Cunning is the Fox

This Week’s Prompt: 131. Phosphorescence of decaying wood—called in New England “fox-fire”.

The Resulting Story: FORTHCOMING

The term ‘fox-fire’ derives not from the animal ‘fox’, but rather from the word ‘faux’. A ‘fox-fire’ thus is normally a fake fire, a foolish fire. A will-o-wisp. We’ve discussed these at length here—and at the end, there is a specific Lovecraft story it calls to mind. But in the meantime, I want to discuss foxes. Because while the fox-fire is not literally referencing fox fires, the concept of illusions and deception with foxes leads to interesting spirits.

Fox spirits are most famous in East Asia and South East Asia. Early references point to foxes as the mounts of ghosts and the most clever of animals, favored by the Sovereign of Heaven. Foxes beyond this remain clever shapeshifters, taking on human appearances often. In China, stories refer to ordinary foxes who take up classical disciplines and studies, and thus enhance their own powers greatly.  There is a second method, that is found in China and Japan. It is said that foxes that live to 800 years may take the form of men and women—and that if they live to be 1000 years old they will ascend to heaven and trouble men no longer. To achieve this great age, foxes take the form of women to steal the vital force of men (the reason that only men are targeted in this version relates to the nature of a fox as a yin animal). There are stories of foxes that prey on women as shapeshifted lovers—for instance, there is the story of Lord Kumazawa, who was seeking improper relations with a maid. For this purpose, he would bring her outside of the castle to a shed. This arrangement was discovered by an old fox, who took the form of Kumazawa to assault the maid. She cries out for help, but none hear her—and those that do cannot believe her, for the Lord Kumazawa is clearly with his wife. The experience, like most ones with spirit foxes and women, leaves her in agony.

Fox women often lure travelers on the roadside in, offering meals and bed and favors. But upon waking, the traveler finds themselves in a graveyard. They find  the food excrement and dead leaves, and the entire experience dreadful. In a Korean tale, the traveler is warned ahead of time by the sound of a grinding sword. In his flight, he ends up in the tower of a magician—who is the son of the fox. After the son captures him, the man plans to escape again. He tricks the son of a fox into giving him a vase of water—which he uses to weaken the wall and escape again. And then, the poor man falls into the den of a tiger and falls unconscious. The tiger, thinking he is dead, cuts his face to feed the cubs and leaves to hunt. The traveler awakens, kills the cubs, and heads up a tree. The foxes following him, enter the den. The three perish in their fight, and the man returns to plunder their homes for wealth.

Another instance is supposedly the origin of the word kitsune. A man married a woman, who was beautiful and a wonderful wife. One day, she gave birth to a son—and on that same day, the man’s dog gave birth to a pup. The pup snarled and barked at the woman. The man ignored her requests to kill the pup, and the harassment continued until she was driven off. The woman took the form of a fox and fled—and the man called out, ki tsu ne “come and sleep”. The man, you see, loved her even if she was a fox, and because she returned to him then, she was called a kitsune. A fanciful origin of the phrase, and a bit out of step with a kitsune’s normal nature.

Of course, not all such encounters are…profitable. In one instance, a pair of sons where harvesting a farm field when their father assaulted them with words and blows. When they came home and complained to their mother and father of this treatment, the father was alarmed and confused. He determined it was a specter assaulting them, and sent them with an axe to kill the spirit. The specter, however, stayed silent.

The father grew worried that something had happened and went out to see his sons—who mistook him for the specter and killed him.  The specter flies back to the house, and turns into the father. And so the family lives for many years, until a priest mentions the influence the father is having. The Specter turns into a giant fox, and attacks him—but is caught and killed. The sons go on to die of despair.

We of course cannot neglect one of the most infamous fox brides–Lady Tamamo-no-Mae. This fox spirit ran amok in China, India, and Japan–in each country she became the concubine. In each, she won the emperor’s heart and drove him to cruelty and neglect of the land. These invariable resulted in a revolt, and driving her out of the land–sometimes merely by human forces, sometimes by exorcists as well. Eventually, she is caught on the plains of Nasu and killed–and in one version, her spirit enters into a nearby stone, creating a poisonous rock.

Catching these shapeshifters is of course, therefore, a priority—and there are a few methods. Dogs, for instance, recognize their old enemy. Buddhist mirrors and Taoist charms exist for such a purpose. There are also methods using a pillar or tree as old as the fox themselves. These are all found in China, but in Japan we can find additional signs—they give off a faint light no matter the time of day, they are followed by a vaporous fox shape, a fox will have a long face and tail, a fox will drop their form to eat a fried rat, a fox’s true form is revealed in water, and lastly—a fox has great trouble pronouncing certain words like moshi. Supposedly this is why you greet someone on the phone with moshi moshi.

These methods are key to avoiding tragedies—like the common fox prank of appearing as persons, revealing themselves to an observer, and then running to watch as the person they appeared as is assaulted and tested for their vulpine nature! That said, being kind to foxes can also yield riches—assuming such stories are to be believed, and art not in fact writers defending themselves from fox-vengeance.

These can also be key in observing fox possession. We have discussed animal possession before—here when we talked about cat possession.  Fox possession works on a similar matter, driving the person to expend energy, laughing and weeping and more until they were worn out. In some incidents, victims spoke in foreign languages (classical Chinese often). The spirit makes its residence in a small tumor within the person, the removal of which cures them.  Like other fox encounters, these occur often near graveyards—and have on occasion a positive side. The possessed are noted as being healers of all manner of diseases.

Foxes can themselves be possessed, or rather, owned. Fox-owning families are protected by a tribe of seventy-five spirit foxes. These spirits protect their lands and fields, and possess those who try to do them harm. The possessed are forced to speak out their crimes and repay the family. The families that permanently owned foxes intermarry with others, keeping to themselves. Inquiring about one’s status overtly can cause offense, so the exact identities are always unsure. Holding a needle in hand can often keep a fox at bay.

We have not touched upon another source of stories about the Fox in Japan—the Ainu. My resources here are scarcer, but no less interesting. Among the Ainu, we appear to have a division between red fox and black fox. The red fox in many ways resembles the Japanese fox stories, but the Black Fox is…different. It is normally benevolent, has a role as guardian with its superhuman perception, and communicates with a cry.  Their sight and speech is enhanced by their habitat far above most of the landscape. 

That said, there is one fox recorded in an Ainu chant that—despite being of this holy group—possesses power over storms and tries to kill a culture hero with one such storm its cry summons. For its efforts it is shot by the hero, and its body is divided after it is given some reverence—the spirit then turning to warn other foxes to avoid the same cause of mischief. I’ve linked the article in question in the bibliography.

Now, what does this have to do with our prompt, beyond me refusing to recognize ‘fox fire’ as ‘faux fire’? Well, the note about phosphorous glow brings to mind the story A Color Out of Space, a story in which an alien light saps the life around a farm and slowly destroys the family around it. This isn’t directly related to the fox spirits, but the common theme of illumination and illusion—shapeshifting, making graveyard appear as a mansion, and so on—with also vampirism, possession, and death seemed…connectable.

The main difference of course being that the Color does not speak or engage in conversation—while the foxes most certainly do. They aren’t human, but they aren’t…the same sort of strange. Making a Kitsune into a horror creature isn’t difficult however—the story of the specter and the father alone gives me chills. So come back next time, to see what we have in mind!

Bibliography

Johnson, T. W. “Far Eastern Fox Lore.” Asian Folklore Studies, vol. 33, no. 1, 1974, pp. 35–68. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1177503. Accessed 4 Aug. 2021.

Strong, Sarah M. “The Most Revered of Foxes: Knowledge of Animals and Animal Power in an Ainu Kamui Yukar.” Asian Ethnology, vol. 68, no. 1, 2009, pp. 27–54. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25614520. Accessed 4 Aug. 2021.

At the Hollow of the World

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

The Prior Research:Witches’ Hollow and Devils Den

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

The man waved his hand aside.

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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


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

Witches’ Hollow and Devils Den

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

The Resulting Research:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, from just beyond a jutting hill,

Came hideous sounds, as of a giant mill

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

It was the Green Knight sharpening his axe!

And Gawayne, coming past the corner, found him,

With ghastly mouldering skulls and bones strewn round him,

In joyous fury urging the keen steel

Against the surface of his grinding wheel.

The place was a wild hollow, circled round

With barren hills, and on the bottom ground

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

In sooth, it seemed the devil’s mortuary!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

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

Between Man and Beast

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

The Resulting Story: FORTH COMING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

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

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

Under the Sea

This Week’s Prompt: 125. Man abandon’d by ship—swimming in sea—pickt up hours later with strange story of undersea region he has visited—mad??

The Resulting Story: The Sea Dane

This week’s prompt returns us to familiar waters for the Undead Author Society: Strange and terrifying sights beneath the sea. We’ve touched on undersea creatrues, regions, and even peoples before. We talked about the most famous, Atlantis, here. We discussed undersea bishops and mermaids here.

Now, this recalled to my mind another flooded ancient city of Northern Europe—specifically, Ys. When I first heard the story of Ys, I was traveling in Ireland. The tour guide told a version that said Ys was sunk by druids to protect it—and if anyone found the golden keys to the city, they would inherit its power and it would rise again.  The key was under an unmarked grave in Ireland, and hadn’t been found yet!

The version I was able to find more documentation of is slightly different. Ys is found off the coast of Brittany. The King of Is or Ys is Gradlon, with his daughter Dahut. The city is built on reclaimed land, with the golden keys to the dykes holding it fast during the day. Gradlon’s daughter Dahut takes the keys, in most versions, and opens the dykes to flood the city. The reason she does so varies—in many versions, she is impressing a flatterer or lover, and drunkenly mistakes the dykes for her palace. In others, a man with a red cane and beard has come to the city and stolen the keys to flood the city. As the city floods, a saint or holy man comes and tells the King to flee—offering his horse to escape with. As he flees, his daughter jumps on the horses back, and the horse stops. And only be throwing her off does he escape.

Some versions suggest she in turn became a mermaid, bringing us to a full circle of our story from the Netherlands. To this day, at low tide, the ruins of the city can still be somewhat seen. The ruins are again attributed to Roman builders at times, at others to ancient sources. At least one suggests the devil danced on the dykes, mocking the king with his keys. A source I couldn’t confirm (it is in French) has Dahut build the city with korrigan aid and command sea serpents to serve every citizen of the city, building wealth with raids and oceanic diving. This wealth made them cruel, and soon they drove beggars and others out of their homes and streets. And so they were buried by the sea. It is said, in some versions, that that Is or Ys will rise again, and the first to hear its bell toll will become king.

A comparable Welsh tale modifies things somewhat. The drunkard is now the steward, and there are references to an overflowing well instead of the sea that creates a lake around the city. Still, the King escapes and is the sole survivor.

Bomere pool was likewise formed from a flood. The village that once stood there turned back to idolatry and the worship of Norse gods, only mocking the Christian faith. When the priest warned them of God’s wrath, fish bones were sewn to his cassock and children pelted him with stones. This did little to dissuade the priest, and his endurance won over a few back to the faith. However, in December the rains began to fall.

The priest, walking one day, saw that the dykes were about to burst. He ran down to warn the feasting pagan people, but was dismissed for his kill-joy croaking. One might expect, when the flood came on Christmas Eve, he and his followers would be safe on their hill. But no—the waters hit them first, rising over the altar, and washing away the entire village. You can still, they say, hear the ringing of the Sanctus bell over the pool.

A variant of this story exists, however. It was placed back in the Roman Empire’s reign. In this version, the warning comes from a Roman soldier, sent by God to the town. However, only the daughter of the governor will listen to him. The rest of the town beat him and mock him, as they did the priest in the other story. The soldier would have married the Governor’s daughter, but it was not to be. On Easter, devastation came to the city—a flood so massive it wipe the city out entirely. It is said the Sun rejoiced and the cattle prayed to God in thanksgiving. The solider was spared, but his love was not. He can be seen when the church bells ring, rowing a boat looking for his lady love to this day.

Amusingly to me, one version of the story sets an even pettier reason for the flood—that a farmer was harvesting grain on Sunday.

There are stories in Shropeshire where greed is the ultimate cause: Ellesmere was once a great meadow, with a well of pure water in the center.  People came from all around for the drink, until a churlish man purchased the land and demanded payment for the water. The next day, his wife found the meadow turned into a vast, worthless pool. And the price the man had to pay was kept high, for his poor conduct. 

Donegal Bay has a number of tales of sunken and undersea cities as well. A castle, with fields of cattle, is said to be visible in the morning—and that its inhabitants dress in old and strange clothing. When a marquis went to reclaim some land, he found the sight and ceased all work on the project—if it was due to the beauty of the city or something else we don’t know.

Another nearby castle emerged for reasons that are by now familiar. The local chief was holding a feast and advised by a saint to invite the poor as well as the rich into his hall. When he refused, the saint cursed him and the waters flowed up from the well and over the city, drowning it—in another case, the wicked chief held the saint prisoner and the well water rose up to over take them.

Another Donegal Bay story tells of a visit to the undersea, but not how it came to be. A man was riding at sunset towards a lake, when he found himself on a mirrored surface. He continued until he came to an underground room, and was asked by many hosts there to eat and drink. However, for once, our hero remembers his folklore and flees—seizing a bottle as proof. He emerged onto shore and was so frightened by what he had experienced he died within the year—but he had proof.

Another hero did not listen, however, when he pursued his sheep into an undersea kingdom. Here he married a red headed woman and lived a happy life—before deciding after three days to return and tell his family. Sadly, he learned that time is different under the sea—and he had been gone three thousand years.

Moving away from the British Isles, we can find underwater kingdoms farther abroad in Nubia. Here we have the Aman Naltah, river inhabitants who live in castles beneath the Nile. They will regularly, reportedly, drag persons down into their world and gift them with divining powers upon returning them. They also cause halluncinations or amnesia by dragging people beneath the river, aid in exorcisms, and so on. But they are not the only inhabitants of the Nile.

There is also the Aman Doger. These creatures also inhabit the Nile, but are much more tangibile. They have donkey like legs, log tails, big ears, and burning vertical eyes that are the only visible sign of them during sun rise and sunset. They do attack people, particularly women, to acquire gold for their taxes in their home country or to gain food. Robbery is not their only trick—they will lure people to the shore by calling their name, and then suck breath and blood from their nostrils, draining their strength. Being nocturnal and terrifying creatures, they prey on children of course. And most terrible of all, they will break vehicles and steal dates.

The more fascinating part for our purposes is the purported origin of the creatures. In one instance, a travelling sufi was rejected by pagan peoples. He cursed them to a terrible form as punishment, in a way familiar to the above. In some cases, this was the fate of all the original inhabitants of Nubia. Another, more modern-set origin says that when the British colonized Sudan, one tribe would not pay their taxes and rebelled. Sadly, they lacked gold and guns—so they made use of their sorcery to become river beings. Tragically, their sorecery was their undoing—they lost not only their wits and appearance, but became forever hungry and in need of wealth to pay their new overlords beneath the waves.

At least one story has such a spell lifted by a sword being cast through the Aman Doger, who afterwards retursn to Sudan to take up work as a merchant. It should be noted that, as a bewitched tribe, the sorcerers of the region have power over them. And as monstrous creatures, the appropriate verses of the Koran will disperse them.

Further from the Isles still is a tale from Micronesia. The handsome son of the chief of the Lugenfanu on Losap was on a boat to Truk when they came to a group of whales. However, these whales were actually girls in disguise and one of them, taking a fancy to the boy, knocked him overboard. The men on the boat did not notice, and so he was left swimming.

At least one text refers to them as dolphins, which is more reasonable and thus less fun.

He preformed some diviniation magic to learn which direction was preferable for him to travel. When it favors none, he asks if diving down would be best—and the magic says it is. So he dives down beneath the waves. There he found a clean and wonderful island, with a large pool in the middle, deep and wide. He hid in nearby bushes to see if anyone would come to the pool and bath. And soon the whales came, and each leaped into the pool from the salt water and removed their skin, revealing themselves to be beautiful girls.

Now, this story being an animal bride story (in a way), the boy finds the skin of the prettiest and steals it, for he is intent on making the prettiest of these whale women his wife. Unlike many such thieves, however, he quickly reveals he has the skin and that he hid it so the two of them could talk. After learning his story, she invites him home—sorry that she was the whale to knock him overboard.

At the home, her sisters arrive. The woman hides the boy, promising to keep him safe. The whale girl in turn ask why they can smell a foreign human in their home—with some agreeing to be his friend if he is a boy, others saying they will hate them regardless of boy or girl, and others promising to beat and murder him.  At least the first time—the second time they ask, they agree to be friends or even marry him.

So they all marry him, and agree that one will stay with him at all times while they are about. And in this time, the boy teaches them cooking for they did not know how to cook meals and hade been eating raw fruits. AT last, the prettiest girl’s turn comes again and the boy asks to be taken home again. The sisters are deeply unhappy, but they hold a feast to send him off and teach him how to revive dead whales, should they awash on his shore.

The undersea realms are thus places of many wonderous magics, where one can drift without being entirely aware. It is not surprising that shipwrecked sailors might dream of them—we have comparable cities in stories of the Flat Earth, where lineages of magicians have dwelt beneath the sea.

Our story would then follow the mad sailors story, their descent downward into this realm of magic and wonder, and their eventual return to the surface. Would it be a land of fish men, sorcerers, fae, or even the dead? What world will he return to? What treasure or proof will he steal? Come and see next time!

Bibliography

Doan, James. “The Legend of the Sunken City in Welsh and Breton Tradition” Folklore, Vol. 92, No. 1 (1981), pp. 77-83. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd.

Kennedy, John G. “Aman Doger: Nubian Monster of the Nile.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 83, no. 330, 1970, pp. 438–445. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/539665. Accessed 2 Feb. 2021.

Jackson, Georgina F. Shropshire Folklore. Edited by Charlotte Sophia. Burne, 1883.

Meder, Theo. The Flying Dutchman and Other Folktales from the Netherlands. Libraries Unlimited, 2008.

Meehan, Helen. “Underwater Worlds of the Donegal Bay Area.” Béaloideas, vol. 71, 2003, pp. 1–12. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20520823. Accessed 2 Feb. 2021.

Mitchell, Roger E. “The Folktales of Micronesia.” Asian Folklore Studies, vol. 32, 1973, pp. 1–276. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1177461. Accessed 2 Feb. 2021.

A Lost Limb

This Week’s Prompt: 124. Hideous secret assemblage at night in antique alley—disperse furtively one by one—one seen to drop something—a human hand—

The Prior Research:Left Hand Left Behind

Michel Donner rarely set foot outside his home in the wee hours of the morning. Even the small lights of dawn seared his eyes and made him break out in sweats. A pleasant sensation at sunset, when the intensity was fading, but in the morning it merely exaggerated his exhaustion. Still, last nights…peculiar gathering had forced him out into the light.

He paced down the alley, a one eyed stray hissing at him as he approached. Michel bought him off with a small bit of fish, tossed carelessly aside. They had been mostly silent, the strange men. He now could see, clearly, the strange symbols spray painted onto the walls of the alley. Circles and geometry patterns from school. Strange, kids these days. He amused himself at the dress up occultists of the day, before his attention was drawn by the familiar glimmer of gold on the asphalt.

It was a small band, pushing free of packaging paper. A ring, simple band—and it was as he lifted the package that Michel realized it was still attached to a hand.

Michel paused for a moment as he lifted the package, feeling the dense muscle and bone beneath it’s paper layer of skin. He hefted it for a moment, inhaling sharply.

And returned without a word to his home.

The Donner house was an abandoned building before its current owner, Michel, had arrived. It was secluded among the mostly forgotten old town buildings. There were people, but none that would be bothered by his activity in the depts of the night. None who asked many strange questsions or invited him away.

Michel carefully placed the hand on the kitchedn table, unwrapping it delicatel. It was a pale left hand, with a golden ring still on its ring finger. There was a red tattooed flower on the wrist, the edge of the stem with the letters “hen” in cursive on it. Michel retrieved a pair of tweazers and carefully removed the ring, examining it slowly. On the inside, good fortune had delievered him a name.

“Dorthoy Windsor.” He said slowly, placing the ring down and continuing his examination. “Assuming this isn’t pawned.”

A name was all he really had. Nails painted red, no blood or the like under them. There were…splotches of blood elsewhere. Sadly, she had not perished with her wallet or an identification card in her grip. Unsurprising.

That left examining the wound. Now, removing a hand is not the easiest of tasks. The tendons at the wrist had been severed, but the wound was not…clean. There were marks of hacking on either side of the incision—but the wounds were clean. She had passed before her finger hand was cut, although of hat was hard to say with merely a hand.

Someone might have advised Michel to call the authorities, and report such an atrocity in his own backyard. But Mr. Donner was a very private man, even without his condition. He never enjoyed when officers were involved in his affairs. So instead, he consulted the white pages—being one of the few to still regularly receive those tomes.

The name Windsor was luckily relatively rare. Locally, anyway.

Michel hated driving during the day. The bright light overhead were distracting—and it gave him such an awful headache. Still, he knew better than to ask for a private meeting in the late hours of evening. Such pains could be endured, with proper pills. They had been before, they would be again.

The Windsor house, unlike the Donner house, had a healthy and verdant lawn surrounding it. Even dandelions poked through the pavement on the way to the door. Michel had pried the ring free of the hand, leaving the gruesome trophy in the back of his car. Explaining that he found a gold ring was better.

Or would be, perhaps, if there had been an answer to his persistent knocking. After twenty minutes of silence, Michel took it upon himself to find the inhabitants of the home—or, judging by the contents of his car, the remains of them.

The lock to the backdoor was of poor quality. It was very expressive—the sign of someone who cared deeply about the appearance of security, but lacked the knowledge to appreciate actual security procedures. Michel’s method for opening such locks was not exceptional—any number of odd books on hobbies could uncover them. After about a moment, the backyard was open to him.

*

He was apprehensive at first, as he walked over the grass. The bright light of the sun was especially bad, reflecting off a pool below as well as from the sky above. There was a large tree, previously hidden by the house, branches hanging down over disturbed ground. It drew his eye, how the grass was so thin in this one spot.  

Lucikly for Michel, there was a shed nearby. Dorothy had been a gardener, and had a fine enough trowel and set of gloves. Her shovel was rusted and the nails holding it to the shaft were loose—well used, perhaps a handy me down. Still. It would suffice later on.

Gloves in hand, he surveyed the rest of the yard,straining to see in the bright light.  Nothing peculiar. Dog house, but no dog. A doll house being painted on the table. Or maybe a diorama. Regardless, Michel made his way to the back door—and found the lock already opened. Not just opened—the bolt, upon opening the door, had been removed.

Michel sighed with relief as he entered the Windsor home. The room closest to the back yard was a kitchen with a tile floor…and a shag carpeting floor adjacent to it, for a couch and living room.  Michel never understood the appeal of carpeting, it seemed all the harder to clean.

The kitchen was missing a few knives. That was something Michel checked on impulse these days—the exact number of knives present. Steak knives were missing, nothing terribly exotic. They made decent enough weapons.

The living room had a leather couch, and a pair of…connected seats. A couch for people afraid of appearing intimate, perhaps. Playing with a lever on the side, Michel ascertained they were recliners. Nothing stuffed in them.

Moving through the home, absent mindedly, he did notice a picture slightly ajar. A normal man or woman, or even child, would have passed it by without thought. But Michel was gripped by the paranoia of the night deprived. He removed it carefully, with gloved hands, looking to see what caused the slight change in weight. And there, presed on the frame, was a small rectangular piece of lead. Engraved on it was an eye, and characters unfamiliar to him at this hour. Characters and shapes he recalled dimly, like the writing one sees in a dream.

He stole that cursed tablet of lead. And he continued in the home that wasn’t his home.

*

There was a second floor to the Windsor home, a large loft and several rooms. Nothing of note, which itself was suprising. Michel was under no illusion he was the first to trespass here. No blood, no stains. No one had died here.

There was an office upstairs. He found a collection of business cards, Dorothy Windsor, private therapist. A number, an address for her office. He pocketed it. A list of patients. He took a photo of that, a small camera he had with him at all times in his jacket.

A through search, however, found a few other business cards. Intended to be discarded, it seemed. These had two names printed. Stephen and Dorothy Windsor. The office was the same, but of course a second number was printed. A lead then. He noted the pattern of a rose on this old card. The tattoo.

With that all gathered, he looked down at the yard from the office. The strange patch remained.

*

Michel was exhausted even before he began digging. He dug a few feet, until the metal of his shovel struck wood. A box, about ten inches by eleven inches. There was a loose chain around the lid, and a small lock. Lifting it out, Michel saw there were two—one lock on the chain, and one lock on the lid proper—a combination lock.

After placing the dirt back in the hole, Michel placed the box in the trunk, next to the box with the hand.  He’d have supplies to break it open at home. And he could use the rest. It took all his power to get home, and secure the boxes before collapsing onto the bed.


This story was difficult, and ends I think at the end of the first act. I had some personal issues crop up while writing this, and ended up scrapping an earlier draft that featured the hand at the midpoint. I think expanding on this story will be easy in the future—Michel’s strange condition and behavior is a bit of a joy to write.

The Foundations

This Week’s Prompt: 122. Horrible things whispered in the lines of Gauthier de Metz (13th cen.) “Image du Monde”

The Prior Research:Mapping the World

The lady at the front desk looks at me funny when I hand her some cash instead of a card. Probably waiting for my nightly company to show up or something, but she doesn’t say a word about it. Wonder if the scuffed suitcase helps.

I pop it open on the desk and start sifting through the papers, setting up my own little computer lab as best I can. Being faceless if not nameless has become a necessity in my work. You see the world-famous detectives fall off the wagon or off a bridge enough times, you learn to leave justice blind. That said, this isn’t anything quite as big. Right now anyway.

Juan Albert. Went missing near a new construction site—the latest, biggest exhibition of Andrew Doyle. Doyle building another eyesore in the middle of fuck off nowhere wasn’t that weird—state money ended up in his projects, the projects made cheap and quick. Never worked, never turned a profit, but Doyle tended to walk off with a cool pay out.

Of course, things get shady all the time with Doyle. People go missing, yeah. Regulations get flouted, people get hurt in construction, unions get busted by private investigators who are looking for a paycheck. Probably living more comfortably. Striking back costs your face, first, then your name. Then probably your life.

Juan’s family, though, caught me on step two—my name got passed along to them as someone who wasn’t too worried about consequences of tussling with rich men’s guard dogs.  After looking over everything, I pack up. I place a few small recording devices under the bed and desk, in case it’s searched. It’s never been searched yet.

And I head out, to have a word about what’s gone wrong around this town.

Juan’s sister doesn’t meet me at her home address. Town like this, everyone knows everyone. And while some gossip might start about talking to an out of towner, worse would come up if I was seen at her house. Plenty new people coming in to build Doyle’s new structure—a review of the project calls it some sort of broadcast station or something. No one bothered explaining why it was in the middle of the desert, about an hour even from here.

So she met me at a mostly abandoned mom-and-pop café. It smelled more like tobacco than coffee, and that tainted a bit of the taste, I won’t lie.

“Never talked about any trouble at work.” She said. She looked exhausted, and given the weird hours, this was probably a between jobs meeting. “You know, normal ‘wish got paid more’ and ‘working long hours’ stuff.”

“No one outside of work who might have…taken an opportunity?” I said, tapping my chin. “Any fights before or people who might have a grudge?”

“Not that he talked about.” She said, shaking her head and stirring the sugar in her coffee. “I mean, I guess I never know right?”

I nodded and looked over the notes again.

“Did he talk about…hm. How to say this…” I said tapping my chin. “Did he stay out late or talk about meeting someone? Things can go bad after hours, especially in construction work.”

She thought for a moment after that. Took a sip of her coffee—it’d gone cold already.

“There was a meeting or two he went to. Apparently they were organizing a soccer thing after work or something. Blow off steam you know, there’s always someone pushing for everyone at the office to be a team.” She said, looking at the cup a bit more.  “I don’t think he’d get killed over that though. I mean, folks get heated over that stuff but like. Not that heated right?”

It probably wasn’t soccer. I mean, they might have played soccer, but if there was a meeting that got him murdered, it wasn’t a soccer league. Murders like that, they happened yeah. But there wasn’t a clean cover up, and usually there was a bit more pissing and moaning. If I wanted to get to the heart of the matter, it was time to take a look around the last place he was seen.

The concrete monument rises about an hour outside town. Hexagonal rooms jut out form the side, the wall not yet wrapped around them. It was like looking at the cracked core of a giant bee hive, all around the pale concrete bone of some giant. The sky was dark grey, the clouds dimming even the bright lights of the sunset.

I had tried figuring out what this was, before I set out to poke around. But even parking my car and looking over it—guards mostly gone for the day—I still had no idea. It was supposed to be offices, but this many offices in the middle of the desert was nonsense. More likely, Mr. Doyle had placed some research or monitoring out here. Something that needed peace and quiet.

I walked in through the back, moving through the unfinished skeleton. Passed the iron fence, there were deep pits into the ground—given the iron girders that spiderwebbed in them.  I peaked down a few and well. They were weird. All pointing inward, not cross hatching at all. Looked like a giant iron toothed worm had died trying to escape the ground.

I’m not an architect, but I don’t think those are meant to be like that. The lack of any sort of…anything really to stop someone from just falling in felt off. Yeah, OSHA was a joke when it came to men like Doyle—that wasn’t news, he probably had an automatic withdraw to pay the fines when they came up. But this seemed dangerous, wasteful, and weird—usually you only get two out of three.

That said, no body, no bloodshed, nothing that seemed out of the ordinary. So, clicking my flash light on and tapping my camera, down into the deep I went. Past the silent mixers and looming crane, past the packed up drills and machines, scanning the shadows for any signs of life or light. It had been days. There wasn’t likely to be much here. But you have to check…just in case someone missed something.

The insides weren’t finished, although they were far enough along that you could see the outlines of familiar places. Front desk, elevator shafts bare and open, restrooms without doors or toliets but shaped like restrooms. It was all mundane, all the same as you’d find in a hundred other business parks.

It made the center stand out.

There was a wide hole in the center of the room, around the bare concrete and tiling. It was lipped, probably to hold some corporate seal. But there was wooden 2X4s over the thing…and tapping it, it rang hollow.

Ripping up the floor of a building under construction is…well, it’s the sort of thing that blows your cover wide open. I paced around the edge, looking for any bits that were loose enough—until I realized the easy option. The elevator.

Now climbing down an elevator shaft at night is not safe. Climbing down an unfinished one is even less safe. Climbing down an unfinished one in hopes you’ll find something incriminating is down right dangerous. Still, down I went.

It was a long climb, down past the unfinished parking lot and storage areas—all empty, identical rooms, the elevator doors not even put in. No, the first set of closed doors was all the way at the bottom—and crowbarring those open took some work. Still, I got into the long and empty room beneath the seal.

It was some sort of office, or workshop. Lots of measuring equipment, papers pinned to walls—papers I took a quick pick of, circles and measurements and so on. There was some…well, weird equipment too. Scalpels and gem cutting tools, a set of microscopes and magnifying glasses at the center. Sheets of gold leaf and silver and copper. Some weird coins hanging from the ceiling.

I took pictures of all of it, as close as I could. And it was in the flashes that something else caught my eye. It was the reflected flash in a ruby—a ruby set in a pushed aside model, of a city surrounded by a circle.



So this took forever, and not because it was good nor because the story in question was particularly hard to work with. It’s been sometime since I worked on a mystery, and frankly it was a bit too ambitous and placed in the wrong point in a story to work in 1500 words. That and the holiday season really extended this much longer than it needed to.

I will see you next Wednesday for the last bit of research for the year!

The Last of His Kind

This Week’s Prompt: 121. Photius tells of a (lost) writer named Damascius, who wrote “Incredible Fictions,” “Tales of Daemons,” “Marvellous Stories of Appearances from the Dead”.

The Resulting Story: Seeking Wisdom

This is another citation that, with some work, can be directly sourced. Photious provides a catalogue of books, including the following entry under Damascius:

Read a work by Damascius in four books, the first of which, in 352 chapters, is entitled, On Incredible Events; the second, in 52 chapters, On Incredible Stories of Demons; the third, in 63 chapters, On Incredible Stories of Souls that have appeared after Death; the fourth, in 105 chapters, On Incredible Natures. They all contain impossible, incredible, and clumsily invented tales of wonderful things, foolish and worthy of the impious and godless Damascius, who, while the light of the true religion spread over the world, remained steeped in the thick darkness of idolatry. The style is concise, clear, and agreeable, which is not usually the case in such stories.

This is the only information I could find on these texts—although I’m amused at the fact that genre fiction was listed as a writing reference even a millennia past. So instead, I turned to Damascius’s own writings. Looking over Wikipedia, there were a few routes to pursue. Damascius himself was a Neo-Platonic writer—and one who was “irreligious”, neither mystic nor paying head to holy texts. His summation of God then was as an infinite and indivisible being—and thus an incomprehensible one. The traits we attribute to the divine are only made by inferences from its actions, not from understanding its true nature.

Damascius’s life highlights a few other interesting facets. He was the last head of the School of Athens, before being fleeing to Persia to escape persecution by Justinian the First. He spent a year in Persia before returning as part of a peace treaty between the two emperors of the known world. Much of his work is lost, of course, and while he taught students, he did not found a school outside of Athens. His commentaries on Plato seem to deal with, from the excerpts linked on Wikipedia, the inherent immortality of the soul as a source of light—comparable to how fire is a source of heat in Platonic thought.

He also briefly met with a politician, named Severianus of Damascus. This man is mostly know through Damascius, and lead his own varied life in politics—as a governor, a strict and draconian one at that, then returning to Athens. Emperor Zeno offered him a high post on the condition he convert. Instead, he helped a pagan  murder plot on the Emperor, which failed.

Pseudo-Dionysius

This alone is enough for a cosmic horror story—but I wanted to go a bit further. Wikipedia notes that one researcher has suggested Damascius is the author of a collection of works called the Pseudo-Dionysian corpus. This collection of works has import to the history of the church that drew my attention for further investigation with this quote from Wikipedia:

“All names and theological representations must be negated. According to pseudo-Dionysius, when all names are negated, “divine silence, darkness, and unknowing” will follow.”

Creation and definition by lack—the void itself as divine, empty of anything but silence, ignorance, and darkness was a striking image counter to popular descriptions of the divine as a light from heaven, a source of revelation, and heavenly choirs. Reading through his descriptions of the Celestial Hierarchies, we see that this isn’t precisely the case. Angelic minds have something of a knowledge of God—and they in turn seeking deifying knowledge, so they may better imitate God’s nature.

He describes these hierarchies as dancing around the center throne of god, in a way that reminds of me the image of Azathoth around whom elder gods and musicians dance. He goes on to note that the comparison of angels to flame is due to the presence of flame in all things, moving between all things easily, hidden for most of it’s existence—here we must note that there is flame and there is fire, and that flame appears to mean the elemental flame that might erupt from any moment. Heat might be a better, more modern term for the sensation and energy he describes.

He enumerates natures of various implements, and their symbolic meaning—angels have human heads to indicate they are thinking, they where geometric garbs to show both wisdom and the foundations of creation, they wield weapons to divide, they hold scepters to unite. Each of these are key symbols in the perception of the divine.

So we have the last of a pagan school of philosophy, discussing either an incomprehensible god or, if we grant the Dionysian corpus, a god that is defined not by the heraldry of angels but instead the darkness of night. And one who’s interest lied, at one point, in the Platonic theory of the immortal soul that goes through cycles of reincarnation. This covers, I think, the appearances of the dead, but what of the notion of demons?

A daimon of good fortune in the shape of a snake.

Demons in this context perhaps better refers to the Greek daimon, which acted as an intermediary between gods and men. The meaning of this term of course changed with time, but it was generally understood that they were not divine exactly—nor were they visible. Demons were thus forces at play, invisible intermediaries and divine presences. In some works, the constructions of shrines were done so that they would not wander far—and they would keep their blessings nearby. Other cases posit them as the souls of dead men from the Golden Age, now guiding humanity—a characterization that resembles, in part, the fate of the Nephilim in some rabbinic texts—and thus positive. In royal cults, whether Alexander the Great or Augusutus, it was this daimon, this numen, this divine nature or spirit that was revered as opposed to the specific person (although the distinction blurred often).

The change into demons as we understand came from translation of the Septugaint from Hebrew to Greek—and thus changing the word shedim to daimon. This connected the name with wicked spirits, and this in turn lead to the quite literal demonization of such beings. Still, in some texts we see that the idea wasn’t entirely new. In Pythagoren works, they prove capable of infecting others with dieseases and misfortune, while the Platonic ideals gave them a moral character—that some were allotters of wicked fortunes, others good fortunes.

The stories of Damascius then would draw on a tradition of invisible spirits, allotters of fortunes, both wicked and wonderful. Or perhaps of a lost age of heroic peoples, now wandering the world at the will of Zeus. Either way, of beings invisible and ancient—although, unlike Mr. Lovecraft, not altogether malevolent. Indeed, one suggestion for daimon’s popularity in Plato is to bridge the gap between the unintelligible Divine Forms and stars, and mortal person experience with divine. So, what do we do with this?

Well there are a few routes I think. One is to center on the lost works themselves—in the same way that art in Lovecraft is often a window into secret knowledge with the paintings of Pickman and the play the King in Yellow, so too could these lost works be gates to powerful and forbidden knowledge of some dangerous sort. Of course, dangerous knowledge itself is…not a trope that I am exactly fond of. It needs more elucidation.

Another path is to take up the idea of invisible spirits that act as messengers for an incomprehensible being—servants and whisperers of the universe. They might bring messages to our character, stir up fortune or misfortune, acting like a living curse or blessing for those that disturb their shrine or home. The fact that some daimons remained at shrines as a sort of home leads me to consider the destruction of such an ancient place, unleashing an angry and powerful invisible spirit. Not one that is mortal, or mortal as we understand it, but from some bygone time out of time.

Knowledge of such things then might become the cure. A man hunted by a spirit forgotten by all must seek out these lost works, to learn how such a thing can be appeased or dispelled even as it harrows and haunts him. That I think gives us a better grip for how to use the knowledge angle of this prompt then the cursed knowledge.

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The Empty Windows Part 2

This Week’s Prompt: 119. Art note—fantastick daemons of Salvator Rosa or Fuseli (trunk-proboscis).

The Prior Research:Temptation

Part 1:The Empty Windows, Part 1

I spent the afternoon clearing off the window. It was an exquisite work, really. Along its frame were carved distorted statues and cut outs—when the sun shone down, they cast long and wide shadows down, acting out some play along the walls. Sadly, they had been damaged beyond recognition. I couldn’t tell a knight from a knave, nor a man from a goat among the shapes. But a clever bit of artistry all the same.

The glass of the window was more a shade than anything else. There was an attempt, I think, to guide the light not only over the rotating images, but the window itself. Portions, small lines, were lighter than the rest. To cast an image in lighter shadows perhaps…too small to be entirely successful. But still! I wondered what I might find, in this new window. After it was cleared, I gathered my things, looked upward into the dark.

It was like a looming eye looking down on me, a slumbering giant that dwarfed the house.  As the sun shifted across it, I stared longer. I waited for some vision or sight beyond. I waited for a world in the dark glass—but I saw nothing.

Not quite nothing.

I saw myself in the glass. Reflected, distorted. The curves stretched by body, my face and body—it was like a grotesque flower formed of my features. The thin lines looked like abandoned strings falling off my face. Like my reflection hanging from the ceiling, by thin fibirous puppet strings. So perfectly cast, I could feel my own weight above me. It was…disorienting, to see an empty shell of yourself, staring down from a dark and starless sky. Even at noon, there was no color to my reflections skin.

I am not surprised such a window was covered…but I held out hope that day that, in my work, this would open a new insight. A new window into the world beyond. After all, it was so finely made and so opaque—once my vision could pierce it, what wonders would I find behind? What worlds waited?

That night the wind was heavy. The storm was gone, but airy nymphs danced in its wake. Sleep thus so far away from me, I decided to do as I had in the past. I would survey the worlds again, from that sacred seat, with naught but candle, moon, and star.  The room was dark and heavy at night, and I sat to record poetry of Verta, who now sung songs of Gladwing’s endevors. Or so I thought, the images seemed to be of that great hero.

Studying that window, with a candle at it’s base to illuminate the figures, I felt some small comfort. But as I wrote, I felt something else. Long shadows were cast by the candlelight. The moon and cold starlight were enough to cast that pantomime of broken gargoyles…but they seemed less clear. Shapeless, dim masses against the light and dance. They lacked the stark, crisp lines that separate puppets from men.  

I pushed on though, writing. Writing and writing. Even as the darkness felt heavier and the dancing shadows grew more unsettling, while the winds howled and battered at the walls. It was after recording the third stanza—in a tongue I still didn’t know—that I knew real fear.

Because I could not stand.

It was as if a great weight was sitting on my back. It could crush me. It would crush me, if I tried to stand. Only by remaining hunched over, working away at the visions beyond, could I keep the weight off of me. The wind felt cold on my neck, unbidden from some window left agape elsewhere.  

The air pushed in to my lips as I wrote. My limbs were tightened, gripped by unseen iron centipedes, hundreds of small iron pins down. They stabbed, my arm twitched up and tightened, dragging lines across the page, cutting across text or sliding to underline words of warning. Scuttle, scratch, stab. I feel wounds. I bleed but my blood is invisible on the page, it leaves no stain. I write and write and cannot see that I bleed. Even as something coils round my crown. Even as my eyes sting and I taste iron in my mouth. I cannot see that I bleed.

*

The burning heat of the sun woke me the next day, shinging through the skylight. My head was burning as I dragged myself down for water. Despite the ache, I prepared for another day—today I would relax, and recover from the hell of last night. My stomach felt like something had coiled up inside and around it, holding it hostage.

I was determined, however, to write outside that night. To go out amongst the plains, where I might see the vistas with my sharpened vision.  I went then among green plains and forests, to visit the amphitheater of red gods with twin heads. I wondered under the sky, completing my sketches and studies.  

It was while I sat among the seas of memory, watching another investigation of the scholars there—they were fishing up a lost marriage from the deep currents below. It was a broken, sad thing—fins spread out with rainbow colors, reflecting the violet light poking through the clouds. Tender moments carved apart by deep and buried scars. It was on those fins that I saw something strange.

It was like a stain, a shadow—a shape reflected on the scales. One I had never seen before.  It was like a drop of oil paint unfurling on the water of the scene. At first, I thought the shape was a malformed tumor on the memory. A horrible, illict act of violence, remembered in the world beyond. But as I drew close, the fin folded—and the stain remained on the new scales. Perhaps it was some unreal sickness, but such no. It was too flat. It was something in the scales.

It was in the fields behind me. It was shapeless, dark and alien against everything else. A heavy shape, long thin limbs probing out on the grass. It moved with some uncertainty, on thin legs that barely supported its great and terrible mass. One limb rose from the rest. A probuscius dripping with inky darkness, gleaming with stains of light.

I had no desire to follow such a story with a monster like this. But no matter where I walked—to red or green or yellow lands, to listen to songs or poems or witness great wrestling matches, among towers and amiptheatres and zigguarats—it followed. It followed, and slowly made the most dreadful of its own noises. Dissonant unsounds, that were heard by all I saw. Pipping of the most dreadful sort. Dancing limbs, with all the elegance of a spider weaving her web.

That is what it most resemble. A spider, with limbs of thin glass and a body of sludge and fungus and rot. And it moved with such ease, even as the land around it shifted—it paid no head to anything else.

Except, as I reckoned when I closed the door, me.

It would not enter my abode. Perhaps it could  not. Perhaps it chose not. It sulked, like a dog left out in the rain, outside my window. I wished for rain. For some flood or heaving river to well up and wash the stain away. It sat, uncaring, atop even my greatest visions. It was hard to record the wonders beyond with this impish demon, lurking in the shadows and emptiness of the world. The others, my beloved knights and poets, did not see it.

As the day grew longer, however, it grew larger. And it grew company.

I saw it swell like a boil, thin layer of skin holding back a most foul inky bile. Spidery limbs punctured out, spilling dripping bile over the land as a new swarm of self-same demons, with their trunks and crawling limbs ushered out. They two roamed over the landscape. They drew near to my door in packs, clawing at the windows, and revealed mouths with of shadow.

And they would not leave.

They would not leave.

I could not make out the shapings and happenings of Glimmerwing and his kin, because these bestial gnats got in the way. Their buzzing, for they made such monstrous buzzing like each drop was an angry cicada, droned out the philosphers. They darted around the golden fields. And every day there were more, leaning on the edge of stones. They extended their long trunks down, like fishers of men in the most crude of ways.

I saw them catch a man of the red lands once. They pulled him up into nothing, and devoured him whole in their darkness. They devoured up my hope of leaving my old manor. For they were waiting there.

*

I did not answer the cold wind that called me to write at night, when darkness would be thick on the grass. I ignored the sounds and calls of monstrous things. The weeping, the chortling, the sound of pigs crying out at slaughter.

I stayed in my bed, and stared at the ceiling. I had locked the door to my study—for I knew that strange things now lurked beyond the window. Strange things lurked from that dark glass. Hungry and numerous things, waiting all about me. What they wanted, I did not know. But they had nothing but ill intent for me now.


This story was delayed greatly by healthy issues and work. I’m not happy with the result, especially with a delay. I like the idea of a window that looks in on the artist as the final twist, with strange demons coming through over time. But it’s not refined enough, frankly. These two stories together will make a good idea to revisit in a year or so.

Next time! We return to some avian friends.

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Temptation

This Week’s Prompt: 119. Art note—fantastick daemons of Salvator Rosa or Fuseli (trunk-proboscis).

The Resulting Story: The Empty Windows Part 2

This week from Lovecraft we receive one of our most precise and artistic visions—with a bit of effort I was able to track down the exact painting by Salvator Rosa that inspired this prompt, and while Fuseli proved more difficult I found plenty of monstrous art there. I’ll give my commentary on his work towards the end, since it deals with material we are already familiar with in this society.

Rosa’s Elephantine Demon

The image in question, above, is of the Temptation of Saint Anthony. Saint Anthony has two instances of temptation, one on ground and one in the air, and both are regularly represented in fantastic and surrealistic art. His first temptation began when he was young and set about the monastic path—arguably the first such monk in Christendom. The devil, envying such behavior, set about his temptation in the usual way at first. He whispered of the riches of the world, of the love of women, of the importance of family, of the difficulty of the task, of the infirmity of the body—but these trusty weapons failed. So instead, he assaulted him by day and night. So vicious were these assaults that they were visible to all who watched. But the constant attacks, even when the Devil came as a woman, were not enough. And this shamed the Devil’s pride, that he who claimed to be greater than god was rebuked by a simple man. After all of this, the devil confessed defeat, appearing as a small boy.

Later in life, Anthony sought further to conquer himself. He went out to live among the tombs near his village in Egypt, and settled there for the night. He asked that his friend bring him bread in the morning, but otherwise not disturb him. The Devil, already alarmed by the discipline of the man,  was afraid he would bring discipline to the desert. So he assaulted the saint with an army of demons and cut him to ribbons, such that his friend assumed him dead when he came to deliver the bread.  He was carried back home and there was a funeral—but he was merely sleeping. He awoke and asked his companion to return him. His wounds were real, however, and he could not stand. So he prayed as he laid on the ground.

The demons, frustrated, shook the earth and attacked the tomb from all four walls in the shape of many beasts and crawling things. But Anthony mocks them, for both relying on such great numbers and such dreadful forms. And as they gnash at him, the roof opens up and he is healed by a golden light. (As an aside, I can’t help but notice that the demons come from the four directions, but the divine aid comes from above. The symbolism to me reads as the demons being the entirety of the world here…but more on that later).

Next he takes residence in an abandoned fortress—the mere arrival of St.Anthony drives out all the reptiles. With six loaves of bread, each lasting a month, and water from the well.  Here, demons assailed him and cried out for him to leave what was theirs. His acquaintances, who came to visit, heard the sounds of violence and were afraid—but St. Anthony was unafraid and told his friends to make the sign of the cross and nothing shall harm them.

Much later in life, he ventured to a new mountain—called the inner mountain in my texts. Here he remained, and began to farm so that those who guided him there would not exert much effort in order to help him.  And here again demons assaulted him—those beyond heard the crashing of arms and saw that the mountain was full of wild beasts. First hyenas were sent, but they were repulsed. Then a beast like a man, with the legs and feet of an ass came and assaulted him. And he was repulsed.

Saint Anthony preformed other acts of healing and exorcism through out his life—leading to the promotion of monasticism through out the land. There was incident that I couldn’t find in my copy of the Life of St. Anthony, but is recorded in the art of Micahelangelo—here demons assault him again, but this time as he is carried through the air by angels instead of when he is in the desert or fortress or other place of desolation.  The story is the same as the variants above, for the most part.

Saint Anthony’s stories reflect a number of folkloric truths about wicked spirits—that they often take the forms of beasts, they dwell in places of the dead or forgotten places where nothing grows. And they have no power of men protected by the Divine. The artistic imagery of the demons is more fantastic, as the images I’ve included no doubt shows—the lives I have includes at best “the crawling things” and the man with the legs of a donkey. Still, invisible and angry demons serves as fruitful ground.

The story also calls to mind stories from India of Sidhartha’s last meditation. Here we encounter not the Devil but Mara, who attempts to dissuade Sidhartha from meditation and enlightment.  He sends three or five daughters to attempt to seduce him—but he remains mediating. Mara dispatches vast storms of rain and stone, frightening away the gods that had gathered around the Buddha—but this was to no avail either. Then Mara dispatches a great host to destroy him, and he remains untouched. Mara then called out that Buddha’s seat belong to Mara—and his whole host agreed with his claim. When asked for his witness the Buddha touched the earth—and the Earth cried out that she bore him witness. And Mara and his hosts vanished.

While this is the most famous text, it is not the only story of Mara attempting to seduce the Buddha. We find Mara in one text exhorts Sidhartha to go and live, to gain merit, for he is gravely thin. His path is too difficult, too rough to bear. And so he is rebuked by the Buddha for being what he is—and the Buddha counts and numbers his ten hosts that stand before him. Other texts have Mara attempting to lure Buddha away from preaching, either to keep it to himself or to abandon the path of preaching. One amusing temptation has Mara bringing letters from the Buddha’s princes, supposedly, that demand he give up preaching.

The similarities of these stories lead me to wonder if there was some influence on St. Anthony’s story from India. They aren’t the only temptations stories—there is the famous Temptation of Christ, where the devil came to Jesus in the desert, and offered him food and power and proof of his divinity. He rejects these temptations and resumes his preaching with citations from scripture. The idea, however, of being assaulted by demons does not feature in the Gospel story. Only in the stories of Anthony and Sidhartha. And the fantastic creatures are also missing. Given that what drew Lovecraft to this narrative was the image of a elephantine creature, I think the idea of a terrorizing demon serves best.

I think it’s also worth noting that the symbolism in Anthony and Buddha’s narratives paint the evils as deeply rooted in the entirety of the world–while they dwell in places of wilderness, the demons that attack Saint Anthony come from all quarters. They take the form of “baser” things–beasts, not men or scholars or intellectually cunning angels. Likewise, the daughters that approach the buddha are named for temptations, and Mara’s callings point to worldly responsibilities. One divergence I noticed is that, while both appeal to how hard the monastic life is, Mara appeals to the Buddha’s royal obligation, while Anthony has no such appeal that I could find. Perhaps because he never held any office?

Artistically, both works cited by Lovecraft have very physical, monstrous, and bodily feelings. They aren’t as abstract as Dali, but rather concrete and monstrous and menacing things. The piece by Fuseli I could find that closest fit what we have here is this one, of a snake devouring a rider. A consumptive, monstrous thing that was very much made of flesh, not dreams.

Before discussing where I intend to take this, I thought it’d be wise to mention that this is another story where the “result” is easily found in Lovecraft’s own work. Well, not his work. Chaugnar Faugn is a creature that resembles an elephant with a trunk that ends in a leech like mouth. A repulsive creature imprisoned in a statue form, or perhaps hibernating, it arrived and shaped life on this planet millions of years ago. When awake, it drains the blood of those that draw near. I haven’t read his original story—Lovecraft featured him in the Horror in the Museum, as an aside, but he comes from  Frank Belknap Long. Reading a summary the story is…bizzare, featuring strange rays that send creatures back in time, hidden cults, inorganic life, and the brothers of Chaugnar Faugn.

Our own story will of course be picking up from last time, with our artist having found the final hidden window. There are a number of strange things that might occur—the demon perhaps is literal, descending on this lonely and isolated man form the empty plains. Or perhaps it will crawl from the new window—or merely observe. Something tangible, devouring, and menacing–something there “in the flesh”. Let us see what lonely and fantastic horror awaits, next time!

Bibliography

Athanasius, St., and Robert T. Mayer. St. Athanasius: the Life of St. Anthony. Newman, 1978.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Māra.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 20 May 2013, http://www.britannica.com/topic/Mara-Buddhist-demon.

“The Buddha’s Encounters with Mara the Tempter: Their Representation in Literature and Art”, by Ananda W.P. Guruge. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/guruge/wheel419.html .