The Testimony of the Dead

This Week’s Prompt: 102. Corpse in room performs some act—prompted by discussion in its presence. Tears up or hides will, etc.

The Resulting Story:The Last Will

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This prompt in a number of ways limits the story that goes forward. While there are some folklore models that we can draw upon here, I think I’ll start by discussing what form the story is likely to take first. The supernatural element, the key moment, is the destruction or hiding of a will by a dead person. The act is prompted by discussion in it’s presence, presumably discussion of the corpse itself or what is contained in the will. Now, it has been some time since I attended a funeral, thank god, and I have never actual sat for a reading of the will.  This is not terribly surprising, as a brief google search reveals that the dramatic heights of a reading of the will are in fact entirely fiction. Such events do not happen. Perhaps then, in some macabre way, we can place the body at the center of the scene anyway.

As it happens, then, we have a unique advantage. The horror of the grave rising up, one last time, to defy or scorn the beneficiaries of its will is written out in our prompt, but itself is not the core of the story. No, the story’s thrust is not in the moment but in the build up of family tensions, of schemes before and during, of arguing, of lying and truth telling. It is like a gothic Thanksgiving dinner, where all the family gathers and learns too much about each other but cannot leave. Because as they say, where there’s a will there’s a hopeful line of relatives.

CasketOpen1

Now, what folklore do we have examples of living corpses and haunting. We discussed the nature of some vampires to rise and feed despite lying in wait, and how recitations can drive them out here. These are especially notable in the context of a will, given the tendency of the vampire to feed on its own family. While not all of them have this chance, the looming spectre of lost family is hard to avoid.

We’ve talked about numerous, truly numerous numbers of the living dead and ghostly creatures here and here and here and here as well. The nature of the dead is strange, numerous, and plentiful in folklore and horror. However, there are a few more stories we can add to the discussion, particularly from the recent readings I’ve done.

One story that relates particularly well is that of the Biting Corpse—tale number ten of the twenty three. This story follows a motif common in the stories, of two quarelling brothers. One is rich but miserly, the other generous but poor. The Elder brother holds a great feast and decides not to invite his younger brother, so the younger brother decides to steal food from the elder brother’s storehouse. While doing so, however, he sees his elder brother’s wife taking some food out in the night. He follows her  until on some flat ground, behind a hill, he finds her again. She sits caressing and feeidng a corpse, or at least trying to do so—the corpse of her last husband.  She even leans down to kiss him—but the corpse bites off her nose instead. He escapes before being noticed, and waits for the next day.

The wife tries to cover her new injury by claiming it was her husband who inflicted the wound. The two quarrel over the matter until at last it reaches the khan, who is ready to sentence the husband to death. However, the younger brother appears and reveals the truth—and when the woman’s corpse-husband is found, she is put to death. Other tales, which I will discuss in more detail on the patreon, do present wives who revive their husbands—but this incident is not repeated or given further context.

The moral of this story lies of course in proper treatment of ones family more than the corpse itself—but I found it strange when reading that the body would except no food except the nose. The nose, one of the facial features that is most clearly not present on a skeleton. And there is something to be read here, about how attachment to a former husband drives a rift between husband and wife, such that the wife conspires to get the husband killed.

To touch on an example of living dead that we haven’t discussed, the dybuuk is another familial threat. A dybuuk is a Jewish ghost, one that cannot find it’s way to the afterlife and thus is trapped in limbo. In  order to escape this torment or perhaps to continue it’s wicked life, a dybuuk often possesses  a body—sometimes its own—and commits various transgressive acts, including blasphemy and murder.

Dybuuk.png

These sources stuck out to me among the other undead for their combination of both thinking or at least responding to the living and their corporeal form—while lacking the direct feeding that vampiric creatures possess. They are somewhere between the two—neither full blood sucking beast nor mere phantom hurling objects about. The only difference here is the singularity of the incident. The body’s sudden motion is its only act.

A more comedic set of tales comes from Indiana. Here a pair of stories related a hunchbacked man’s burial—due to his hunchback, the man could not lie flat in the coffin and so was held down by straps. In one story, a friend was watching the body when a cat snuck in. As the man chased the cat around with a broom, he accidentally struck his friend and caused the binds to break—the dead man shot straight up and the firend only said “Lie down, John, I’ll get the damned cat.”

In the other instance, the man stays down until the funeral. During the service, the minister passionately proclaimed that “this body will rise again!” And on cue, the dead man sat upright! The whole congregation fled that instant.

What is interesting to me about these two stories is the similarity to vampiric ones, in an odd way. In the Balkans, as we mentioned, a cat walking over the grave of a dead man could in fact cause him to rise—as a creature of the night, murderous and cruel. Likewise, the connection and antipathy vampires have for the holy and proper funerals is oddly similar to the reaction of the minister. While I doubt there is a direct connection between the stories, there is a strange resonance between them.

House of Usher2.png

When it comes to tales of Lovecraft and Gothic Lore, the dead are of course always nearby. But this story in particular reminded me ofthe House of Usher—a story that will return and return, I believe, in these prompts—and how it included the burial alive of a dear relative by an off-kilter brother. That the woman was only mistaken for dead does little to change the effect of her rising at the reading of a story in her presence, and rush out to her brother in rage.

Mr. Lovecraft’s story, In the Vault, deals with another vital corpse. Here the corpse is of a wicked man, and it’s motion is perhaps questionable. We follow a careless, lazy, and generally unprofessional undertaker who, because of the winds of April, is trapped in a vault of coffins. This vault, to store the dead during winter, when the ground is too dense to dig through, is of course a terrifying place to be. As the vault is sealed, and in a hill, the undertaker must make his own escape. He stacks the coffins, one atop another, and stands on their poor construction to break himself free. A moment before he manages to get free, something—either the corpse or the breaking coffins—savages his ankles, forcing him to crawl not just out of the vault but all the way to get aid. The doctor, however, recognizes the true source of the wounds and demands the undertaker never reveal them to anyone else.  That is not the full story of course, but I do enjoy the full twist myself.

The Gothic tale House of Seven Gables has a similar, haunting notion of a lost will buried in the walls. We’ve discussed this at length here, to elaborate on some of its plot points in inheritance, family, oppression, and communal guilt. For our purposes, its important that the will serves as a promise in the past for fortunes that could have been or that came into their own in the future. The will that is destroyed is not only a symbolic connection to the past, it also acts as an embodiment of a dream or vision of the future.  This is part of the horror of the story—not only that the dead walk and possibly talk, but that the dead reject or deny something to the living. Peace of mind at the most basic, of course, but more tangible things as well.

Our stories conflicts will then be two fold—we will have the living against the living and the living against the dead. This is, as I mentioned before, a story of relationships and their many forms, and how they change or come into new lights with someone’s passing. In particular, however, this can be the story of secrets as well—the sorts of secrets that only come to light when someone has died, and left their last act in the air waiting. The will is their last communication, the “truth” of their feelings and cares. And of course, a fight over that will be painful—especially if the prize is to be denied at the very end by the dead themselves.

Bibliography

Baker, Ronald L. Hoosier Folk Legends. Indiana University Press, 1982.

Busk, Rachel Harriette. Sagas from the Far East; or Kalmouk and Mongolian traditionary tales. London. Griffith and Faran, 1873.

Epstien, Saul and Robinson, Sara Libby. The Soul, Evil Spirits, and the Undead:: Vampires, Death, and Burial in Jewish Folklore and Law. Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural, Vol. 1, No. 2 (2012), pp. 232-25

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My Father’s House

This Week’s prompt: 101. Hideous secret society—widespread—horrible rites in caverns under familiar scenes—one’s own neighbour may belong.

The Prior Research:Conspiracy!

After the fifth surveyor refused to go down to Elderbir, I just accepted I had to do it. I’d been down there already once this year—my pa insisted in being buried in the cemetery down there, with the rest of the Bulric family. It had been a bit harrowing, a lot of unfamiliar faces among the stones. Mom and I never really came back home. But they all knew me too—apparently my dad was proud of my practice. Talked all about it all the time.

That sort of reception made the first surveyor’s response a bit odd. They said they wouldn’t be able to complete the survey do to unexpected hazards. The next two just wouldn’t go out that far. Fourth sent me a bill for their trouble, and said it wasn’t possible to fully inspect the house without further payments. And number five just came clean with it.

“Yeah, listen, Bobby, listen. We went out there, started doing some measurements and such. And these guys—these guys started poking around. Asking questions. One of them was leaning against a truck, patting a hunting rifle. Another had a hammer—no a mallet, and was talking about some big holes they had dug to find a broken pipe. I’m not saying it was a dangerous situation. But I’m not heading back out there, no way no how.”

Which…okay. To be honest, as I pulled up outside the house, I had to admit. It was an isolated big house, atop a hill, nothing for a good half a mile. Not exactly a welcoming place. The survey info I did have—which was a bit old—said the entire place was on a limestone shelf. Which…well. Not a great place, all things considered.

I ran into Joe while I was going out for my second suitcase trip.

“So, finally moving back in?” Joe said, leaning over the wooden fence. “It’d be nice to have a Bulric back in the neighborhood.”

“For now, for now.” I said, sighing. “Just getting a feel for the place you know? Before I decide anything.”

“Decide anything…you’re not really thinking of selling it, are you? I thought those guys that came down worked for the bank.”

“Well, glad to know you gave them the Elderbir welcome.” I said, lifting the trunk out. “But I figure I’ll give it a try for a bit—I can work from home well enough, take a good hard look at it all you know?”

“C’mon Bob, wasn’t seven years a good enough look.” Joe said, laughing. “Remember that time you snuck into the cupboard and it fell down? Your dad and I had to both lift it all back up again.”

“Twenty years makes it tricky to remember.” I said.  And I was four at the time, Joe.

“You know, if your looking to sell…I think old Mr. Joneson would give a decent price.” Joe said, scratching his head. “Keep it in town you know.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” I said, raising an eyebrow. Mr. Joneson wasn’t exactly known for his generosity—I’d rather not sell to a miser.

HouseLimestone.png

 

The lights and gas and water were all still on—good for this brief habitation, although I wondered where the money was coming from. I hadn’t done the leg work of calling banks about…well. There was a few cable bills and advertisements in the mail. More awkward phone calls.

The wind battered at the window panes, and it was a bit hard to see outside. Most of the area was a field—the limestone around it meant the roots didn’t go too deep. Not great for farming, I understand, and even a brief walk around had found some sink holes and dips.  The entire house seemed to creak and moan under the weight of the storm. It was so bad, I could barely see the fence—and too loud to sleep well. An empty house is already far too loud.

The only thing I could make out that night was a small shape at the edge of the property—looked like a big dog poking at the fence. Too tired to really read, I focused on the shape for a bit as it prodded around. Poor thing was probably looking for shelter. I was sad the thunder scared it off.

 

I met with Mr. Joneson about his offer—about 15k for the whole place, which I politely said I’d consider. I mean, it was better than literally nothing. But a large quaint country house? I figured I could get more. Wasn’t like Mr. Joneson needed another house anyway. He and his owned like half the town even when I was growing up. I could cut down the price for someone needy but, well, he could do better.

Given the rain last night, I thought now was a time to get to know the land better. To walk about and see the newly formed lakes and dips that formed in the field. Not stuff to include when you sell a place, but you never know what you’ll need to know. Before I got far, however, I spotted a weird…color on the hill behind the house.

Not that weird, but…leaning down, it was a dull grey. The dirt had washed away to reveal a smooth gray—cement. I dug a little with my hands. Whatever it was, it was pretty big. I came back with a shovel and started clearing it out. It was a misshapen lump—about eight feet tall at the tallest. Tapping it, there wasn’t anything on the other side. There was a…well, something drawn on the front with faded chalk. I still have no clue what it means.

And well. Something beneath the house? That was something I needed to know more about.

“Doing some home improvement?” Joe asked as I took the heavy tool box out of the garage.

“Yeah, found some old planks that need to replaced.” I said, nodding a bit, and looking towards the cement.  “That and some rocks that need moving—hey, did pa mention anyone else living here? Do any improvements or the like since I left?”

There was something about Joe that had me a bit on edge. Something vaguely menacing about his stops…Maybe it was just this house putting me on edge.

“Not that I remember—I mean, he wasn’t toolsy, you know?” He said, shrugging. “Figure you’d know more than me, you know?”

“Yeah, well, he wasn’t always the quickest to talk about things.” I said, shrugging and heading back around the house. “Chat later, want to get this done while there’s still daylight.”

CaveEntranceHill1

 

It took twenty minutes of hammering—I’m sure someone noticed or heard the cement cracking as I hammered away. It two and a half inches thick, and I didn’t even clear out all of it. Just enough to get in and under, into an old limestone cave.

I remembered this, from when me and mom still lived here. I vaguely remember old caves in the hills, that I thought were full of dragons and treasure. I didn’t remember one beneath the house.

 

Taking a step in, I saw the remains of a wooden scaffold—probably what was used to hold the cement when dad poured it. But why seal up an old cave? I get filling it, I guess. You know, prevent a sink hole from forming right under the house. But this was…not that.

A bit of that childhood wonder took hold of me. Maybe there was treasure down here. Maybe some inheritance that had waited long forgotten. Maybe some old film reels covered in salt or books promising land somewhere far away. Who knows?

So I clicked on the flashlight, and began to go down deep. The tunnel was wide—and carved out in places, to keep it wider. Eventually the curves and almost organic appearance of the cave was chiseled away—and eventually, maybe five minutes of walking down the dark passages, I came across the arch.

The top was hewed from the rock—maybe from some huge broke stalagmite. The sides, though, were heavier and stronger—granite blocks. Carved on them were two great serpents, one uncoiling top to bottom, the other bottom to top. The snakes both ultimately emerged from the Janus like head at the top of the arch—a three-eyed figure, with a third eye between the two faces’ ears.

And from the room came strange smells, of burnt hair and alcohol. Walking through, I found wooden chairs arranged, and broken bottles of wine—mostly pushed or swept to the side. There was…a stone something there. I think. It was…porous to the touch. Felt almost like a big stone sponge…and as I touched it, I felt something sticky stained on it. Red…wine maybe?

Drawing Eyes

There were other tunnels from the big room—other carved arches. Along the walls were drawings in chalk—a few I think were portraits but others were just elaborate fractal shapes. So many looked like eyes…eyes in the great, dark, quiet place. I coughed a little—and heard it echo in all directions, bouncing around. It sounded like something growling in the dark.

This wasn’t old stuff. That meant someone had been here recently. And that therefore, someone had been beneath my house recently, and that someone couldn’t have left through concrete. So. Down into the echoing tunnels I went. Just me and the stone and the terrible echoes of my own footsteps. Always just behind me.

Two went nowhere. They went to just—more concrete…But the third. The third went to a big metal door. A big metal door that I heard sounds from the other side of. I think I heard Joe say something. I think it was Joe. It was hard to make out. It didn’t sound happy.

I heard something clatter behind me. Down back where I came. Some…maybe some wind had knocked something over. I slowly walked back down that cavernous route. I heard the crunch of broken glass beneath my feet, echoing out again. Echoing back, echoes in echoes. As I came back into the main chamber, with it’s  walls crowded in eyes and the sticky smell of alcohol and burnt hair. And there was…just a knocked over candle, dripping wax.

Dripping wax down…onto some squirming small shape. Something like a spider beneath the wax. A bunch of unfurling legs, pushing up against the wax. A breath of warm air in the deep…Something was here with me. Something was here, just out of sight, in one of the corridors, in the echoing. Something.

I don’t remember running out of the tunnel and pushing the concrete back into a crude covering. I just found myself forcing the layers of dirt onto the shards and chunks of concrete that I had piled at the exit. I locked the doors that night, locked the windows as best I could.

*

I turned all the house lights on. I couldn’t stand the dark. I still…there were these little patterns in the wall at night, that looked like they were eyes. They weren’t, just wears in the wall paper or tiles that had an odd crack. Just the normal shapes of an old house, that looked and felt like eyes.

I couldn’t sleep, so I just paced the halls that night. Still keeping all the lights on. I’d say I was going through some things if I was asked. I just couldn’t sleep. The storming outside had continued with earnest that night, rain pelting the roof and thunder shaking the walls.

It was while I was pacing, checking the window locks, that I saw something out back. There were five or six people down there, huddling at the bottom of the hill, around the concrete. That damned dog was with them too. I couldn’t hear them over the wind and rain. I could see one had a baseball bat slung over his back. He occasionally tested it’s weight.

They split up after a bit, and started walking around the house. I followed the one with the bat. He tested some of the windows, tapping them a bit. They marked a few spots with chalk. I followed them all the way around to the front, where they piled up into a truck. I think it was a red truck—maybe it was Joe’s? It was parked behind a big tree, branches and leaves covering their exit.

HouseLimestone2

I was at the local diner early that morning. I didn’t sleep after that little visit. I didn’t bother. I had showered, stretched, and in a haze made my way to get some food to ground me and some coffee to replace the lack of rest. As the waitress left, I heard the door chime open. In walked Joe, Mr. Joneson, and another guy wearing a black hoodie. I opened the menu to cover my face as they ordered—but I heard the other guy murmur something and some shuffling.

Sure enough, their they were in the booth across from me.

“Hey, Bobby. How’s the house going?” Joe said, smiling. His hair was still wet. Maybe he’d just gotten out of the shower.

“Going fine.” I said slowly, eyeing the other two for a moment.

“Yeah, Peter here says you were doing some digging out back.” Mr. Joneson said, nodding to the mystery man. “You gotta be careful doing that. Dig up too much, and you’ll hit the old limestone.”

“Dangerous, dangerous stuff.” Peter said, shaking his head. “Storms lately, that’ll wear down fast.”

“Might even open up a sinkhole or something beneath the house.”  Mr. Joneson said, nodding. “That’d be a damn shame really, costly too. Real costly, and a historic house gone too. Got to be careful what you start digging around town.”

I nodded slowly, bridging my fingers. I was too tired for this. Too tired to deal with any of this.

“Yeah.” I sighed. “Yeah. You know, I can’t be here keeping up with it constantly. And…well. Maybe it’d be best to leave it with someone who knew it as well as you do.”

“That quick a turn around?” Joe said, raising an eyebrow. I shrugged as I sipped my coffee.

“Fifteen thousand, it’s yours.” I said, waving my hand. “Can’t really sleep there anyway, and it might be falling apart. Sinkhole underneath the place would shatter the value. Take it off my hands, and were’ in the clear.”

*

I don’t know why Pa left it to me—maybe he didn’t know about what was going down there. Maybe he thought I’d never check…or maybe he thought I’d be thrilled. Maybe it was some sort of attempt at a patch up. I don’t know. It was a nice house. But frankly, I think if  I was there another week, I’d have gone missing. Hell, no wonder half the surveyors ran off.

I’ll be glad if I never hear about the house again. I’ll be glad if it never rains again—and I never think, for half a second, I see someone at the door on a rainy night. And those eyes…those eyes.



I’m mixed on this end to the decade story. On the one hand, I like the build up to the discovery of the cave–and I even like parts of the cave. I think the ending, however, is far too sudden and anti-climatic. If I had an appropraite second prompt, I might follow up the ending, and have the horror follow Robert home or trap him in the town–just walking away is simply a bad ending. But the story had been delayed long enough…Perhaps next year for Patreon, I’ll come back to Elderbir a fourth time. Speaking of:

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The House of Witchs

This Week’s Prompt: 99. Salem story—the cottage of an aged witch—wherein after her death are found sundry terrible things.

The Prior Research:Salem

I’d been house hunting for the last four days, when Alex finally agreed to take me to the house on 35th and Main. He grumbled and sighed the entire drive, before we pulled up to the slightly overrun yard. It was a nice, two story house—clean windows, nice door, fresh wallpaper.

“It’s just a bit pricey, you know, and there are better places.” He said, sighing as we walked through the house. “I mean, and you know, it’s got a history.”

“And that’s why we’ve got to check it out!” I said. The house was the exact same, top to bottom—okay, not quiet the same. The kitchen down stairs was the exact shape of the guest room right above it, the bedroom and living room perfectly mirrored each other.

“I mean, it’s not like this is the same house they hanged her in.” I said, flicking a light switch on.

“No…Okay, no it’s not.” Alex admitted. “Got rebuilt a few times after fires and the like. Last time was back in the 70s I think. Some freak earthquake or something broke the foundation and they had to fix it. And then there was a wave of renovations.”

I walked through the halls. I wonder how much of this place had actually stayed the same after three centuries—were the rooms always like this? Did they shift and change? The attic upstairs was entirely empty except some boxes—what had they once held? Was the living room the same one where they tried her, searched her entire body for where the creatures of the night drank blood?

“I think it’s the one.” I said, smiling as we left.

“Of course you do.” Alex sighed. “Of course the witch house halfway out of town is the perfect one—no, can’t be any of the ones down town or near a train station, nope, crazy house.”

Apartment Floor A.png

“So it really is the same, top to bottom?” Cheryl asked. She was at the desk across from me, peering over the screen.

“Yep.”

“Doesn’t that get…confusing?” She said, clattering away at the keyboard.

“Not as bad as you’d think—I mean, I’ve gotten mixed up once or twice when putting stuff away.” I said with a shrug. “You know, I’ll come home, get ready for shower and whoops! Walked into the walk in closet, bathrooms on the other floor.”

“Wow. I mean, that’s not too bad.”

“No, like—unless it’s late at night, it’s pretty easy to navigate around. When I’m like half asleep, it gets worse.” If I’m drunk it is an actual nightmare. I once spent an hour racing up and down the stairs, trying to figure out which one had the living room and which one had the bedroom, before just sleeping on the couch.

“Seen any…” Cheryl, pausing mid type. “You know. Last people that had the house left after a month.”

“No, nothing.” I said, clattering along. “I mean, I might ask someone to look at the walls.”

“What, blood leaking from them already?” Cheryl said with a nervous laugh. I didn’t mention that the walls had made a clicking sound at night—not loud enough to wake me up, but enough to keep me awake. Everything was so quiet out there.

Apartment Floor B.png

It wasn’t much of a conversation, really. I had a few like that, people surprised I was living in the old haunted house. Which—okay, yeah, a few people it turns out had gone missing in the place. But like, of the past owners—I checked, out of curiousity—none of them ‘mysteriously’ vanished, and even the ones that had a bad time were like, fifty to sixty years apart. The stories get wilder around the 1700s—everyone’s grandma has a story about my old house it seems.

It was kinda thrilling to live somewhere famous. I even gave tours to a few friends—some of them joked about breaking into it when they were teens. Looked different, back then. Run down, but same double floors.

“Yeah, its always been like that.” Jermey said, pointing at the ceiling as we walked down the stairs. “I mean, you know, when I was here it was like. Graffiti’d up and shag carpeted.”

“Shag carpeting?”

“Yeah, it was gross as hell. But the same, top to bottom. Weird that they didn’t like—like the bathrooms weren’t.” He said looking it over. “I mean, they kinda are—we figured that since they were on top of each  other, we’d drop stuff down one pipe and it’d go down the other but nope. Just pissed off the handy man.”

“Thought it was abandoned?” I asked, frowning.

Jeremey shrugged.

“I mean, no one lived here. But I remember once we got wasted and tore up one of the walls—freaked out, thinking we’d get caught.” He said, gesturing. “But it was all put together in like. A day. Someone had to do it. Never heard of ghosts patching up brickwork.”

Apartment Floor C.png

I did get used to the noise after a while. The little creaks and dings and shifting of moving papers stopped bothering me.  I dreamed about getting lost in repeating hallways more than once. I know I came home drunk and went to bed in my room, and woke up in the living room at least once.

I kinda got used to just staring ahead and counting whenever I saw someone on the sidewalk, a shape I couldn’t quite make out until the last moment. Once or twice, I caught someone following me—or well. I thought they were following me. They just lived nearby and I hadn’t seen them yet. No one was following me.

At least—well there was one time. I woke up in the middle of the night in the bedroom down stairs. I walked around, trying to get my bearings again, and looked out the window—and I thought I saw Cheryl. She was just walking…to the bus station, which was weird because I swear she lived on the other side of town. No reason for her to be around her.

*

“Oh, just went home and binged some shows.” She said when I asked what she’d been up to last night. “How about you?”

“Not much. Read a book.” I muttered.  I mean, it wasn’t a lie. I’d been reading some documents. The crew that came over couldn’t find anything causing the clicking sound,  probably something the construction crew before left in there. So I went digging for the construction crew for the current house—and couldn’t find one.

I couldn’t find the last one either. Not like, a shell company or anything, but like—there’s a newspaper article from 1970 about a fire destroying the house. It’s listed for sale in 1972. That’s the house I’m in. But no one built the house. The listing is in a newspaper, it doesn’t mention the company. And I don’t even know how to start finding that in a public record.

“I think it was built by OMN?” Alex said. I hadn’t given him a ring in a while. “Can’t really…huh. Can’t find a specific record, but they did a lot of construction back then. Hey, don’t worry about it too much. It’s probably just settling or something—get an exterminator if your worried its rats in the walls I guess?”

Or move out of the creepy house, like I said to was the unspoken bit there. But whatever. I couldn’t leave—unless I found another buyer, I didn’t have the cash for that. So exterminator it was.

*

“And he found nothing.” I muttered. I could feel the bags under my eyes, even if they weren’t there yet.

“Well, that’s good right?” Jeremey said, printing another few copies of…something. I don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention.

“I just…It’s been getting louder I think. More frequent for sure. He heard it, said there’s no animal he’d heard make that sound—left out some traps.” I waved it away. Just when I got used to the little noises, this one comes in insistent.

“I mean—maybe a plumber or something? Might be something rattling in the pipes.” Jermey said, tapping the papers. “Loose coin or something.”

“I don’t…maybe?” I said throwing my hands up. “I’ve got to figure out what it is—I swear, I’d never have bought the place if I’d known it was this much of a pain. Supposedly haunted historical house is one thing, this is…This is just maddening.”

Apartment Floor D.png

I just didn’t sleep that night. It was the first night I stayed awake all night—cup of coffee and ears listening for any sounds. I’d just, I’d catch this thing.

The ticking started earlier than I remember it starting before. One of the old paintings ticked up a few inches. As I watched, the face on the old woman’s painting peeled off. A small plate there, of some fibrous material, rotated.

I got up slowly…and the floor swam beneath me. I fell back down. The room rotated. The walls fell away, a labyrinth of crystal and glass shimmering in the moonlight. My bed fell through the liquid floor. I screamed and waited for a crash.

None came.

I looked up at the old house—shimmering like moonlight on the water. New stars shone down through the transparent roof. When I got up this time, I was on solid ground. I saw hundreds of miles beneath the house—hundreds of fractal rooms. Perfectly shaped, all with glowing like stars. Except one—down at the very bottom, there was something…something dull. Some small blob, a hundred feet away. The ticking was coming from down in the depths, and I was sure it was from that strange shape.

There was a shout form the window. Looking up, I saw such…wonderful places. I saw hills of sunlight, I saw sable sands with red rivers. I saw moons, I saw worlds outside. I saw them tearing and bending and wonder turned to horror. The ticking turned to skipping—the house…whatever it was, something was wrong. I looked down again, at the shape sitting their listless.

It was like a bug trapped in amber. A small shape but I saw the whole house struggling to break free  of it. It shook and seemed to crack. The floor gave in beneath me, and I went tumbling down. Before I could get up, it cracked and fell again.

Bruised and exhausted, I fell. I fell through house after house. I fell down centuries, down to the very bottom. I looked up, struggling a bit to catch my breath. The light was dim down here—I could barely see my fingers.

I looked up and saw her. Hanging there—not really her. Not her body, that was long gone. Her shadow? Something that was there but wasn’t. It wasn’t really there. It was there though. It was…the house was broken. It yearned up.

But she was there. Her body was there, jammed in the gears and light. She was glowing like a dim moon, soft and cold. The windows down here were all black seas and forgotten woods. The house shook and quaked. It glowed and ticked.

Apartment Floor A
I next remember waking up in the hospital. The doctor said there’d been an accident—freak fire while I was asleep. Most of the house was burned down—not all of it, but most. The fire department was just glad to have contained it—there were lots of old homes down there.  It could have spread uphill, caught some of the others.

It was really lucky it just burned mine. I guess.

Just like that earthquake back in the 70s, I guess. Or the flash flood that tore out the foundations in 1922. It’s a very lucky house, in a way.



 

I’m still unhappy with this story. I liked the idea of the house as some sort of mechanism, which was stuck trying to complete its task by the crime committed in the past. But I couldn’t find a strong A-plot to go in with, and interweave with, the haunted house. I think there might be some burn out on houses for now–and looking a head, we’ll be away from them for at least a few weeks! Thank you for your patience.

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Salem

This Week’s Prompt: 99. Salem story—the cottage of an aged witch—wherein after her death are found sundry terrible things.

The Forthcoming Story: The House of Witchs

This prompt continues our haunted and disturbed houses of New England—a tour that has gone on for almost a month now. Here, however, Mr. Lovecraft has grounded us in a very particular historical tragedy—the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. The story of the Witch Trials is an infamous one, but one where the details are sometimes lost. So I will describe the chronology in brief here.

The Witch House

The Witch House, former home of Judge Johnathan Corwin, is the last building standing from the Witch Trials .https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Witch_House

At the center of the witchcraft outbreak are two girls, Elizabeth and Abigail Parris, daughters of Reverend  Samuel Parris, and their mixed race servant Tituba. According to documents, Elizabeth and Abigail learned tricks from Tituba during the winther of 1691-1692. Other girls are documented as possibly being there. A time after this, it is reported that the children began acting strangely—they spoke in tongues, crawled into holes and walls, and others acted foolishly. The local doctor could not identify the cause of this behavior,  and proclaimed them bewitched. This of course attracted local interest, including a gathering of Ministers to determine who had bewitched them. Tituba and her husband offered their skills at finding witches—but were accused of witchcraft themselves by the children. Sarah Good and Sarah Osborn were also accused.  All were found guilty, and executed. Shortly after there were waves of witchcraft accusations in the area around Salem—A total of 151 people were accused, most but not all women. At least 20 were executed. Most of towns accused one to three individuals, and often only held one trial that year. Most of the accused follow expected trends—they were usually of low means, mobile, old and asocial. Those of greater means were rumored witches or accused before hand, and often new arrivals. After 1692, the hunt ended as the commission founded was dissolved. Numerous suggestions have been made for why—the targeting of less stereotypical

Recurring incidents associated with witchcraft and the trials are appariations terrorizing their victims, often to compel them to sign a book; the pricking or draining of blood; the appearance of people far from home; and the unheard speech of witches, often taken as cursing. This is not particularly new for witchcraft. In fact, one of the reasons Salem has attracted attention is not do to it’s bloodiness—it is far from the largest witch hunt—nor its symptoms—witchcraft symptoms, being based on witch hunting guides often enough, are very similar.  The only new notable symptoms is the betwitched cannot say the name of God, nor read the Puritan catechism, but can read it and say the Quaker and Catholic ones. Which indicates a curious and genuinely frightening notion for a community so defined by its religious convictions—that some force has compelled them into the hands of the enemy. But that is for the end.

Salem Trial.png

No, the primary point of interest with Salem is that it is very late in the history of witch hunting, and in a community that was not prone to it. Popular imagery of the story has suggest the Puritan Witchhunter as the most common participant in these massacres, but historically that does not bare out entirely well. The sum of Salem is a strange aberration in time and space, fitting into a common narrative of history during it’s era and until to this day—that as one moves farther in space, one moves backwards in time. So far from the continent, it is no wonder such barbarism occurred.

Certainly, the witch hunts have a character about them that lend themselves well to horror stories—they are a gothic horror for New England, remembered well by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s work. Here the witchcraft trials serve as a strange, spectral ghost that haunts the landscape and the characters. From the echoes of the accusations in the Scarlet Letter to the haunted images and manuscripts in The Devil in the Manuscript  and Edward Randolph’s Portrait. Given his admiration for Mr. Hawthorn, such an interest is not surprising for Lovecraft.

They are also a frequent stand in for the notion of a paranoid and superstitious community turning on its own—Arthur Miller’s The Crucible used the trials as an allegory for the MacArthur era of anti-communist witch hunts, for instance. Again, Mr. Lovecraft’s own lurking fear of tradition—his fear that the so called enlightened era of humanity was a mere moment, and soon darkness would descend in its old way—makes the connection rather clear. It is at times the use of authority to establish itself over the mob and quell progress—a line with more than some truth—and other times presented as the mob calling for blood and at best moderated by the priesthood.

Beyond these older sources, other media has of course taken on the notions of the witch trial in the new world—if not Salem itself, then certainly it’s presence. The Blair Witch, for instance, is also accused by children of her nefarious acts and haunts a nearby woods. The online series Catghost enters into these notions of magic and witchcraft—and even goes so far as Lovecraft’s witch house, crediting to the witches there some true knowledge of the universe beyond mortal ken. VVitch is a more direct example, featuring a Puritan family and being within a century of the witch hunts themselves.

MoreWeight

Giles Corey, one of the men executed for witchcraft, famously said “more weight” before dying by being crushed to death with stones.

What then should be done?  The prompt presents us with a rough timeline of events: A witch trial, followed by the search of her house, in which terrible things are found. This is a profoundly bad outline—there is no clear surprise, except to subvert the modern expectation that the victim is innocent. I do not believe we are in need of a story where the witch was really a witch. Alternatively, perhaps this is meant as a less direct version, akin to Dreams in the Witch House. Here, it becomes something again like a haunted house. And certaintly, there is a tradition of ghostly witches and associations between witches and necromancers. Here the history of the house comes to grossly manifest into the new inhabitants lives. And something could be done with that sort of horror.

One author suggested that the witch trials, and Salem itself, stand for the intervention of a spiritual evil in a material world. They are the imposition and manifestation of a very non-‘whig’ or modern sort of horror. They are the ancestral sin of the region—one of many perhaps. This then becomes a collapse of history in two ways. First, the most literal—the victims of the past refuse to stay dead and quiet literally disturb the modern world. Secondly, the means of this disturbance is not in the methods the modern world would permit—it is not an avenging family member descended of the witches, it is not some structural or biological secret lost from beyond the grave, it is instead a horror like those older horrors. It is a specter, a phantom, a shadow that lives.

If we wanted to go in a different direction then a simple Lovecraft haunted house, where ancestral guilt and fears stalk a new victim, we could play with the notions of memory and history that crop up in researching Salem. A major difficulty for those investigating Salem is the lack of proper documentation at times. Not all court documents are preserved, not all the accused have court documents, and so on. Things have simply been lost, some recovered in poems and stories, but most abandoned. Things that perhaps should not have been forgotten, for forgotten things still remain.

How would you approach a horror story about a witch’s cottage? Was she holding back something in the basement, now unleashed by foolish clergy men? Was there no horror before, but the tragedy has invited it in?

Bibligoraphy:

Latner, Richard. “The Long and Short of Salem Witchcraft: Chornology and Collective Violence in 1692”, Journal of Social History. Vol. 42, No. 1, Fall 2008. Oxford Universtiy Press.

Nevins, Winfield S. Witchcraft in Salem Village in 1692: Together with some account of other witchcraft trials in New England and elsewhere. North Shore Publishing, 1892.

Stock, R.D.. “Salem Witchcraft and Spiritual Evil: A Century of Non-Whig Revisionism.” Christianity and Literature Vol 42 No. 1, Autumn 1992.  Sage Publications Inc.

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Rhode Island Ghosts

This Week’s Prompt: 98. Hideous old house on steep city hillside—Bowen St.—beckons in the night—black windows—horror unnam’d—cold touch and voice—the welcome of the dead.

The Resulting Story: The Bowen Street House

This prompt was tricky—the experience of research in this case was very similar to a much earlier attempt to track down a specific name. A brief internet survey for a haunted Bowen Street turned up a restaurant in Texas—here we have  a rather polite ghost, who turns the lights off at around midnight when she wishes to be alone. Fittingly, the article doesn’t record any particularly nasty acts of violence or misery inflicted upon Mrs. Bowen or her family.  The timeline isn’t quite right either, so I began my search elsewhere.

There is another Bowen Street, that seemed more likely—Bowen Street, Providence Rhode Island. As the home  I first consulted my existing material on Rhode Island—which included a number of haunted places that I will go over in a moment—but found nothing on Bowen Street. Internet searches again revealed nothing on the street, except a ghost tour and a number of apartments. I did, however, find another haunted building and the Lovecraft story that this prompt is based on. And that is the ominously named Shunned House, on the Benefit Street.

The plot of the Shunned House is a plot based on obsession with a strange and unfortunate house. The narrator and his uncle attempt to discern the nature of the century old curse, bringing with them some exceptional weaponry and scientific equipment. When they spend the night there, however, they are visited by strange lights, ghastly faces, masses of mold, and other bizarre sights. I will not spoil the final twist of the story, but it is an unusual ghost story in that it lacks the blood, pale visions.

It is possible that our prompt instead served as the basis of The Unnameable or The House in the Mist. Either way, we are back among the lands of the dead, and the Shunned House begins us in a rather strange position.  We can find one of the historic sources of the Shunned House with the Stephen Harris House. The House was constructed over the graveyard of French Huguenots in the eighteenth century, a sure recipe for a haunting.

The actual Shunned House—the Stephen Harris House in reality—has a similar origin. It is built atop a Hugenot graveyard. A wealthy merchant, Stephen Harris, and his wife built the house, and afterwards became horribly cursed. Ships began to sink, children died, and other tragedies.  The legend goes on to say that Mrs. Harris eventually went mad, no doubt in part with grief. Most famously, when she was confined to the attic, she was heard shrieking in French—a language she didn’t know.  The house stayed in the family, falling into decay and decrepitude as the house failed to sell. By the 1920s, the street had become a slum with the haunted and crumbling house on the hill.

This is of course not the only haunted house in Rhode Island. As I’ve alluded to before, all places are haunted in the end. One along the ghost regards a Mr. Jackson. He was traveling with one Captain William Carter in the winter 1741, intending to take some furs to Boston. The captain murdered Mr. Jackson for his furs, and stuffed his body beneath the ice at Pettaquamscutt Cove. The body was eventually discovered by an eel fisher, and the good captain was brought to trial for it.

However, Mr. Jackson was not at rest. Nearby indigenous settlements were so harassed by the ghost, the village was moved to avoid him. The roads nearby then reported Mr. Jackson’s presence up until the mid 1930s—well into Lovecraft’s day.

More haunted locales, however, are also common. There is the story of the Ramtail Factory. A dispute between the owners and the night watchmen over pay resulted in the night watchmen threatening that to get the keys, they would have to take them from a dead man. Shortly after, the owners found the factory locked—and breaking in, found the watchman dead inside, hanging from the pull rope of the bell. The bell rang out every night at midnight from  that day forward. Removing the rope would not stop it—and removing the bell lead to stranger mischief, such as running the factory at full speed or turning the mill stone backwards against the water.

Smith Castle

Smith’s Castle, courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons

A house in Wickford, built by one Richard Smith in 1639 was reportedly more haunted then could be believed. Smith’s Castle, as it is sometimes known, has a long history. Among these many ghosts were a group of indigenous people—the exact nation is not recorded—who had been captured by the settlers. In a fit of drunken cruelty, one of the settlers cut the head off a captive, sending it tumbling into a clock. Another was tarred and feathered before dying. The house had further misfortune, being the site of a suicide later on and a number of other tragedies—a mass grave for forty soldiers is nearby, and one of the owners was beheaded and placed on a pike after King Phillips War.

A strange marker of the dead, attributed to indigenous people, are scrub pines.  Each scrub pine that rises, according to local folklore, represents an unnecessary death. One farmer swore to remove each and every one of these pines that grew up in his field every year—and was warned against it by the living. Pushing on, despite the miraculous growth of some pines over night, the farmer met his end when one of the pines collapsed and fell on him.

A number of places in Providence have specific hauntings, but I’ve yet to locate sources for all of them in folklore—the best list I found was here.  As always, a haunted place is often the site of violence or death. Murders, abuse, and others result in restless dead seeking redress. Cruelty calls to the dead. In our prompt we have a second layer of the dead—one that separates it from a number of these stories. For, from Mr. Jackson to the night watchmen, most ghosts want their domain vacated. They drive people out. But here we have the dead beckoning inward. The dead welcoming, if invisible. The dead are calling.

And nameless—and I think this is key as well to the horror at play here. Most ghost stories remember the name of the ghost. Names are sometimes repeated, represented, or changed but almost all are remembered. The dead here are not only nameless but numerous—perhaps recalling the Huguenots at the Shunned House, who are known as a mass but forgotten as individuals. If anything, the strange beckoning dark reminds me of another house.  A house…well. I have spoken on that house.

H Blue

I think for this story, weaving the weighted, overgrown and ancient house with the image of new life from the scrub pines might be the most fascinating route. The manifestation of ghosts and others in new life and new knowledge is a form of a horror we haven’t done yet—at least not exactly. Plant life in particular—or in the case of the Shunned House, fungus—has a clear connection to the dead. The underworld is often connected with cycles of seasons and other patterns. Persephone and Hades, as an archetypal story, connects food and vegetation with the land of the dead as does the Maya Hero Twin story.

The other bit of lore I find fascinating about the Shunned House, connecting it to a similar collapsed manor story we wrote, is the notion that the haunted house is trapped here, in this family. The curse cannot be gotten rid of, because no one will buy the land and there is nowhere else to go. Roots laid too deep to be entirely removed from the family line.

What haunted houses have you heard of or visited? What ghostly shapes have you seen, beckoning from the windows?

Bibliography

Bourgaize, Eidola Jean. Supernatural Folklore of Rhode Island. University of Rhode Island, 1956.

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George and the Generous Tree

This Week’s Prompt:97. Blind fear of a certain woodland hollow where streams writhe among crooked roots, and where on a buried altar terrible sacrifices have occur’d—Phosphorescence of dead trees. Ground bubbles.

The Prior Research: Growing On Trees

The river had turned bright. The three farmers it touched stared in disbelief as the flickering water ran along its way, occasionally lurching to a halt. Grass around it had started dying.

“So. This. This is it right?” Johnson said, looking at everyone. “This is proof that God hates us, right?”

“Johnson!” George said.

“Bad harvest, bunch of rats break into the granary, and now there’s glowing star water killing everything.” Johnson said, waving at the water. “I want you to tell me, in the short time I still have land to stand on, how this is not proof positive this year is cursed.”

“Strings of bad luck happen.” George said, scratching his head. “I mean, long string but…”

“Maybe it will pass?” Gwyn said, stroking his considerable beard. “Came sudden, might be gone suddenly too. Things work like that sometimes.”

“I’m going to get what I can stored up.” Johnson said, shaking his head. “Water like that—that’s fairy nonsense or worse. Give it a week, and everything’s gonna be sludge and rot.”

So the three parted. Gwyn put old nets down from his time by the coast, hoping to catch the muck and keep it from his fields. Johnson went to accounting their belonings, in case the worst happened. He sent a letter down the road, to his brother in Alberdam. But George. George followed the river.

The river had its roots in the woods. Most things do. George knew pigs once lived in the woods, he figured cattle did too. So he followed the river back, through rotted roots and muddy land. He walked ahead, seeing what he might find among shivering trees and bald pines. For as the river wound its way down, the trees turned pale. The ground became soft and pallid. And animals made such dreadful sounds.

At the end of the river, George found it. Over the spring, a great tree with a glimmering brass trunk. No fruit sprang from the tree. No leaves. It’s roots, manifold and black, dripped luminescent sap into the river. Each drop sizzled as it touched the spring.

George was not a terribly wise man. But he knew clearly something about this was wrong. He rushed home and returned to that shuddering, sickly tree with an axe. Raising it high, he struck it hard—and it rang out like a bell in protest.

“Stop, stop, what are you doing?” A voice came down from the empty branches. “What are you doing, cutting me down with crude tool of yours?”

George was startled by the voice, but persisted. It again rang out like a bell, higher pitched this time. His axe blade looked a tad worse for the strike, but the bark had bent in.

“Stop that, stop that what are you—”

“You are spreading poison into our lands.” George said, reading a third swing. “I cannot lose it.”

“Wait wait! How much is it worth, this land?” The tree said, vibrating and shifting its bark about. George stopped his axe just before it.  “Perhaps we could trade.”

“And what could you offer, tree?” George said, resting his ax for a moment. “While I catch my breath.”

“Oh many things, many wondrous things. But perhaps most simply gold.” And as it spoke, an apple of shining gold grew from it’s branch, bending down in front of George. “Leave me be, and gold I can give every day.”

George took the gold, a small snap as it broke from the brass branch.

“Every day, gold like this?”

“Every day.” The tree’s voice said. George was a simple man. And while speaking trees were strange, far stranger existed in the wood. So he returned home without another blow.

Demon Tree One.png

And so he continued for sometime—about two months, coming to collect the gold, and letting his fields fall fallow. He never revealed the source of the apples he brought—in fact, when possible, he hid his travels down to the town to buy goods and food from distant farms. George was a simple man, but even he knew not to flaunt his gold.

Still he paused when he saw the carts outside Johnsons farm, the children swining legs from the seat.

“Nothing to be done. Lands cursed.” Johnson said, shaking his head when George asked leaning on the fence. “I mean, the grain that lived was inedible. But we’ll manage, we’ll manage. Probably won’t get much for the acres, but it’ll be something before the bank gets it.”

George nodded solemnly, and went for his axe. He hadn’t meant to ruin Johnson too. So out into the forest he went again, passed the twisting trees and mewling animals. The woods was quieter, the trees all had left shed broken coats of bark on the ground. The exposed insides were full of holes. Some times sap bubbled out of these, as the ground became muddy near the great tree. Its roots now dug deep into the ground.

“What now, little one? I gave you your gold for the—” the tree spoke, before George’s axe struck. A dull groan resonated through out the woods, the dying noises growing low and loud. The tree shrieked in it’s crown of twisting branches.

“What in the sweet—what do you want? More gold, is that it?” The tree shrieked. George saw his blow had left a large dent in the side. “I can provide more gold! Stop with that ax!”

“Gold will not help now.” George said, striking again and leaving a heavy cut. “Johnson already lost his farm. Gwyn will lose his. Gold can’t help that.”

“Are you—” A scream cut off the tree as the third blow struck, sluggish glowing sap leaking from its side. “Buy the farm yourself, you ingrate!” It bellowed. “You have piles of gold! Give some and buy his land, if you care so much! Its not like you need to worry about farming while I’m here!”

George paused, resting his axe on his shoulder, and stroking his chin. He had not considered that. Hiding his wealth had seemed so…vital. But it wouldn’t matter if Johnson and Gwyn were driven out already. The farms were just land then.  He shrugged and left the tree with it’s new wound, heading back to his farm.

Demon Tree3.png

And so it came to past that George and his family were alone in the farmlands. The fields did not grow properly there—they grew in small tufts and strange colors that year. Johnson and Gwyn had both long gone—George made no effort to maintain their fields. There was little to maintain, as the ground turned gray and then pale yellow. It was swampish and bubbling, the forest slowly sinking from George’s view.

“Its not natural.” His wife said as she looked out. “Its getting closer to town now—that poor boy, he drank some of it and…”

George nodded, staring out into the woods. The river was like moonlight now—cracks and springs up sprang up on the farmland. It wasn’t natural. But few things were in he woods now.

He had gone hunting once, and found not a single living thing. No birds sang, no deer ran. He saw a pale shape moving in the trees. He thought it was a cat, but it had too many eyes.  Too many legs. Or he thought as much.

The shivering trees—the ones that were pale and tall and thin like grain, but stung to touch—had grown where grain once rain. The land was sick. Perhaps it was always sick, George thought as he walked through the silent and shivering woods. There was no wind, but the trees still bowed and swayed as he passed.  And at last, he found the tree.

He had seen it daily, growing bigger and bigger. It’s roots were as wide around as a saucer. Its branches were knotted like a boat’s strings, and thicker then rope. A web of shimmering shapes made up its top. Two great cuts were on its side.

Demon Tree 2.png

“Have you come again with your ax, George?” The voice said solemenly. “Have I not been true and good to you?”

“The land is dying.” George said. A bit of regret remained on his voice. “You have been true and kind, but the land is dying.”

“It has always been dying.” The tree said. “It was dying a year past when we first met. What has changed? Have I not given you gifts, to stay your ax?”

“The land is dying faster now. Down in the town people are dying.”

“People are always dying, George. Dying is the way of things.” The tree said, unmoved.

George shook his head, having no more of the trees words. He took his ax and struck the tree’s trunk—and again it resounded like a gong. But the bark did not budge.

The ax swung again. The tree was unmoved.

The ax swung. The tree shook with laughter.

“George, I have been good to you.” The tree spoke. “And you have been good to me—so I tell you this. If you wish to quarrel with me, leave now. For I have grown too deep to be overturned by an ax or flame. The time for such has passed. Run now, and I will not pursue you for scaring me so.”

George stared as the tree’s branches unfolded—revealing glimmering fruit, brilliant like stars. He dropped the ax into the gray mud. And soon he too left the land by the river. So the rotting tree came to consume the land along the great river. Nothing wholesome remains in that woods.



While this might need one or two more editing passes–and could certainly be improved by more character interaction–I’m actually rather proud of this one. I think the basic idea of a parasitic but wealth producing tree growing monstrous and uncontrollable when allowed to flourish by human greed is a decent enough idea. Giving more character to George would be the first addition–at the moment he’s rather blank as a person, except a bit greedy and a bit simple.

Next time we return to a particular haunted house and the cold touch of the dead!

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Something Gnawing Inside

This Week’s Prompt: 92. Man’s body dies—but corpse retains life. Stalks about—tries to conceal odour of decay—detained somewhere—hideous climax.

The Prior Research:Bloodsucking Bodies from the Balkans

Ever since the man in uniform brought Leslie Edgarton news from the front lines—maybe ever since Thomas’s name had shown up in the obituaries—she had made a point of going on morning walks. Abigail, her oldest, found it a bit disconcerting. Leslie would go and walk, and at times it didn’t seem clear she knew where she was going. She usually walked in the park, meandering for an hour or so.

Today, however, she lingered a little longer. She found the grass and trees soothing. Cars and sirens rarely came around to the park, especially in the morning on a Monday. She breathed in, trying to let that peace of mind in. It was then that she saw him.

The man was feeding the ducks some bread out of his pocket—he was wearing a long jacket and heavy shades, his hair a buzz cut. Leslie frowned as he approached. He looked a bit pale, unshaven, but—but something about him seemed familiar. He looked just like Thomas—not just like, maybe after losing some weight, maybe after a bad few months. But he couldn’t be—she’d discussed this with Dr. Reddington. They’d been over this. They’d…but he was right there. Smiling as he fed the ducks along the path.

As Leslie got close, the wind carried the smell of alcohol ahead of the man. He didn’t seem to notice her, stopping and leaning to look in the lake. But it was Tom. It was definitely Thomas, right there. She stopped dead ten feet away and stared. Something held her back, something was unsure. Something in her said this was dangerous.

The man got up, turned, saw her—and left with nothing more than a small smile. She wanted to say something, she wanted to ask if it was him, where had he been, why he had taken so long to come back, was it really him. A hundred questions stuck in her throat, as he continued along the road, and behind the hill. Out of sight.

Vampire DAd From Afar.png

Leslie struggled not to tell her children about the man. She had considered calling the police, but…well, he was probably just a homeless man who happened to look like Thomas. There were seven billion people in the world. And Dr. Reddington said her pattern recognition might be on the fritz. It wasn’t anything for a few days, it was a thing that nagged her.

And then, that Monday, she got a call from Jesse’s school. A very worried and hushed call.

Hello, Mrs. Edgarton?” the voice said, quietly.

Speaking—is something wrong?” She said, quietly closing her office door.

I’m afraid there is. There was a small incident with Jesse.” the voice continued.

He’s alright, and everything seems fine but—well, Mrs. Edgarton–”

Don’t tell me he lashed out again?” Leslie said, rubbing her temples.

Not exactly. Mrs. Edgarton, Jesse—well, he says he saw his father.”

Excuse me?” Leslie looked straight ahead.

He saw his own father. Ma’am, if you could come down here, we’re…well, we’re obviously all worried. Some of his friends saw a man near the school fence, and Jesse ran towards him. When the teachers got there, the man was gone.”

And Jesse says…”

It was his father, yes.” The voice said, hesitating a moment. “I know this is hard, Mrs. Edgarton, but you have to understand how worrying this sort of behavior is.”

Right, I’ll be there right away.”

VampireDad1.png

Leslie felt her heart in her throat. It had been hard enough the first time, explaining what had gone wrong, what had gone terribly wrong. She felt like maybe she should have laid the groundwork—maybe if they had known where Tom was, maybe if the understood his job. Lauren took it best. She was older, she knew a bit better. She resented it more, but still. Jesse had…hadn’t understood for a while. It made sense, in a way, that he’d start seeing things too.

Jesse had been insistent that it was his dad—wearing sunglasses and a heavy coat and gardening gloves, but Leslie…Leslie couldn’t get him to believe it was someone else. Worse, he mentioned seeing him around school for a couple of days. She called the cops—she didn’t want to, if it really was just a homeless guy.

They hadn’t found any trace of him, but someone else had seem him near the high school—near Lauren, Leslie thought. The guy had some sort of cloth over his mouth, but school security chased him off.

Jesse said he smelled like alcohol and eggs, and that he’d been waiting near the playground for a while. Which—the playground butted against an old orchard. It wasn’t unbelievable he’d gotten back there. It was just…she couldn’t understand why Jesse had gotten close. They went over stranger danger a hundred times, but of course…of course…

He wasn’t a stranger! It was dad!” Jesse said. Leslie held back tears.

It was for the best they stayed home anyway. Jesse had been lethargic since—stress no doubt, plus spring allergies were coming in. He stayed in bed a lot, watching TV. It probably wasn’t healthy, but Leslie didn’t know what else to do.

A week after Jesse saw him, Leslie went a walk again. She made sure Lauren was safe and at school. She even managed to get Jesse to go on the walk with her—she hoped fresh air would help with whatever was going wrong. Fresh air was a cure for everything—and it would stop Jesse from developing cabin fever at least.

There was a lake in the park that they walked to. There were ducks they could feed, but Jesse just liked watching them and walking along the shore. Sometimes things drifted—usually just broken reeds and grass, but sometimes toy boats or bottles. Pencils, pens, lost letters. Not often, but five years walking in the park as a family, looking, you found the strange litter.

Leslie breathed easy for a moment, as the birds sang and flew. Spring was on it’s way—warmth was coming back. Even as the rains and thunder rolled, live was finding away. She watched as Jesse looked through the reeds for a treasure.

Mom! Mom, you’ve got to see this!” Jesse shouted from the shore. Leslie blinked awake and walked over, smiling—and then she saw what Jesse was holding.

VampireDad No Hat

It was small, as he held up in the sun. It shone in her eyes, a small coin with red and blue on the back. Thomas had shown it off, before his last deployment, it was one he’d won in France. Leslie felt her hairs stick on end as Jesse got closer. She looked up, and saw—across the lake, walking measuredly—a man in a long coat and gloves. He had a beanie on, his mouth was covered by a full bandan, and he had sunglasses on. Still. He was the same height, the same shape.

Jesse we’re leaving.” Leslie said, standing up, staring as he walked—his legs seemed to bend to far, bending and shaking at the joints. She could—the pants where bending, like his legs were breaking.

Mom–” Jesse started.

No, now.” She said, grabbing the hand and coin. They walked fast—not too fast, not running, walking quickly and certainly—toward the car. Jesse complained, but Leslie kept going. When they drove off—she saw him. Standing there in the parking lot. Was he looking at her—he stood and stopped at the end of the path. Slowly…he stepped off onto the asphalt as they drove away.

Leslie didn’t explain much to Jesse when she got home. Just to pack his things. Leslie had noticed he was lethargic again, slumping a bit, yawning, complaining about aches or grumbling and groaning. Contact with the coin wasn’t healthy—or maybe it was just seeing that…that thing. That man.

She had already called her sister—they were across town, but she couldn’t stay in the house tonight. If it was Tom…if it was Tom–which she had to now consider, she had to whether she wanted or not—he’d try and come home next. He knew they’d be home, and she couldn’t risk it. Her sister had moved recently—Tom wouldn’t know where she was.

No Mask Vampire Dad.png

Doris understood, mostly, and the kids treated it like a sleep over. They put on Toy Story to settle in a bit better—it was Jesse’s favorite. Lauren could tolerate it—she’d pick the next movie, that Jesse would probably sleep through. He was barely awake as it was.

Leslie tried to ask about if she’d been followed by anyone, if she’d seen anyone. Anything at all. Lauren wouldn’t answer—but Leslie saw the old luck charm Tom had. She sighed. After tonight, they could talk. They would talk, after a night over.

They were almost done—at the scene with the weird baby spider that somehow didn’t give Jesse nightmares—when Leslie’s phone rang. She glanced down and her blood ran cold.

Mrs. Edgarton? This is Office Randal. We received a call about a break in at your house, and wanted to make sure you were out of the building.” The voice on the other side buzzed.

Yes,I’m at my sister’s at the moment. Should—should I stay here longer?”

There was a pause.

Ma’am, I don’t think that will be necessary. We…we believe we have apprehended the suspect. I would recommend coming home tomorrow afternoon, the clean up will take some time.”

Leslie was quiet for a moment.

Can I see him?”

Ma’am, I’m not sure that’s–”

Just for a second, if it’s safe.”

There was chatter on the other side, talking and sighing and what she imagined was shrugging.

Ma’am, I can’t stop you but I strongly suggest against it.”

She parked the car on the sidewalk nearby, leaving the driveway open. Stepping out, she saw the smashed window. There was a red stain on the door, blood and cloth on the broken window. There was alcohol and blood and rot rising from the window—the officers nearby saw her and beckoned her closer.

On the other side of the smahsed window, splayed on the couch, was Tom. Or what was left of Tom. His shir twas stained, and looked ten sizes too big. A rib poked through. His coat had nearly slumped off. One of his gloves was gone—fallen on the floor a few feet away. Outstretched was a withered limb, bones poking through in a few places. And then there was his face.

FinalVampireDad

His shades had fallen off, revealing empty holes for eyes.The beanie had sunken down, pushing down bits of hair and skin. His nose was gone, and his bandanna had fallen away. His mouth—the lips were pulled back, making his yellowed teeth look long and sharp. His tongue dropped out and was blackened with decay. Leslie couldn’t help but stare as Tom’s body buzzed with flies, rattling one more time before collapsing.



For this story, I knew I wanted to do something with the idea of loss coming back home. I don’t think I handled the analogy entirely well or to my satisfaction–this week was busier then expected. Still, I think this is as good as some of the earlier “horror laced into reality” stories I managed.

Next week, we talk about villages and towns lost to memory! Come and see!

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Bloodsucking Bodies from the Balkans

This Week’s Prompt: 92. Man’s body dies—but corpse retains life. Stalks about—tries to conceal odour of decay—detained somewhere—hideous climax.

The Resulting Story: Something Gnawing Inside

We have discussed the restoration of corpses before, but for this one I would like to examine in detail a particular case—one that we discussed towards the beginning of our work here at the Undead Author Society. To limit our discussions, I will focus on living corpses of the vampiric kind, from Slavic and Balkan areas. In particular, this calls to my mind the story of a man and his vampiric brother, both in the attempts to hide the bodies nature and its attempts apparently to maintain its life.

The story goes that a woman died, leaving her husband and son behind. The husband remarried, but the woman was—as often is the case in these stories—a wicked woman who loathed the son. She demanded he be driven out and out of love for his wife, the father agreed. So the son went out into the world with twelve dinars.

As he entered a new town, he found a body, that people cursed and spat on. When he asked why, he learned the man died with many debts. A compassionate soul, he spent his little money paying the debts and arranging a proper burial. Leaving town, he passed the cemetery where the man was buried. The man, now a vampire, approached him in disguise, and offers to help him along his travels.

At the next town, they learn of two tragedies! One, the Turkish pasha’s daughter has passed. Two, every guard who holds wake over her body is found dead the next day. The vampire-brother gives the young man a holy scripture and tells him to focus on it every night, or he will die. On the third night, he reveals what you dear reader already suspect—the woman was a vampire! He tells the young man to lie in her coffin when she rises—and when she returns and cannot move him, the curse is broken and she is freed. The pasha, delighted, gives the young man his daughter’s hand in marriage(the other daughter, presumably).

Vampire Woman

Then the young man heads home, without his vampire assistant or wife. Along the way, he stops at a coffeehouse and is convinced by the two men there to begin playing cards. He loses everything rapidly, and is forced to become a cowherd. However, the vampire and wife head out to find him—and the vampire sees and understands all their tricks. He wins everything back from his fellow vampires, and restores the young man.

Returning home, the vampire asks to divide everything he’s earned between them. This is done easily, as most things are split with a saber. But when the matter of the young man’s wife comes up, it becomes a bit more difficult. For the young man. The vampire splits her in two anyway, and kills the serpent that emerges. Given his dialogue, listing the good deeds, it seems probably that the wife was restored before the vampire returned to the land of the dead on his fortieth day.

A similar story comes from Ukraine—here a rich man gives a poor man a loan on the advice of an icon of St. Michael. The rich man’s herds and land are blessed, but he is unhappy until he recieves the loan back. When he learns the poor man has died in debt, he gouges out the icon of St. Michael’s eyes and beats it—until it is bought by a young man passing by. The young man in time travels with his rich uncle merchants, and comes to a czardom where the princess has fallen ill. No manner of healing can help her, and every man sent to pray over her in the church is devoured down to his bones.

The Icon of St. Michael however advises the simple young man, telling him to lay pears in baskets around himself to keep the vampire princess at bay. When she attacked, he tossed the pears on the floor—and had enough baskets to keep her at bay until the cock crowed. Each time he threw the pears she pursued, until in the end it was her doom. This happens the next night as well, but with nuts. On the third night, like his companion in the Balkans, the young man enters into the coffin—although he is covered in holy water and incense. This time, however, he does leave after she promises to be her consort.

VampireWoman2.png

The two are found the next morning praying, and the princess is baptized again to drive out the unclean vampire holding her body. In this case, we have an incident of a woman possessed—and in a coffin—but not dead yet. But the stories are otherwise so close that one can’t help but wonder about them.

The most common of these dead rises in the forty day period between death and arrival at the afterlife. In this case, the creature somewhat fails our materialist prompt which specifies only the body remains. The body and soul are seized by the power of the devil, and compelled to stay together—in some sources this is explicitly a lower or more base soul. The animated body then pursues its own kin, either as an animal or as a human, drinking their blood. Such a creature has a loathsome fate, for the rituals that remove the devils own power over the soul/body and annihilate it entirely. Such a terrible fate befalls only a select few: Those who die a violent death suddenly; those who’s burial rites are preformed improperly; those who die due to curses by parents or themselves; those who die unbaptized; stillborn children born on Christian holy days; those who participate in sorcery; those who eat the flesh of a sheep that was killed by a goat; those excommunicated; and those who’s body is, during burial, past over by a cat. Unlike the uncorrupt dead—sometimes called vrykolakoi, a term elsewhere reserved for vampires properthese creatures are extremely predatory. The lack of decay in a corpse is thus sometimes a mixed blessing—generally one has to look at the health around such a body. If people begin to suffer and grow exhausted, its a vampire. If nothing happens, a revenant. If oils are produced, perhaps the dead has become a holy saint.

Killing A Vampire

This physical tie, between corpse and soul, relates partly to the description and understanding of Death in some rural parts of Greece. Here, the angel of death descends and slits the throat of the deceased—taking their soul to judgment. The blood is splattered on the family and their clothes—which must be set aside and not worn for several days after. The body achieves its final point of judgment upon fully decaying. However, before that time, the devil can seize the body. And just as the flow of blood out released the soul, the return of blood forces it back into the body. Drawing it into an intolerable state. Removing this creature requires pouring boiling oil into its grave and reading an exorcism over it. Others suggest the more famous staking or even hamstringing the creature in it’s grave to prevent its return.

A story out of Montegro reports that a pair of lovers were seperated against their will—the woman forced to marry her foreign betrothed. The man died of despair and returned as a vampire nightly. While most vampires are corpse like, this couple had a child that was identical to the deceased man—and his distance meant resolving the manner was nearly impossible.

Another story tells of a group of four siblings—three brothers and a sister. The story goes that the four siblings set out into the world, as their parents could no longer support them. After nine years apart, they came home. On their way home, the three brothers spend their earnings from nine years ransoming animals from torturers. The sister, however, comes across a curious trade: A hedgehog buying iron teeth from a mouse. She buys herself a set, and after testing it on an oak tree, buys a whetstone from another mouse. With sharpened teeth, she finally arrives home.

Once home, the siblings celebrate—the brothers, with their animals, assume their sister has simply made a small fortune. The celebrations are cut short however, as their father dies just a bit later. The brothers decide to invest in the land, setting three horses to work with a plow. However, the first day they set to work, they find one of the horses almost entirely devoured. After nights of watching, the elder sees a pale creature coming at night to feed—and determines its his sister! Not long after, proof comes when the youngest brother stays behind without the sister’s knowledge. Spying, he sees her devour their mother, all the way up to her head. She sets out in pursuit of the other brothers, not finding the youngest.

A strange omen follows her chase—a kettle of boiling water became blood, and as she grew closer and closer to the brothers, the bubbles rose faster and faster. As she gave chase, however, she was purused by the youngest’s dog, and chased against a tree. The brothers, seeing her coming after them, did not stop the dog from tearing her to shreds.

Weird Vampire

A more esoteric form of Vampire, from the Slavic regions, is not the body of a dead man but rather his shadow. This version was attributed to Muslims in the region, as well as Romani, and also was supposedly able to breath fire from its mouth. Other vampires of the region rise from the dead as strange things of water or jello, that scatter when bitten by a wolf or banished by a magician.

Serbian vampires sometimes hold weddings in mills—they find wandering and lonely travelers and give them a bottle made of a horses head. This brandy, of course, makes the victim instantly sick—especially if they are struck with it. Such behavior is more innocuous then other vampires, that appear like roaring winds and mists on the ground. Serbian vampires are also longer lived, lasting sometimes for three months, instead of the Greek forty days.

In both Balkan and some Slavic areas, vampires cause a variety of nuisances—they break tiles, lurk in attics, tire out horses, and so forth. While in some regions they are absolutely predatory, the more common fear is their attacks on small domestic animals such as sheep. These vampires of all types strangle and murder with glee.

Of all of these, vampires play a number of predatory roles. The number of women that emerge as vampires—particularly daughters in either far away places or returning from their travels—is interesting. The fact that vampires are, in a way, both foreign and familiar in these stories perhaps links to their liminal nature as dead and living things. The corpse here is a similar sort, given it’s detention. While perhaps Lovecraft meant something more like a revenant, those corpses are less troublesome and not nearly as retained. We’ll see what our body gets up to, after the angel of death visits and makes its lethal cut.

Bibliography

Du Boulay, Juliet. “A Study of Cyclic Symbolism in Marriage and Death”, Man, New Series, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Jun., 1982), pp. 219-238, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland

Durham, M. Edith. “121. Of Magic, Witches and Vampires in the Balkans”.Man, Vol. 23 (Dec., 1923), pp. 189-192.Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland

Marshall, Bonnie C. Tales from the Heart of the Balkans. Libraries Unlimited Inc, Englewood Colorado, 2001.

Perkowsky, Jan. Vampires of the Slavs Slavica Publishing Inc. 1976

 

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Settling Down, Setting Free

This Week’s Prompt: 89. Lone lagoons and swamps of Louisiana—death daemon—ancient house and gardens—moss-grown trees—festoons of Spanish moss.

The Prior Research:Swamp Men and French Werewolves

There was an old rotting property at the end of Leeman Lane, that had it not been for one particularly pick lawyer, would have been demolished years ago. The house belonged to my great uncle’s family—a family I had only vaguely visited once or twice. Hated it, honestly. There was a nice backyard, and a cool patio I think, and a chest of old toys. But well, it was on the edge of the swamp.

I guess I remember Uncle Todd dying. No, I probably just remember a funeral sort of. I was like eight, and the house at the end of Leeman Lane vanishing beneath a bulldozer wouldn’t have made my family news. We weren’t close.

But then, a lawyer calls me up. Says I’m the next of kin—not of Uncle Todd, but my second cousin (or is it cousin once removed?) Jerry. Jerry died with the house in his name, passed it on, and well no one wanted it.

I didn’t want it.

It was cheap and far away from the folks and who knows, putting something back together might be healthy. Left over student loan money would be able to get me started, rebuilding it anyway. I closed the car door at the end of the road, the creaking and condemned buidling looming over me. Home sweet home.

My first visit of the old house was dire. There was water dripping from a whole in the roof down to the basement, where it made a mosquito infested pit., most of the furniture was already gone. The porch was covered in mold, it’d have to all be replaced. The wallpaper had all been pealed back. There was no way I was sleeping there for at least a months of work.

House Louisiana.png

The motel was cheap and didn’t look that bad, all things considered.

A whole month?” the old woman behind the counter said with a raised eyebrow. “What, you shooting a documentary or something?”

People do that often out here?” I asked, handing over the card for her to scan. Reception wasn’t great out here, things took a bit.

Course they do! Nature stuff in the swamp, people looking for moss men, that sort of thing. Not your lane though?” she said, handing it back. “Well, you might see something out by the old Leeman house. Room 2b, ice machine’s down the hall.”

I lugged my pair of suitcases up and got to studying. I had…a vauge idea of what I was doing, but not really? Not in practice. I mean, demolishing the whole thing and starting from scratch seemed expensive and a bit…pointless, really. Wasteful, I guess?

So that meant figuring out how to replace waterlogged, moldy walls. How to saftely take down walls, how to tell their load bearing. What sort of tools to get, which were rip offs, which were for professionals, what you could get by with;what materials, what kinds of plasters, where to buy them, that sort of thing.

Looking it over, there was no way this was a one man job.

Hey Frank.” It took a couple calls to get through. “You still need a job? Still got that old truck?”

Truck Louisiana.png

Frank’s a big guy, a nice guy. He’s done some construction work, but even he was surprised at the size of the damage.

Man, this whole wall’s gotta go. Like, are these…there are mushrooms growing out of this.” He said, reaching out and flicking the sprouting shrooms. I nodded, and tapped it with an axe.

The whole thing? Edges seem pretty good.” I said, drumming the wet but not moldy corner. Frank leaned over to look and frowned.

They might be fine, we’ll see when we get the rest out of the way. Their might be mold inside.” He said, heading over to the back. “And—okay, yeah, you were right. House first, backyard second. I can’t tell if that’s a pool or a lake.”

Tree looks nice though.”

Yeah, I guess. Spanish moss kinda looks like a curtain.” He said, shrugging as he walked around to the front.

The rest of the tour goes as better—there’s a lot of work to be done, but its not impossible. Just intense and expensive. I wave my hand at that, money’s not a real issue at the moment.

Really?” Frank says looking around the stairs—some would need to be replaced, but the structure was mostly fine. “I mean, I know–”

We both stood stock still. Rustling, and another splash. Frank held up a hand, and slowly walked over to the hole in floor, peering over. He frowned and shrugged, gesturing for me to come over. There was something floating in the water—holding a cellphone light over the hole, a small bit of wood came into view. For a moment I sighed with relief. Maybe it was just a bit of the roof that fell. But the light caught on something with color—a bit of red and blue. I leanded over a bit, careful not to fall in.

It’s carved.” I said slowly. “Some sort of…doll?”

Maybe something left on the roof?” Frank said, looking up. “Though…seems strange for the wind to catch.”

Yeah…maybe a rat or something?”

Do rats play with dolls?” Frank said, frowning more.

Well, no, but…maybe a crow dropped it? It looks kinda shiny, nest material?” I said, standing up and looking around.

Yeah, maybe. We should take a look, just in case.” Frank said. “This place gives me the creeps, and I’d rather not get a heart attack from a stray cat jumping at me from its home.”

The basement wasn’t…exactly safe to get into. The stairs creaked, and I felt one breaking as I went down with Frank. It was a big basement—shelves still against the wall, with cans that might still have some good food in them. No furniture, but some piled up lumber and a rusting heater.

The walls had some holes. And there were, of course, insects buzzing around the small still water pool. Mosquitoes loved it. I wish I had worn gloves, they bit my arms like crazy.

No rat holes…not that I can see.” Frank said, shining his phone light around on bare concrecte and wood.

Might have gotten out?” I said, peaking behind the lumber.

Sure, sure. Oddly tidy down here.” He said, shining his cellphone light about.

Well, must not have had much use for–” I stopped and grabbed Frank’s shoulder. A shadow covered the water. My eyes rose to the floor above. No one. In the silence I listened for another breath. The roofed creaked, as the shadow grew—and then shifted back again.

Thank god you live in a hotel.” Frank said as he breathed again.

The hell was that?” I said, slowly walking over to the pool. Picking up the wood carving, I looked up—and the hole in the roof a bit bigger than before.

I don’t know, but let’s not find out. Could be…I don’t know a bear or something.” Frank said, gesturing to leave.

Are there swamp bears?” I asked. Frank didn’t answer as we left.

I looked back as we got in Frank’s car—there were some broken branches around the roof.

Hotel Louisiana.png

At the hotel, I did try and you know, find an answer. It couldn’t have been a person. I mean, I don’t think so. The branches were broken, and I think we would have heard someone taking that high of a fall. I don’t think someone could have crawled up the walls, and there wasn’t a ladder or rope.

There was a black bear. It could have been an extra-ordinarily friendly one, who thought the house was his. Or I guess, I don’t know. An escaped zoo animal—no that would have made the news. Sighing, I considered that it could have been…an exceptionally big bird or crow. Whatever it was, me and Frank had agreed: we’d see this through.

I mean, yeah, if we had the cash we’d hire some folks but honestly I think you’re right to try it on your own for now.” Frank said nodding. “Raw materials will eat up a lot of it, but you’d be amazed what the internet can teach you these days.”

We’d keep an eye out for…whatever that thing was. That, Frank admitted, was not something we should handle with a Youtube tutorial. Thinking on it, I couldn’t help but laugh a bit.

What’s so funny?”

Oh, nothing. The hotel lady, she mentioned—people shoot big foot documentaries out here. Maybe this is where he’s been hiding.” I said laughing.

Your family’s the bigfoot protection program. Of course, you look just like him.” Frank said, chuckling a bit as we pulled up to the hotel.

Swamp1 Louisiana

We didn’t see it again when fixing the walls—God that was costly and exhausting. We patched that hole up, as soon as we were sure that the wall wasn’t going to break and send the whole thing falling down. Clearing out the moss was unpleasant work, and it took a week to get all of it off. Another week to replace most of the rotten wood, patching the few holes.

It was about three weeks in, when we went outside, that things were strange again. Frank had finished asking me about what sort of crazy stuff I had gotten into during my brief college experience. I made some shit up about getting drunk at parties and smoking weed, heading out back to avoid further questions.

That’s when I saw the new hole. It was smashed in, and there was bits of black fur stuck on the edges. Inside, a rusted metal lock box—and digging. Something had either dug up…or been trying to bury this box. Picking up the fur, I felt a chill down my spine. It felt…lacquered. Greasy, like it was stuck in a shower drain oil was poured down. I flicked it off and took the box in.

Hey, Frank…you got a screwdriver or hammer or something.” I said, holding it up.

The box wasn’t actually that hard to force open—the lock was easy enough to knock open with a screwdrive and hammer. I didn’t ask where Frank learned that trick—probably googled it, honestly. Anyway, inside was a small set of diagrams that I took out and folded open on our little workbench—we hadn’t quite gotten the new furniture in yet.

I started sorting through the stuff, placing the contents of the box out. There was a floorplan of the house, with X’s drawn on some of the wall spaces.

Buried treasure?” I asked, handing it to Frank as I unloaded the rest.

No…no, I think…Lemme check something.” Frank looked around the room for a bit and passed off, tapping part of the wall and then moving to the next room. There were some scraps of paper and painted leaves, and then…photos.

Old photos, of the backyard. Flicking through the nights recorded in the little windows, there was a growing pattern. It was in the corner of shots, on the edge of the light. A black furred limb—sometimes an arm, sometimes a paw, sometimes something bent and strange. Little eyes, red eyes, stared out from some of them. They were perfect pinpricks, they followed as I turned the picture under a light.

Frank…You need to see this.” I said, laying them out on the table.

Gimme a sec, just one more room to check!” Frank shouted.

There was a dull rumble from the living room, and as I turned it sharpened into a cracking sound. The wood bent upward, the old hole opening up again. And then it cracked apart, black claws flickering out of sight. I ran up to the hole, and stared down at a pair of fierce red eyes.

***

The next thing I knew, Frank was talking to someone on the phone about how “and he just like, he just passed out. I don’t know I think he had a stroke? Is there an age limit on strokes?”

Frank?” I said, getting up slowly. Frank looked at me.

And um. He…he got up. Yeah, yeah okay. Hey man, what’s your name?” Frank said, still on the phone.

Daniel Jordan.” I said, sitting up a bit.

Hey, take it easy. Alright, Dan, what day is it?”

Tuesday..” I said rubbing my head. “Why, what’s going on?”

You took a bit of a fall. Now, where are we?” Frank asked seriously.

The house at the end of Leeman street…the old mossy one Uncle Todd owned.” I said slowly, starting to stand.

Alright.” Frank went back to the phone. “He…he seems fine. Uh, I’ll bring him in.”

Bring me where?” I sad, standing—good my legs hurt. “Frank, we’re not going to a hospital.”

Thanks again.” Frank hung up on his cellphone. “Dude, you were out for like twenty minutes. You need to see a doctor.”

I’m not going to a hospital for a concussion—that’s gonna eat up what I’ve got left, man.” I said, shaking my head. “We can get to a minute clinic or something. There’s gotta be something like that around here right?”

Frank frowned and started to say something before I held a hand up to cut him off.

Dropping out didn’t void my student loans, and the last thing I need ontop of working those off and rebuilding this house is a hospital’s worth of lawyers chasing me for using their emergency room, alright?”

I grabbed some of the loose stuff in the box, and head for the truck.

Swamp2 Louisiana.png

Frank was uneasy the whole ride, but I kept myself busy reading through the journal. He didn’t believe me about the red eyes, not until I showed him the pictures and the guy at the minute clinic confirmed I was fine. I mean, of course I was fine. It cost a hundred bucks I kinda had, but I was fine. He got real quiet then.

Its messed up man, like. This is stuff we call a priest over.” Frank said, shaking his head. “You know, this is ghost stuff or something. Call the local news.”

I don’t think so.” I said, thumbing through the book.

I mean. Maybe that’s what the map was about?” Frank said, as we turned a corner. “The X’s, they were marking spots were there was mold before. And there was mold around the hole you found…”

Yeah, it doesn’t like the house, that’s clear. But Todd and Jerry lived here, so it wasn’t here forever. Or they figured out how to deal with it.” I said, thumbing a bit farther along. “God knows I don’t need a free loading room mate who knocks me out when I look at him.”

Very funny,” Frank said with a grimace.

Thanks.”

And then I found it. It was over a few pages, but there it was. Answers.

The house hadn’t been doing well—business at Jerry’s shop was declining, and travelers were down. Story of the century, small family business failing as everyone moves to the big city. Except, I guess, Jerry had a screw loose or something. He’d found out there was something living in the swamp—it had some Spanish or French name, I don’t know—something that was big and scary. And he figured, it might be handy to bind this terrible spirit of the swamp to the family. That way, he could rot out and devalue local property to buy up, maybe have it steal stuff or find things lost in the swamp. It was all a bit panicked excitement, really.

So your telling me ‘run off half sure of yourself, and try a dumbass thing’ isn’t just you?” Frank said, as I read along. “It’s like, genetic?”

When have I–”

You’re currently trying to rebuild a swamp house to get away from your family, and the fact that there’s a monster in the house didn’t get you to run immediately.” Frank said, waving. “But please, carry on.”

Right, first of all, harsh. But yeah, so…he tried to cobble together some sort of spell to catch the thing. As you do.”

As you do.”

And well…it kinda worked?” I said, frowning. “I mean. It caught the thing.”

But…”

Well, it caught a wild animal, it didn’t like. Control it.” I said, sighing. “So its a wild animal, stuck in the house, trying to get out.”

Why didn’t he just…let it out?” Frank asked, as we pulled up to the motel.

You luck a dog up in a cage, and it starts biting at you and shaking the cage—you let it out and it might run away. Or it might go for your throat.” I said, shrugging. “But…I think Jerry got it wrong.”

…You think it’s smarter then that.”

It dug up the book, and dropped the doll thing.” I said, nodding. Frank put it in park. “We should head back tomorrow and…”

Please do not tell me your going back down there, and gonna muddle with stuff we don’t know about and hope it goes okay.”

…and yeah, muddle with stuff we don’t understand to free a thing we can’t really see and hope it just leaves.” I said, sighing. “Like you said, this is specialist work, but we don’t have the budget.”

We went over the plan the next day. There were two rings we needed to get rid of—one was in the basement, beneath the lumber pile. Jerry apparently thought that would stop that thing, and was convinced it’d eventually calm down. The other one was out by the pond thing—where he caught it.

You take the basement.” I siad, point to the diagram. “Just. Just go to town on the circle. I’ll go to the pool—I’m not gonna be able to move the lumber very well. If the thing shows up, don’t look at it. Jerry says it’s eyes are messed up, and you know, I think he was right about that.”

The one by the pool?”

I’ll handle that. It’s some stones, I can just…knock them over.” I said, shrugging.

Frank insisted on bringing a gun. I told him not to bother, that it’d be dangerous. But whatever, his deal not mine.

I started walking out the back door. The grass was fresh. We hadn’t worked out the backyard yet, not even close to the pool. The moss was still hanging like a curtain, from the branches around the pond. The wind rustled as I got closer.

I’d noticed the stones, but really I’d thought they were just some kids dicking around. Circles in stones, wrapped around and around. Like a labyrinth not. Jerry worked really hard on it—I wonder if that’s really why he didn’t break it. There were little wooden dolls around it, facing towards the center where a crude bit of drift wood was.

BackyardLouisiana.png

Something was in the air—it felt like I was walking silk, sticking to my hairs and pulling them on end as I got closer. I felt little legs crawling down my arms, like spider legs with baby fingers. Soft, but unwelcome.

I picked up the first of the stones, and tossed them—and the web vibrated, the air twisted around. It rippled as it fell into the pond. I felt the snares, pulling at me slightly with each stone I through around. It hurt, I don’t know why it hurt to tear it apart, but it hurt. My chest ached, my limbs felt tired, my eyes burned.

When I was done, I slumped against a tree. Moss hung down to my shoulders, and I saw a glimpse of it. It was tall, dark, and had bright red eyes. It looked like something—like a crocodile, I guess, or like a person with a thrown out back. Stood up right, and I closed my eyes and sighed. It left whistling on the wind, and I haven’t seen it since.




This story was one I knew from the start had an obvious metaphor, like last time. Repairing an old house seemed like an obvious direction to take it. And the idea of repairing your life, metaphorically repersented by repairing a house—with a monster and a dark past mixed together to create an external version of internal struggles seemed also basic. The writing isn’t quite as tight as I would like, and the ending is a bit rushed I think—I ran out of time again, and space frankly. This is already a very long piece, and I didn’t want to push my luck to far.

I tried again to stay grounded for this one, as next time we will be dealing with another fantastic and strange monster. Come and see these!

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Sun and Snake on the Isle

This Week’s Prompt: 85. “For has not Nature, too, her grotesques—the rent rock, the distorting lights of evening on lonely roads, the unveiled structure of man in the embryo, or the skeleton?” Pater—Renaissance (da Vinci).

The Prior Research: She’s a Viper

Chasing Austin’s invitation to his new studio-home—several miles away from a small island town several hours away by boat from his well our old home—ended up costing me an third of my rent for the month. Perhaps it isn’t surprising, then, that I was in something of a bitter mood. Austin had been insistent I come out to see him. I had convinced myself that it was only to save on postage that I was visiting, but it had been almost a year without seeing him or sharing a coffee.

The boat ride was calming at least—the sea has that effect on me. It is too vast for concerns and anxieties to stand in it’s presence. Austin and I had tried with both our arts to capture that vastness, but it defies capture. It is too big for words and pigments, except in the hands of a master. Still, it was a nice image to wake to in the morning, enjoying coffee on the misty deck.

There was only one other companion out to greet the morning sun. He was an old man, Patrick Seoriseson, who would strum a guitar at the dawn and hum some song I’d never heard of. We didn’t talk much—not that he was bad company, but he was…well. Strange. He looked in his sixties, but his hair was bright blond, and his face and eyes looked young. Like someone grafted a twenty year old’s head, fresh before college, onto the body of their own aging grandfather. He had a beard, but it was blond too—not scraggly hay blond, folded and woven silk blond.

Apollo.png

As unnerving as he was, another presence on that chill morning, as the island rose from the fog, was a welcome one. We had, turning back to see the homeland, made it just in time. Behind our ship, dark clouds had formed. A storm was roiling, and I was suddenly glad to have no pressing business for several weeks.

It was getting dark when I finally set foot on the land—my sea legs taken three steps to return to their land-bound cousins. I bought a large bottle of water, and set my phones secondary charger—the house was a good five miles from town, a nice hour or so walk to gain my composure. Austin had been very clear about getting to his house as soon as I could—apparently whatever he had couldn’t wait. And while small coastal towns are welcoming to some, to me they are always a tad unearthly. They all feel drenched with age by the sea.

The road to Austin’s house was a somewhat paved, at least the first half. As the sun began to set into twilight, I was walking on more rocks and dirt. The shore had splits and crags, streams of salt water rolling inland. Eventually, I saw his house come into view—two luminous lights, shimmer on the horizon.

I thought it was his house, anyway. I didn’t check my phone, and well. I nearly walked into the tide and rocks.

And saw the lights in four different directions.

Whatever was going on in the atmosphere, my GPS hadn’t failed. And that I could follow, cold from the wind, back to the path. And at last, I found his house. A collection of lights from the house—square, instead of the lying spheres I’d seen on the way. It was a nice looking house. As I got closer, I saw the paint was peeling. There was something acrid in the air. As I walked up to the house, I saw someone shuffling inside—their back was bent pretty far but when I squinted they were walking fine.

I rang the door bell, but there was just a fizzle. Austin probably forgot to fix it. So instead, I gripped the knocker—an lion headed one, old iron—and rapped on the door. There was a bustle, papers unseen falling to the floor as Austin came to the door.

He was a bit thinner, still catching his breath as he held out his hand.

“Jeffery, come in, come in. Gods I thought you’d abandoned us.” He said, stepping out the way after a brief shake.

“It is a bit out of the way.” I said, looking around. The walls were nice—the wood floor was oddly smooth. “And there’s…some sort of rave outside…I think. Have you had problems with lights?”

“Lights? Oh, come now Jeffery. A will-o-wisp never hurt anyone who had their wits about them.” Austin said, laughing. I didn’t laugh as he lead me to his study up the stairs. The house creaked as it settled, and the steps spiraled at a bit of an incline.

“You have a cat out here, Austin? Seems more like dog country.” I said, looking down at the steps. “This groove to drain water or something?”

There was a foot long indent along the stairs, running down the middle. Perfectly even at a glance.

“Oh, no, no, old owners lived here a long time. I think they might have evenly spread it–”

There was a crash, first of thunder then of a dropped pans from the kitchen. Austin’s face went pale for a second.

“Its quite alright, I’m sure!” Austin shouted after me. I had already rounded into the source, the kitchen—door half open. I threw the door open and–

And she nearly put me through the wall. I felt claws on my shoulder and saw dozens of enraged and startled serpent eyes. As she held me on the floor, I heard the warning rattle from an unseen scaly tail. My eyes were distracted by her fangs bared at me.

“Its alright, it’s alright!” I heard Austin shout. “Dear, please, your both high strung! Storms do that.”

“Austin, I think you forgot somethings!” I shouted, eyes fixed in hers. Her face was hidden by a veil of snake skin.

“Did he now?” The woman said—with all twenty snake mouths that made up her head, her face unraveling and rem-emerging from the masses. It was when she moved that I realized my legs were trapped—feeling slowly returning to my feat, little bites marring my pants.

“Well, dear, how would you explain it.” Austin said defensively.

“…You better think of a quick way to explain it Austin.” I said, slowly pushing my self up into a chair.

MedusaHeadSwarm.png

Austin’s explanation was full of poetry and phantasms and whimsy. I will abbreviate it here, as I was not in a whimsical mood. He had acquired the house from a man in town, at first to rent but then bought outright. The house was the man’s great aunt, and something about it’s perpetual disrepair had spoken to Ausitn. Fallen age of man, decay of empires, Adam’s sin, artists of his type always seem to love decaying bodies.

Never seem to ask why the place is full of dead things, and maybe that dwelling on such things is dangerous.

Of course, Austin, the fop he is, found the notion of a haunted place alluring. He loved the idea of will-o-wisp, of changelings, of entertaining morbid faerie guests. I’ve never found a reason to want such things—stories rarely make them pleasant. Had I been Austin, the strange rustling outside, the flash of scales in the bed room, the sight of dozens of serpentine eyes down the hall? Those were signs to flee.

But fly he did. Into her arms. Well, not at first. There was some back and forth. She hadn’t had someone react quite like Austin did. Asking her name—Tengra Dudana They became friends the way most people did. Shared food.

Of course, she asked questions. Why was he here, what was he doing. The two became fast friends, once they started talking. She enjoyed his artistry, he enjoyed her singing and laughter—he insisted that a hundred serpents singing was a choir I’d have to here.

Austin had a knack for friends. His art improved also—her rippling serpents inspiring thoughts of the sea more perfectly realized then before. Austin elided if they had ever left the boundaries of friendship—but he grew sheepish enough for me to decide.

Thunder continued to boom outside as Austin talked. Thunder and storms put her on edge—she was suspicous of everything on dark nights like this.

“It was not a typical romance.” She said, encoiling her body around the chair. “But a pleasant one.”

I nodded, nervously sipping the tea.

“Well, I—I imagine.” I said slowly.

“Yes, well, I had…hoped to show you the gallery first.” Austin said. Tengra rolled her eyes.

“He thinks pictures are a good start. They are wonderful paintings, but…they are not good preparation.” Tengra said, unwinding herself and sinking to the floor, then reforming as a singular woman—a rather tall one, her skin only rippling slightly as coils found their place.

“I would not oppose seeing them.” I said, placing my tea down. My nerves were slowly waking up from their stunned silence.

The paintings were…good. Yes, good. The paintings were acceptable, they captured some of the motion of their subject mater that, without first hand experience, would have seemed unbelievable. Tengra seemed fond of many forms, but there was something in the shape of the cliffs and moors that carried her image as well. By day, I’d have to see the originals nature had carved—whether she had woven Tengra into the hills, or whether that was some inspiration of Austins I cannot say.

There was one picture, however, that I paused at.

PerseusandAndromeda.png

“Austin, who is this?” I said. I pointed behind the cross of interwoven snakes, to a man on the hill. There was something about his shape I recognized—his golden wave beard and hair.

“Oh, some vagrant I think.” Austin said, shaking his head. “Well, a rather well off one maybe. He’s been around once I think.”

“Did you talk to him much?” I asked. Austin frowned, and I noticed Tengra seemed to be paying more attention.

“I…don’t think I did. It’s strange I hadn’t considered him much, but I think I talked a decent amount with him. He’s some sort of musician I think? He’s from across the sea though, I didn’t think it much important.” Austin then paused again. “No…no, not across. He said the strangest thing. He’s from the ‘other side’ of the sea.”

Austin raised a finger upward, imitating the memory.

Tengra hissed a bit.

“He is a strange man. You should have pointed him out to me, he might have been squawking.”

“You mean gawking?”

“That as well.” Tengra said.

SnakeFrogSpider.png

The next morning, me and Austin had arranged to have coffee on the porch—Tengra was sunbathing somewhere, warming her scales.

“So…so what do you think?” Austin asked, sipping his coffee slowly. I put down mine, steam still rising from it.

“The house needs work. The fence is rusty, I’d start there.” I said, flatly. Austin blinked.

“I meant about–”

“I know, I know. Uh. Well.” I said rubbing my head. “Your in love with a swarm of snakes. I…Look, I don’t have the tools to process this at the moment. Like, I’m assuming she’s not holding you hostage right? Not hypnotizing you with her eyes, like that Disney movie?”

“…the Jungle Book?”

“Yeah that one.” I said, scratching the back of my neck. Austin burst out laughing.

“No, no, she’s just a wonderful person.”

“Made of snakes.”

“Made of snakes.”

“Well. I, I guess there are worse things?” I said, sipping my coffee. “She’s not French or a fascist, so a plus all around there.”

“She can sing in Gaelic.” Austin piped up.

“Talented. Creepy, I’m not going to lie, but talented.” I said with a laugh. The storm hadn’t cleared yet, but in the distance I saw the sun rising—the ship back wouldn’t have a problem. I’d need to make my exit politely, this needed some thought.

It was while I was mulling this over and talking a bit on art with Austin that something caught my eye—like those will-o-wisps, a flash of light. But this was bright, metalic light. Turning my head, I saw a car rolling up the road. There was a boom of thunder, a flash of lighting in front of the sun as out walked the man with the golden beard.

Apollo and Python.png

“Hey is that…” I said nudging Austin—and then I saw it flash, briefly. A long backward curved blade, that he was examining beneath his coat. “Austin, we…we should get inside.”

Austin took a moment to register—maybe sleep still lingering on him, but he saw where I pointed. Across the way, Patrick waved. He was smiling, perfect white teeth catching the sunlight.

“Oh, yeah, its…that guy. Come on, Jeffery, lets get some more coffee. Ask him what’s happening.”

“Austin he has a–”

“Hello there, fine sailor and artist too.” Patrick said. He’d…moved fast while we where talking.

“Oh, well…Hello.” Austin said. Patrick laughed. His laugh was surprisingly deep—his slightly higher pitch giving way to a low rumbling laugh. “Can…Can I help you?”

“Serendipity says so, yes. I’m looking for something old among the cliffs—older then will-o-wisp and banshee and them.” He said, gesturing behind him to the road way. “Something with fangs and scales, an old something.”

“Well, there aren’t snakes on islands.” I said, standing up a bit.

“Adder, smooth snake, grass snake, corn snake, and viper all round the King of England’s crown.” He said, as if that explained anything. “Only emeralds really snake free, my friend. Only emerald, and that’s at least part from me. Now, have you seen it?”

“No.” Austin said, getting up. “I haven’t seen–”

The man held his hand to Austin’s face, tilting his head. He hissed behind his teeth.

“Nevermind that, never mind me.” The man said, turning now to the hills, hand reaching in his jacket. There he held that knife. “You stay here, I’ve got business. I think I can enjoy myself from here.”

I reached out to grab his arm—Austin reached for his back. The next moment I was against the wall—his fore arm was under my neck, while Austin had been tossed onto the roadway. His knife was drawn, blade facing away—it was was curved somewhat, with a straight edge on the inside, away from me.

“Friends, this seems unbecoming of men of art and wonder. Lying in the underbrush like savage hunters to catch the noble deer—very unbecoming.” He said, pushing back against my neck. I gripped his wrist—I couldn’t breath, and I felt the wall behind me cracking. My entire back was bruising—and then he dropped me on the floor. I slumped over, breathing heavy, eyes closed from sudden exhaustion. When I opened them, he was walking after a scrambling Austin—who, god bless him, was shouting a warning for Tengra.

I pulled myself up—my legs and back were not fond of the predicament. His hat flew off as the wind picked up, the storms weeping overhead. It was strange. I thought the man’s coat had looked pitch black before—now it seemed to be roiling gold and white and red. He had so many eyes. Why did his coat have so many eyes?

I threw the door open and stumbled inside, sitting behind the door frame. I heard thunder rolling, and hissing outside. I didn’t look, so this I cannot report on directly. The sun had risen only a finger when I was able to rise again— and see an empty roadway, no sign of Austin, Tengra, or the man. I hobbled out, calling Austin’s name along that cliffside road.

“Jeffery, Jeffery is that you?” a shout came from a large stone on the edge. I ran to it, and found him there—slumped against the back, holding a long snake skin to his face, sobbing.

“Austin, God in Heaven, your alive.” I said.

“Oh, not in heaven, and how alive? She is gone, Jeffery, she is gone!” He said, batting away my outstretched hand.

“Gone? As in gone or gone?” I asked, looking around. “And that man…is he gone with her? We need to leave Austin.”

“Gone, both gone! Oh the fire, the eyes, it was like Apollo wrestling Python! Oh it was dreadful–”

I decided that was enough and pulled Austin up. This time, he didn’t resist. He just kept up his mourning, about how she had vanished, how that strange man had seemed so much larger, how helpless he felt when he’d been thrown against the stone—thrown, yet lived! The man has no taste for practical miracles—how could he face the dawn without her, how could he paint without her and so on.

“Well, you have some of her scales.” I said, sighing as I lowered him on the porch. “So that’s something.”

It was apparently only a small consolation. Austin swore, swore as he lay there, holding to the skin tight, that he would find her somewhere—somewhere, in earth an heaven, or whatever was on the other side of heaven. I nodded politely—and reminded myself to never again agree to any of Austin’s wild adventures.




If there ever was a story that warranted more writing and expansion, it was probably this one. The central mystery needs more time, and the final confrontation with the Apolloian hunter needs more build up. I’ll file it away for next year.

Next week, however, we return fully to our horror roots. It’s time to go inside a book, into an old house



 

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