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Title: The Door to the Ghouls' Realm
Fandom: The Red Tree (Caitlin R. Kiernan)
Rating: PG-13
Length: 832
Content notes: Addendum of sorts to part of the story within a story; violence (implied and otherwise), blood, and weird doings among strange creatures; period specific unfavorable portrayal of Native Americans.
Author notes: Written for the "Doorway" challenge: the idea for this jumped out at me while I was reading the book itself; I'd gotten a bit stuck trying to come up with something to base off this prompt, so I took the chance in this. Be warned: there are dark doings ahead; it's inspired by Caitlin R. Kiernan, it's gonna be dark.
Summary: From Joseph Pearing Olney's diary, a fevered dream at the foot of the Red Tree.

From the journal of Joseph Pearing Olney

March 28th, 1921

My landlady's maiden sister has a loose but engaging tongue, and her tales keep the long evenings from growing dull. Of late, despite the advancing spring and the waning winter, the awakening plant life and the lengthening days, she has spoken at length of dark things, of a tree in Moosup Valley, close to a farm owned by the White family, where a number of horrors have been enacted. The savages of yore once gathered at the foot of this lone red oak, to enact their dances around the roots and to use the granite slab at the foot as a sacrificial altar. On this rough slab, they laid out their victims - a captive from a rival tribe, one of their bravest of warriors, or the most beautiful maiden in the clan - and with the strokes of a well-honed flint blade, would open the throats and slash the veins of the limbs to open them. The blood flowed out, crimsoning the surface of the slab before it flowed over the edge to dye the ground, the better to ensure a rich harvest and to appease their deities. The other boarders scoff at these tales, but I find myself wanting to see the tree for myself, with my own eyes. My fellow clerks at the granite work office have confirmed these tales, and Jessup has seen the tree for himself.

And so today, on this sunlit spring afternoon, armed with directions penned for me by Jessup and a few others, I drove out to Moosup. After some confusion and more than a few wrong turns, I found myself at the White farm, just before sundown. The master of the farm warned me to tread lightly in the pasture where the tree stands, for the bull does not care for visitors, even familiar ones.

The cattle did not trouble me, though I had to tread carefully so as not to stain my shoes with their leavings. At length, I stood before the tree, gazing up into the branches, then down to the slab at the foot, the roots embracing it. I swore that I could sense the very lives of the sacrificial victims, that I could hear their screams and smell the copper tang of their blood. I sank down on my knees, my hand reaching for the stone as if by its own volition.

Perhaps I swooned or perhaps I truly saw it, but as I knelt there, the stone seemed to sink down and swing inward like a door opened from within. Sounds like the growls of wild beasts intermingled with barely human voices rose from the depths, speaking with guttural accents, chanting in a fiendish tongue I could not identify as any human language. Above them, I heard a human voice cry out in mingled fear and pain and ecstasy: the voice of Bettina, my lost love. I threw myself into the void, falling several feet before hitting packed soil below.

I lay within a ring of torchlight, which lit up the shadowed forms of a mob of creatures, things with the forms of humans as if born of wolves or wolves born of humans, with canine ears or snouts, with hairy skins or hands like claws. Some gnashed their jaws at me, while others crouched ready to spring on me. Behind them, several figures found among themselves, snapping and biting at each other while others pulled each other down in fierce couplings.

One especially large figure, with eyes of fire in the head of a wolf and the wrinkled dugs of an older woman leaned over me, black lips curled back from yellowed fangs. "Why are you here, little morsel?" she said.

I sputtered some reply, which did not meet to the creature's satisfaction, for the cluster of horrors moved closer, as if summoned by some hidden sign.

Then her voice rang out, my love's clear tone, crying out about the animal snarls, she calling out my name, making the beasts turn their heads as if they knew not which to attack first, she or I.

"So you are what holds her back, what keeps her from giving herself to us?" the creature which hovered over me rasped. "Very well, you may have her returned to you, but for a price." And she named it, a payment which I must render every month, in the only kind of coin they would accept.

. . . I came to myself lying atop the slab, as if the creatures had placed me on it before it rose back to the sunlit world. And now it was night, not just the night that blotted out the sky, but night within my soul as well, for I had agreed to bring them the heads and hands and hearts of human women and girls, till it pleased the ghouls to let my true love's soul free that she might return to my side...


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