Mountain out of a Man

This Week’s Prompt: 70. Tone of extreme phantasy. Man transformed to island or mountain.

The Prior Research: The Root of the Mountain

The land of Loni was once a flat and unmarked plan, a grassland that rolled on and on. It was disturbed, only slightly, by circular wood at it’s center—a wood of white, straight trees rising with branches outstretched towards heaven. It was in this small wood that the lone permanent inhabitant of Loni sat. Back to bark, the old monk sat crossed legged with eyes closed. At his feet a bronze bowl had been placed by some traveler over Loni. Scraps of paper and coin were in it’s bottom, but the meditative man was unaware. He had come this far for its isolation, for while there were lands that Loni sat between, it was deemed cultivatable and undesirable by most—a waste with a thin layer of grass over it by reasonable folk, and a haunted and spirit filled land by wise ones.


Of course, no picture of Londi exists. Pando, a tree that has become a forest, is the closest we have in the modern day.

The mendicant had been mediating beneath the tree for over a decade, living on the earth’s slow breath and dew of morning. His thoughts lost in the depths of the cosmos, in passing he resembled a statue So it was that the rain and storms did not bother him. He was aware of them distantly, as if he observed them from afar. Nor was the brush fire that wrapped around the woods of any bother to him, for he had set his mind beyond such things.

Once, a bolt of lighting struck the tree he sat beneath, splitting it open and igniting the wood into a blaze that consumed all of it but the mendicant. Unmoved, he did not notice the seeds that fell into the ashes around him and on top of him. He was like a stone as roots spread across his limbs and legs, as trees embraced his form for stability. From afar, one could see that the new trees had grown a few feet taller, as proof the old man remained. Some drew close, and found his old bowl still there, at before the rooted statue that seemed trapped and bound by the trees.

Man in the Roots.png

The rusting bowl was taken, by those who traversed the plains, to be a site of offering. Seeing to appease the the man beneath the trees, some gave him coin for good fortune. And those who later had good fates ascribed them to him, returning with greater gifts. Stories spread of the old man beneath the trees, of his power over wealth and wonder. Grant him coin, it was said, and he would guide the traveler to wonders. Or that he stood guard over some majestic treasure, or could from a far cure sickness. The old man himself noticed only the odd child who poked his nose or disturbed his peace in some other way. He could not but smile, shifting branches and roots with a small grin. Still the trees grew around him, a halo of plant life around his head. Otherwise, his mind remained away from the world, roots now dug deep.

Over time, the gifts around the old man grew vast indeed. Gems rested his legs, staves at his side bedecked with serpent and ox heads. Animals from far and wide had been left for his care, and grew to inhabit the forest. Images of loved ones in need of his thoughts, or of homes that people hoped to see, were thick on the floor around his bowl, making small walls. Abandoned swords, given up in oaths to him, or drinking horns cracked with oaths to him, the little god beneath the trees, accumulated around him. Such abundance could not help but be tinder.

In time, the place had become known as a place of pilgrimage and holy power. Loni had known no temples or kings, a land of itinerants and travel, of nameless shapeless spirits and ghosts. But not far off, a horse-lord heard of the treasures of the old man, and set to have them as his own. Gathering his arms, he rode with iron and fire to the woods, now thick in the center of the plains. The grass was dry that year and drought had settled in.

None of the men tried to move the old man, so covered in ash and roots and dead plant matter that he looked like a crude statue. As the nest of trees above him tumbled down, they could feel his breath on the ground, rising and falling without fail. Though they robbed him of many gems and weapons and tributes, they would not lay hands on those nearest him. And so the heated metal, the ashes of the trees and blackend roots settled on the shoulders of the old man, who’s long petrified bones and skin held it up.

After they returned with their loot, the plains of Loni were still and quiet. The years were burned into layers, into a hill of rotted and burned cinders. Decades layered upwards, rising over the grass lands. The animals had mostly escaped the fire, although they congregated around the hill often. The old man’s visage could still be seen slightly by those passing by—the small dents in the hill resembled eye sockets from afar, the ridges along the side might be construed as elbows. And the larger dent before the hill was commonly called “The Saint’s Bowl.”

City on the Hill.png

Slowly, stories spread outward again of the old hill where miracles happened. There were tales that it was a great giant who had passed on, or that the mound was some old spirit. Those who remembered the old days thought it some holy place, and remembered the strange god beneath the trees. Regardless, once the rains came, the woods and plains grew again. With them pilgrims and travelers came again. Now they built, atop that hill, a village. At first a small temple and inn—but in time farms and houses. The area of the old forest was fertile with fallen ash. What was once waste was now farms, and what was once a stop along a voyage became a destination of its own.

The path through Londi was always a path, but with no safe haven it was considered an unfortunate and impossible one. The small shrine before was a place for travelers to rest, but no long caravan could make much there. The plains were to vast, to isolated, for long journeys regularly. But now, at the heart, a small town grew. The five grains could grow there, and there were beds for travelers. The rains collected at the bass of the hill, a small lake that water might be drawn from.

Tales were told of the hill, how it’s old spirit guarded the town or how it worked miracles, how deep in it’s bones a treasure lay, guarded by a fearsome thing. The town grew rich in time, and grew vast. A keep of brick stood around the head of hill, a crown of stone for the old man deep below. And this city, rich on the river that flowed across the plains, was perhaps the longest garment the old man-mountain wore.

Fire did not lay the city low—no, no flames could bring down its walls. Nor did war, although that came often along the winds. Nor did storms, that battered and broke the sky. These added to the mound, the hill rising as one wooden keep or baked brick was buried at it’s base and another built atop it. But the city stayed all the same. Even as bricks and mortar and wood came from faraway to raise the city ever higher, the people stayed. They told tales of the growing hill, and how it was once a terrible giant that came to repent its ways, or how the old father mountain granted wishes to those who innocently prayed. The groves atop the hills head, in the royal gardens, were said to be a gift from the spirits beneath the earth. And perhaps, at last, an eternity seemed atop the hills.

The old man’s mind wandered those streets at times. They were as far from his old form as the stars once were—he walked atop his form unseen, taking in every movement across his form. New families came and old families went, roots of a different sort sinking forever down. His thoughts were the thoughts of hills, clouds and fogs taken up into the sky. The children and elders felt his movements from stone to stone, topic to topic. The shifting of the breeze marked his passage. And he delighted in them, even those that were entombed beneath his skin.

The city came to an end in time, however. Not from thunder, or fire, or sword. Slowly, along the path of caravans, it crept closer. Unseen, unheard, the death came upon the breath of men. It lurked on the backs of rats, in ticks and fleas. It grew and spread outward among the crowds. The rivers of trade, of silver and gold, laid the city low. They died in droves—from beneath the mountain, the city seemed to wilt as a flower plucked from it’s home. The walls, so long standing that the seven sages might have laid them, came tumbling down with none to repair them. The houses decayed as the trees before them had, and fell into disrepair. The hill grew as it did every time, the old man’s form rising to new heights.

Mounatin Man Final.png

Those who walk the plains around the Mountain Londi sometimes hear the whispers of an old sage, and see the grass shift in the mountains shadow. Tales tell of the great caverns that are the eyes of the mountain, small and near the top. The lake and river beside it, an overflowing beggars bowl. A fine metaphor, the wise men think, for the appearance and abundance of the mountain. With such in mind, a group of ascetics built a monastery atop the mountain, where they sit in quiet contemplation—their minds tossed out ward to the starry cosmos.

This story was an interesting change of pace from the normal horror fare. While writing it, I tried to make it a bit more than a history of a location but a story of a person-place. The choice of each layer of destruction building the mountain was partly born of the folklore stories, but also from trying to give a pseudo-reality to the transformation. Instead of pure fancy, I wanted an stretch of a real phenomenon that also avoided body horror.

Overall, I’m actually rather proud of this story. Next week, however, we go back to the horror and a tale as old as Christendom: what happens when you sell your soul to the Devil?

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The Ruins of Dimov

This Week’s Prompt: 67. An impression—city in peril—dead city—equestrian statue—men in closed room—clattering of hooves heard from outside—marvel disclosed on looking out—doubtful ending. [“DISSIPATION?” by Dan McCoy]

The Prior Research:The Dread Horsemen

The days of clattering horseman outside the walls were the sort of days that cannot last forever. Raids either break upon the walls, or settle down as a moat of flesh before receding into the hills. Or so I had always thought, for the great hills of Dimov had never broken before. Now, I slipped through the streets, dressed in a stolen set of servant’s clothes as the smoke of the city settled away. Past the proud statue of Saint Alorium on his mighty steed and beneath the strong spear pointing at the setting sun with defiance I slipped, towards a small secret door at the side of the grand temple I had used in my younger years. While a more through army may have found it by now, I suspected that the city guard and the temple authorities employed greater scrutiny then the stragglers of hillmen on their red steeds.

St. Alorium.png

The door is still locked, but the familiar triage of serpents circle the knocking place. I rapped softly, hoping some member of our esteemed order still has survived. Clattering hooves went by, not far off, with none of the enthusiasm of the richer raiders. No, vultures now circled the city, the greatest of the host already sedate with it’s gluttonous feast. I was quiet, holding my breath, until at last the door opened and a pair of heavy hands pulled me inside.

My rescuer was, by account of his clothes, a smith. He had the heavy apron, the gloves, and the tired eyes. Not far into our hidden lodge was a younger man in tattered green and black robes, with a gold chain capped with an emerald, amulets and robes of the old scribes, who shut the door behind me and resealed it’s locks. Ah, to be back in a passage of celebration at the end of Dimov.

Were you seen?” My new host asks, looking over my shoulder as the last lock clicks.

No riders were outside, so beyond the unseen eye, our hiding hole is safe.” I said, nodding.

Safe? In this age? No, no we are not safe. We are merely alive.” The man of learning said, turning back around and looking about. “And maybe not long. One entrance of spies is sealed, but who knows what rats and roaches have snuck in through the windows and frames.”

I blinked a bit at the man of lore. The smith shrugged.

You must forgive Raam. A scholar does not outlive his university with his mind entirely intact.”The smith said, leading me along through the barricaded basement and past a table overturned. “But there is an enlightenment to his madness. We must secure ourselves, lest a spy of the hillsmen has slipped in. My name’s Dominic.”

Darius. What convinces you such spies are among us?” I asked, letting the false name roll off my tongue.

Walls do not fall to horses. Good walls do not fall to spears. Dimov’s walls did not fall to boulders. They did not fall. They had to be opened. And so there are spies, there are eyes of the hills among us, from those lost heaths.” Raam said, moving along after securing the door ahead.

The smith explained that, while they would simply hide in the lodge, the lodge lacked rations forever. Far greater stores were in the old offices above us. The three of us each took some lumber and tools of the smith—his old hammer and a few nails he had kept hand for repairs—in case we needed to board them up. The church kept stores frequently, and while the hillmen had yet to pierce them—being fearful of the great statues outside no doubt—we could make use of them with impunity. Not to mention oil to burn for warmth at night.

Three entrances, right?” I asked, pointing in the directions. “West, East, North.”

Should be. The glass is still there.” Dominic said, pointing at the gallivanting images of saints ascending from the depths and the glittering form of Saint Alorium with his serpent slaying spear. The three of us went to work. Raam’s garb belied his strength: he carried more than his share of the pew. It was while we were lifting one to the door that I noticed strange caluses on his hands.

But that aside, we got the three doors secured, piles of pews against their doors. The stores themselves were smaller than we hoped. Still, we made do with the bread we had, gathered beneath the stained glass in case the raiders looked within and spotted us.

Raam, I must admit, I’ve not seen a man with such might beneath their robes.” I said smiling. “Was the house of scrolls your second trade?”

Hm? Scrolls? You want to know of scrolls? Scrolls are weighty, especially in gold. Work, hard work, can lift the burdens and chains invisible that wrap around the neck and anchor the arms.” Raam replied.

It is like apprentice fees at the forge. You have to work some time to pay them off, although I did not know hard labor was a good trade for earning a good deal of money.” Dominic said, taking a bite from the bread.

You’d be surprised. I’ve not known a footmen who knew so much of scribes, so small people, rummaging about around bloated corpse royal.” Raam said slowly. “Flies and maggots all of them.”

Well I never–” I began, standing with my voice raised, silenced by Dominic’s hand. He pointed to his ear. Outside, there was the clatter of hooves. Dominic removed his apron to smother the fire as I darted to peek out the window. There were five of them on horse back, quivers at their side and lances in hand as they road around the statue, searching with torches in the moon light.

Silent, silent.” Raam whispered, crouching behind a pew. I nodded, slumping beneath the window so as to be unseen.

How many?” Dominic asked from his hiding spot. I held up an open palm. The five horses circled again, the rotating torchlight flickering through the stained glass, illuminating each preserved scene in sequence, the wall opposite showing a silent play of saints, rising from birth and falling on the spears and swords of the hillmen of old.

At last the circling stopped, and a few clattered off. I peeked over the edge, and saw one of the hillmen in his leather armor. In his hand was a bucket, with a dark pitch inside. In his other hand was a torn standard of the guard, wrapped into a mop of many colors. With a word to the other rider that remained, he dipped the standard in the pitch. Then he rode about, and slammed the stained glass with his spear, coating the colors in darkness. The other rider did the same, and one by one the saints along the side were subsumed by the waves of darkness.

Stained Glass Pitch.png

Darkness, darkness gathered by eyes…” Raam whispered, crawling about. “We’ve been discovered. They’ve discovered us now, because of you, you treason!” He hissed pointing at me.

Me, treason? You’re the one pretending at being a scholar! How can we trust a man of letters who couldn’t make a summer living as a scrivener or scribe?” I hissed back, jabbing a finger.

I was within when the city was taken! Only you and Dominic without! One of you, one of you let them in! Lead them here!” He muttered standing up tall now as the pitch covered half the windows. We had boarded ourselves in, and the fire at the doors would be more than enough to smoke us out.

If I was the spy, would I have stayed with you! Why? To die in this house of God in paupers outfit?” I asked, almost shouting. We were doomed, we were doomed.

Spies betray for a hundred reasons! Perhaps you wanted death, or sought penance! Zealot or despair alike!”

It was then that we realized Dominic was gone. We stared across at each other, the embers dying low. Outside, we heard clearly now, a hundred horsemen or more. Even through the pitch we saw the low light of torches gathered.

The front door.” I said slowly, turning about. “We might be able to force our way through there.”

And die to their lances?”

We die in fire or we die to a hundred spears, which will be faster?” I ask, rushing over to the door and pulling a pew down. The west entrance begins to crackle as smoke flows in. The back two glass windows crack with heat before shattering, scattering downward like a rain of multi-colored arrows. As we pulled aside the pews to make room, the wind rushed in. While the wind was cooling, and bought us time from the smoke, me and Raam heard carried on it the cheers and shouting of thousands of horsemen, come for the final demolition.

And then, as the final window shattered, as the fire spread from the eastern and western doors down towards us, we heard great hoof beats and sudden panic. Shouting and roaring of battle as at last we pushed open the front door, to make our feverish escape.

St. Alorium2.pngSt. Alorium stood on his twenty-foot tall steed, his spear bright and bleeding. Around him the hillmen roared as he stared with his maned helm, his eyes like glimmering stars. Fire behind us, death before us, me and Raam stood trapped at the threshold transfixed. The saint raised his spear and the slaughter began in earnest.


This story was tricky to write–I almost started it over again a few times, but ran out of time.  The statue coming to life seemed obvious if effective. The paranoia needs I think more time to actually develop, and more leads. At the moment it’s a bit arbitrary. And I think this is about half the story. The opening is strong, but more middle tension between the survivors over fear of spies or the looters outside is necessary.

Next time, we go more explicitly psychological, and visit a concept as old as modern horror genre itself–the mind of a killer.

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The Dread Horsemen

This Week’s Prompt: 67. An impression—city in peril—dead city—equestrian statue—men in closed room—clattering of hooves heard from outside—marvel disclosed on looking out—doubtful ending. [“DISSIPATION?” by Dan McCoy]
The Resulting Story: The Ruins of Dimov

Ah, a good long prompt with something like an arc already backed in. It feels like it’s been a while. We start with a brief scene of the city in peril, and then return after it’s destruction to a number of squabbling men in a small room near an equestrian statue. The statue it seems comes to life, and upon seeing this the story ends. Nice and simple.

Now, I think there are things to be expanded upon. I think the choice of a horse at the center of destroyed city is interesting. Horsemen in mythology and folklore, especially in non-chivalry contexts, have associations with destruction. There is the Wild Hunt, a host of fae or the dead, lead by one of power—the devil, Odin, Eric of Wales, or any other storm power—which pursues its quarry from the sky. The viewer often dies, and war and terror reign for some time after wards.

Horseman of the Apoclypse.png

Beyond this band, there are the horsemen of the end of time—four horses with five riders: Conquest(Not plague, don’t listen to modern authors!), War, Famine, Death, and Hades. These riders, atop multicolored steeds are the heralds of a quarter of the world dying by various means. Found in art and popular culture, these are ruiners of cities and men alike. The Book of Revelation also includes the host of destructive angels who ride out to cause misery on the world again. This locust horde of the abyss that resemble armed horses are terrors onto the world for the suffering.

And then there are the centaurs, Greek creatures that resemble horses but with the upper bodies of men, and who are known for their uproarious and provocative behavior with the sole exception of Chiron. Their most famed conflict was the abduction of the women of the Lapiths in a raid at a wedding—an incident that reminds me in passing of the Satyr’s tendency to cause terror at weddings. Variations include the centaurs of Dionysus, sent by Zeus to protect the wine god, and the centaurs of Cyprus who are horned.

Of course, the Greeks do not have a monopoly on dreadful horsemen. Akin to the centaur are the people of the Kinara Kingdom in India, who’s exact form varies from “horse necked” to hybrids like the centaurs. In the Philippines there’s the Tikbalang, a horse headed humanoid that can be found in the mountains that some reports suggest can be tamed with a piece of it’s own hair. While the Aswang project reports it as generally harmless and a trickster, others indicate that the Tikbalang is more malicious or even cannibalistic, at times resembling the Wild Men type we’ve discussed earlier.


And then there is the Nuckelavee—a creature that resembles a man on a horse, with no skin. It’s head is three feet wide, or sometimes it has two, with a horses head that exudes toxic vapors. It is plague and famine, with it’s breath wilting crops and poisoning wells. It’s eyes are fiery. In some cases, the Nuckelavee is even blamed for the withholding of rain and water, causing massive droughts in addition to it’s personal harassing of those it meets.

Folklore about horses can have more various forms—to ride a horse backwards, for instance, causes illness. A trio of horses of the same color are signs of death, and a dead horse hoof buried beneath the stable secures them against enchantment. Horses that are startled have seen dead men, or the soon to be dead.

The Chinese Classic of Mountains and Seas includes a number of creatures that take the form of the horses. There is the creature called which-lake on Mountain Hiddenabyss, which has a horses body, bird wings, a serpent’s tail, and a human face that enjoys giving humans a lift. On Mount Belt there is the ugly-coars, a creature which resembles a unicorn with a ‘hard grinding shell’, and that appears immune to fire. Twenty of the forty-three of the deities of the Western Mountains are horses with a human face. And on Mount Dam, there is an animal that resembles a horse with four horns, ram eyes, and an ox tails—the appearance of this creature, the far-far, causes a rapid increase in fraud. And so on.

The horse sacrifice is a kingship practice in Hinduism—a horse is sent around the kingdom, and if none dispute it, the horse is returned and sacrificed to secure the king’s undisputed rule. Needless to say many epics include sections of conflict disputing this—the Mahabhrata and the Ramayana both feature these sections for instance, before their climatic battles or wars.

Horses and kings are associated elsewhere. Mythical, many king gods have wondrous mounts—the seven headed horse of Indra, the eight legged horse of Odin, the taltos steed, the mythical horses born of the golden fishes. Poseidon, a god of the Greeks who was supreme for that lost Mycenean age, was lord of horses and earthquakes and islands. The epic hero King Gesar was a horse lord of great prominence, the most important throughout northern Asia. Horse numbers were also prestige markers among the various tribes of the Plains Indians of the American west.


A more modern equestrian statue, that perhaps was once possessed, is Blucifier. The large Blue Mustang statue outside the Denver airport has brilliant red eyes that give it a diabolic appearance was commissioned in 1993. Meant as a symbol of the wild old American West by it’s artist, Luis Jimenez, the horse’s eyes glow and During construction, the massive statue fell on the man who designed it, killing Jimenez. With it’s appearance and the legacy of a frankly disturbing death by its hand, outcry has grown around the statue. A demon horse indeed.

Within the stories of pulp, this reminds me most of one other story in particular: the Story of the Sword of Welleran by Dunsany, which features a number of equestrian statues saving a city in peril from devastation. You can read the full story here.

Now, as I said at the end of the last story, I feel I’ve drifted more into shock and …well, missed the power of horror in character focused dramas. And here, I think, we have an opportunity to work with character drama. We have a group in a small place, in a tense situation—the clattering of hooves outside could indicate rescuers, or it could indicate surviving looters. We have danger, a small place, and a group of survivors huddled together. We just need a cause of conflict and paranoia for the ball to get rolling.

And for that, I think the associations of ruin and desperation of war could work in our favor. We could infuse the story with some paranoia about survival, as the sounds of war are still heard not far off. I think some sort of set up might be needed: why are people suspicous in the wake of the calamity? Are our characters safe from the horde outside? From each other? Is one a looter, a spy, a traitor? Genuine paranoia is a hard thing for me to write, so this will be good practice. I think the most difficult part is forcing a reason for our characters to come together. If they are distrustful of each other, why not split apart? An outside danger might solve that particular problem, but I think some greater pressure is needed to compel a group of strangers inside then the lingering threat of raiders and pillagers in a dead city.

How about yourself. Do you know any devil horses, steeds of Diomedes, or terrors that lurk in desolate cities? What would you write?

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The Tears Begin To Show

This Weeks Prompt: 35. Special beings with special senses from remote universes. Advent of an external universe to view.

This Week’s Research: Djinn and Beyond The Grave

Kavets village had had a terrible winter. It was colder, Alyona muttered, then ever before. The snow was thicker, the trees seemed more dead. The world seemed to be caked in a thick malaise of some sort, giving everything a feeling of rigor mortis. Fire wood resisted the ax, water took longer to boil, the air was more a persistent and dreadful fog that you could almost swim through.

And then there were the men, if you could call them men.


They were mostly old men, Dmitri and Kuzmas being the notable exception as young boys. They’d gotten together their hunting rifles, their old war rifles, their stolen rifles and said no more when the draftsmen came. They wouldn’t send more young men off to fight, more wheat to feed the pigs in Moscow, no more obedience to strict laws about where trains would be placed. Alyona had been with them for a time, but Kuzmas said a woman’s place was back on the farm, while the men went out to fight.

As Alyona walked the latest bread to the main of the village, hoping to find some more wood for the fire, she saw them coming back in their mock uniforms, cheering. A bunch of old men and boys with guns, convinced they’d stop all this feudal nonsense. Alyona noted they were back from the wood, coming east. They always marched around the village to the woods on the hill first, filling it with the latest catch before coming to the village.

To protect the sensibilities of the children. That didn’t stop the occasional gruesome souvenir or spectator from the village women. One, Nasha, had a necklace with a bloody hand sewn on, to keep the wicked hands of revolutionaries away from her at night. She hung it over her door.

“You see how he shook?” Dmitri said with his loud, drunken voice.

“Wind, good brother, wind.” One of the older men said. “Dead men don’t move that much.”

“Shame we couldn’t get more.” Kuzmas said, shaking his head. “They go fast don’t they.”

Alyona wondered how fast Kuzmas would go, should the fights draw closer. Every day, they came back sooner. And Alyona had noticed, as she had worked on sewing, that there seemed to be one or two less, never mentioned, when they came back from the woods.

“Oh, well, you can’t expect it to be perfect.” Kuzmas had said with a shrug. “People get lost or scared and run off. And once or twice, they get shot. But only once or twice. Don’t worry about it. Those damned fools are getting scared by the woods more and more, they’ll leave us well enough alone by winters end.”

As the party passed the street, talking still about the warning woods and boasting of how many conscripts they’d sent running, Alyona heard a whisper on the wind. It sound high pitched, almost like a cats. The sound rose briefly, pushing her along, before fading.

Alyona decided it was a headache, and went back to finding firewood in the village square.


Days past between that and the next fire fight. Kuzmas had trouble telling the difference in movements. Kuzmas kept to himself about what happened on the train tracks. There was no need to bother the women about the explosion. They’d tied a few grenades together and made something like a pipe bomb. Kuzmas didn’t tell the women that they had missed. That maybe they aimed to high, and hit someone or something in front of the tracks, and that while the other men appeared ignorant, he had seen blue blood flying with Dmitri’s.

“Where’s Dmitri?” Alyona asked as he walked back, rifle over his shoulder. Kuzmas smiled and lied that he had gone off alone to drink in the woods.

The woods was were they had their pacts and sermons. When they got their hands on officials from Moscow, they brought them to that old woods where fairy tale giants and ogres built castles to the sky. Naum, who had fought briefly in the wars of the Tsarists, and who had come back from the city with something witch-like in his eyes, often told them it was a good place for a burial.

“There are old spirits here, that tell me if we bury them here, offer their bodies here, they will be made pure and the spirits will fight with us.” Naum said, typically when explaining why the bodies of so many officials hung from the tries. Kuzmas didn’t care much for talk of spirits. He cared for cutting the men who stole his father and brother, no matter how much they screamed.

Kuzmas was fairly certain if their were spirits in the wood, however, they weren’t kindly ones.

“Where’s Ivan?” Alyona would ask. Kuzmas would lie. Say he got scared and ran off. There was no need to worry her about the occasionally skirmish that drew nearer and nearer. Something calmed his blood whenever he thought to bring it up.

Kuzmas didn’t care much for talk of spirits. But he knew they were there. One, a tall one with great owl eyes and long blue fingers and arms, followed him wherever he went. Kuzmas only saw it once or twice, and it left no tracks. It just stared with it’s great eyes, and opened it’s mouth to speak. But nothing ever came out.

A living man came into the village one day, dressed in a conscripts uniform. He’d come home, this old hand, this man of war who’d seen the front and the trenches. He’d come home, back to Alyona, who had smiled on him before he left and wept for him after. He’d come home, this Makariy, sober and with his rifle.

He smiled at Alyona, but the smile of a distant person. He didn’t say a word.

“He was looking for the village in the old woods.” Kazmus told her, himself smiling the first sincere grin he’d had in weeks. “He has news, back from the fronts out east.”


Alyona again heard that tone, that ever rising whistling tone. That sharp, steady, slowly pericng tone. Had Kazmus the presence of mind to look, he would have seen his blue imp squatting on her shoulder, mouth agape to speak.

The villagers gathered around Makariy without much prompting. There were gifts offers, praises to God and saints, and other rejoices at the return of a prodigal son. Makariy, with shaking hands, refused all things. He only asked for a chair to stand and speak on.

“I…” he said, the next world strangled by invisible hands for a moment before beginning anew, “I have not come how merely for celebration.”


The villagers murmured a bit.

“I’ve come with a warning. When I fled my regiment, to come home and protect the land of my father, and my fathers father, and so on, I learned something terrible. The Red Army is closing in.”

Alyona frowned as the whistling began to drown out Makariy’s words. Now, though, it had slowly morphed into a song. A song who’s lyrics, in the wind, were muddled and unclear. But there was something earnest in them, like a long forgotten lullaby from child hood.

“-at least a thousand men, to root us out.” Makariy finished when Alyona could focus again. The crowd was aghast. The three score fighting men could hardly hope to hold out against so many. Even with the entire village, how could they hope to hold out and be victorious.

“Can one not stand against many?” Naum said, standing up, his long beard making him look like the icons of wild prophets. “Can we not, as the Maccabees of old, fight off these invading foes?”

“The Maccabees still had God.” Makariy said slowly. “Do we? I smelled sulfur all the way here, sometimes worse.”

“Of course we have God!” Naum said, his face frowning deeply at the notion otherwise. “Would he side with the Reds, priest murdering, orphan making, monk slaying, academics? No, the Lord has always been with us, men of farms and women of cloth!”

Kazmus stared as the imp gestured at Naum, frantic hands flailing like a terrified child. Kazmus followed the finger towards the old man’s sermon. He stretched, it seemed to Kazmus, large above the crowd, a singular tendril raising him into the air, twisting down into the earth as it went. There were gasps from the crowd.

“A saint, a miracle…” Alyona whispered.

“Who can doubt we have God on our side now?” one of the older men muttered.

Kazmus kept quiet, watching Makariy’s face contort. But he seemed to relent. They would fight, Makariy said, they would fight in the way that few beat many, quick and strong like lighting. There was no joy when Makariy spoke.


The next few days, Kazmus saw his little imp more and more.

“What is it, friend?” Kazmus said, leaning down as it gasped, trying to speak. It walked along the newly made barricade that was to be Kazmus’s standing spot, lined with a good view into the woods and hidden by branches. The imp pointed west, plaintively, time and again.

“Ah, don’t go on like that. West ain’t much better, little one. The Whites will get you out there. Or worse.”

The imp grew irritable and leapt toward Kuzmas, grabbing him with both hands, and turning him East. There, Kuzmas saw a terrible mass, a mountainous shape in the form of a human head rising out of the ground. A dark helm was on it’s head, and from its neck and hair spread a number of tendrils like trees. It’s mouth was open wide, in a perpetual roar. The landscape bent around it, black and bleak hills and stars shining a pale red. Hosts of insects flew out.

But this was not, to Kuzmas confusion, merely a change. Rather it was like the world as he saw it was superimposed onto this new one, as a thin photograph was held over one’s eyes. As he heard the distant gunfire, he saw the great insects with long legs and deadly stingers shaped like grotesque fish bones. And Kuzmas felt light headed, as he saw more of the great blue imps coming around him.

“Gunfire! They’ve come!” Naum shouted from the lines. Alyona stood in her house, armed with a knife. As she sat, so armed behind an overturned table, Alyona muttered prayers unto God for deliverance, uttered pleas for a place in heaven, and that her sins be forgiven.

“Grant us victory this day, All Mighty Lord, grant us-” she said over and over, until a growing tone rose in her ear.

“Oh, not now, not now. Not when they are just over the hill.”

The music played, rising and falling, played alluring and calming. The tone played sounds like angelic singing and bestial growling. The lyrics made no sense, formed by a choir invisible. But their meaning was clear. Run. Run West. Run to woods west.

“No, no, no. We stand and fight.”

A second choir joined the first now, urging more and more to run. But the tone was now the deep rumble of stones, the cracking of wood, the roar of river. A sweeping, a smashing, a consuming sound. A warning, a warning that a great predator, a great host was coming to carry her off parcel by parcel and wash out any trace of her.

Even if they didn’t kill her, even if her pulsing blood filled body was untouched, she would die.

Alyona refused still to move. She would stay and fight, and if that meant die, she would die. This was where she was meant to be.

The song changed again, a third sound. This one made no effort at message, only feeling. A rhythm of explosive blasts, the sounds of dead men crying out in misery, the weeping of children, the symphony of the dead. As it played, the house seemed to shake under the weight of the sounds. As it moved, for a moment, Alyona was able to see a spiraling staircase of stars rising out onto the sky, the movements of brilliant faces and shifting forms.

“Fine! Fine.” Alyona said, peaking over the table. Naum was staring walking about with his hunting rifle, looking about every which way. But if the music would not cease it’s torment until she left, then she’d leave. The back. The back door would be unguarded.

***********************************************************************Makariy stood calmly along the edge of the barracks. The air buzzed about him, vibrations tingling through his body. He had felt them on the Eastern Front. They had led him home, although he still waited for why.

He could smell, even from a distance, that moldy sulfur that seemed to settle around the Red Army. The Black Army had a corpse like touch to it as well, lacking the strange liveliness of the Reds. There was desperation to Black Army troops, a madness of some half-born half-dead creature. And when he squinted he thought he saw something behind them, a shadow larger then them cast behind them. But only occasionally.

Makariy watched dimly as he saw the troops moving like flood waters among the trees. A thousand was a vast number, one that without prior knowledge, could not be explained or expected. Naum might get the people to stand. To hold their ground. To die and be martyred. But Makariy was rooted by that smell and that vibration in the air, that feeling that suddenly something was going to rip and tear the very world around him apart. The fields of battle rooted him, the conviction of doomed men rooted him. He knew that without a miracle he was here to die with his fellows.

And for a moment, there was.

There was a great light, shining light striking out, slicing itself open like the world was a deck of playing cards and the wind was scattering them apart to show something else unraveling about him. The trees peeled back to show a brilliant dance of lights and a strange wind worked it’s way through from the other side, smelling of lilacs and the taste honey. The tear rotated about, drawing Makariy’s eyes with it as the first gunshot rang through the air, answered by a hundred of it’s compatriots and enraged shouting.

It lead back to the gruesome woods of hanging bodies and burial mounds, the place where the world seemed to have left the tangible and slipped into a dream like state. Where the swaying mutilated form of Red men seemed just ready to prophesy in this new world.

None noticed Makariy leave as the second stanza of shots started. One rifle was the same as every other, and Naum had whirled them into a frenzied swarm around him. No ant ever notices if one of it’s own slips away, even if they were merely washed away by the rolling rain.


Kazmus followed the imp to hill. Alyona was pulled along by ancient song. And Makariy drawn by the shimmering promise of escape. Each found their way into the hanging woods, surrounded above by dead foes and below by buried beloved. At the meeting of the red and the green, where the corpses and worms crawled, they all saw it as they heard it as they smelled it as they tasted it as they felt it. It was a sensation of the entire body lifted upward and outward, like the loosening of a too tight belt allowing a belly to roll out.

And the world seemed to bend round them, and the sky bowed for them, and behind it they saw worlds undreamed of. Great hands pulled them forward, up and past what lay below, out of their bodies and into a heaven of planet sized palaces. When they looked down, the small Russian village was as small as a needle, the universe fading backwards and away. And they felt chains holding them down, chains of bone and flesh.

So they cut themselves free.


So a mild confession: I ended up not using as much of the djinn research as I planned. Rather, for most of the ‘mysticism’ on display here, I made use of a 1960s Russian text called “Rose of the World”. This story is one I’m fairly certain I could expand on (it’s rushed near the midsection, Makariy doesn’t get much development, etc) but the amount of space and time worked against that. However, the base idea is one that if I get the chance I’d like to return too. If I had the foresight, this might have been as good as the AntiMuse story (my personal favorite from the Society).

Next week, we go to SPAAACE.

And therefore everything must die.

Come back next week to learn more!

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