sure with a laugh. Still secretly sewed some iron into her clothes, as a ‘game’. Yeah, it might have looked a little odd if you saw it, and it gave her a bit of a rash as she grew up. But it was the only way to be sure. If she knew what was out here, she’d know that it wasn’t scared of me. Contrary to what Disney says, faeries are rarely kind or small. And the one in the woods…he’s neither.

“He walks on long legs, so that even boys and girls on upstairs rooms aren’t safe from him.” Mother told me, holding her arms over my head like an oak’s branches. “And if you’ve been bad, it comes up from the forest for you with it’s long branch like arms.”

I had scratched my face pretty bad by now, the thorns of bushes and low hanging branchs having left their mark. Especially as I was more focused on moving forward then anything else, and so instead of ducking and weaving in the thickets I walked straight through them.

“And he takes you away, to his house, for as long as it takes for you to learn your lesson. He took my brother once, and he was gone for a whole year.” she said. Uncle Tommy was clear that he’d gone to millitary school, but to be honest when I was little that might as well as been hell.

I didn’t believe in him for a long time, until I was out in the woods myself. I saw him, two long arms out stretched among the branches, and a bright toothy grin. Long pale legs and a glowing face like a barn owls. I saw him, I did , that night Elise went missing. And he’s come again, he’s come again for my daughter.

BOOGEYMANCover2

Why now though? I can’t help but wonder as I begin to lose the speed in my legs. Why now? It’d been three years, three years since they found her. She’d been well behaved, she’d been doing good in school, I’d been doing the best I could, making recitals, making it to bake sales, buying girl scout cookies, selling girl scout cookies, telling her good night.

What had gone wrong?

I didn’t shout her name this time. I didn’t bother calling the police this time. The bars on her window sealed my fate I think. No one likes them. Home owner’s associations been knocking on my door about them every month.

“It’s ugly” they say.

“New homebuyers think it’s a prison cell.” they say.

“It can’t be good for little Elise.” they say.

What do they know about what’s good for a kid, huh? What do they know, they’ve never had one. Never had one go missing in the middle of the night, and never gone to bed wondering if she’s snuck out again. For a year after, I put a baby monitor in her room, just in case. Maybe that’s where I went wrong, maybe I let my guard down. But hell, the bars. The bars were a must.

But hell, I know that’s what got her last time. And hell if I let that thing steal her again.

Not that they did any good it seems. But the iron should have! The iron should have burned him. My grandma, she had iron tied above her when she slept. It’s what kept her safe. My mother, she just put a cross of iron on my neck.

I find my answer, pretty quickly. Its hanging from a tree branch, a small piece of bright blue cloth with the tiny iron thread gleaming in the flash light. My heart stops for a second and I feel my breath become lead in my throat. In a daze, I look around, I look closely and carefully for any sign of her. It had to have come through here.

Someone’s sobbing or…laughing, its that sound that’s between the two. I round the trunk, watching my steps. When I come around, I see a girl Elise’s age. But her mousey brown hair has been cut in weird places, and she’s got bruises on her arms. There are wrinkles beneath her eyes and callouses on her hands that I’ve never seen before.

It can’t be her.

“L-Lizzy?” I say slowly, getting down on one knee. “Lizzy, is that you?”

“Papa!” she shouted, looking up at my light and running into hugging me. “Papa, he said I could go home, papa!”

I patted her on the back as her tears rand down my shoulder. I should have been delighted. I should have. My little girl was back. But something felt wrong.

“Go home? Honey, you’ve only been out here a few hours.” I said cautiously.

“No, no, papa, its a been longer that. Months at least.” she said through tears. Months? No, something in my mind clicked. Not months. Years.

What had been living in my house?

Frightful Night Terrors

This Weeks Prompt:41. The Italians call Fear La figlia della Morte—the daughter of Death.
The Resulting Story: There Is Another In The Woods

The tie between fear and death is fundamental to the notions of horror as we have them. There is nothing more fundamental to our nature then a fear of death. That fear pressage death, be death’s relative, is not so strange. In the myth of the Greeks, fear and terror are children of Ares, butcher of war. Fear is at the essence of what we do here, fear is at the heart of horror.

But there are very few things that are, well, just fear. Dying of fright is certainly a phenomenon, well documented at that in several anthropological works. But, well, those aren’t situations that lend themselves well to horror. Fear can cause a heart attack, which is existentially terrifying, but lacks a certain amount of drama.

The Tingler

There was a horror movie classic about a creature that fed on fear, delightfully called the Tingler. The eponymous creature causes a tingle in it’s host spine and feeds on it’s fear. Only by screaming can the creature be prevented from curling up and crushing the spine. The concept of something that feeds on fear is continued in Harry Potter to a degree, a creature that resembles a dementor but devours fear instead of misery. Even Power Rangers has had villains that collect fear.

But these are…well, silly. The Tingler might have been frightful for it’s day, but as a scary story it falls very flat to me. No, folklore will have to do. Now, there are few folklore types that deal in fear…but there are many. There is one that is everywhere, one we’ve left off to the side: the Boogeyman.

The Boogeyman is a strange sort of creature. It isn’t really a definite creature usually, rather a fearsome name and behaviors. Often it eats disobedient children, or kidnaps them, or otherwise disposes of them. Its menace is often opaque and childish in logic, a dream like threat that has menace on it’s edges.

Wewe.png

Wewe Gombel

But sometimes, in the course of the world, he is extremely defined. In Hati, he is Master Midnight, his legs are two stories tall. He steals away those who would come out after night, whisking them away. Wewe Gombel in Java kidnaps children…from neglectful households. In Sicily, those who play near wells must beware a water spirit dragging them below.

The Inuit people have a shape-shifting giantess with a hole in her back. Luxemburg’s Kroperman lurks near storm drains like a certain clown, and pulls children in with a hook in their nose. The Zulu Tikoloshe is capable of sending fear and death upon people, with gouged out eyes and a gremlin like appearance. The United State’s Bloody Bones, who sits atop the bones of lying and swearing children, is another gruesome member of the pantheon of frights.

All these are creatures created for fright, and their horrific crimes are often in that fairy tale category. They devour those who won’t sleep, or eat their meals, or are up after hours, or so on. This is at first nothing more than a small scare for children, but the violation of taboos can provide a great deal of horror (as we discussed before regarding sacred spaces) and an adult haunted by a terrifying child form has found some strength these days. Modern horror, such as the Babadook, brings a boogeyman like presence to life in a way that is…terrifying.

Babadook.png

I think that the perspective perhaps ought not be the child. I remember the movie the Labyrinth, with its…well, David Bowie and I think it gets the crux better. The heroine accidentally invoke or invites the goblins in to take the child away and greatly regrets her decision, engaging in the quest to pursue him and returned the lost babe (with the power). The Babadook likewise is the mother’s story, and better for it.

DavidBowie

Seriously he stole a child, why is he so fabulous.

The loss of a child has an innate fear, and as such I think the loss of a child by kidnapping can expand on it more than by a cannibal. There is something more unnerving to the thought that your child is out there, your child is being held by a stranger, growing old without you as opposed to dead. That’s not to say a child’s loss isn’t tragic and horrific, but it is a) a sort of horror and tragedy that outpaces my skill and b) a tension that is hard to communicate in a short period. The kidnapping provides a better, cleaner end and recurring drama that has a material touch. There is something more concrete when a child might still be rescued, the taunting possibility of a happy ending with parent or child reunited.

I’ll observe, strangely, that the three examples I can think of are mothers pursuing their children(specifically sons or son analogs). This…seems odd. There are stories of father-daughter concerns in horror, although specifics escape me. Something to consider when writing this story.

Well, we will proceed next week with a tale of a lost child, a fear of near to death, and loss. What have you unearthed near this particular literary corpse?

The Wedding of the Oberherrescher, Part 1

This Week’s Prompt: 40. Warning that certain ground is sacred or accursed; that a house or city must not be built upon it—or must be abandoned or destroyed if built, under penalty of catastrophe.

The Research:The Ground Under Your Feet

Part 2: Here

It began with a fallen brick, a loose piece of stone work that drew everyone’s attention with a crash at the top of the stairs. Three generations of Oberherrscher watched as the single block fell from the top of the arch, leaving a pair of broken stone fangs at the crest. And then, after a moment, a dozen more followed, the archway collapsing almost in it’s entirely. Beside them, Lady Holdberg and her brother Tobias gasped in horror. For, to the tears of all, the youngest of the Oberherrscher family, William, was now beneath the great stones of the hall.

The footmen on hand rushed them out of the hall as the mother fell to her knees weeping. Up a few flights, the would-be bride and her brother were taken. Tears, they had once been told, were for the privacy of closed doors.

“Do you think…do you think it did him in?” Lady Holberg said, after recovering herself.

“It is possible. But men have surivived in the depths of fallen mines. He might be alive.” William said, sitting by the bed.

“A strange thing, for the stones to break. Stone ought last longer.” Lady Holberg said, turning out the window. “But I suppose crumbling stone is to be expected in this valley.”

Along the valley, in clear veiw, was the stone caracasses of castles rising out of the mist. Lady Holberg wondered how so much had fallen away so fast. Why none of the halls and towers had been swept away and rebuilt later.

“You know, I once heard the crusaders tore down entire monuments, that they could raise more castles in the distance.” She said, staring at the crumbling ruins. “It seems strange to spare these architectural cannibalism.”

“Perhaps,” William said, walking over to the same veiw, “but there are no new castles to be built, are their? And forts in the colonies and frontier are so far that carrying the stones seems a fools idea. Maybe if there is a war on the continnent, they’ll carve new ones out of the hills.”

William’s eyes drifted from fallen peripat to tumbled tower, until it cam to rest again on an intact and inhabited residence. It was a stained window into an old hall. William could see the eldest of the Oberherrschers seated at the table, a man more wrinkles than skin. Beside him, dimly in the sunlihgt, William made out the form of the elderly matriarchs of the Oberherrscher family, sisters that were piles of black veils and gowns, nearly living shadows in their perpetual mourning dead husbands. He wondered briefly if it was his sisters fate.

“How many elders are you marrying into?” William asked, as his eyes scrutinized the table more carefully.

“What? I don’t…just the three I think.” Lady Halberg said, coming over to her brother. She counted the members at the table he pointed at. Seven, seven bodies in seven seats, each a shifting and whispering mass of silk.

“That is…odd. Perhaps there are others they are entertaining?” Lady Holberg wondered.

“They seem familiar, and concerned.” William said.

“Panic makes sense, when your youngest son dies a week before the wedding night.” Lady Halberg said, leaning over to see more clearly. However, their observations were interrupted by a pounding on the door.

Another footman with the red-yellow crest on his chest explained that the family had good news down in the main hall, if the lady was more at ease and not anxious of heart. Lady Holberg infromed the footman that she had regained her composure. William Holberg had never lost it.

So the Holbergs were escorted down the stairs to the main hall. A large hall built like an upside down ship, with a large set of cross beams, the columns were topped by the great lions of the mountains, claws outstretched in order to grasp invisible prey. Lady Holberg wondered if the arhitect realized that they seemed to be reaching for the people sitting in the hall.

The middle generation of Oberherrschers was waiting in the middle of hall. The eldest Oberherrscher had abdicated to Heinrich Oberherrscher when he passed his seventieth year. Heinrich had since lost a great deal of his youth to the castle, by most accounts. By his thirtieth year, his hair was rendered silver despite his face still having something young about it. His eyes were bagged and seemed to catch the light of lanterns and candles, making them glowing orbs set into a melting waxen mold. His wife was a singluar stripe of red, with hair kept in curls. She sometimes seemed to Lady Holberg to be a tongue rising from the Earth. The lady was pale by her own discretion as well, her face a somber moon even in the brightest room. They were speaking quietly, as best not to be overheard, until the Holbergs arrival imposed silence as the two turned to face them.

“Sofia, madame, I am glad to see you well. Well, as well as you can be all things considered.” the Lord Oberherrscher said, bowing his head slightly. “but we have good news, grand news in fact.”

“Is it about Tobias? Is he safe?” Lady Holberg asked. William observed that the footmen moved back and forth quickly with hammers and chisels. Thing with which one could break down stone, presumably to clear out the mess.

“Our beloved is safe and sound, yes. After you left, we found found him. Some stones broke his leg, and his of course deeply frightened. But he is alive and, with some work and bracers, will be able to walk in a few weeks time.” the Lord Oberherrscher replied, his mouth forming a thin smile.

“Oh, that’s wonderful news! Why didn’t you simply tell me?” Lady Holberg asked.

“It seemed…inappropiate not to address your dismay, young lady.” Lady Oberherrscher replied.

*

It was days before there was another incident. William and Sofia made a point of visiting Tobias, broken thing that he was. He resembled his father ever so slightly, being broad shouldered and with a wide head. He was striking in his striving for fitness, but it never seemed to wear on him properly. With the cane that was now his custom, it seemed even less. William once remarked to their father that he seemed to bulge through his skin, as if it was a suit tailored for a much younger and smaller man.

But the calamity that came did not befall Tobias. They were walking in the main hall, Heinrich Oberherrscher directing them in the rituals of the familial marriage with the eldest of the family. The aged former lord was never addressed by name, only Grandfather or Father. Sofia had never seen him walk, always seated rather in a chair. A pair of attendants stood on hand, presumably to move him whenever he needed to be moved. At times, when the light was dim, they were identical in everyway. The sun seperated them nicely however.

The rituals were not to strange, additions to the sacrament that only a devout man would object to. They featured a cup that was filled with wine from the ancient vineyard, from which both man and wife would drink. A specially prepared loaf would be eaten, containing a few specks of the castle grounds baked in.

“And then, after this, you shall recite the vows. These vows–” Lord Oberherrscher said, before a loud crack of stone cut him off. A second followed, then a third , a fourth, fifth. One of the great lions of the hall suddenly came tumbling down, claws out stretched. In silent terror, Lord Oberherrscher dived out of the way, but not fast enough. Long stone talon marks struck across his back, leaving bleeding lash marks.

“No, no don’t mind me!” the bleeding lord shouted, struggling to his feet as footmen rushed towards him. “Carry on, carry on, I’ll be fine. I’ve got more than enough blood in me, I’ll be fine.”

“I think it might be best to pause, wait for your recovery.” Maximillian said, eyes glancing at where the lion fell from. There was a scafaloding hidden behind it, a way for servants to move in the upper towers. And for instant he saw a large form slink down the hall, a shadow darting down.

“No, no, it’s fine, I’m—” here the Lord’s protestations were interrupted by a coughing fit as he gripped his back. His palms were stained as the footmen lifted him up.

“We must stop, for the night.” the eldest Oberherrscher said, a sudden burst of shouting from his oversized mouth, elongated by wrinkles. “Tomorrow morning we will finish. Lady Holberg seems to have the jist of it anyway, and I won’t have you dripping blood on the floor. It must be kept clean, very clean.”

“I…do get the general idea, thank you Lord Oberherrscher for your concern.” Lady Halberg said, curtsying briefly. Her brother walked her up some of the stairs towards their room. The walls were narrower here and the bricks were blended over, emerging only in wounds of the wall. If one was not cautious or perceptive, one might be misled and think the whole castle was but one large cave grown out of the mountainside.

“This place is not well in the head.” Lady Halberg whispered to her brother.

“No, it does not seem. Still, I wonder if it’s the place or something else.” Maximillian said, frowning. “I saw a man, or a thing, pushing the lion.”

“Nothing human could have moved it. No, I think this place has simply gotten old. Look, here, feel this patch of stone.” Lady Halberg said touching a break in the wall. “It’s spongey and warm. I can sometimes see roots growing, or dark molds breaking through the edges of the stone.”

“Festering architectural wounds aside, I saw something move that statue. And if it couldn’t be a man, well, then perhaps it was something else. Old castles and ruins attract red caps and worse. They might have come up here in the mean time.”

“And next you’ll have us running to the friar. Misfortune comes with age, because it looks so similair.” Lady Halberg said, glancing again down at the heaps of stone below. In the setting sun, they seemed almost silver and gold, shining stripes against a blue green earth.

“Well, be cautious. I best make sure that my own room lacks cuts and bruises that send large stone lions crashing down.” Maximillian Halberg said, taking his leave.

*

Lady Halberg waited until night came, until the sun was gone and the pallid moon made the world a dim shadow of itself, to begin preparing for the night. She told her self that such misfortunes as had come to pass must be common to the family and the castle, too old to stand alone anymore. To old to be anymore.

As she stared at the wallpaper peeling like potchmarked skin, she began to slowly drift to sleep. It seemed to rise from the bed like an intoxicating fog. Her sleep had been the best in this old crumbling castle, it’s age welcoming her below, a temporary excursion to the lands of the dead.

But then, there was a scratch in the hall, an iritant that began to rouse her. The scratch came again, louder. Something dragging along the hall. Her eyes slowly flickered open, to hear great thumping now. Footsteps, no, horsesteps. Marching down the hall, clopping along the stone floor. That roused the Lady instantly. She reached for a poker from the fire place and crept toward the door. The horse had grown louder, larger. Lady Halberg had heard of no horse of such size, the ground seeming to shake with each step.

Despite the wills of her father and mother, Lady Halberg had some valor and fire in her heart. She opened wide the door, raised poker to smote whatever intruder was waiting. But what she found astounded her.

Atop a white destrier was a man in shining white, a scimitar at his side and dressed in bright blue robes. He rode on at full speed now, galloping through the halls and shouting in a tounge she did not understand. At best, she imagined it an archaic Arabic. But the roar of wind that followed him down the hall, a light like star, startled her back into the room. After a moment to regain her composure, she looked again.

And naught was there but moonlight, shining through a window. It’s light cast a pale image of St. George running through the dragon along the hall, with only the red and green to distinguish the blurred image. Lady Halberg cursed the veil of sleep for betraying her, as no sign of hoofsteps were on the floor.

But as she stood, she did see something, something bent over in the hall. It had the form of a great man, one of immense and impossible stature, staring with a loathsome eye and a long beard like roots. She back slowly into her room, reaching for a candlestick. Here eyes never left the form and it’s eye, which was locked with hers. Gripping a small silver stick, she turned away only to light it with a match in the drawer.

When she turned back around, it was gone.

But the lady was familiar with the hunt, and considering herself well armed, decided to pursue the figure. She took the candle down the hall where that form lurked, thinking it some burglar or the attempted murderer of her soon to be father-in-law. She was not entirely wrong on either account, to her credit. The form had abandoned the hall, but Lady Halberg found it easy to follow footsteps. It stayed atop the castle for a time, before fleeing down stairwells that Lady Halberg barely knew. Only lighting more eagerly sought the ground than this man.

Lady Halberg stayed close behind, thundering along. She made no attempt to hide her pursuit, perhaps hoping that it would frigthen the theif into surrender or inaction. Instead, he seemed more set on escape. So set that, after delving a layer beneath the earth itself, he had vanished. There was nothing but the room plastered over, with giants holding up it’s roof. Lady Halberg caught her breath, cautiously examining her surroundings. She had no desire to go from hunter to hunted.

As she paced, the lady tapped the walls absent mindedly with her prod, eyes darting round. She paid it no mind, until it strukc a portion of the wall and sounded hollow. She frowned, turned and struck it harder. Hollow. Something on the other side. She knelt down cautiously, touching her hand to the spot.

And quickly recoiled from it’s heat. She resolved to retire for now. She would inform Maximillian in the morning. After all, her sleeplessness would be apparent, and she suspected it would not due for her to be pursuing the castle secrets in the dead of night.

CoverTaboo.pngPart 2:

The Wedding of the Oberherrschers, Pt 2

This Week’s Prompt: 40. Warning that certain ground is sacred or accursed; that a house or city must not be built upon it—or must be abandoned or destroyed if built, under penalty of catastrophe.

The Research:The Ground Under Your Feet

Part 1:Here

“A what?” Maxmillian said in a hushed whisper.

“I don’t know what, but it was large and fast. Must have been the thing you saw.” Sofia said, carefully cutting her eggs.

“And you chased it?”

“Is a noblewoman not to defend her castle? If I went to you, it’d have escaped.” She said, glancing over at Heinrich Oberherrscher, who’s back was clearly still pained. Whatever miracle cure there had been for Tobias had by all accounts expired.

“Well, I—Hmph. Fair enough I suppose. I doubt they’ll give me much trouble, though watch yourself. Whatever is causing this seems to prefer you remain a maid.”

“It can rot then.” Lady Halberg said with a chuckle.

“I’m serious! First it attacks your fiance, now it interrupts your rehersal and nearly kills your father in law. Be wary, or it will kill you.”

Maximillian himself found it easy to be excused from the exercises that day. The elderly Oberherrscher from his long seat and footmen waved him away when he explained he wished to get some air. The footmen he found somewhat more vexing.

“I’m quite fine, thank you.” He had said to the latest pair that improvised themselves as escorts to his walks through the castle.

“Yes sir, if you feel safe and certain.” The men with lion helms said, leaving again. Each patrol had said so, and each time Maximillian worried it was less concern and more menace. Still, he made his way down the path his sister had charted, into the depths of the castle. As he approached the underground, he took up his own torch. There was no sun below after all.

He found the wall quickly, and found it still hot to the touch. Not as burning as his sister said, or perhaps his skin was tougher to the threats of the fire. Running his fingers across it, he found it easy to remove some of the stones, making an opening that he could duck through. The burglar, he noted, must have been swift fingered to open and close such a passage before his sister seized him.

The interior of the room before him was…well, it was wonderous. Gold and iron lined the walls instead of bitter stone. Carvings along it, broken into the rusting iron between the gold showed saints painted softly, small figures in the presence of veins of metal and well worn works. And the heat was greater, the air thick with burnt incense and a dull hum.

Maximillian gripped his sword as he went in deeper. As he walked through the tunnel, he saw sarcophagi on the side, with faces as much lion as man. Writing ran across their faith, and on their chests was carved a foreign sigil. No sign of cross as tall, except the guard on the sword that ran to its feet. But footsteps below drew Maximillian deeper.

Deeper and deeper, in caverns that glittered in the torchlight, until at last he came across a vast cavern. It had the look of a chapel, a great altar in the center and rotting pews lined for service. They had been cleared back for another massive cyst. It was brass, lined with gold, with a face made of silver. The form showed a large prince, attended on all sides by impish creatures and locusts. Written along it’s bottom was the name “Dahak, Master of the World”. Beneath it names unfamiliar to Maxmillian: Agraes, Bael, Marbaras. As he inspected the shape, he heard a laughing shot from above.

Chapel Vathek

Raising his torch, he saw it crouched on the bone like beams that ran across the ceiling. Defaced images of angels and saints sat in judgement behind it, a hunched over mountain of a man. He had a beard that ran down his chest, and eyes that shown in the dark. His laughter was bitter, and as he rolled his head back, Maximillain saw a thin iron cross hanging from his neck.

And he spoke, in hoarse tones.

“So you are the boy they send now to rout dear Marbrason? Come, good forign man! Test your strength! The Lord will see you slain far from home!”

“I have absolutely no idea who you are.” Maximillian said, drawing his sword, “But if I am slain in defence of my sister, then the Lord is not the one who has decided this bout.”

“Your sister? You are the brother of the bride to be, the bearer of inquities? Then our opposition is one of bad faith,” the man mused, stroking his long beard, “for your sister is one of the many I hope to save.”

“Save by tossing statues at her?” Maximillian shouted up at the man. “You’ll pardon my lack of faith in your benevolence.”

“Not at her you fool! At those who would do her the worst harm man can imagine!” the man said. “The Oberherrscher scheme new malices for you and yours yet. For they have spoken with what works in the older house. They appeal to deeper powers.”

“And who are you, to know so much of the Oberherrscher’s comings and goings?”

“I am Marbarson, as I said. Or is your listening poor?” The man said from the rafters.

“Yes, but who is that? Surely you cannot be a man. I saw your work with stone, no man could do that. Not alone.”

“Aye, I’m not enitrely a man. My mother was of Eve’s line, but my father was of a crueler kin.” Marbrason replied, pointing down towards the unbroken earth. “For that fool’s reign, it was courtly fashion to be attended by infernal dukes and princes as if they were foreign dignitaries. And of them I am begotten.

“Well, if you are a child of the devil and a woman that would lie with him, why should I trust your words at all?”

“Because it was not my father in flesh that raised me.” Marbrason replied. “No, his kind feel no compassion for their offspring. I was one of many wild calibans, through blackened and charnel wood, amazed at the wars and wonders waged by impish legions overhead. But I had a single stroke of happy fate, despite the rest of miserable kind.”

“You, a happy fate? You forgive my disbelief.”

“Ah, but it was belief! For I found a man loathed by my father’s ilk. He was old and broken and had naught but one possession, a simple book. A commentary on what was left of holy scripture. This man taught me the things that spirits of greed and inquity were loath to think of. Voiceless he was, his tounge removed by dogs of the crowns then. But still I learned enough of holy words then, and kept the book close, as I hid in this dim chapel.” Marbarson said, gesturing at the cavern. “For it was only towards the end of darkness that my father’s mechanical engines and his compatriots breaking earth were able and willing to pierce it’s halls, to be a tomb for the Prince who brought them. Then I was driven to further flight. But it was near enough the end.”

“The end? Which? A hundred crashed and desolate castles lie like bodies around this hill.”

“And all of them and more fell to the Turk’s sword. As much as my father resented them, they came as holies on the land. I saw the saints riding with them. I saw them, shining horses and firey swords.” Marbarson said,tracing one of the saints above him. “The ilk of my sire fled before them. And I saw my sire, with his dread designs and plauges attempt to escape into the earth, to emerge from the tomb when it was free. That I could not allow. So I spoke words from pslams as best I knew them. Now, he lies imperfetly bound beneath the earth.”

“And so, for the sake of a prisoner you make attempts on the living?”

“Bound not silent! Listen, lordling, and you may hear him breathing in the gold that lines halls. No, I assail the living to send them fleeing this place, lest they be seduced by him and his. And for years, I succeeded. Centuries passed without a word. But this family.” Maximillian swore Marbarson shuddered. “They knew some fell art from backward hills, and were able to break some of the bond. So they have their legion of imps, who take on the guise of footmen, and fell powers to send me back below. They have become partners in Marbras’s scheme, with your sister at it’s center.”

“So, not only am I expected to believe that one of hell’s legions lies in these halls, but that the Oberherrschers are in league with powers infernal. Have you any proof of this?”

“Have you seen their footmen? How they all seem much the same?”

“A uniform does that, creature.”

“Then look about this hall. Look at how the ore grows, wrapping and weaving around.”

“The world is full of wonders. That ruins become beuaty is no secret.”

“Fine! Then tell me, princeling. Where are the priests?” Marbrason asked, leaning over.

Maximillian paused. He thought over every man and woman that he had seen in the halls. The Oberherrschers had made no mention of chapel the Sunday before, but Maximillian had assumed modern notions of piety had penetrated this far. The ritual however, and the ornateness of the castle seemed suddenly at odds with that. Biting his lip, he finally hit upon a point.

“Ah! But there is a priest coming, for the wedding! Perhaps they must invite one, but they are not afraid of holy men!” Maximillian said, stabbing at the air with his sword. The incence shook with the laughter of Marbrason.

“Even a demon can wear the clothes of a holy man. But if it will not persuade you, ask them. Ask them about this priest. See how much he is, for I swear by all that is holy, they have no concern or intent on the sacrament of marriage. But leaving that aside, what think you of Tobias?”

“What of him? He is strangely formed and sickly—a”

“And ought to be dead.” Marbrason said, tilting his head. “Buried beneath stones that shatter bones. But he is walking, utterly unharmed. I have watched him from afar, but you must have noticed. Not even a bruise.”

“Say I believe you,” Maximillian said, frowning, “say I trust you that these men of rank and power are creatures of hell and servants of darkness. What would you have me do? Flee, with my sister, and tell the world this story?”

“What you do is your own will. You seem eager to use your sword for your sister’s defence. Put it proper.” Marbrason said with some remanent of a reverend’s authority. “I will endevor by all means to undo these beasts that call themselves men. For I cannot allow my sire to free himself, nor by means foul create more of those creatures wise men call nephilim and fools call giants.”

Before Maximillian could respond, Marbrason bounded down atop the tomb and made to leave through the tunnel again. However, as his feet set down on tomb, the cloud subsumed him, devouring him whole. Maximillian started back as a large lion rose from the earth, a glowering appraition with purple eyes rushed upwards, disheartening between the rafters. He made a hasty retreat at once.

*

While her brother had his encounter below, Sofia Halberg was walked through the halls to the lion’s chamber. With repairs on the second hall, and her own concerns about the uncertainty of the structures there, Tobias and the elder Oberherrscher had agreed it’d be best to move to the closest thing the old castl had to an chapel in this day and age.

The Lion Room was the image of magnificence. An elaborate statue of a lion bearing tomes of law stood in the center, flanked by serpents. The elder Oberherrscher explained in brief that the lion was for John, bearing with a lion’s roar the gospel all the way to the old castle. The men who became the Oberherrscher line, he said, found something prefferable to the Gospel as John told it then to the others.

“It was an eternal supposition, not some nonesene of prophecy, but a taste of the immortal walking among us and spreading out, a plauge of goodness on the world, roots of a grand tree that was planted in the beginning.” The elder Oberherrscher said. “Nothing of kings and geneologies, nothing of infants and fleeing. Pure beatific visions of the cosmos.”

Lady Halberg was not so caring on the matter of gospels, though the large statue of the lion was imposing enough. The room was lined with gold and glass, a great mirror on either side giving it and it’s fountains a sense of eternity. The fountains, Tobias explained, were ingenious designs of his ancestor. The water itself came from a fairly distant spring, and was run using a set of pipes, pumps, and pulleys. Once a month, some of the servants dealt with the manual portions of the system, insuring the water was always fresh and shimmering like silver.

“Used to be actual silver, but we lost that bit of the work didn’t we.” Tobias said, turning to his grandfather. The grunt neither confirmed nor denied what Sofia assumed was jest.

“What was this room for back then? It’s so…much.” Sofia said, faining a loss of words.

“It was the chapel, when we were properly pious. But Heinrich hated church, I suppose.” the eldest said frowning. “Tinkering with machines from France and the Orient. Dangerous nonsense, it was. But the room is fine for it’s older purpose. Better even, I’d say. More intimate and yet, with the mirrors, all the more vast.”

An illusion of vastness, Sofia thought. An illusion and little more.

“I must admit, it will be quite close with all of your family here,” she said, turning to Tobias.

“Well, a bit. But it won’t be that bad, we have enough room for all the portions. And it is more convient, look, the altar is already here!” Tobias said, leading Sofia around to see a large pair of winged lions bearing up the flat surface. A footman, who had entered silently as far as Sofia could tell, set the ritual cup and plate on the table.

“Now, let us rehearse once more. You two will say the old vows, and as the closest thing to a priest left in this building, I will ask you if you invite the greatest of spirits into your lives. You will, of course, affirm for that is the only way for this all to proceed.” the eldest Oberherrscher said, slowly wobbling towards the altar. His preferred chair had been left in the hall, to not impose on the room.

Sofia nodded along as the steps were traced again. A little dance done in celebration, the Oberherrscher explained. A tradition from the country out West, before they had come into the illustirous estate of ruin.

It was around the second go of the dance, hands locked with Tobias’, that Sofia heard a rumble in the deep. In the mirror, she saw a lion with the eyes of a man staring into her own, eager and hungry. Its teeth were bared in a grin that seemed unnatural. She started, breaking the grip as it’s mouth widend to a silent roar. She felt her face grow cold and pale.

“Ah, anything wrong, my delight?” Tobias asked,glancing behind him.

“No, no.” Sofia said, regaining her composure. “It’s just so sudden, all of this. To think, only another night and I will be wed.”

“Oh, of course. It’s natural to be nervous.” Tobias said, smiling. There was something in his grin that reminded Sofia of the lion. Something hungry in his eyes.

They were excused by a mildly annoyed senior. Sofia was surprised to find her brother returning so soon, pale and slightly bruised from his expedition. He silently waved away any discussion of his activities, instead joining Tobias in a discussion on the virtues of the hunts locally. The conversation turned to rival hunting stories, which Tobias and his grandfather had in abundance. Boars were a frequent nuisance it seemed to the peasantry and serfs around them. In their nobility, the Oberherrscher family took to hunting the creatures at every opportunity, by means cunning and bold at times.

After dinner, which the Lord and Lady Oberherrscher attened in silence, the two Halbergs exchanged their experiences. When the potentially infernal nature of the Oberherrscher family was proposed, Lady Halberg hesitated over the rites she had been instructed in.

“It simply sounded like an antiquated form of communion…but it is vaugely worded.” She said, thinking. “No doubt something is intended. Why, if there were a devil behind it, it would be Faustian almost, to invite in a ‘greatest spirit’ but not specify that it is holy?”

“Possible. And if he is bound into the ground, like the poor Marbrason said, then consuming the earth…”

“Yes, it is an invitation to possession. But how are we to escape the trap then?” Lady Halberg said, pacing. “Have we any means? If we attempt to way lay them, their legions of footmen will rush to their aid. And I doubt politeness will prevent their endevors now, so close to whatever heinous aim they have up on me.”

“No, no, a frontal assault is foolish.” Maximilian agreed. He paused for a moment. “But if we act swift, we might not need it.”

“Hm?”

“At the wedding, we shall be in that wretched Lion’s Room?” He said, glancing around now for unseen ears.

“Yes, in all its gold and mechanism.”

“Well, then we need not worry much about striking. They will be crowded in. If we act swiftly, the whole lineage might fall in moments.”

“Can demons not dance on a needle’s tip in thousands?” Sofia said, sitting on her bed. “They might wait invisible in hundreds of swarms upon the whole place.”

“The caliban made mention that devil hands cannot assail a priest, and seemed by his iron cross to escape all but the worst. I will descend down into that place again, and make off with an image of a saint to protect me. If that fails…” Maximillian stared into the moon. “If that fails, we will be forced to reckon with the forces a scholar of Hell and his servants can muster.”

“Then let us see how best we can handle them.” Sofia said sternly. “I will see if my gown can hold a letter opener in it’s sleeve. We must be of stern stuff tomorrow, for good and ill.”

*

And so they came to the fateful day in the Lion Room. No window entered, no light from the sun fell on Sofia’s face as she stood before the altar. Tobias was dressed in the red coat of his family, his millitary sash and honors underneath. The Lord and Lady stood beside him, in rapt attention. Footmen stood at the door, eyes peeled for ‘the nameless assaliant’ that Lord Oberherrscher swore was stalking them. His veiled grandmother sat beside them. And behind the altar, dressed in a long red and white robe, was the eldest Oberherrscher who sermonized the needs of commitment and loyalty to one another. Sofia noted that for his religious pertentsions, Oberherrscher was careful never to mention any word of God in the room.

Her bother noted that and more beside her. He noted that Tobias carried a sword, though whether decorative or not he couldn’t say. Heinrich was still aching from his back, and if Maximilian could come from the side, it would slow his turn. Both women were an unknown matter, and bounding over to slay the mostly infirm patriarch was equally questionable. After all, the apperance of fragillity might mask something darker.

They waited until the vows. Maximillian watched through the mirrors as Tobias promised to be faithful in marriage and strong in her defence, to provide her needs and wants. He slowly rested his hand onto his blade as Sofia replied. As she promised to obey the wishes of her husband, her wrist felt at the small letter opener stuffed into the sleeve of her long white gown. And as she promised to do so in health, she took the bread and wine.

Held them both in her mouth as carefully as she could. Tobias seemed utterly unaware, as elder Oberherrscher asked if he accepted the greatest spirit upon him. Tobias nodded fervently. He then turned to Sofia.

“I accept the Holy Ghost into my soul.” Sofia replied, spitting the bread and wine onto Tobias’s face. There was an instant of confusion and then outrage across the Oberherrscher family’s faces, replaced by alarm when suddenly Maximilian sword plunged into Heinrich’s side. The elder let out a shout of agony, falling over in pain.

Maximillian wasted no time, perhps infected by the swords purpose long ago, and turned his blade on the Lady next, who fled behind the lion statue in the center of the room. Carrying on with his stroke, Maximillian struck down the matriarch of Oberherrscher instead. During the panic, the footmen outside entered and drew weapons of their own, the Lady Oberherrscher quickly pushing behind them.

Sofia was having her own misfortune, however, as she tried to drive her letter opener into Tobias’ chest while he was distracted by wine in his eye. But his hand was quick and his build did not dissapoint. Swearing, he grabbed her wrists and held it back for a time, his grip began to hurt.

“Harlot, you would try to slay me now? Had you not the presence of mind to try at least after our pleasures?” Tobias shouted, his voice sounding distant as he drew his own blade. Holding her hand above her head, Tobias kicked Sofia in the stomach, knocking her over.

MarbrasWalks.png

“Of course you couldn’t, no, you guessed the game. All well, we’ve never necessarily been one for invitations, have we Simon?” Tobias said, turning to his elder. Sofia heard the blade as it left it’s sheathe, a grinding noise like rows and rows of teeth. She shouted a warning to Maximilian as he parried the footmen’s spear. With quickness granted by fear, Maxmillian avoided the blade, it’s edge like a hawks tearing claws. Tobias lazily swung again, nearly slicing the young Halberg’s head off.

“Have at you devil, in the name of the Lord!” Maxmillian said, driving his steel into Tobias’s chest.

Tobias stared at him for a moment, calmly tapping the steel blade. The silence was broken by the footmen’s cackling laughter. Maxmillian slowly dragged his sword down, tearing through Tobias’s jacket. A mass of metal pipes and alchemical vials, tubes of rubber and flickering wires that pulse in the remains of flesh stood there, uninterrupted by the blade.

“I would not invoke the Archtyrant here, boy. You’ll earn few friends.” Tobias said, slashing across Maximillian’s cheek as Maximillian was still struck by what was before him.

Sofia now began to stand. She saw the mechanisms in the mirror. Worse she saw some ghastly cloud seem to hover over them. The Lady Halberg was not used to fighting, but doubted a letter opener would suffice where a sword failed. In it’s place, however, she turned to the distracted but stationary patriarch. She advanced on him slowly, twirling her instrument in her hand to feel it’s weight, before striking. The blade found the old man’s bones softer then she thought, sinking into his neck. His head fell back, and stared up at her, eyes empty and mouth agape. Out flew a host of small things like flies, swarming onto the ceiling.

“Oh, and wonderful. Now there’s no one left to say the ceremony.” Tobias said, turning to face Lady Halberg. With a gesture, the swarm was upon her, gripping at every edge to hold her to the altar’s side. “You truly are a foolish lot, aren’t you? Here I am, offering to be the start of a new, better future, fo you to be a new Eve to a—you know what, never mind now. Marbras must be freed eventually, but we still have time to fix this my delight. Still have time.

“You, however,” he said turning his attention back to block one of Maximilian’s blows to his shoulder. “need to cease.”

With a clicking precision, Tobias—or what Sofia suspected had once been Tobias—strode at Maximillian, his clicking living blade meeting the unfeeling steel. It tore at the steel, rending off chunks and leaving them on the floor. To his credit, Maximillian held his own against Tobias and the spear men. He ducked and wove, slowly driven towards the entrance. No doubt, he realized, more footmen would come and overwhelm him from within.

“The statue!” He shouted at Sofia as he pulled against the swarm’s strength. “Sofia, by God, the statue!”

At that, and realizing her brother’s intent, Sofia pulled free of the swarm, her gown nearly torn to tatters as she slammed her shoulder into the statue. It rocked back and forth, a pendelum that finally finished when Sofia gave it another push. The weight of the golden lion descended on the two swordsmen.

Maximillian held his hands to pervent the blow, to hold off his doom futily. But it didn’t come. Opening his eyes he saw Tobias, face half construed into a lions roar, growling as he held the great golden idol up. For a moment he began to lift it. And in that moment, Maximillian made his fateful stroke. He drove his blade again into the mechanism, and Tobias let out a cry as it periced wire and vial.

And with a resounding thud, the two were crushed. The footmen shrieked in rage, as the last Oberherrscher heir died. Sofia looked over the carnage, noting that the Lady had escaped. She wondered what nightmare she might weave. But that was for another time. For the moment, she wept for her dead brother, for the terror that was finally at an end, and for what could have been but was not.


Well, this was the longest I’ve written in a while. What can I say, the prompt got away from me. I would like sometime to return to the story, as length means I didn’t have the time I felt needed to edit it. And the ending is too rushed to my taste. Still, I’m fairly proud of this one!

I will say I do have a prequel to this story, set in the time of Prince Dahak. If there is sufficient interest, I can post it. But I feel the story does stand alone.

Come by next week to see our research on Italy, Fear, and Death!

The Ground Under Your Feet

This Week’s Prompt: 40. Warning that certain ground is sacred or accursed; that a house or city must not be built upon it—or must be abandoned or destroyed if built, under penalty of catastrophe.

This Weeks Story:The Wedding of the Oberhrrescher, Part 1,The Wedding of the Oberherrschers, Pt 2

The idea of sacred and cursed spaces is one that has a large deal of weight in folklore and myth. Culturally, the notion is found often in religious centers and temples. A large number of temple complexes, both in the Middle East and in Mesoamerica. Ziggurats and pyramids are raised over sacred spaces, forming layers of holiness one on top of the other. While the exact qualities of a sacred space vary from place to place, they generally follow common themes. Mesoamerican civilizations preferred caves, Mesoptamian ziggurats reflected mountain tops, and so on.

Incompelte reconstruction

Ziggurat

Sacred spaces are often places that connect to divinity, and as such—despite the prompt—are often occupied to one degree or another. There are a few places that are too sacred, often believed to disturb or anger the inhabitants of the area if built upon. This notion still has folklore roots, particular in areas that are considered haunted.

The cause of hauntings is…well, very common across regions. Typically, places that are haunted, drawing from these lists, are the sites of terrible crimes. Particular favorites that we talked about here and here, are murder and suicide. Tragedies often resonate and inhabit the buildings and even the space.

This is well known in the horror trope of the Indian Burial Ground, which has problems all its own. A haunting typically results in more murders, disappearances, and strange sounds. Again, here. The notion of accursed land that is built over and therefore incites vengeance is too played out for my tastes. No, I prefer to return to the notion of vengeance do to taboo violation.

Taboo is a familiar term, but in this case I mean it specifically in the anthropological sense: a rule that, if violated, invites supernatural retribution. These rules sometimes are enforced by the divine principles of the world, but other times they stand outside the divine and pursue at their own will. The Furies, for instance, do not necessarily obey Zeus and often seek to enforce the rules of hospitality and familicide on their own. Taboos extend beyond that, of course. Some include taboos against incest (a universal one), the ownership of certain items by certain people, and so forth. Constructing a living space in a taboo’ed area results in considerable more than haunting. A taboo invokes divine wrath, something more akin to the calamity fortold in the prompt.

There is also a rather obvious structure that could be followed here. We are given a rule: Do not build here. Someone violates the rule. And then there is calamity. But I think that such a structure wouldn’t fit in the 1500-3000 word limit I am attempting to maintain. Rather, I think the calamity is the focus, for a number of reasons.

Firstly is the nature of buildings. They are long lasting things, generational things. Houses are haunted for years to come, old castles see generations pass by. Places become more than instants, and the vengance of gods is often long coming.

Instead, I think I will take a page from the Gothic. The Gothic is obsessed with place as a reflection of pysche, of geograhpy and buildings with symbolic value. This is both a continuation of the sacred spaces and accursed places in the prompt, and the notions of the Fisher King. In the Fisher King notion, the damage to the ruler of a land is reflected in the damage to the land. Consider how Scar, in the Lion King, rules over a wasteland that is cured upon being dethroned.

LionKing.png

In this notion, I would suggest the terrible building, that has blasphemed against the world, has been built for a good deal of time. Abandoned and re-inhabited a few times, perhaps, as the curse strikes down inhabitants that dare claim the land. When the calamity comes, it ought to be towards the end of the lives of those who violated the curse. The victims, then, are not only those that knowing violated the pact or taboo, but their descendants who now face a reckoning. This reckoning will take the forms of gradual events, isolating and driving at the victims until they discover its ultimate cause. All too late, of course, to avoid their fated doom.

The Earth Shakes

This Week’s Prompt:39. Sounds—possibly musical—heard in the night from other worlds or realms of being.

The Research: Sing Me A Song

 

It started with a funeral. Jack was taken up into Abraham’s bosom, perhaps too soon. He was young, by the standards of the dead, having just crossed his third decade when he was taken from us. I didn’t know it, as I sat beside Ms. Yuri then and there, watching the pallbearers lower him down into the earth as the wind whistled and the clouds formed overhead, that this was the start. But really, it should have been apparent.

Ms. Yuri got up to make a speech for the man who’s name she would now never take. I don’t remember it’s words as much as it’s emotions and themes. It’s the curse of emotion, to obliterate the finer details. Passion cares little for the proper use of a comma, as long as the sounds stir the soul.

Ms. Yuri gave the same speech as I think every funeral speech gives. Nothing exceptional. He was a lover, a friend, he knew how to make you laugh. He loved children and music for their subtle complexities beneath a veneer of simple understanding. And how tragic, how tragic it was that he died.

The priest gave last rites, mumbled and muffled. He clearly had forgotten most of the words, teetering over as he was. He tried his best to seem somber and sober, but failed to convince me that he was either. And with that, Jack was sent below. Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust.

As he was lowered, I saw Ms. Yuri sit suddenly upright, as if struck with inspiration. She settled after a second, staring ahead with steely determination. I didn’t ask about it. I assumed it was a deep resolve that people get when they see death.

I wasn’t entirely wrong.

The first time I was sent in uniform back home. It was a black, with silver buttons. It had the Pinkerton badge at the side of the coat, and silver trim to the pants. The call had taken me out to an old hill on the edge of town, where a farmer insisted that something was stealing his cattle. I sat watching the area with my headlights on, waiting for someone to lead them astray. What I saw was…not exactly that.

Pinkerton.png

The wind carried the sounds of a pipe organ through the air. I watched as the grounds began to slip and shake almost soundlessly, bending the gates aside. And almost aimlessly, the cattle wandered out.

I pulled forward slowly, honking my horn at them. The ground, despite the apparent changes, was still there and still steady. My car bent with it, making a grinding noise as it entered the sinking section. The cattle backed away from the loud metal monster with me inside. One or two seemed unconvinced, so I honked louder. The second noise seemed to shake off the pipe organ. The warping the music made came to a sudden and somewhat violent halt, the ground snapping back with sharp spikes.

The bottom of my car looked awful, beyond even the best mechanic. When I explained to the home office what had happened, I got a simple business as usual response. The cattle hadn’t gotten away, and I suggested the farmer use some ear plugs to keep them inside. Whatever cattle thief was trying to pull them back seemed to be doing so by accident.

“It was the weirdest thing. Have there been sink holes like that?” I asked Lea Yuri over the phone.

“A few, yeah. They think there’s some limestone caves breaking down around the edge of town. Excess sewer water or something.” She replied over the static connection. “But you heard piping?”

“You can’t tell me that’s caused by the sink hole?” I said irritably as I got my shoe off, muddy from the walk back into town.

“In it of itself? No, but it might have pulled down some pipes or something, you know. Like a bunch of bottles.” She replied. “ But yeah, its a bit freaky. Cows aren’t worth that much either. Must have been an opportunist. Did you ever find them?”

“The stolen ones? No, not a bit of them.” I said, placing the phone on the counter as I went to make coffee.

“Huh. Well, I’m sure they’ll turn up.”

“Who cares, job’s done. I’m going to read a bit and try and forget all this.”

“All what? You sound fine. After all, you didn’t fall into the sink hole.”

“Wasn’t a sinkhole, and my car took a hammering. Hoping company is fine with replacing it.” I said, adding my Irish to the coffee with a shaking hand.

“Well, good luck with that, and good night.” Ms. Yuri said, before the click hit.

There were, in the newspaper, other sinkholes that night. A few had suddenly filled, damaging cars and livestock and people at times. Most were around the outskirts of town, and had made a piping sound as the wind went over them. In the face of overwhelming evidence that I couldn’t be to blame this time, the company repaired the car. It made a creaking noise every time I used it.

A creaking clacking noise that was great for making me unsubtle as I drove along the coastline. It had been a while on the Pinkerton team, and I’d been bumped to some of the less savory work. I had my badge read, and a gun at hand. There was a strike by the shore that we had decided was going to grow violent. I had my black and silver on, as I pulled up to the docks. The same company car as the other thirty or so. The cars made a barricade from the strikers, a wall of steel we could stand behind.

“Ronald, looking sharp as ever.” One of my fellows said as I got out of my car. “Still wearing the ribbon I see.”

The ribbon was a small purple piece of fabric around my badge. Made it look a bit better, feel a bit better.

“Get rid of it.” he followed up, staring over the strikers. “We need one face, one motion unbroken if we’re going to stem this tide. If they smell a fracture, they’ll surge.”

Cursing a little, I took off the ribbon, stuffing it beneath the jacket. The strikers didn’t look eager for blood yet, but a quick toss would fix all that. I scanned for the cap, for Robinson. He would start getting them riled up and then it would be a matter of –

A violin string cut across my thoughts, suddenly and shrilly. Plugging my ears, I looked back and saw Robinson shouting something and a flaming bottle go flying. I fell to my knees as the violin chords rang up and down, ranging as best they could. When I managed to stand, I saw the barricade burst, as a car went flying.

I crawled quickly as the car was carried into the warehouse, shattering wood. I grabbed a billy club and turned to see utter chaos. They hadn’t broken before a wall of black coats. No, I saw teamster and Pinkerton hurling stones, breathing fire. I saw crimson eyed men taking clubs to scaly strikers. There was a rushed, blood pumping music in the air, the sounds of a whole orchestra declaring battle and blood. The wind ran through the rafters, the sea churned and in the distance I saw lightining crackle.

Angel of Fire

And above the mess, I saw it. A form like a man, with a sword and shield, eyes of fire and wings covered in blades. It was a blazing red angel of death, staring down at me with black eyes that bled white. Like a conductor, it gestured over the blood shed and brought the flames to crescendo before turning to me. And then he pointed his sword at me.

The rest of that day is a crimson blur. When it was over, the hope for a more peaceful solution was stomped out. A fire roared to life, after the Molotov, sweeping through most of the harbor. Emergency crews tried their best, but were beset constantly by delays, by set backs that made no sense. Rides that should have taken seconds took hours. Streets seemed to shrink and grow, or run in circles. Engines would send out water, only to have it fall short by ten feet, and move sluggishly as they brought it closer. In the end, the fire burned itself out, and the flooding ended the ashes.

We lost any contracts with the city after that fiasco. It wouldn’t be long until there weren’t anymore Pinkertons, just the left overs doing independent work anyway. Some of us, me included, still wore the black uniform and silver shield though.

The independent route wasn’t much different then before. When you wear the tattered remains of a uniform, the people that higher you are the kind who respect the effort. Even if it wasn’t all the same black anymore, with patches of dark grey and blue sewn on, it carried the same weight as before. The uniform filtered jobs, kept them to what would have been expected. Old standbys would hire me for the old jobs. When they passed on, their sons and daughters might ask me to look into some rabble rousing or missing goods. None of the new bloods were much intreasted, not for a long time. The occasional exception was the rare man or woman who was of means but wasn’t satisified until they looked like proper elder statesman of the town.

And it was one of these that bought my attention one late rainy night. It wasn’t proper rain, not yet, but the occasional dripping down from the sky, kisses from heaven they would say. It was annoying, yes, a rhythm at the back of the mind, but not to unbearable. Not yet anyway.

The young man who answered the door looked like he would die of even that little bit of rain. He was a scrawny man, with round bags under his eyes like an overworked racoon. Looked an absolute mess, even in a button up. The loosely hanging red tie didn’t help matters.

After we went through the pleseantries of trading names, Louis Howell lead me to his study. A large map of town was against the wall, with pinned newspaper clippings covering a good third of it. Red and blue lines ran between them, making an sort of spider web going out. Star charts were sitting beside them, noted with quickly scribbled dates. Howell lead me over to it, where a centeral gold pin sat in the middle.

“So, here it is.”

“Here what is?” I asked, looking it over. I had met a few crazies before. They weren’t the kind you wanted to do regular business with. Unstable.

“What I need you to look into. See, these occurrences? Pot holes, flooding, fires?” he said, pointing at the newspaper clippings and photos. “Their echoing out from this spot, or echoing to it. They go out one way,” he continued, tracing a ride line out of the city, stopping at the farm, “and come in another.”

He traced a set of pot holes in and out along the red-blue line, then a flood, then a riot. First, a mugging. Then, down the street, a day later, a murder. At the end? A pair of riots, that trickled back towards his gold pin as thieves and murderers.

“And? There’s plenty of problems these days. What’s specially about these?” I asked, leaning over the star charts.

“They line up, they line up you see, with not only the dates, but some odd phenomenon. Each occurred roughly contemporaneous with the alignment of a star over a specific spot. Further, witnesses all reported strange distortions or an in ability to remember the incidents.” He said, turning with a manic look.

How do you tell a man that we call that being drunk?

“Anyway, the circumstances aside, I don’t know what exactly is happening. But it’s getting worse. The amount coming towards the spot has increased over the years, three fold. And the events are accelearting.”

“Oh really? Well, alright, you want me to poke around the place?” I ask, checking the address. Yuri’s house. An oddity, but she’d been quite a while. To be honest, at the time, I didn’t know if it was hers anymore.

“Exactly! Find out if there’s anything suspicious there, you know, machines or noises or something?”

“Hmph, and how do you expect me to do that without breaking and entering?” I said, looking at a photo that had a clear condemned sign over the house in question. That answered the Yuri question nicely.

“I’ll pay triple your hourly for breaking and entering.” He said quickly.

And so I drove down the road with some tools to engage in the highly legal practice of breaking into a house condemned by the state. The rain had gotten to the point of real, proper rain by now, to the point of clouding up my windows.

It was after I flicked on the washers that I first felt the earth shake. For a moment I thought it was the busted bottom of the old thing, caught on a rock again. But now, the rising and falling of the ground was definite, if slow at first. I brought the car to a stop when the road broke apart in front of me.

As I stepped outside, I felt a warm wind coming from the great crevasses, like ovens opened beneath the earth. There was a sound of trumpets and organ horns ringing in the street. In the light of the cracks, I saw people running. Assuring myself I had my piece, I kept going on foot, no matter what happened.

The crazy was onto something and now a sense of civic pride compelled me to find out what. I tried to walk along the roads, but the fog was growing thicker and thicker. The invisible symphony continued as I got closer to the iron gate, forms rising out of the ground with limp limbs and glowing eyes. The heavens seemed to glow with a dim green haze.

The door was open, but I had to duck to avoid the bending and swaying frame. The door frame was piping and whistling like steam as it moved and appeared to rend. I got through with only a sharp whack to the back.

The inside walls of the old Yuri house had all been torn down. There were still some structural supports, but the entire place was open to the eye to see. Strings ran up and down the entire structure, attached to a bows that sawed across them. Great bellows across the sides pushed wind over flutes and through trumpets. A dozen hammers whacked piano strings, a forge of unearthly music. A small phalanx of record players played recorded voices into a heavenly choir. And in the center, at a small panel with switches and knobs, was Ms. Yuri.

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“Ma’am, what are you doing?” I shouted over the orchestration. The waves of sound were near deafening, the whole place shaking and heaving with even the most delicate of notes. Ms Yuri didn’t notice.

I grabbed a billy club and turned to one of the strings. If she wasn’t going to listen, I’d need to stop this. It was tearing everything apart. And hey, maybe we could get some answers. But when I brought the club down on the string, it bent backwards and snapped. My hands, so close, felt numb just being that close, the blood painfully resuming it’s flow when I yanked it away.

“That’s not going to stop it, Ron.” Ms. Yuri said, flicking another switch. “Something this big can’t just be smashed up.”

“Oh, so you can hear what I’m saying! Great. What the hell are you doing?” I shouted, my words drifting against the tidal wave she was moving.

“I can hear so much more than your voice. I can hear you. I can hear it all, and its time to add a few notes to song.” Ms. Yuri continued , flicking another switch. A fire flared up outside. I could see people screaming and running about, the city crumbling apart. But I couldn’t hear it. In this house, there was only music. And Ms. Yuri’s voice.

“I’m not going to be mere maggot meal, a memorial waiting for worms.” She said slowly, looking up at me. “Jack’s gone, everyone goes. Everyone. But not me. I’m not staying and waiting for that nonsense to take me. I heard it, that first day. A missing note, a sudden disharmony, can’t you hear it?”

“Lea, that’s insanity.” I said, backing up a bit.

“Insanity is taking any option but this one. There’s a choir, an orchestra, a whole symphony waiting for me out there. And I will add myself in, I will join that immortal, invisible, eternal melody.”

“Your killing people, Lea. You’ve…you’ve kiled people.” I said, it slowly settling in, the lines crossing in my head. Even before she spoke back, I gave up on that line of reasoning. You don’t cause the damage Lea had, you don’t break roads and collapse buildings, start fires and ignite riots, if ‘you’ve killed people’ was going to stop you.

“I’ve ended a few lines, yes. To make room for mine. You can’t just expect something to fit, without making room. Listen to it, Ron? Can’t you hear it, waiting for me? So close, so close and I’ll be free.”

For the first time, there was a sound from outside the house. A clap of thunder shook the very ground. A couple more followed, and soon it was a growing drumbeat.

A good man would have tried talking her down, maybe. Trying some reason or something. I, for my part, tried shooting her where she stood.

The bullet melted before my eyes into drops of iron on the floor.

“The world hears me, Ron, and it would rather me not stop my singing.” She said, smiling through the lines of strings. “You can’t break this. You can’t overpower all this, not with your voice or that old rickety horn. This is the cosmic song. You are barely a single note in front of all this.”

I turned out the door again. It was shaking and shifting so much that it was almost a blur. I looked at the chords again, strumming along as they went. I had one left card to play.

Even without anything else, a normal piano string could do a nasty number on you if it suddenly sprung free. Its thin and durable and thus very sharp. I weighed exactly how numb I would get if I got close. How much momentum would I need. See, a bullet didn’t work, but that might not mean much. Slow something down fast enough, and it collapses. But if it’s just thick, I might be able to push through and do something …more serious.

So I slowly walked towards it, lowering my shoulder to better bear the weight of the song. It was immense, as I pushed through it. It was mountain, it was valleys, it was fire and freezing. I felt my body bruise as I got within a foot of the strings, I felt rashes and pains spread in a few inches. I nearly buckled, my legs bending and my knees crying out for relief. I forced my hands forward, even as the blood seemed to stop flowing to my palms.

With my last bit of strength, I grabbed the strings. I held them so tight my knuckles were white. And then, since my arms were exhausted, I yanked my back. A giant lever, I failed to break a single string, my hands still resting on the strings.

But I heard the note I had made resonate through the house. A sudden disunity. The burden was a little lighter. I yanked again. And again. With each yank, each out of step note, each effort, the song weakened.

“What are you doing?” Lea shouted suddenly. “Stop that! Stop that now! If you damage it now, who knows what will–”

And then, at last, I pulled one free. With a loud snap, a piano wire was tore free, cutting deep into my hand and then my back. I toppled over in pain, face down as the ground quaked.

The rolling thunder didn’t stop. It was one long clap, that went on forever. The shining in the sky continued, all the colors of the world. It glared down still, I could feel it on my back. The ground churned, waves of dirt and stone rising and falling as my consciousness faded.

I woke up in an empty lot. The city around me was broken, heaps of rubble instead of buildings. As I stood, the pain in my back flared up and pushed my back down. Looking around, I saw a few people pulling themselves out of the rubble. The dock was gone, utterly consumed by the water that had come nearly to the small house. Everything around was ground down.

I grabbed a cane and tossed off the torn up remains of my Pinkerton coat. It wasn’t any use anymore, as I limped around, gesturing for people to help me move some of the large pieces. It was all rubble for now. But it’d get better.


This story has a problem of pace still, and I feel that my lead isn’t active enough. The conspiracy theorist at the end would work better folded into the main character, and more intreactions with Yuri would help. Adding some smaller incidents and a more concrete main story before the ‘twist’ would be better as well. But that is all the time I had with this one.

 

Next week, we’ll examine places you should never go, never build on, lest it be haunted.