Victor and Mr. Marrigold Luther


This Week’s Prompt: 18. Calamander-wood—a very valuable cabinet wood of Ceylon and S. India, resembling rosewood.

The Research:Down In Sri Lanka

The house a was a sturdy one at the end of the road. It was a desolate place, one that tested the definitions of mapmakers, for not even dragons could dwell there. The house was a brick and mortar place, the only sort that could still stand in fens such as these were lantern men dance and old giants held sway. Victor remembered the stories his mother told him, ages past, of devil dealing frogmen and great hounds of hell. How she would frown upon him now.

The house’s owner was one Mr. Marrigold Luther, whose name Victor was convinced had been arranged backwards by mistake. And a mistake Marrigold was. Victor had come down here five times this summer, at the request of nearby locals. Five time’s he’d knocked on the door to no reply, and left it at that. This sixth time, however, such things could not last. This time he brought a friend.

“So how loony is he?” George asked, as they drudged through the mire, mud sticking to our boots. George had come out in his old uniform, better look the part of muscle.

“He hurled a ram skull, horns and all, at old Lady Woodenseal. Clothed that time, apparently.”

“That’s a rarity?”

“Fully clothed? Yep. Old Luther doesn’t like shirts, or pants, depending on the day.”

“Christ, he is nutty.”

The house was more rotted up close. The wooden door couldn’t resist the wear and tear of time forever, and the brick was full of erosion worn holes. Some fungi had begun to grow, moss working its way from the base of otherwise immaculate walls.

“You got the notice?”

“Yeah, got it right here and signed. Best make sure he gets it this time. You know how often things like this get lost?” I said, unfurling the bright red eviction notice.

“Often enough I reckon.”

“More often than you’d like, or not often enough.” I said, pounding my hand on the old door. There was the sound of scuffling inside, punctuated by sploshing of wet shoes or feat on a sturdy floor. The door opened only slightly, a rattle of a chain accompanying him.

“What is it? What do you want? Who are you?” a voice came, accompanied the sliver of a sickly green face.

“Mr. Luther, we’ve met I think. Victor DeMone?”

“Oh, get you gone, I don’t have time for you. I am very short on time, my investment sdon’t seem to be good. So shoo, leave, now.” Marrigold said, trying to shut the door. George put his foot down however.

“Oh, there’s no need to be rude, sir. Me and Vic here are just delievering a notice –”

“I don’t care for notices. I ‘ve noticed all the important things in these parts. Now leave, or I’ll be forced to call the authorities!”

Me and George looked at each other before letting out a long sigh. George pushed at the door as I pulled the piece of paper out again.

“Mr. Luther, we are the authorities. This is an eviction notice. You have two weeks to pack your things –” I said, before he grabbed the paper and tore it to pieces.

“I know what an eviction notice is, you layabout! I’ll call down higher powers than yours if I catch you around here again!”

“Sir,please just be ready to –” I began again, before Mr. Luther hurled a number of white stones at me. Blinking and examining them, I realized they were deer teeth. That was new.

“Look, we’re not afraid to make this ugly. Get ready to get out or push will come to shove!” George said.

“You ever fight a Gurkha boy? Ever been on the cutting edge of curved Indian knife? Wrestled with the worst man kind has to offer? No? No you haven’t because only I have seen into that dreadful place. Dismissed. ”

We stood there a while after that. No clue what was going on in George’s mind. Probably whether to get the rifle now or later. I nodded out of the fen. As we tredged back to the more common path, the flickering of distant swamp fires alighting in front of a darkening sky.

“You think he’ll give us trouble? I’ve heard of Gurkha.”

“Probably just prattling on. Just bring some bats, and we’ll flush him out if he don’t leave. No need to get smoke involved, or even a knife…” I said pausing for a moment, “actually, bring a knife. That’d probably be nice.”

“Sure thing, I’ve got some hunting ones. Shouldn’t need more than that.”

We didn’t pay much mind to Marrigold after that. He and his house were at the edge of our minds, I guess, but they cast a small shadow. We’d remember every now and then that we had to rough him up if he wasn’t gone in time, but it was more the sort of thought that pops up when your thinking what to have for dinner. A side concern, both with time and importance.

So when we came back to the fens, with a pipe and cricket bat, it felt almost dream like. It was getting dark out, but we’d brought lanterns (ostensibly to see, but I think George considered lighting the house on fire). There were a few fluttering bugs and some croaks in the mire’s dirty water but otherwise, it was silent. The door rattled when George gave it a whack with his pipe. Silence again, though now followed by the sloshing of muddy steps. The door opened a crack. A familiar green eye and pallid face stared back at us.

“Didn’t I say get gone already? Get! Get at once!” he said. There was some echo to his voice, as if he was speaking from within a cavern or atop a hill. It gave me a moment’s pause. It did no such thing for George, who whacked again with his pipe.

“Your memory can’t be all that bad, old codger. It’s been two weeks, time to get!” George said, motioning him out.

“Get? What do you mean get?”

“You got your notice,” I said, regaining my composure, “Time to go. Your things packed?”

“Go?” Mr.Luther said with a glare and a growl, “what because some piece of paper said so?”

“We’ve had this disucssion, Mr. Luther. If not because the paper says so, then because the man with the pipe does. Now come on, no need for this to be difficult.” George said, raising his pipe again. I beat my hand with my bat as menacingly as I could.

“You’ll need more to get me out of this house!” Mr. Luther shouted, slaming the door and running off. George looked at me, before laying into the door. It gave a little, revealing the chain. Another blow ripped the chain out of the door. The rotted wood wasn’t hard to open.

“Alright, Marigold, come on now. No reason to make this worse,” I said, holding the lantern out in front.

“Yeah, come – come out where – where ever you are!” George said, stopping midway through to claw at his face. “Man the dust in here is insane. How do you live in a place like this?”

“Poorly. Stop scratching yourself, lets find the loon. If he’s gotten himself a kitchen knife, he’ll be trouble.” I said, grasping for a nearby door. Probably a closet, I reckoned. When my lantern’s soft glow illuminated the spot, however, it was gone. Accumlation of dust it seemed. With a shrug, I carried on.

The house’s interior was about as squalid as could be, without literal refuse being strewn about. Bones and rotting meat were just left on the floor, everything caked in a layer of mud that seemed to pulse. No wonder Marrigold was mad, place like that. And the stench! Oh, it smelled like the Thames must have when it burst in flames. It was thick and putrid in the air. There wasn’t a kitchen, just the big middle room and a door on the other end.

George and I got close, George still scratching every bit of him (though by now I figured some lice or fleas got into his clothing. As I grabbed the door, a great whistling sound broke out. With a shout, both me and George went to cover our ears, in my case forgetting I held a lantern, that smashed against the ground.

“Ah, hell with it!” I shouted. With the fire springing over the lantern oil and the shrill whistling running through the air, I ripped open the door, yelling a “Get him!” at George. And george ran in swinging.

Only to knock over a kettle with whistle attacked to it’s steam spout, spilling boiling water on the floor. We stood there, catching our breath for a moment, before I started laughing. The whistling, the whistling was some tea that idiot Marrigold had made. It was just some tea and a whistle, freak us out.

“Alright, alright, that’s clearly not him.” George said, scratching his back.

“No, no it’s not. So, where did he go?”

“Couldn’t have gotten behind us…must still be in here somewhere…” George said, raising his lantern and running his pipe along the wall, “In all this filth, you never know what might be hidden.”

I nodded and started along the other wall. It took a few minutes, but something bumped into the bat. I paused, staring at the blank wall. Another thwack with the bat, and some of the dirt and grim came off. A glistening gold doorknob rested there. Putting my ear to the door, I heard some muffled noises inside. Not talking, but the sort of growl you’d expect from someone as mad as marrigold. I nodded at George. And with a single gesture I opened the door and he swung.

First there was the crack of wood. I thought he had missed. Than there was the roar, raging on the wind, an echoing cacophony of sound. Shrieking, George jumped back, his face covered in little cuts as he tore at himself, his pipe and lantern clattering to the ground. I turned around the door and saw it. A wood panel in trembling hands, with a great tiger along the boarder. A hole was broken in it, a hole filled with eyes. Bright tiger eyes. Little men stood guard around it, faces feirce and battle ready, swords in their hands.

“Don’t hit me!” Marrigold’s nasally voice came from behind the panel at last.
“Don’t hit you? What the hell did you do? What is that? What’s wrong with George?” I shoujted, lifting the bat. AS I did, I felt bits of dust dropping on my fingers. The bat rotted so rapidly it’d make termites blush.

“I don’t know! I don’t know, sometimes things happen. I see things, feel things that aren’t there, when this thing is about.”

“So you held it in front of you?”

“It was all I had.”

He sounded ridiculous. No, he sounded moronic. Annoying. Stupid, arrogant, brash, foolish, whiny, pathetic, and holier than thou. Every bone in my body at once felt like it was on fire. My throat was full, a malicious taint on love. I was so full of rage I felt my muscles moving before I thought. I punched the damn thing right in the eye.

There was that roaring again. Louder, fiercer, full of blood. There was a frenzied light of orange and black, and the wind rushing by. When I could feel again, see again I was standing on the floor, the walls and ceiling battered down. Marrigold’s body…no carcass was strewn across the room, flesh ripped from bone. I found the remains of George skinless on the road.

I haven’t heard anything since. I haven’t seen anything, not a whiff of sulfur or the sight of a vast tiger. Nothing. But then again, I didn’t get much warning last time, did I?

Well my brothers and sisters wasn’t that a fright? I dearly hope so. I do have one last bit of parting wisidom: A story I neglected. I won’t say much, only that it is a bit of sublime horror by the great Borges who I hope we discuss again. The tiger in Zahir is truly something terrible.

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Down In Sri Lanka


This week’s prompt is: 18. Calamander-wood—a very valuable cabinet wood of Ceylon and S. India, resembling rosewood.

The Resulting Story:Victor and Mr. Marrigold Luther

So, we have a rather scientific entry this time. Calamander wood is a striped wood, which to mine eye seems to be a tiger. The wood has been extinct for two or three hundred years, making any such wood quite valuable indeed. In fact, such a piece would be irreplaceable.
Now, onto location. Ceylon is the old British name for Sri Lanka. And what can be said of the island? Well, of note, it is one of the most religious countries in the world. It was, in time, like much of India, conquered by the British. But most interesting to me, as is common, is the folklore of the place. In folklore the seeds of strange and disturbing stories grow. A recommendation to peruse folklore circles when you get the chance, fellows. They’ve saved me more than once.

The folklore of Sri Lanka is full of strange demons. The most peculiar common rule of demons, however, on the island is that they may not directly harm a human being. They may, of course, send disease and misery his way, or delude and deceive humans form their tasks. But their very Job-esque prohibition (from their own king) ensures they never directly harm anyone.
This, for horror, is superb. It means the spirits of terror, by nature, build suspense. Their actions are all, by definition, implied and uncertain. And there is horror in that uncertainty. It should be apparent, I think, why mysterious invisible creatures wrecking havoc on a man’s life would be frightening. Particularly since from such fear and terror and misery they derive sustenance from it.
Given further the value of the material, and the necessary age, a haunted relic would not be out of place. The various demons, like many supernatural creatures of the sub continent, also posses powers of maya or illusion. Such things aren’t unusual for the supernatural (in fact the fae in their turn use glamour as well) but in a horror story, it is always good to have your full tool box ready.
Additionally, the coloring of Calamander is important. Such dark stripes are reminiscent of the tiger, a creature that allured and frightened the English mind for sometime. The classic Tiger poem plays this clearly. Playing on this image of a tiger, still and coiled in the wood, could be grand.

Combine the two and we come across one of the most curious (to my tastes) creatures of the Indian subcontinent: The Rakshasa. Often depicted with a tiger’s head and a man’s body, palms reversed, the Rakshasa are said to be man eaters and unlike the demons of Sri Lanka, they have no prohibition against harming directly. Rakshasa aren’t incapable of goodness, however, and the mythic tribe has achieved great things. Once, according to the Ramayana and other myths, the Rakshasa king Ravana ruled the entire world. The devil-tigers are then something truly terrifying.
What then can we make out of all this? Well, firstly, we should not pin down the precise demon. There is no need (nor want) for a hero/victim to know what they are facing. Our dear Mr.Lovecraft did say that fear of the unknown is the greatest fear of all for a reason. Keeping Mr. Lovecraft in mind and his choice of name for Sri Lanka, it might do well to have a British lead. Perhaps not in the mists of the Isles, but certainly somewhere. Even in Sri Lanka itself would do. This would put our new arrival far from familiarity, and certainly set him into something foreign to his mind. The classic story The Mark of the Beast, by Rudyard Kipling would make a fine resource for this particular unease.
The wood ought to be fashioned into something. A chest or cabinet, from the prompt, are obvious choices, and the quickest route is some sort of monstrous creature imprisoned in them (which, no doubt, endeavors to trick the victim into letting it free by means foul). We should ignore this obvious path, however. Instead, perhaps, we may place our twin demons against each other. Or the appearance of such. Something foul that is sadistic may try to prevent the object of their fun from releasing something murderous. In this case, the two forces at work produce twin manipulations. If the chest simultaneously attempts to lure and dissuade its owners from opening it, it is no surprise it might be abandoned or it’s owners gone mad.
Of course, there are alternatives. An exquisite chess set, for example, might work. A game such as this, something that has the veneer of the familiar, might be a better object. For while the unknown is terrifying, the complete stranger is simply baffling. Far more frightening is the demon that between torments moves its pieces and plays something of a human role. For, in that case, the diabolical is not far from the human, the perception of savagery and civilization more of an illusion.
Add to this the nature of the British Empire at the time of Mr. Lovecraft, a seemingly perpetual decline, this blurring of boundaries is appropriately frighting. We must be careful, of course, not to portray the Empire as civilized and the colonies as backward or barbaric except in the mind of our Englishmen. It’s something to most seriously avoided.
But certainly, there is arrogance to be shaken.

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