10 votes

October Tildes Writing Club

My further apologies to anyone who has looked forward to another Writing Club while I was busy running from a cruel summer. Finally stationary, I send this from the bewitched region of Galicia, Spain.

I've wandered into a church of horrors recently, at 10 pm, completely ignorant of the liturgical occasion for it standing open and illuminated at that time of night. An elfin woman in a sweatshirt spotted me and my wife as we took in a St. Sebastian statue.

"Come take your photos of this!" she said, and drew us toward a glowing pit under the tabernacle. Besides a priest scribbling behind a cracked door we were the only souls stirring. I kept him in view as we climbed the steps to the high altar.

"Is this OK... are we OK here?" asked my wife, in sparse Castilian.

"Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes," replied the churchwoman. I'm learning that such verbal generosity is typical here.

What she led us to was the sacred center of the church, the relic over which swarmed a hundred angel heads, pewter candelabras, attendant saints and golden aureole. But they were above ground. Beneath the floor it stood, lit extremely: a worn, worn, sea-washed stone, about the size of a cocooned 10-year old child. Coins rested in a depression at its crown. It bore a jumble of an inscription in a font you could count on James Cameron to pick if he had to display an "ancient curse." What or whom the monolith hallowed was beyond our powers to decipher or the churchwoman's to explain. But it seemed older than the cross barely scratched into it. Somehow I knew it had stood apart for millennia. It was the sick feeling it provoked in me, the reflexive reverence it forced from someone. Down the aisle a Mater Dolorosa wept tears like glue beads into her properly black Spanish dress. St. Lucy served her eyeballs on a platter. An underlighted St. Iago trampled moors unlucky enough to have been caught inside the glass case with him and his white charger. The viscera of belief.

We left without understanding, and the lady promptly shut the doors to us and the night.

The stone might have moored a ship purported to have carried St. Iago to Spain. Its letters might signify a dedication to Neptune. It may have come from a flooded temple.

Surely these are elements for an eerie tale, but this was merely my birthday on a full-moon night in Spain.

And now I would really like to read some Halloween writing. Please plan on sharing some short, tense, spooky, autumn-scented, decay-touched words with the writing club. Due on October 31.

7 comments

  1. [2]
    CALICO
    (edited )
    Link
    Fuck it. I'll commit. Are we putting them here? I'll edit this post by the end of the 31st and put something here. Hold me too it. I've been putting a lot of thought into making a serious,...

    Fuck it. I'll commit. Are we putting them here?
    I'll edit this post by the end of the 31st and put something here. Hold me too it.

    I've been putting a lot of thought into making a serious, comitted NaNoWriMo attempt this year, and this could be a good exercise to get those writing juices flowing. It can be my scribble page before a new sketch.

    Edit: I never was good at deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise. Stand by for a few days

    8 votes
    1. etiolation
      Link Parent
      I like this perspective! Yeah, let's post them here. I'll engage with every submission.

      I like this perspective! Yeah, let's post them here. I'll engage with every submission.

      5 votes
  2. TemulentTeatotaler
    Link
    Old Skrat The things that you know to fear aren't so bad. A baby chick knows to run for cover if it sees a hawk shadow just like you're born knowing to run away from things that growl. It's the...

    Old Skrat

    The things that you know to fear aren't so bad. A baby chick knows to run for cover if it sees a hawk shadow just like you're born knowing to run away from things that growl. It's the dangers unseen that'll get you.

    It's the live wire, the widowmaker or barberchair waiting to split, the chemicals you don't feel til they burn through you.

    Growing up in the country you learn how to take advantage of the distinction. How to sneak up on a frog to gig it, or move your hand slow enough that a bug doesn't feel what's coming.

    Sometimes I think we've got things like that walking around, preying on the simpler types. Wearing the skin of men but with none of the warmth. We've got a part of us yelling not to trust them, to get up and walk out without signing. The fine clothes and fancy building were warning signs, but at the same time the show of wealth and slick words told us we'd be taken care. We were in the hands of professionals who understood things better than us.

    We took out the loans and things went south. All our options were exhausted and I'd hit the end of the road, the only thing left to go back to the farm and tell them it wasn't ours anymore. There were grievances but I won't make a story of it since it happened a long time ago and it isn't to the point.

    It was on that day, waiting at a dusty intersection, that I met Mr. Skrat. He slipped in from the corner of my eye and struck up a conversation, though I wasn't quite sure where he came from-- there wasn't much around and he didn't move too fast.

    He was slight and old, and he spoke with the dry rasp of someone who'd had each year carve a notch in his throat. Gaunt like food had long lost its appeal and stooped like each year took a bit of his uprightness. For all that his eyes were bright and prominent as he looked me over, jutting agog or maybe just staying put as the flesh had retreated. The sort of eyes used to looking at all things all at once.

    He asked what was troubling me and I told him. If it had been a few hours before when I still had some hope in me I might not have. It just wasn't the way things were done.

    I had a few false starts but once I got going it all poured out. My blood started to boil as I relived everything. The veins on my face sticking out as I heard my pulse go from a periodic drum to a thrumming in my ears like a cloud of flies. When I came to I was standing part bent, breathing heavy with my nails drawing blood from where they dug. I promptly apologized, to which Mr. Skrat only smiled.

    He contorted himself, swinging his body just enough to lift and settle the briefcase he had with him on the seat next to me. He clicked it open and showed me the contents, still smiling. Told me it was for me, if I wanted it. I sat there stunned for a moment before asking suspiciously what he meant by that and what he wanted. He told me he wanted to help me out of my predicament. Maybe he took a shine to me, or he'd known troubles of his own. Said he was old and no longer cared much for wealth or worldly things. He told me some folks set model trains and watch them, but he just liked watching people. All he asked in exchange was a minute of my time and to share his story.

    After thanking him profusely while shaking his hand I apologized and explained I had to hurry off before things closed. With briefcase in hand I stomped back to the bank, readying myself. The smell of rot grew the closer I got. Closer to condescending faces and feigned sympathy from soft-handed and craven men who'd never worked a hard day or grown anything in their life. I admit I enjoyed their fluster when I burst in there. Enjoyed telling them off and telling them how things were going to be settled from then on. I felt like a hero when I took care of what was needed in time to make it home on time to share the news. We shed silent tears of relief on that first night without a noose around our necks.

    It was still tense for a while after but eventually things settled. We got back to a life fitted to the seasons, tiring but honest. I took on a wife and our family was blessed with a few more soon after. It felt like life gave us something back to make up for the hard times. We took those bumper harvests and grew our holdings with it.

    And that's where the trouble started. Our neighbors didn't have that luck and they started talking. That talk turned into insinuations and skulking around. Then one night a man I came up with came with attacks and demands. Making claims about what my family had done that I knew weren't so.

    It started out quiet. Or maybe I just didn't recognize his arrival back then. A waft of carrion that was overwhelmed by the smells of manure and animals that grew and grew until you could taste it. A knocking that turns into pounding, demanding to be let in no matter how you bar the door.

    Over the shoulder of my red faced neighbor I saw Mr. Skrat come into view, smiling like a cat with cream. He started walking nonchalantly towards me. My distraction must've set my neighbor off because he took a swing that busted my lip open. I backed up, hands up and trying to placate him, but that strange old man kept coming closer and my neighbor kept swinging.

    By the time Mr. Skrat circled me the two of us were hunched, puffing for air. All of a sudden he leapt onto my back and his hands got to work. It wasn't painful but it was wrong what he did... like he knew the way men fit together the way a craftsmen knows how wood can be joined at invisible seams. Like he was there when they were put together and knew how to pull them apart. I felt my shoulder give and my spine split as his hands worked me. It should have hurt. I wish it hurt. Once he had an entrance he climbed inside, stretching and straightening himself until there was no room for me in my own body, hardly even room to think. I could only watch as he mechanically reached over to the shotgun I'd been keeping near ever since the rumors started. It was raised and leveled. Before the body of my once-friend and neighbor hit the ground Mr. Skrat was on his way. That's when the pain crept in, forceful and displacing.

    I collapsed onto the ground right there. Retching and heaving, numb to the faces that gathered or left. Eventually the authorities came and they took me away for questioning.

    I'd never been more ashamed but I held to it being self defense. That man didn't need to be dead, but I wouldn't let my young ones grow up with me. We'd lost my pa in an accident when I was 13. He cut himself with a blade and it got infected. The hospital he was sent to made mistakes and the money we got from that was what kept the family going for a time.

    My face was swollen and sporting at least one blackened eye. He was on our land at night. Maybe it was because of my reputation or the state they saw me in, maybe it was something else. There weren't much in the way of consequences for it, not from the law at least.

    When I was released the first thing my ma asked me was what had happened on that day back then. I can't remember what I'd told them but it didn't involve any old man at a rest spot. She was the first to hear of Mr. Skrat, and as I told her she turned sheet white and nervous like I'd never seen.

    She told me what I met wasn't a man but something cursing our family for a long time. Sometimes skipping a couple generations but always coming back. He visited her father--ruined him-- long before she'd married away from there. She'd have told me but in the telling you draw him, invite him. Looking down and fiddling with her beads, all she could do was caution me and tell me to think carefully about what I'd said and done that day.

    I became withdrawn after that. I attempted to make things right with the family I'd harmed but that couldn't be done and they seemed worse for the trying. All I could do was keep to myself and think about those two days. And. And. And. And. I counted the seconds it took to raise that gun and relived the surprise on his face, the dumb stare as his life left him. I thought of when next Mr. Skrat would visit.

    Life carried on. It often does. Years passed like that.

    Then one night my wife came to me and told me she was leaving. She told me I wasn't the man she married and accused me of all sorts of things that weren't right. I drank a little but no more than other men. She told me this wasn't the life she wanted for herself or the kids. This farm is how all them were to begin with. I saw them there, peaking out from behind the bags that had already been gathered. Shy, sweet things. My kids.

    Too many. I looked into her face and saw scorn enough that I knew . It was late and I wasn't thinking but there were too many. She was saying something with her sneering lips but I could only focus on one thing and it was that there were too many shapes down there. That old itch, that maddening buzzing. My vision wasn't clear but I could tell he was there. My wife was shouting now and I was trying to calm down. I took a long breath but that just let in that fetid smell. She needed to go but she needed to stay. At least my kids needed to.

    Mr. Skrat was now in full view, climbing those stairs. Damned but he picked his time well. I wanted to explain what was happening, make things right with the woman I loved more than anything. Tell her to run. I was frozen, horrified as that wicked thing climbed the stairs. How could I tell her to run without making her freeze like me. That horror spreading to the face of my wife as he got closer. I'd seen that shift on those other days when derision lost itself to panic.

    It took seventeen seconds on that day with the neighbor. That must've been another trick. He knew I'd count them, knew I'd think I had time when he only needed five. That's all it took for her to be sent down the stairs, sprawled in a pile in front of the kids. I shouted at them to get the hell out and take her with, called them rats and probably worse. No longer frozen I'd have done anything to get them away before they got within seconds of me. The look on their faces as they gathered up and left killed me inside.

    Since then I've lived a quiet life. I'm rarely within 38 seconds of another, and when I am I make sure it's no one I'm fond of and no one fond of me.

    I'd tell you more but that'd just draw attention from the wrong things. And my times ending. Like I said it's the unseen that got me, didn't catch it til it was too late. Now I've shared his story, and I must have given him his time because I can't have more of that left to give. I've paid my debts. I can see him there, grinning with those too-sharp eyes and too-many teeth for his years. I hear his wheezing laugh: "Boy, I only asked for a minute and you gave your whole life..."


    I'm new to this sort of writing so I'm happy to get critiques or recommendations. Definitely think I rushed things a bit to keep it short.

    At first this started as a joke about dislike of "rules lawyers" being some primitive warning signal. Ended up a bit off that.

    Old Scratch --> Skrat

    In folklore, a Skrat is a mischievous creature often possessing gold and other riches. Stories about Skrats often revolve around the Skrat being tricked out of its treasure or else the Skrat fooling the treasure seeker by unexpectedly making the treasure disappear. Skrats can aid farmers with whom they are living, although this is usually at the expense of the farmer's neighbours from whom they steal.

    4 votes
  3. etiolation
    Link
    Feel free to post your results here. Consider sharing even if it's something you want to expand over November. Happy Halloween!

    Feel free to post your results here. Consider sharing even if it's something you want to expand over November. Happy Halloween!

    2 votes
  4. [3]
    Grzmot
    Link
    I've begun working on another story set in Ostia and I'm quite proud of the idea, but I will certainly not meet the deadline of today, midnight (barely two hours away). :( The general idea was to...

    I've begun working on another story set in Ostia and I'm quite proud of the idea, but I will certainly not meet the deadline of today, midnight (barely two hours away). :(

    The general idea was to write a short story about a lab rat from the perspective of said lab rat, with the human scientist providing the god-like antagonist. And I have a great way to connect it to the first short story I submitted here about Ostia. Unfortunately I just don't see it turning into horror. It seems the only thing I can write is some sort of adventure. I'm still determined to finish it, because it opens up an avenue of a character that I wanted to explore before.

    I'm also not feeling it yet. It's vague and maybe I'm just not describing people, places and emotions good enough in some futile chase of Chekhov's gun, maybe I'm overthinking it, maybe I'm just depressed.

    Anyway, here's what I've written so far

    At least like the last story, this time I have a full outline finished and I'm happy with it, so I think there's potential there, but at the same time, literally not one person has read the last story and told me about it, so maybe it's also a dead end.

    2 votes
    1. [2]
      TemulentTeatotaler
      Link Parent
      Seems like a good start! Writing about other minds and other levels of intelligence seems like one of the more challenging and rewarding things you can do. I missed whatever you first posted about...

      Seems like a good start! Writing about other minds and other levels of intelligence seems like one of the more challenging and rewarding things you can do.

      I missed whatever you first posted about Ostia and that doesn't seem to be hosted anymore. What's that all about?

      I don't write so I don't have much feedback on that area, but I'll try to offer some reference on animals and intelligence.

      But why? What good was silver? You can't eat it.

      A number of animals (e.g., ferrets, crows, some types of rodents) actually really like shiny objects. I'm not sure why that is. Some initial thoughts are that it's some sort of sexual competition via nest building (ala penguins), some side effect of tendencies to be curious/explore the novel, or blackmail material / using other minds as a way of assessing value?

      ...as if acting against millions of years of instinct, it grabbed one piece and handed it to the rat

      Another small comment is rats are actually pretty darn social and exhibit a lot of reciprocity. From a related abstract:

      We found that the food-deprived dyads or triads of rats did not compete for the food available to them at regular spatially-marked locations that they had previously learnt. Rather, these rats traveled together to collect the baits. One rat, or two rats in some triads, lead (ran ahead) to collect most of the baits, but "leaders" differed across trials so that, on average, each rat ultimately collected similar amounts of baits. Regardless of which rat collected the baits, the rats traveled together with no substantial difference among them in terms of their total activity. We suggest that rats, which are a social species that has been found to display reciprocity, have evolved to travel and forage together and to share limited resources. Consequently, they displayed a sort of 'peace economy' that on average resulted in equal access to the baits across trials. For social animals, this type of dynamics is more relaxed, tolerant, and effective in the management of conflicts. Rather than competing for the limited available food, the food-deprived rats socialized and coexisted peacefully.

      Evolution does some weird things. You can have a species do something as alien as eating their young out of stress/resource concerns/reproduction competition, while also acting like an extremely altruistic human elsewhere.

      One of my favorite animals is the fully eusocial naked molerat. Besides things like basically not having cancer or having pain, they have a "soldier class" that uses their girth to plug tunnels when attacked, and a queen that basically bullies other females to keep them in perpetual adolescence.

      The story reminded me a little of my brother and his wife. They had some DND campaign that involved cranium rats, whose intelligence fluctuated based on population density. He also sent me a two-part article someone wrote on how to handle different intelligences in DND which might be of interest? It included a chart like this:

      INTELLIGENCE SCORE LANGUAGE LOGIC & CALCULATION IMAGINATION & CONCEPTUALIZATION MEMORY & KNOWLEDGE PROCESSING & LEARNING WORKING MEMORY
      1: Borderline Object Non-Communicative Programmatic Non-Cognitive Procedural Memory; Adaptive Memory (If Living) Random Mutation / Programming Only Lacking
      2-3: Non-Sapient Limited Communication Instinct Only Basic Cognition Morphogenetic & Epigenetic Memory Training Via Pleasure & Pain Singular Thoughts Only
      4-5: Pre-Sapient Pantomiming Rudimentary Intuition Basic Visualization - Backtracking Short-Term Memory Rote Learning Minimal Alertness & Orientation Beyond Survival Concerns

      I'm not sure if downsides of intelligence would fit the story you want to tell, but that might be interesting to think about in a social animal? One of the BAHFest entries I remembered joked about why fish are dumb, and the surprisingly prescient Stand on Zanzibar had a subplot that explored this through a surgery that was supposed to augment intelligence.

      1 vote
      1. Grzmot
        Link Parent
        Thanks for the detailed feedback! I was trying to research what we know on rats specifically know. This is supposed to be a bit of a origin story, and was trying to find how experiments were...

        Thanks for the detailed feedback! I was trying to research what we know on rats specifically know. This is supposed to be a bit of a origin story, and was trying to find how experiments were conducted to establish the intelligence of rats. Said origin story does hinge a little bit on the group not being entirely happy together at the start, but instead it did turn into an exploration of conscience and how it relates to language.

        A number of animals (e.g., ferrets, crows, some types of rodents) actually really like shiny objects. I'm not sure why that is. Some initial thoughts are that it's some sort of sexual competition via nest building (ala penguins), some side effect of tendencies to be curious/explore the novel, or blackmail material / using other minds as a way of assessing value?

        Interesting! I suppose I could add a line about some other rats being interested in the silver, I just wanted to draw the distinction between the human minds caught up in our social systems and a fresh, new mind who doesn't understand it yet.

        Evolution does some weird things. You can have a species do something as alien as eating their young out of stress/resource concerns/reproduction competition, while also acting like an extremely altruistic human elsewhere.

        You could argue here that the rats were still under stress from being captured and transported to a new place, so this peace economy would not have been established yet. I'm further along in the story and things have calmed down, and also just before the first experiment gets conducted, so this information is very helpful! Thank you.

        I missed whatever you first posted about Ostia and that doesn't seem to be hosted anymore. What's that all about?

        Thanks for being interested! Here are the links. Please know, this is a prequel to the first story, Nightshade Violet. But I plan on breaking the continuity a tiny bit. The second one I'm quite proud of, because unlike the first, it doesn't start a million new plot threads.

        Story № 1: Nightshade Violet

        Story № 2: The Assassin

        2 votes