The Ebony Galleon

Item #: SCP-XXXX

Object Class: Keter/Potentially Neutralized

Special Containment Procedures: SCP-XXXX cannot be directly contained but has a relatively low probability of being encountered by the public in a verifiable manner. Research should be conducted from a distance and missions involving exploration or artifact retrieval should be restricted to D-Class personnel. SCP-XXXX is to be equipped with a GPS tracking device which must be upgraded or replaced whenever possible. Physical contact with SCP-XXXX-1 is forbidden.

Description: SCP-XXXX is an anomalous seafaring vessel displaying dimensional instability, inexplicably disappearing and reappearing at different coordinates for reasons unknown. Most manifestation events last between 12-36 hours and SCP-XXXX will often not reappear for days, if not months. It is the largest known watercraft in recorded history, having an estimated length of 500 m, a deadweight tonnage (DWT) of approximately 580, and a gross tonnage (GT) of 275.

SCP-XXXX’s design fails to correspond with the ships of any known civilization. SCP-XXXX is primarily composed from a seamless and gnarled dark wood but with a strength-to-density ratio on par with titanium. The wood appears as though cultivated and grossly manipulated into the form of a seafaring vessel. SCP-XXXX is estimated to be several thousand years old, the vessel’s hull encrusted with the remains of shipwrecks both ancient and modern.1

SCP-XXXX is accompanied by a three kilometer radius fog thick enough to obscure nearly all incoming light, resulting in the appearance of night regardless of local time. The only sources of light within the fog are the lanterns that adorn SCP-XXXX, which glow with a pale greenish-blue luminescence. These lights behave unnaturally and are not the product of fire, appearing to float in and out of their lanterns and being cold to the touch with a temperature of approximately -70°C.

SCP-XXXX is operated by a crew of humanoid entities classified as SCP-XXXX-1. SCP-XXXX-1 resemble muscular human males of advanced age and indeterminate background. Instances appear to suffer from a collective disease, resulting in jaundiced skin, blindness, and barnacle encrusted skin. SCP-XXXX-1 display anomalous strength but appear grossly lethargic, being slow to move or react. It remains unknown whether or not SCP-XXXX-1 are even sentient, as they generally repeat the same behavior (patrolling, watching, adjusting sails, etc.) and do not appear to communicate with one another.2

The majority of SCP-XXXX-1 display tattoos, piercings, and ritualistic scarification; common patterns include waves, tentacles, and labyrinths/spirals notably analogous to ancient symbols found on the Canary Islands. The only form of attire among SCP-XXXX-1 is a kilt-like garment bearing superficial similarities with the Ancient Egyptian shendyt. Some are nude, while a minority wear deteriorating outfits spanning a wide range of cultures and time periods.

DNA analysis has revealed that most SCP-XXXX-1 descend from North African Berber peoples; an ancestry shared with the Guanches, the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands – further evidence for a connection between SCP-XXXX-1 and the Atlantic archipelago. A minority, as previously implied, are genetically diverse. It is possible that these instances of SCP-XXXX-1 represent sailors conscripted from encountered vessels (such as from those whose debris have merged with SCP-XXXX).

The Foundation became aware of SCP-XXXX on the 19th of October, 1938, having intercepted an unusual and cryptic distress signal being broadcast from the Drake Passage. Provided is a transcript of communications between the SS Labyrinth (a Foundation steamship near Site ██, located near the South Shetland Islands) and the RRS Elizabeth (a British research vessel and sender of the distress signal):

12.23 a.m.
19 October 1928
R.R.S. Elizabeth to Any Ship:
“CQD CQD SOS Elizabeth Position 60.50 S 64.26 W. Require immediate assistance. Come at once. Sinking. Struck by colossal object. Under attack.”
12.25 a.m.
19 October 1928
S.S. Labyrinth to R.R.S. Elizabeth:
“Putting about and heading to you. Please describe object.”
12.28 a.m.
19 October 1928
R.R.S. Elizabeth to S.S. Labyrinth:
“Black tower. Too large to be a ship. Require immediate aid. Hostiles boarding.”
Broadcasts by the R.R.S Elizabeth cease. Vessel and crew are presumed lost.

SCP-XXXX was ultimately located and boarded by a Foundation exploration team. SCP-XXXX-1 were found coated in relatively fresh blood (likely that of the crew of the RSS Elizabeth) but did not immediately react to Foundation operatives, revealing their sensory limitations.wCYxhGo.png

Partial map found aboard SCP-XXXX.

Navigational tools and maps were discovered aboard SCP-XXXX, a heavy layer of dust suggesting that they had not been employed for some time. These objects, while non-anomalous, were still far too advanced for the period they were dated to and belonged to no known civilization. The maps were found to be incredibly detailed but unusual, displaying several deviations and many landmasses that do not exist in reality. These aberrations include:

  • An island in the Baltic Sea (analysis of the ocean floor in this region revealed several hundred seemingly artificial structures, closely resembling a small neolithic city).
  • An island west of Ireland.
  • A large circular landmass centered around the North Pole.
  • A small continent where Micronesia should be, approximately the size of Greenland.
  • A depiction of Antarctica with minimal ice as well as a large lake or sea within its geographic center.
  • And most notably, four islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – the southernmost island appearing to be the point of departure for SCP-XXXX. Analysis of the ocean floor at coordinates corresponding with this location suggests that such a landmass has never existed.

Related to the previously noted island group, the largest island appears to correspond with the legendary Antillia, a phantom island3 that was reputed, during the 15th-century age of exploration, to lie in the Atlantic Ocean, far to the west of Portugal and Spain. The smaller islands appear to coincide with the equally non-existent island of Royllo to the west of Antillia and Satanazes4(also called the island of Devils, or of the Hand of Satan or of St. Athanasius) some distance to the north along with the small island of Tanmar to Satanazes‘s northeast. These maps include notations written in an undeciphered script; though unidentified, the writing system appears somewhat similar to Southwest Paleohispanic script (also known as Tartessian5), another undeciphered script.pWHYCEn.jpg

Detail of north Atlantic islands in the 1424 map of Zuane Pizzigano. Later explorers found no evidence of these supposed islands.

Antillia, also known as the Isle of Seven Cities (Ilha das Sete Cidades in Portuguese, Isla de las Siete Ciudades in Spanish), originates from an old Iberian legend, set during the Muslim conquest of Hispania c. 714. Attempting to flee from the Muslim conquerors, seven Christian Visigothic bishops embarked with their flocks on ships and set sail westwards into the Atlantic Ocean, eventually landing on an island where they founded seven settlements. However, there is no corroborative evidence to support this and related legends; nor would this be supported by the existence of SCP-XXXX and its associated maps, the civilization responsible for the creation of the anomalous vessel likely predating the development of Christianity, let alone the Muslim conquests of c. 714 CE.

On 04/31/2004, SCP-XXXX and a nearby Foundation research vessel were struck by a rogue wave. SCP-XXXX was undamaged but the research vessel was destroyed, resulting in the loss of 24 personnel. SCP-XXXX would disappear shortly after and has yet to reappear.

Foundation satellites detected a unique distress signal on the coast of Svalbard on 12/20/2016. There operatives recovered a Foundation GPS device safely secured within a glass bottle. The bottle also held several furled pieces of paper containing the writings of Dr. Stephen Barrett, who had vanished in the disaster over 12 years prior and was presumed deceased.ACCESS GRANTED

Page 01:

This is Dr. Stephen Barrett; Level 3 researcher for the Spacial Anomaly Department; personal ID code: 64112-A9.
I regret to report the deaths of Dr. Corwin, Dr. Peters, and Security Officer Marcos. My colleagues came into conflict with the SCP-XXXX-1 while in a state of panic. We were aboard SCP-XXXX when the wave struck and (as you no doubt already know) were unable to escape. I am the only one left alive and I fear the ship has dematerialized – or, as I’ve come to speculate, shifted into some “other-side”.
I have collected their bodies one by one, caching them along with our supplies within a small room. This chamber, located below deck near the aft, is rarely approached by the SCP-XXXX-1. It has in turn become my place of refuge and operations as I continue to both study SCP-XXXX and hopefully survive until the next manifestation event. I must remain calm and in control – I will not allow my training to fail me as it did the others.
The sky here suggests a perpetual state of twilight. I have yet to see the moon or sun, which has rendered the passage of time difficult to track. The dark sea reflects no light. Stranger still are the distant towers that rise from the water – they resemble nothing from nature, but nor do they look like the product of human artifice. I must conserve what paper I have left and will report again when I have new information.

Page 02:

I may have discovered how this seemingly damned crew sustains itself. The ship does indeed appear to be living organism and it produces a sap-like substance, which itself glows with an unusual amber luminescence. This is, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, the only food source aboard SCP-XXXX.
My only other choice was to feed on the dead. Something I simply cannot bring myself to do.
Update: I have consumed the sap. I no longer feel hunger or thirst or even a need for sleep. Its warmth staves off the chill, at least for now.
The ocean is full of life. I’ve seen whales. No. Not whales. Whales swim up and down but these creatures moved side to side, much like serpents. Their flesh was as black as the sea but covered in luminescent patterns. Their gaping maws and bulging eyes remind me of Bathypelagic fish, like anglers and gulper eels. These patterns do not seem natural or at least adapted for any environment I can think of. They are like runes or glyphs and some seem so familiar.
Aquatic beasts swim alongside the ship like faceless dolphins. Their vocalizations resemble the laughter of children and leave me thoroughly disturbed.

Page 03:

I see what remains of a great battle. Some ships are still sinking. Others have been shattered, with their debris left floating with the dead. A sea of corpses. A sea of…
The mariners are mournful. Tears roll down their cheeks. They pray. It is deep and strong, like Gregorian chant.
I’ve never heard anything like it, so why does it feel so familiar? They are longing for something. A song of the homeland, to remember better days. I am homesick too but the home I try to remember isn’t right. It feels like the desires of another. Whose dream have I stolen?

I sound like a fool, inferring things without proof.

Focus. Center yourself. You are a scientist. A member of the Foundation. That means something.

But it feels like I’m sleepwalking over my own grave.

An SCP-XXXX-1 looked me right in the eyes today; his milky gaze tells me he saw nothing – his smile told a different story.

No. I would be dead if they knew I was here.

Wouldn’t I?

Page 04:

We remember. We sing songs of long lost homes, of weeping wives and children. My brothers speak to me. I died for them. And for them I would face another hundred thousand deaths. How long have I wandered? We are too lost to feel this brave.
I don’t understand. This isn’t me. My name is Stephen Barrett. I am Barrett. I am Arezqi. I was always Arezqi. I have worn so many faces but I was always Arezqi.

We will face our destiny. For deathless brothers and lifeless wives. Tiziri, my love, my light of lights. Still I dream of you, even as I wandered lost in that labyrinth of faces. I knew the beauty of your words, even as I forgot our mother tongue. Your ways were always bringing me to you.
Are you waiting for me? I long to be at your side. Please wait for me. I will see you at the end of all things.

Page 05:

I’m sorry. I’ve not been myself lately. I’ve been of two minds, or three, or four. Part of me wants to destroy this – to deny the undeniable.
It doesn’t matter. Barrett knows to write this. We understand it. We are still Barret. But long before we were Barrett, we were Arezqi. We feared one would overtake the other but we understand now. The memories converge. The past and future unite. We wish we could explain more. There is so much to tell but so little time.
We wish the Foundation to know.
Take this secret. You can never know how much was lost – the eons of pain we endured. But that was the choice. Honor demands we bring this to an end. Our mission is sacred – we will always find our way back. We are bound by oath to return.

The maelstrom is so close now. The way within is clear. We deliver this message to the sea.

Footnotes1. Encrusted debris include pieces of a Phoenician trireme, the sails of a Song era junk, the aft of a Spanish galleon, the bow of a Norse longship, an entire Polynesian voyaging canoe, half of a Mesoamerican raft, a small bronze submarine of unknown origin, a part of a steamship’s hull painted with the letters “W A R A” (hypothesized to be a part of the SS Waratah, which disappeared in 1909 with 211 passengers and crew aboard), and many other fragments too damaged to be identified.

2. However, operatives aboard SCP-XXXX have reported the sound of whispers/grumbling, though the source of this phenomena has yet to be found.

3. A phantom island is a purported island that appeared on maps for a period of time (sometimes centuries) during recorded history, but was later removed after it was proven not to exist.

4. Despite its ominous name, the island of Santanazes lacks the associated legends tied to the larger Antillia.

5. The Tartessian language is the extinct Paleohispanic language of inscriptions in the Southwestern script found in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula. The name is a reference to Tartessos (Greek: Ταρτησσός), a semi-mythical city and the surrounding culture on the south coast of the Iberian Peninsula (in modern Andalusia, Spain), at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River. The city was supposedly destroyed by floods, its ruins buried beneath the swamplands of southern Spain.

Seabound – Part II

Knud Baade – Moonlight on the Norwegian Coast

Part II: 

In my twelfth year, our household was joined by a governess, Ms. Bradshaw, who would tutor me on subjects deemed crucial to a child of my class and gender. Beyond some elementary mathematics, there was no place for the sciences in my curriculum; for that, I would be forced to self-educate. No, I would instead learn etiquette, social grace, and the banal rites of polite society. 

I despised these lessons, and every new rule or ritual – the manners of self-control; awareness of social position; which fork was reserved for dessert – were designed to erode my identity until nothing remained but an elegant husk. Aimless days blurred together to resemble the gray monotony of Purgatory. I was dead, a ghost and her walking corpse, waiting for the chance to live again. 

Our aestival retreat no longer offered the same respite as it had before. I found myself bound to new and restrictive expectations. It was not ‘ladylike’ to explore the coast, its sea caves and tidal pools – those rare places that soothed my fragile constitution and lulled melancholy to a tolerable repose. Ms. Bradshaw paid close attention to my activities; like Father’s stalking valet, she had become my shadow, and I was forbidden from venturing beyond the estate unchaperoned. There was no way to live as I truly desired; nay, not merely desired, but a manner essential to my survival.

My family endeavored to break me of my habits – to destroy me, and shape the remnant pieces into the perfect gentlewoman. If they wished to fashion me into their dreamless doll, I would choose to be like an effigy and burn.

Even with my mind lost in the fog of despair, there was no escape from the springtide of life. Adolescence, no doubt an exciting phase for many, only seemed to amplify my frustrations. Mother had finally begun to take notice of me. Some souls, desperate for recognition, will not discriminate between love or animosity. It was not long before I yearned for the return of her characteristic neglect. 

Mother descended from nobility, a fallen house, and married Father in a bid to retain her lavish lifestyle. Inheriting her ancestors’ malignant pride, she turned her nose up at him and other members of the nouveau riche. An interminable hypocrite, Mother’s disdain for Father’s inferior pedigree never prevented her from squandering his wealth on frivolities. 

Her lust for worldly possessions typically gravitated to Parisian gowns, fine furs, diamond rings, and strings of pearl – each a ceremonial object in her cult of self-worship. This vile sect held power in our household, mainly manifesting itself as an overabundance of mirrors and a constant air of condescension. Father was among the faithful and indulged her every whim.

She ridiculed my appearance. My body was too thin, my face too angular. She derisively questioned how she birthed someone so unlike her, placing blame on my father’s common blood. Of course, it was an exaggeration meant only to hurt me, but it was not inherently untrue, sharing little to no resemblance. I took almost entirely after my father. Not that any of that matters. We are all bound by the chains of pangenesis, but I am no more tethered to the most recent coupling as I am to the eldest link.

In response to this oppressive atmosphere, I turned to books. Neither of my parents could be described as active readers; thus, some Lamarckian mechanism cannot explain my seemingly innate bibliophilia. It is probable that, as a solitary child deprived of friends or siblings, I simply lacked other means in which to occupy myself. My favorite subject was biology, which was in many ways still in its infancy. 

Despite his blatant disinterest in literature, Father maintained a library at both residences. After all, books symbolized status and presented the owner as possessing vast knowledge and a keen intellect. As trade was his only acumen, his intellectual curiosity did not expand beyond new and improved methods of profit maximization. 

At our summer abode, the library contained specific singular titles that would never be found in the frugal bulk purchases my father preferred. At our primary residence, the collection was, if not famous, then at least recognizable—encyclopedias, dictionaries, poetry, and prose; authors whose works were known to even the illiterate. 

But not here. 

A sizable portion of this library had been left by the previous occupants, a family whose bloodline had since dwindled into obscurity. Whoever they were, their selection betrayed interests both scientific and esoteric, with topics ranging from forgotten Pagan gods and rituals to heterodox theories of abiogenesis. I would lose myself in those pages, finding a fleeting, artificial means to transcend the mundane. The more forbidden the subject matter appeared, the greater my curiosity. Much of it was handwritten, lacking any indication of formal publication. A number were foreign, and while I was able to identify Greek, Latin, Irish, and Welsh, others were unfamiliar. For too many years, I had been deprived; knowledge starved, my appetite had grown voracious. Many of these age-worn tomes were ultimately beyond my comprehension, and it would be decades before their full impact came to fruition. 

I retained access to the widow’s walk, where I would excuse myself to watch the sunset. Of course, I was not there for the sun, nor the moon and stars, for my interest, my obsession, was strictly worldly. The heavens could wait, for I sought the electric blue and amber lights of vagabond merrows – of my solitary, long yearned companion.

Virtually a prisoner in my own domain, I satisfied my need to explore within Caeruchel Hall itself. The estate had undergone numerous incarnations throughout its existence. The ordered grandeur of its Neo-classical architecture succeeded the Stuart period’s simplicity, which replaced a grim and austere Tudor castle. Evidence for this process of destruction and reconstruction extends as far back as the 1st century to a Roman fortress whose brickwork still stands as the manor’s foundation. Only those long-dead legionnaires know what came before, but I do not doubt that the Demetre or Silures made effective use of this land before their subjugation.

This history of consistent occupation had a perfectly logical explanation. The horizon was wholly visible in every direction due to its high elevation; the ocean surrounded the estate on three of four sides, while unscalable cliffsides prevented access from the shore, save a single narrow path. Thanks to these and other geographical features, it was the most naturally defensible location in the region.

There is one place older than the foundation, a place so genuinely ancient that any speculation regarding its age was pointless. 

It was discovered by accident while hiding in the basement, doing my best to avoid Ms. Bradshaw and her vacuous lessons. Lantern in hand and my afternoon reclaimed, I spent the time in search of the skittering vermin that so naturally congregated in the damp and inky blackness. Cobwebs formed congruous patterns across the ceiling, merging the silken works of many a spider. I remember how it twinkled before my light, its surface bejeweled by drops of moisture that no doubt lured prey as diamonds would a thief. At the far end of the chamber, behind the furthest cask, the web grew dense and layered, littered with the desiccated remains of winged insects better suited for the wide outdoors than a lightless cellar. Spiders are of an inherently unsociable disposition, and I wondered what could have drawn them so close. Intrigued, I brushed aside the web and forced my way through.

Beyond that viscid threshold was a wall, ordinary and expected, save for the presence of a vertical fissure. Despite its advanced state of deterioration, the structure was relatively modern compared to the rest. It was undoubtedly the stonework of an amateur, someone other than the master masons responsible for Caeruchel Hall, or any of its past incarnations, and one strong push was all it took to send it toppling.

When the dust finally settled, my light revealed a stairwell. After a period of hesitation, I swallowed my fear and descended its stone-carved steps. The spiraling passage delivered me to a labyrinthine network of megalithic tunnels. Underground structures could be found throughout the world, and Britain was no exception; medieval crypts, Anglo-Saxon barrows, and even Roman Mithraea were hidden across the Isles.

Eons ago, a cult carved this complex from solid bedrock. The walls bore singular engravings – pictograms, possibly even hieroglyphics – which failed to coincide with any known culture. I could only imagine that these were the creations of some forgotten Celtic tribe, or perhaps a people who came long before them – a people who remain unknown to the historians and archaeologists of our age. These depictions ranged from the familiar, such as waves, fish, rain, and whales, to the utterly abstract, if not downright alien. Abstruse as they were, these symbols and their configuration invoked a particular aesthetic or theme – one that, like the songs of the merrows, seem to embody all things thalassic. 

Though devoid of life, these ruins were not silent. There had been a faint droning since the moment of my arrival, and the volume only amplified the deeper I traveled. By the time I recognized the steady burble of moving water, I had already reached its source, where a confluence of subterranean tributaries fed into a large central basin. Steam emanated off the surface of the water; I knelt at the edge of the pool and dipped a finger, finding it warm to the touch, fortunately not scalding. Before me was a geothermal spring and grotto; how much of it was a product of nature or human artifice, I cannot say, but what I did know was that this was a sacred place. 

Five monoliths encircled the basin like the outstretched fingers of a buried giant. Jutting from the center of the pool was a statue depicting a menacing amalgamation of serpent, octopus, fish, and woman. The chimeric goddess displayed the plump breasts and distended abdomen of late pregnancy, leaving little doubt of an association with fertility. It had a head like a devil-fish, particularly Melanocetus johnsonii – a hideous species known for its enormous mouth of needle-like fangs and bait-like head appendage. A pair of large pearls had been set within the shallow gouges that constituted its eye sockets. Long, sharp spikes protruded from the shoulders and back like the spines of a sea-urchin. The lower-half was an anarchic skein of snakes and tentacles with a strangely chitinous texture. 

I stared in awe, in horror, so great and terrible were the gods of old. 

Mother Ocean, Her Undulating Vastness. 

Low on kerosene, I retraced my steps and returned to the manor. I told no one of these ruins and hid the entrance through the strategic arrangement of wine racks. As I wrote before, this was a sacred place, and I would not have it profaned. It would become my lifelong sanctuary, my truest refuge from civilization. Ms. Bradshaw would berate me for my sudden and inexplicable absence but was otherwise ignorant of my whereabouts. 

I was desperate to know more. As the village was forbidden to me, I turned to the single local in my family’s employ. I knew nothing about our groundskeeper, save that he spent most of his life here. Shy and lacking my parents’ gift of gab, I could not bring myself to approach a man who was, for all intents and purposes, a stranger. 

Instead, I wrote a letter with a series of questions – about the town, its history, how it connected to the merrows (my actual wording was subtler), as well as directions to a particular rock, beneath which he could deliver his response. Looking back, I can see how comically elaborate it was, but such was my nature. I placed it and a few sovereigns for his troubles at his doorstep and would check my impromptu drop-off every day, impatiently awaiting his answers. I began to consider the possibility that he was illiterate, like most men in the village, but I received his response after a week. Beneath the stone, I found my coins returned, along with my original letter; written on the back was a simple, straightforward response: 

“No.” 

The groundskeeper was literate, at least partly, but wanted nothing to do with this bargain. I watched him tend the garden, where he kept his head down and avoided my gaze. I was confused, seething even, for it never occurred that he would actively decline – primarily due to my parentage. This sense of dismay revealed that more of Mother’s haughtiness lurked inside me than I ever wanted to admit.

If he would not tell me, then it was doubtful that others were willing to divulge the truth.

As I neared marriageable age, Mother organized the visitation and courtship of several suitors. She often insinuated that the bloodline would end with me if left to my own devices. Admittedly, she was not wrong. My boldness outdoors did not translate to socialization, and I was terribly shy, barely speaking more than a few words.

But do not mistake diffidence for bashful simpering. I felt nothing for these men.

It became apparent that these suitors weren’t invited for my benefit alone. Mother would parade herself through the parlor and devise excuses to join us. I saw how she positioned herself, how it would further exaggerate her natural curvaceousness. She knew how to look at them, how to smile and laugh, and when to be coquettish or coy. Her ego bloomed as she feasted on their adoration.

I do not pretend to understand the reasons for her endless cruelty. At the cusp of my development, time would begin to take its toll on the woman to which it had previously been so kind, but envy was not to blame. She had always been this way, her methods adapting to my changing body, mind, and social expectations.

It was instinct, a psychic form of filial cannibalism, like beasts which consume their brood at the first sign of weakness. Mother was one of those predatory humans; who she hurt was inconsequential – whatever she desired, she got.

This was my life up until the Summer of 1873. There was undoubtedly more to it than what I’ve described but nothing worthy of elaboration. I was by this time free of Ms. Bradshaw, who had fulfilled her contractual obligations a month before and left our home without fanfare or farewells. I do not know how common it is for a governess to feel fondness towards her ward, but there was certainly no love to lose between us. In retrospect, I can see that I did not make her work any less painless. One might imagine that I would have sought to extract some sliver of affection – to find in Ms. Bradshaw a maternal surrogate. But no, I simply regarded her as an extension of Mother’s will, if I regarded her at all. 

It is a pity when tutelage merely distracts from one’s true vocation. My governess was but an obstacle, though through no fault of her own. 

Our ride to the coast that year was memorably intolerable. Father had business to attend to and would be delayed a few days. Without him as a buffer, Mother was free to focus all of her scathing ire on me. There was a short-lived period when I strived to be the debutante I thought she always wanted. Indeed, I was foolish enough to believe that I could earn her affection, or at least her respect, through imitation; that she would see something of herself in me, as for her, there was no other so beloved. Mimicry merely served to illustrate the differences between us; in despair, I returned to the quiet defiance that had always characterized our relationship.

I gazed longingly at the coast as we neared Caeruchel Hall. There, along the water’s edge, were rocks stacked in tight formations and laden with oblations that glistened beneath the Summer sun. These were the harbingers – the merrows had returned. 

Upon our arrival, I kicked off my shoes and practically leaped from the carriage. I ignored Mother’s shouts and ran down the hill, across the emerald headland, along the narrow path, and to the stony shore. Foolish in my excitement, I failed to reckon the hours remaining between then and sunset. Already weary from the daylong journey, all that running rapidly exhausted what little vigor I had. Slumping beside a boulder, I slipped into a sweet torpor as the placid tide lulled me to sleep. 

My mind’s eye conceived, or instead found itself impressed with, a double flash of white and scarlet. Not until later did I understand that my state of unconsciousness had shifted from slumber to one born of savage trauma. When I recovered, I found myself face down in a pool of my own coagulated blood, my hands tied behind me. After some struggle, I successfully rolled on to my back. Though the sun had yet to wholly set, the moon, full and silver bright, heralded the coming night. What began as fragmented senses – the feel of damp wood against my skin, the reek of old fish and inferior tobacco, the noise of quarreling Welshmen, the throbbing pain within my skull – came together piece by piece. I raised my head and stared blankly, terrified as my dread surmise was realized. 

I had been struck by a stone or club or some other object – I do not know, nor does it matter. Neither can I say if my assault was an act of opportunity or one premeditated with grim intention. Once senseless, I was taken aboard a skiff. Two strangers, presumably fishermen, manned the oars while at the bow, facing my direction, was the groundskeeper. 

It was pointless to scream; I was gagged, and besides, we were far from the coast, far from any who might take pity. I lay there, still as the dead, virtually invisible beneath the groundskeeper’s moonlight shadow. He spoke to me, or rather at me, as I do not believe him aware of my return to consciousness.

In between his litany of chants, prayers, and ancient invocations, were apologies. Solemn, sincere, but not too mournful; the words of a man who had experienced a lifetime of necessary evils and yet never grew utterly numb to the deed. He said I knew too much; that what he intended was without joy or malice; better an outsider than yet another of their own.

Just one life, he said—just one life to ensure the survival and prosperity of Craigwen. When the oarsmen ceased their rowing, the groundskeeper lifted a crwth and bow from his lap, primed the instrument against his chest, and began to play. These sounds were neither hideous nor elegant, though they bore a singular assonance that deviated from the region’s traditional folk music. He called out to the sea, and the sea called back in an immaculate chorus to herald their arrival.

I was grabbed by one of the oarsmen, a heavy-handed brute who stank of ale; no doubt a bit of liquid courage before the deed. Despite his muscular physique, he grunted and labored to move me. Then I noticed what all his struggling was about; the same ropes that bound me had been additionally tethered to several hefty stones. What they intended was now clear. I was to be sacrificed – to drown or be devoured – and the villagers weren’t taking any chances. 

This had always been their way. A tried and true method, learned from their fathers, as their fathers learned from theirs.

I gazed into the water. The sea was full of light and song, a beauty so mesmerizing, so utterly transcendent, that few would ever recognize it for the predatory lure it was – not before the trap had sprung. And the colors! Gold and violet, turquoise and indigo – sprawling, cascading, and vibrating to the rhythm of their ancient rime.  

Rolling my wrists, I successfully loosened the rope and freed my hands, just as the brute heaved me over his shoulder and prepared to toss me overboard. I hastily hoisted one of my intended anchors and tightly grasped the stone with both hands; with the hysterical strength that accompanies the will to survive, I drove it into the his head. The giant’s skull caved with a sickening crack, splattering blood and brain as his lifeless body crumpled where he stood. 

The groundskeeper was blind to my actions, his conscious mind lost to the frenzied playing of his crwth

But the remaining oarsman was soon upon me. Before I could react, the shaft of his paddle was pressed against my throat as he tried to force me overboard. I held on to the hull, but my stubborn refusal to release my grip, faced with my attacker’s superior size and strength, caused my left arm to violently dislocate from its socket. In his moon-lit eyes, I beheld terror of an order beyond that even I, his intended victim, could understand. What did he know? What had he seen?

My attacker put aside his oar and squatted over my limp, defeated body. He mouthed a few words, but all I heard was the hundred voice chorus and the groundskeeper’s screaming crwth. Then he calmly pushed my head beneath the surface of the water. With my strength gone and my will broken, I could do nothing but look on in dismay.

There was no darkness, for the sea was ablaze with the luminescent flesh of oscillating ophidian forms. Golden spots, ethereal blue-green ribbons – like the fire of rare falling stars – and suddenly, splashes of crimson, a torrent of blood as the mangled bodies of men hit the water. The calloused hands that so tightly held me released their grip and floated away, severed and trailed by streaming clouds of maroon. 

It was a feeding frenzy, and I was trapped in the eye of a storm made from teeth and claws and bone and viscera as the merrows tore those men apart. Still wracked by pain, my frayed nerves sent my body into shock. I fell once again into a state of unconsciousness, mercifully spared from that visage of hell before me.

I awoke in my own bed. Mrs. Kelly had found me on the shore that morning. She and the other servants brought me home where I was bathed, dressed, and received rudimentary care. Though still bruised and sore, I was relieved to find that functionality had returned to my left arm. My head had been bandaged, but the wound was severe enough to require professional medical treatment, and an electric telegraph was sent for my physician. My discovery was entirely by chance. Mother either failed to notice my absence or simply did not care enough to even delegate a search. Though I required significant stitchwork, my recovery was without incident. 

Still, the scars remain. 

Despite the trauma I endured, my thoughts quickly turned to Muirgein. This was my chance to find her after more than half a decade of waiting. When Father arrived a few days later, he was distressed by the state he saw me in. Displaying unexpected concern for my well-being, he forbade me from leaving Caeruchel, an opinion shared by the visiting physician, and ordered the servants to keep watch to prevent me from getting myself into further trouble.

I never told them what happened. Even if I omitted the merrows from my account, I doubt they would’ve believed me. I had no desire to complicate things further. For all they knew, I had slipped on a wet stone and hit my head. As it occurred soon after our arrival, no connection could be made between my apparent accident and the disappearance of our groundskeeper. Father assumed he quit or died of natural causes, as he was already of reasonably advanced age.

As demanded, I remained indoors; an uncharacteristic behavior considering my history of nightly escapades. The realization came to me slowly, but it grew increasingly clear that there was more to my trepidation than worry over parental disapproval. Their threats were toothless – idle and easy to ignore. As their only child, it was not as if they would condemn me to a nunnery. 

Almost murdered, I had returned from the sea haunted, and death was my familiar. I also witnessed the end of three lives – one conceivably by my hand. And though it all transpired in a blur of shapes and colors, perceived through barely cognizant eyes, a troubling, albeit not entirely unsuspected truth was confirmed.

Imagine a child living on a farm. Too young to partake in their family’s labors, they might instead seek companionship among the domestic beasts, blissfully unaware that these animals were destined for the butcher’s block and kitchen table. Muirgein and I were young when we met. Too innocent to comprehend our true natures, I wondered whether she would see me as a friend or food. 

These frightful thoughts gnawed their way to the forefront of my mind. There they embedded themselves – feeding on my sanity and breeding increasingly complex, ever conflicting emotions. Wracked with dissonance, I sought the serenity of my darkened grotto. I brought my lantern, though my visits had grown so frequent that there was little need for light to guide my way. Others might consider it strange to find tranquility among such deep and hidden corners of the Earth, but I did. 

I stripped down, discarding the trappings of humanity, and lowered myself into the primordial pool. The warm water embraced me like an old friend, and I had to fight the urge to let it take me forever – not yet aware that to drown in her waters is but to change. My sense of self became vaporous as the balmy mist, and I no longer knew where my body ended and where the water began. 

My concentrative idol, the pearl-eyed goddess, stared back at me. I closed my eyes, inhaled the sibylline fumes, and entered an intoxicating reverie. Words poured from my mouth, gibberish at first, but I soon found myself singing. The lyrics escape me now, but I was certainly no prima donna; I was loud, hysterical even, as I unburdened myself of those accumulating emotions. I wailed and crooned, though I have no idea for how long; time was meaningless – nothing existed beyond my sacred grotto. 

That night, I would be the siren.

Mordecai

[This is taking from an old novel draft (one I haven’t touched in about 8 years) for a post-apocalyptic series, titled Whimper. This is from the point of view of one of the novel’s antagonists, the Grand Templar Mordecai. He is a high ranking member of the Holy Dominion, a theocracy which governs the wasteland that was once middle America.]

 

 

Monks infested the antechamber. Blind, deaf, and mute – their faces ritually erased. They swayed and trembled with ecstatic fervor, unaware of Mordecai’s passing. Joshua, his youngest son, once asked: “Where does their food go?” He was unable to provide an answer, despite his high rank within the church. An innocent inquiry, it was nonetheless a heresy to question the nature of the faceless. To spare the rod, Mordecai knew, was to spoil the child. Curiosity, like good intentions, paved the road to hell, and it was crucial to curtail its development at an early age. Corporal punishment taught Joshua to substitute free-thought for simplistic and easy to repeat aphorisms – not unlike his father.

 

The faceless served with mindless devotion, tending to the diverse and often singular desires of His Holiness. They approached tasks with unrivaled zeal, compensating for their lack of intelligence through avidity. A heathen ambassador from the Atlantic Trade Consortium once referred to the monks as “lobotomites”, a term Mordecai was unfamiliar with.

 

He entered the Eternal Sanctum, closing the door behind him. The interior was composed of black stone, polished and seamless. Decorating the walls of the spherical chamber were golden vines and jeweled flowers. Windows of stained-glass, four in number, depicted biblical legends.

 

The Forge of Eden: The place of man’s creation. Adam and Eve. Hammer and anvil, sword and sheath. Tools of immutable design and purpose, the story represented the cornerstone of Dominion ideology. Coiled around the base of the anvil was a familiar serpent, the same burned in effigy during the high holidays.

 

The Binding: The composition required significant use of red tinted glass. A lesson in obedience and sacrifice. The Word of God transcended that of man, their laws and ethics. Isaac was a good son. He loved his father and looked upon him with adoration. He loved him even as he felt the blade inside. Tender thoughts and tender flesh. Loved him even as it plunged again, and again, eviscerating him upon the altar.

 

The Flood: A reminder of the fleeting and inessential nature of humans. To be broken and discarded at a whim of its creator. It reminded him of a thought, a forbidden thought born during the naivety of youth when confronted with contradictions. The question died before asked, existing only as a momentary sense of cognitive dissonance.

 

The Fall of the Blasphemous Tower: Obsidian shards arranged in the image of a colossal spire. The highest tier formed a hand, its fingers wrapped around a crimson orb. Man sought to conquer the heavens. To see what lurked beyond even the stars. The Red World became a symbol for their godless hubris, a false idol of logic and reason. God toppled the tower and blackened the sky. He cloaked the stars in darkness, forever hidden from man’s covetous gaze. This world alone was their gifted domain, never again would they desire another.

 

A black tendril caressed his face, the sweet touch of an angel.

 

“You may approach.” spoke a voice, dissonant and disembodied. “Bask in the glory of my presence.”

Midas Touched

[An old draft page, one possible story for a setting I could never really settle with]

 

The Hölle District was constructed in the name of progress, the apotheosis of civilization, and was, by necessity, a place of fire, steel, and transmutation. When hell poured into Berlin, none could have imagined a positive outcome among its flames and darkened keepers.

 

Here, along one of its red-brick sidewalks, a faun advanced with singular purpose. A young woman, no longer a child but hardly yet an adult, shadowed her cloven hoofed master by a few steps behind. A handkerchief over her nose and mouth was of little defense against the sulfurous odor of tortured elements.

 

“Katja,” The faun maintained a steady saunter as he spoke. “What do you know of Hölle?”

 

“That it’s hot and smells of rotten eggs.” she replied, her dreadful tone betraying misery. How anyone could live here was to her a mystery.

 

He sighed, rolling his horizontal pupils. “A comfortable environment has resulted in an entire species of whiners. Truly, you are the epitome of your race.”

 

Clearing his throat, the faun returned to his original point. “Kobolds were the first non-humans to be encountered by the German people – and they arrived with a bang. The ground ruptured, breathed fire, and grew to resemble the hell of human myth and superstition. Devils, your people thought, and your doomsayers for once seemed validated. Humanity struck first, though I am able to understand how they would have seen things differently, and thus ensued a dreadful bloodba-”

 

“The Massacre at Mitte. Falkenrath taught me about it.” she interrupted.

 

“Good! You’ve actually learned something, if not manners. May I please continue?”

 

“Of course, Mr. Pox. I apologize.”

 

“Right then. As I was saying…” he paused, narrowing his gaze at a gathering of kith. “Eh. I’ll save that tale for another time. I do believe we’ve arrived at the scene of the crime.”

 

Golems and pickelhelmed constables barred access to the alleyway. Faces grim, they moved aside to allow the pair to pass without speaking a word. The officers barked orders at the crowd, their demands for dispersal inadvertently luring more to the scene. Katja saw their gawking eyes peeping through the gaps between black uniforms and man-shaped metal.

 

It was early, her tired eyes red from lack of sleep and the brimstone fumes of industrial transmuters. She suddenly stopped in her tracks, an audible gasp escaping her lips.

 

“You’ll get used to this,” said Pox, donning a pair of rubber gloves. “Eventually.”

 

Katja was paralyzed. Her stomach churned and she covered her mouth against a rise of vomit. Loose skin and viscera cloaked the victim but a radiant light reflected from various fissures. Retrieving surgical scissors from his side satchel, Pox proceeded to snip through strings of sinew. The remaining epidermis unraveled with a sickening schlop, revealing a maiden of gold, preserved mid-contortion.

 

Averting her gaze, Katja leaned up against a soot-stained wall. Pox had already begun to speak while she scrambled to find a notebook and pencil.

 

“Decedent resembles a human female. Dark hair; fair skin; facial features unrecognizable. Clothing has merged with what little flesh is left. I am able to discern the remnants of a corset among the mess. Possibly a skirt as well. Nothing else. Soles of the feet are well preserved; heavily calloused and blackened by grime. I also detect the heavy aroma of cheap perfume – something obnoxiously French. Victim was likely a prostitute and one that was fairly active in this district. Will likely find many who were familiar with her, if there was only some way to identi- ”

 

Pox stilled his tongue, shifting all attention to the soft remains which he lifted from the ground and unfurled, letting the flayed hide flutter like a banner in the wind. Katja turned to the wall and vomited.

 

“Toughen up, girl. Take a closer look.” said Pox, responding to the noise of slurry on stone.

 

Katja wiped breakfast from her lips. After a moment of mental preparation, she turned to face his ghastly display. It was a grotesque effigy of the woman that once was, distorted by lack of shape and substance. Pox pulled the skin, rendering it taut and its details more perceivable. There were deep cuts and lesions; they had not healed well but they had at least healed.

 

“Scars?” She hoped her answer was enough to satisfy that persnickety old goat.

 

“Explicate. Remember what I told you before.”

 

“Scars…” She paused, mindful of his expectations. “Scars tell a story. They represent the history of an individual and their relationship to others, as well as their environment.”

 

“Close enough but what do you see? Read the scars. Be precise.”

 

“The scars aren’t too distinctive. Lots of cuts – probably from a knife. This woman likely lived a traumatic life. And what’s that? Above her left breast. It doesn’t look like the others.”

 

Pox turned over the husk and studied the mark. His yellow eyes narrowed and then abruptly expanded. “A brand.”

 

“Someone branded her?”

 

“Quite crudely. It appears to be the letter M.”

 

“But why?” A question almost childlike in its innocent naivety; it felt out of place among the blood and flesh and that auric enigma.

 

“Because they could. It is not unheard of for a pimp to mark their so-called ‘property’.”

 

Katja shifted her gaze to the golden statue. “Okay. So – cause of death?”

 

“Death by chrysopoeia. Human transmutation. I’ve only ever heard of them happening in industrial accidents. A worker falling into a live transmutator – that sort of thing.”

 

“Putting the ‘how’ aside for a moment – but why wasn’t the rest of her converted?”

 

“An astute observation! That, however, is outside my area of expertise. We’ll have the body delivered to Shimndglurm. That old kobold will know what to make of it.”

The Death and Resurrection of Mr. Sean McDonnell Part I

 

Daniel navigated his vehicle along a narrow and neglected road. An autocarriage was still a rarity in the area, causing star-eyed onlookers to occasionally block his path. Though time was of the essence, such delays allowed him a chance to study the neighborhood – a favorite pastime. Neoclassical and Gothic revival were the prevailing architectural styles at present and the general zeitgeist of the time called for everything else to be demolished and replaced. Impoverished communities were unable to afford to be a part of this movement for ‘urban renewal’ and their aged structures remained untouched, though hardly pristine.

He appreciated the slum as one did the ruins of a long dead civilization; a curiosity with no bearing on the present, not so different from a human zoo.

He slowed his autocarriage to a stop and locked the brake in front of a dilapidated townhouse. He pulled a crumbled note from his vest pocket and gave it a final glance before tearing it apart and casting its fragments to the wind. The air filled his nostrils with the unmistakable stench of raw sewage, rotten fish, and alchemical runoff.

Pollution, disease, and human misery – it all flowed down here.

A steady stream of visitors came and went from the building as they pleased. He must have been a popular fellow, unless I’ve merely stumbled on the best damned whorehouse in this slum. Daniel let slip a small smile before returning to the morose countenance expected of his profession.

The door was closing fast but Daniel quickly obstructed the entrance with his cane. Despite the previous flow of characters, the door refused to budge anymore than his interference allowed. Through a crack he glimpsed the glaring eyes of a pockmarked youth on the other side. The denizens of the Fort Hill neighborhood were notoriously difficult when it came to repossession. They signed the contract – what exactly did they expect to happen?

“Excuse me lad but would you kindly step aside?” said Daniel, preferring diplomacy over force.

“Back the way ye came. We don’t want no trouble but I ain’t afraid to bring it.” replied the boy with feigned bravado.

“My employer has legal ownership of the specimen in your keep. You preventing my right to collect amounts to the unlawful possession of stolen property. Legally speaking, the only ‘trouble’ here is your lack of cooperation. I would prefer not to involve law enforcement but if you leave me no choice…”

The door creaked open without further protest and Daniel entered, hat in hand. Distorted shadows decorated the walls of the candlelit interior. A forlorn congregation resided at the far side of the room, gathered around the source of their sorrow. They invoked the names of saints – Saint Patrick, Saint Peter, Saint Brigid of Kildare. Hearing those names again brought him back to a different time and gnawed upon old wounds.

Daniel cleared his throat before speaking. “Mrs. McDonnell?”

A stout woman rose to her feet and turned to face him. Her skin and posture bore all the hallmarks of hard living, giving her the appearance of someone nearly twice her true age. She stared at him with tired, bloodshot eyes, but spoke not a word.

“Can’t ye see me mum’s in mourning?” said the young man from the door. “Give us time to grieve!”

“I am sorry for your loss but time is what matters here. Monetary compensation depends entirely on the freshness of the specimen. The University will not pay for inoperative materials. The Dead Contract was quite specific.”

“His name ain’t ‘specimen’, it’s Sean McDonnell! Show the dead some respect!” shouted a middle-aged man bearing a close resemblance to the deceased – perhaps a brother.

Daniel sighed. “I get it. You’re God-Fearers. Papists, clearly. But Mr. McDonnell made a choice to sign that contract. Would you have him be made a liar? A man unable to keep his word? What you cling to is but an empty vessel. His ‘soul’ is gone. I’m sorry but that is simply what it is.

I want you to be compensated. I truly do. No doubt you’ll need it with him gone. But you’ll get nothing if you keep this up. I have an auto-hearse waiting up front. Deliver his body and I’ll pay the maximum amount I’m allowed.

Be quick about your choice. Time is running out.”

Daniel surrendered a curtly bow before taking his leave of the townhouse. Leaning alongside his hearse, he perused the latest issue of The Boston Globe while giving his pocket-watch the occasional glance. He had already begun to make his way to the driver’s seat when a surly pair, the maybe-brother and the pox scarred youth, came out carrying the swaddled remains.

Daniel folded the newspaper and placed it underarm. The backdoor of the hearse sprung open with the pull of a lever, allowing the McDonnell kin to deliver their beloved dead.

“You made the right choice.” said Daniel.

The youth declined to make eye contact and left without further confrontation. Daniel handed an envelope to the older McDonnell, who pocketed the payment quick as he blinked. The man sized Daniel up and down before speaking.

“You’re Irish, ain’t ye?” he said.

“Aye,” said Daniel after a moment of nervous hesitation. “Family came here fleeing the Great Famine.”

“That so…” he replied, nodding his head slowly. “So ye ain’t just preying on the desperate, but ye own kin.”

“I don’t have time for this. This is progress. For the betterment of man. Our science will save more lives than your Dark Age superstition ever could.”

“Progress? I’ve seen what really happens to the dead.

Devil take ye, necromancer.”

Rembrandt_-_The_Anatomy_Lesson_of_Dr_Nicolaes_Tulp

 

A few fleeting glimpses

 

Bedlam Prophets

A corpulent doomsayer spewed forth another dread portent. Gaunt disciples sift for meaning among the vomitus. Sallow blindfolds fail to hide the weeping wounds of their hollowed sockets. “Eyes plucked by their very own hands,” went the rumors. “Saw something they shouldn’t have.”


 

The Sacrificed

War-zeppelins rain down fire and brimstone from the sky. Those below rasp profane litanies from their sulfur soaked lungs, cursing God more than any mortal. The dying drown in layers of blood, mud, and excrement; there would be many lies told in their name – lies of glory, of honor and selfless martyrdom. Another wave charges from the trenches, another wave to die to gunfire and alchemical weapons. A row of privileged officers stay behind, ready to open fire on those that refuse their suicide commands.

Black robed mystics gather around a mountain of corpses. Laying hands upon the dead, they chant words belonging to no human tongue in accents thickly Russian. The mountain trembles – the dead would soon outnumber the living.


 

The Gospel of Truth

He left a gift of candles and scrolls outside the windowless monastery. The Jesuit only wished to understand the heresy. “Take off your mask,” urged the bandage wrapped Perfecti. “And shed that cloak of Demiurge flesh. Its seams have already begun to fray – a soul eager to be born.” Those within walked on phantom limbs and spoke with phantom tongues.


 

Her Undulating Vastness

An ill omen was ignored in the night. Blame fell on the watchman, whose flayed carcass was hanged from the bow. The sailors prayed before consigning their sacrifice; silent and still, they awaited judgment from the sea.

Their judgement arrived in the form of Echidnean spines, which pierced the hull and anchored the ship in place. Thick tendrils coiled around the vessel and squeezed; the pressure caused iron rivets to burst, shredding anyone unfortunate enough to be within their path.

A throat needed to be slit and none know where to lay the blade. Straws were drawn and drawn again. A gunshot rang from the captain’s cabin, followed by a scent of blood on the wind and screams that never seemed to end.

Those that remained cast aside their straws. They passed around a bottle of whisky, followed by a tincture of cyanide.

The Drowned Kingdoms called and that abyss hid a fate worse than any death.

 


 

God’s Blind Spot 

Life was cheap in the Great Below but its denizens bred quickly in the darkness. Labyrinthian ruins were known to inspire strange blasphemies throughout Earth’s hollow and Churchmen were sent to combat the spread of heresy.

“The deep colonies were a mistake and the same can be said of this mission,” lamented the Bishop of Grayshade in his letter to the surface. “Not even the Lord’s Light reaches these depths. There are structures here older than Adam. Such ramifications give pause to even the most pious of us.”

Few remembered the Sun but the deep colonists claimed to have found another. It was said to be beyond the fungal forests and the Abyssal Sea – beyond the Pale and their hideous familiarity.