Dark Carnival Session Five Part 2 - Return to the Crypt
CoC 1-6e Jazz Age
* * *
Around lunchtime, Agent Sanderson went to the main police headquarters across the river in downtown Providence. He meet with Police Superintendent William F. O’Neill. The man wore a police uniform and was an older man, being in his 50s with white hair. He stood and greeted Agent Sanderson.
“What can I do for you, Agent Sanderson?” he asked, shaking the man’s hand.
“O’Neill, I’m going to need you to help me out with a file that I’m looking for,” Agent Sanderson said.
“Okay. What do you need? What has it got to do with?”
“Well, it’s a missing person’s case─”
“Got a lot of those.”
“─and the one I’m looking for is what you’ve got.”
“Could you be … there’s a lot of missing people, Sanderson. Have you been drinking already today?”
“Sir, that’s not what we’re here to talk about! Welp, you know we’ve got that carnival business going on. Supposedly the missing kids that come around. Got something to do with that. I’ve been told to look into it.”
“Yeah. I’ve been keeping up with that for years.”
“There’s something not right about that carnival.”
“No there isn’t. That’s why I’m looking into it.”
“The Bureau’s looking into it?”
“That’s what I’ve been told to do.”
“Okay. I tell you want. You can copy any of this information that you want. But I don’t want this file to leave because it’s the only copies I’ve got.”
“Oh, I gotcha.”
Superintendent O’Neill went to a filing cabinet and took out a manila folder marked “Unsolved” that was filled to bursting with papers. He handed it over to the man.
“I want to shut that place down,” he admitted as Agent Sanderson began to look through the copious notes. “I’ve been wanting to shut that place down since I was on the force, since I was just a beat cop. But we’ve got nothing. I can’t … I can’t … if your people can find some evidence for me, something that we can take them out with … get me that evidence and I’ll get a court warrant and we’ll take that place down.”
“Welp, thank you so much O’Neill,” Agent Sanderson said.
Superintendent O’Neill let him use one of the interrogation rooms to copy down the information he wanted.
The file proved to be filled with police reports, witness accounts, newspaper articles, editorials, and personal letters relating to suspicious deaths, disappearances, and occurrences taking place in the area of the North Star Amusement Arcade and Pleasure Pier, the city dump less than a mile from that location, and Swan Point Cemetery since 1907, when the carnival was established.
It took him the rest of the day to copy down all of the information.
* * *
In the early afternoon, Dr. Huxtable was able to find time to do some research at John Hay Memorial Library. He was specifically looking for information on Shudde M’ell but found nothing after searching until dinnertime. Joseph Johnson looked for local urban legends about burrowing creatures in the area but found nothing.
* * *
Miss Edington spent the day researching the few volumes she had of Revelations of Glaaki but found nothing related to Shudde M’ell.
* * *
Milo James went to the public library that afternoon to see what he could learn about ghouls. There wasn’t much but he managed to find out that the ghūl was a monster or evil spirit from Arabic mythology associated with graveyards and consuming human flesh. Stories of the eaters of the dead were from all over the world with different descriptions dependent upon location. He managed to find that the psoglav of Eastern Europe were described as having a human body with horse legs and a dog-like head with iron teeth and a single eye.
* * *
Miss Fairfield returned to the Coombs house around 4 p.m.
“The boys are home!” Mrs. Coombs said when she opened the door. “I got them all cleaned up for a picture! They’re in their best matching clothes.”
Miss Fairfield assured the woman she would send her a photograph after the fact. Mrs. Coombs seemed very flattered by that.
“Do I get to be in the picture?” she asked.
“Yes,” Miss Fairfield said.
The twins proved to be two dark-haired children of around 12 years old. They looked exactly the same and seemed polite enough to the pretty reporter, though they seemed a little annoyed to have to tell another grown up about what happened. They told her they had gone into the Tunnel of Terrors and Freddie had gone in but had not come out. She realized they were not telling her everything they knew, probably because of their mother. Miss Fairfield asked her if she could make some tea for them all and she scurried off to the kitchen.
“Are you sure you didn’t go on the ride with Freddie?” she asked the boys once they were alone.
“Good thing we didn’t, huh?” one of them said.
“Yeah,” the other replied. “Or we’d be dead too.”
“Just like Freddie.”
“Just like Freddie.”
“Why do you think he’s dead?” Miss Fairfield said.
“‘Cause he didn’t come off the ride and we saw that thing on there,” one of them said. “We can’t talk about that to mom. She thinks we’re lying.”
“What thing?” Miss Fairfield said.
“What’s it worth to you?” the first twin said.
“Yeah!” the other boy said.
“Yeah!” the first said.
“What’s it worth to you?” the second said.
Miss Fairfield handed each of the children a dollar.
“I like the camera,” one of the twins said.
“You got any neat pictures?” the other asked.
“You got any dead body pictures?” the first asked.
“Something neat,” the other said.
She looked through some of the photographs in her camera case. A photograph of the laboratory under Brown Mountain was there. It showed several people around a spot where it seemed like someone else should be standing, all in the laboratory of the creatures that infested the place.
“What the heck is that!?!” one of the twins said. “Okay. Yeah! Yeah!”
“Aw!” the other said, looking at his brother, mouth open.
“Okay!” the first said. “Look. Look. Look. Okay.”
They looked at the kitchen.
“You know, Freddie, he went into that Tunnel o’ Terrors and hain’t never comin’ back,” he said. “We don’t go inta that Tunnel no more, not we ─ we wuz scared real bad two days before Freddie went in there, and we wouldn’t go with him. He wuz mad, but he went in anyway. But it weren’t our fault ─ we warned him! Sometimes there’s a sort of real bad smell from the opening to the Tunnel, sort of like bad eggs. Two days before Freddie went in there, me and my twin went in … that’s him.”
He gestured to his brother.
“Yeah, that’s me!” the other boy said. “I’m his twin!”
“… and were awful scared ─ just awful scared,” the first boy went on. “There was a new exhibit; an awful lumpy thing with eyes all over it and a hunnert mouths all full o’ black teeth. There wuz a sort of yaller smoke around it that sort of hid the machinery moving it, and that smoke made my eyes burn─”
“Yeah, my eyes too!”
“─and near choked us. But that didn’t scare us then. We thought it wuz a great exhibit, except for the yaller smoke. But after that we came out, we went through again, and the big black thing wasn’t there no more! Ma’am, there’s no way they could have put in an exhibit that big and moved it in only a few minutes, is there? Is there? We-we never told anyone that story before, except Freddie, cross our hearts and hope to die.”
“Cross my heart and hope to die!”
“Freddie thought we were fraidycats, and he kept hoping to see that big black thing hisself. The day he vanished, he went in there to look fer it, but no way would we be caught in there. Not ever again.”
Both of the boys looked quite frightened. She thought they were telling the truth though guessed they were exaggerating.
“Mom doesn’t like us making up stories,” the boy said. “She says we make up stories. But we don’t make up stories.”
“All right, well … keep it between us,” Miss Fairfield said. “And don’t show your mother the picture.”
“No no no!” the first boy said.
He tucked the photograph under the pillow of the couch. Mrs. Coombs returned a short time later and they had tea, which the boys didn’t seem to like, and had a nice chat. She took a few photographs of Mrs. Coombs and the boys, though they were less enthused than their mother.
“You make nice smiles,” Mrs. Coombs said. “Nice smiles.”
Miss Fairfield submitted the photograph and it got buried in the back page of the next day’s paper. She also made sure to send the photographs to Mrs. Coombs.
* * *
Bricker headed over to the police precinct nearest Swan Point Cemetery to try to look through the police records once again. Unfortunately, the sergeant he knew was not there and the desk sergeant wasn’t as welcoming.
“Why d’ y’ wan’ t’ see those records, boy?” the Irish cop with the name O’Malley on his uniform said.
“Never mind,” Bricker said.
* * *
They met again that night at Dr. Huxtable’s house after dinner. When Joell arrived, Huxtable inspected him carefully but found that he didn’t stink of feces and looked relatively clean.
“You can go into the parlor,” Dr. Huxtable told him magnanimously.
They shared the information they had learned that day.
“As all of you know, I’m very familiar with Kent Howard and his situation,” James told them. “Something very shocking happened. He actually was relatively sane for the first time in a long while. Well, I guess as sane as one can be in a situation like this. But he … he sat upright in bed. As much of a miracle as that was, he was rambling about a large body and large maggots and Lucy. He seemed terrified.”
He took out his notes and told them exactly what Howard had said.
Miss Fairfield told them what the Coombs twins had told her of the thing in the Tunnel of Terrors. Miss Edington thought it might be a chthonian but the twins were obviously exaggerating what they had seen.
Sanderson had a notebook.
“Welp,” he said. “I got a lot of information today. Took notes down and it seems there’s a lot going on out at the city dump as well as in the river beside the graveyard.”
He noted the worms were brought up a few times. He read one of the entries in his notes. It stated on July 21, 1920, Jake Holley, 24, of Providence, a veteran of Great War was found standing shoulder deep in Seekonk River outside of Swan Point Cemetery in the early morning hours. He claimed he had fled a massive worm that had come at him just after dark. He was violent and resistant to removal from water. Agent Sanderson noted it was an example of people seeing a worm and pointed out the city dump had a lot going on. He told of a woman in 1921 passing the dump claimed the ground began to shake and a portion of land she stood on slid towards the burning pile of garbage. She fled but said she could hear them calling to her, calling her back to her eternal rest amid the burning garbage. He also told them that Superintendent O’Neill wanted proof of what was going on to raid the carnival.
He let anyone who wanted to look at the notes, which were extensive.
“The dump’s not a place we’ve checked yet,” Miss Fairfield said.
“It’s probably a good place to go,” Agent Sanderson said.
“It’s dirty there,” Dr. Huxtable said.
“Also, given that this police chief wants this place shut down, maybe all we need to do is find these kids,” Joell said. “Find Pendergast and Lucy Pringle down in those caves and bring them out. Then we can get that place shut down.”
“Why don’t we do both?” Dr. Huxtable said. “Time is off the essence.”
“It would be good to check the river too,” Agent Sanderson said. “A lot of … people that have gone missing, their bodies have been found in the river.”
“Nope,” Father Oein said. “Not doing dead bodies.”
“It seems to me that the river is going to be hard to search,” Joell said. “But it seems to me if those caves are connected to the sewers, their clothes could have gotten washed out of there.”
They discussed going to the dump with Dr. Huxtable noting he did not want to go there. They decided to search it the next day. Dr. Huxtable wanted to go to the caves and suggested splitting up with half going to the dump and the other half going into the caves. Virgil didn’t think it a good idea. He noted some people had guns while others didn’t.
When Sanderson said they should go to the dump, Dr. Huxtable was against it. Joell suggested Dr. Huxtable didn’t have to enter the dump but, if they didn’t find anything there, they could then all go into the caves during the day as well. Dr. Huxtable seemed fine with that.
* * *
Early on Wednesday, May 23, 1928, Dr. Huxtable went shopping for waders, rain slickers and hats, tarps, and other things that could be used to try to keep the intruding dirt and filth off of him. He hoped it would be enough. He donned all of it before setting off.
He showed up at the dump with Joseph, the latter’s Springfield rifle in the back of the Rolls Royce Phantom 1. Miss Edington and Virgil Thomas arrived in her Packard, her own shotgun in the back seat. They had brought Nigel Bricker as well. Father Oein drove up in his Model T and Sanderson arrived in his Cadillac.
The others met them there, having taken the trolley. James had tried to psychoanalyze Kent Howard that morning but had made no progress that day.
The City Dump was also a burning ground. It was a large area with a fence around it. The area around it was fairly empty though a tumbledown shack stood across Hope Street from it, well within sight of the dump.
Miss Fairfield, Joell, and Father Oein headed over for the tumbled down shack. Miss Edington, Bricker, James, and Joseph went to the dump.
The shack proved to be very crude and when they knocked, it was answered by a negro in his 70s. The man’s hair was going white, as was his mustache. He was apparently wearing a railroad porter’s uniform without the jacket.
“Uh … can I help you … folks?” he said uncomfortably, looking at the white people at his door.
They all just looked at him for a moment.
“Uh … yes … are you the caretaker of the dump?” Miss Fairfield asked.
“Uh … no ma’am,” the negro said.
“Oh. You just live here?”
“I just live here. Yes ma’am.”
“Have you see anything strange happen lately?”
“Uh … no. Nothing strange. Nope.”
He looked very nervous when she asked him.
“Well, I have a lot of reports about people missing or seeing strange occurrences,” Miss Fairfield said.
The old man just mumbled at her.
“When was the last time the ground rumbled?” Joell said.
“I dunno,” the old man said. “I just work down at the railroad.”
Joell realized he probably worked for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, which ran through Providence. Miss Fairfield and Father Oein also realized the man was very poor. She slipped him a $5 bill. The man thanked her.
“Well …” he said. “I don’t want to lose my job for the railroad. It’s the way I make my living.”
“I can assure you this’ll stay between us,” Father Oein said.
“Okay,” the old man said, looking at Miss Fairfield’s camera bag. “No pictures, please, lady. Ma’am.”
He looked them over again and then spoke to Father Oein.
“Yassuh,” he said. “I seen dem thangs dey call … zumbies, yassuh. I knows what dey is cause I be f’om dat island place Haiti and dat be bad place fo dis kind Juju, yassuh. I knows all ‘bout dat. Dey be callin’ to me at night, but I doan go down dere, nossuh. I be one old po’ nigger, but I ain’t no stupid! Nossuh. Dey be a tootlin’ on dey flutes, and a singin’ like it be a reglar churchroom service, but I knows bettah dan dat!
“Sometimes it be bad, bad smells in de dump dere, mistahs. And miss. Bad smells, debbil-lights, and fires dat I know wasn’t set by de city of Providence. Nossuh. I knows what fires been set by de city an’ what fires been set by dose other ones. Dem othuh fires doan nevah leave nothun by sticky black ash. Yassuh. You ast me, and I tells you ─ dat dump ain’t nothing but bad, bad news.”
“Do they only do it on full moons?” Miss Fairfield asked.
“It don’ happen very often, no,” he replied. “Sometime it happens. It’s bad.”
“You said they call you by name?” Father Oein asked.
“They don’ be callin’ my name!” the old man said. “They don’ be callin’ Rufus T. Washington, but dey be callin’. Dey be callin’. Dey don’ call my name dere, Mistah Sir.”
The man looked at the priest’s collar.
“But dey be callin’,” he said. “Tootlin’ dem flutes. Makin’ dat noise. I ain’t go down dere. No sir.”
“Can you point out to us whereabout …?” Joell asked.
“It’s all over,” Washington said. “Sometimes it’s over dat side. Sometimes over dat said. Sometimes over dis side. It’s different every time.”
“Do you know if there’s any tunnels or places that lead underground?” Miss Fairfield asked.
“Iunno,” Washington said. “I don’ go over dere. Dat place bad!”
“Have you ever─”Joell said.
“Burn it all!” Washington said. “Blow it up.”
“Have you ever seen people walking in to do these?” Joell said.
“No. No,” Washington said. “Ain’t nobody come in. But they’re there.”
Joell nodded and the old man nodded back.
“Can you think of anything else?” Father Oein said. “Or is that about it?”
“Dat’s a bad place, father,” Washington said. “Don’t go down dere. You watch out for dem dead people. Dey walk around. Dey got hungers.”
“I don’t like the sound of that at all,” Father Oein said.
“I don’ either,” Washington said. “Dat’s why I don’ go down dere.”
He reached into the vest he was wearing and pulled out a nice gold pocket watch, carefully consulting the time.
“Well, I-I’m sorry, I gots to go,” he said. “I’m gonna be late.”
He grabbed his railroad uniform jacket and hat and let himself out of the shack past the white people, being very polite to him.
“Well, thank you for your time sir,” Miss Fairfield said.
“Yes ma’am,” Washington said. “Yes ma’am.”
He pulled the door closed - there didn’t appear to be a lock on it - and headed for the nearby trolley stop.
They returned to the dump and everyone except for Father Oein and Dr. Huxtable searched around for about an hour without finding anything of value or interest. The dump had a tall metal fence around it but the gates were open and there wasn’t anyone who worked for the city there.
They returned to the automobiles to discuss what to do next. Dr. Huxtable asked what had happened and they related some of what Washington had told them. Father Oein noted there was dancing in the dump, as there had been in the cemetery. Dr. Huxtable wondered aloud if they should start dancing. Joell thought something spooky was going on there but he didn’t think they would find it easily. Dr. Huxtable agreed they didn’t know when it would show up. Joell was of the opinion they should head underground as well. Dr. Huxtable just wanted to find the kid.
“So, does anyone volunteer to be the one to confront the ghouls?” Joell asked. “Because if no one wants to do it, it looks like it’s going to be me … because Gabriel’s─”
“You are the closest to looking like them,” Dr. Huxtable said.
“Wow,” Joell said. “Thank you. I’m always pleased to have you around.”
“You make me feel so good.”
“That’s what my students say.”
“I bet they do.”
They drove over to the cemetery and parked not far from the basalt mausoleum. They saw a man, a woman, and a child by one of the nearby graves.
“Father, do you think you could convince them to leave?” Dr. Huxtable said.
The man and the woman were standing there, talking quietly. There were fresh flowers on the grave.
“Oh God,” Father Oein said. “Okay.”
He thought for a little bit on what to say. He walked over to them.
“It’s all right, Martha,” the man was saying to the crying woman. “It’s all right. He’s in a better place.”
“How do you all do today?” Father Oein said.
“Oh, hello,” the man said.
“I’m Father Oein.”
“Martin Webster, Father. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“We’re visiting my wife’s father’s grave.”
“This is my son, Brian.”
Brian stuck his tongue out at the priest. Webster slapped the boy in the face and he started crying.
“You will show due reverence to your elders,” Webster said. “I’m sorry, Father. He has … been a pill today.”
“Yes,” Father Oein said. “Speaking of due reverence, obviously you all are in mourning …”
“Yes, my father died just a week ago,” Martha Webster said.
“Oh,” Father Oein said. “Oh well. I was hoping I could pay my respects privately.”
“How dare you, sir,” Martin Webster said. “This is a public place and my wife wants to pay her respects. We won’t be here very long. I’m sorry to have disturbed you. I know the Catholics think they own the world, but you don’t.”
Dr. Huxtable had exited his motorcar and, as he approached, he drew his revolver.
“I need to dig this grave for my dead father right now!” he cried out.
They all looked his way and the color drained out of the family’s faces.
Back at the cars, Miss Fairfield took a photograph while Bricker and Miss Edington ducked down in the back of the Packard. Agent Sanderson leapt out of his car and ran towards Huxtable.
“Run!” Father Oein cried out.
The little family ran away, heading for a nearby Chevrolet.
“Put the gun down, Huxtable,” Agent Sanderson said when he reached the man.
“Or what, you’re going to take me in?” Dr. Huxtable said.
“Yes,” Agent Sanderson said.
“Police who are going to show up in about 10 minutes are going to take your ass in, though,” Virgil Thomas called from the Packard.
“I’ll say you did it,” Dr. Huxtable said.
The negro just glared at him.
“The hell you will!” Miss Edington called.
“Why are you trying to start a confrontation?” James called.
“I want to find the kid as fast as possible!” Dr. Huxtable called. “And I’m not going to─”
“Yes, but that’s not the way you do it!”
“I don’t give a God’s ass!”
“You will not speak to me like this! I don’t care if you’re a Sir or a Doctor or what!”
“Who are you? Who are you?”
“I am a person!”
“Why don’t we get under ground as quick as we can then?” Virgil Thomas growled. “Before the cops show up.”
The nearby Chevrolet started up and the family drove away quickly.
They all headed over to the basalt mausoleum and knocked on the iron door. There was a click immediately from the door as if a key had been turned in the lock. Both Bricker and Joseph looked away, not wanting to see the things again. The door opened and the ghoul stood there. It had rubbery skin, cloven hooves for feet, and a muzzle like a dog. It stank of rotten flesh and looked at them with inhuman eyes.
Miss Edington let out a yelp.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” it said.
Joell blinked as he looked at the terrible thing. He drew his pistol out of his pocket.
“See!” Dr. Huxtable said. “Even he does it!”
Joell looked at the revolver very carefully. Fairfield and Dr. Huxtable realized Joell was contemplating suicide.
“Hey Joell,” Dr. Huxtable quickly said. “I know that since you think that I’m a professor you can do what I do, but let me tell you that you should not be pulling that gun out right now. You should be setting it on the ground. Right now. You’re scaring us all. You’re scaring our guests, the ghoul friends. Your friend, Gabriel. Right? Set the gun down Joell. Set the gun down.”
“You called me a hobo fighter!” Joell said, his voice cracking. “Gabriel: I know him. He’s not my best bud but … I mean, he ain’t awful to me!”
“Yeah. Yeah. It’s okay. You can get in hobo fights. There’s nothing wrong with hobo fights.”
“I don’t get in hobo fights!”
“You don’t get in hobo fights. But you’re definitely not a cop. Why do you have a gun? Put the gun on the ground. Let Sanderson pick it up.”
“You know why I have a gun.”
“‘Cause I just got hit with this thing! This-this scar happened to me! I have a gun for this happening!”
“Why don’t we all just put our guns on the ground?”
Dr. Huxtable put his revolver on the ground at his feet.
“Why don’t you put your gun on the ground?” he said.
“When have you ever done anything good for me?” Joell said to him. “To hell with you!”
“You want money?” Dr. Huxtable said.
“I don’t want your money!”
“What good can I do for you? I gave you my robe. Remember my robe? Joell?”
“After you made someone carry me up your stairs because I was too dirty for you!”
“And now you’re clean! Joell, you’re clean now.”
Miss Fairfield had used the conversation to creep around behind Joell. She jumped him, slamming into him. However, it was about the same time Joell stopped feeling suicidal. He was more in a homicidal mood, especially when he thought about Dr. Huxtable. She didn’t get a good grasp on the hand with the gun.
“Get off!” Joell cried.
Virgil Thomas had his hand in his pocket.
“What just happened?” Miss Edington whispered to him.
Gabriel, who had simply watched the entire drama play out, clapped lightly with what was probably a grin on his hideous face.
“Anyone else?” he said.
“Fairfield,” Joell said, putting the weapon away. “Thank you, again. I just want to be left alone for bit. Please.”
Dr. Huxtable walked up to the horrific thing in the doorway. It stank of rotten flesh.
“Is the drama over?” the creature said.
“This bit,” Dr. Huxtable said.
Then he realized the horrible thing was filthy. He could smell the stink of rotten meat on his breath. He took a step back.
“I was napping here,” Gabriel muttered. “What a lovely suit!”
The creature reached forward and tapped Dr. Huxtable’s arm with one filthy claw. He was wearing the rain slicker and the waders but still didn’t want the horribly filthy thing to touch him.
“Can we just go to the caves?” Dr. Huxtable asked. “Can we just go to the caves?”
“Did you bring me something?” Gabriel said.
“Ugh. Our company.”
“The little show was nice but food is preferable.”
“Do you like spells?”
The ghoul seemed to think on that for a moment.
“Very well,” it said. “Very well. But the condition is, that I’ll teach you something so that you can call us more effectively.”
The ghoul grinned again and laughed uproariously.
“All right,” he said when he stopped. “Let’s go.”
“What an eccentric thing,” Miss Edington muttered.
The ghoul stepped aside and they entered the mausoleum. When it closed the door and locked it, it left them in pitch blackness. Several of them had flashlights though, and switched them on. The light revealed the part of the floor was actually lifted up and steep stair led downward.
The ghoul walked over to Joseph and took him by the arm.
“What’s the matter?” he muttered at the man, who tried to look away. “Don’t you like me anymore? Weren’t we best friends before? Open your eyes and look upon the world, mister. Mister …”
“I’d rather not,” Joseph said.
“Friend?” Gabriel said.
Joseph could smell the stench of the thing’s breath in his face.
“Hey Gabriel,” he said.
The two went down the stairs arm in arm, followed by the others, Gabriel taking time to close the entrance behind them.
“What are we doing here today?” Gabriel asked as they walked. “What? What wonderful thing are my best friends doing here … today?”
Why do they know this guy? Miss Edington thought. How long were they down here?
“Where are we going?” the ghoul said. “What are we doing?”
It stopped at the bottom of the slimy staircase.
“Where?” it said. “What?”
“We were going to go look for the little boy,” Joseph said.
“Oh. Have fun.”
“And the girl.”
“The boy or the girl?”
“Oh! Well, good luck with that. Next time bring something to eat and … oh, I was going to teach you something if any of you wanted to learn how to call us more effectively.”
Miss Edington was curious but frightened.
“I’ll do it,” Dr. Huxtable said.
“I’d like to know,” Miss Fairfield said.
“Oh,” Gabriel said. “Well, then, come to me once you’ve finished searching. I’m just around the corner. Just follow the … keep the wall on your right and continue all the way around, once you’re finished. And I’ll teach you something. Oh. And if you wish to stay here with us …”
The ghoul had touched Dr. Huxtable’s coat again. The man pulled away. The ghoul laughed.
“If you wish to stay here with us─” it went on.
“Stop touching me,” Dr. Huxtable muttered. “You’re dirty.”
“─and live forever. Oh, I’m sorry.”
The horrific thing licked his hands and seemed to find a bit of flesh upon them.
“Oh yes, yes. It’s an esophagus I think,” he said, popping it into his mouth. “If you wish to stay here and live forever. We do live forever, you know.”
Dr. Huxtable was trying not to vomit.
“If you wish to learn anything, let me know,” the ghoul said. “You know where to find us. You know where to find us. Bring us meat.” He pointed at all of them. “Rotten meat.”
He seemed to notice Bricker for the first time.
“It’s my good friend,” it said with a grin, walking over and putting its hands on Bricker’s shoulders.
Then he left, leaving with the sound of clopping hoof beats.
Father Oein went over to Joseph, put his hand on the man’s shoulder, and closed his eyes.
“You okay, Father?” Joseph asked.
“Mmm,” was all Father Oein said.
They headed through the rough tunnel until it opened out into a larger cavern. Off to the right, they could see some men standing by what appeared to be a brazier with something burning in it. There were a few low basalt benches near a malachite altar of some kind. They didn’t move or look in their direction at all. They could hear the dripping of water coming from somewhere and there was a strange smell.
“While we’re down here, I need to find out what happened to Wessen,” James said. “It’s been weighing on my conscious recently.”
“If you want to know what happened to Wessen, he’s …” Joell said.
He pointed at the men standing in the shadows, mostly out of clear view of where they stood.
“What?” James said. “What do you mean?”
“I’m not looking at it again but that’s where he is,” Joell said, not looking towards where they knew the walking dead men stood.
“No!” James said. “That … How do you know what happened?”
“What happened is over there.”
“I thought you were saying he was a zombie.”
“Yeah. He’s there. I don’t know what happened but …”
James headed over towards the three men. Miss Edington followed, Virgil Thomas on her heels looking unhappy. They recognized Wessen though his skin was shriveled and he stared into the darkness without paying attention to any of them. Miss Edington recognized what both James and Miss Fairfield had happen to them as well - that terrible spell.
James stared at the man, tears welling up in his eyes. He had never lost someone and he felt guilty for splitting up with the man when they had explored the caves before. He felt somewhat responsible and the way he looked, his horribly shriveled skin, made him think of what had happened to himself less than a week before. The dead body could have been him.
He turned back to the rest.
Miss Edington wanted to put Wessen out of his misery. She started singing a strange song with terrible words that didn’t seem like they were supposed to be formed by the human mouth or throat. It was an eerie, droning chant and Miss Fairfield and Bricker recognized what she was doing, even from across the cavern. Joell knew he had heard the song but wasn’t sure where.
She finished the spell and pointed at Wessen’s walking corpse. James stopped and turned as the corpse crumbled into dust, its clothing falling to the ground over and around it.
“What did you do to him!?!” James cried out.
Miss Edington ignored the man, turning on Virgil Thomas and attacking him with her bare hands without a word. The negro was taken completely off guard.
“What the hell!?!” he said.
He tried to grab at her hands as she continued to try to scratch his eyes out.
“Suzanna!” James called. “Stop it!”
* * *
The others had seen the thing collapse and Miss Suzanna attack Virgil Thomas.
“Why is everyone going crazy?” Dr. Huxtable asked.
Joseph, Agent Sanderson, Joell, and Miss Fairfield ran towards the others.
* * *
Virgil Thomas and Miss Edington continued to scuffle. James looked around and saw the others coming towards them. He joined the scuffle, trying to grab Miss Edington without luck.
“Stop!” James said. “Come to your senses.”
He grabbed her by the wrists. Then Fairfield was there.
“Suzanna stop!” Miss Fairfield said. “Stop this!”
Miss Edington ignored her. Agent Sanderson joined the scuffle. Virgil Thomas continued to struggle with Miss Edington as she kicked ineffectually at James’ legs. Then Joell grabbed the woman by her legs. Miss Fairfield joined the struggle without getting a good grip. Sanderson grabbed the woman, holding her down. With three men on her, she struggled but they had her securely. She tried to bite them and Miss Fairfield grabbed her head to keep her from hurting herself.
She struggled for more than half a minute, trying to bite at them and wiggle free, her eyes wide and her face a rictus of terror. She finally went still, looking around, confused.
“What?” she muttered.
James let go of the woman’s wrists and cupped her face in his hands.
“Are you okay?” he asked her.
Miss Edington just stared at the man. He patted her cheek.
“Are you okay?” he said. “Wake up.”
“Yeah,” she said.
They helped her back to her feet. She looked around, uncomfortable. Then she fervently apologized to Virgil Thomas for attacking him.
“Them spells,” he said.
He growled. James realized Virgil Thomas felt worried and uncomfortable about what had happened.
Joell, meanwhile, stared at one of the dead bodies. Then he looked down at Wessen’s clothing in a pile of dust or ash. His eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed to the ground in a faint.
What a wus, Agent Sanderson thought.
“Joell! Jesus!” James said. “What the hell is happening?”
“We need some smelling salts or something!” Miss Fairfield said.
James slapped the man’s face and shook him but it took almost a minute for him to come to. Joell awoke, his head in James’ lap. Agent Sanderson stood over him, grinning at him and chuckling to himself.
“Punch him,” he said.
“Sanderson!” James said. “You’re not helping.”
“I’m just having a great day,” Joell muttered.
Miss Fairfield looked at the man sympathetically. She’d fainted before.
“Well boys, I’m having a great day,” Joell said again.
Miss Fairfield inspected the dust. It looked like ashes. It was not what happened when she had cast the spell. There were no bones or anything. Just dust. She guessed she had cast the spell wrong herself but guessed this was what was supposed to happen.
“What is going on?” James asked.
Miss Edington explained she knew a spell and, because he had been upset about Wessen, she cast it so he would not be alive in that state. She figured it was kind of like cremation.
“What happened?” James asked. “What happened to you?”
“I don’t remember,” she said. “I just wanted … never mind. I don’t know.”
“Who wants to go crazy next?” Dr. Huxtable called.
“I vote you,” Virgil Thomas said.
“Let’s get out of here,” Agent Sanderson said. “Let’s keep going.”
Miss Edington started to push the ashes into the coat lying on the ground.
“What are you doing?” Virgil Thomas asked.
“So we can bury him later,” she replied.
“Throw ‘em in that water over there.”
“That’s not burying.”
“Oh my God.”
“You know what? Fine!” James said. “We’re not getting anywhere!”
Virgil Thomas knelt and helped her scoop the ashes into Wessen’s coat. Agent Sanderson rejoined the rest.
“What are you doing?” James asked.
“Picking up his ashes so we can bury him later,” Miss Edington said.
“We can do that on the way back,” Miss Fairfield said.
“Well, I’m going to tie it up still,” Miss Edington said.
James headed back to the other group. Dr. Huxtable started to head off but Miss Fairfield rushed over to stop them. They kept going at a slow pace, finding a cave entrance nearby as Miss Fairfield asked them to wait. Dr. Huxtable looked over at the others and saw Miss Edington tie up the coat and go to the cave they’d come in from, putting it there. Then they rejoined them.
They followed the cave entrance to their left and explored them for only a short distance, finding more of the ghoul tunnels but noticing the caves didn’t look like anyone had been in them in some time. The only tracks were hoof prints. Joell noted it was probably not the right way but where the ghouls went to get food. They explored some more in that area but they found nothing new.
After about 20 minutes, they finally found their way back to the large cavern with the lake.
They continued to follow the wall of the cavern on the left and found another cave entrance. That tunnel split, the wider area being to the left. When they shined their flashlights down that way, they spotted some kind of cage with iron bars set close together.
Getting closer, they saw the slimy, iron bars were set up almost like a dome some 20 feet across with a locked iron door, also made of bars, on the front. Shining their flashlights into the terrible cage revealed a young boy of about 12 and a young woman of probably 18. Both wore torn and ragged clothing and covered their eyes from the light.
“Freddie?” Dr. Huxtable said.
Both of them shied away from the light and the investigators. The iron door proved to be locked tight.
“Does anyone have anything like food or water on them?” Father Oein said.
“If I photograph them, that will be evidence,” Miss Fairfield said.
Agent Sanderson realized it would probably not be enough for a judge to give the police a search warrant, especially as the two were hiding their faces from the light. It would be exceptionally hard to get a photograph of them in the dark.
Agent Sanderson had a sandwich wrapped in wax paper. James had some pretzels in a paper bag.
They looked around for a key to the terrible cage but there was nothing in the area. Miss Fairfield remembered a large, iron key on the key ring they had returned to the security office.
“The key would be at the security office at the carnival,” she said.
Dr. Huxtable thought about shooting the lock but he doubted it would do any good. He thought a file, a saw, or a lock pick might do better. Miss Fairfield decided to try to pick the lock with a hairpin without luck. The rest all tried as well.
“How often do the carnies come to visit you?” Miss Fairfield asked the two in the cage.
They didn’t answer. They just stared at them, covering their faces in terror. Miss Edington pointed out they probably had no concept of time anyway.
“How often do they come down here?” Dr. Huxtable asked them.
The two just stared at him. They looked terrified.
“Do they come down here?” he asked.
They still didn’t say a word.
James realized the two had probably been abused terribly, possibly sexually and repeatedly.
“I think they’ve been severely mistreated,” he said.
When Agent Sanderson suggested taking the information to his people to get them down here, Father Oein mentioned he could say he was looking for bootleggers when he found children. They mentioned going to get the keys again that night and Miss Edington suggested going to get something to break the door open. Dr. Huxtable suggested waiting in ambush for someone with the keys to come. There was talk of only some of them staying but Miss Fairfield pointed out they didn’t know how many people came down. Agent Sanderson said he had handcuffs they could use to take prisoners. James said he wasn’t going anywhere. He refused to leave the two prisoners.
They discussed it for some time.
In the end, they decided to set up an ambush for whomever came. They figured out who had weapons and most of them had at least a handgun. Bricker, Miss Fairfield, and Joseph stayed close to the entrance around an outcropping of stone. Dr. Huxtable, James, and Joell hunkered down on the right side of the cave, Dr. Huxtable nearest the awful cage, still trying to talk to Freddie Pendergast. Miss Edington, Virgil Thomas, Father Oein, and Agent Sanderson hid on the left side of the main cave. All of them turned off their flashlights.
The two victims wouldn’t allow anyone near them, cowering away from the sides of the cage where anyone was near. Dr. Huxtable pushed his own flashlight into the cage but didn’t think they touched it.
Miss Fairfield, Joell, and Miss Edington all fell asleep while they were waiting. Those around them heard them start to breathe heavily and so woke them back up.
* * *