Monthly Archives: October 2012


ATTACK OF THE SUBTLE TITLING! Yeah, I try (stress, try) to charge people for my stuff as much as possible but let’s face it, I’m nothing like a bigshot, and I love writing for much, much more than just the cash. I’ve written this for Edinburgh University’s free creative writing publication, the Inkwell, and since Halloween is drawing near I thought I’d stick it up here as well. So if you’ve got 5 minutes and you fancy some predictable-ending spookyness…

A Kingdom of Snow

January 6th, 1871

Dear Mister Hill,

I’m afraid I find myself quite at a loss when it comes to your son. I fear I must retract my offer of assistance, for I have now spoken with Master Hill on three separate occasions and each time he has maintained the same absurd story. I very much doubt it will hold with Judge Skinner, and I am not much inclined to have a plea of insanity on my record. As for the fate of poor Master Rourk, even your son’s tall tale fails to make mention of his current whereabouts. We can only pray that he is in safe hands.

I am as ever your humble and ob’dnt servant,

E. W. Sharpe

January 11th, 1871

Dear Mister Sharpe,

I deeply regret your decision not to take on my son’s case. I’ve had Samuel repeat the events as he told them to you and enclose them – as transcribed by Wiggins – with this letter. I hope it might illuminate something that escaped your notice in the previous tellings. The events surrounding that fateful journey are somewhat hard to believe, but I assure you that the hangman’s noose is anything but an abstract concept. I must urge you once more to consider representing my son.

Yours faithfully,

S. Hill snr

P.s. The place mentioned, Sudbury Hall, was indeed built by the Archbishop of the same name in the mid 14th century. Of its whereabouts though I am at a loss, for the records show that it was torn down in the reign of Henry VIII, some 300 years ago.

A Transcription of the Account of Samuel Hill, jr,

By what other means can I possibly convince you? I have no idea where Harry is or what fate befell him that night. I can only tell you what I saw. God knows, I struggle to believe it myself.

As you’re doubtless aware, Harry Rourk and I were overjoyed to be invited to Miss Bennett’s for Christmas. Her gatherings are the talk of the country from Hull to York, especially among anybody who fancies themselves a person of import at the University. Harry and I swore that we’d not depart her house without having made the acquaintance of a few fellows who could assist us professionally once our studies were concluded.

We set out on December 19th, he and I alone in a hired cab. The journey began well enough, but as we climbed into the uplands the weather took a turn for the worse. After a few leagues the snow compelled us to pause. I’ve not seen its like before or since – it was as though a great grey veil had been cast all about us, and the snow came so fast and thick that one flake was quite indiscernible from the next.

I admit, Harry was all for turning back. I managed to convince him to press on, with the condition that we would pause at the first household we found.

That household in question was a grand one indeed – sturdy timbered, its windows shuttered, as indifferent to the snow heaping its thick thatch as a great bull who stands out in the field with all manner of birds alighting upon its broad back. As the track carried us by I noted the imprint of wheels in the snow leading the way we had come. As they were not yet covered I assumed them to be fresh, yet remembered passing neither man nor beast earlier.

I said that it would be wise to go a little further, since it was likely whoever owned the place had just departed. Harry, however, had already brought the cab into the front yard and dismounted. You’ll recall his study of history, and his powerful fascination with all past things. He soon uncovered a signpost that identified the place as one Sudbury Hall.

“I’ve never seen so well-preserved a set of timbers,” he said, approaching the aged structure.

“It makes Miss Bennett’s abode seem quite shoddy,” I admitted, following him reluctantly. I could tell he was set to explore the place.

He knocked at the front door, a big iron-studded thing. There came no answer. With the snow blanketing everything it seemed as if we were locked in some soundless vacuum. Harry was soon trying the handle.

“Wait,” I hissed as I heard a latch click. “You cannot simply –” But he was already slipping over the threshold. I sighed and followed, determined to curb his scholarly inquisitiveness before it saw us both arrested for trespassing.

Right behind Harry, I didn’t so much as glimpse where we found ourselves before the door banged shut, plunging us into darkness. I cursed, certain I’d been holding it ajar. Wanting light to illuminate our present state, I fumbled with the handle and pulled the door open once more. The light I found was very different from what I had expected.

Though this was manifestly the front door we had just entered through, what it led back to was not the snow-bound yard. Before me lay a room, spacious and baronial, its high roof oak-beamed, its floor spread thick with rushes. A great hearth burned to my left, and the flames picked out a heavy-set table heaped with what could only be described as the grandest of feasts.

You may think I had strayed into some dream or waking fancy, or that I had struck my head from something. Harry recovered altogether more swiftly than I. He stepped into the chamber and, shaking his head in a sort of slow wonderment, began pacing around the table. He touched nothing, but examined each and every item with the kind of awed reverence I have come to expect from a student such as he.

Any one of a multitude of words of disbelief I could have uttered then, but a more pressing matter assailed me. From beyond the walls of that strange place I caught the sound, growing louder, of hooves and harness. I fancied the carriage whose tracks I had spotted earlier had returned.

“Harry, we need to go,” I whispered. He was gazing intently at a silver goblet.

“Harry –“ I said, but I was once more arrested. Now came the slam of a door, and the sound of footsteps approaching me from behind. I wanted to turn, but was unable to do so and hold the heavy door – the front door – open.

“For God’s sake –” I managed, but it was too late. The footsteps stopped, right behind me, and I felt a sudden grip on my shoulder. I yelped and rounded, and in that moment lost my hold on the latch. The door slammed shut, and the timbers around me shuddered.

Darkness once more. I let out a long, slow breath. Of whom – or what – had accosted me I could sense nothing. The hand on my shoulder had gone, and there was no presence before me. I reached back, finding the latch and pulling the door open again. I uttered Harry’s name as I turned, determined now to be gone from this unnatural place.

Yet before me lay only the open yard, and a kingdom of snow smothering everything with silent, absolute authority.


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Amongst the Flock

A German woodcut from 1722

To support the release of World Weaver Press’s Specter Spectacular anthology (giant linky ) featuring my own ghost story, Little House at Bull Run CreekI was asked to do a guest post over on their blog (linky number 2  ). It’s not yet up yet, but the post is done, so I thought I’d air it here first. The subject was simply “Halloween” and anything and everything to do with it, so I went for something that’s been a bit of a side hobby of mine now for a couple of yours – brace yourselves for a very brief, incomplete and brutally potted journey back in time, to when monsters were very real indeed.

A 1512 woodcut of a werewolf attack

So what do you get when you mix a History student with the build-up to Halloween? Why, a history of Werewolves of course!

“Wut?” I hear you say. Yeah, that’s right, there is such a thing as serious academic study of the history of lycanthropy in human cultures. And while I’m not going to subject you to an in-depth psychological analysis of various case studies, I will give anyone mildly interested in the real-world impact of those infamous full moon shapeshifters some fun facts to chew on.

Like his sissy and uncool little brother the vampire, the werewolf has no single founding myth. Just about every culture and race on earth has some story containing wolves that turn into men, or men that turn into wolves, or any other combination of half-wolf-man-thing. The oldest references to shapeshifting wolf-man interaction date back to ancient times, with works like Ovid’s Metamorphoses in 8 AD making reference to a man cursed with the form of a wolf, whilst Herodotus wrote around 450 BC of a tribe of Scythians who transformed into wolves for a few days every year. The idea of the transformation being linked to the lunar cycle first began to appear among Greek writers at this time too.

The advent of Christianity heralded a new era for werewolf mythology. Like many creatures of folklore, the werewolf was seen as both very real and very much a threat. Interaction with wolves was considered to be a hallmark of the devil, and witches were frequently accused of shapeshifting.

Exactly how a human being went about changing himself into the form of a wolf or half-wolf varied from culture to culture. A man could be cursed by a witch or the devil, he could use a magical salve or ointment, he could drape himself in a wolf’s pelt or wear a belt of wolf fur. Often the time of year was of crucial importance. It was said that a werewolf could still be discerned in his human form – he often had a bushy monobrow, long fingernails, sallow features and was known to be introverted and bad-smelling (kind of like a student then). The sight of fur on the palms of the hands or growing on the underside of the tongue was said to be a sure indicator of a wolf in human form. Sometimes the transformation literally involved the man or woman tearing off their flesh, and one way of executing suspected werewolves was to flay them alive, looking for the fur beneath the skin.

An 18th century French depiction

It’s difficult to overestimate how serious the idea of lycanthropy was taken by people right up to the 20th century. Tens of thousands of innocents throughout Europe were tortured and often brutality executed after being accused lycanthropy. In Estonian in the mid 1600s 18 trials found 18 women and 13 men guilty of damage to property and cattle they had caused in the shape of werewolves. Under torture, they confessed to having hidden their wolf skins under a rock. Interestingly, a few self-confessed werewolves claimed to be acting in the right. In 1692 an eighty year old woman confessed to being a werewolf who, with other werewolves, regularly went to hell three times a year to fight the witches and wizards of Satan to ensure a good harvest.

Fear of werewolves only gradually decreased with advances in medical science, which led to an understanding of the conditions causing people to believe they or others around them were transforming into wolves. The image of the wolf in human culture continues to have a profound impact upon human perception, and though it can be very easy for us in the 21st century to scorn our ancestors for a subject they considered deadly serious, it is unwise judge. It’s intriguing to note that the idea that a man can be transformed into a werewolf by being bitten by one, or mixing saliva with one, only really began to take hold in stories after the HIV/AIDS crisis of the latter 20th century. The legend of the werewolf continues to shift alongside our modern-day understanding of the world.

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