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Wild Wednesday 18

Sorry folks, last weeks post got interrupted by a little ol’ thing called Hurricane Isaac.  What a gods bedamned blow hard. He just would not take a hint and leave.  However, I’ve now officially flown a kite in a hurricane.  The bucket list grows ever smaller.

Now I thought about doing another storm based critter, like the tengu and their bag of winds.  However, the sun is shining and hot today, and that always makes me think of one thing.  Vampires.  Buckle in kiddies, let’s talk about those supernatural leeches, those over grown ticks, the venerable suck heads, the vampires.

We’ve got to start with definitions, because blood is a powerful force and form of sustenance in a lot of mythologies.  Lots of things drink blood, from gods to sphinxes, to the little alp when he can’t get his preferred meal.  To be considered a vampire you have to be pretty much defined by your hunger, by the one thing that drives you.  To be a vampire you don’t have to just like or need blood, you have to be consumed by it.

And that’s just a little sad.  It’s like being impressed by an alcoholic’s need for booze.  Vampires, especially the earlier you go back in the mythos, are wretchedly simple creatures.   Oh sure, they have died and come back, and that’s neato, but they spend all their immortal nights chasing after the red stuff, and it doesn’t give them time for much else.  There is some evidence that the older they got, the more self control they learned, but even Dracula got all hot and bothered by a paper cut.  Even I don’t go nutso over a spilled drink, and I’m a proper lush.   Okay… I’ll wince if it’s scotch… but that’s not my only defining feature damn it!

And most vampires probably don’t live all that long.  This whole Anne Rice thing of a vampire protecting his progeny and teaching them the glorious rites of immortal life is a damn new thing.  In ninety percent of stories, vampires crawl their way out of their own coffins and are left to their own devices.  Sometimes it’s not even another vampire that makes a baby vamp.  Sometimes it’s a curse or the wrong funeral rites being performed, it depends on the culture.  However, a lot of newly risen vamps spend the first night running around like savage dogs, and there is no daddy vamp to tell them ‘sun hot, sun bad’.   They get to find that out at dawn, and maybe they get to cover and maybe they don’t, but by now the villagers are probably looking for them anyway.  It’s a hard knock unlife.

The idea of undead blood suckers is neigh onto universal, like a lot of the big beasties I focus on. Like most things, vampires in different regions can have a variety of powers. We can put this down to cultural differences, or maybe different strains or bloodlines of vampires, or a few other things.   Sometimes the vampires can turn into animals, or mist.  Sometimes they can hypnotize, sometimes not.  Sometimes the vampire is dead to the world, pun intended, during daylight and sometimes it is perfectly awake, just trapped indoors.  There is no one formula.

What’s more interesting though is the variety of weaknesses the vampires get.  I mean, dragons vary from region to region, but you still pretty much need a hell of a sword or lance to actually deal with one.  Vampires get a doozy of restrictions, some that make sense and some that are outright whacky.  The idea that vampires can’t willingly cross running water, and have to be ferried or carried across, is a common one.  Several authors have used the idea of vampires being restricted in cities because of underground water pipes.   Garlic isn’t the only herb that keeps them at bay, everything from myrrh to lavender has been used, and the ever useful wolves bane.  Silver usually isn’t in the vampire myths, unless it’s a silver cross, but it shows up occasionally.  My favorites are the various cultures that have the vampires as extremely o.c.d.  In these legends you can distract a vampire by throwing beans or rice at it, and it is compelled to gather them all up and count them.  This is weird, not only because the idea of a savage animal in ragged grave cloths being compelled to neaten and count is amusing, but also because a form of this shows up in China and Romania, separate cultures with a very similar myth.

And of course killing a vampire is only as hard as driving a wooden stake through a breastbone… which is actually pretty hard.   Tip for you all, go up under the ribcage with a longer stake, the heart is still there.  The fastest way to a vamp’s heart is through the stomach, and Up.   Oh, and some cultures require a rowan stake, or more commonly one of ash.  Got to love the ever helpful vamp and snake killing ash tree.   It is wise to bury the corpse at a crossroads, and removing the head is just common sense. In case some fool removes the stake and the creature rises again.   For the totally obsessive (show of hands people) burn head and body separately and scatter the ashes into different bodies of water.  That recipe would keep Freddy bloody Kruger from making another movie, much less your average vampire.

Now, the origins of vampires are many and varied.  Quite frankly, the idea of vampires having one single origin may be something fairly modern, because obsession with vampires has grown startling since Victorian times.  Why?  Because the Victorians gave them the sexy.  They turned vampires into seducers more than any other culture, and the act of feeding into something down right dirty.  Oh, they weren’t the only ones, but they were the ones that shaped the culture for us.  In a lot of cultures, humans are food and just food, and it is doubtful how many vampires would spare the precious blood on fueling a hard-on anyway.

Likewise, the connection between vampire and church has grown in modern times.  Though faith usually repelled vampires in most cultures, it was the faith of the person more than the symbol of any one faith.   Now there are a few takes on vampires that have Judas as the first earthly vampire, punished by God to be a night-walking bloodsucker because of his betrayal.  The same God who sent his own kid to get hammered?  Why yes, yes it was, but no one ever accused him of constancy.  Lilith actually makes a better candidate for mother of vampires, but hell there are a couple of versions of the first vampires being of alien origin, and only later mixing their blood with human stock.

The most common scientific explanation for vampire myths may be one of the least satisfying ever.  The current theory is that primitive people saw the movements and swellings caused by rigor and thought it was a sign of the body coming back to life.  Because primitive equals beyond stupid in most of these theories.   Blood was a part because of the way blood will leak from the mouth and eyes of a non-formaldehyde filled corpse.  Twitching bleeding body equals bloodthirsty night fiend the world over just doesn’t quite satisfy me, not a bit, but hey, I try to look at all the angles.

I could bring up Vlad Tepish here or Elizabeth Bathory, but I won’t.  Just being a power hungry psycho doesn’t make you a vampire, and bathing in virgin blood may be one person’s search for immortality, but is probably just another one’s kink.  I also consider the ‘energy vampire’ that has become so popular with goth kids to be a separate phenomena.  Sure, there are creatures that feed off pure energy, but that would be another category. And just because you suck all the life out of the party kid, don’t make you a vampire per say.

So where to end this post?  Ah, I know!  Holy water jello shots all around!  First one whose stomach melts goes out in the sun!

 

Writing Posts-

More inventive vampire killing strategies.  Wooden bullets are done to death.  How but a wood shot claymore?

Vampire blood sports.  Humans are sick cookies, you know they are going to toss two starved vamps in a cage at some point and see who wins.

Diabetic vampires.

Wild Wednesday 17

I almost put these critters off a few weeks, because they are similar in a lot of ways  to the fey.  In fact, some modern traditions lump them together, and I can definitely see why.  Still, there are enough differences and things that you just may not have heard to make them worth a separate post.  Besides, sometimes I have the soul of a very dirty old letch, and so you might just be surprised on my take on the inspiration to letches everywhere, the nymphs.

Nymphs have their origins in Greek myth, then adapted later by the Romans like every other myth the Greeks had.  Yet like many other beasties I talk about you can find similar if not identical ideas all over the world.  And I don’t just mean naked young women who run through the forests, although they certainly are that.  Nymphs really are more than just the outside appearance, though it’s hard to remember that after studying histories written by thousands of years of peeping toms.

First of all, there are more types of nymphs that most people think about.  The basic five categories are celestial, underworld, sea, land, and tree.  That’s right, there were enough nymphs running around that you needed categories for them, and even within those categories there were different subgroups.  Like the branches of tree nymphs (pun intended as always). Dryads were specifically the nymphs of oak trees, and meliae were the nymphs of the ash.  Even then there were different levels of nymph, some who were connected to a single grove, some who were bound to a single tree.  The hamadryad would die if you cut down her specific tree, but some of her sisters would be fine as long as their grove survived.

Nymphs, depending on the variety, age, and individual traits, were somewhere between elementals and genius loci.  They were bound to one place, and connected to it in ways that weren’t exactly clear to humans.  It may simply be a chicken and egg problem, does a nymph reflect her land or the land reflect its nymph? Of course, there were a few free range nymphs, mostly of the celestial and underworld variety, who traveled on the winds or in the retinue of various gods.   Most of the pretty young women in the background of the different depictions and portraits of the gods were nymphs just hanging about. Which type of nymph showed up depended largely on the god involved, and of course any visiting god would draw out any local nymphs.

And the nymphs had some of the similar origins as the gods.  Many sprang straight from Gaea after enough blood from various suitors was spilled on her.  To that matter, some nymphs didn’t stay nymphs.  Charybdis was a nymph of the waters before she was transformed, or chose to transform, into a horrible ship eating whirlpool monster.  Scylla might or might not have had the same bag.  The older the nymph, the more individualaity they seemed to posses.  Starting out childlike and quite frankly a bit dumb, joyful but dumb, and slowly growing in wisdom over their semi-immortal existence.

And on that note, lets talk about sex.  Yay sex!  It’s great isn’t it?   Oh wait, I mean lets talk about the sexual connotations connected to nymph lore.  Everyone knows nymphomania got it’s origins from those sexy, slutty nymphs right?   Well… kinda.  Most nymphs danced and sang and splashed in their waters without a stitch on, and this certainly attracted a great amount of attention.   However, as minor goddesses in their own right, you could run into some major trouble spying on them for too long.  You could be struck blind or mad, fall into a deep obsession, and occasionally just die or get transformed into something icky.   Yes, it’s true that nymphs would sleep around, with gods and each other, man, woman,  and occasionally beasts.  They were nature spirits, unfettered by human morality.  However, they are most often described as beautiful maidens, because though a few slept around, mostly they were content to dance and sing and play.   They weren’t succubi, screwing anything that came there way.  In fact, few if any human men got their attentions, and satyrs, centaurs, faun and the like usually had to run the nymphs down and force the issue.  The nymphs were lovely and easy targets, but not the hypersexual creatures that they are made out to be now.

Oh yeah, and keep in mind the time frame.  Depending on if semi-immortal spirits like nymphs adapt with the times or not, they could still look like beautiful maidens, in the very Greek sense.   Meaning you would be lucky if they look older than thirteen, ten to twelve is probably far more likely.  Spirits do get affected by perceptions, so perhaps they might change to a more modern standard of beauty, but there is a good chance that ‘jailbait’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

It’s interesting how many cultures have a belief of humanoid figures attached to nature.  We call it anthropomorphizing.  Humans tend to define the world in human terms, and see it in human forms.  Yet, it’s surprising how often the idea of the young woman in the trees, or rivers, or air shows up as well.  Nymphs are symbols of creativity and freedom, of innocent abundance.  So little of human nature is that innocent, it seems odd how often those particular sets of symbols still crop up.

Writing prompts.

The nymph Olympics.  Hey the original affair was men only, times change.

Missionaries desperately trying to clothe and educate the nymphs.  Lots of luck folks.

Lots of people have used deformed nymphs to show the affects of pollution.  Lets go the other way.  How does a nymph react to a wind farm?  Or a solar farm?  What are the Hover Dam nymphs like?

Wild Wednesday 16

All right lads and lassies, hold onto your hats, your knickers, and your first born because this is going to be a doozy.  Ready for it?  I’m going to try and tackle the fey, head on and without a helmet.
Oh boy oh boy.   The fey, the fairies, good folk, fair ones, wee folk, the gentry, whatever you want to call them including ‘oi, put down that sheep!’.  You thought my post on dragons had a lot of ground to cover?  If ever there was a rambling, brambling group, it was the fey.
Why?  Because the fey aren’t a type of creature, not a species.  It’s easier to think of the fey as their own class taxonomically speaking.   Maybe their own phylum, but I’ll stick with class for now.   The fey are a loosely connected bunch of creatures, most of them vaguely humanoid or humanish in appearance, that covers everything from pixies to bridge trolls.  Many of them are shapeshifters, and even the once that don’t have powerful illusions called glamour that are absolutely real to all your senses.The problem is, no one is quite sure what the connection between the many types of fey is, other than they are considered fey.  They have fey glamour and tap fey magic, so they are fey. Circular logic is nothing when thinking of the fey, mobius logic is a distinct possibility.
But lack of logic has never stopped me before, so let’s try it like this.  First and the most obvious thing about the fey, they were born of Earth, in fact they are often a lot more earthy than most humans.   Many fey have associations with nature and natural functions, some tie their various courts and organizations in with the seasons.  Even the ones that live in human homes and cities tend to be a bit… rustic.   Angels come form heaven, vampires are infected or cursed, the Egyptian gods are probably aliens form another dimension, but the fey are 100% earth born stock.
Next fact, the fey mostly don’t live here anymore.
Yep, I’m just going right to that.  Sad to say that most people who see fairy lights or belive in a fairy under every rosebush are probably about five-hundred years too late.  Oh, the fey are said to visit, usually slipping over during twilight or dusk, but they don’t stay long.  They pop up in groves of ash, oak, and thorn, or slip through a mirror, or hop through a ring of mushrooms. They visit some old haunts and cause some mischief and are gone again.  Some cultures still believe in household fey, fey that are used to humans and make themselves useful, and these varieties seem to stick around to modern day.  Hell, Icelandic elves are still living inside boulders and rescuing politicians from car accidents.  (True story.)   Mostly though, the fey are off in Faerie, a realm they evacuated too sometime in the last 1500 years or so.
See, the humans more or less kicked their asses when it comes to who owns this planet.  Cold iron drives away fey and fey influences, and many of the places that early man held holy were special to the fey as well. Those same places that various incarnations of the Christian church have done their level best to destroy.
And yes, Iron has much to answer for, but Monotheism has more.  Many of the older fey were respected bordering on worshiped by the tribes of men they encountered.  Early pagans didn’t see them as gods most of the time, but they sure were invited to all the best rituals and parties.  Which meant that the Church hated them along with anything remotely pagan, at least anything they couldn’t steal for thier own.Anything worshiped but not God was instantly of the devil, and the Church has tried to connect the fey and demons for centuries, despite the two having very different origins.  In some accounts fey were angels who wouldn’t fight on either side during the war between Lucifer and God, but damn does that story get applied to a lot of random critters that the Church wants to try to cram into their mythology.  Holy water and crosses don’t really seem to bother anything but the weakest fey, not unless those crosses are made of iron.
Which, ahem, doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t any dealings between the fey and demon-kind.  Fey were earthly remember, true children of the elements.  Finding and/or crafting a whole plane of existence to slip away to, what we now refer to as Faerie, isn’t exactly an earthly talent.  But it is something that might be attributed to ex-angels.   There are a few legends of Faerie owing tithe to Hell, payment for help rendered in escaping man and iron.   Basically, the fey chose the wrong bloody sub-contractors when building their new home, and have been over the barrel for it ever since.
Here is where I pause and try to show another perspective.  Modern historians attribute many of the fey myths to the Picts.   Not that the Picts started the stories, but that the Picts, or maybe the tribes before them, were the fey.  That as the Romans swarmed over the land, the Picts retreated to the hills and became ‘hidden folk.’   Odd and rustic figures that were only seen in fleeting glances, keeping odd customs and revels that weren’t well understood.
Is there some validity to this perspective?  Absolutely.  A lot of our fairy myth comes from Ireland, and from oral traditions that we have absolutely no way of dating.  We don’t know if fey stories were told of the Picts or by the Picts.  We certainly know that Roman steel was the bane to Pictish bronze.   Some of the old Irish myths, like the Daione Sidhe, the tall elegant fairies that heavily influenced Shakespeare and Tolkien alike, definitely have some older roots.  The people of the Hill could refer to the burial mounds of the picts as much as to the mythical creatures that are said to live beneath the mounds.
Still, the myths are more widespread than the picts were.  In fact, many cultures have ‘fey-like’ figures in their folklore.  From the small people with wings kind, to the more esoteric and wide spread.  I prefer to think of the fey as a race older than humanity, that existed for a time along side, till they saw where their futures were headed and decided to bug out.  This is not at all as an odd concept as it sounds, and can be found in cultures from the Philippines to the Southwest United States.
Another thing that has largely changed over time, the original fey were seen as very clannish, tribal, or outright independant. (Yes, like the early picts and other pagans, I said there was validity in the perspective.) Put three humans together to talk, and you’ll get four different opinions.  Put three fey together, and you’d get eighteen.   It was only in Medieval Europe, after the fey were off in their own realm, that they seemed to adopt a feudal system with courts and courtiers.  Maybe this was the humans putting their own politics on their folklore.  Maybe once they were in a new land, the fey found that Faerie needed a King, because the King is the land and all that.  Maybe a war with Hell forced the tribes to unite, in a way the Picts never managed, and once united the old ways faded away for fairy kind just like it does with mortal folk.
Considering that most fey seem to have the memories of goldfish, and the record keeping capacity of deranged third graders, I doubt even they would know the answers to those questions.   Chances are, it’s a combination of all of the above.
How you deal with a fey largely depends on if you are in their world, or if they are in yours.  If you are in Faerie proper, chances are you are in big trouble.  In fact, you’re already screwed.  Yes, you.  Take my knowledge without so much as a gift in return?  Oh boy how you’d owe me if I played by the rules.   Faerie is broken, time and space are mashed together with illusion and intent.  It’s not as malleable as the dream realms and not as vindictive as Hell, but if you break the rules you could find yourself stuck serving some fey lord for seven by seven years.   Seven years, that stretch like seven hundred in the mortal realm.   Never take a gift in Faerie, not so much as directions without a clear waiver of debt.  Don’t eat the food, don’t drink the wine.  Dance at your own peril.  If you are on a path, walk it, don’t deviate and don’t go running off into the woods.  Never thank a fairy, thanking implies debt.   Never rob from one
Unless you think you are clever or mad enough to break the rules, in which case more power to you.  Good luck. At very least you’ll provide a source of laughter.
If the fey is in your territory, you’ve got about as much power as they do in the reverse situation.  Anything from an iron nail to a four leaf clover can ward them off, red thread can burn them, and if you think you are under glamour, the fairy version of illusion and enchantment, you can try turning your coat inside out to confuse their spells. Some fey seem unable to tell a straight lie, and almost all are bound by their word spoken three times. Fey stick to their rules, if you know the type of fey you can figure out what rules to adhere too, but those are pretty good guidelines.  You’ll also tend to have better luck with a bowl of whiskey than a bowl of cream, those Irish roots are strong.
Just remember, fey are not human.  They don’t think like humans.  They don’t even think like humans think they think.  They can be callous or kind, cold or hot, merry and mad.  Few of them have much respect for humans.  You live too short to have any real perspective or merit.Many of them carry a great deal of jealousy and disdain.  You inherited their home, through your ancestors being bigger bastards in the evolutionary game.  If you are lucky, you might be a source of fascination.  If you are unlucky, you might just be a toy, and a very breakable one at that.

Writing prompts
Obvious one, the bronze age humans have to split earth instead of the fey.
The fey aren’t picts, they are Neanderthal, and they want their planet back.
Fairy glamour is tapped for better virtual reality.  The virtual world wide web runs off fairy blood.

Wild Wednesday 15

For those of you who missed yesterday’s post, I’m starting a new novel.  Anyone who wants to read a rough first chapter should definitely check out the post.  It involves a federal organization that delivers and protects dreams, like the post office only much, much more fun.  With that on my mind, I thought I’d do a quick but appropriate post on one of my favorite little dream related creatures.
Now most cultures have a variety of creatures that cause nighttime distress, manipulate or deliver bad dreams, or just like to snack on sleeping people.  We discussed one of those not too long ago, the alp of German folklore.  (Hmm, wonder why I’m mentioning him again.  Really, go read yesterday’s post for a giggle.)   However, there are only a handful of standard creatures that help alleviate bad dreams.  Most traditional remedies involve chasing off or killing the creature causing your problems, or getting a friendly healer or shaman to prepare you an amulet for protection and good dreams.   The dreamcatcher concept is common in more than just the Native American cultures.
Surely though, if there are beasties and ghoulies that bring nightmares, there must be something out there that does the opposite?  Most supernatural critters exist in some form of whacky ecosystem, with predators and prey, checks and balances.  Well my favorite has always been the baku, both for it’s effectiveness and it’s outright ferocious adorableness.
The baku started as a Chinese beastie, but for reasons we’ll see has become almost wholly associated with Japan over the centuries.  There are some reports of them keeping pestilence and general evil at bay, but their most consistent trait is the ability to eat nightmares and even sometimes good dreams.   It gobbles them up whole cloth, plucking them from the sleeper’s mind and going about on their way.
And that’s it.   No other special abilities.  No shapeshifting, wish granting, or even the ability to speak.  It’s just a beastie that slurps down your subconcious neurosis.  However it has been a mainstay of Japanese culture for hundreds of years, and Chinese even longer.  Like many Asian beasts, it is described as ‘chimerical’ by folklorists of the west.  Mostly because every beast in those cultures is, or more importantly their descriptions are always hodgepodge.  Even when describing their dragons, most oriental cultures try to liken the features to the nearest regular animal they know.  So a dragon has the head of a camel, the scales of a fish, the talons of an eagle.  Ect.   It isn’t really a chimera like we think, those are just handy descriptions.
The baku is described as having the trunk of an elephant, the paws of a tiger, an ox tail and often small horns or tusks.  It’s a small little guy though.  Maybe half the height of a man, and that elephant trunk is more than adept at rooting out your nasty dreams for it’s breakfast.
Which brings us to the odd/interesting moment.  For the last thirty years, thanks to some innovative anime, the baku has become directly associated with the tapir.  To the point that the tapir is often called baku, and baku is often called tapir.  The guys with their wee trunks and snuffling behavior have hit a huge popularity level now that they have been linked to the mythology.
And I want to stress, before the story changes, that this is a brand new phenomena.  Tapir were just not linked to baku originally.  Not till later, when tapir where named mo and mahk in China because of the beasts resemblance to the myth.   For gods sake, one of the anime that helped make this happen was the magna based off Pokemon. The drowsy, a tapir like mud-dwelling critter, is also a dream-eater.  This wasn’t the first link between tapir and the more traditional, more ferocious, tiger-pawed baku, but it is one of the most prevalent. (Yes, I know these sad facts, I also know the turtles in Mario Bros. were based on kappa, and that’s where King Koopa comes from.  Mythology is Everywhere!)
So, much like the changes in the tengu, we are going to see a major paradigm shift in both popularity, and origin stories of the baku in the next fifty to a hundred years.  Which may only fascinate me, but it fascinates me wholly.  Yes yes, I know I’m crazy, but hey it’s my bizarre perspective that is supposed to make these blogs fun.  I give it five years before a tapir logo ends up on some kind of sleep aid drug.   Since the buggers are Not suited to being raised as pets, even by those wealthy enough to afford some eccentric help with their bad night’s sleep.

Writing Prompts
Baku rental agency.  The things look like vacuum cleaners already, might as well have door-to-door salesmen.
Dream plagues. What happens if a certain bad dream spreads from more than one mind?  Is a single baku enough for a village?
Chimerical practice.  Try and describe a regular animal in chimerical terms.  For instance the elephant, with a nose like a snake and huge floppy ears like a great dog.  It can be real fun to see how confusion quickly sets in when you rely on poor analogy.

New Project

So, it’s that time again.  Time to start writing a new book while trying to find a home for the last one.  This is my pattern, always be working on one thing while selling the last, and the one before that?  Well, it goes in the trunk for awhile.

Part of my process when choosing a new project is to write several first chapters from various ideas.  First chapters flow for me like hot butter down a gorgeous woman’s thighs… and no, I won’t tell you how I know how hot butter flows in that situation.   Anyway, I’m leaning to this project, and would love some input.  Anyone have time to read a first chapter?   Please, give me the worst and best criticism you can.
Working Title – Sandmen!

The widow McGonaghey didn’t remember the dream that woke her, but she remembered the certainty that the dream had not been her own.
She managed to get her bleary eyes half open, and was rewarded with the fleeting glimpse of a small figure in a ridiculous bowler hat.   Her hand was already blundering about the nightstand for the phone.  She had put the number she needed on speed-dial the last time she had needed to call.
A pre-recorded message was annoying enough to help chase the remnants of sleep from her mind as she shrugged a robe on.  Ms. McGonaghey managed to get her feet into soft pink slippers and to creak up to standing as she jabbed at the zero button repeatedly, forcing through the menu options as quick as she could manage.  Meanwhile, she shoved an old silk handkerchief into the keyhole of her bedroom door and was bending down and struggling to push a throw rug up against the doorjamb when she finally got through to a bored sounding operator.
“Federal Dream Services, Mary speaking.  Please be informed that this call may be recorded for quality control and training purposes.  How may I assist you?”
“Account 44506,” the widow grumbled as she struggled with the rug.  “That damn alp is back!”
“Just a moment,” there were a few quick keystrokes on the other side of the phone, “yes I see.  Ms. McGonaghey?  And this would be the third disturbance in ten days?”
“Yes yes, that’s the case.  Now send someone out here!”
“I will put in a request for service Mam, but there may be some delay.  In the meantime would it be all right to run through a few quick procedures?”
“Saints you people have been going to the tech support conferences again haven’t you?  All right, but I’m telling you, I’ve tried everything.”
“Yes Mam, as I said our service men will be on their way as soon as possible.  In the meantime, have you tried putting lemon zest on your windows?”
“And a whole one under my pillow.”
“Hmm, how about bent nails?”
“Of course, who doesn’t have a few bent nails in the corners of their house?”
“But most nails aren’t made of iron anymore, did you buy them from a conventional hardware store?”
“Do you think I’m an idiot?  I’ve iron nails passed down from my mother’s mother’s mother.  Really, you people.  I’ve half a mind to-”
“Excuse me Mam, I am just following the checklist, and you declined to give us any pertinent information during your last few calls.”
“As if I had time to chit chat. I was trying to snatch the thing’s hat!  If  I hadn’t plugged up the door already I wouldn’t be wasting the time now.”
“Yes Mam, I understand.  And that checks off the next few items about containment and magical garment procurement.  Are you by any chance a new mother?”
“Do I sound like a new mother?”
“You could be an old, new mother.  We try not to make assumptions in this modern age.”
“That is coming very close to cheek young lady.  No, I am not a new mother.”
“Are you sure? Because usually when an alp makes such a regular appearance it’s because he has found a source of br-”
“I know very well what those nasty little perverts are usually after!  However, I assure you my children are all grown.  Now are you done being useless yet?  Where are those service men?”
“I’m sorry, but there was a mara outbreak earlier this evening. Some new sleeping drug with unfortunate side effects.  They should be in your area in twenty minutes or so.”
“Fine fine, I’ll just wait.”
“In the meantime, perhaps you should try to see and communicate with the alp.  If you would please turn your clothes inside out.”
“What?  With the invisible wee bugger watching?”
Ms. McGonaghey could swear she heard the receptionist’s smile as she answered.
“If you’ll pardon the ‘cheek’ Mam, if you were asleep for several minutes with the alp atop you, then he has already seen everything you’ve got.”
Ms. McGonaghey hung up the phone with as much vengeance as she could put into a thumb mashing into a button.  She missed proper cradles, something she could really slam a phone into. She had to settle for tossing the phone onto the bed, and turned her back to the door to wait for assistance.
After five minutes of waiting in absolute silence, she cursed and started to fumble with the belt of her robe.

Despite the operator’s assurance of twenty minutes, it was closer to fifty before Mitch and his new assistant made the scene.  Mitch told the kid to wait in the van, and more strictly told him not to touch anything, especially the large containment jars holding half a dozen screaming mara.  Then he hiked up the hood on his department issued robe, calmly slipped through the walls of the apartment building, and made his way upstairs.
The robes that all FDS agents wore contained a variety of useful enchantments, but they were also damned robes. Milt had long ago given up getting any functionality out of them beyond the ability to walk through walls and the avoidance charm that kept most people from focusing on him.  No, he tucked the bulk of the thin robe under a much more serviceable pair of coveralls and a heavy tool belt.
Milt was a professional with over fifty years on the job.  He’d started during the great insomnia of 58‘, had dealt with the Dream Walkers of the Sixties, and Lotus Eaters of the late Seventies.  He’d even put up with the political correctness hoopla that had rebranded the organization from the Federal Department of Sandmen to the Federal Dream Services. That one had been messy, office politics always were scarier than merely trivial things like sudden death and dream madness.
Yep, he’d seen it all, much of it filtered by the third eye that gleamed a dark purple on his forehead.   That feature was all natural, and among other things let him see through solid objects with absolute clarity. A very handy advantage in a job where you went through walls far more often than you did doors..  So he wasn’t phased by an elderly woman in an inside-out bathrobe exchanging profanity with a two-foot tall man in a bowler hat.  The fact that her cursing was pure American mixed with just a charming bit of Irish colloquialism and the little man’s was pure German, and Hoch Deutsch at that, just made the scene more entertaining.  After wrestling with maras all night, Milt needed some entertainment.
He knocked politely, the sound jarring the two inside the room, and slipped calmly inside.  The old woman squinted at him, but the old ‘turncoat’ charm of turning her clothes inside out didn’t penetrate his robe’s charms much.  It was far more effective on fey glamour and minor demons, and alps of course.  Milt pulled his hood back so that he’d appear more clearly and gave his most professional smile, a well practiced turn of his lips that meant absolutely nothing.  The deep violet eye on his forehead flashed once.
“Evening Ms. McGonaghey?  I”m with FDS.  I understand this imp has been giving you problems?”
“Imp,” the alp said. “Dumpfbacke!”
The alp growled and picked up a book.  It tossed it with little accuracy, and Milt tilted his head to one side to avoid it.  The creature looked like nothing more than a small, elderly man, its nose and eyes a bit larger than natural, dressed in a neat little suit and bowler hat.  Its diminutive form was perched on the top of the bookshelf, with plenty of ammo at easy reach.
“Aye, that bastard has been sitting on my chest half a dozen times!  He’ll be the death of me!”
Milt shook his head.
“Alps don’t usually kill there victims, they just feed on sweat, blood, or…. other fluids.  Was it giving you good dreams or nightmares while it fed?”
“Damned if I remember, I haven’t remembered a dream in twenty years.”
“Huh that’s- Hey stop it!” Mitch jerked to the side as a more well aimed book clipped his shoulder.
The alp chortled atop his shelf and said something insulting involving frozen fish.  Milt kept half an eye on him while continuing trying to talk to his client.
“Usually once you get past an alp’s invisibility a cordial approach is better than yelling at it,” he said, “but in this case I can see why you wouldn’t want to invite it to breakfast.”
“Like I’m wasting my good coffee on that little turd!  Get rid of it already.”
“I would very much like to see him try,” the alp said in heavily accented English.
Then the little old man vanished and in its place was a huge, white cobra.  It hissed from atop the shelf and flared a great hood.  Long fangs extended and dripped with thick, viscous venom.   Even the bowler hat, shrunken to fit the snakes head, didn’t diminish from the menace of the creature… much.
It spat, aiming at the slower prey of Ms. McGonaghey.  Milt tackled her, moving with surprising speed considering the overalls  and the beginnings of a beer gut.  He tried not to hurt her, but was more worried about getting her out of the way of the glob of venomous spit.  It hit the door behind her, and hissed more like acid then poison against the wood.
The alp/cobra laughed, and the combination of hiss and chortle made the Milt’s skin crawl.  He quickly shoved his hand into his tool belt and stood, standing protectively over the woman crouched on the floor.  She was screaming, no real words to it, just fury, and he tried to do his best to ignore her.   He jerked out a spray bottle, a clunky little plastic bottle with handle and trigger, just like one would use for misting plants.  He squirted it in the alp’s direction just as the cobra prepared another toxic loogie.
The mist hit the alp in the face and its attack turned into a scream.  Its scales blistered and smoke curled from its face.  The cobra vanished and a huge, hairy tarantula skittered away and up the wall, bowler hat clinging to its multi-eyed head.   Milt stepped forward, spritzing and misting heavily in front of him to try and herd the alp into the corner.
“Lemon cleaner bitch,” Milt said with great satisfaction.  “You’d be amazed how much use I get from this stuff.”
The spider chittered angry and loud, glaring down with all its eyes.  Milt switched the spray bottle to his left hand, holding it with all the intensity of a man with a gun, and slid his right into his overalls.  It was time to finish the job.
Or it would have been if his new assistant hadn’t blundered in just at the wrong moment.
Lacking Milt’s natural third aye, Louise had to make do with a temporary sigil drawn on by the tech department.   It was enough to sense life-forms through walls, to know roughly where people were and to sense if they were awake or asleep.  This would have been enough if he was in sand deployment or in dream maintenence.   It wasn’t enough to clue him into Ms. McGonagey, who was still screaming as she reached for the natural weapon to deal with a huge spider, an old broom.
“Milt, you forgot the containment jar,” Louise said, or started to say.
He came through the door, hood up and long ends of robe dangling around his legs, just as the old woman was dragging the broom to her.  His ankles hit the broom, his robes tangled around his feet, and McGonagey screamed louder.   With his hood up, Louise was little more than a blur to the old woman.  A suddenly appearing blur that might have been grabbing her only weapon away.  As Louise stumbled, trying not to fall, McGonaghey hit him over his blurry head with the broom, and kept hitting and hitting as he went down.
Professional or not, Milt was distracted by the conflagration.  He took his eyes off the alp for just a second, spray bottle wavering in his grip.  That was all the alp needed.  The spider form changed to that of a great grizzly, the bear dropping from the  ceiling hard enough to crack the floorboards beneath it.  A huge paw smacked the bottle away from Milt, and he had to dive away before a second swipe got his head.
The grizzly roared, huge mouth stretching to reveal deadly teeth. The fur on one side of its face was still burned from the lemon spray. Its claws dug great gouges into the floor, and it seemed impossibly big in the small apartment bedroom.
Ms. McGonaghey hit it with the broom.
For a second, the alp just stared at her.  Its grizzly head didn’t move a bit as the bristles smacked into it.  With a low, chuckling growl, it swiped at the woman, purposefully missing. She shrieked and jerk back. Only to trip over Louise, who was just about to get back on his feet.  The two tumbled together on the floor, the confused woman bursting into tears and smacking at him with her fists as hard as she was able.
Milt, being a professional, did not do several things at this point.   He did not go to the others to help.   He did not go diving for the fallen spray bottle, a movement that would surely attract attention back his way.  He certainly did not shout at the bear, to taunt it or distract it, as so many movie and television heroes would undoubtedly do.  He couldn’t believe the number of times some action star would shout “hey!” before hitting the monster.  As if making him jerk your way would make your hit more affective.
What Milt did do was pull a small tennis ball out of his overalls, finally getting his hand on the right weapon for the situation.   Then, with practiced precision, knocked the bowler hat right off the bear’s head.
Louise, from his vantage point under the screaming, pummeling widow, saw the bear’s eyes widen in surprise.  Then those eyes grew rounder, wider, and the whole bear seemed to shrink towards it’s face.   The whole thing collapsed like a sponge being squeezed, and for just a moment the alp hovered in the air at bear-head height.  Then the thing fell on its ass.  It was barely a foot high, and half of that was head, with huge features and no more magic hat.
Milt walked over to the three, widow, assistant, and alp.   The bowler, sized to fit the alp’s head, dangled from one hand. The alp looked up at him, but didn’t so much as drop another insult.  Its big eyes started to well up with tears as Milt reached down and picked it up by the scruff of its shirt.
Ms. McGonaghey had lost a lot of her violence when she saw the alp shrink down.  She held a handfull of Louise’s hair, other hand poised to strike again, but now that his hood had fallen back she saw the young man she had been assaulting.   She hastily struggled away and onto her feet.
Milt looked down at his assistant, and at the large containment jar that the lad had been so hasty to bring up.  He shook his head tiredly.
“You don’t use containment jars for alps.  Just got to get their tarnekappe away, then toss em in a sack.” Milt said, letting that sink in for a moment before adding, “And next time I tell you to stay in the van… stay!”

So, what lives in a bottle, has a terrible temper, and tends to dislike the majority of the human race?   No, not me!  Damn it.  I mean another type of rummy all together.  A djinn rummy.

The djinn are hard creatures to approach in an article, because the Western view of them and the original traditions vary so greatly that one might as well be talking about two separate creatures.   Many people try to make a distinction between djinn and genie, but I’m going to try to stick as close to the original material as I can.  Djinn, or jinn (and yes, that’s the plural no matter which spelling you use, a single creature is a jinni) are much older creatures than most Americans know.  They predate the 1001 Arabian Nights that made the creature so popular in fairytale circles.  Hell, they predate the Qur’an, which is one of the biggest sources for djinn lore you are likely to find in most other circles.

Yep, you got that right.  Djinn are mentioned extensively in the Muslim holy book.  Even more than the elohim and giants are mentioned in the Torah.  In the Qur’an, Allah made three types of creature.  Angels, usually described as made from light or air, humans who were made out of clay, and djinn made out of ‘smokeless fire.’  In some unofficial accounts the djinn were made second, and their fire was utilized to help bake the clay of mankind.  And by utilized, I mean the poor buggers have a history of being enslaved that stretches out to before the first clay-feet broke away from their ape cousins.

Djinn as a separate race were considered to have a society as complex as any human group.  They have kings and priests, weddings and wars, and most essential, free will.  The angels have no will of their own, but the djinn were free to make their own decisions.  Even the wrong decisions.  A particular djinni decided not to bow to Allah’s new creation, the humans, and was kicked out of paradise for it.  You got that right again, the origins of Satan from the Middle East perspective was a fiery djinn who didn’t like being told to bend knee.

However, djinn aren’t demonized in their origin culture, not always anyway.  There are some more modern interpretations that liken them to devils.  With djinn as invisible voices whispering to every good person to give into evil and vice.  Earlier though they were more often just seen as primitive, with legendary tempers, but they are free to follow Allah and seek out paradise after judgment day just like humans. Or free to screw up and go down to Hell, probably the frozen sections where their fire will flicker and suffer in the cold.

Keep in mind, the stories of djinn predate the Quran, this is just the earliest comprehensive written text we have of them.  You find statues and depictions of djinn all over the Middle East, with indications that certain sects worshiped them at times.  They were called the hidden ones, and the giving gods.  They were a race born of fire who usually weren’t perceived by humans and, and I love this, usually most humans didn’t appear clearly to them either.  Essentially, most of the time they spent on a plane or frequency just a touch out of phase with humanity, appearing ghostly when glimpsed, but also seeing men and woman with equal lack of focus.

Now we get into the genie and a bottle thing.  See a lot of random magic is attributed to djinn, just as much of it is attributed to the fey in Ireland, or ghosts in America.  Something moves off the shelf?  Might have been brushed by a djinni.  A fortune teller can actually see the future?  Maybe a friendly djinni is whispering in their ear.   A wizard manages to stop a sandstorm or quell a war?  He must have enslaved some powerful djinn to help.

The djinn, as semi-intangible beings, could be bound with knowledge and certain magic.  Not just to bottles either, but to anything handy.  Rings and amulets were just as common as old bottles.  The djinni was bound to it, and probably didn’t live inside the object as much as was summoned into this plane by the object, and forced to do the bidding of its master.

Many djinn quickly became accustomed to slavery, just like most humans do.  Let’s face it, it’s the strong and rare person with spirit enough to rebel.  Solomon was said to have scores of djinn at his command, advising his advisers.  The djinn were so used to slavery that when he died they kept going on about their tasks until someone (usually Allah) sent a worm to chew on their old master and prove that he was dead.  Only then did they realize they could bugger off back to wherever they came from.

Djinn have a variety of powers, depending on the particular djinni.  Many scholars divide them into categories, very rarely are the categories consistent.  Most of them can travel great distances in the blink of an eye, so that if you wished for treasure the djinn didn’t make it appear so much as run off to find some and whisk it back in a few heartbeats.  Weather control seems to be a rare gift in a few, as is accurate prophecy.   Almost all djinn seem to be able to change shape, some of them preferring the shape of snakes or dogs, or even dragons, to a human shape.  The sash and vest look made so famous by Barbara Eden and Aladdin’s friend are actually mythological sound.  Often djinn would appear dressed in white clothing with long braided hair.  Often fire showed in their eyes, which is only to be expected.

There is a possible link between the early concept of djinn, and some of the early race of dragons.  A few scholars and novelists alike have thought that dragons were made sometime between angels and man.  Often they were set to guard the garden, or paradise or whatever, and did something to get kicked out.  The connection between the djinn being born out of fire and the fiery dragons is probably just tenuous conjecture, but it is interesting how some root concepts spread out through the Abrahamic religions.

So in some ways, the traditional djinn is less impressive than the Western genie concept.  They aren’t wish dispensing vending machines capable of anything.  In other ways, they are absolutely fascinating.  An ancient idea of a creature just as complex and intelligent as man, just living slightly out of synch with their human predecessors, is actually fairly common.  Is it any wonder that a few of them are going to resist summoning and binding?  That when you order one to deliver your fondest wish, it’s going to do it’s best to screw you over? It’s not like they are getting paid for their troubles. I’m amazed the poor bastard didn’t get an affirmative action program together centuries ago.  Or at least unionize.

 

Writing prompts.

Human gets summoned into the bottle of a djinni master.  What talents does the human have that the djinn might need?  What wishes can he grant?

Just what were the djinn doing before all these smelly flesh golems got made out of clay?

Black market amulet and bottle trade throughout the Middle East and Africa.  And you thought conflict diamonds were nasty.