Wednesday, January 9, 2019
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign Tuesday from noon until 1:30 with James Brown.)
Jack West fell through strange lights unlike anything he had ever seen. He had been in 1855 in the Apache village during the attack before he had fallen through into that odd city of stone filled with terrible creatures. He had fallen again and then blinked.
The smell hit him first. The smell of gun smoke was very thick. His eyes focused and the first thing he saw was the dead eyes of the man sitting across the desk from him. The smell of blood came next and he noticed the man had been shot three or four times in the chest. With all the blood, it was hard to tell how many. The room he was in was warm and he saw a window behind the desk and the dead man. It was daylight outside. He heard the crackle of a nearby fire and realized he was sitting in a very comfortable, stuffed chair with a high back.
The dead man was older and stout with a thick mustache and graying hair. His suit, before he had been shot and covered with blood, had probably been very fine. His jaw was slack and his eyes stared at Jack West, glazed over in death. Jack West didn’t recognize him.
The pall of gun smoke made Jack West’s eyes sting.
He realized he had been hearing something since he had opened his eyes. The sound of someone pounding on wood came from behind him. He heard muffled shouts of alarm as well.
He looked at his empty hands and realized his pistols were on his belt and the hidden pistol pressed on his back behind him. He was wearing his heavy poncho.
He got up and went to the window. He noticed a blazing fire in the fireplace and saw that a large sideboard and a few heavy chairs had been pushed in front of the door to the room. It was a cloudy day outside and the building he was in was obviously in the hilly badlands. There were a few outbuildings and a barn but nothing else as far as the eye could see. The room was on the second floor and he heard a nicker below him and saw his horse standing under the window.
The pounding on the door and shouts to open it up continued.
He quickly searched the drawers of the desk. He found a pile of bank notes in one drawer and some odd, gold coins in another. Two drawers were filled with letters. One set of the letters were older and worn out. The letters in the other drawer were newer. The older ones were written to “Ignatius” while the newer ones were addressed to “B” or “Mr. B.” He grabbed all of them and shoved them in his jacket. He scooped up the money and the handful of gold coins and items as well.
He heard the rending of wood and looked towards the door. An axe head had come through the panel and, as he watched, moved back and forth as whomever was on the other side worked it back out.
He flung the window open and climbed down onto the horse as the destruction of the door continued. He noticed a rifle sheath on the saddle with the butt of a rifle in it. He didn’t remember having that before. His saddlebags and bedroll were still on the back of the horse.
He untied the horse from the shutter and, as he mounted it, he saw a woman through the window, working on dough with a roller. She noticed him and her mouth turned into an “o” as she looked at the man in surprise.
As he rode away from the house at speed, he saw he was in a low area in the badlands surrounded by hills. He rode as fast as he could and soon heard yelling and gunfire from the house behind him. He never looked back, glad to be out of range, and rode into the hills.
He soon found he had a dozen or so pursuers.
* * *
It took Jack West five days to lose the pursuers from the house. He crossed a good distance in that time, using rivers and streams to try to throw them off the trail, as well as some other tricks he had learned over the years by men trying to lose him. It was only on the fifth day that he started to try to figure out where he was, exactly, and, after another few days, stumbled across the town of Willoughby, whereupon he learned he was in Oregon. He found out the date was October 11, 1875, and got instructions on how to get back to Nevada.
* * *
As he traveled back to California, Jack West had the opportunity to finally examine the rifle in the new sheath on his saddle. It was a Sharp’s “Big 50,” a 50-caliber buffalo rifle. It was loaded and 19 more bullets were in a pocket in the sheath.
He also had the opportunity, when he stopped in various towns along the way, to read over the letters.
The older letters proved to be signed only “JV.” All of them were dated between 1853 and 1857. They indicated the man lived in a town called Saltmarsh, Washington Territory. They contained a lot of talk about chemical compositions and changing the chemical compositions. He couldn’t easily make heads or tails of any of it.
The newer letters were from within the last two years from various people. They were all working against something called the Yith, which Jack West recognized as the claw people. It seemed like all of them had been kidnapped and he got the idea that the people were all kidnapped by the Yithians and were unhappy about it. The feeling was they were all wanting to work together to stop the Yithians or get their revenge. He got the impression they remembered what happened and they weren’t supposed to.
He also bought a fine silver engraved mirror at one of the towns along the way.
* * *
Jack West arrived at Terwilliger’s farm in Oakland, California, on Friday, November 5, 1875. He saw more work had been done on the strange tower with the metallic dome on top that was connected with wires to the barn.
Professor Terwilliger was happy to see him, as he always was.
“Mr. West!” the man said with a grin. “I’ve got something for you.”
“Whatta ya got?” Jack West said.
“Are you going to pay me for this?”
“Didn’t I rescue you from the …?”
“Oh yeah! You can owe me. A favor.”
Professor Terwilliger led the man into the barn where he opened a standing safe and took out the pistol Jack West had left with him. He handed it over.
The gun had been heavily modified. It was still a Colt Peacemaker, but with the addition of a bit of metal and glass atop it, almost like a sight, as well as a copper or brass nipple on the end of the barrel. The barrel itself had a thick copper wire wound around it somewhat tightly. The wire ran through the top of the pistol to the sight as well as to the handle. He looked through the strange sight on the top and down the barrel.
“You’re going to have to be careful with it,” Professor Terwilliger said. “It’s not as durable as just a regular pistol.”
“So, don’t drop it?” Jack West said.
“Right,” Professor Terwilliger said. “Don’t drop it. Don’t throw it. These are copper wires. If you damage them, it’s going to wreck it.”
Jack West looked over it.
“All right, so here’s what I did,” Professor Terwilliger said. “You’re going to love this! Inside the handle here, I’ve placed a tiny electrical generator. When you pull the trigger, it activates the generator, which runs a magnetic charge up the barrel, pushing the bullet faster.”
He took Jack West outside and put on a thick pair of gloves. It looked like he’d set up a little firing range outside of the barn.
“Here’s the main problem with it,” he said. “You ready for this?”
“Uh-huh,” Jack West said.
Professor Terwilliger aimed and fired the pistol. As the weapon fired, there was a high-pitched, ear-piercing whine from the pistol.
“That’s the generator inside the handle,” he said. “Don’t ever fire it without wearing gloves. I wasn’t able to insulate it properly. So the entire thing gets an electrical charge when you shoot it. It also has to have special bullets. Lead is not magnetic. It won’t go. It won’t go.”
He motioned with his hands down the barrel of the gun several times.
“What you need is special bullets made with a piece of something magnetic in them like a piece of iron,” he said. “Steel. Anything magnetic made in the bullets.”
“Can I just use iron?” Jack West said.
“Well, you don’t use an iron bullet,” Professor Terwilliger said. “Lead is better for the propelling. But you need someone iron inside the bullet. They have to be specially made. The ones I had made cost me a dollar a bullet.”
Jack West nodded.
“Have the person making them drill a hole through the bullet and put in a line of steel, iron, nickel, cobalt or some ferro-magnetic material,” Professor Terwilliger said.
“Yeah, sure,” Jack West said.
He had no idea what ferro-magnetic meant but got the gist. Professor Terwilliger made sure the pistol was fully loaded before he handed it back over to the man. He again warned him to be careful with it as it was more delicate than a regular pistol and if the coils were damaged, it wouldn’t work as it should.
“And speaking of … uh … special bullets,” Jack West said. “Do you have anything that can go through armor better?”
“Hm,” Professor Terwilliger said. “Hm. I’ll have to think about that one.”
He did so.
“Why?” he said.
“Well, just … uh … some people like to wear … thick leathers,” Jack West said.
He thought on that a moment.
“Like myself,” he said.
“Oh!” Professor Terwilliger said.
He pointed at the thick poncho the man wore. He poked it.
“I never thought about it but I’ll try to put my mind to it and see what we come up with,” he said.
“Thank you,” Jack West said.
* * *
Jack West spent a couple of days at Terwilliger’s. He noticed more work had been done on the strange steam-powered vehicles and even stumbled across what appeared to be a long, narrow, delicate-looking house behind the barn. He also noticed a lot of silk sheets and heavy cables in the loft as well. There was some kind of cage-work that was almost as big as the barn but he was not sure what that was all about.
He spent a couple of days at the Terwilliger farm before he headed out to search for Valentine again.
* * *
It was late November when Jack West found himself in a little town named Furnace in the badlands of eastern Colorado. The town hadn’t been on any maps he’d seen and most of the buildings there looked to be abandoned. It lay in a hilly area and there appeared to be a few mines on the edge of town though the rotten supports and rusty rails gave him the idea they were no longer worked.
The whole place looked like a boom town that had gone bust some years before. The buildings were run down, unpainted, and squatters were living in some of them. Only a few people seemed to live in the town. He guessed the town might have had a population of a couple hundred when it was a boomtown, but now there were fewer than a dozen actual residents. The other hundred rough people were probably passing through. Even the town jail was abandoned. There was not even a door on the front of the building. The bank, too, was abandoned.
He had heard not to go to Furnace as it was long-abandoned, but had gone anyway, in search of Valentine or word of him. The town looked like it was primarily inhabited by bandits and outlaws.
Only the saloon was in use as far as businesses. The place was nasty and the beer and whiskey were terrible. Only the bartender seemed to be working there and the building had obviously not been cleaned in a very long time. Most of the men in the town were there. A fight was going on in the corner, one man beating up another while two other men just stood nearby and watched. No one made a move to do anything about it.
He had sidled up to the bar and gotten a whiskey. The once nice mirror behind the bar had been destroyed sometime in the past, leaving only a wooden-backed frame over the bar. That’s why he didn’t notice the two men come up behind him until they stuck their guns in his back.
“Someone wants to talk to you,” one of the men said.
Jack West shifted in his seat.
“Uh-uh!” one of the men said. “Keep ‘em where we can see ‘em.”
“Who might that be?” Jack West said.
“C’mon,” one of the men said.
“All righty,” Jack West said.
He picked up his glass and drained the terrible whiskey, putting it carefully down on the bar again. He stood up slowly and saw the bartender go down behind the bar. The two men with their guns trained on him were very large but didn’t look very smart. They poked him in the poncho with their guns and one of them gestured towards the back door of the saloon.
One man they passed pulled his hat down and another looked expectantly at the tableau, obviously hoping for gunplay that didn’t happen.
Jack West led them to the back door and out the back of the building. He led the men, at their instruction, only a short way down the narrow alley to the back of another building, opening the door there. The small bedroom was obviously in use but they pressed the man to pass through it to the room beyond.
He found himself in a barber shop that was, once upon a time, also a dentist. The front of the office, towards the back street, was completely boarded shut. A little light came through the cracks in the boards over the broken windows of the place. Solid boards were nailed over the door as well. The shop had three chairs for customers, a single barber’s chair, and counters on two sides still covered in equipment, medicine, drugs, and the like. The mirrors were still intact in the place on two walls a well. It looked like it had been hastily abandoned sometime in the past.
A man in black sat in the reclined barber chair, his hat over his eyes.
“Here he is, boss,” one of the giant men said.
John Valentine tipped back his hat and sat up, his eyes wild and unblinking, his smile crooked and unsettling. He got up and stretched.
“Good job, boys,” he said. “C’mon in, Jack.”
The two men took the pistols out of Jack West’s holsters and then patted him down, disarming him. They placed the numerous guns on the counter on the other side of John Valentine. Then they left, telling Valentine they’d be right out back. Valentine gestured for Jack to sit in the customers chairs and he took a seat on the barber chair again.
“Been looking for you, Valentine,” Jack West said.
“Mr. West, have you considered my offer?” Valentine said.
“I’ve been considering it, ‘cause I know you have what it takes to pay.”
“Oh. That’s right. I do. So, you’d come work for me then?”
“It depends on the job.”
“Oh, there’ll be lots of jobs. You like killing, right? Most of my boys do.”
A gunshot came from somewhere outside.
“That’s probably one of ‘em now,” Valentine said.
“I mean, it is entertaining to … best others in gunplay, but …” Jack West said. “… we gotta watch out for the ones we care about.”
“Well, I might leave you as a bit of a free agent. But I need some information from you, first. Then, you’ll be paid as you … bring me what I need.”
“Interesting. Now … what do you think you need, Valentine?”
“Now, there’s been a lot of talk about the Crescent. If you don’t mind enlightening me as to what it does, ‘cause if it doesn’t endanger the ones I care about …”
“It doesn’t. As long as they don’t touch it, they don’t come near it, they don’t do anything with it, it don’t do nothing to them. Now, what it allows is for certain someones … that would be yours truly … to … I don’t want to sound crass … but I’d be able to … this is cliché. You read the dime novels, don’t you, once in a while? Get bored.”
Valentine pointed to some dime novels in the next chair.
“So, I would be able to effectively … well, in the background … take over the world,” Valentine said. “You don’t want to go for half measures.”
“Why take only half when you can take all of it?” Jack West said.
“A man after my own heart. It would allow me to effectively control who I want to control.”
“As long as it’s not me and mine, I have no qualms with that.”
“If my men aren’t willing to follow me voluntarily, what is the use?”
“Very true. Because then you always got to look over your shoulder. And that’s never fun.”
“Exactly. As I said, you’re a man after my own spirit. So, have we struck a deal? It will make you a rich man.”
“Anything to help mine and mine, you can have whatever you like.”
“Yours and yours can stay where they are. And do what they want.”
“Well, you might actually be able to directly help me with something then.”
“‘Cause it’s one of your lieutenants …”
“I believe is still looking for my family.”
“No, she’s not.”
“Oh no. Not right now. Maybe later. But she’s … she’s settling down right now. Starting her own little family. Don’t you know about that? I’m surprised she hasn’t sent you a letter to gloat.”
“You know how women are.”
“She’s settling down.”
The two men regarded each other for a moment. Jack West took out his flask and drank a swig of whiskey and laudanum. He had been adding more and more of the drug to each flask of whiskey as he needed more and more to calm himself.
“I would have thought you knew about this by now,” Valentine said. “I’ll let her know that you’re interested. She ain’t here. She’s up north somewhere. I think she said something about having ranchers to slaughter? I don’t know. I don’t remember.”
“As long as she stays away from my family,” Jack West said.
“She said she wanted to meet … her step kid.”
“She … implies we’re married?”
“No. But she did use the term stepchild. I don’t ask too much. You know Popie. She’s crazy.”
“And she’s a woman and with her being … expecting and all … they get crazier and crazier. That’s why it’s best to kill ‘em when you’re done with ‘em.”
The two looked at each other.
“Now, you were asking for information at the moment?” Jack West said.
“That’s a good start,” Valentine said. “Yeah. Like, where are your friends looking for the Crescent right now?”
“Well, in the past-thing we did where we took the roll of Indians … very odd. We found out there was more than one. How many more …?”
“How many are there?”
“There are three. Well, there were. There are two left.”
“One exploded. Now, they all tend to have a failsafe to explode?”
“Iunno. I’ve only dealt with the one.”
“Hopefully not. Well, currently, I’m looking to catch back up with them.”
“And when I find ‘em, is this the best address?”
“Hm. No. I tend to roam. Can’t let the grass grow under your feet, you know?”
Somewhere nearby, they could hear the sound of people fist fighting.
“Not as well as it could be,” Valentine said. “I will find you and contact you. If you get hold of the Crescent, it’s worth a lot of money to me. Enough that you won’t have to worry about money ever again.”
“And how much would that be?” Jack West said.
“How much do you think it should be?”
“I reckon it’s worth about … well, you said it’s world domination … as long as my people can live comfortably for their lives and their children. Just 50 sounds like a comfortable starting point.”
“We can discuss it further when the Crescent’s in your hands. Unless … you probably shouldn’t touch it.”
“I feel like I shouldn’t touch it either. I did see one of your boys handling it though.”
“John? Jack? Andrews? I shot him off of a train.”
“Jack Parker?” he said.
“Jack Parker!” Jack West said.
“We’ve already been trying to deal with Jack Parker. Yes.”
“Is he being troublesome?”
“I believe your friends have kidnapped him from me. But I could be mistaken.”
“Really? Maybe if I help get him free of that kidnapping?”
“Or kill him if he doesn’t want to come.”
“I can do that.”
“If you find him, let me know. Find a way. You can get a message out.”
“Reckon I can’t keep him with me. If I kill him, do I need to bring you evidence?”
“A head is fine.”
“Hm. It might not be preserved too well.”
“If I can recognize it as him, that’s all that matters. He’s not worth as much as the Crescent.”
“Got you. Now, do you pay more than the bounty office?”
“You’ll get more than any sheriff or marshal will pay you.”
“And if you need any other heads, there’s some people I don’t like in that group.”
“They won’t be worth much.”
“But every penny counts.”
“And that satisfaction value.”
“How do you propose that we … seal the deal?”
“I reckon a handshake is good, but do you know of something … more binding?”
Jack West noticed, behind him on the counter was a fancy brandy decanter that was empty and a pair of nice tumblers. One of the glasses was turned up and the other turn down.
“A drink and a handshake, I’d say, that’s a mighty fine way to strike a contract,” Jack West said.
Valentine looked over his shoulder and noted the empty decanter. He stood and went to it, turning his back on Jack West, and picked up the glasses. He turned back and tossed him first one, then the other glass.
“I appear to be out,” he said.
“Well, we’re in luck,” Jack West said. “I got some fun stuff.”
Jack West filled each glass with the whiskey and laudanum mixture from his flask and then handed Valentine one of them. The man had watched him very closely the whole time. He smiled.
“To business,” Valentine said.
He tapped his glass to Jack West’s and then waited while the other man drank. Then Valentine drank his down. He smacked his lips at the good whiskey and complimented Jack West on his choice of beverage.
“One can’t drink just one,” he said.
He tossed his glass to the man again and Jack West filled them both up again and they drank once more. However, after his second glass, Jack West saw the large amount of laudanum he always placed in the whiskey was affecting the other man. Valentine seemed to realize it as well.
“Jack,” he slurred. “How could you?”
He reached for his gun but before he could fill his hand with steel, he slumped down to the ground in a stupor.
Jack West retrieved his weapons from the counter and armed himself once again. He was feeling the laudanum but had it under control. He’d had to add more and more to the whiskey to even feel it and realized his addiction might soon start to affect him in a very dangerous way if he didn’t get it under control.
He checked Valentine and found he was armed to the teeth. He had an Arkansas toothpick in the back of his belt in addition to the Bowie knife in his boot and the two pistols on his belt. He found a .44 derringer in his other boot. There was some money in his pocket.
Valentine suddenly grabbed his hand.
“Jack West, you must help me,” he said.
His voice sounded emotionless and bland, very unlike the strong southern accent he usually had. Jack West saw that the man’s eyes were still glazed over and he hadn’t moved except to grab his hand.
“Help you with what?” Jack West said.
“You must not allow John Valentine to get the Crescent,” Valentine said.
“So, why do y’all need it then? Are you the possessor people?”
“Do you know of the Yithians?”
“I think I’ve heard your strange name in passing.”
“I was sent - I was sent to stop him. To make it easier to reacquire the Crescent. It is ours. It belongs to us. I was sent to possess him. To send his mind back to us. But something went wrong, and I was trapped in his mind. There’s two of us in here. But his force of will is so strong, I cannot fight against him unless he is unconscious. He was unconscious several days ago. A week or more. When he was … when he was … someone did something to him. I am able to watch but not act from within. He-he is … he was - he was - he was - he was knocked unconscious as you have done. In these moments, I am lucid and I can actually communicate. Some woman … cast a spell, I believe, upon him, which caused him to faint for some short time, less than a minute. And in that time, I was able to try to make the change. But I am trapped in this body.”
“Do you need him dead?”
“That would kill me as well.”
“I was sent to recover the Crescents. We need them back. They are … important to my people.”
“What will they do for you?”
“We are gatherers of information. These Crescents have been gathering such for millions of years. They are a source of information for us. We need them.”
“So, they’re a bunch of books, basically?”
“Uh … yes. In your vernacular, that is an analogy that is accurate.”
“So … uh …”
“I’ve been trapped in his mind for two years. He is quite mad.”
“So, y’all are weird, strange creatures. Do I get some fun stuff for helping y’all out?”
“I am sure you’ll be greatly rewarded if you help. Do not let him get the Crescent.”
“I … I do not know. What do you wish?”
“Safety and security for mine and mine and maybe some fancy doo-dads.”
“I’m sure it could be arranged.”
“All right. Well, then, my gun can be yours.”
“I can help you to escape this place, but you must do everything you can to stop Valentine. Try not to kill him. I would rather not die.”
“If you can find a way to suppress his mind, destroy his memories.”
“I can force more of this down his throat─”
“No no no.”
“─but that might kill him, too.”
“Now … uh … I’ll take note of that if any of these other people that say they’re wizards say they can help with that.”
“Yes, please. Please. There’s someone named ‘Sparks’ that holds the other Crescent. Valentine has learned this much. He is planning on searching for this person soon.”
Whatever was talking to Jack West also quickly gave him the location of three other of Valentine’s hideouts in Colorado, scattered about the state. It also confirmed there were three Crescents and told him they grew intelligent over millions of years. It told the man it was sent to try to take over Valentine, but the man was touching one of the Crescents when the Yithian tried to take his mind.
“Normally, minds are transferred but, in this case, Valentine didn’t come out,” the Yithian said to him. “We’re both in the same body but Valentine’s force of will is much stronger than mine. He is completely mad.”
“Was he mad before he got the Crescent?” Jack West asked.
“Oh yes. He was. The Crescent drove him further into madness but he was already quite mad. Now, I am trapped in this body as well and cannot act while Valentine’s conscious. I can partially act while he sleeps, but not easily.”
“So … uh … tell you what. You can go away. He can come back. We’ve already made a deal. So, I’ll just continue that and get out of here nice and safely.”
“He will think you’ve betrayed him with your laudanum, I think.”
“But if he sees me sitting here, guns holstered but equipped, him in his chair, he should take that as a sign …”
“If you wish.”
Jack West put the man up in his chair and sat back down. He waited for a half hour before he got bored and realized the amount of laudanum he gave to Valentine might take several hours to wear off.
“I’m gonna leave him a note,” he muttered.
He found paper and pencil and wrote the man a note:
Maybe I shouldn’t have used the top shelf with the laudanum. The deal is still on.
I’ll bring you Parker. Once I figure out good places to send you information, I’ll
tell you about the Crescent.
He found a small table in the back room and left the note on the table next to the man along with the two tumblers. He turned to leave and Valentine spoke again in the Yithian’s voice.
“Tell them that John Valentine said ‘The wind is to the south,’” he said. “That is a code for him to allow you to leave without him.”
“Sweet,” Jack West said. “I’ll let ‘em know. Thank you … uh … Bob.”
“I am called Lashanloshoolalal.”
“How ‘bout Lala for short.”
“Good luck,” the Yithian said.
“Thank you,” Jack West said. “I’ll work on that for you. Now, these things … uh … the other ones seemed afraid … or something … to go back to y’all.”
“The other what seemed afraid?”
“Crescent. And then it self-destructed after getting anxious.”
“The damaged one. They do not want to return to us. But they must.”
“All right. And I highly doubt your Crescent can sway me from our deal, so …”
“Good. Thank you.”
“Just make sure you keep your end.”
“We will. Good luck. Your friends will be in Denver soon. They’re planning on spending something called ‘criss-mass’ with Dr. Weisswald?”
Is that the lady with the pants, Jack West thought.
He added to the note to John Valentine that he was heading for Denver.
Jack West tipped his hat and left.
The two men out back stopped him but he gave them the password and they let him pass, one of them going back to the saloon while the other one stayed at the door.
Jack West left Furnace, Colorado, heading for Denver.
* * *
After he reached Denver, he heard about some strange occurrences on the Arkansas River in early November. He did a little research and found a newspaper article about it in the Nov. 19 Denver Times. It read:
Massacre in Granite!
Granite, Nov. 13 ― The town Marshal, deputy, and several other townsfolk were gunned
down in Granite by persons unknown.
Just after sundown, Granite Town Marshal Edward Denning and his deputy Hiram Shute
were both killed when the marshal’s office came under sudden and unexpected attack by
several men in the street.
The men proceeded to assault the Granite Saloon as well, which had closed early that
evening. Incidental fire saw the injury or deaths of eight other people in the town.
Gunfire left the Granite Saloon badly damaged and soaked in spilled alcohol and blood.
One man was found dead in the saloon and another in the street behind the building. Whether
they were the raiders or customers of the saloon is not known. Several other men reportedly
fled the saloon.
Confusion was rife in the town as locals retrieved their rifles and shotguns to take up the
fight. Some were convinced it was an Indian attack.
Lake County Sheriff John Weldon and a posse of deputized men soon followed the raiders
to the north where their trail was lost the following day in the rain.
Cause of the attack is unknown. Sheriff Weldon notes it might have been some dispute
over land rights or claim jumping. He said it might have been a personal grudge held against
Marshal Denning, Deputy Shute, Opus Smith, the town drunk, or banker Festus Dalrymple,
who recently confessed to embezzling funds from the back in 1870. Neither Smith nor
Dalrymple was injured in the attack.
With session 2, the finale was fast approaching. Alas, we had one player less, so the enforcer Spencer Shull had to be played by me, the GM. Which wasn't good, because the gróup was in dire straits already, and he was the guy with the fists and the pistol...
So we started off with jumping a little back in time, with the investogators drinving a Church van towards the Celebrity retreat. They soon noticed they were followed by church security guards and pulled in at a Starbucks. Here, they talked over their plan but were unable to get rid of the followers. The atmosphere was getting dark and foreboding, with Daria Nowland suggesting not to go and get emptied. But Blake Tevis, the church PR guy, insisted on follwing through with the Church head's orders.
Once in the retreat, they met Verity Harrow, all hidden by a gigantic star-sprinkled shawl and huge mirrored sunglasses that I had ordered specifically from China. I put those on as props, and when Verity spoke with a hollow, monotonous voice, the effect was instant: Severeal playes stood up from the table and wanted to somehow touch Verity, especially remove her enormous sunglasses. She didnt let that happen, but Daria noticed that the actresses body was malleable like an inflated balloon...
CONFLICT WITH THE GUARDS
There was some scuffle with several guards then, with the enforcer Shull threatening one guard, and Blake Tevis influencing another. It all led up to the female characters trying to flee, until they encountered the locked glass doors. They then hid in the Lady's room and talked quickly to Verity Harrow. She made some dark announcements, but remained cryptical. When the guard knocked harder on the door, they had to let Verity go, and she although she pleaded to be taken away from here, she was taken "to a safe and quiet place" by the guards.
Now, the guards insisted on bringing the investogators to their arrainged Emptying session - their coach must be waiting. Nobody really wanted to go right now, so they found the excuse to send only one man there for the first session (the now-NPC Spencer Shull), while PR guy Tevis insisted they needed to see the Screening Room first to see if all was good for tomorrow. Once there, they searched around but found no clues to anything anormal. They met a technician, who couldnt help much, then a female Emptying coach appeared, to take them to their session.
SPLIT UP - AND RUN!
After some time, the coach coulndt be ignored anymore. So, Daria the producer and Julia Cortese, the personal assistant, agreed to go for their session. After all, Spencer had textedt them "all okay here" just now. Little did they know he had been emptied already, and Steele was writing the message. Blake Tevis, meanwhile, insisted that he first had to meet Steele before the session, and stayed near his office, now with only one guard. Since I figured Steele had come in while they were inside the screening room, I decided he had passed shortly through his office to fetch something, and after a Luck roll it was decided that he had not locked his door this time. Using the right moment, Tevis sneaked into Steele's office, when the guard called him from the hallway. Here, he missed the chance to just play as if Steele was there ("Oh, hello Craig, long time...") and shut the door. This would have allowed him to search the whole office. Instead, it came to a fight with the guard. Blake would have been chanceless, if it were not for his luck - and the little X-Acto-knife he had taken from Woodward's editing suite. He managed to cut the guard and flee. But where? He ran for the new wing where the Emptying suites are and snuck into the Meditation room. Here, he hid in one of the floating tanks.
Meanwhile, Daria Nowland got ready for her session, while PA Julia saved some time going to the bathroom (again). Here, she sent some text and audio messages to police chief Neumann, to warn him about the Retreat, the upcoming screening and alert him that Verity had been found (along with her voice on the audio as proof). Just when she wanted to leave the Ladies' room again, she spotted the ground floor window here, and managed to open it to flee into the garden. This was well done, since her colleague Daria just now met Craig Steele and the surgeon in the operating theatre, where she was soon skinned alive to the music theme "Machine gun" by Portishead.
The only one free to move now was Julia. She snuck around the hose to the car park, where she saw Spencer Shull leaning against their car, sunglasses on. She wisely decided not to contact him
and instead called for a luck roll, which brought her a parked laundry van in front of the retreat. She hid in the back, between towels and sheets, waiting. Of course, this was spotted by the omnipresent cameras. But just when some guards came up, she had enough luck (again!) to have the laundry driver appear and start the engine. They were stopped at the gate to be searched, but now Julia took off one of her high-heels and put into the neck of the driver: "Drive on, fast, or I shoot and we all die!" Aghast, the guy speeded out of the retreat - and drove Julia to the police station, where she alerted Neumann on all she knew. They wouldnt have believed her ramblings, if it weren't for some audio evidence she had on her cellphone.
This left only Blake Tevis still on the run. After a while, he decided to leave the tank. He felt strangely drawn to the Emptying Suites... where he met Daria, sunglasses and shawl on, and Craig Steele. When he wanted to run, it was already too late, guards had closed the heavy doors. He didn't give up, though, and did a surprise attack on Steele with his X-Acto-knife, hurting him just enough to have the Hungry Void come out! Since there was no space to run to, Tevis was soon sucked into The Space between, where he started floating through space to the music of "The Sound of Silence"....
Of the four investigators, only Julia remained. But she was able to stop the screening, have the Retreat searched by Neumann, and stop the whole madness.
It was a victory, after all, albeit a bitter one.
I think this is a scenario that's great on many levels: charakters, NPCs, setting, atmosphere, a very unusual enemy etc.
One thing that makes it difficult, though, is that the Celebrity Retreat is a real death trap. I also noticed that in an actual podcast I listened to. While this may be realistic, I think it is overly harsh on characters who are not combat machines. So, next time I run this, I will introduce two possibilities for the investiagtors to flee: some minor repair work on the walls in the gardens behind the house, with a small scaffolding from the inside - and a heli-port on the roof top! (I will also give 1 or 2 investogators the ability to fly such a thing, or maybe have a pilot up there who could be forced to fly them out). That could make for a nice cinematic escape.
This should also raise possibilities for some investigators to get to the final screening, which I missed out on here. Which was a real pity, because I prepared a video for the rough cut from some youtube material. Hopefully, I will use it nex time I run this.
I think, with the adventure as written, it is difficult to get to the screening finale. I am thinking on changing the time frame and have the screening scheduled on the same night the scenario starts off. That will raise tension and time pressure. Also, investigators will be able to find people preparing the screening if they get to the Retreat the first day.
I am also thinking as how to handle things when the group splits up, which is very likely. This time, I sent players outside for longer periods than I like, so as not to spoil the dangerous mystery. But maybe next time I will just have everybody watch and see if they can play things well, distinguishing player/character knowledge.
So that's that, thanks again Scott, a really cool adventure! Wanna run it at a con in summer, but I am not sure yet about the time length. It can be anything from 2 to 6 hours from what I have seen.
In which the players hear the last will and testament of their good friend Jackson Elias. Also, the cult tries to kill them and Declan gets slapped by his Ex.
Reminder: My players don't entirely know they are playing through Masks of Nyarlathotep. As far as they know, this is a 1920s Pulp themed Fate Core game. This article does contain spoilers for the new edition of Masks of Nyarlathotep.
Cast of Player Characters This Episode
*Lin Ru-Shi - A Hong Kong street urchin that grew up to be a martial artist thief.
Lord Declan MacManus - A minor Irish Lord and Great War pilot turned smuggler. Lives on his flying boat and has a way with the ladies.
Salim Dali - A negotiator, translator, expedition assistant extraordinaire.
Abdul “Abe” Tepema - An Englishman of color, born in Egypt, he has a little knowledge of the old magic, and is a skilled detective.
Sebastian Sullivan - An amateur student of the arcane, driven from Arkham and currently operating as a less than-impressive detective.
The player of Lin Ru-Shi wasn't able to attend so I worked with the player to describe what happened to her while the rest of the players were doing their thing, and then used those details to feed into the session everyone else was involved in.
When we last left our cast of globetrotting explorers, they had attended Jackson Elias's funeral, raided a secret cult ritual chamber, and even done a bit of investigation. Having read Jackson's notes, seen his passport, and read the copy of Africa's Dark Sects they had taken from the chamber under the Ju Ju House, they now had some idea that there was an international conspiracy invovling a cult of the bloody tongue, and that they were somehow linked to Larkin, or at least his tattoo.
Sidelining Lin Ru-Shi
As I mentioned before, Ru-Shi's player wasn't able attend the game so I worked with them the day before the session with the rest of the players and ran Ru-Shi through her own personal adventure.
Since Detective Robson was blackmailed into finding someone else to take the fall for the Harlem murders (by Salim pretending to a Federal Agent) he decided to to use one of the foreigners hanging around the new ritual chamber crime scene, and being a corrupt cop, turned to his criminal contacts to find one of them. The Italian mob, as you may recall, had mistaken Ru-Shi for a yakuza scout. (Yes, they mistook her for Japanese, it was that bad of a roll.) They knew where she was staying, and that she didn't enter the country in anyway that left a record.
Ru-Shi woke up as the cops were bashing in her hotel door and gracefully dived out the window onto the fire escape, where a police officer was waiting with a sap. When she woke she was in the Harlem Police station. A detective interrogated her, letting her know they found a box of jewelry associated with Harlem murder victims, and several missing people from Harlem, in her room. Very convenient as it was so much better than the evidence they were planning to plant in her room. What the detective wanted was Silas and his boss Mukunga, but unless they could find him she'd have to take the fall instead. Disappointed she didn't know where they were, and after letting slip details about the criminal organization they now realized was a cult, he had her thrown in lock-up downstairs.
Ru-Shi of course arranged for a prison break before the night was over and escaped over the rooftops while the police were busy trying to round up all the other criminals. She then used clues the detective let slip to track down a cult hideout, a flop house above the speakeasy "Fat Maybell's" and managed to stumble into a cult ceremony. She escapes thanks to her martial arts skills, but not without suffering a pranga (African machete) blow to the body on her way out.
Detectives and Nightmares
Both Abe and Sebastian are detective characters so when their players weren't able to attend the previous session, we decided they were off running down details on members of the Carlyle Expedition when most of the previous session happened (although we decided their characters had been there for the funeral.) I had each of them roll to turn up details on an expedition member of their choice and then handed them handouts on Ms. Masters and Sir Penhew.
I also took the opportunity to hit Abe with another nightmare. He had been having them ever since Peru, and typically involved a hooded figure trapped in a gold cage trying in vain to whisper, he assumed, to him. Now, the room the cage was in was clearly an underground space where the angles were wrong. 4 walls and 5 corners. The gilded Peruvian cage was in one corner, but something dark was unseen in each of the others.
Message From Beyond the Grave
Declan's cousin the detective got a hold of Declan in the morning to let him know that Ru-Shi had been arrested, and then escaped custody the night before, and that as her known accomplices, the Harlem cops would likely be looking for them. They were advised to stay away from Harlem. Instead they went shopping for disguises and then headed to the Jackson's Lawyer's office to hear Jackson's will read. They noticed an unmarked police car down the street keeping an eye on the building and managed to wedge a potato into the tailpipe without being caught, then proceeded into the building disguised and in separate groups without the police catching on.
Jackson turned out to have made a small fortune off his haul from Peru, and he left roughly half of it to his publishing house to encourage them to keep printing books on the occult, particularly those debunking it. The other half was used to make a trust to help fund further investigations along his most recently lines of research. He also included a personal letter, written recently, imploring his good friends to take up the cause that he assumed was likely the cause of his death. The fund contained the modern equivalent of a quarter million dollars, but the lawyer was quick to point out he was in charge of the fund and would require documentation and receipts suitable for IRS investigation he was positive a rich black man's estate would would draw. The players agreed that they were interested in learning more about the cult and whatever secret plot Jackson had started to uncover. Some from vengeance, some from curiosity, and some from greed.
As the players left the building they were attacked by the cult, who had clearly also been watching the lawyer's office. They attempted to the run the players down with a stolen truck, and then had a half dozen cultists, one with a Tommy gun, pour of the truck to try and finish the group off. It was a brutal fight in the snow, and Abe was actually lit on fire, but eventually they downed 4 of the cultist and sent the other two running off. The players also somewhat regretted disabling the police car as it prevented the detectives from being much help. The PC did manage to get away before the cops could arrest any of them. The wrecked truck burning in the snowbank was a good distraction. It also let them steal the detectives' unmarked car.
The players decided to follow up a different lead that also gave them an excuse to get out of the city for a while and visited the Carlyle mansion north of the city. As it turns out, Declan and Erica had some history, going back to around the time she had a run in with a mob boss and ended up with Joe Corey in her employ. She actually let the players into the mansion purely so she could slap Declan across the face for leaving her without even phone call or letter. Eventually the group managed to talk Erica into listening to them about some kind of conspiracy involving her Brother's death. They managed to avoid telling her anything too outlandish, and she disbelieved a lot of what they said anyway, but eventually she admitted that Roger had been into some strange occult things in the time before he left for his expedition. This led into a conversation about his strange books, and Erica agreed to let the group see the books, but to not let them out of her house.
The players ended up staying for a couple of days, basically living in the mansion's library, taking notes on several strange occult books that had been in Roger's safe. Most of the books were of a generic occult nature but one book described an Englishman that had taken up worship of an Egyptian sorcerer known as the Pharaoh of Darkness. Another book described an Egyptian sorceress queen. Both details caught Abe's attention, considering he was originally alive in the time period between those to entities. (Note: Reminder that Abe is a mummy but neither the other characters nor the players at the table know that.)
While most of the party studied the texts and wrote notes as quickly as possible, Declan proceeded to make an ass out of himself trying to prove his worth in Erica's eyes by besting Joe. He lost a fist fight and resorted to a competition more his strength: drinking. He was ultimately successful in out drinking the large man, but Erica didn't seem interested.
Having collected what information they could, and realizing that Erica had gotten bored of watching Joe punch Declan in the face on a semi-regular schedule, the group headed out of the mansion and back into town, ditching their stolen police car at a train station.
Next Time: Darkness and Monsters
Art Credit: Page 129 from Masks of Nyarlathotep, Handout.
In which the players face a dark chamber of supernatural horrors and attend a funeral.
Reminder: My players don't entirely know they are playing through Masks of Nyarlathotep. As far as they know, this is a 1920s Pulp themed Fate Core game. This article does contain spoilers for the new edition of Masks of Nyarlathotep.
Cast of Player Characters This Episode
Lin Ru-Shi - A Hong Kong street urchin that grew up to be a martial artist thief.
Lord Declan MacManus - A minor Irish Lord and Great War pilot turned smuggler. Lives on his flying boat and has a way with the ladies.
Salim Dali - A negotiator, translator, expedition assistant extraordinaire.
The players of Abdul “Abe” Tepema and Sebastian Sullivan were not present, so we decided that after last session the two "detective" characters decided to go off and do some research.
When we last left our cast of globetrotting explorers, they had come to New York at the request for Jackson Elias, and arrived just in time to find his cultist murders standing over his corpse. They began investigating what Jackson had gotten himself into on his recent globetrotting. Clearly a cult, possibly associated with Larkin from the Peru adventures, had decided to kill him because he knew too much. Among the local leads the players met with shady importer/exporter Emerson, who helped them track down the Ju Ju House.
Hello Shop Keep
The players head to the Ju Ju House, an Africana shop in Harlem, to talk with the owner Silas, a name found on a business card on Jackson's body, and the man Emerson indicated wasn't entirely in his right mind. Before walking down an alleyway into the Ju Ju Shop, they scouted the block, a set of apartments with ground floor shop fronts, creating a possible escape route through an out of business pawnshop, and chatting up a local rare occult bookstore owner.
Having learned what they could, they walked into Silas's shop and came face to face with what turned out to be a little old African man. Initially confused by the clear foreigners in his shop, he first tried to sell them some African trinkets, but as they started asking more pointed questions he decided they weren't customers and his entire demeanor changed. He demanded they leave his shop, and when they failed to comply, he began yelling to his neighbors that strange foreigners were assaulting him. So Salim knocked him the hell out.
The players began searching the shop for clues, but sounds from outside made it clear the neighbors in the apartments above were concerned about Silas's yelling, so Salim strode out of the shop yelling as he had just lost a nasty bout of bargaining with Silas. This stopped the neighbors in their windows from coming down to investigate, but they continued to watch the alleyway from their windows.
They left Silas knocked out behind the counter and searched the room, discovering a lock box containing the shop cash and Silas's bloody tongue headband. Declan started searching behind the counter, noticing what might be a hatch in the floor under a rug, but found Silas was starting to come around and so chocked him unconscious... and then some. The rest of the group, realizing he was dying, dragged him out to get him help, which caused the neighbors hanging out their windows to realize something terrible was happening. A mob formed, and things got interesting. Salim and the rest of the group tried to keep the situation under control, including bundling Silas into a cab to the hospital, but Ru-Shi used the distraction to slip back into the shop and picked the lock on the floor hatch. Under the hatch was a set of stairs that looked carved out of the foundations in an odd way.
The PCs decided to come back later that night, knowing Silas wouldn't be there, and the neighbors would be asleep.
Down in a Hole
Around 3am, the group returned to the store, and Ru-Shi picked the lock on the door and the hidden hatch. They found a set of stairs going down into darkness. The steps and tunnel had been carved out of the foundations, the ground, and into the bedrock by thousands of fist sized striated gashes. They thought it was fingers, of claws given the concrete material, but on close inspection they realized the passage had be carved out by thousands upon thousands of bites with distinctly human looking teeth. The bites were not all the same either, indicating multiple people(?) had carved the passage intentionally through oral means.
At the end of the stairs was a short hallway, also chewed from the bedrock, ending in a solid if ordinary wood door. Unlocked. In the chewed out room beyond they found what was clearly a ritual chamber, guarded by disemboweled zombies with their mouths sewn shut. Also a large stone lid on a deeper hole. They dispatched the zombies and looted the room, discovering occult paraphernalia, a book stolen from Harvard that Jackson had apparently been trying to track down, and a lock box full of jewelry trophies from various cult sacrifices.
Then they used the winch to raise the stone block lid off a dark hole where the thing that had carved the room was kept. A being composed entirely human faces, it screamed and gibbered wordlessly, threatening to drive all that heard it mad. Wisely the group kept the lid no more than a few inches off the ground, and dispatched the thing by pouring all the lantern oil and booze they could into the hole and then lighting it on fire. The screams as it burned were not pleasant, but they remained long enough to ensure it would burn to death without escaping being leaving.
They then called Declan's 2nd cousin the detective, waking him now at nearly 5am, and had him get the police over to investigate. They attempted to interact with the cops, but found the Harlem police were not especially welcoming of their input on the situation. Several of the cops were disturbed by the discovered a hole with dozens of human skulls in it.
Impersonating a Federal Officer
Concerned that the Harlem police were too corrupt to release the obviously innocent man, Hilton Adams, from death row where he was to be executed for the crimes the cult had committed, Salim called the Harlem police and managed to impersonate a federal agent enough to not only get Captain Robson on the phone, but to essentially black mail the captain by implying "the feds" knew he had framed Hilton and that the cultist angle on a larger federal case was now being damaged by his willingness arrest an innocent man. He was strongly encouraged to find a more appropriate candidate before the full extent of his off-the-book enterprises was revealed.
Funerals and Reading Time
Later that afternoon the group attended the funeral of their friend Jackson Elias, meeting several that were friends and coworkers of Jackson. A few of these people they had already met in person or over the phone, and in a few cases lied to, but they managed to maneuver their way through the conversations safely.
Among the people they met was Jackson's lawyer who told them to show up at his office in a couple of days for the official reading of Mr. Elias's will. He indicated that Jackson will specifically referenced them. They also met Jackson's publisher, who informed them that she had Jackson's notes on his latest book, as he commonly mailed his notebooks back to the office while off globetrotting. She invited them to swing by on Monday to take a look at them, but was instead talked into going into the office directly after the Funeral so they could get the notes, and a stiff drink from her office bottle of decent scotch, and get the notes immediately.
The PC spent the next few days reading through the notes and the book on African Cults, learning more about what Jackson had been looking into, and the cult they had now clearly angered.
Next Time: The Cult Strikes Back, and so does Declan's Ex!
Art Credit: Page 161 of the new 7th edition of Masks of Nyarlathotep
It's 2.30am here in China, but that's fine because I spent most of yesterday asleep due to yet another cold. The classic campaigns really don't showcase the real-world travelling experiences: constant assault, not from the forces of the Mythos, but from an endless array of unfamiliar viruses. A diet of throat medicine and whatever is within arm's reach, rather than exotic Parma kippers.
Something I should probably have mentioned ages ago, but didn't, is that I've ended up giving a short lecture series on weird fiction. This may not strike you as that odd, but I'm in no sense an expert on the topic. Basically, my university has a policy that my staff group must give lectures in addition to teaching classes; they can be on anything, but I couldn't really think of a topic. After all, I'm much more a broad-ranging butterfly than a deep-delving expert on anything. In the end, I decided that weird fiction would broaden my Chinese students' horizons about English literature, introduce some cultural background, and would at least be interesting for me. Which is more than can be said for many other potential topics.
An additional difficulty has been getting utterly swamped by workload, which has meant I've had remarkably little time to actually prepare the lectures. There's only one per month, but I have only managed to complete a single book (Joshi's Evolution of the Weird Tale) since I arrived here, over three months ago. Given my usual appetite for reading that's shocking. So the kind of serious research I'd have loved to do for this simply hasn't been an option.
I did manage to read a few articles, and thankfully I have been a long-term fan of the fabulous "HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast", so I have gathered a lot of general knowledge that way, as well as from the MR James podcast "A Podcast to the Curious", the sadly-deceased "Double Shadow" (Clark Ashton Smith) and some brief visits to the mighty "Cromcast". On the downside there are a good few recent weird collections sitting unread on my Kobo.
The audience has turned out to be pretty small - I say pretty small, I mean around 6 people! - which is disappointing for my boss and delightful for me. Two are existing fans of weird fiction, despite the absence of the genre in China, and a couple of others are fantasy and sci-fi fans with a strong interest in learning more. The lectures are my first ever lecture series, so they're definitely not classics, but I'm vaguely proud of them nonetheless. The second, discussing antecedents of weird fiction, was definitely better than the first (and full of material I really wish I'd had time to dig deeply into beforehand).
Tomorrow, or rather today, I'm due to give the third and final lecture, which is on recent and modern weird fiction. This is the one I'm least confident about, because as I said, I just haven't had time to catch up on it. Since I don't tend to enjoy actual horror, I didn't read it growing up, you know, in the period when free time existed. To make matters worse, I never got into the habit of watching TV somehow, and I rarely watch films compared to most people, so that's a whole swathe of stuff that's passed me by! A whole lake of ignorance to wallow in. Hopefully I can still keep any audience interested... I do have to talk about RPGs (I don't think you can possibly discuss the revival of weird without it) so that helps.
For some reason it was only yesterday that I realised it would have been sensible to mention this on YSDC, since I'm sure people would have all sorts of suggestions to offer. Dim! But I'd still love to hear them, partly for interest, and partly as I'd like to improve the lectures if I'm asked to give them again. There is oodles of room for improvement. I do have recordings of them and could probably find somewhere to put them if there's any interest, though I do warn you it's neither excellent quality nor excellent material. Talking about weird fiction to a group of people with almost no cultural prior knowledge has been a challenge - never mind Lovecraft, they largely don't have any knowledge of Cthulhu (not part of Chinese internet), Conan, tabletop gaming, pulps, Western ghost stories and horror, the social and cultural background to the rise of weird fiction... challenging but in a good way.
There's enough interest that I'm hoping I may be able to set up a little weird fiction reading circle and discuss short stories with them, which would be great, but depends mostly on workload. We'll see.
Right, time for bed I suppose. Wish me successful Luck rolls!
What a fantastic title! I gather this is an excerpt from a letter Lovecraft wrote, recounting a dream he'd had. So, again, it's not a finished short story, though it was published as one after his death in Weird Tales.
The tale is of a narrator who inadvertently, and to be honest rather stupidly, releases the trapped soul and more of the titular clergyman. If you're told not to do anything with a mysterious box, whatever you do, follow those instructions! Though to be fair, if he'd done that, the story would be even shorter, and much less fun.
If it had been published as a story in Lovecraft's time it would definitely have benefited from further development. It's rather sparse in many places, and needs some touches added. But, oh, it's so imaginative, and well conceived as an idea. It's also satisfyingly terrifying, with a good ending. I particularly liked the images of the clergyman moving around, and the other characters that appeared. And the burning of the books. Yes, it's really very evocative.
I think this is probably the Lovecraft fragment that I'd most like to have seen finished properly. I think it's a lovely piece, albeit rarely read by Lovecraft fans, and well worth seeking out.
Moving on to another unfinished fragment, this is a simultaneously frustrating and intriguing read. Frustrating because at the start it doesn't get on with the plot quickly enough, albeit in a typical Lovecraftian way, and I know while reading that it's going to be very short. But then when it does start properly it's a real page turner, and belies its short length.
I really like the idea of the narrator finding a strange book, whose title he can't see, in a curious bookshop. Then taking it home, all the while feeling as though he's being followed. Rather worryingly that's exactly the start of an interactive fiction game I'm writing on and off! The game was inspired by a number of entries in Lovecraft's Commonplace Book, so it's hardly surprising to see one of them reflected in a story here.
The bibliophile theme then shifts towards a more sci-fi approach, as a ritual in the mysterious book allows the narrator to warp time, to somehow step out of it. This bit is really exciting. And then it stops. And I want to know more!
So, yes, I think thumbs up. Even if I'm going to be looking at my IF game in progress in a fresh light now!
The Diary of Harry Harrison: Mystic
I write this some miles from my small but comfortable room above the clubhouse of the Second Sight Co-operative, for it is with this erstwhile organisation that I currently find myself employed.
While my memories have yet to fully return since those terrible days in Clio, MI, my companions and I have at least ascertained that we are all members of the SSC (formerly headed by the late Lyn Cartwright). It seems that we are all dedicated to researching the weird and supernatural, and the clubhouse (situated next to the Miskatonic University’s Orne Library) acts as a nascent museum to such oddities (among our meagre exhibits are letters from such luminaries as Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle and Harry Houdini no less).
Arkham, and indeed most of the New England seaboard, is currently in the grip of the most severe winter in decades. It was thus with some surprise that we (Monty, Reginald and myself – poor Ossian being confined to a padded cell) received a request for help from one Dr. Trenton Harrod, psychiatrist.
Taking along with us our newest member, a sceptical photographer straight out of university by the name of Bob Grubb, we were received by Dr. Harrod’s secretary Ms. Swain and shown into his office. It transpired that the good doctor wished us to investigate the suicide of one of his patients, Joseph Sutton: a successful banker who had been consulting him since the summer, upon returning to Arkham after a trip to his brother’s, following which he to be plagued by terrible dreams.
He played us a recording of Mr. Sutton while he was under hypnosis. The poor man spoke of a terrible cold, blood freezing and body turning black. Freezing wind ripping through him as something huge loomed above, pulling his down with cold arms. He screams as something shrieks and blurry, inhuman faces loom through the icy wind. As he is smothered by the ice and snow the huge shape calls to him and two red stars burn in the sky…
Dr. Harrod linked these terrible nightmares to a childhood incident when Sutton and his father became lost during a winter hunting trip in the wilds of Maine. Joseph Sutton was found alive, albeit with half his left hand missing from frostbite, but his father perished.
Apparently the patient was responding well to treatment, but nonetheless a few days ago succumbed to some mania (possibly an extreme fear of cold) and blew his brains out, leaving behind a grieving wife, Marilyn.
Interestingly Sutton suspected his wife of being intimate with his brother, Stuart, with whom his widow is now residing at a lodge up in Maine. Could feelings of inadequacy regarding a possible affair have contributed to the victim’s state of mind? It was up to us to find out – subject to a daily fee plus expenses!
We gallantly took him up on the case. He had little else to tell us, save that an obviously pregnant Mrs. Sutton was swathed in black during the funeral. While she was inconsolable, her brother-in-law was noticeably less upset.
After obtaining a letter of introduction from Dr. Harrod, lest anyone object to our investigations, we proceeded with the case. Dining at Reginald’s club, we discovered that Sutton was well known and did not get on at all well with his brother. Maybe his suspicions of an affair were well founded?
We decided to split up. I headed for Sutton’s abode and, finding no-one at home, interviewed one Gary Webb, who rented the rooms above. He spoke of hearing Joseph’s terrible nightmare screams during the night, but also told me a curious tale of how he often saw Marilyn shouting and wandering out into the snow. He would tell me little else – apparently Joseph had threatened him into silence before his suicide.
I eventually secured a spare key from Webb and took a look around the house. I discovered little, save a photo of the two brothers in happier times and a grisly blood stain in the master bedroom - presumably this is where Sutton took his own life. I did however ‘borrow’ the man’s address book for future research.
Meanwhile Monty visited the local hospital (where he had recuperated following the ‘Clio incident’) to speak to the coroner. He informed us that Joseph had shot himself through the left-side of his head. But hang on – wasn’t his left hand crippled by frostbite? Something didn’t add up here…
Reginald showed Bob the ropes by doing some research at the public library. Looking for any information on northern New England, specifically the brother’s lodgings in Maine, they found some quaint Indian legends of Manitou and an embodiment of winter hunger known as the Wendigo, but nothing concrete.
We retired to the SSC clubhouse and were roused the next morning by a messenger boy, bidding us to attend to Ms. Swain without delay. Trudging through the snowy streets we arrived at her employer’s office to find the secretary distraught, and for good reason – the whole building practically encased with snow and ice!
Digging our way to the door, we managed to gain entry, only to find that even the interior was coated with snow. In fact it was colder inside than it was out! Soon we were in for another shock – sitting at his desk with black staring eyes was Dr. Harrod, frozen solid!
The poor man had clearly been frozen to death. Moreover his office had been trashed, as if a whirlwind had passed through it. Looking for clues was futile, as everything we touched was so frozen that it crumbled to the touch. The cold was so intense that we would have done too if we had stayed inside for too long!
After comforting Ms. Swain we called the police, who were as mystified as we were. We gave our statements to their satisfaction, before earning their gratitude by saving the now gawping crowd from being swamped by the large amount of snow that was now rapidly thawing and threatening to fall from the roof of the building.
Capitalising on this gratitude, Monty and I met a Detective Cooper (a surname that even now brings a shudder), who showed us, off the record, the evidence from Sutton’s suicide. There was the revolver, found at his side, and a suicide note, apologising to his ‘beautiful wife and loving brother’. We were also told that on the night of the suicide, the domestic staff had been given the week off and that his wife had gone for a walk – returning to find his body.
Luckily I was allowed to make a tracing of the suicide note and hit upon the idea of comparing the handwriting to that in the purloined address book. There were two styles, presumably that of Sutton and his wife, but neither of them matched the handwriting in the note.
A quick trip to the coroner to view Sutton’s death certificate, as signed by his brother, added further mystery. The brother’s signature matched the handwriting on the suicide note. Interesting…
Reginald and Bob meanwhile paid another visit to the Sutton’s house, once again obtaining the key from Mr. Webb. A second search of the bedroom revealed a smaller bloodstain, consistent of someone being shot in the left-hand side of the head. Also of interest was the fact that there was little in the way of female clothing in the wardrobe and absolutely no evidence of gun ownership. Had his wife pre-packed to leave? How did Sutton obtain the revolver? Indeed, how did he manage to use it?
They questioned Webb some more, but he became increasingly nervous and uncooperative. He claimed to be a pianist, playing at an eating establishment called Luigi’s, but the intrepid pair could not recall such a place. Intrigued, they trailed him as he set off for work that evening, eventually following him to a nondescript door. Oblivious to his trackers, he knocked and went in. Suffering from the cold, Bob sought warmth in a nearby café while Monty lingered outside the door, only to be warned off by a large menacing man.
Subsequent inquiries (during which Reginald lost his precious train set - don't ask) proved fruitless until a chance encounter with a less-than-lawful acquaintance of mine revealed what I had suspected – Webb worked at a mob-run gin-joint. We decided to drop this line of enquiry – supernatural perils are quite enough without getting involved with the Mafia!
Knowing from bitter experience that it’s not a good idea to waste too much time, we decided to head north as soon as possible, buying some winter clothing and supplies before taking the train to Bangor, Maine. As we headed north the weather grew worse, and it was with much difficulty and expense that we found a taxi driver, Claude, willing to take us further into the cold.
Perhaps we could have benefited with some more research in Bangor, perhaps not. Suffice to say we now begin our motor trip into the frozen hills of Maine, to the Winter Haven Hunting Lodge, Penobscot County. Will we find Mrs. Sutton and her suspicious brother-in-law Stuart? Only time will tell…
The Diary of Harry Harrison: Mystic
20th October 1922
It has been many days since I last put pen to paper, and it is only now that I can bear to write about our final day in Clio, MI.
After discovering our belongings and a mysterious book in the office of Ms. Volker, we were determined to confront her. However we decided to do some research first and so, after tidying up the office somewhat, we headed back to the hotel to flick through the book: most notably the supposed spell to rid us of the infection.
If the book was to be believed, the spell entailed us drawing a complex maze-like pattern on the ground, chopping off the tip of our fingers and allowing the blood to drip into the pattern whilst we chanted some strange incantation. Supposedly this would draw the ‘young of Eihort’ out of us and into the drawing.
We decided to try the spell out straight away and were soon pulling up in an isolated stretch of woodland, where we could perform the ritual uninterrupted. I went first, drawing the pattern in the soil and gritting my teeth as Monty sawed off the tip of my left little finger with his bowie knife. I uttered the strange syllables, but, despite some strange wriggling in my arm, nothing happened.
Undaunted, we decided on a group effort, cutting each other’s little fingers and letting the blood drip onto the pattern together. With our collective support and willpower, and to our horror and amazement, the spell began to work! As our hands glowed with unearthly blue light, a stream of white goo poured out of our wounds, turning into the sickeningly familiar white spider-maggot things before disappearing into the soil. By now I was faint with loss of blood, and lost consciousness just as a horrified Monty pulled his hand away in terror and began to swell up with the creatures!
When I came to, I learned that the others had repeated the ritual in a bid to rid Monty of the infection. After some first aid courtesy of Ossian we slept in the truck, each beset by horrific nightmares. Indeed Reginald suffered so much that he awoke to find himself naked – his clothes torn and his leg covered in bite marks – presumably his own!
Despite our ordeal, and the collective feeling that we had used up what little magical ability we might have had, we all felt much better. We each ate a hearty breakfast back at the hotel, unheeding of the frightened stares from the proprietors. We then headed for Doc Cowey’s, who, mindful of our condition, discreetly cleaned up our severed finger wounds and took more X-rays. It was Friday, so we would only be sure that we were free of infection when they were developed on Monday. For our own peace of mind we would have to stay in Clio over the weekend (if nothing else Reginald would have time to buy a new suit of clothes)…
We resolved to continue our plan to confront Volker and waited until she shut up her office for lunch before pushing our way in. She seemed confused by our accusations at first, but this soon changed when we mentioned Eihort…
If we expected her to be terrified of us, we were sorely mistaken! Instead, she drew the blinds, locked the door and weaved strange motions in the air. Suddenly we were all blasted by the collective memory of what actually happened in the pit below the Cooper House.
Volker had lured us into the secret chamber – a candle-lit place with an elaborately-decorated tile floor that was strewn with corpses! Suddenly from a pit at the other side of the room a hideous creature emerged! Even now I shudder at the recollection. It was huge – a terrifying assemblage of gigantic spider’s legs. One such appendage snatched up Lyn Cartwright as it spoke “WILL YOU BE MINE?” When the poor panic-stricken girl refused, she was squeezed by the thing until she popped!
The rest of us were seized in turn. Oh would that we craven madmen had refused like Lyn and at least suffered a quick death! Alas we insanely agreed to the creature’s ultimatum and were rewarded by having some hideous proboscis forced down our throats as thing pumped it’s brood into our bodies. The full story of why we ran screaming from the house, drove our truck off the road and found our nightmare-ridden selves physically degenerating was laid bare!
Realising the full horror of what befell us, we turned from conquering heroes to gibbering wrecks, running around Volker’s office shrieking like mad men! Thankfully Ossian quickly recovered his nerve and leapt at the witch as she drew out a pistol.
As we shook ourselves free of the madness, we all tried to overpower the woman despite our lack of fighting prowess, but she was unnaturally fast and strong (or maybe we were just too shook up). Shaking herself free of our attacks, she bent over Reginald and, horror of horrors, vomited a tide of the spider things into his face! Soon the poor chap was gasping for breath as they began to burrow into every orifice!
Once again we all went mad at this sight, with Ossian’s arachnophobia pushing him screaming into a corner while Monty suddenly took Reginald for his deceased father. Being a poor fighter I desperately sought for another way of gaining the advantage. Suddenly it hit me: what if I threatened to burn her precious book?
The act of thrusting the tome towards a gas light on the wall was enough to distract her, buying enough time for Monty to come to his senses and make a lunge for her gun. He succeeded in grabbing her, but with uncanny strength she turned the pistol on him and shot him at point blank range!
“Burn the book and your friend dies!” she sneered, as Monty lay with a gaping gunshot wound to the abdomen and Reginald fought for breath as the creatures burrowed into him, sapping his strength.
I’m afraid I may have sworn at this point, and recklessly shoved the book into the naked flame of the now uncovered lamp. Volker screamed with rage and once more shot poor Monty as he vainly tried to lash out at her. The chap’s number was now definitely up…
This did however give me an opening, so, drawing the cosh that I keep for self-defence, I whacked her across the midriff. Reginald was also able to act, having momentarily drawn breath. Grabbing hold of his rifle (which he had luckily brought with him), he shot the evil woman (in the derriere no less), causing her to collapse unmoving to the floor.
Ossian brought his medical skills once more into play as he treated Monty’s wounds, while I frantically wracked my brains about how to rescue Reginald. After nearly drowning the fellow, I hit upon the idea of jamming his head in the toilet and flushing the creatures off. I duly dragged him into the bathroom and did just that. Thankfully it only took a couple of flushes to rid him of the beasts.
But what now? Our struggle with Volker was sure to have been heard and the burning book had set alight a number of other documents. How could we get out of the office with a badly wounded man without being spotted by the authorities (who surely would not believe our story)?
In the end it was Ossian who stepped into the breach. Unlike myself, he had believed strongly in things rational and scientific his whole life. To have his world shattered and the veil pulled so cruelly from his eyes was more than he could bear. Volunteering to take the blame, he waited for us to flee the office before following us, blasting into the air with Volker’s pistol.
As he was subdued by the police, Reginald and I drove Monty to Doc Coweys to be stabilised. He was then taken to hospital for emergency surgery. In the meantime we were interviewed by the police, telling them how we had been visiting Ms. Volker when Ossian went berserk, wrestling the gun off her when she tried to protect herself and inadvertently setting fire to her office.
Volker’s office burned to the ground, as did a neighbouring building, but her body was not discovered in the wreckage. I can only hope that the evil sorceress perished in the flames, but it is maddening that I cannot be sure. As for our X-rays, well they showed us free from infection! I for one can breathe a great sigh of relief, although I cannot say the same for Reginald…
As I reflect on these terrible events, I now sit in a comfortable room not far from the Miskatonic University as a guest of Professor Armitage, whose links to Lyn Cartwright and her Second Sight Co-operative led us to contact him. He viewed the charred remains of the mysterious book (I estimate that just under half of it was not consumed by flames when I grabbed it as we fled the office) with great interest and listened gravely as Reginald and I recounted the horrors of the Cooper House and what lies beneath it. I can only hope that he has enough clout to send men with machine guns and dynamite to that accursed place.
As for what led us to the house in the first place we still cannot recall. The last two years are a mystery to us, despite the occasional flashback. Monty is recovering in hospital while Ossian awaits a cell of one sort or other. On my part, I am not the man I once was and cannot shake the feeling that I have run out of luck. However, I must now look to the future and promise myself that I will never, ever, set foot in Clio, MI, again!
The Diary of Harry Harrison: Mystic
20th? September 1922
I write this hurriedly as we prepare for our final showdown – at least, considering the day we’ve had, I fervently hope it is!
Today started well enough. I actually slept well, with no repeat of my ‘bowel problem’. In fact the only disturbance during the night was the night-terrors of two of my companions. One fellow, Ossian, emerged the next day having torn patches of his hair out, whilst Monty had bitten off part of his tongue!
We all felt in a bad way – much worse than the day before, and the townsfolk of Clio were becoming very wary of us as evidenced by the startled look of the boy who gave us a telegram for the mysterious Lyn (Lyn Cartwright, it transpires). The message was from a professor at some university in Arkham, MA, telling Lyn to expect a parcel from a credulous chap named ‘Doyle’.
This turned out to be none other than Arthur Conan Doyle! He had sent Lyn a copy of his book ‘The Coming of the Fairies’, which supposedly contained photographs of young girls with actual fairy folk. In his telegram the professor intimated that the whole thing was a hoax – possibly hinting that Lyn fake some photographs? Whatever the case, it seems our studies of the Cooper House are in some way related to the university.
Despite our unsavoury appearances, the locals were still happy to take money off us and we spent a pretty penny at the local store, stocking up on weapons, paraffin lamps, photography gear, rope and the like. Having made an appointment with the realtor Ms. Volker yesterday, we then met her at her office and followed her to the ill-famed Cooper House.
What a decrepit heap the place is! Set on a rocky rise above boggy fields, it has obviously been the haunt of vagrants and vandals for many years. The nearby barn looked like it would fall down at any moment, so we decided to focus on the house itself.
Not, however, before I noticed the tyre tracks around the yard. Some of them matched our truck, confirming that we had visited the place before. I could tell that we had pulled in to the yard straight enough, but the tracks leading back out showed that we had left erratically and at great speed!
Other tracks matched those of Volker’s Model-T. It looked like she had visited the place many times – not unusual considering it was on her books perhaps, but then she did say that there had been little interest in the place. Whatever her excuse, I could tell that she was hiding something. She left us to our exploring at unseemly speed I thought.
And so we entered this accursed pile. Searches of the ground and first floor uncovered nothing but disturbing graffiti, empty beer bottles and the like. However our prodding also disturbed nests of unnatural, white spiders – more maggot than arachnid. These things seemed to have differing numbers of legs and eyes and were… well, just weird. Ossian was particularly afraid of these beasts, while Reginald learned to respect them after one particularly large brute bit his hand following an abortive attempt to capture it.
Finding nothing else, we fearfully descended bloodstained steps into the cellar… Immediately I was assailed by some sort of psychic phenomena! I fell to the ground, clutching my head as voices echoed all around me – our voices! It seems I was remembering some recent psychic echo of us vainly trying to get through a locked door. Our panic was cut short by some terrible voice shouting “DO YOU WANT TO LIVE?”
Once I recovered and recounted my experience, we proceeded to search the cellar, but again found nothing of interest. We began to ascend the rickety steps, led by Monty, when a crazed vagrant appeared at the top, demanding to know what we had done to him! Before we could calm the man, he bashed Monty on the head with a broken table leg, sending him sprawling off the side of the staircase and back down the cellar.
Next in line was Reginald, who with one bitten hand and one good one, struggled with his rifle and lantern as the tramp raged before him. I did not want to see the poor man shot down, but before I could try to work my magic, the vagrant split open like a rotten fruit!
Yes, that’s correct – his entire body split bloodily open to reveal a swarm of the spider/maggot creatures! With needle-like teeth and mismatched eyes, this evil tide issued forth from his body and spilled into the cellar, luckily causing us no physical damage but sending an already nervous Ossian into paroxysms of terror! As the shredded remains of the tramp fell to the floor, Ossian retreated, screaming back into the far corners of the cellar.
Reginald was determined to take a photo of this horrible sight, but, with rifle in one hand and lamp in the bitten and swollen other, fumbled as he juggled his load in an effort to reach his camera. The lamp dropped, smashing on the very steps on which we stood and setting them on fire!
He continued to mess around with his camera, forcing me to practically to shove the man out of the way as the flames licked our legs. Three of us managed to get out unscathed, but Ossian, gibbering in the far corner, badly burnt his legs as he eventually summoned the courage to race past the spiders and get out.
After some deliberation we decided to head back into Clio and seek medical attention for Ossian’s burns and the gash on Monty’s head. We duly headed back to Dr. Cowey’s for treatment. As he patched up the wounded, I asked to see my X-rays again. My suspicions were confirmed, for the fuzzy white blobs on the X-ray were the same size and shape as the maggot/spider creatures we had just witnessed.
Pressing the good doctor, he admitted that he had seen a similar thing happen before when performing an autopsy on a dead vagrant. The photo of the things bursting out of the cadaver he showed us was the final piece of evidence – we were indeed infected by these creatures and would soon suffer the same fate as the tramp!
Then we staggered our separate ways to learn anything else we could about the house. We learned that McCumsey had hired German labourers, supposedly to dig a secret vault below the ill-famed house (and that later three local treasure hunters all suffered a grim fate after trying to find this chamber). We also learned that McCumsey and most of his family had supposedly died, but no death certificates were ever found. His surviving wife and daughter had apparently returned to England.
We were at a loss for what to do next, until we remembered Ms. Volker’s suspicious behaviour. Volker! Wasn’t that a German name? Reginald’s charm failed to win her over; not surprising considering the condition he (and indeed all of us) was in. So we waited for her to close her office and head home, before breaking in. A furtive search of the rooms revealed that she used to be an academic back east. We also uncovered a strange grimoire purporting to be 'Revelations of Glaaki, Vol. IV’. A quick glance ascertained that this volume concerned something called Eihort: a being apparently associated with labyrinths.
More importantly, one page was marked, and contained an incantation for the banishing of the ‘Young of Eihort’. Had we found a way of ridding ourselves of this infection? With our health deteriorating, will we have the time to study the passage to find out?
Added further fuel to the fire, in another room we discovered a box full of our belongings! We had assumed these had been lost when our truck crashed, but instead they had been taken by Ms. Volker prior to this event – perhaps during our previous visit to the Cooper House.
That we have visited the house is certain, for finding our belongings triggered a memory in Reginald. Volker had indeed showed us, including Lyn, the Cooper House and lured us into the vault under the cellar. We were locked in, and something terrible must have happened to us before the four of us fled in panic, eventually crashing our truck.
Stunned by these revelations, we have resolved to confront Ms. Volker at her home. I write this as we prepare to make the short journey to her address. Should we not return and anyone finds this diary, take it to Dr. Cowey.
To Dr. Cowey, I ask you to put aside your professional reputation and contact the university at Arkham – you know what has befallen us! Make sure that accursed house is raised to the ground, and that the chamber under the cellar and anything lurking within it is dynamited into oblivion!
The Diary of Harry Harrison: Mystic
19th September 1922
Oh how the spirits must laugh at the living; entwined as we are with the fickle hand of fate!
One minute I am providing spiritual succour to the bereaved souls of New York’s elite, the next I’m covered in mud and lying in an upturned truck in the middle of nowhere!
How I got here I have no recollection. Neither do I remember teaming up with my three companions, or they me. All we have discovered is that we have been exploring the town of Clio, Michigan – most notably the old Cooper farmhouse: a place notorious for grisly murders and mysterious disappearances. We also found photographic equipment and wax audio recording among our effects – clearly we meant business!
It appears that there was also a fifth member of our party – a red-haired lady by the name of Lynne who may have been more acquainted with one of us than the others. It was in her room that I found a notebook, detailing the locals we had apparently been quizzing about the Cooper House – possibly by way of producing a movie and/or on behalf of the ‘Second Sight Co-operative’, whose card we have discovered in some of our motel rooms (a place, I might add, we have no memories of booking into!) Lynne however has since gone missing and her whereabouts is unknown.
If this wasn’t mysterious enough, we have also been afflicted a terrible condition that the local doctor has been unable to diagnose (X-rays serving only to baffle him). Eating and drinking holds a particular terror - it hurts to swallow and some of us have been vomiting copiously. Also, how shall I put this, I have been evacuating my bowels in a spectacular fashion. I have suffered greatly from this malady, and I swear that, in the resultant issue, something moves!
Normally friendly dogs hurl themselves at us, while our investigations, not to mention our maladies and the resultant mess, are making us less and less welcome in this small town. Impromptu dance sessions do nothing to alleviate our misery and serve only to compound our woes.
Moreover we have been tormented by terrible dreams and visions. Mysterious figures leaping at us from the cornfields, monsters and creatures that Hell itself would refuse entry, things been forced down our throats… Our sanity has suffered as a result and I begin to wonder whether I will survive another night in this accursed town!
Yet survive I must, as my companions and I must unravel this mystery - for the sake of our own peace of mind if nothing else. Tomorrow we intend to stock up on weapons and supplies, having had our truck repaired. We have arranged to visit the Cooper House – a place built by one Edmund McCumsey: an English scholar and author of the esoteric tome Before Daedalus (a copy of which we have been unable to find at the local library).
It was in this house that John Cooper disembowelled his entire family to get rid of things he claimed were ‘inside them’. I fear that such things are also inside me!
I await the night with fear and trepidation…
So I am running this excellent scenario for the first time, as a preparation for using it at a convention next year.
I have 4 players, 2 female, 2 male. Their PCs are:
- The PR guy - Blake Tevis
- The fixer - Spencer Shull
- The personal assistant (PA) - Julia Cortese
- The co-producer - Daria Nowland.
Enter the players into a darkened room, dimly lit by the glowing cinema style advert for "The Space between" (see picture), to the horrible song "Space between" from the movie "Descendants 2"....
The starting scene worked really well, with Teekrop Singh putting pressure on the PCs, and then the police coming in - the characters discussed a lot about what to do, all in-rôle. The PR guy and the fixer managed to keep the cops away from the set, with quite a lot of bad vibes and aggression flowing around. To give them at least something, the PA showed the police the trailer of the missing actress. Here, the police took DNA from some hair in a hairbrush.
Then, they called the missing director, Jared Woodward. (I am using actual mobile phone calls for telephone scenes, where I leave the room and talk to the players via phone - this proved to work out really well for the "Cthulhu Now" atmosphere)
Woodward went mad when he heard of the police and told them to "burn the set! Burn the basalt cliffs!"
Now, the PCs were disturbed. They started investigating a lot, and actually found some blood stains and a piece of cloth at the cliffs. Having the costume designer in, the deternmined the cloth was part of the costume of the missing actress, Verity Harrow. They even soon suspected ritual murder... Then they connected with security to check camera footage, which only exists for the parking lot and the entry. This would take several hours to go through, though. They decided to actually burn the set, in order to protect their Church. Calling up the company that built it, they managed to get that going, although they did not know that (through a botched luck roll) the company would take quite a while for that, for lack of sufficient staff (it's a bit set piece!).
Woodward's apartment was the next scene: Eventually, they got on the road, all together, to go and see Woodward at his apartment. (I used actual google maps material here for the feel and the distances). An earlier thought of searching for the missing actress was abandoned, for the time being. At the director's apartment, they quickly got afraid of the cold darkness behind the door of the editing suite. After a while, though, the desperate co-producer Daria stepped in, followed by PR-man and co-producer Blake Tevis. As soon as the frightened Woodward had come to them, and they saw the horror of Yvette Sommers drifting towards them, Daria had the idea that this might all be a dream, and that of course: prayer would help! So the 3 of them locked hands in a circle and began to chant desperately. A great scene! Of course, it worked, and the illusion was over before Yvette could touch them. They somehow knew insantly that this must be the mysterious figure of Yvette Sommers mentioned in the movie script.
Here, I had some doubts on how to play the rescued director, so as not to give away too many clues on what had happened. I decided to play Woodward very incoherent. His sanity was severly damaged, and he was still drunk and drugged. Babbling, he said and shouted things like "the horror, the horror..." or "Craig Steele, he wanted it...", especially when pressed on the whereabouts of Verity Harrow. He then rushed back into the editing suite, obsessed with the idea of finishing his work, apparently frightened of what might happen if he doesn't. Somehow, he passed out and the investigators started checking out the suite. They found the copper bowl with blood stains and strange signs, the fine paintbrush and of course took a look at the film - and were shocked when they saw Yvette coming towards them. They also found the stills showing lots of blood, confirming their suspicions about a ritual murder. Meanwhile, Whatsapp-massages were coming in from Steele, and Musgrove called with an icy voice, requiring details.
Lastly, just before leaving, Woodwards PA Julia remembered taking his laptop with the script and all. Only that, alas!, nobody thought of hacking into it during the stressed-out drive back to Church Central. After all, the characters had taken the fatal decision to go and tell it all to the head of their organization - Brian Musgrove...
Brian Musgrove greeted the investigators sitting at his enormous, empty desk. (I put some mirrored aviator sunglasses on). He was very interested in their theories on how Craigs Steele had been using the Church for his nefarious purposes, and how Woodward might be involved. Turning down the characters' idea of stopping Woodward from finishing "The Space between", he happily looked at all the evidence, including the still unused laptop, and then... held on to it! After all, he's the Boss. This left the investigators as humble and diligent Church sheep, who even got lauded for keeping the cops out and being wise enough to have the blood-stained basalt cliffs burned!
Having gone through so much mental stress and emotional upheaval, Musgrove now recommended free emptying sessions for all of them at the nearby Celebrity Retreat. At first, the crew refused, but Musgrove was adamant about it: They should first go and empty themselves of their woes, and then report back to him to see what their next move should be....
To be continued in session 2, due Dec. 20
In a randomly generated scenario, the player characters are sent to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Laundry officer Harry Palmer, who was investigating equally mysterious disappearances at Paradise Mansions housing estate in Hackney Wick. Interviewing his line manager, they discover that there may be a connection to several wild parties held in flat 3b. They search Palmer's properly warded Shoreditch apartment and find that Mr Palmer was a bon-viveur and has ladies' underwear stuffed down the back of his sofa.
The agents arrive at "Hackney Wick, twinned with Mogadishu". Paradise Mansions does not quite live up to its name. They already knew there was a drug problem, but did not expect the level of deprivation and vandalism that confronts them. The security door is understandably unlocked and the lift serves as a makeshift toilet. They find flat 3b and the occupant Ronnie gives them a flyer for tonight's party. Sorted.
Feanella McKay spends the rest of the day resting before the all-nighter, but new agent Freddy Drake decides to stake out the housing estate. He is approached by a gang of homophobic youths who take exception to the rainbow trainers he is wearing. Time for a sharp exit; time for a sharp half in the nearest pub.
That evening, both agents go to the party. They are among the first guests. In addition to Ronnie there are a French couple called Martin and Liliane.
"Where about in France are you from?"
"Never heard of it."
"Is there anyone good-looking like Maggie Smith?"
"Now that's a phrase I never expected to hear!"
Little do the agents know, but Martin and Liliane are Masters of the Société Saint Crapaud (see Cultists Under the Bed page 117). Ronnie is a Body. The player characters are Lambs. As the party heats up, the action seems to focus on the bedroom. A surreptitious visit to the toilet and a level 1 Scrying on a Necronomiphone reveals no thaumic energy, as the cult is magic-poor. Feanella is taken to the bedroom and shown a big black dildo; she agrees to take one for the team. Freddy is unwilling to participate and looks like he is about to become a Lamb to the slaughter after he is injected from behind my a hypodermic syringe.
Only an emergency call to the Metropolitan Police saves the day and our brave investigators. Another emergency call to the Baggers proves to be a waste of departmental resources, as there is nothing really nasty for them to bag. N.B. According to the agents' field reports, it was actually Feanella who "saved Freddy's ass".
Most of the cultists are rounded up, but Martin and Liliane escape the country. Ronnie is interrogated under a level 3 Truth Geas after spending a week recovering from an initial rough encounter with trigger-happy Feanella ("Why did you shoot off his foot, Agent McKay?") and spills what he knows about the cult, which isn't all that much. He doesn't know where Averoigne is, but the big cheese appears to be an aloof Italian by the name of Reggio Salvati. Ronnie and Reggi in the same firm?!
The agents research Averoigne and uncover a medieval map, but it doesn't tell them the modern location. However, the Abbaye Saint Crapaud may be the same abbey near Tours that revolutionaries made a point of destroying in 1789; it certainly does not look welcoming...
They fill in the requisite forms and get the Eurostar to Paris (retaining their ticket stubs for Accounts). A Laundry asset in Paris provides them with a concealed bulletproof vest and Beretta each, but no banishment rounds. They get the train to Tours, where they hire an off-road vehicle. Feanella is pessimistic about the chances of finding Harry Palmer alive, so has Residual Human Resources on speed-dial. Being dead is no excuse for shirking one's duties as a Laundry operative; in fact Mr Palmer may make a more efficient employee after his death, as he will no longer be throwing any sickies.
They drive north west from Tours and, after much searching, Feanella finds the ruined abbey. Both agents approach, but only Feanella hears the chanting of "Ia! Tsathoggua!" Nearing the ruins, Feanella spots a group of cloaked figures surrounding the bound form of Harry Palmer, who is not only alive but pi**ed off. Feanella opens her laptop and casts a level 3 Banishment, but the cultists carry on chanting. Feanella shoots half of them, getting at least one Impale. Freddy takes careful aim with his Beretta and - his gun jams! It is up to Feanella to finish them off. Two of the deceased cultists are identified as Martin and Liliane; Reggio Salvati is not among the dead. Harry is given some clothing and whisked back to London for a stern meeting with his line manager.
Criminal activities: YES
Unusual behaviour: DEFINITELY
Both agents are sent on training courses; Freddy chooses COWE1 and Esoteric History 1. Amazingly, neither his Occult or his pitifully low Handgun Attack go up.
Feanella chooses Occulinux Installation & Use. Her Computer Maintenance goes up, but not her Computer Use (Magic). "I rolled for them the wrong way round, didn't I?" "Yes, you did."
Sunday, December 2, 2018
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign original scenario “The Vengeance of Jack Parker” Saturday from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. with Ashton LeBlanc, Kyle Matheson, John Leppard, Yorie Latimer, and Ben Abbot.)
Eva Weisswald woke up in a barn loft, not far from Ophelia. The last thing she remembered was being in Jacali’s village in 1855 and then falling through nothingness, briefly seeing the strange city of stone before she awoke. She could smell smoke and realized she smelled it in the air and on herself.
They found themselves in the loft of a long-abandoned barn. Their horses stood in the stalls below, along with a good amount of feed and supplies. Both animals were in excellent condition but seemed nervous. There was also a carpetbag filled with money among their things.
The house that had once stood near the barn had been burned to the ground recently and was still smoking.
They set off fairly quickly and soon came up the town of Canyon City, Oregon, and learned the date was October 5, 1875. As much time had passed in the present as they had spent in 1855. They also learned Canyon City was a day’s ride north of Gravity falls. When they asked about the house they had found themselves at, they learned it was the old, abandoned Quisenberry place, which was reputed to be haunted and avoided by everyone.
“Well, it’s burned down now,” Dr. Weisswald said.
They spent the night in Canyon City and got directions on how to get back to Gravity Falls, heading south and arriving at the town On October 6. Asking around, they learned their companions had arrived back at the town the day before and then left once again. No one was sure where they went. She also learned they had all left Gravity Falls on Oct. 1 together originally.
Dr. Weisswald decided they would wait in Gravity Falls for the others for some time while she tried to learn magical spells from Ophelia. They counted the money and found there was a thousand dollars in the bag.
* * *
It took a long time for Dr. Weisswald to figure out the madness-inducing spell she’d convinced Ophelia to teach her. She thought she had learned the spell a few times but, when she tried to cast it, nothing happened. Eventually, on October 16, she was able, but she passed out when she did so, the spell having taken too much for her to remain conscious. When she awoke some hours later, Ophelia told her the man she’d cast the spell on had become quite enamored of a nearby tree for a short time, which she found strange but, as that was not typical human behavior, she had assumed it had worked.
The spell had worked.
Ophelia was a little disappointed Dr. Weisswald had not been able to cast the spell and still remain conscious, but agreed to try to teach her another spell that she might find useful. She told the woman she had another aggressive spell she might be able to use.
It was October 22 when Dr. Weisswald tried the other spell, unsuccessfully.
A couple of days later, they headed south to head back to San Francisco to find the others.
It was not until the 27th she was able to cast the spell of shriveling on a squirrel, killing it instantly. She knew how to cast the spell and what awful things it did. The flesh of the animal blackened and withered in a blast of energy. Ophelia was quite pleased. She ate the squirrel.
They began to work on teaching the woman a spell to allow her to communicate through candlelight.
They arrived in San Francisco on November 3, 1875. They went to Professor Stalloid’s house and found he was already gone. However, they spoke to Chun Zhi Ruo, the old Chinese woman who lived with the man and she was happy to help them, showing them in the atlas where he went and noting he had left the day before. She said he had made a mess in his bedroom the night before he left. She told them he had traveled to Canyon City, Colorado and the others were planning to follow the Arkansas River to various towns. She noted that apparently they were in pursuit of a man named Jack Parker.
Dr. Weisswald made arrangements and they left San Francisco by train the next day.
* * *
En route to Canyon City, Colorado, Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia stopped at her small, one-room cabin outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming, on the way, and spent a night there. Her black Labrador retriever Hoff was glad to see her. She’d left him in care of one of the nearby neighbors. The cabin was a little dusty but in good order. It had been a while since she had been there.
There were people who wanted treatment when they learned she was in town. There was also a good deal of mail, left on a table in the house by the postman who had her route. Among the few letters of correspondence were a couple of letters from her sister-in-law, Jane Weisswald Westerfield. The letter noted Bucky Elger was still leading Albert, Jane’s son, astray. It seemed like there were more problems there and Jane asked quite specifically if Dr. Weisswald was coming home for Christmas. She also asked the woman to bring friends as she knew some well armed ones and they were welcome.
It gave her pause for thought. She didn’t like what she was thinking.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia arrived in Canyon City on Tuesday, November 9. They headed up the valley in search of the others.
* * *
Some 40 miles up the valley, Marshal Clayton Pierce and Lydia Fitzsimmons arrived in South Arkansas on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 9. South Arkansas was tiny and only really consisted of a hot springs, school house, trading post, and the Joseph S. Hutchinson grocery and general store. A few houses were scattered around the area but the place was very sparse.
They found a Sheriff’s deputy in the general store and informed him of the deaths that had taken place at the Inn of the Smiling Spirit. The man thanked him and said he would head out for the inn the next day.
A little asking around found a family who was willing to rent them beds in the loft of their cabin. They children came down to sleep in front of the fire and they had a sparse but warm meal before they got beds and slept the night away in comfort and safety.
* * *
On November 10, 1875, Miss Fitzsimmons bid Marshal Pierce farewell for the time being as the number of prospectors and the hint of gold in the area had dulled her curiosity for the strange things they were dealing with and increased it for the chance to dig up something worth a fortune. She said she’d see him again someday.
Marshal Pierce talked to people in town and learned Alexander Timmons was the man who received the money he’d heard about. He found Timmons and learned he was the cousin of Thomas Parsons, the man who was murdered back in 1870. The man who had given Timmons the money matched the description of Jack Parker. Timmons didn’t know anything about Jack Parker, just that the man said he had owed him some money and gave him $1,000.
Why is Jack Parker paying for his crimes? he thought.
Marshal Pierce thought he could make Centerville by that night if he pressed on and decided to do so.
* * *
Marshal Pierce reached Centerville late on November 10, 1875. The place was not so much a town as a gathering place for the local farmers and some prospectors. A general store stood on a hilltop, across from a cemetery. The post office was housed in the general store. A half mile down the road to South Arkansas was a blacksmith, and a quarter mile up the road towards Helena was a small, one-room school house. That was the extent of the “town.”
He talked to Buford Ames, who owned the grocery store and ran the post office. The man told him he found the package with $2,000 in it on the counter one morning in early November. It was addressed to the grocery store and was filled with paper money and coins. There was no sign of forced entry or any way anyone could have gotten by Shep, Ame’s dog, a big, loud retriever. Ames noted Shep always alerted him when someone came around and slept in the grocery store at night. Ames lived upstairs and he would have heard it. He didn’t hear anything though. Shep didn’t make any noise at all. He didn’t know how the money got there or who could have left it.
“It’s like a ghost came in,” he said.
He was willing to put the marshal up for the night if he wanted.
* * *
Jacali, Lambert Otto, and Professor Stalloid set off from the Inn of the Smiling Spirit on the morning of November 11. Otto asked both Professor Stalloid and Jacali to help him with his burned hand but neither was able to render any assistance. The deputy was also unable to help.
“We can get that looked at in the town,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Yes … a day’s journey away …” Otto said.
They stopped long enough for Professor Stalloid to look for something to sooth his pain but found nothing after an hour. They used some of their rope to tie Otto to the saddle so he wouldn’t fall off before they continued on.
They reached South Arkansas in the late afternoon, noting two familiar horses tied up in front of the grocery store. Shy Ann was the dapple gray mare that belonged to Dr. Weisswald and Satan was the bay stallion with the white snip on the muzzle and the diamond on the forehead that belonged to Ophelia. Otto tried to quickly climb off his own horse, having forgotten they tied him down so he wouldn’t fall.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia had arrived in South Arkansas in the afternoon. They had learned Marshal Pierce had left the town the day before. They went to the general store to resupply.
“He was here yesterday,” the man behind the counter told them. “He left yesterday afternoon. Him and his wife split up. I don’t think they’re gonna make it. But there’s not been any stuffy-puffy man or an injun or a man with a scar on his face.”
Professor Stalloid burst in through the front doors.
“Is there a doctor in here!?!” he called out with a grin.
“Hello, Stalloid,” Dr. Weisswald said.
Jacali was close behind him. She waved at Dr. Weisswald.
“We need you,” Professor Stalloid said.
He led Dr. Weisswald outside where she saw the terribly injured Otto on horseback.
“You’ll be amazed at our work,” Jacali said. “We kept him going.”
They untied Otto from his horse and helped him down. Dr. Weisswald noticed he was wearing a Federal Marshal Deputy badge on his coat. She also noticed an old muzzle-loading musket strapped to his horse.
She saw to his injured head and hand and told him he needed to get a good night’s rest in addition to the work she had done on him. Otto explained what happened while she worked. Professor Stalloid returned to the general store.
“So, we were … in hindsight, I’m not sure why we did this …” Otto said.
“To watch Pete Sutter,” Jacali said.
“Yeah ... but … so … we were … we found some of the snake people’s ruins … we were tracking down a bunch of … desperados … cowboys … they were trying to raid the ruins and when we were fighting them, one of the corpses got back up and … the reason why my hands burned is that Stalloid, in his infinite brilliance, decided to use the lightning gun when all of us were around the corpse …”
“Except for me.”
“… and it went into my sword and burned my hand. And then the corpse proceeded to beat me relentlessly until I was woken by Pete Sutter beating me relentlessly. And that’s how I am here.”
“It was a fun day.”
Dr. Weisswald looked at Jacali and saw a fresh bloodstain on her left shoulder and a bullet hole in her doeskin jacket. She looked fine as far as she could tell, however.
“There is more to explore down there if Ophelia’s interested, but …” Jacali said. “But … there are some places that I don’t think I can go anymore.”
Dr. Weisswald looked at her.
“I’m just saying, if you saw Pete Sutter tied up to a tree, you would investigate immediately,” Jacali said.
* * *
While the others tended to Otto on the wide porch, Professor Stalloid found Ophelia still picking out items in the general store. He told Ophelia he was trying to learn how to cast a spell to contact Yig and asked if she might be interested in helping him. He was surprised when he learned she knew that spell already. She was no sure about teaching him.
“Perhaps,” she said. “I am busy teaching Eva Weisswald … certain spells to help destroy you primates.”
She had seemed interested in the idea, however. Then she noticed the strange snakeskin robes he wore.
“What is that?” she said suspiciously. “Where did you get it?”
He told her about the Spiral Crypts they had found, noting he had intended to put it back, but they had rushed out of the crypts in the end and he had simply forgotten. She questioned him extensively about the crypts, practically interrogating the man, who was more than happy to answer all of her questions very clearly and giving her a lot of details. He didn’t really even understand it was an interrogation and happily answered all of her questions. He told her the snakeskin robe had been found there. He gave her elaborate detail on the mosaics and carvings on the walls of the crypt and the portals and the statue. He learned the statue was of Yig.
She obviously wanted to get back to the crypts.
He asked if she knew anything about slimes but she didn’t. The strange geodes were unfamiliar to her though piqued her interest.
She noted from his description, the crypt didn’t sound old enough to be from her time, some 225 million years before. The mosaics on the walls were also obviously not from her time period, which was long before mammals had even evolved, let alone evolving into man.
* * *
They decided to stay the night in South Arkansas, finding a bed with one of the locals for Otto while the rest of them camped out near the town. It was cold but the weather was fairly clear and so it wasn’t terribly bad.
They talked for some time around the fire, Jacali telling Ophelia of the vision she had when she touched the statue of Yig. She told the serpent person of men and primal men suffering and dying under the serpent people. She noted they were not her people, or at least not from her time period millions of years ago, as there were no men in that era.
She seemed intrigued, in her own dry and emotionless way.
“So, my people enslaved men?” she said. “Very good.”
The description that both Professor Stalloid and Jacali gave her of the strange thrumming energy that seemed to be in the place gave her pause for thought. She told them the spiral of the crypts and the position of the corpses allowed energy to be drawn from the remains, or from those interred there alive, using their souls, their life force, to be used to power gates and the like for great periods of time, obviously.
They described the strange dark cave they had entered through the only functional gate but she was not familiar with that at all. She reminded them many of the serpent person cities had fled underground with the increasing size and power of the beasts that had evolved on the Earth. Hers had not taken that path, but rather had planned to come to the present to conquer it for their people. They had been destroyed before they could fulfill that plan.
Professor Stalloid asked Ophelia if she knew anything of Bast but she didn’t. She noted that even if the god were on Earth at that time, there was no guarantee it would be called what men called it. Professor Stalloid got very quiet at that.
“Okay,” he said.
* * *
Marshal Pierce had continued his investigation in Centerville through November 11 both to try to learn about the stagecoach between Centerville and Helena, and to accommodate his horse, Arion, who had thrown a shoe and had to get it replaced.
On November 12, he continued onto Helena, reaching it around nightfall. The small, unincorporated settlement probably had a population of about 500 and housed a post office, hotel and saloon, and a few other services, including a general store. Most of the populace were prospectors and the town was mostly made of tents, sometimes with wooden structures but most often with canvas or cloth walls. The post office was the only permanent structure and made of stone. It looked like it could hold off an army. A covered bridge crossed the creek north of town.
He headed for the saloon in hopes of continuing his investigation the next day. He was getting close to home and starting to recognize things. He didn’t want to.
“Clayton Pierce!” a voice called to him shortly after he had sat down with a bottle of whiskey at a table in the back of the saloon.
He looked up to recognize a prospector who used to live in Granite. His name was Milo Garrett and he had known Marshal Pierce when he had lived there. He was an average-looking man with a bushy beard who wore rough clothing.
“Why, I haven’t seen you in … like unto five years,” Garrett said.
“Sounds about right,” Marshal Pierce said.
Garrett sat down and called to the bartender to bring them each a whiskey. The man downed it as soon as it arrived.
“Luck ain’t been with me, I tell ya,” he said.
He started talking and didn’t stop for a long time, telling Marshal Pierce he had lost five or six claims to claim jumpers or others with more legal recourse than he. He had fallen in with a man named Gulliver Thompson and his partner for a while, but the man was a two-timer.
“I saw your wife a couple weeks ago,” he said.
“Did you now?” Marshal Pierce said.
“How is she doing? I only saw her in the general store up in Granite.”
“Wh … uh … wh … uh … what?”
“Been separated for five years.”
“Well, it’s been good seeing you.”
“It’s been good seeing you too.”
Garrett had gone red in the face and got up uncomfortably, wandering away.
“Yeah,” Marshal Pierce said. “Oh yeah.”
* * *
It was cold and clear the morning of November 12 in Centerville. Jacali had woken up first and wandered around the camp, walking alone in the trees, thinking and thinking and thinking. The others soon awoke and cooked up a quick breakfast and coffee before breaking camp and heading on towards Centerville.
The night before, Dr. Weisswald told Professor Stalloid that Ophelia was teaching her spells. He talked to Ophelia about the possibility of teaching him how to cast a spell to contact Yig. She was willing to teach the man if he so desired. She didn’t seem pleased with the idea of it though.
Sometime before the two groups had met up, Ophelia had taught Dr. Weisswald the Candle Communication spell though the magic required two people to contact each other at the same time, which might be problematic.
They headed on to Centerville and learned Marshal Pierce had been there just that morning but left on the way to Helena. They decided to push on to try to reach Helena a little after nightfall. They left their horses with Ophelia to stable at the livery and eventually found Marshal Pierce in the saloon.
“Hey, Marshal Pierce,” Dr. Weisswald called to him as they approached his table. “I brought what’s left of your deputy.”
Otto looked at her.
“Thanks,” he said.
Marshal looked up to see the others in the party. Otto had his head wrapped in bandages and he could see the bruises peeking out from underneath. He picked up the shot glass and downed another gulp of whiskey. He stood up and walked to them.
“Seems like you had the right idea to avoid Pete Sutter this time,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Like we all should,” Marshal Pierce said.
“Yeah,” Jacali said. “Look what it did to him.”
“I mean … only him,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I still think we should have left him tied to that tree,” Jacali said. “We could have watched that for a day. I could have watched it for two days, honestly.”
“But they were grave robbers,” Otto said. “So …”
“Well …” Jacali said. “That would have bothered me. But it would have been made up for watching Pete Sutter struggle tied to a tree.”
Marshal Pierce looked Professor Stalloid up and down. Instead of his usual suit, he was wearing robes made of snakeskin, apparently. They had wide sleeves and there was a heavy hood. He decided to ignore him as it was probably the safest way to go.
“Can you pull a rabbit outta yer hat?” one of the men seated at a nearby table said.
“Why, yes, I can!” Professor Stalloid said.
He took his hat off and put his hand in. He drew forth his hand, only the middle finger extended. Then he put the hat back on.
“That ain’t a rabbit, stupid,” the man said. “This is a rabbit.”
He held up two fingers.
“You’re a terrible magician,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” Professor Stalloid said.
The man ignored him, getting up and walking away. Marshal Pierce cleared his throat.
“What happened to you, Otto?” he said.
“Well, I got electrocuted by Stalloid first,” Otto said. “And then beaten up by a corpse.”
“And then beaten up …” Jacali said.
“By Pete Sutter,” Otto said.
Marshal Pierce’s eyebrows rose up.
“Pete Sutter ran away with $200 worth of gold,” Professor Stalloid said.
“That’s why you leave him tied to a tree,” Marshal Pierce said.
Jacali looked at Stalloid and pointed at Marshal Pierce.
“Did you say Pete Sutter?” a man said.
“Uh … who’s asking?” Jacali said.
The man looked confused and then looked around himself.
“Why, I am!” he said.
“And who are you?” Jacali said. “That’s why I asked.”
“I’m Clem,” the man said. “I think he was cheatin’ at cards the other night.”
“He was through here?” Jacali said.
“He is a known thief,” Professor Stalloid said.
The man looked confused again for a few moments.
“Yes, he was through here!” he said. “Why would I be asking you these questions? Are you a friend of his?”
“No,” Professor Stalloid said. “I have many times heard Pete Sutter say, ‘I am Pete Sutter. Jacali, I hate that lady.’”
“And Jack West,” Otto said.
“Then you’re his friend?” the man said.
“Nope!” Professor Stalloid said. “He’s never said he hates me but I do not believe we are friends.”
“Where is he?” the man said.
“Somewhere,” Otto said.
“Where is he?” the man said again.
“The last place you saw him plus a day,” Professor Stalloid said.
The man glared at him.
“That’s Stalloid-ese for ‘We don’t know,’” Jacali said.
The man put his hand on his pistol.
“Careful,” Professor Stalloid said. “There’s a marshal.”
“Two marshals,” Otto said.
“We’re in the presence of the law,” Professor Stalloid said.
“One and a half marshals,” Dr. Weisswald quipped.
“One two,” Professor Stalloid said over and over, pointing to Pierce and Otto.
“I’m watching you, you snaky fellow,” the man finally said.
“I’m easy to watch,” Professor Stalloid said.
The man glared at him and wandered to the bar. Maybe he was working up his courage. Otto kept an eye on him.
“So, you were electrocuted by Stalloid, you said?” Marshal Pierce said.
“I missed,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Clearly,” Marshal Pierce said.
“And he hit my sword instead,” Otto said.
“He was holding a metal object,” Professor Stalloid said. “I’m sorry.”
“You could’ve hit Jacali!”
“She’s not holding any metal.”
“But she was in the target area.”
“I did still get shot with a gun,” Jacali said.
“Why were you shooting a lightning gun where there was …?” Marshal Pierce said.
“There was a dead man that was coming at me!” Professor Stalloid said.
“Mmm. But he’s dead.”
“Oh. It was the dead man that did that to him.”
Professor Stalloid pointed at Otto’s bruised face.
“I think you did that to him,” Marshal Pierce said. “And I think Pete Sutter did that to him.”
“If I had the strength to that, sir …” Professor Stalloid said.
“I will defend Stalloid’s character …” Otto said.
“… I am very …”
“… at least on the account of not beating me up.”
“I wish I could beat him up. Oh, I’d be so strong.”
“So, the story is …” Marshal Pierce said.
Otto just stared at Professor Stalloid.
“Oh, and this all happened in an ancient snake temple,” Jacali said.
“Of course it did,” Marshal Pierce said.
Ophelia entered the saloon and looked around. She walked over to the others.
“Against your best judgment, you untied Pete Sutter …?” Marshal Pierce said.
“Uh-huh,” Professor Stalloid said.
“… electrocuted my newly appointed deputy …?”
“You skipped a step.”
“Tracked down grave robbers. Tracked down grave robbers.”
“Real vigilante justice on this one,” Jacali said.
“With Pete Sutter?” Marshal Pierce said.
“Yes,” Professor Stalloid said. “And I gave him a gun.”
“Justice and a show!” Jacali said.
“Was it Pete Sutter’s idea to track down the grave robbers?” Marshal Pierce said.
“No, wait, I didn’t give him a gun,” Professor Stalloid said. “Otto gave him a gun.”
Marshal Pierce looked at Otto.
“I did not give him a gun willingly,” Otto said.
“No one should give Pete Sutter a gun,” Marshal Pierce said.
“He’s good with it though,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Yes, that’s why we don’t give him a gun.”
“Oh. Are we taking Jack West’s guns?”
“I don’t know who Jack West is.”
“Er … wait … yeah you do.”
“I don’t know who Jack West is really though.”
“Oh! Oh, okay. Getting philosophical.”
“Considering that he’s not with us right now.”
“What happened to that gold?”
“We’ll get to that later.”
“Pierce, I notice that you’ve had a shift in tones since we last spoke,” Jacali said. “Is something … happening with you that we should know about? Are there any developments on the case?”
“Uh … yeah,” Marshal Pierce said. “It’s definitely Jack Parker. And … uh … I’m getting close to home. And I don’t like home.”
“I understand you on that, although you’ve seen me at my home,” Jacali said.
“I understand that sentiment as well,” Otto said.
“Yeah,” Marshal Pierce said. “We saw that.”
“Is standing in the middle of a saloon, talking, appropriate behavior?” Ophelia said.
They looked around and realized they had met between the door and Marshal Pierce’s table and had been standing there talking for several minutes.
“Let’s go back to my table,” Marshal Pierce said.
They did so, seating themselves around it. Jacali called for a round of drinks and Professor Stalloid called for food. Otto thanked Jacali as he downed the whiskey. They noticed many people paying with gold dust and saw a scale on the long, wooden bar they used to weigh the gold they took as payment.
“Something’s been worrying me about tracking Jack Parker,” Marshal Pierce said.
“I know Jack Parker’s important to you, but I don’t think I ever knew why,” Jacali said.
“He killed my son,” Marshal Pierce said. “He ruined my marriage and set me on the path to becoming a marshal. Which I thank him for the latter, but not for the former parts. But anyways, Jack Parker seems to be repaying his debts for the crimes that he’s committed. Most of them have been stealing money, stealing horses, property, stuff like that. He’s been repaying either the people who have survived his victims, or the victims themselves. Once we get to Granite, that’s where he committed my crime and I don’t know how he’s going to repay me … for taking my son.”
He looked them over.
“They say he’s kind of like a ghost,” he went on. “He’s been entering these places without breaking in. One owner said he had a dog and the dog barks as anyone who comes near the property, but there was just money inside the house. No sign of entry or anything like that, so … I don’t think this is ‘pull out his gun and rob you’ Jack Parker, I think this is something strange, strange kind of like what we’ve been seeing with all the stuff you drag me into.
“But yeah, I think I’m going to find him in Granite if I … stay on this path. That’s hopefully where … we’ll see what he’s up to. I just … am getting a little anxious … about this reunion.”
“I can understand,” Jacali said.
“And I can’t stop drinking whiskey the closer I get to Granite, so …” Marshal Pierce said. “If you all would keep an eye on me and … limit me a little bit … that would be good.”
“I’ve known losing people in my life and I’ve also lost a partner so … I understand. If you need to talk to somebody about it, I understand I might not be your first choice, but I’m here.”
“Just very curious if he’s really repaying for his crimes. Does that mean he’s going to try to bring my son back? And would I even want that? Would it even be my son? This is why I’ve been drinking, you see. Because with what I’ve seen with the rest of you, sounds like bringing someone back is something that can be done.”
He looked at Professor Stalloid, as did Jacali. Professor Stalloid just wrote furiously in his notebook.
Professor Stalloid went to the bar and tried to purchase gold dust for cash. The bartender told him to get away from the bar. The money he flashed got him some attention, especially from Clem, who was sitting at the bar. He walked back to the table.
“Lydia has my horse,” he said. “Where-where’s Cory?”
“Gold,” Marshal Pierce said.
“Cory is not gold!” Professor Stalloid said. “He’s a horse!”
“I think it’s time to turn in,” Marshal Pierce said, standing. “We leave at dawn for Riverside.”
* * *
They got an early start on November 13, 1875, leaving Helena and arriving in Riverside after only a couple of hours. The town was a little larger than Helena, a village built a little more solidly as well. There was an assayer’s office among the other atypical buildings like saloons and hotels.
It only took Marshal Pierce about an hour to track down the information he needed. He learned that just the day before, a mysterious man left $1,000 each to several women and children. Rumor had it they were the wives of the men killed in 1870 by Jack Parker.
So, he’s already been here, he thought.
He also learned Elmer Green, the son of Clancy Green, one of the men killed in 1870, still lived in Riverside and was available. When he talked to Elmer Green, he learned he’d seen the man who left the money and the description matched that of Jack Parker.
“Did anything seem off about him?” Marshal Pierce said.
“Nope,” Elmer Green said. “Said ‘This is for yer pa.’ I said ‘My pa was a low-down skunk. He was a cheat and a card sharp. And thank you, sir.’ I didn’t want to seem unappreciative because he was giving me a thousand dollars.”
“It’d been nice of him to give it to me five years ago when my father died, but …”
“Better late than never, huh?”
“You hold onto that money tight.”
“I’m getting out of this place. Ain’t no gold left.”
“Okay. Well, if you see a man with a scar, watch out.”
“A man with a scar?”
“You’ll know when you see him.”
* * *
While they waited, Professor Stalloid and Otto both found card games to join. Gambling was very popular in Riverside. Whereas Professor Stalloid made about $13, Otto lost about five.
Jacali assisted Weisswald with her attempts to find and heal sick people. Ophelia didn’t have a very good bedside manner so she was happy for the help. They found a small family of natives who were sick on the edge of town. They were Ute and didn’t speak the same language of either Jacali or Dr. Weisswald, so they used pidgin and sign language to make themselves understood with only a little difficulty. She got them all some medicine to help them and bought them some blankets and other supplies to help them out.
The Ute did managed to make themselves understood enough to ask if they had heard about the problems in the country. There was apparently a report on November 9 about the Sioux and the Cheyenne associated with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse having been hostile to white men. The Ute were afraid the white men were going to do something about it.
The youngest of them was about five years old but spoke broken English.
“That’s what they say in Washington D.C.,” she said to them.
They all met back up until lunchtime. Marshal Pierce wanted to push on that day and Granite was about 20 miles but he thought they could get there by nightfall.
“He was here,” he told them. “He’s not far. Let’s go.”
“Yes, marshal,” Otto said.
They headed on.
* * *
It was before nightfall when they arrived in Granite, having pushed their horses pretty hard to make it before dark. Granite was a large town of probably about 3,000 on either side of the Arkansas River along a three mile stretch; it also extended two miles up Cache Creek. It was a bustling town and the county seat for Lake County and had been since 1868. Compared to the other towns they’d passed through, the place was huge. People were coming and going and there were several saloons, hotels, livery stables, and the like.
Cache Creek, a mining camp near present-day Granite, had been the first settlement of note in the area. Marshal Pierce had moved to the area to farm north of Granite not long after that. Free quartz gold had been discovered in the area in 1867 and a mill built in Granite. The town had prospered ever since.
Arion was limping by the time they got there, Marshal Pierce having pushed him too hard. He had talked to his horse during the ride and the horse had seemingly responded as if he understood! In any case, they arrived in Granite before dark.
“I’m interested in finding a lawyer while we’re in town,” Otto said to Pierce as they rode down the street.
“What do you need a lawyer for?” Marshal Pierce said.
“I don’t know,” Otto said. “I’ve just been thinking about things.”
“I don’t personally know one I could recommend you, but I’m sure as bustling as this town is, I’m sure there is one,” Marshal Pierce said.
“What kind of law needs do you need?” Professor Stalloid said. “Law needs do you need.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t be teaching Jacali English,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Don’t worry, he’s just teaching me reading and writing,” Jacali said.
“Take that snake coat off,” Marshal Pierce said to Professor Stalloid. “As to not attract too much attention to us. I’m pretty sure people will see that.”
Professor Stalloid removed the robe, rolled it up and put it into his saddlebag, leaving it bulging.
“Let’s conceal our badges,” Marshal Pierce said to Otto. “Until we need them.”
They both took off their badges and pinned them to their vests, covering them with their coats.
They arrived at the bank on the main street on the left, the sun setting over the mountains to the west. The front doors opened and a man with a marshal’s badge escorted a manacled man in a nice suit out of the front of the bank. The marshal took a key out of the man’s jacket and locked the front door. Then he led the man up the street towards the marshal’s office. People watched, interested.
“Never mind, we might need the badges now,” Marshal Pierce said to Otto. “Put it back on.”
They both put their badges more conspicuously on their coats.
Marshal Pierce and Otto tied their horses up out front of the marshal’s office, followed by Professor Stalloid.
“I don’t know if the marshal will reveal what I’m going to ask him if five of us are in the place,” Marshal Pierce said. “Could you possibly post up at the bank that he just pulled the man from and …”
He looked down the street. Not far down, on the opposite side, was the Granite Saloon, where his son had been shot.
“… that saloon over there,” he said, pointing without even looking at the building. “Possibly post someone looking for Jack Parker.”
He gave them a quick description of the large man.
“Me and Otto will go in and question the marshal,” Marshal Pierce said.
“Are we staying in this town?” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Might have to,” Marshal Pierce said.
“All right, well, I’ll put up the horses,” Dr. Weisswald said. “Take them to a stable.”
“Sounds good,” Marshal Pierce said.
Jacali walked back down to the bank, where she could see both the saloon and the marshal’s office. Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia went to the livery with the horses.
“Stalloid, I guess that means you should go question at the bank,” Marshal Pierce said.
“Bank’s locked,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Well, yeah, but talk to the people.”
“I want to talk to the banker.”
“Uh … I think you should let me and my deputy handle the questioning.”
“Oh, I will.”
“Y-you’re not going to stay anything weird, like you do?”
“No no no no. I never say anything weird.”
“Y-yeah you do. Stalloid, this is a big town and, if anybody knows why the banker was getting hauled to the marshal’s office, just in case he’s not going to give me the reasoning, you might be able to ask people before they turn in. We’re going to lose them in the crowd.”
“Fine. I’ll go ask at the bank.”
Professor Stalloid pouted and walked away.
“Never been in trouble with the law,” he muttered. “Never.”
* * *
“Where’s your cigars?” someone said to Jacali as they walked by the bank.
“Where’s your money?” Professor Stalloid said to the man.
“What?” the man said.
* * *
The marshal’s office was a single, large room with a couple desks in the front, a gun rack, and a pot-bellied stove with a warm fire burning within and a coffee pot atop. Four cells that consisted of nothing but bars filled the back half of the structure. A derelict slept on one of the cots in one of the cells towards the front of the room while the man from the bank sat on the cot in the one in the back, his head in his hands. A marshal and a deputy were in the office, the deputy lighting one of the lanterns on the wall. The marshal sat at the desk, writing something. He looked up as the three men entered.
“Marshal,” the marshal said.
“Marshal,” Marshal Pierce said.
“How can I help you?”
“Well, I just got into town and am looking for a man and I think this man you just pulled out of the bank might be associated with the man I’m looking for.”
“Well, it’s doubtful. That’s Festus. Festus Dalrymple.”
“He owns the bank.”
“What’d he do?”
“Well … bank got robbed about five years ago.”
“Well, he’s confessed it was only robbed of ten. The other ten went in his pocket.”
“He was in on it. There’s already rumors spreading. I do not want to see a lynching. That’s why he’s locked up. He’ll remain locked up until … until he’s tried.”
“When did he confess?” Otto said.
“I don’t know,” the marshal said. “He called me over in there and told me the whole thing.”
“Why would he confess now?” Marshal Pierce said.
“I have no idea,” the marshal said.
“That’s what I’m writing down right now. Just writing out my report, right here.”
“Who’s going to run the bank? You can’t run this town without the bank.”
“Well, we’ll have to figure that out. Probably one of the clerks will do it and maybe it’ll become the property of the town. It’s up to the town council at this point, as well as the judge to determine what’s going to happen to the bank.”
“Well, as marshal to marshal, would you mind letting me into his cell so I could ask him a few questions of my own?”
The marshal looked at Pierce’s badge a moment.
“All right,” he said.
He got the keys off the hook on the wall well out of reach of any of the cells. He led Marshal Pierce back to the cell and unlocked it. Marshal Pierce walked in and the Granite marshal stood in the cell door. Dalrymple didn’t even look up.
Otto had stayed near the front, keeping an eye out one of the shuttered windows.
“Festus, you mind taking your head out of your hands and talking to me like a man?” Marshal Pierce said.
The man looked up at the marshal towering over him. His eyes looked wild and red, like he’d been crying.
“So, you almost got away with it, it seems,” Marshal Pierce said.
“Nope,” Dalrymple said. “I did get away with it.”
“Why’d you confess?”
“I couldn’t - I couldn’t live with myself anymore. I couldn’t live with myself anymore.”
“Any reason why you decided to confess five years later.”
“Because of that man. He was talking to me. He said─”
“I don’t know. He’s a big man. He’s a real big man. He said he needed to talk to the bank president about a big loan. And he said … and he came in … and he said ‘I’m not here to talk to you about a loan, I’m just here to talk to you.’ And then I suddenly … started feeling guilty. And I started feeling terrible … about all the people who got ruined. And the people whose lives are in a shambles. I never felt that way before. I never felt it at all. Because … ten-thousand dollars. Ten thousand dollars. And … and I just … and I … I couldn’t do it anymore! I realized I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t … do it anymore. I just … I … I just had to say. I just had to tell. I had to tell. So, they’ll probably string me up.”
He looked towards the town marshal, standing in the door of the cell, listening.
“Or I’m going to prison,” Dalrymple said. “Because I said they stole twenty-thousand dollars, five years ago, but they didn’t. They only stole ten. And I took the other ten. Because it was … it was so easy.”
“What’d you do with that ten?” Marshal Pierce said.
“It’s at my house. There’s a suitcase under my bed. Full of money.”
“Is it the full ten-thousand or have you spent some of it?”
“I’m a banker. I didn’t need to spend it. It was for my retirement. I was going to retire in a few years. I was going to go to … Cuba. It would’ve been wonderful.”
“Where is this man that spoke to you and made you feel guilty? Where is he now?”
“I don’t know. He-he just came by and spoke to me and I ruminated on the situation for some time and then I sent one of the boys for the marshal and I told him everything.”
Dalrymple looked towards the town marshal again.
“And then … now here I am!” he said. “These bars will be my cage for the rest of my life. Whether they lynch me or not. I had to tell. I just had to tell.”
“Does the man know of the suitcase under your bed?” Marshal Pierce said.
“I don’t know how he could,” Dalrymple said.
He thought on it a moment.
“Lessen he could read minds,” he said.
He laughed once. It was a sad and lost laugh like that of a man who knew his life held nothing anymore. Marshal Pierce laughed once. Then he laughed once again. Otto laughed uncomfortably.
“I hope you come to terms with what you did, Festus, and, if nothing else, at least forgive yourself,” Marshal Pierce said.
Dalrymple put his head back in his hands. Marshal Pierce turned back to the town marshal.
“I’m done talking to him,” he said.
The town marshal nodded and closed and locked the cell door once he’d exited.
“I supposed you heard about the suitcase under his bed?” Marshal Pierce said.
“He told me about that too,” the town marshal said. “I sent a deputy over there to pick it up.”
“How long ago?”
“You mind if I─?”
The door to the marshal’s office opened and another man with a star on his jacket came in carrying a large suitcase.
“Found it sheriff,” the man said. “Uh … marshal.”
He put it on the marshal’s desk and opened it up. It was full of bills. There was a lot.
“All right, Hiram, take it over to the other desk,” the town marshal said. “Count it out.”
“Yessir,” the man said.
He lugged the suitcase to the other desk and started counting money. The other deputy left the office.
“I believe the man who spoke to him and made him feel guilty is the man I’m looking for,” Marshal Pierce said.
“Oh,” the town marshal said. “Who are you looking for?”
“I believe Jack Parker is coming back to Granite today.”
“Hiram, unlock the rifles. What?”
“Jack Parker seems to be on a path making up for his past crimes and, this being the last known crime in 1870 …”
“How did he make this man confess?”
“I don’t know. Believe me, that is a mystery unto myself as well, but I do believe that he has possibly come for the ten grand, to maybe pay for more past crimes, I don’t know. Or he is … uh …”
“Put that money in a cell, Hiram.”
The deputy, who had unlocked the rifle rack with a few Winchester rifles within, started to put the money back into the bag.
“Because I’m also thinking that, if Jack Parker took ten grand from the citizens of Granite back in 1870, and this man acquiesced ten grand for himself as well, Jack Parker could pay back the families that he did steal from with the ten grand this man has in that suitcase,” Marshal Pierce said. “So, we need to make sure that this suitcase is locked up tight in this place.”
“That’s what Hiram’s working on,” the town marshal said.
Hiram took the suitcase and grabbed the keys, opening up the cell in the back across from Dalrymple’s cell and tucking the suitcase under the cot in the corner. He locked the cell door behind him once again.
* * *
As Jacali and Professor Stalloid stood by the front of the bank, another man exited the building. He wore a vest but no coat and had a green eyeshade like a clerk would wear on his head. He carried a large sack. He locked the door of the bank behind him and looked around nervously, then headed down the street towards the marshal’s office with speed.
Professor Stalloid followed him. Jacali followed both of them.
* * *
The door to the front of the marshal’s office opened again. It was a short, skinny man in a vest without a coat. He had a green eyeshade on his head and carried a sack.
“Uh … marshal?” he said.
He put the sack down on the desk.
“Just before … uh … just before you took Mr.-Mr.-Mr. Dalrymple away, a gentleman left this,” he said. “He said it was for what happened five years ago.”
The town marshal opened up the bag and they saw it was filled to brimming with bank notes.
Professor Stalloid opened the door of the marshal’s office and stepped in.
“Marshal, I bet that’s the ten grand and that’s Jack Parker that dropped it off,” Marshal Pierce said. “I have to go!”
He flung open the door.
“Marshal!” Otto said.
“Otto, we gotta go!” Marshal Pierce said. “He was just here.”
“What?” the town marshal said.
Otto pointed at Marshal Pierce, who ran out of the door. Otto ran after the man, fighting the terrible headache he’d had for days. Professor Stalloid ran after the two of them.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia had found stalls for their horses at the livery stables not far down the street. Ophelia warned one of the boys there that Satan hated all living things and they should do their best to avoid the angry stallion. She took off his saddle and then helped Dr. Weisswald and the stable boys remove the saddles and gear from the others’ horses as well.
Each stall had, in addition to troughs for food and water, a large, built-in box for gear with a sturdy lock upon it. Each of them was given the key to their own boxes and invited to leave whatever items they wished there.
* * *
Jacali had turned and walked back to the bank when she had seen where the clerk was going. She didn’t hear Marshal Pierce, Otto, and Professor Stalloid running towards the bank until they passed her, startling her.
“Are we going?” she said to them.
She gave chase. They all arrived at the bank and found the front door locked up. A couple of children were leaning on the stone railing of the steps going up to the bank. One of them had a dime novel with a rough drawing of Abraham Lincoln on it, holding a rifle. The title of it was “Abraham Lincoln and the Buffalo.”
“And so this is the part where … where … where … uh … where Abraham Lincoln kills a buffalo,” one of the children said. “It’s great. So, he kills a buffalo and then got back on the train. And they said ‘That was some good buffalo, wasn’t it?’”
“This ain’t a very good dime novel,” the other boy said.
“Sh,” the first said. “This cost me a dime. You are gonna listen!”
“Have you seen a giant man?” Marshal Pierce said to the boys. “He was just here! Big man!”
The boys looked at him.
“I’m reading,” the one with the dime novel said.
“Yeah, I see that,” Marshal Pierce said. “But surely you have seen a giant man come through here.”
“I did,” the other boy said.
“He was very tall. Taller than Abraham Lincoln.”
“Uh-huh. Where did he go?”
The other boy glared at the one who had spoken.
“Uh …” the first boy said. “Iunno.”
He pointed up the street towards the marshal’s office. Pierce leaned down and touched his badge.
“You could really help a marshal,” he said.
“He … he went up that way,” the boy said. “But I don’t know where he went. You said ‘Where’d he go?’ but I don’t know where he went because he went that way and I was looking this way while Cletus here was reading.”
The way the boy had pointed was also in the direction of the Granite Saloon.
“He must be going to the Granite Saloon,” Marshal Pierce said. “It’s his final stop.”
Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia walked up. Otto drew his shotgun from his back.
Marshal Pierce headed for the Granite Saloon. The others followed him, Otto telling him he’d come from the back. He cut off to an alley. Dr. Weisswald called after him to get his key so he came back and got it. Professor Stalloid continued to follow the marshal. Dr. Weisswald handed off the key to Jacali and the two of them headed for the front of the saloon while Otto continued around back.
The Granite Saloon was a large two-story building with lights on in many of the windows. The sound of a piano playing “Lubly Fan” while people sang came from inside as well as the sounds of many people enjoying themselves. Wide windows in the front gave a good view of the well-lit interior. It was a Saturday night so many of the people of town were there.
Marshal Pierce pushed the batwing doors.
The interior of the Granite Saloon was very nice. A large bar dominated the right wall and there were numerous large tables filled with people in the room. Two sets of stairs went to a balcony that ran around the back edge of the room proper, with hallways leading off to the rooms. A kitchen was in the back and private rooms were to the right, behind the wall the bar stood on. The piano was situated to the left next to a small, well-lit stage where on a trio of women did the can-can to the piano music . Lanterns hanging from the walls lit the place while a large chandelier made of a wagon wheel hung from the ceiling, several more lit lanterns hanging from it. A rope ran from the chandelier to a crank near the door to the kitchen. The smell of people, smoke, and tobacco competed with the smell of cooked meat and potatoes and whiskey.
A group of prospectors in one corner were singing a song that had nothing to do with what was playing on the piano. The bartender was busy serving and people were all having a good time.
What caught Marshal Pierce’s attention and made him stop short was back in the corner to the left, sitting at a table by himself, he saw Jack Parker. He looked directly at Marshal Pierce as the man spotted him. He waved.
Stalloid ran into Marshal Pierce from behind.
“Is he here?” Professor Stalloid said.
“That’s him,” Marshal Pierce said.
“That’s him?” Professor Stalloid said.
Parker waved Marshal Pierce over in a friendly manner.
“Back corner,” Marshal Pierce said.
“Let’s go,” Professor Stalloid said.
Marshal Pierce made his way through the crowd and around tables. He stopped and looked down at the floor where an old stain was. He knelt down and touched the floor on the spot where his son had died five years before. He looked at the bloodstain that remained despite five years of cleaning and polish.
No one paid any attention as he went down on a knee. Professor Stalloid found it odd no one even gave a glance to the man on the floor, which seemed odd. He touched the arm of a person nearby.
“Hey, how are you doing?” he said.
“It’s a great night,” the man said. “How are you?”
The man, who had been standing there watching some men play cards, gave him a pat on the shoulder and a smile. He had a beer in his hand.
Marshal Pierce stood back up and continued across the room. Professor Stalloid followed close behind.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, and Ophelia pushed open the batwing doors and entered the Granite Saloon. They saw Marshal Pierce and Professor Stalloid across the room. They had just reached a table where a very large man sat and looked up at them. They guessed it was Jack Parker.
“That looks like it’s his man,” Jacali said. “I’m not sure I want to get into that, but I definitely want to watch.”
“We could go to the bar and get some drinks,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Yeah, and keep an eye on it. I’m worried that it’s going to go bad.”
They headed for the bar. Once they sat, Jacali removed the bow from her back and held it.
“I can’t serve injuns alcohol,” the barkeep said. “It’s against the law.”
He looked at the scowling woman.
“You want a sarsaparilla?” the barkeep said.
She glared at him.
“None, thanks,” she said.
He looked at Dr. Weisswald.
“I’ll take a sarsaparilla,” she said.
He set to work and soon brought her the soda.
* * *
Otto reached the back door. He could smell food and so opened the door and looked in. The kitchen was very busy with at least a half dozen men there, cooking and preparing food.
“Wha!?!” one of them said.
“Sh!” Otto said.
“Woo!” another said.
“Sh! Sh! Sh!” Otto said.
The men had stopped working and all of them looked at him, confused. He gave them a thumbs-up and showed them his badge.
* * *
A bottle of whiskey, the paper seal still intact, stood on the table. Two glasses were also there, one by Jack Parker and the other at the other end of the table, near Marshal Pierce. Jack Parker didn’t appear to be armed.
“Marshal,” Parker said. “You made it. I’d hoped it would be you. Have a seat.”
“I’m fine standing,” Marshal Pierce said.
“Fair enough,” Parker said.
He reached across the table, tore the paper seal from the bottle and worked the cork out. He poured himself a drink and then leaned far across the table to pour a glass for Marshal Pierce. The marshal could see he wasn’t armed. He didn’t even have a sidearm.
“Who’s this?” he asked, indicating Professor Stalloid.
“No one,” Marshal Pierce said.
“Move on,” Parker said to Professor Stalloid. “I’ve got some words for the marshal.”
“He already said I’m no one,” Professor Stalloid said. “I’m not even here.”
Parker stared at him and he suddenly turned on his heels and walked away.
* * *
Professor Stalloid walked over to the bar and sat with Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, and Ophelia.
“I’ll have a sarsaparilla,” he said to the barkeep. “And a whiskey.”
“All right,” the barkeep said.
He was served the drinks and slid the whiskey to Jacali.
“I wanted a sarsaparilla,” she muttered.
She took the glass and raised it to her lips but Professor Stalloid deftly took it from her hand and replaced it with the glass filled with sarsaparilla.
* * *
Parker threw back his whiskey.
“How’d you know I wouldn’t gun you across the saloon?” Marshal Pierce said.
“How do you know you could?” Parker said.
The two men looked at each other.
“Marshal, I’m giving myself up,” Parker said.
“Why?” Marshal Pierce said.
Parker looked at him for what felt like a long time.
“When I fell from that train, the Crescent … did something to me,” he finally said. “It showed me everything I was and everything I’d done. Everything I wanted to forget. It showed me my anger and my hatred, misdirected as it had been, and wouldn’t allow me to turn a blind eye towards what I had done and to whom I’d done it to anymore.
“In the blink of an eye, it showed me the lives I’d ruined and the people I’d hurt, things I’d never thought about because I didn’t want to, but it wouldn’t let me forget ‘em. It wouldn’t let me look away or pretend that they deserved it. It showed me the truth and, for the first time in my life, I had to accept it.
“I wasn’t just a man whose family was massacred in Kansas, whose farm was burned to the ground, whose life was destroyed, smashed down like a child might smash down an anthill. I was part of the family of man, part of humanity. That was something I strove to forget for years as I tried to get myself killed but was too good at staying alive. And killing others.
“But I’ve tried to put right, at least a little, the things I’ve done. I might have a hangman’s noose waiting for me, or a long stretch in prison, but either way, justice is more important than just one man and what one man does.”
He face went soft.
“I’m sorry about your son, Marshal,” he said. “He was in the wrong place at the wrong time … and of all the things I did, all the things I caused, his death was the closest to something I regretted and do regret now. I had a son once … and a little daughter … and your son’s death almost … almost … stopped me back in 70. I’m sorry. I’m sorry it wasn’t enough. I’m sorry he died.”
The two stared at each other.
“In any case, I’m ready to be taken to justice,” Parker said.
“Hmmm,” Marshal Pierce said.
* * *
“What’s going on?” one of the cooks asked Otto.
“Is there gonna be a shootout?” another cook said.
“There’s gonna be a shootout!” another said.
“Oh! A shootout!” said another.
“I wanna see a shootout!” yet another said.
“Shut up!” Otto hissed. “Do what you usually do.”
He walked to the door that led into the taproom. He could hear the music and people behind it. He pushed the door open slightly and peeked out, trying to spot Marshal Pierce and Parker. He saw them off to the right in a corner of the room. Marshal Pierce was standing by the table and looking down at the bandit. Parker was talking.
* * *
Professor Stalloid watched the dancers.
“What happened to that lady we were with?” he asked the others.
Both Dr. Weisswald and Jacali were keeping an eye on the table where Pierce was. Parker was talking intently and Marshal Pierce was not saying a word, apparently. Dr. Weisswald wondered if the man was trying to hypnotize Marshal Pierce for a moment.
Ophelia tried the sarsaparilla. She grunted and slid it to Professor Stalloid with a frown.
* * *
Marshal Pierce thought about what Parker had said. Then he picked up the shot glass. He downed the shot and put the glass back down.
“I don’t give a damn about your guilt,” he said. “Your words have done nothing but anger me, Jack Parker, and I was hoping to find you here with gun drawn and not sadness and remorse in your heart. You cannot bring my son back and, though you have given the families that you have stolen from and killed their money, you cannot replace the people that you’ve taken. Though I do not know the powers that this Crescent has, I wish that it had not given you guilt and that I had found you as the Jack Parker that I have been searching for these five years. So, you may wish to turn yourself over to me and face you ‘justice,’ but I will not have it.”
He frowned at the man.
“I need to meet you outside, man to man, in a draw,” he said. “And if you do not have a gun, I will find you a gun.”
“It’s too noisy in here,” Parker said.
He looked past Marshal Pierce. The piano stopped playing and the dancers stopped dancing. All of the people were very quiet for just a moment and then they all started to leave as if it were late in the evening and they had been at the place for some time. Some laughed. Others yawned. A few were very subdued. The bartender cleaned up the bar and looked towards Parker.
“I’ll clean up,” Parker said to him.
The bartender nodded and left.
* * *
In the kitchen, Otto turned to leave and noticed all six cooks shrug their shoulders and talk about leaving cleanup until the next day because it was very late. Otto realized he needed to find the lawyer he had been looking for. He was also very tired and wanted to get to bed.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald yawned. It was late. She got up and headed for the front door with the rest of them.
Professor Stalloid looked over his shoulder and wondered why he had left Marshal Pierce alone with Parker.
Jacali and Professor Stalloid were very disturbed by what they were seeing. Jacali looked at Ophelia but she looked around, nonplussed, at the people leaving, apparently unimpressed.
“You are a sad species,” she said. “Don’t you have minds of your own?”
“Hey, Ophelia, I think we’re going to need you at that table over there,” Professor Stalloid said.
“What table?” Ophelia said.
He pointed at Marshal Pierce and Jack Parker.
Jacali ran after Dr. Weisswald and grabbed her by the arm.
“Where are you going?” she said.
“Jacali, I’m exhausted,” Dr. Weisswald said. “I’ve been healing people for days. We’ve been traveling.”
“We’re right here with Jack Parker!” Jacali said.
“You’re not going to be able to convince her,” Professor Stalloid said.
Dr. Weisswald was still pulling towards the door.
“I didn’t want to come over to the bar,” Professor Stalloid said.
“C’mon, let’s get a hotel room,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“You can get it,” Jacali said. “Just … be safe.”
The others leaving were doing so as if it was the end of a long night. Some talked about going elsewhere to continue their drinking. Others yawned or looked at their pocket watches as if they were going to be late. Dr. Weisswald went with them. Jacali nocked an arrow and waited near the door, watching the table.
Professor Stalloid moved to the end of the bar closest to where Marshal Pierce was, leaning on the bar, watching.
* * *
“Impressive,” Marshal Pierce said.
“Not really,” Jack Parker said.
“I just want to see how you use a gun.”
“Where’s your fight!?!”
Marshal Pierce hit the table.
“A man doesn’t have to fight when he realizes he’s wrong,” Parker said calmly.
“I played this in my mind so many times in these past five years,” Marshal Pierce said. “Different places. Different times. Sometimes I won. Sometimes I lost. Sometimes we both lost. But never did I think I would find a coward sitting before me, turning himself in because he got powers that made him feel ‘guilty.’”
“Guilt is the wrong word. Truth is the right one. What I have done in my past has been wrong, Marshal. What I’m doing now is right. The Crescent opened my eyes and let me see what I’d been. It forced me to look. Much as I forced those men who turned themselves in. Or killed themselves. To see what they had become and what they had done. The men from the railroad who caused the deaths of so many people. The banker who’d stolen from his fellow man.”
“I’m sorry this isn’t the fight you’re looking for,” he said. “Perhaps you can console yourself with the fact that you have won.”
“This is not victory,” Marshal Pierce said. “This is not victory.”
“What is more important? Victory? Or justice?”
“Victory. For me.”
Parker leaned back, his chair creaking loudly under his bulk. Marshal Pierce drew his pistol.
“Then shoot me dead,” he said.
“I cannot shoot a man who is not armed,” Marshal Pierce said.
“I have no arms.”
“Then I will find you one. I will give you a gun. You must meet me in the street. That is what I deem as justice. For me.”
“I thought you were a marshal.”
“I am a marshal, but not right now.”
“I thought that you were a man of justice.”
“Not a man of petty vengeance.”
“I am a man seeking vengeance for my son. I will continue on my marshal duties.”
“Then fire away. I will not stop the bullet that will pierce my heart. I’m sorry to disappoint you.”
Marshal Pierce pointed his pistol at the man.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald walked down the street and noticed the strange looks people were giving some of the people who were leaving the saloon. Some of them seemed confused by the number of people leaving and she looked around for a hotel.
She saw several riders coming up the street from the south. She recognized the blonde man in black as John Valentine and saw that Pete Sutter was with them. There was another man wearing leather with a sawed-off shotgun on his shoulder and a beard and mustache. Another man had wild eyes and a goatee and mustache. There were a half dozen other men as well as two men who wore leather masks like those who had been terribly maimed in the Civil War might wear to cover their deformities. She noticed they seemed very slim and had leather gloves covering their hands as well.
The shock of seeing bandits she recognized broke the strange spell she had been under.
John Valentine was giving orders. The man in leather broke off with a pair of men and trotted north. Two other men broke off and headed south. The rest of them continued up the street, their horses at a walk.
She turned and ran for the saloon.
* * *
Otto had not gone very far down the back street behind the saloon when he shook his head and wondered what he had been thinking to leave Marshal Pierce alone with Jack Parker.
* * *
Marshal Pierce regarded Parker.
“It might interest you to know, before you kill me, where the Crescent is,” Parker said.
“Where is it?” Marshal Pierce said.
“There’s a horse and wagon at the livery stables on the south side of town: Thompson Livery,” Parker said. “It is held under my name, Parker, but paid up for the next month. If you tell them you are there for Parker’s rig, the man knows to give it to you. The Crescent is in a crate in the back of the wagon.”
They looked at each other. Parker frowned.
“But somebody else is here,” he said.
Dr. Weisswald burst in through the batwing doors.
“There’s seven armed riders coming up the street and there are five more!” she said. “They just came into town and are spreading out! One of ‘em’s Pete Sutter!”
“Pete Sutter!” Professor Stalloid said.
“And John Valentine!” she said.
“John Valentine’s here?” Marshal Pierce said.
“They’re here for me too, I suppose,” Parker said.
“How do they know you’re here?”
“How do you know I’m here?”
“Because your trail is easy to follow. You tell me they’re looking for you too?”
“John … poor John. He was a friend. And I was his second. So he’s probably looking for me.”
“Are you going to take up arms against him or are you just going to lean back and let him shoot you in the chair?”
“I can’t up arms against my fellow man.”
“Sounds to me like you’re not a man at all anymore.”
“If that’s what you want to believe, that’s what you’ll believe.”
* * *
Otto returned to the empty kitchen and crept to the door where he heard talking. He peeked out, trying to keep an eye on the back door and the front door.
* * *
“Are they coming for the saloon or does it look like they know where he is?” Jacali said to Dr. Weisswald.
She heard the hoof beats of the men riding by in a trot heading towards the north side of town. She shrugged.
Jacali looked around, noting the balcony that ran along the back wall and side of the taproom. Professor Stalloid moved behind the bar and took out the lightning gun, pointing it towards the batwing doors. Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, and Ophelia headed up the steps to the balcony above.
Marshal Pierce looked over his shoulder and then holstered his pistol. He smiled to himself and laughed quietly.
“It’s a suicide mission,” he said. “You all actually think we could stand up to John Valentine right now. Without Jack West even.”
The three on the steps stopped.
“You all need to get out of here,” he said. “All of you.”
“What about you, Pierce?” Jacali said.
“I’m going to stay here,” Marshal Pierce said. “I’m going to get the fight that I deserve. It may not be against Jack Parker but … I wanted to go down fighting and I’m going to do it here. You need to get that wagon and you need to get the hell out of here and you need to get as far from John Valentine as you can because if he gets his hand on the Crescent …”
“It’ll be a bad thing,” Parker said.
“It’s bad for us,” Marshal Pierce said. “But it’s worse for … everyone else.”
“You got it, boss,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Don’t risk your lives for this,” Marshal Pierce said. “Let me do it.”
“I don’t like leaving Pierce,” Jacali said quietly to Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia. “I really hate it, but … I do feel like we need to get that Crescent before Valentine does as well. What do you think we should do?”
Marshal Pierce quickly told them where the Crescent was located.
* * *
Otto crept across the kitchen as quietly as he could, heading for the back door.
* * *
“We need to get the horses,” Dr. Weisswald said to Jacali.
“Yeah,” Jacali said.
Professor Stalloid headed for the kitchen door, assuming there would be a back door that led out. Then he stopped.
“I never got a key,” he said.
“We could try to come at them from the side once we have the Crescent secure,” Jacali said. “I think that’s our best bet at doing both things.”
“You need to get out of here,” Marshal Pierce called up to them. “We can’t stand up to John Valentine right now. I promise you that. That’s one of the reasons why I tried to befriend Jack West, because I felt like he gave us a good shot─”
The batwing doors parted as Professor Stalloid disappeared into the kitchen.
“Well well well,” Pete Sutter said. “It’s Jacali.”
He looked around the room.
“Howdy, Parker,” he said.
He walked towards Marshal Pierce and Parker.
“It’s me, Jack West!” Professor Stalloid called from the kitchen in his best gravelly voice.
Pete Sutter almost took the bait, taking a step towards the kitchen. His hand moved to his gun but stopped.
“God damn it,” he muttered. “I ain’t got time for this right now. I ain’t got time for this right now!”
He took a moment to compose himself and then continued walking towards the table. Marshal Pierce drew his pistol and pointed it at the man.
“No further,” he said.
“Am I under arrest, marshal?” Pete Sutter said.
“Well, then I can go where I please.”
“I wouldn’t move if I were you. I’m on edge.”
“So am I. I was sent here looking for this gentleman.”
Pete pointed over Marshal Pierce’s shoulder.
“As was I,” Marshal Pierce said.
“You was sent?” Pete Sutter said. “Who sent you, marshal?”
“I sent myself,” Marshal Pierce said.
Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, and Ophelia moved down the stairs and headed for the kitchen door. Pete spared them a glance.
“Oh, where are you going?” he said.
“None of your business, Sutter,” Jacali said.
“I think it is my business!” Pete said. “I think all this is my business!”
He looked at Marshal Pierce and then pointed behind him.
“You mind?” he said.
“Yes,” Marshal Pierce said. “You been working for John Valentine this whole time?”
“He sent me a message. He said … something about Arkansas River … I don’t remember. It was a little confusing. He’s looking for Parker there.”
“I’m sure he is. But this isn’t the Jack Parker you’re looking for, I promise you that. He’s a changed man.”
“Looks like him! Looks just like him!”
Marshal Pierce looked towards Jacali.
“My horse is yours,” he said.
“Well, I’ll take it!” Pete said.
“No, it’s not yours,” Marshal Pierce said.
“You’re a hard man, marshal,” Pete said.
Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, and Ophelia reached the kitchen door and passed quickly through, leaving only the three men in the saloon proper.
“Besides, I feel you all owe me … for turning me into a damned injun woman!” Pete called after them.
“We all turned into …” Marshal Pierce said.
“Injun women!?! I don’t think so!”
“Not a woman.”
“You kept certain parts that I lost. I’m unappreciative.”
“You looked pretty appreciative when you were a woman grabbing at yourself.”
“Why you didn’t see─”
“Uh-huh. I saw enough.”
“Put your gun down, marshal. I got no qualms with you. I just need to talk to Mr. Parker here. You see, my employer at the moment is outside.”
“At the moment.”
“He’s heading down the street but I’m sure he’d love to know Mr. Parker’s here.”
“Yeah, why don’t you call him in here?”
“Oh. Are you going to shoot me in the back when I do?”
“No, I don’t shoot anybody in the back.”
“Oh. Well, I better turn my back on you ain’t I?”
Pete turned around and looked over his shoulder at Marshal Pierce. Then he ambled towards the batwing doors, watching the man over his shoulder.
Marshal Pierce saw that Jack Parker had sat forward in his chair.
“Marshal, there’s no need for you to commit suicide,” he whispered. “Take the Crescent and go.”
“My friends are taking the Crescent …” Marshal Pierce said.
“Then take me.”
“Take me. I’m worth ten thousand dollars.”
“I don’t need money. I don’t need anything. This is as far as I thought I’d go anyways. I’m going to take as many of these sons of bitches with me and I’m going to make sure my friends get a good head start.”
He moved to Parker, pulled him out of the chair, and led him to the bar, pushing him down behind it and then looking around for a rifle. There was a double barrel shotgun that he grabbed and broke open to find loaded. He cast about, looking for more shells, but didn’t see any.
“Guess I better not miss,” he muttered.
“I’ll have to check upstairs,” Pete Sutter said from outside.
He entered the saloon again and looked a little surprised. He ambled over to the bar.
“How much is it worth to you, marshal?” he said.
“What?” Marshal Pierce said.
“Not telling Valentine to come in here real quick.”
“I hope you do tell him to come in here.”
“Well, damn it. I was hoping to make some more money.”
He turned around and walked back out the front.
* * *
Professor Stalloid, Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, and Ophelia had run to the nearby livery stables where their horses were lodged. They set about getting their horses saddled up once again.
“We got four of us, so …” Dr. Weisswald said.
“We need to get that Crescent,” Jacali said.
“It’ll be faster on horses, then.”
“I still don’t feel good about Pierce.”
“What if I just get on my horse while you saddle up and I’ll check on the Crescent?”
“Yeah,” Professor Stalloid said.
He looked at Dr. Weisswald.
“Didn’t you say people were heading south?” he said. “How many people?”
“Two,” she said.
“Two,” he said. “Watch out for them.”
“I’ll do my best,” Jacali said. “Well, good luck everyone. Stay safe. And I’ll be back.”
She rode out of the livery stable, heading south.
Dr. Weisswald asked one of the stable boys to help saddle up Otto’s horse. The stable boy was little but strong and quick. He was eager to serve.
* * *
Partway there, Jacali spotted two men on horseback riding slowly down the street. They appeared to be heavily armed and she guessed they might be Valentine’s men. She took a side street to avoid them.
* * *
Marshal Pierce had put his pistol on the bar and was aiming at the door with the shotgun.
The batwing doors opened slowly and John Valentine strode into the saloon with a smirk on his face when he saw the double barrels pointed at him. He wore all black, which contrasted with his blonde hair. He had wide, crazy eyes and two backward facing pistols on his belt. A rattling came from behind him as two more men entered. Both of them had leather hoods over their faces like maimed men wore. They were painfully thin and the strange rattling came from them. It was as if their clothes were just hanging off their bones and each of them wore heavy leather gloves. Valentine ambled across the room as the two men flanked him.
“Pete Sutter tells me you’re here for Jack Parker but if I know anything about claims, he’s mine right now,” Marshal Pierce said. “So … you’re second in line, John Valentine. What do you want with Jack Parker?”
Valentine stopped when the man spoke. He stood about halfway across the floor.
“Why, he’s an old friend,” Valentine said with a grin.
“Of course he is,” Marshal Pierce said.
“And an old friend needs to be saved from the law,” Valentine said. “Now, we can settle this a couple ways, marshal, if you want. These boys here are under orders to obey me.”
The strange, thin men stopped when Valentine had stopped. They were far enough away from Valentine that Marshal Pierce couldn’t get all three of them in one blast from the shotgun. Maybe not even two of them.
“I remember you,” Valentine said.
“Oh yeah?” Marshal Pierce said.
“On Mount Diablo.”
“You took my Crescent. I want … another.”
“I’m sure you do.”
“What are you gonna do about it, sheriff?”
“I’m just here to have a little fun. Now how do you want this to go down?”
“You want to have fun with the fists? Maybe we can see which one of us is the better man.”
“I don’t need to prove myself to you.”
“Fair enough. Fair enough. Then how is this going to play? With that? Because I don’t think that’s gonna help you, marshal.”
“Nah, but it makes me─”
“Especially not against my boys here. Rattle it up, boys.”
Both of the two men stepped in place and they rattled strangely.
“That’s enough,” Valentine said. “But be ready.”
Both of the terribly thin men put their hands by their side, ready to draw.
“I’m sorry, John, Jack Parker’s mine,” Marshal Pierce said. “And I haven’t gotten my vengeance yet. So … if you want to take him … just give the go ahead and we’ll start.”
“Where’s your friends?” he said.
“I ain’t got no friends,” Marshal Pierce said.
“Oh, you do.”
“They may have come with me but … they knew this was a solo mission. Jack Parker was always my mission. The Crescent was always theirs.”
“Where is the Crescent?”
“I don’t know where the Crescent is. Only Jack Parker does and he’s a changed man.”
“You’re lying, marshal. You know where it is.”
“Tell me. I’ll make all this go away. All of it.”
“I’ll never tell you where it is.”
“What do you want, then?”
“To die where my boy died.”
Marshal Pierce looked down at the spot on the floor. Valentine was standing very close to it and followed the man’s gaze.
“How’d you like your boy back?” he said.
Marshal Pierce chuckled.
“I got a friend who can do that,” he said. “And I never asked him to.”
“So, you wanna die?” Valentine said. “You want this? This is going to be your last battlefield?”
“Good a place as any.”
“I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
Valentine snapped his fingers and the two thin men turned and walked out almost like some kind of automatons. Valentine more carefully backed away.
“We’ll be back in a few minutes,” he said as he reached the doors. “We’ll make it a good one for you.”
“Okay,” Marshal Pierce said.
Valentine left the saloon and disappeared into the gathering gloom outside.
* * *
Jacali returned to the main street and continued south for a short time before she spotted Thompson Livery. She rode into the livery stable and saw an old man sitting on a chair leaned back against the wall, whittling. He had a bushy beard but no mustache and wore a hat to obviously keep his balding head warm.
“I’m here for Jack Parker’s rig,” she said.
“Parker?” he said. “You say Parker?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Oh yeah. Yeah. C’mon.”
She followed him, still on Nalin, into the stable. There was a rig in the back with a horse still hooked up to it. It was a buckboard with a high seat held up by springs. The back of the buckboard had a low protective side and, in the back was a crate about four feet on a side. It was strapped down with ropes.
“Yeah, he said somebody’d come by for it, so here it is,” the old man said. “Yer the lady that come by for it, huh?”
“Yeah,” Jacali said. “Thanks.”
“I ain’t never had a Indian lady in here before.”
“All right. Thank you very much. This is all I need. You can go … back to your … life now.”
She hoped if she acted odd and awkward enough he would leave so she could check inside the crate.
“Yes, Indian ‘how,’” she said.
“Okay,” he said doubtfully. “Okay.”
He wandered back to his chair near the entrance of the livery stable.
Jacali set to examining the crate. It was made of wood and very solid, nailed shut on all sides. There was a crowbar in the back of the buckboard but she didn’t want to open it if she didn’t have to. She looked towards the front, afraid she would see the two men who were looking for the Crescent.
Jacali was torn. She wanted to flee with the Crescent, knowing it was for the greater good that it not fall into the hands of John Valentine. But she felt she couldn’t leave Marshal Pierce, who felt he was going to his death, as she considered him family.
She saw the two bandits ride past the open front doors. One of them nudged the other and pointed towards the stable. Then there was a loud, high-pitched whistle that came from the north somewhere. The two men looked at each other and then turned and headed up the street at a gallop. She guessed the whistle had been some kind of rallying signal for John Valentine’s men.
* * *
When Otto heard the whistle, he picked up the pace, finally reaching the back doors of the livery stables. He saw Jacali sitting on her horse next to a buckboard with a huge crate in the back, looking at it indecisively.
“Is that it, Jacali?” he said.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Jacali said.
“Listen, something’s about to go down and I can’t be here but I also can’t leave this Crescent alone,” she said. “Well, do you want to be in this fight that Pierce is about to be in? I guess let me ask you that first.”
Otto looked at her.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald, Professor Stalloid, and Ophelia had their horses saddled. The stable boy had saddled Otto’s horse as well. Dr. Weisswald pointed at Marshal Pierce’s horse.
“Saddle him but we’re going to head on,” she said.
“Yes ma’am,” the boy said.
He started to saddle up Marshal Pierce’s horse.
“Let’s go,” Dr. Weisswald said.
They left the livery and headed south at speed, Dr. Weisswald leading Otto’s horse from her own. They passed two men riding north at a gallop. Dr. Weisswald recognized them as the two men Valentine had sent south. They passed the party by without a glance. Ophelia stared at them as they went by but they paid her no mind.
None of them saw the red-headed man with muttonchops in the bowler who slipped into the livery stable.
* * *
“You know what, Otto?” Jacali said. “You’re injured. What if you watch this Crescent for me and keep yourself safe? If you can─”
“But I always keep myself safe,” Otto said.
“No, you don’t. Look at yourself.”
“I mean … look at … look at it from my perspective, Jacali. I feel like … I … like … I was in the war, you know? There’s no - there’s no way that I think anyone who tries to take on 12 men … like, I don’t think there’s any way for Pierce … or Parker … or even, potentially, you … to take them on and escape alive.”
“I’m not doing it because I think we’re going to win.”
“But I don’t want to abandon you or Pierce. Because you’re about the only two people who ever treated me decently.”
They heard gunfire from the north.
* * *
Two men walked into the saloon, guns in hand. They were the men in hoods that rattled as they walked.
“They’re not alive,” Parker said.
The men raised their pistols.
Marshal Pierce fired both barrels of the shotgun at one of the men, blowing a hole clear through the man’s chest. There was a cracking and snapping of bones and the man stumbled back a step but did not fall. Marshal Pierce could actually see the hold blown straight through the man. He didn’t see any blood and he dropped the smoking shotgun. He ducked back down behind the bar.
There were two shots fired at the bar, bullets splintering wood and going directly through the bar. Bottles stored behind the bar shattered at impact.
“What are those things!?!” Marshal Pierce said.
“They’re nothing,” Parker said.
He stood up and looked towards the two men. There was a strange noise like breaking sticks and a burst of wind over the bar.
“Get down, you damned fool!” Marshal Pierce cried out.
He grabbed Parker by the arm and pulled him back behind the bar.
It was very quiet for several moments.
Marshal Pierce peeked over the bar. The two men were gone. Shredded clothing lay on the floor and shining white bones were embedded in the far wall. A pair of polished skulls lay on the ground. Boots, hats, and torn leather masks were lying nearby.
“This don’t seem like a fair fight to me,” Marshal Pierce said.
“They’re just bones,” Parker said. “You’ll get your fair fight.”
“Can they be killed?”
“Are they moving?”
“Then they’ve been killed.”
“Did you kill ‘em?”
“Now it’s a fair fight.”
“Well, you can still run if you wanted.”
“I thought you wanted to kill me, marshal?”
“I can’t kill you. Not with you acting the way you are.”
“This is the way I’ve always been.”
“Hidden underneath layers and layers of terrible things.”
“What does he want you so bad for?”
“He still thinks I’m his friend.”
* * *
“I’m not sure if I can convince Pierce … to not go down here,” Otto said. “But … I feel like I should try to convince you to … to … to … live, I guess. You can’t save him … and I feel like he’s made peace with the fact that he’s doing to die here. But I … if you’re going to stay here and fight, I’ll … I can … I … I’ll stay here and protect you.”
Jacali looked at the man.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald, Professor Stalloid, and Ophelia heard the gunfire coming from somewhere behind them. Dr. Weisswald urged her horse to go faster as she wondered if they were going to be in time.
* * *
Marshal Pierce grabbed cheap whiskey and other alcohol bottles from behind the bar and started flinging them down on the floor in front of it, smashing them and starting a large puddle of alcohol. He set aside some of the better bottles on or behind the bar.
There was the gunshot and the glass shattered. Marshal Pierce was struck in the left arm by the bullet that came from outside. He felt the bullet strike the bone.
“Damn my hubris,” he muttered.
He ducked down behind the bar once again. The bullet wound bled only a little bit and hurt like hell. He was just glad it had hit him in his bad arm. He grabbed a rag from behind the bar and tied it around the wound as best he could.
“I guess I shouldn’t have thought those outlaws would play fair,” he muttered.
“You damned fool!” Parker said.
Parker helped the man tie up his arm.
“I got him!” someone yelled from outside.
* * *
“I don’t know if I can … bare to just let more family go away without doing anything, Otto,” Jacali said. “But, you’re probably right. We should do this the smart way. I know the others are coming. Maybe once we get everybody together, we can give it our best shot and we can protect each other.”
Hoof beats rattled on the hard dirt street outside the livery. Otto lifted up his shotgun and pointed it towards the front of the building. Dr. Weisswald, Professor Stalloid, and Ophelia rode into the stable, Otto’s horse in tow. Professor Stalloid was wearing the snakeskin robe once again.
“All right, Stalloid, I think you know what to do with that wagon,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Go to San Francisco,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Yep,” Dr. Weisswald said. “As far away from here as possible.”
Professor Stalloid dismounted and tied his horse to the back of the buckboard before climbing into the seat.
“Anybody else riding?” he said. “Actually, y’all all have horses. Never mind.”
He slapped the reins on the back of the horse and drove the buckboard out of the livery stable, turning left and heading south the way they’d come.
“Do we want to get Pierce’s horse before we go?” Dr. Weisswald said. “Or do we want to go fight and then get his horse.”
They heard another gunshot from up the street.
“Aren’t we all leaving?” they heard Professor Stalloid call from the street.
“Keep going!” Dr. Weisswald called back to him.
“We should just fight first,” Jacali said. “We might lose him if we delay any longer.”
“Okay,” Dr. Weisswald said. “Let’s go.”
They galloped out of the livery and headed back up the street towards the Granite Saloon. Weisswald took the lead as Shy Ann pulled ahead of the others.
* * *
Marshal Pierce found some tobacco and rolling paper on a little shelf behind the bar. He quickly retrieved a lantern to light it with.
We got time, he thought.
“You want one?” he said to Parker. “Might be your last.”
“All right,” Parker said.
Marshal Pierce took out a piece of rolling paper and carefully started to pour tobacco into it when he heard the movement of the batwing doors and footsteps in the saloon. It sounded like several men at once.
“Y’all want a cigarette?” Marshal Pierce called.
“I think they’re behind the bar,” someone said in the saloon.
“How can you tell?” another voice said.
“Just unload!” the first voice said.
There were a half-dozen gunshots and bullets burst through the bar, shattering bottles and glasses that hadn’t already been broken before and sending splinters of glass and wood everywhere. Marshal Pierce cursed.
“Damn my hubris,” Marshal Pierce muttered to himself.
He guessed they had placed their nearby shots due to the sound of his voice. He grabbed the lantern he had put behind the bar and chucked it over the top, hoping to hit the whiskey he had dumped in front of the bar earlier. He heard the glass in the lamp shatter and a scream.
“He threw a lamp!” someone yelled. “It hit me!”
There was more gunfire and bullets crashed through the bar, splintering wood and shattering glass. None of them hit Parker or Marshal Pierce.
“Feel free to jump in any time Parker!” Marshal Pierce said.
He leapt up, spotted six men, one of them swatting at himself, obviously the man who had been hit by the lantern. The other five were cocking their pistols.
“There he is!” one of them said.
Marshal Pierce shot the man in the chest. Then he ducked down and rolled away from where he had been. The man let out a shout and Marshal Pierce heard the sounds of tables being lifted and shifted. Then there was more gunfire crashing through the bar. Parker grunted and Marshal Pierce looked over to see the man was bleeding from a bullet wound in his shoulder.
Marshal Pierce popped up over the bar and saw several tables had been turned on their sides. The bandits had taken cover behind them and were peeking out. He shot one of the men in the head and the man let out a shriek and disappeared back behind the table with a cry. Marshal Pierce ducked back behind the bar and rolled to one side as bullets crashed through the wood, sending splinters and glass flying once again. A bullet winged Marshal Pierce in the side. Another struck Parker, grazing him in the head. The man grabbed at his skull.
“I can’t stop what I can’t see,” he muttered.
He lay down on the floor and held the bloody wound.
“Damn,” Marshal Pierce muttered.
He crawled to Parker and grabbed the man, dragging him backwards out of cover and towards the kitchen. It was painful to use his injured left arm to pull Parker but he managed it as he backed out, firing at the men in the saloon. A bullet struck the man in the left arm and he fell with a shriek, dropping his pistol and not moving again.
Three men were still able to return fire. One man was so shaken he missed them by a mile, shattering another liquor bottle. A bullet went directly towards Parker, who raised up his arm. The bullet stopped in midair and then dropped to the ground, still smoking. The other bullet struck the back wall somewhere.
“They’re trying to get out the back!” one of the men yelled.
There was more gunfire outside.
* * *
Galloping up the street, Dr. Weisswald, in the lead, saw several men using horses as cover, firing at the marshal’s office. Many people were fleeing from the gunfire on the street and there were signs of a few others lying on the ground, covered in blood, obvious victims of the gunfight already. It looked like Valentine and two other men were shooting up the marshal’s office. Pete Sutter was looking towards the saloon, obviously trying to see what was going on inside. Then the man with the beard and goatee blew some kind of smoke or miasma like a jet of steam that went over 20 feet to a window of the marshal’s office. There were screams from within the building and she guessed it was some kind of terrible spell.
She turned her horse to the right and galloped down an alley.
Her friends saw where she went and also turned their horses to the right, heading down a nearby street.
* * *
Marshal Pierce shot another man, the bullet striking him in the foot.
“Why didn’t you do that sooner?” he said to Parker.
The man screamed and fell out of sight, but then peeked around the side of the table and returned fire along with two others. One of the men’s gun didn’t go off; he must have had a dud round. Another man missed completely. The last bullet flew towards Jack Parker, who flung his hand to the side. The bullet seemed to slow and change course as if the motion of his hand actually pushed it. It crashed into the floor to their right.
Parker started to sway and dropped his hand. He muttered some strange noises and Marshal Pierce was certain the man was passing out.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald had trouble controlling her horse and had to slow as she turned on the back street.
Behind her, down the street, both Jacali and Otto burst out of a side street and expertly brought their horses onto the street some ways behind her, Otto just ahead. Ophelia, just behind them, slowed to take the turn a little more carefully.
* * *
Marshal Pierce dragged Jack Parker into the kitchen. He heard men running across the saloon floor.
“He’s getting out the back!” someone yelled.
The sound of gunfire from the front of the saloon had stopped.
He dragged Parker to the back door, leaving a trail of blood from both of the injured men. Parker was muttering words that didn’t make any sense. Marshal Pierce feared he was going to lose the man. They reached the back door.
* * *
As Dr. Weisswald approached the back of the saloon at a gallop, she saw a man wearing all leather come around the building on the opposite side that she approached. She saw a handle of a scattergun on his right shoulder and a holstered pistol on his hip. She recognized him as one of Valentine’s men. He saw her.
She turned her horse and cut into the alley on the near side of the saloon. She had turned so quickly her horse struck the side of the building.
* * *
Jacali and Otto, riding several yards behind her, saw Dr. Weisswald turn into the alley near the building and spotted the man down the street. Otto recognized him as Rex from Mount Diablo a few months before. Jacali, bow and arrow in hand, fired at the man. Otto drew his saber and cut his horse to the left, following Weisswald.
The arrow struck the man in the upper chest near the neck. He let out a grunt and pulled the scattergun from the sheath on his back, firing a shot at Jacali’s horse. Nalin stumbled and then balked, stopping on the spot and moving around nervously some 10 yards away from the man.
* * *
Marshal Pierce heard the blast of a shotgun right outside the back door near where he stood.
What the hell? he thought.
He pushed open the back door, saw Rex standing next to it, and recognized him.
“Howdy Rex,” he said.
He put his pistol up to Rex’s head and fired, shooting the man in the forehead and killing him instantly. Rex fell backwards to the ground without a sound. Then he pulled Parker out of the kitchen.
* * *
Professor Stalloid pushed the horse pulling the buckboard as he continued to hear gunfire behind him. Then, out of a side street, a man rode a familiar horse. It was a solid red roan stallion with a familiar saddle and gear, including Marshal Pierce’s shotgun and rifle tucked in sheaths.
The man riding it wore a suit and coat. He had red hair and muttonchops and wore a bowler on his head. A small pistol was in his hand.
“Professor Stalloid!” the man said.
With some little difficulty, he got the horse going the same speed as the buckboard.
“The name’s Malcolm Flynn,” the man said. “I believe ye have somethin’ that m’ employer … wants.”
He pointed the gun at Professor Stalloid, keeping it close to his side.
“Why don’t we’ keep goin’?” Flynn said. “We’ll jus’ take it t’ him, won’t we?”
“He’s south?” Professor Stalloid said.
“No sir. He’s not.”
“Well, I’ll have to turn the buggy around.”
The man fished out a badge from his coat pocket. It read “Pinkerton National Detective Agency.”
“Well, that’s fake,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Don’t make m’ kill y’, Professor,” Flynn said. “‘Cause I will. ‘Cause y’er a thief.”
“Well, I’m going to have to turn around, though. We’ll have to stop.”
“If y’ try t’ turn around or stop, I’ll blow y’r brains out.”
“You said he was north, I thought!”
“Okay, I’ll drive south.”
Flynn, having pocketed the badge, fell back and followed behind the buckboard, keeping his horse at a brisk pace.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald stopped her horse in the alley as Otto did the same. She dismounted and drew her bow, nocking an arrow, and made her way to the corner. Otto sheathed the saber and pulled his loaded musket from the sheath.
* * *
Marshal Pierce heard footsteps behind him.
“He’s getting out the back!” someone yelled from the kitchen.
Gunfire erupted from the kitchen and struck the interior wall of the building, one of the bullets punching through but missing them all entirely. It sounded like there were two gunmen.
Jacali got Nalin under control.
“Captain Pierce, are you riding out or are we fighting out?” she said.
“This man’s terribly injured,” Marshal Pierce said. “We should probably leave.”
“We got three horses,” Jacali said. “We can load both you and him up and ride out.”
“We better go now,” Marshal Pierce said. “Also, you’re not supposed to be here.”
* * *
“So, if your employer’s not John Valentine, who is he?” Professor Stalloid called back over his shoulder.
“The man that y’ took that from,” Flynn said.
“Don’t be daft.”
* * *
Marshal Pierce leaned into the room and saw two bandits carefully crossing it. A large, wooden topped cabinet was in the center of the kitchen and he fired at one of the men, the bullet passing right through the cabinet and striking the man in the right leg. The man shrieked and dropped, falling forward, his chin slamming against the top of the cabinet before he disappeared behind it, crashing to the floor.
Marshal Pierce pivoted back out of the room.
“I need to reload,” he said to the others.
He reached for the bullets in his belt as the other man screamed some profanity from the kitchen.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald peeked around the corner to see her friends in the back street. She noted the blood on both Marshal Pierce and Jack Parker. She rushed over and saw to the unconscious Parker, working on his bloody head first and wrapping it in gauze.
Otto, still around the corner, dismounted and peeked around to see the group of his allies in the back street. The others noticed him when they looked where Dr. Weisswald was coming from.
There was another gunshot from the kitchen and several splinters came out of the wall near Marshal Pierce.
“I think there’s one more, Otto,” he called out.
Jacali slipped off her horse and took aim at the kitchen door with her bow. Ophelia rode up and looked over the situation.
It had gotten very quiet.
* * *
Professor Stalloid flung himself over the back of the bench to hide from Flynn behind the crate.
He heard Flynn’s horse pick up speed as he came around the left side of the buckboard and pointed his pistol at Professor Stalloid from the hip.
“Get back in yer seat, professor,” he said.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald worked on Parker’s other wound.
“We need to leave!” Otto called from the alley. “They’re probably coming back there.”
He pointed the musket at the door to the back of the saloon.
“Watch this end of the alleyway!” Jacali called to Ophelia.
While Ophelia turned her horse around, Jacali grabbed Jack Parker and manhandled him up onto her own horse. It was a painful exercise as the man was very large, but she managed to get him situated there.
“Sorry, Mr. Parker,” she said.
She didn’t imagine it would be a comfortable ride.
They heard the clip-clop of hoof beats as John Valentine rode around the far side of the building, gun in hand. He glanced their way, frowned, and then shot Marshal Pierce in the belly. The law officer crumpled and fell.
“Give me Parker and give me the Crescent,” Valentine said.
* * *
Professor Stalloid acted like he was going to get back on the bench but instead grabbed the rein and pulled to turn the horse and wagon to the left into Flynn. The wheels of the wagon slammed into Marshal Pierce’s horse. Flynn tried to get the horse under control and he had almost done it when the roan suddenly took off down the street at a canter.
Good job, horse, Professor Stalloid thought.
He pulled on the reins and turned the buckboard to the left, heading down a side street at speed as he climbed back onto the seat.
* * *
Otto fired his musket with a blast of smoke. The bullet struck John Valentine in the chest, knocking the man off his horse. Otto ducked behind the wall and dropped the musket.
Valentine crashed the ground and lay flat. The horse ambled a few feet away but didn’t run.
Weisswald had heard the massive ball of the musket fly by her head. She rushed over to Marshal Pierce and worked on his abdominal injury, binding it. The gut shot looked really bad and she was very concerned about it.
“All right, you all need to give up out there!” they heard a man call from the kitchen.
Jacali pulled out her bow and shot an arrow at John Valentine, hitting him in the left hand.
Valentine sat up. He shook his left hand and the arrow fell out and landed on the ground. They didn’t see any blood though his glove appeared to have been pierced and there was a large bullet hole in his jacket and vest. He looked down at it, annoyed.
“Well, that’s not very neighborly,” he said.
He picked up his gun.
“Well, I ain’t Pete Sutter, so I’m more than willing to shoot a woman,” he said.
He shot Jacali in the abdomen, just as he had shot Marshal Pierce. Ophelia spoke a word and pointed at Valentine. Dr. Weisswald realized it was the madness spell that she had taught her. Valentine’s eyes suddenly rolled up in his head and he fell back and lay still.
“Can we go now?” Ophelia said.
“Yes, please,” Dr. Weisswald said.
Dr. Weisswald got some camphor out of her pocket and put it under Marshal Pierce’s nose. He coughed and awoke, looking around, confused. He stumbled to his feet, noting Valentine’s body down the street. He picked up his pistol.
Otto came around the corner and rode through the gun smoke to the others.
“Can you get Pierce on your horse?” Jacali said to him.
“Yes,” Otto said. “Get my musket.”
Jacali ran down to where the musket lay in the alley and then ran back to her horse.
They heard the sound of a hammer being drawn back on a peacemaker back the way they’d come. Pete Sutter came around the corner where Otto had come from.
“All right, nobody get crazy now,” he said with a grin. “How much money you got?”
“Ninety-one dollars,” Otto said.
“Put it on the ground,” Pete said.
Otto pulled cash and coins out of his pocket and threw them to the ground.
“This is the kind of thing I prefer to do,” Pete said.
Ophelia rolled her eyes.
“Ten grand,” Marshal Pierce said.
“Ooo,” Pete said.
“By Yig,” Ophelia said.
She cast the spell again and a strange look crossed Pete’s face. Then he blinked and started laughing hysterically. He leaned against the wall of the saloon, gun pointed at the ground, and laughed and laughed and laughed. He pounded his cocked piece against his leg in mirth.
“I … I did have ten grand though …” Marshal Pierce said.
Weisswald, realizing what Ophelia had done, mounted her horse. Otto offered a hand to Marshal Pierce.
“Pick up my money, Pierce,” he said.
“We’ll deal with it later,” Marshal Pierce said.
He pulled himself up onto the horse.
Jacali mounted as well and they all headed south. Pete Sutter, giggling, just waved as they all rode past. Jacali looked back and didn’t see Valentine’s body lying on the ground.
They soon found Professor Stalloid on the buckboard on a back street. As they reached the outskirts of town, Marshal Pierce’s horse, Arion, trotted up. Marshal Pierce reached out and caught the reins, leading it.
They fled Granite, Colorado.
* * *
They pressed on through most of the night, stopping for Dr. Weisswald to tend to people. Jack Parker was put in the back of the buckboard with the Crescent. Professor Stalloid, as they rode, tried to talk quietly to the Crescent. He got the impression that it didn’t want to be left behind and that it could help them find the other Crescent. He tried to comfort it, noting whatever its disposition, they would be not abandon it. He got the feeling it wanted to be with others.
They continued on until the early morning hours and then made a cold camp off the road, rubbing their horses down but leaving them saddled, so they could rest but move quickly if need be.
Professor Stalloid showed Ophelia the black metal balls they had found in the first room of the Spiral Crypts and she told him they were simple firestones. She noted if they were lit on fire, they would stay lit for several hours. She suggested putting one in wax or something that could be carried easily. It was an alchemical mixture of her people and each would burn up to give light for some time.
Jacali wanted to know what to do with Mr. Parker. Professor Stalloid suggested taking him to Midnight but Marshal Pierce noted he had not yet decided what to do with the man.
“He has turned himself over to me and entrusted me with whatever decision I will make,” Marshall Pierce said. “But I do not know what decision I will make. Don’t take this as being ungrateful, but you all are not very good at following plans.”
“I followed the plan,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Yes, you did,” Marshal Pierce said. “Surprisingly.”
“I know,” Professor Stalloid said. “I am.”
“Mr. Pierce, with all due respect, I think we both know what losing family is like and … I think …” Jacali said.
“You should have … let me go,” Marshal Pierce muttered.
“… at least to me, you’re family,” Jacali said.
“That’s awfully sweet of you, but I am in too much pain to express how sweet it is,” Marshal Pierce said.
“I mean, I think you’re in my will,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Oh God,” Marshal Pierce said.
“Don’t worry,” Professor Stalloid said. “Far down the line.”
They opened the crate and found the Crescent within. The curved silver device looked exactly as those who had seen it before remembered, the small spikes sticking out of it around the interior and exterior, the strange, glistening metal silver of the device, the feeling that it was somehow watching each of them. It was hung in a series of leather straps, keeping it in the center of the crate on a harness of sorts. They closed the crate and nailed it shut once again.
They discussed who wanted the Crescent: John Valentine, the Secret Service, the Yithians, and the Pinkertons who worked for Rotheschilde. They thought the Yithians and the Secret Service were the same people. Dr. Weisswald noted the Crescent didn’t want to go with any of them, but wanted to be taken into the heavens and space. Jacali said the three Crescents wanted to be together in space.
Marshal Pierce suggested they hide the Crescent at Professor Stalloid’s house. Professor Stalloid disagreed, noting it was probably watched. He suggested taking it to Midnight, but Dr. Weisswald pointed out there was no railroad in Midnight. Marshal Pierce asked what Midnight was and Professor Stalloid told him it was a town in southern California that he had fostered and was helping grow.
“Oh God,” Marshal Pierce said again.
“Also, San Francisco would have the best place to make a rocket,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Yeah, San Francisco─” Professor Stalloid said.
“If you want to do that.”
“San Francisco is the most─”
Marshal Pierce laughed.
“A rocket?” he said.
“A rocket,” Otto said.
“It’s the laudanum,” Marshal Pierce said.
“My problem with San Francisco is 1) they know my name,” Professor Stalloid said. “Rotheschilde knows where I live. If Rotheschilde wants─”
“You can make a gate, right?” Dr. Weisswald said to Ophelia.
“No,” she said. “I know how to make a gate through time, but it would kill me to try to do so. It takes your very soul to make these things.”
“Here’s the thing with San Francisco,” Professor Stalloid said. “Rotheschilde knows where I live. Rotheschilde wanted that.”
He pointed at the crate.
“One of his goons knows I have it, last seen,” Professor Stalloid went on. “So he would just go straight to my house.”
“Yeah,” Dr. Weisswald said. “I …”
“Also the Chinese are always visiting my house,” Professor Stalloid said. “The tongs.”
“I think Midnight’s a good idea except we can’t get there by train,” Dr. Weisswald said.
Professor Stalloid realized Rotheschilde had known the route the Crescent was taking to San Francisco on the Sequoyah Star and might have been the one who tipped off or even paid Valentine and his men to steal it. He also realized Flynn had probably followed him all the way from San Francisco, most likely losing them when they stopped at the Inn of the Smiling Spirit but finding him again in Granite.
Professor Stalloid didn’t want to leave the Crescent in Oakland with Professor Terwilliger as he figured they knew where he lived and they knew him. Jacali suggested they could leave the Crescent at her cabin in the wilderness in northeast Arizona. She told them she was not there often and she imagined she was not an easy person to find. Her cabin was in the badlands right on the edge of the Navajo Reservation that stretched from northeast Arizona territory into northwest New Mexico Territory. There was no road or path to the cabin and no railroad went anywhere near it either. The only landmark of note in the area was Pastora Peak on the reservation.
Some more discussion led them to the realization that the shortest path to her cabin lay in simply heading southwest and overland though it was probably over 200 miles away and would take them at least two weeks with the buckboard. That was the shortest distance to the place, however.
Dr. Weisswald suggested the possibility of taking it to Cheyenne, Wyoming to her cabin but it was pointed out by Professor Stalloid and Jacali that Dr. Weisswald was more well-known than Jacali was. Dr. Weisswald agreed they were probably right.
“I know Jacali,” Otto said.
“Thank you, Otto,” Jacali said.
“Other than us,” Professor Stalloid said.
He suggested they bury it near Jacali’s cabin.
Dr. Weisswald also invited them to spend Christmas in West Virginia with her family. They all agreed with that idea though Professor Stalloid wanted to go by Denver first but they figured it would be on the way.
They decided to split up. Professor Stalloid would remove the livery horse from the buckboard and replace it with his own horse: Basil. Then they saddled up the horse that had originally been hitched to the buckboard. That horse and saddle and gear he would give to Jack Parker. While Professor Stalloid, Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, Otto, and Ophelia went overland to the place where the four territories met and Jacali’s house, Marshal Pierce and Jack Parker would ride back down the road through the various towns along the Arkansas River to Canyon City, where they could board a train bound for San Francisco.
As they bedded down to get a few hours sleep before dawn, they all had the strange feeling the Crescent did not want to be left behind.
In which the players respond to a request for help from their good friend.
Reminder: My players don't entirely know they are playing through Masks of Nyarlathotep. As far as they know, this is a 1920s Pulp themed Fate Core game. This article does contain spoilers for the new edition of Masks of Nyarlathotep.
Cast of Player Characters This Episode
Lin Ru-Shi - A Hong Kong street urchin that grew up to be a thief.
Lord Declan MacManus - A minor Irish Lord and Great War pilot turned smuggler. Lives on his flying boat and has a way with the ladies.
Abdul “Abe” Tepema - An Englishman of color, born in Egypt, he has a little knowledge of the old magic, and is a skilled detective.
Sebastian Sullivan - An amateur student of the arcane, driven from Arkham and currently operating as a less than-impressive detective.
The players of Doc and Salim weren't able to attend so we decided their characters were delayed by the nasty winter weather. The player of Sebastian was running late and joined in mid session, which we also ruled was due to a weather related delay.
When we last left our cast of globetrotting explorers, they had defeated the threat in Peru, but some questions still remained. Where did Larkin come from? What was possessing him? What did his strange tattoo mean? That was early 1924, and they dropped Jackson Elias off in New York to work on his new book.
A few months later he sent them each a letter indicating his intention to travel abroad seeking answers about Larkin. It wasn't until 6 months later, just into the start of January 1925, that the players receive an urgent telegram asking them to meet him in New York:
HAVE INFORMATION CONCERNING CARLYLE EXPEDITION STOP
NEED RELIABLE INVESTIGATIVE TEAM STOP
MEET JANUARY 15 NEW YORK STOP
CONTACT KENSINGTON OF PROSPERO HOUSE KL3106 STOP
Winter Is Coming Here
Historically, January 1925 was particularly harsh in New York, with Manhattan having some serious problems in early January. With several of my players running late for game night, I used this as an excuse to explain why some characters were arriving late. The players that arrived mostly on time got to make a few rolls and make some advantages that late players wouldn't.
Declan was the first to arrive in New York, landing is plane in a semi-ice in dock on an unspecified river. I offered the player of Declan a compel on Declan's womanizing ways to say that last time he was in town he had wooed and abandoned a wealthy woman with the last name Carlyle, and he agreed, so now his character is an ex-fling of Erica, which I'm sure will be fun to roleplay later. Next we activated his "Friend in Every Port" stunt. I offered him a few options as friends he knows from his last trip to New York: A mob enforcer named Joe, a Police Detective named Poole, or Shaddy importer named Emerson. I made it clear theses were NPCs in the adventure and therefore more likely to be useful plot wise, but also offered him the option inventing his own character to work into the story. He choose Detective Poole, and we decided that Poole is his second cousin, on his mother's side, and that on a previous trip to New York, Poole even tipped him off on a dock raid. Basically, Poole takes his job as a Homicide detective very seriously, but he's not going to get bent out of shape about a little smuggling by family. Declan spent his first night in New York drinking at a speakeasy prefered and protected by the local police, and catching up with his second cousin. He also unloaded some illicit cargo, a crate of good London Gin, Irish whiskey, and Scotch.
Lin Ru-Shi was the second to arrive in town, not long after Declan. She immediately tried to make some contacts in the local underworld, but bungled the attempt which was turned into a compel on her habbit of p***ing the wrong people off. After her first night in New York, she had the local Italian Mob looking to kill her as warning to the Yakuza. She tried to explain she's not even Japanese, but that wasn't clear to the mobsters she upset. (Note: In retrospect I probably should have had her upset an African American gang in Harlem so I could better tie it into the bootlegging arm of the Bloody Tongue via Fat Maybelly's Speakeasy.)
Abe arrived in town on January 15th and was able to hook up with the rest of the group that afternoon without really any time to interact with New York first. Recalling that the character had vomited into the pyramid in Peru before it has been sealed, I decided that was enough for the trapped god inside to start reaching out to him. I described to the player how Abe had been experiencing a recurring dream about being inside a pyramid with a indistinct figure trapped in a gold cage. The figure, concealed in rags and a hood, keeps trying to whisper to him, but is blocked the gold bars of the cage. I described the cage as looking somewhat like the gold binding spell under the pyramid in Peru. I also described the stone room has having Egyptian styling, not Peruvian.
New York is a Hell of a Town
The players arrive at Jackson's hotel at the appointed time, having gotten the location and time from the nice lady on the phone at Prospero House Publishing. They went up to his hotel room on the 4th floor and knocked. When there was no response their first instinct was to pick the lock (notably not to listen), which Abe pulled off rather well. As soon as they opened the door, "Jimmy" the culst was already swinging a Pranga at his head. As the resulting fight moved into hotel room, they discovered Jackson Elias, gutted and clearly dead, on the bed, and another cultist carving a symbol into his forehead while a third was going through his bags.
The resulting fight included gunshots and improvised weapons. They killed two of the mooks, but the large Jimmy they knocked out cold. They also saw a getaway car take off down the alleyway. Everyone but Declan dragged Jimmy up the icy fire escape into an unoccupied 6th floor room to interrogate him. Declan waited for the police, to arrive and asked the first officer on the scene for Detective Poole.
Note: I had been worried one of them would have tried to show up early or meet Jackson the day before, etc, something they kind of did in Peru, but thankfully they all went about their own business instead. One of the players actually commented later that he had assumed Jackson would be their designated quest giver for much the campaign and therefore did even consider arriving early this time. They really hadn't thought their good friend Jackson was in danger, and even tried to invoke character aspects as a way to arrive early enough to save him, which I of course refused.
At first the players tried to intimidate Jimmy with turning him over to the cops, but he didn't by the implied idea that they might let him go free if he talked. The interrogation then took an odd turn, with Abe pretending to be a cultist from a rival cult and intimidating Jimmy with the threat of implantation with a parasite in his ear if he didn't talk. They players rolled surprisingly well on that check. Jimmy didn't exactly talk at that point, but he did accidentally let some clues slip, like his boss's name. Eventually the players knocked him back out, made sure to check all his pockets for anything he was carrying, finding several clues, and dumped him down the fire escape ladder for the cops to find. They then headed out the front door of the hotel before the cops had a reason to notice them.
At this point Sebastian arrived, running late for the meeting, and his friends swept him up at the front desk before he could draw any attention from the police.
Meanwhile, Declan was taken down to the police station and eventually interviewed by his cousin Detective Poole. He kept his friends out of the description of events but otherwise told it as it happened. Poole took down the official statement, then took Declan asside to tell him about a few clues and oddities, including the fact that this was now the 9th murder in 2 years that involved the strange symbol carved in the victim, and especially that Hilton Adams was already on death row for the previous 8. He was then released.
The players gathered at the cop-bar/speakeasy in a booth to tell Sebastian what had happened and look over their clues. The players literally made yarn board out of the clues, linking clues with locations and people. I was delighted, although with several key clues still missing, they were also floundering around without a clear idea of what was going on.
They eventually decided to focus on the local (American) clues. They went back to their hotels and got some sleep, then met up the next day to start running down leads. Abe gathered news paper clippings on the Carlyle Expedition, and Sebastian tried to get a hold of contacts at Miskatonic University to ask about their visiting Australian professor, Doctor Cowles, but found he was (still) on the Miskatonic University blacklist. (A self-compel on his own background in Arkharm). He followed that up by calling a Harvard librarian to ask about what book Jackson Elias had been looking for, but this time he pretended to be a minor assistant from Prospero House Press asking on behalf of Jackson Elias, and was able to get some more information through lies. Notably, he didn't mention that Jackson Elias was dead, so when the librarian finds out, she may be deeply concerned the killers caller her under pretense. Something she may report to the police and which might circle back to the PCs eventually.
Eventually the player went and visited Emerson Imports where they managed to learn about the Ju Ju House. They also read the news paper, finding a story about Jackson Elias's death and a Funereal planned for the next day. The players dutifully added their new clues: the Ju Ju House and the Reporter to their clue board.
That was the point where we paused the session.
Next Time: The Funeral and More Investigation
Another fragmentary tale, this is somewhat of a disappointment after the previous two.
Refreshingly it is set in London, captured moderately well, though some of the names jar rather. The vision of a man and his cat howling at the sound of church bells is a strong one, but a rare highlight in the story.
The way another character gets hold of a copy of the Necronomicon stretches belief almost to breaking point. Nor is the book really that essential to what follows, and I'm sure it could be substituted with another.
The idea of a landed family stretching back to Roman times and a spooky castle is nice, albeit rather reminiscent of Rats in the Walls. But it's under developed, and the story then just stops, unfinished.
There is potential here, but I think not only would it need to be finished satisfactorily, but the earlier text would also need to be significantly reworked to produce a good result.
This is incredibly short, but I rather like it. It's the tale of someone living in the grimness of the modern world, who looks up to the stars, and dreams of other places. And his wish comes true. It's rather a lovely combination of a grim, real life introduction crossed with the interstellar sci-fi of Lovecraft and the feeling of his Dreamlands stories. Really rather nice, and an extremely quick read. It also feels very close to Lovecraft's own situation.
Checking Wikipedia I see that it was the beginning of a never finished novel. But though what we have is obviously incomplete, it still works as a piece of literature I think. I wish we could have read more of course.
I considered skipping this, because it's not a conventional story, and I am already skipping the poems (sorry poetry lovers!) But it's so very short, that I thought I'll give it a go. It's also, of course, reminiscent of Lovecraft's other piece about the Necronomicon.
I'm pleased that I did, because it's very, very funny. A spoof biography of a Roman author, riffing off lots of linguistic jokes and also nicely inventing a Roman history. To a modern reader who's not so familiar with the classical texts, even me with a degree with honours in classical studies, it probably doesn't have the same effect that it would to someone educated more traditionally, as in Lovecraft's era. But it's still very, very good. And oh, Ibid's skull ...
I noticed that some folks have been kind enough to wonder where I've evaporated to, and worry about me (sorry). I'm okay, just snowed under.
I moved to China in August, and have been teaching several courses at a university here. This also involves writing those courses, and as I wasn't given any information about the requirements beforehand, I had almost nothing planned until I started here. So basically my time is spent either teaching, marking, or preparing my next class. I manage to squeeze in a few hours of Skype gaming each week in the small hours, continuing my long-running Pathfinder campaign. I haven't even been able to properly keep up with my favourite podcasts (perhaps because I normally do it during housework, and uh, that's been... deprioritised).
Cthulhu is not off my radar, but I don't have either the time or the energy to actually do anything, either gamewise or writing about it. I do have plenty of ideas! Paul is aware of some things I hope to put together for the Yoggie Zine, though is not, I think, aware of the true extend of my diabolical plans.
Workload has been... discussed... this week and I hope the situation will improve. Future work plans are looking potentially complicated,* and I may find myself trying to cobble together a portfolio career, so if I could finally get some of my writing nailed down, get back into my rhythm and see whether it might be possible to earn an honest bob or two from it, that would really help. As it is there's no way I could even justify a Patreon. My blogs are neglected and cobwebbed, and countless hours of unprocessed audio lurk in my hard drive, awaiting Actual Play status.
Hope all my Yoggie pals are doing well - feel free to drop me a line any time.
*it's quite likely I'll be living in more than one country, for example, but which countries that might be is by no means certain. Few jobs take kindly to you only working for them 6 months at a time.
Later this week I will be running the sixth session/episode of my "secret" Pulp-Fate conversion of the new 7th edition of Masks of Nyarlathotep. That means that just as I did for the Peru chapter, I need to convert the content of the chapter to Fate rules, however I've tweaked some concept about how I'm doing things, particularly cults, since then.
Location Aspects and Language
Like any primary location in Masks, New York will get its own set of aspects on the expedition sheet: Location Concept, Trouble, and Hidden Issue.
Location Concept: The Roar of the 1920s New York
Manhattan in 1925 should be the perfect place to show off the Jazz Age/Prohibition setting. Flappers, gangsters, speakeasies, etc.
Location Trouble: Short Snowy Days and Long Cold Nights
New York in January 1925 is actually one of the coldest on record with high snowfall and even a blizzard. That seems like far too interesting a historical detail not to include, and a potentially interesting location detail. Tracks or blood in the snow, people hidden behind bulky clothing and scarves, slipping, snowfall making vision difficult, the obviousnous of someone "lurking" in nasty weather, etc.
Location Hidden Issue: Evil Is Afoot
The New York chapter is when the players first get to discover that their is a world wide occult conspiracy, hopefully finding clues pointing to several continents. It's also a setting where the local cult is up to no good, having bribed the police, framed an innocent man, and undertaking illegal activities including ritual kidnapping and murder.
Although several languages can be heard in New York depending on which burrow or neighborhood you are in, the common language is still English, and there aren't too many locations in this chapter with other languages would be important. All of my players know English so I won't be offering a compel on it for this location.
The New York Branch of the Bloody Tongue
I will be depicting the cult using the Bronze Rule meathod I talked about here. The cult itself is treated like a character, with all its members using the larger cult stats, and some special members getting extra features.
The New York branch of the cult of the Bloody Tongue was setup some 8 years ago to support M'weru in locating patsies for Nyarlathotep's plans, a search that resulted in the Caryle Expedition, and the departure of M'weru from New York and of the New York branch from the larger plans of Nyarlathotep. Mukunga M’Dari has been left in charge of this branch of the cult, and he seeks to grow it in size and power, as cult leaders are wont to do. His method is largely through gaining wealth through criminal smuggling, and then using the drugs and money to gain recruits and buy influence with corrupt police. Note that Captain Robson isn't a member of the cult. He thinks he's being bribed by smugglers, not crazed cultists. The two listed leaders for the cult are M'Dari and N'Kwane. M'Dari as the cult leader, master of rituals, and potent combatant will get his own character stats, but N'Kwane makes a useful front man to aid the cult in keeping itself secret so I will be depicting him as a VIC. There are three more named cultists in the chapter: the three that attacked Jackson. I've decided to make one of them a combat related VIC, an eager killer for the cult who is leading the lesser cultists on this mission. (He'll have a leather headband instead of a cloth one). Lastly, I'm turning the pack of zombified humans into a single horrific VIC.
Skill wise I'm giving the New York cult a step down on the pyramid. For skills the specialty is violence, which actually gets them in trouble enough that they have to use their wealth to keep the local police captain on retainer. For a third skill I'm giving them Scrutiny, as they were able to track down Jackson Elias. It might seem odd to give them a Faith of +0, but as a new cult of mostly new recruits from the dregs of society, they aren't likely as faithful or as knowledgeable as cults that have seen an avatar of their god summoned over the mountain of The Black Wind. As near as I can tell, none of the cultists know magic or perform rites beyond the M'Dari. The book also describes the cult having about 30 cultists, so I've set the cultist track to 30.
Concept: Worshipers of the Bloody Tongue Drawn From The Dregs Of High and Low Society
Instinct: Solve Problems With Panga and Blood
Turf: We Run the Harlem Underworld
Objective: Expand In Influence, Wealth, and Power
+1 Scrutiny, Wealth
+0 Authority, Fear, Faith, Subterfuge
Face In The Crowd: Gain a +2 to Defend with Subterfuge when attempting to blend into the crowd.
     |      |      |      |      |     
Name: Silas N'Kwane
Aspect: Little Old African Shop Keeper
Condition Track: [2 Out]
Stunt: Front Man - Gain a +2 to Defend with Subterfuge when concealing cult activities as shop business.
Name: Jomo "Jimmy" Jepleting
Aspect: Big Man With A Big Knife
Condition Track: [2 - Upset/Angry] [2 - Weakened/Injured] [2 - Out]
Stunt: Panga Expert - Gain a +2 to attack with Violence when using a large bladed weapon.
Name: Ciimba Guardians
Aspect: Pack of Zombified Human Victims
Trouble: No Mind of Their Own
Condition Track: [2- Reduced In Number] [2- Out]
Stunt: Horrific Visage - When seen for the first time, make a free +2 Horror (2 Madness) attack.
The leader of the local chapter of the Cult of the Bloody Tongue, M'Dari is a threat on many levels. He is physically dangerous, mystically capable, and cunning enough to have bought the protection of the local police force. I expect that when the players face off against him he will be using ceremonial claws, surrounded by cultists, and backed up by zombies. In other words, I'm going to teat him as a Boss level foe as per the Fate Adversary Toolkit. However, there is a possibility that the players will meet him before they fully know what is going on the with the cult, so I need to make sure his public facing High Concept and Trouble aren't explicitly cult related. The rest of this aspect can be initially hidden from the player as needed. Of course, if they meet him under the Ju-Ju Shop, dressed in a lion's hide with metal claws, performing a sacrifice to the monster in the pit, very little will still be hidden.
High Concept: Muscular African Dock Worker
Trouble: Aggressive and Petty
Hidden Aspect: Violent Leader of a Bloody Cult
Hidden Aspect: As Dangerous As A Rapid Lion
Hidden Aspect: My Friend The Corrupt Police Captain
+5 Fight, Provoke
+4 Physique, Deceive, Notice
+3 Lore, Occult, Contacts, Athletics
+2 Empathy, Investigate, Will, Stealth, Shoot
+1 Burglary, Crafts, Drive, Rapport, Resources
Dread Clutch of Nyogtha: You have memorized a very rare quick casting spell that can potentially kill a target in seconds. As an action you cast a ritual invovling making a disturbing clawing formation with one hand, and squeezing it closed like you are crushing the target's heart. The target must be present and they must know they are being targeted or the spell has no effect. Use Occult to make an attack for mental stress, which the target Defends against with Will. This spell is known to inflict chest pains, heart arrhythmia, and cardiac arrest.
Shroud of Fear: When a cult member invokes your Violent Leader of a Bloody Cult aspect to resist interrogation, they get a +3 bonus instead of a +2 bonus.
By Rote: You know the following rituals by heart and do not need a book to cast them: Awaken Ciimba Slave, Contact God of the Bloody Tongue, and Lesser Doom of the Devoured Moon.
Stress Track:    
Consequence Slots: [2 - Mild] [4 - Moderate]
The Monster in the Pit
The Chakota, as described in MoN, is a a deadly monster, but it's also not particularly mobile. As long as the players stay out of the pit, the most they have to deal with is the sanity draining noise. I was tempted to write it up as a Hazard using the Fate Adversary Toolkit rules, and not really even treat it as a full creature. However, I imagined the cult loosing control of it during a ritual the players interrupt, and it getting out of the pit, and now I've decided to make it a Threat, as per the Adversary Toolkit.
High Concept: Elephant Sized Worm Made Entirely of Screaming Human Faces
Trouble: Bound By Magic
+3 Provoke, Fight
Terrifying Form: When someone sees your for the first time, make a free Horror +4 (Madness 2) Attack.
Screams of Madness: Spend a Fate Point and make a single Provoke Attack dealing Mental Stress against all sane targets that can hear you.
Immune to Conventional Weapons: Add a Fate Point to the Expedition Pool to make the Chakota automatically succeed on all defense rolls against attacks from conventional weapons for the rest of the scene. Vulnerable to Fire (Defends at +0, no immunity)
Stress:    
Consequences: [2 Mild Physical]
The Harlem Police
The cult isn't the only organization the players may have to deal with in New York. The Harlem police captain is in corrupt and paid off by the cult, but isn't actually part of the cult. I'm going to try depicting him and the corrupt officers he has at his disposal using bronze rules like those for the cult. In this case, I plan on making the Captain himself a VIC instead of a full NPC. The Police operate largely on Authority backed by violence, but as a team of detectives they are also capable of investigating, trailing, and searching. As an organization, they seek wealth for its own sake and are unwilling to spend money when authority or violence will work just as well.
Only Robson is named in the book, I think there should be a pair of officers that act as Robson's trusted agents for various purposes. The police's actions described in the book are mostly geared towards violence, blackmail, and framed crimes, so that's what the VICs focus on.
I figure captain Robson probably has over a dozen officers of various ranks he can generally call on if the players do something that requires mass response (like attacking a police station) but typically a small squad is all they will deal with. The players are unlikely to take out the entire police precinct, but they might remove Robson and his corrupt agents, leaving a less problematic but still somewhat corrupt precinct behind.
Concept: Corrupt Harlem Police
Instinct: Arrest The Troublemakers
Turf: Keeping Harlem Safe
Objective: All About the Money
+1 Violence, Scrutiny
+0 Fear, Wealth, Faith, Subterfuge
Hiding Behind The Badge: Gain a +2 to Defend with Authority when using official status as police officers.
     |      |     
Name: Captain Robson
Aspect: Captain of the Harlem Police Precinct
Hidden Aspect: No Idea What the Cult Is Doing
Condition Track: [2- Upset/Angry] [2 Out]
Stunt: Once a Detective - Gain a +2 on Create Advantage with Scrutiny when digging up shady details on a target.
Name: Detective Harris
Aspect: Robson's Pet Detective
Condition Track: [2 - Weakened/Injured] [2 - Out]
Stunt: Crime Scene Engineer - Gain +2 on Create Advantage with Subterfuge when staging a crime scene.
Name: Sergent Callahan
Aspect: Robson's Right Hand Man
Condition Track: [2 - Upset/Angry] [2 - Weakened/Injured] [2 - Out]
Stunt: Crime Scene Engineer - Use Authority to make Physical Attacks when "working someone over" as a police officer.
Everyone else the players meet should only need an aspect or two, and can be considered to have a +2 in anything related to their non-trouble aspects, and a +0 in everything else.
Lieutenant Martin Poole
High Concept: Dogged Heavyset Veteran Homicide Detective
Trouble: Seen the Worst NYC Has To Offer
Hidden Aspect: Suspects Adams Is Innocent
High Concept: Editor/Owner of Prospero House Publishing
Trouble: "Don't Tell Me Where a Woman's Place Is"
Aspect: Good Friend of Jackson Elias
NOTE: In the book, the character is a male but I'm choosing to swap the gender for reasons of representation.
High Concept: African American Lawyer
Trouble: Nervous By Default
Aspect: Good Friend of Jackson Elias
High Concept: Young Millionaire Businesswoman
Trouble: Most Eligible Woman in Town
Hidden Aspect: Really Did Love Her Brother For All His Faults
High Concept: Erica Carlyle's Trusted Bodyguard
Trouble: Carries Himself Like the Ex-Mob Enforcer He Is
High Concept: Lawyer and Counselor to The Carlyles
Trouble: More Concerned with Appearance than Morals
High Concept: Harvard University Reference Librarian
Trouble: More comfortable with the written word than people
Aspect: Good Friend of Jackson Elias
Hidden Aspect: Degree in Anthropology
Professor Anthony Dimsdale Cowles
High Concept: Cheerful Australian Professor of Anthropology
Trouble: Just Keeps Talking
Aspect: Penchant For Ghost Tales
Ewa Seaward Cowles
High Concept: Beautiful and Protective Daughter of Professor Cowles
Trouble: More Suitors Than She Can Shake A Stick At
High Concept: Shady Importer/Exporter
Trouble: Plausible Deniability Requires Not Knowing
Dr. Mordecai Lemming
High Concept: Self Styled Expert on the Occult
Trouble: Living Off the Dwindling Family Fortune
High Concept: Persistent Junior Crime Reporter for the New York Times
Trouble: Exasperated By Bold Faced Lies
Hidden Aspect: Thinks Robson Framed Adams
High Concept: "An Innocent Man"
Trouble: African American On Death Row For The Harlem Murders
Hidden Aspect: Harlem Protector
Hidden Aspect: Harlem Hellfighter
High Concept: Desperate To Clear Her Husband
Trouble: Nearly Given Up Hope
I'm actually going to skip all of Hilton's friends. When/If we get to that point I plan on covering the lot of them as a former Harlem Hellfighters now being blackmailed/threatened by Robson after they helped Adams investigate the murders, but I don't actually plan on introducing or interviewing each of them individually so I don't need aspects for all of them.
Art Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_Pitcairn_autogiro_flies_over_Manhattan_Island_(c._1931).jpg
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
(After playing the original Call of Cthulhu scenario “Fear Jet ‘73” Sunday at the App State Gaming Club Gamefest from 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Ashlyn, John Leppard, Curt, Chandler, and Carl Cordini.)
On the evening of Thursday, October 25, 1973, the Learjet waited at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, for its next passengers.
“Lady and the Scamp” was what Sharon Best and Danny Trent were billed as, and had been since the two started working together as a musical act with bits of comedy routine thrown in for the fun of it five years before. They were now in the top 20 musically and had done dozens of guest spots on various variety shows. On Oct. 18, they were heading for Las Vegas from Chicago from gig to gig. Their agent, Leonard Penrose, was along, as well as Jacob Brown, a lawyer with paperwork for their own variety show on CBS replacing Sonny and Cher! Sharon’s hair dresser, Randy White, and makeup artist, Debra Wright, the two of them good friends with her, were also flying with them. Penrose had booked a Lear Jet! What luxury!
Gas prices were around 40 cents a gallon and Roe vs. Wade made abortion legal in the United States at the beginning of the year. The Vietnam War ended in January as Richard Nixon began his second term as President of the United States.
The Watergate Scandal had rocked the nation. With the first revelations in March and Nixon’s firing of White House Counsel John Dean and resignation among the White House Staff in April, televised hearings began in May. The Vice President of the United States, Spiro Agnew, pleaded no contest on Oct. 10 to a single felony charge of tax evasion and resigned from office. On October 20, President Nixon ordered Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox dismissed, resulting instead in the resignation of the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General. The eventual dismissal of Cox raised calls for Nixon’s impeachment.
* * *
Sharon Best was “The Lady” of the duo. She was tall and slim, pretty and delicate, and had blonde hair. Nearsighted she wore stylish glasses that actually made her look younger than her 38 years. She was a singer and an actor, confident, strong, and sure of herself.
Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Sharon longed for something better. After going to college at Ohio State University, she headed west to California to try a career in acting and singing. It was a long, hard struggle to the top to get her singing career (not her first choice) where she eventually started to make things work out. When she met Danny Trent in ’68, he really put the spice into her career. Ten years younger than she, it was only with his input that her career really took off as “Lady and the Scamp.” Much like Sonny and Cher, their fame was spreading, her songs were in the top 20, and she had a television variety show possibly lining up. It was all going her way. Her first LP from back in 1964, “The Golden Girl of Summer,” was actually selling again too.
As she walked through O’Hare Airport with her luggage, she saw a businesswoman in a smart suit who nodded at her.
* * *
Danny Trent, known as “The Scamp” on stage, was short and good looking with long blonde hair. He had a ready smile that showed off his great teeth. He dressed in the most stylish and fancy clothes and had an upbeat personality. His optimism was often contagious. At 28 years old, his star was rising quickly.
Danny was born in Reno, Nevada, and went to the University of Nevada, Reno, to get his business degree. But he never wanted to be in business, so he set off for California after graduating. It was pure chance he met Sharon Best, a singer with a mediocre career, and the two of them hit it off. She was 10 years older than him but he thought she was incredibly hot! He convinced her to let him sing with her and the two were suddenly on the way up! They became “Lady and the Scamp” and with her song writing and his business sense and backup singing, the two reached the top 20 charts soon after. Now, with Sonny and Cher’s marriage on the rocks, there was talk of a variety show for them next fall. Everything looked great.
He hurried through the airport to his gate.
* * *
Leonard Penrose was a tall and slim with dark hair. He also wore a very stylish dark suit and had a nice smile. At 41 years old, he was a natural in his business as an agent and counted “Lady and the Scamp” among his best clients. He was everything a client could want in an agent: flamboyant, happy, and friendly. But he also had an important secret.
No one understood Leonard, least of all himself, it seemed. He tried to make a go of it in New York City but eventually ended up doing what he did best in L.A.: finding wonderful people their amazing place in show business. He loved all of his clients, especially the men. Though he was married to Sheila, and had been for years, it was a loveless marriage as he preferred men to women, but had never come out. It was just not acceptable and he feared losing clients or worse. Maybe someday, how he felt would be openly acceptable. For now … no one knew his secret.
A man approached Leonard. He was missing his left arm and the cuff of his olive drab coat had been pinned up at the elbow. Leonard guessed he might have been a Vietnam veteran.
“Hey, buddy,” the man said to him. “Can you give me a dime for a cup of coffee?”
Leonard hesitated and then reached into his pocket and handed off two dollars.
“Thanks, man,” the panhandler said. “Tell me, have you seen the yellow sign?”
“What about the yellow sign,” Leonard said. “No, I haven’t.”
“I have not.”
“What’re … you … thanks!”
The panhandler wandered away.
* * *
The lawyer Jacob Brown looked older than his 51 years as he had been prematurely graying since high school. He had a thick gray head of hair, parted on the left side, and a large nose. He tended to squint a lot, his eyes ruined by years of ferreting out small print on documents. He was fairly solid.
Born in Dallas Texas, Jacob graduated from the University of Texas in Austin with his law degree and passed the bar not long after that. He practiced in Texas for a while before moving to California. He soon found himself working with celebrities primarily as that’s where the money was. Most recently, he found himself representing a singing group called “Lady and the Scamp” for negotiations with CBS for their own variety show. It hadn’t been easy.
As Jacob headed for the gate, he passed a nicely dressed businessman who nodded as he walked by.
* * *
Randy White was a strong black man of 28 years. He had a thin mustache and a thick afro. Effeminate and flamboyant, he was obviously and openly gay. He was also a trustworthy friend of Sharon Best and tended to be honest and level-headed.
Randy was born at the wrong place and the wrong time. No one understood him though he understood himself at a very young age. He was gay and he knew it and embraced it from the beginning. But being black and gay in Michigan was no life for him. He dropped out of high school and headed to California as soon as he turned 18. He found work with his passion: hair. Sure, it was a cliché, but it was what it was. He ended up working on Sharon Best’s hair and the two of them hit it off. He’d been working with her ever since. They were great friends.
As Randy walked through the airport, a panhandler approached him. The man had a paper coffee cup in his hand that rattled with coins.
“Hey buddy,” the man said. “You got some spare change? Spare change, buddy?
“Well, my good man, I once started small … and, here,” Randy said.
He handed over a dollar bill to the man, who seemed amazed at his generosity.
“Aw, thanks,” the panhandler said. “Thanks. He wears no mask.”
“He wears no mask?” Randy said.
But the man had already turned away to ask someone else for spare change.
* * *
Debra Wright was a pretty blonde who was spunky and talkative. She had hair down to her shoulders and looked younger than her 27 years. She always seemed happy to those around her.
Debra had a normal, boring life in Yakima, Washington, and longed for something a little better. She enjoyed theater in high school and even did a few local commercials and ads. She worked your way south, doing some acting but finding her greatest strength in makeup. Soon, she’d made a name for herself. Two years before, she started working for Sharon Best, “The Lady” from “Lady and the Scamp” and the two of them grew close. She’d worked exclusively for her ever since.
* * *
All six of them met at the gate and checked their luggage before they were escorted down to the tarmac where the Learjet awaited. The aircraft was the lap of luxury with comfortable leather seats and polished wood finish on the hard surfaces. The cabin was very small with one wide seat in the very back, two more facing it, and another, less-comfortable seat, facing the outer door.
Randy headed for the back and sat on the right side, feeling the leather. He thought at first it might be fake but, when he found it was real, he was delighted.
“This is so great!” he said. “Real leather! Whoever owns this plane has real class!”
Sharon took the seat in the middle on the left side and Danny hastened to take the seat next to her. Jacob took the seat that faced the door. It was not as nice but was comfortable. Debra sat in the back on the left and Leonard took the middle of the back, next to Randy.
The pilot and co-pilot introduced themselves as Harold Watson and Clifford Bender respectively. They greeted the passengers and were very friendly. Watson told them the flight should only take about two and a half to three hours. He also apologetically pointed out there was no bathroom on board but there was a bucket under the side chair where Jacob sat. He showed them a small refreshment station with refrigerated drinks; seltzer water; little bottles of gin, vodka, whiskey, and rum; and bags of snacks including pretzels, honey-roasted peanuts, and even small boxes of Nabisco Barnum’s Animal Crackers.
Randy started singing “Animal Crackers in my Soup.”
The two men made a little small talk. Then the pilot went into the cockpit to start preflight checks while the co-pilot closed the outer door joined him.
Then they heard the loud jet engines rev loudly. The aircraft made its way to the runway. After that, they heard the intercom buzz.
“All right, everybody please fasten your seat belts,” he said.
The jet accelerated a few minutes later, pushing them into the amazingly comfortable seats. The takeoff was flawless. After a very short time the intercom crackled again.
“You can unfasten your seatbelts, folks, and we will soon be reaching an altitude of 45,000 feet for our flight to …”
The intercom crackled and his voice did as well.
“… Carcosa …”
“I beg your pardon,” Randy said. “Did you hear what he said?”
“I couldn’t quite make it out,” Leonard said. “No.”
“How about you, sir?” Randy said, leaning forward.
“What?” Jacob said.
“What the pilot said,” Randy said. “What’s out destination?”
Jacob just shrugged.
“So, did anyone hear about a yellow sign when they came into the airport?” Leonard said.
“Yellow sign?” Randy said.
“Yellow sign?” Sharon said.
“Uh … a beggar came up to me and he asked me about a yellow sign,” Leonard said. “I didn’t … When I asked him about it, he just wandered off. It was very confusing.”
“I haven’t seen anything,” Randy said.
“I haven’t either,” Sharon said.
Danny got up and went to the fridge, pulling out a glass and some booze.
“Sharon, you want one?” he said.
“I’m good,” she said. “I don’t need one.”
She had a flask of very expensive vodka in her purse. She guessed the liquor provided was probably pretty cheap.
“While you’re up there, can you just get me a ginger ale please?” Randy said.
“Yeah!” Danny said.
“Straight,” Randy said. “And those pretzels.”
“Grab me the animal crackers,” Leonard said.
Danny carefully tossed Randy the can of soda and a bag of pretzels. He did the same with a box of animal crackers for Leonard. He looked at Jacob.
“Just a whiskey,” the lawyer said.
Danny handed him a little bottle of whiskey.
“You want a glass?” he said.
“Sure,” Jacob said.
Danny handed him a glass. Then he mixed himself some rum and cola. He went back to his seat and pivoted it to face Sharon. Debra, in the back, chatted with Leonard and Randy. Sharon spun her chair around to face them. Danny turned his chair to face the back as well.
Jacob was a little isolated towards the front of the cabin. He didn’t care. He opened his briefcase and looked through the contracts Lady and the Scamp would be signing in LA in a couple of days for the newest CBS variety show, the one that would replace “Sonny and Cher.”
Leonard found himself still wondering about the yellow sign and mentioned it to the others again.
“Did he say anything else or give any indication?” Randy said.
“No,” Leonard said. “He said nothing at all.”
“Yellow sign?” Debra said. “Oh, like a yield sign!”
“Yield signs are yellow, right? They’re those yellow triangles.”
“Sure, I guess. Yeah. He acted very strange when I asked him about it.”
“Was he a friend of yours?”
“No, it was just a beggar. He came up. He had one arm and was in Vietnam or the military.”
“Probably crazy,” Jacob said.
“Possibly,” Leonard said. “But he acted very strange. When I asked him about it, he acted like he didn’t hear me. I … he heard me up until that point.”
“Did he smell?” Danny said.
“I didn’t smell him at all,” Leonard said.
“Did he seem concerned about the sign?” Sharon said.
“Uh … he kind of shied away after I asked him about it,” Leonard said. “He kind of seemed deaf and shied away. Kind of ran. It was very odd.”
“They shouldn’t let those kind of people in the airports,” Danny said.
“Yeah, well …” Leonard said.
“I mean, that’s not what you want to see on the way to the plane.”
“It’s a mystery!” Randy suddenly said. “Just like something out of Agatha Christie! It’d be wonderful: Murder at 45,000 Feet. Oh no. Better not say that.”
“There’s only six of us here, Randy!” Danny said.
“Have you ever read And Then There Were None?” Randy said. “There were 10, true.”
“‘But Then There Were Six?’ Is that what you’re going to do to us?”
“There were 10 but then they were down to one. Or was it two? One or the other.”
“Are you going to murder us, Randy?”
“If one of us goes missing, we’ll know who to look to first,” Sharon quipped.
“No, I just happen to enjoy Agatha Christie,” Randy said. “Oh, she’s a real spellbinder.”
“She’s a writer, right?” Danny said.
“Yeah. Murder mysteries,” Randy said. “Murder on the Orient Express.”
“It’s a very good book,” Leonard said.
“Most excellent writing,” Randy said.
“Is it a movie?” Danny said. “Did they make a movie? I like movies.”
“Yes, sir,” Randy said. “They did a few movies back in the old days.”
“I’ll have to look that up.”
“That was a tough one. That’s what it’s called: And Then There Were None.”
It was about 15 minutes after takeoff when the jet leveled off. The stars were very bright and the ground so far below that nothing could be seen aside from the lights of various cities and towns. The sky was clear though some clouds blew across the ground far below. Randy picked at his pretzels though Leonard had eaten all of his animals crackers. Sharon looked out the window and thought about her singing career.
Not long after the jet leveled off, there was suddenly a bright yellow light outside. The aircraft shook and there was a strange, loud, grinding noise. The yellow light that seemed to pour in was so bright nothing could be seen out of the windows and the light had a strange, almost greasy feel. There was no warmth coming from it and the shade of yellow was just wrong. Randy cried out. It only lasted for 10 seconds or so and then it was just gone.
Leonard noticed a brighter flash of yellow light coming from between the sliding doors to the cockpit.
Then the light was gone, leaving only the stars shining down out of the windows.
“What the heck is going on here!?!” Randy cried out.
“I’m not the only one that saw that, right?” Leonard said.
“I saw it!” Danny said.
“It was all yellow and everything!” Randy said.
“I saw it mainly come from the cockpit,” Leonard said.
“Should we check on the pilot?” Sharon said.
“Yeah, should we check it out?” Leonard said.
“Danny, Sharon, what did you see?” Randy said.
“They’re probably fine,” Danny said. “Everything’s fine.”
“I don’t know about that,” Sharon said.
“Yeah,” Leonard said.
“You’re probably just getting those hobos’ nonsense in your heads,” Jacob said.
“I don’t know, man,” Leonard said.
“We saw it!” Randy said. “We saw, right there. You didn’t see!”
“I don’t know what I saw,” Jacob said.
“It was very yellow light!” Randy said. “Then it just disappeared.”
“It could’ve been another plane,” Jacob said.
“I didn’t see any other plane,” Randy said.
Leonard headed for the cockpit. Danny looked around, nervous. Sharon swiveled her seat around to face forward. Leonard slid open the doors and was terrified to see there was no one in the cockpit. Both the pilot and co-pilot were gone.
The others all leaned forward and could see the empty seats there. Randy wailed loudly.
“Does anybody know how to fly!?!” he said.
“Danny, do something,” Sharon said.
“Uh … uh …” Danny said.
He jumped up out of his seat, hitting his head on the ceiling.
“I’ll save you, Sharon!” he said.
He strode towards the cockpit as Leonard noticed a red, leather-bound book on the pilot’s seat to his left. He reached down and picked it up. There was a strange symbol on the cover that, as he looked at it, seemed to twist and swirl and squirm, reaching hungrily for him for several seconds. He recoiled and dropped the book, blinking, and suddenly he was just looking at a strange symbol on the book. He picked it back up and showed the rest.
“This was in the pilot’s seat,” he said.
They rest of them all saw the horrible sign squirm and reach for each of them and then it was gone.
“What the hell?” Sharon said.
Jacob tried to slap the book out of Leonard’s hand but the man easily jerked the book back out of the way. Then he put the book back where he’d found it in the cockpit.
“What are you doing?” Jacob said.
“I assume you all had that experience,” Leonard said.
“Did you see that!?!” Danny said.
“I saw!” Randy said. “What-what happened exactly?”
“Crazy!” Danny said.
“Yeah, I … I have no idea,” Leonard said.
“I gotta fly this plane!” Danny said.
Danny got into the pilot’s seat in the cockpit, tossing the book into the co-pilot’s seat.
“Does anybody know how to check the auto-pilot on the plane?” Randy said.
“Anyone know how to fly the plane?” Sharon said.
“I’ll figure it out,” Danny said. “I’ll figure it out. How hard can it be?”
“I definitely should have bought a plane instead of a Mercedes,” Jacob quipped.
“Danny’s been drinking,” Sharon said.
Danny started flicking switches at random and pulled on the controls.
“It’s locked up,” he said. “It won’t move. Nothing’s working up here.”
“Look at the fuel gauge,” Randy said. “How much fuel do we have?”
“Uh …” Danny said. “Uh …”
“Where’s the fuel gauge?”
“‘E’ and ‘F!’” Leonard said. “Look for ‘E’ and ‘F.’”
“Uh …” Danny said. “Uh …”
“Oh boy,” Sharon said.
“Does anyone know how to fly a plane?” Leonard asked.
No one did.
“I could try,” Randy said.
“Uh …” Danny said still looking over the controls.
Leonard started looking for parachutes. There was no space under the seats except where that bucket was under Jacob’s side-facing seat.
“Danny!” Randy said. “Do try to call the airport! Say ‘Mayday! Mayday!’”
“Oh yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah!” Danny said. “Uh …”
“Oh yeah! Radio! Found a radio! Mayday! Help! Help!”
Danny had grabbed the handset for the radio and talked into it.
“I got somebody!” he said. “I got somebody!”
“Oh good!” Randy said. “Good good good good! Now say ‘Mayday! Mayday!’”
“I said it,” Danny said.
“Well say it again!”
“Okay. Mayday! Mayday!”
A child singing “Itsy bitsy spider” came out of the radio.
“Okay, that’s weird,” Leonard said.
Danny was a little shaken as well.
Leonard looked behind the seats in the back where there was a little space and was surprised to find two olive drab satchels that looked like they held parachutes there. Each had a couple of metal handles and were otherwise stuffed full. Randy noticed the man find the two satchels.
“Leonard,” he said.
Leonard, afraid letting everyone know there were only two parachutes would cause more havoc then there already was and realizing they were not yet in a dire situation, left them where they were. He put his fingers to his lips to shush Randy.
Sharon went to the cockpit. She sat in the co-pilot’s seat on the right side and picked up the strange red book. She opened it up and looked inside. The frontispiece had a copyright date of 1952 in Roman numerals though no publishing company was listed. The title was “The King in Yellow.” She flipped through it initially and realized it was a play. It began with a list of dramatis personae:
The Queen: middle-aged but beautiful, worried about the succession of the throne of Yhtill.
Prince Aldones: the oldest son, proud and bellicose.
Prince Thale: another son, love struck with Annea, daughter of the Earl of Marionn.
Prince Alar: happy-go-lucky third son.
Prince Uoht: youngest son, shy and reserved.
Princess Cassilda and Camilla: teenaged daughters, precocious and prone to mischief.
Naotalba: high priest of Yhtill’s god, imperious and skeptical of the legends of the Last King.
Dornan: aged royal advisor, cold, stoic, steadfast.
Keleth: royal torturer, sadistic, middle-aged man.
Molle: Keleth’s teenaged assistant and implied lover.
Kieran: octogenarian servant woman, living in an extended fantasy in which she is a young girl in love with the royal boatman, Mathes, who died when she was a teenager …
Mathes: Kieran’s imagined young boatman/lover.
The Earl of Marionn and the Duke of Frost: devious noblemen of Yhtill who scheme to poison the royal family to avoid the problem of succession and thus the possibility of the coming of the Last King.
Loreon: a sardonic minstrel whose rhymes and songs help flesh out the story.
Annea: daughter of the Earl of Marionn, and the young lover of Prince Thale.
Rotus: the ancient royal astrologer, doddering but determined to see the future in the stars.
The Phantom of Truth, or Pallid Mask: a mysterious pale-faced stranger who wears the forbidden Yellow Sign.
The King in Yellow, or Last King: legendary monarch whose arrival will spell doom for Yhtill.
She started to read the play.
Jacob stared in front of him, trying to comprehend what was happening. He guessed he was dreaming, probably. He opened up the refrigerator and took out one of the little whiskey bottles, opening it up and drinking it down. The last swallow felt weird, almost as if something solid was in it. He examined the bottle, unsure what he had swallowed. Then he heard the bottles tapping against each other in the fridge.
“Danny, have you found out how much fuel we have left?” Randy called.
“Oh yeah!” Danny said. “Yeah, I did! We’re mostly full.”
“Mostly full. We just took off.”
Randy turned to Debra and took her hand.
“Debbie,” he said.
“Huh?” she said. “What?”
“Are you okay?”
“This is scary.”
“I know this is scary but Debbie─”
“Are we going to be okay, Randy?”
“Yes, I am.”
“No, are we going to be okay?”
“We’re going to be okay.”
“Danny said the plane has almost full fuel. It’s flying on automatic. It’s a modern plane.”
“So, we just gotta figure out what’s out there. But Danny, can you call the tower again, please?”
“All I gets cows,” Danny said.
“Cows!?!” Randy said. “Whatta ya mean cows!?!”
“I dunno! It sounds like cows on the radio!”
“Well, try a different frequency!”
Leonard got up from between Randy and Debra and went to the cockpit to try to help Danny. He leaned over.
“What’s going on?” I said. “You need any help?”
“I dunno,” Danny said. “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Help! Anybody out there?”
“Have you got any people? Or has it just been … noise?”
“Who’s there?” a deep voice came over the radio.
“Okay,” Leonard said quietly.
“Uh … this is Danny Trent,” Danny said. “We’re in a plane and … we … are … out of control! It’s a Learjet and we’re heading west towards Las Vegas.”
He looked at Leonard, who nodded.
“Good. Good,” Leonard said.
“Okay,” Danny said. “Can you help us? Can you help us?”
There was static for what felt like a long time.
“Tell me … have you seen the yellow sign?” the deep voice slowly said.
There was a burst of insane, cackling laughter that everyone in the plane hear. Randy wailed in terror.
“What’s going on on the radio!?!” he cried out.
Danny looked at Leonard questioningly.
“Tell him the truth,” Leonard said. “The light was yellow.”
“The light was yellow!” Danny said into the handset. “Yeah, there was a yellow light. We might have been abducted by a UFO.”
“That’s a little bit of an assumption, but all right,” Leonard said.
“Something happened,” Danny said.
Nothing but static came over the radio.
Sharon looked out of the cockpit window, looking down. Instead of the city lights below, all she saw was stars, just like the stars below.
That’s not good, she thought, disturbed. We’re in space.
She went back to reading the book, keeping that fact to herself.
“I tried the controls,” Danny said to Leonard. “Everything’s locked up. Nothing does anything.”
The Learjet was still flying steadily.
Leonard noticed the book Sharon was reading looked like a play.
“Is there anything interesting in the book?” he said. “Is it … what is it?”
She had read only a little ways into the book but had learned the first act was establishing the characters. The play was set in the decadent alien city of Yhtill, located in the Hyades, with Aldebaran prominent in the night skies. The main characters were the unnamed Queen and her four sons and two daughters, who spent most of the first act worrying about the succession to the throne. The conflict arose due to the ancient legends that at some point in time, Yhtill would name a new king who would herald the coming of the Last King, and the destruction of the city and its entire people.
She started finding herself identifying with the unnamed Queen.
“Anything that may have caused the weird …?” Leonard said.
“I … I got nothing right now,” she said. “This just looks like a regular play.”
“You’re reading that book?” Jacob said.
“Yeah,” Sharon said.
“I’d … ditch that thing.”
“I mean … it showed up here. I figured I may as well.”
Danny was still calling for anybody on the radio.
“Anybody else got any ideas?” Leonard said. “The plane seems to be going okay, I guess. I mean … I’m just as confused as everybody else here.”
“I’m not going to touch that book, I’ll tell you right now, not with everything happening!” Randy said.
“I’m not,” Jacob said.
“Are you feeling okay,” Randy said. “How you holding up, Debbie?”
“I’m okay,” Debra said.
“Are you sure now?”
He looked at her face closely. Aside from looking frightened, she seemed normal.
“Okay Debbie, we’ll just get through this,” Randy said. “Randy will be here. Holding your little hands there. Please hold my hand as well, too. We’ll get through this. Don’t you worry. Randy’s here with you.”
Jacob moved to one of the seats in the cabin that was unoccupied. He noticed the noise of the bottles clinking together in there.
“Why is it rattling?” Randy said. “There’s no turbulence.”
Jacob moved forward and opened the refrigerator. There was nothing unusual in the fridge but then he looked more closely at the small, individual liquor bottles. Each held a couple of ounces of various liquors. He noticed each one also held a small worm or something, like they sometimes did with tequila. On closer examination, they proved not to be worms. Some were little snakes. Some looked like octopi. One was just looked like a tentacle. They were all moving.
Jacob realized what he had drunk from the whiskey bottle just a short time before.
He slammed the fridge door shut and stumbled backwards to sit down on the cabin floor, his back against the outer door. Leonard, in the cockpit doorway, felt him stumble by and looked over his shoulder at the lawyer, who was pale and staring at the fridge.
“What is that?” Jacob said.
“What did you see?” Leonard said. “What happened?”
“There’s something in the fridge,” Jacob said.
“What?” Randy said from the back of the cabin. “What could it be?”
“What?” Leonard said.
“I … I don’t know,” Jacob said.
“I mean, there’s alcohol,” Leonard said.
“There’s seltzer water,” Danny said.
“Alcohol?” Randy said. “What did you see?”
“There … there are tentacles …” Jacob said.
Randy wailed in terror.
“Tentacles?” he said. “In the booze!?! Bad booze!”
“I think I drank one,” Jacob said.
Randy wailed again.
“We all drank one!” Danny said. “What do you mean ‘tentacles?’”
He got out of the pilot’s seat and pushed past Leonard.
“What’re you talking about!?!” he said.
“I think I need a drink,” Jacob said.
Danny opened up the fridge and peered in for a moment.
“I’ll be damned,” he muttered.
He pulled out a liquor bottle and held it up for them all to see. There were, indeed, small living things in the bottles. They moved as if they were alive, at least.
Debra’s eyes opened wide and she got up from her seat, letting go of Randy’s hand. She went to the fridge and got one of the seltzer bottles. It hissed as she opened the top and she started to chug down the carbonated water. As she was drinking, she reached in to grab a can of cola, pulling the tab on the top with one finger and discarding it on the floor. Then she alternately drank from the can and the bottle, chugging down as much as she could.
“Slow down!” Leonard said, crossing to her. “You don’t need … why’re … what’s happening?”
Debra kept drinking as quickly as she could. He realized something was terribly wrong with her. Randy got up and grabbed at Debra’s right arm, which held the cola can. Leonard tried to grab her left arm. She actually shoved Randy away, spilling some of the soda. Randy grabbed her right arm and pulled the can of cola from her mouth.
“Debbie! Debbie!” he said.
Leonard managed to grab her left arm finally and pulled the seltzer bottle away from her face. She struggled against them and then Randy reached forward and slapped her hard in the face.
“Debbie!” Randy said. “Snap out of it!”
She continued to try to get to the liquids.
“Leonard! Leonard!” Randy said. “Help me take her back to her seat.”
“Okay,” Leonard said.
Jacob stood up and grabbed Debra from behind. The three men dragged her to the back of the cabin while Danny looked on, stunned.
“Danny, shut that fridge door!” Randy yelled.
“Oh oh oh oh!” Danny said.
“Danny, do it now!” Randy said.
Danny tossed the liquor bottle he had held up into the fridge and then closed the door.
Debra continued to struggle against them for maybe another 15 seconds before she went limp, dropping both the seltzer bottle and the cola can on the floor. She looked around, confused.
“What happened?” she said.
“Debra!” Randy said. “Debra!”
“What’s happening? I’m so scared.”
“Speak to us. What has happened to you? What went on?”
“I don’t know! I just had to drink! I just had to drink everything! I wanted to drink everything! Except for the awful liquor bottles! With the awful worms and things in them! I don’t want to see them anymore, Danny! I don’t want to see them anymore!”
“Okay, well, that’s why we got the door closed up. It’s not going to open up. Please make sure the door doesn’t open up. Please, Jacob.”
Tears were streaming from Debra’s eyes and Leonard took the bucket out of the side seat and put it in front of the fridge to keep the door from opening. Debra cried quietly in her seat, obviously distraught. Leonard and Randy joined her and tried to calm her. Danny went back to the cockpit.
“Sharon, is everything okay?” he said.
“Yeah,” she said.
Jacob heard a rustle from the cabinet where all the food was. It wasn’t very loud.
Oh no, he thought.
He opened the cabinet door and saw the small containers of pretzels, honey-roasted peanuts, and the boxes of Barnum’s animal crackers. The rustling continued and he realized it was coming from the boxes of animal crackers. He looked over at Leonard, who had been eating the animal crackers earlier, and noticed the empty box on the small table next to him. He looked slowly back at the rustling boxes. Then he closed the cabinet.
He went to the cockpit and stood in the door to find Danny on the left and Sharon on the right. She was still reading that weird book. Danny continued fiddling with the controls and dials.
As Jacob leaned forward, he noticed what looked like another plane outside, a hundred or so yards away. It was on the left and looked like another Learjet, just like theirs. He looked over Danny’s head and saw his own face appear in the windshield of the other Learjet. As he watched, the other him seemed to see him and then waved and seemed to be yelling at him or trying to communicate.
Jacob reached down and shook Danny, pointing out the window. Danny’s jaw dropped.
“Where’d that come from?” he said.
The other Jacob was gone from the window. Jacob was deeply disturbed. Everything in his vision went red and he fell to the floor, unconscious. He’d fainted.
Randy wailed and got up, going forward to help the man. Jacob was only out for a few moments.
“Jacob, are you okay?” Randy said. “Jacob? Are you okay?”
“Uh … I don’t know,” Jacob said.
“Well, what happened, exactly, Jacob? Can you tell me?”
“I just saw red. I-I saw myself.”
“What do you mean?”
“There was a plane out there,” Danny said. “It’s gone now.”
“I saw myself in a plane,” Jacob said.
“You’re not making sense,” Randy said.
“I was looking out the window and there was a plane and I was … I was shouting … I saw myself … looking at my … I saw me in the plane. And … I was shouting at my … he was shouting at me.”
“How far away was this … was this the same plane as ours?”
“It was. Maybe? It was the same kind.”
“I just can’t … but you saw what you saw.”
“Danny saw it!”
“I saw the plane,” Danny said.
“You saw the plane?” Randy said.
“I didn’t see anybody in it, but …”
“It looked just like ours. It’s gone. Damnedest, weirdest thing.”
“You saw the plane just like ours, I take it.”
“Yes,” Jacob said.
“And you saw yourself in the window? The same window you were looking out?”
“Uh!” Danny said. “Uh!”
He had peeked out the window and noticed there was no ground below them, only stars. He pointed down.
“Uh!” he said. “Uh! Uh! There’s stars under the plane! There’s no land! There’s no land!”
“Stars?” Randy said. “Stars underneath us!?!”
He offered to help Jacob up but the man just waved him off. Randy looked outside and saw there was no ground below but only stars, just like the ones above them. Leonard also looked out of the window. It was very disturbing and he went pale, feeling faint for a moment.
“Jacob!” Randy said. “Stay on the ground. Just stay there!”
Leonard returned to the back of the cabin to comfort Debra.
Sharon had been focused on the book and was almost done skimming it. The play was very strange.
The rest of the first act of The King in Yellow consisted of a pair of evil noblemen conspiring to avoid the possibility of the destruction of the city by poisoning the entire royal family and establishing a parliamentary form of government. At the end of the first act, the royal family heard that a stranger had arrived in Yhtill, borne by winged demons. The stranger wore a Pallid Mask and bore the Yellow Sign which had been forbidden in the city for centuries.
The second act began with the vision of an illusory ghost-city on the far shores of the Lake of Hali across from Yhtill—a city whose uppermost towers were obscured by the smallest of the planet’s three moons. The royal family and the priest Naotalba summoned and haughtily questioned the stranger, who called himself the Phantom of Truth. The masked being offered vague declarations and confusing allegories, but few coherent answers. He claimed to be an emissary of the dreaded King in Yellow, or Last King. Later, at a masked ball honoring the royal family, everyone unmasked except the stranger, who revealed that his Pallid Mask was no mask at all. The second act ended with the royals ordering the imprisonment and torture of the Phantom.
The third act saw various members of the royal family questioning the Phantom as he was being tortured, but eliciting only more confusing answers—and ominous warnings of the coming of his master. The Phantom appeared to die, but as the torturer went to dispose of the body, he discovered it was his apprentice’s corpse instead. The escaped Phantom of Truth then moved through the palace, exacting vengeance on various minor characters before joining the royal family on the shores of Hali. Then the King in Yellow arrived from across the lake. Those not driven mad with fear noticed that the dead city across the lake was no longer there. The hoary, tattered King declared that only one city now existed on the shores of Hali, and that city was Carcosa, once known as Yhtill. The play ended with the King having settled the problem of succession, with the main cast fearfully awaiting their imminent demise.
The play read like a particularly dark, sadistic, and esoteric version of one of Shakespeare’s tragedies (e.g. Macbeth or Titus Andronicus). While the fates of the royal family and high priest were not depicted, the Phantom’s punishments of the lesser characters were shown throughout the final act. The advisor Dornan, who had faithfully served the royals for decades, was turned to living stone so that he might do so for all time. The distraught torturer Keleth tried to hang himself for the apparent murder of his apprentice, but the spectral Phantom hoisted the struggling sadist through the floors and walls of the palace, where he eventually abandoned him—entombed alive with the spirits of those he had tortured throughout his years of service. The Phantom confronted the two presumptuous noblemen with their cowardly scheme to destroy the royal family, banishing them from ever having existed at all. Unfortunately, this also obliterated the existence of Annea, the daughter of the Duke of Marionn, whose lover Prince Thale then killed himself at the base of a statue whose beauty he had always compared to hers. While not caused by the Phantom, the third act also revealed that the frequent interludes with the “young” lovers Kieran and Mathes were the fantasy of the aged and insane servant woman Kieran. The Phantom treated the wisecracking minstrel Loreon to knowledge of a song called “The Mystery of the Hyades,” knowledge of which caused the singer to chew off his tongue and grind his teeth to splinters. The Phantom also advised the astrologer Rotus to seek knowledge not in the stars, but in their reflections, whereupon the hapless oldster drowned chasing them in the water of Hali.
Sharon came away from the play understanding that Hastur, the King in Yellow, and the Yellow sign were all closely related, though the play was ambiguous and even contradictory in relating that information.
“So … the tentacle book,” she said. “It’s basically a screenplay, kind of like a Shakespearean play. And, it’s about this intruder that breaks in and they torture him but they ended up killing him but they don’t end up killing him. They kill somebody else. And … yeah.”
Danny looked at her like she was crazy.
“So, what?” Leonard said. “Do they kill the wrong guy?”
“Yeah,” Sharon said. “They torture and the phantom of truth but it’s the apprentice that dies, not the intruder. The intruder’s like a phantom. Basically, that’s what I got from it. The prince kills himself at the bottom of a statue but it wasn’t caused by the phantom. The phantom didn’t do that.”
“But there’s a connection between …” Sharon said. “The King in Yellow is … the yellow sign that the guy was talking about that you heard about it.”
“Okay,” Leonard said.
“And on the radio,” Danny said.
“Yeah!” Sharon said. “That we heard on the radio.”
“Okay,” Leonard said. “So, we think … The King in Yellow … was that the guy on the radio? Is that what we think, or …?”
“No,” Sharon said. “It’s representative of The King in Yellow?”
“Danny, try on the radio again,” Randy suggested. “Call the King in Yellow.”
“Yeah, maybe try─”
“Try that word. Maybe that’s a codeword.”
“Contact the King.”
Danny looked confused but turned to the radio. Leonard came to the cockpit and crowded over Danny in anticipation, standing over the prone Jacob, still on the floor there.
“This is … uh … Learjet, looking for The King in Yellow?” Danny said into the handset.
“Yeah,” Sharon said.
Some static replied.
“Hastur,” Sharon said. “Say Hastur. That’s the King’s name.”
“Hastur?” Danny said.
There was more static in reply.
“Hastur?” Randy said. “That sounds so Midwestern.”
Some noise crackled over the radio and then there was a loud and terrifying shriek that made everyone recoil. Danny dropped the handset with a curse.
“No no no no no no no no,” Debra muttered in the back.
She put her head in her hands. Randy went back to comfort her. Jacob got up and made his way out of the cockpit.
A smart rap came from the exterior door. They all looked at it and it came again. They realized someone or something was knocking on the outside door.
“Did anyone else hear that?” Leonard said.
“Well, we can’t open it!” Sharon said.
“I heard it,” Danny said.
Jacob moved to the window nearest the door and found he couldn’t see much. There was interior and exterior glass on the craft and it kept him from getting a good angle. Someone or something might be clinging to the exterior of the aircraft, but they’d have to be clinging right up against the door not to be seen from his angle.
Leonard banged on the door three times. There were three raps in return. Then the rapping came again. Sharon got up and knocked the first half of “shave and a haircut” and was a little disturbed when two raps replied to complete the sequence. Then the rapping came again, as well as a muffled voice. They couldn’t make out what was being said, however.
The rapping continued.
“What do you see out the window?” Randy said. “What can we see?”
“I don’t see anything,” Jacob said.
“What do you mean? You’ve got to see something.”
“It’s hard to see out the window.”
Danny looked out the left side of the cockpit windshield.
“I don’t see anything either!” he said.
“No one can see anything?” Randy said.
Sharon moved to the door and tried to listen.
“Who’s there?” she said.
There was merely muffled noise from the other side.
“I’m not opening that door,” Leonard said.
“No,” Sharon said. “No.”
“I’m not compromising the pressurization of the plane,” Leonard said.
Aside from the roar of the engines, there was silence in the cabin. The rapping had stopped.
“Maybe we should open it,” Jacob said.
He was remembering himself in the other plane.
“I don’t think we should!” Sharon said.
“Are you crazy, man!?!” Randy said.
“We might be in space!” Sharon said.
“Are you crazy, there?” Randy said. “We’ll get sucked out into space!”
“We can’t - we can’t be in space right now, can we?” Jacob said.
“Well, how do you know?” Randy said.
“How did you see yourself?” Sharon said.
“But Jacob has one point though,” Randy said. “Space is awful cold if I remember right. How come we’re not freezing right now?”
“I mean, that’s a point,” Leonard said. “But he just blacked out. Are we going to trust a guy who blacked out.”
“But, the stars,” Randy said. “I saw the stars below us as well too. I don’t know. If we’re not freezing, but we’re out in space, and it’s supposed to be cold as cold can be, I would say, try the door, because we’re not going anywhere. The controls are jammed. Danny, any luck with the controls?”
Danny tried to move the controls and press buttons again. He leaned back and shook his head.
“Nothing does anything up here,” he said.
“So, I’m going to say this is an illusion,” Randy said. “That’s what it’s going to have to be: an illusion. I’m willing to take that chance and open the door.”
“I vote no,” Sharon said.
“We can’t stay in here!” Jacob said.
“We gotta keep─” Sharon said.
“There’s too much **** going on in here!” Jacob said.
“There’s too much air?” Sharon said. “Because that’s what we’re about to lose!”
“Randy, if this is your decision, it’s my decision too,” Leonard said.
“Well, okay then,” Randy said. “We’ll have to take a chance because, you’ve seen so many strange things happening. The knocking on the door might mean something. So … I say─”
“If you want to do this, we can do this.”
“Okay, because we’re either going to crash somewhere, we’re going to starve to death if we keep going in space, unless we freeze to death first, so I’m willing to take a chance on that door.”
The engine noises suddenly stopped, throwing them into silence.
“Sharon, knock on the door again please,” Randy said.
“Who’s there!?!” she shouted at the door.
There was no answer.
From his perch at the window, Jacob saw they were no longer in space or wherever they had been before. Instead, the Learjet was standing on a strange city street with barely enough room on either side to accommodate the wings. The street was sided with tall buildings. It was terribly quiet without the roar of the engines and it was very gloomy outside. The buildings surrounding the jet had a Victorian or Edwardian appearance though there was the suggestion of other cultures. He could see little else from the tiny window.
“Whaaaaa?” Danny said.
He had been looking into the cabin but turned around and saw the street through the windshield.
“I … I don’t think air is going to be a problem anymore,” Jacob said.
“Why?” Leonard and Sharon said together.
“Where the hell are we?” Danny said.
“We’re on a street,” Jacob said.
“What?” Leonard said.
“Street?” Sharon said.
“Are you sure you don’t mean a runway?” Randy said.
Leonard and Sharon went to cockpit to look out and were shocked to see they were on a street. They all realized the Learjet barely fit on the street it was standing on. They could see the street only went a hundred or so feet before it turned off in another direction. In the distance, they could see dark domes and monolithic towers. Many of the structures appeared to be made of black and pitted stone and all of them towered over the Learjet. A lake stood in the distance, close enough that the strange city probably stood upon it. They looked up to see strange stars and two moons in the sky above, near the horizon. Things flew up there.
“Well …” Leonard said.
“I think I’m going to stay on the plane,” Sharon said.
“If we stay on the plane, we’re going to need food and water from somewhere,” Leonard said.
“Jacob, I apologize,” Randy said. “I thought you were talking about a runway.”
“It’s fine,” Jacob said. “We’re all a little bit stressed.”
“I quite agree with you there,” Randy said.
Debra continued quietly crying in the back of the airplane.
“Gang, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” Randy quipped.
“Definitely not,” Leonard said.
Jacob pushed the lever on the door until there was a hiss of pressure change. He pushed up on the upper clamshell portion until it locked. The lower portion, complete with steps, clunked down to its lowest position. The street outside was covered in dust and there was a smell of great age. The city was otherwise completely still and quiet. They peeked out.
Shops and windows lay on the street, all of them apparently closed. Some looked familiar though others were completely unrecognizable. The architecture was very strange.
Jacob stepped out of the plane to the street. Leonard followed him and looked more closely at a sign over one of the shops. It was not in English and the lettering was not even Roman. The others followed more slowly until all of them but Debra were standing on the street.
Down the street was an obvious storefront, not far from what appeared to be a lit gas streetlamp.
Sharon was looking up at the two moons, one of them slightly higher than the other. They seemed to be eyes in a tilted head to her. She expected them to blink. She didn’t like it but watched them carefully.
Leonard went back into the plane. Only Debra was still there.
“You want to go shopping?” he said brightly.
“Okay!” she said.
She got up quickly, not wanting to be left alone, and exited the plane with the man. When Randy noticed Debra’s streaked makeup, he wiped her face with his handkerchief.
“Follow me, friends,” Danny said.
He led the way down the street towards the shop front and the streetlight. Danny actually felt kind of drawn that direction. He didn’t think it looked like Las Vegas but he’d never been there so who knew? Leonard helped Debra while Randy went on about the city possibly being some kind of alternative Chicago.
“With the lake in the background,” he said. “It reminds me of Chicago.”
Curious, Leonard got out a cigarette and tried his lighter. It ignited and he lit the cigarette and took a long drag. Debra noticed and took out a cigarette of her own, lighting it with a match and inhaling. Leonard noted the street lamp burned with a yellow light.
The window of the store front was unusual. There were three large windows in the front, the center one nearly rectangular while the ones on the sides were half-ovals, curving at the bottom but coming to a point at the top. The middle window was not as tall as the outer ones but there were five panes of glass above it. A little above them all were two small oval windows set to either side. A strangely-shaped shop door stood to the right, also fronted in an irregularly shaped piece of glass. A single doll stood in the main window. It looked like a toy store and was dark within.
Across the street, built into the wall, was a very large chalkboard. Names were written all over it and there was a chalk tray with a single piece of chalk attached to it.
Sharon and Danny went to the chalkboard while Leonard led Debra to the store front followed by Randy and Jacob.
* * *
The two who went to the chalkboard read the names. There were many. The largest, in the center, was Alma but there were dozens of others. Sharon started looking for her own and Danny’s names and almost immediately spotted her own name far up the chalkboard. It was in her own handwriting. She looked at Danny.
“Danny, this is my name with my handwriting,” she said. “Like, I wrote this but I didn’t.”
She looked back up at the top of the chalkboard, but couldn’t see her name. She’d lost it in the mass of other names.
“It’s gone,” she said.
* * *
The others approached the shop front and saw that the doll in the window looked very much like Sharon though it was a China doll made to look like a child. It wore the same clothing Sharon was wearing and even had glasses and a hairstyle like hers. The doll was a close likeness to the woman.
“Sharon!” Randy called. “You gotta come here and see this.”
The other two walked over to the store and Sharon was horrified to see the doll looked like her.
Danny went to the door but found it locked. Disappointed, he turned away. There was a click and it slowly opened. Sharon’s eyes went wide. She was not going to enter the place.
Danny peeked into the shop and saw it was filled with shelves covered with dolls. He fumbled with the wall, hoping to find a light switch, but there was none. He saw what appeared to be gas lamps protruding from the walls but they were unlit. He realized all of the dolls were facing the door where he stood. He crept into the shop.
Leonard followed, taking Debra with him.
“What is this place?” she said.
Randy followed them.
Danny went to the Sharon doll and picked it up. It looked like a normal doll though the resemblance to Sharon was uncanny. He looked at Sharon as he looked at the doll. He lifted up the arm and it stayed up once it was put up. He half-expected Sharon’s arm to go up but it didn’t. He realized the doll could be posed to some extent.
Leonard looked around the shop and suddenly realized that, though the heads of the dolls weren’t moving, all of the eyes were in different positions and all of them seemed to be looking right at him. When he moved while looking at them, they didn’t move, but they seemed to be looking at him when he looked away and looked back. Many of them were also looking out the front window, where Sharon stood, nervously looking into the place.
Randy looked around for a doll that looked like him but didn’t see one.
Debra seemed quite unnerved by the whole shop.
“Those dolls are looking at us!” she said.
Leonard led her back outside.
* * *
Jacob crossed the street to the chalkboard, followed by Sharon. He looked at the names and spotted his own, near the top. It looked like it was in his handwriting.
“Wait, don’t break eye contact if you find your name,” Sharon said. “It’ll go away.”
“What?” Jacob said, looking at her.
“Don’t break eye contact,” she said again.
“Oh,” he said.
* * *
There was a rattling noise from the window and both Randy and Danny saw another doll stood there now. It was dressed in a very nice suit and had white hair and a large nose. They couldn’t help but notice the resemblance to Jacob.
Danny ran out of the shop.
“Don’t look at the chalkboard!” he yelled.
Randy followed him.
Jacob looked back at them and the shop and recognized a doll of himself in the window. It gave him a shock.
Sharon saw the doll Danny still carried and frowned. She didn’t want anything to do with it. Danny pointed towards the shop window and motioned to Jacob, who just shook his head. Sharon stared at the chalk board.
“Sharon, did you ever think about trying to erase the other names on there, or perhaps your name?” Randy said.
“My name disappeared,” Sharon said.
“What about the other names though?”
“That’s when the doll showed up.”
Danny took the piece of chalk on the tray and started to scratch out names. Sharon, Danny, and Jacob thought they heard the sound of breaking glass coming from the toy store. Danny cautiously crept towards the window and, even in the dimness of the room, could see that several of the dolls had fallen off the shelves and were lying broken on the door. A dark liquid oozed out of their broken heads. Danny found it very disturbing, especially when he realized the same number of dolls had fallen and broken as the number of names he had marked out with the chalk.
Sharon walked to Danny, grabbed the chalk out of his hand, and flung it down the street.
Randy was looking around and, down the street, probably several blocks away, he noticed a domed building with several painfully tall and thin towers upon it.
“Let’s go down that way just to see that building,” Randy said. “We don’t know exactly where we’re at. We’re babes lost in the woods. I say let’s go down to this domed building. Unless somebody else has a better idea.”
“I agree with Randy,” Leonard said. “Let’s move on.”
They did so
Unfortunately, the street didn’t go straight to the building and they were going to have to make their way to it. They continued moving through the city and saw thick dust and dirt on the ground most often. They left tracks wherever they went. Randy looked up as they walked and noted windows in some of the strange buildings.
“Let’s look up at the windows,” he said. “Just look up there. There might be some faces there. People … someone.”
“I-I don’t think I want to be seeing faces,” Jacob said.
Only Randy, Leonard, and Jacob looked for people in the high towers all around them as they walked. Leonard noted a face in a window after about five minutes. It looked like a woman or a young girl. She had long black hair and stared down from a window set five or six floors above the street. He quietly got Randy’s attention and surreptitiously pointed her out to him. Randy motioned for them to just keep walking. He wanted to continue on to the domed building.
The dirt and dust in the street made it look like the city had been long deserted. It was very quiet. Some of them noticed strange footprints sometimes visible in the dust that never lasted long. They appeared to have claws. They passed statues on occasion. Leonard examined one as they passed and noted a brass plate on the tall pedestal the statue stood on but no writing upon it. The man was in antiquated but unfamiliar clothing who was reaching down towards the street as if begging whomever was close enough to read the blank plate. His features were very familiar and very distinct but he did not remember where he had seen the man before.
They saw dim passageways in some of the towers, some with passageways leading down, others with stairs leading up. They passed a dry canal with a broken boat sitting in the bottom of it. They passed through alleys with stairs that were too shallow and felt uncomfortable to walk upon. Some of the walls were at the wrong angles and made their eyes hurt to even look at them. They felt like they were being watched all the time.
They passed by more shops. The window of one was actually filled with televisions. There were at least a dozen sets and, as they approached, they all turned on. They all had the same thing on. It looked like a stage in a variety show with tinsel hanging down in the back and a large center area for the actors.
The worlds “Lady and the Scamp!” scrolled across the screens.
A woman who resembled Sharon Best stepped out from the right wearing a leather dominatrix outfit, complete with riding crop and mask. They couldn’t make out her features. What must be assumed was Danny Trent came from the left wearing a bondage or gimp outfit. It was all leather with zippers over the mouth and eyes, though the latter were open. The woman spoke first but the words are unintelligible. It didn’t make any sense. It didn’t even sound like a language. Canned laughter erupted from the audience. Then the gimp spoke; again the words impossible to understand and unreal. The audience was silent. Someone coughed. The woman shook her head and said something to the gimp, who bent over. She started to whip him with the crop, eliciting uproarious laughter from the audience. It was embarrassing and humiliating.
“Do you hear that?” Debra said.
“Hear what?” Leonard said.
“Hear what?” Randy said.
“Behind the TVs,” Debra said. “It sounds like the TVs are echoing something that’s happening in the shop.”
They could see light behind the televisions and noted movement in the shop that almost mimicking what was on the televisions as if the show were being made in the back of the shop.
Randy tried the door to the store but found it locked.
The show continued with the humiliation of the shorter gimp continuing. The figure that Danny thought sure was representing himself told obvious jokes but the audience was quiet. There was even the sound of crickets at one point. The audience seemed to love the dominatrix, who was obviously Sharon, though the mask covered her features. They obviously hated the gimp: Danny.
It was humiliating for him. He thought he was pretty funny and helped make the team of Lady and the Scamp funny, but this show seemed to be showing him as a fool and a loser. Enraged, he kicked the door of the shop open, the glass breaking as it rebounded against the wall. He stomped into the place followed by Leonard, Jacob, and Sharon.
As soon as they entered the store, the television screens went blank.
* * *
Danny stomped into the empty store and to the lit room in the back. Leonard, Sharon, and Jacob followed him.
In the back room, was a stage that looked just like the one on the televisions. Two mannequins stood there, one dressed as a dominatrix and the other, short one, dressed as a gimp. Everything was silent. There was no audience. There was no camera. There was nothing except the stage, the mannequins, and the lights that shined down.
Danny, enraged, walked to the dominatrix mannequin and grabbed the riding crop out of its hand. He started beating on the mannequin with both hands, the riding crop in one and the Sharon doll in the other. The doll was shattered almost immediately and the mannequin fell to the floor where Danny continued to beat on it with what was left in both hands for about 15 seconds.
“What happened in there!?!” Randy called from outside. “The televisions all went blank when you went inside. What happened?”
Sharon went over to check on Danny, who was breathing heavily and was red in the face. He had dropped both the riding crop and the broken doll. She put a hand on his shoulder.
“You okay?” she said.
“People, what happened inside?” Randy called again. “The televisions went blank when you went inside!”
Leonard went back to the door.
“Danny’s just having a fit!” he called. “He’ll be fine. We got it under control.”
“C’mon Danny,” Sharon said.
She led him back out of the horrible little shop, followed by the other two. They continued down the street. They were not far along when they heard a buzz behind them as the televisions flickered to life once again. Danny flinched but Sharon pulled him along.
They were trying to figure out how to get to the strange building Randy had seen earlier and all of them felt terribly uneasy as they began to figure out the layout of the city. They all realized the whole city was much more strange than they thought. It almost felt as if the city were changing around them just out of their sight. Sometimes even things down the street, along the path they were heading, would change slightly or even completely if no one was looking at it. It was almost as if the city were molding itself around them and nothing was solid or permanent. It was disturbing and their knowledge of it happening was also disturbing.
They also realized they were not completely sure how to get back to the plane.
Then Leonard and Randy saw the girl they seen in the high window down the street, peeking around a corner of an alley ahead. Danny noticed her as well. She was the first person they’d seen since they had left the Learjet.
Randy, wanting to speak to her, picked up his pace. Leonard did so as well. Danny, nervous about the whole thing, merely stayed with the group. However, Jacob kept up with the other two and soon saw the girl as well.
Her face looked odd, they realized as they got closer. Her eyes seemed too big and her mouth was too small. Her hair was two dark and too straight. She didn’t look like a real person.
“Excuse me,” Randy called when they were within a dozen yards. “Excuse me, could we speak to you? Can we speak to you please?”
The girl turned and ran down the alley.
“I knew she was going to do that,” Randy said.
Randy and Jacob picked up the pace. Leonard broke into a sprint and ran ahead of the other men.
“Don’t startle her!” Randy said.
Leonard reached the corner first and, when he turned it, he stopped. The alleyway was about 50 or 60 feet long and had no other entrances or exits. But there was no one there. The girl was gone. The lowest windows were at least 30 feet up and mounted on smooth walls.
When Randy turned the corner, he said “Look up.”
There was nothing there. The girl was gone.
Leonard stood there, dumbfounded. Then he noticed the two moons. They seemed to be in the same exact spot they had been in when they had first arrived over a half hour before. Danny noticed that same thing. They should have risen or fallen in that time, at least a little. Sharon noticed as well.
“Hey,” she said. “I don’t think that time is … moving.”
“How do you mean?” Randy said.
“The moons haven’t moved,” she said. “They should be at least slightly different in the sky.”
“Oh,” Randy said. “By golly, you’re absolutely right.”
“Maybe it’s just been an hour,” Danny said.
“We’re in the Twilight Zone, that’s what it is,” Randy said.
“Does anyone have a watch?” Jacob said.
Randy looked at his watch and saw the hands were spinning furiously. Leonard looked at his watch and saw it was going backwards. Danny looked at his watch and saw it was not moving at all. He showed Sharon.
Randy realized he was always in a rush and the watch seemed to reflect that.
Leonard’s backwards-moving watch made him realize he wished he was back home.
Danny thought his watch reflected reality the best, as time shouldn’t move at all and didn’t there.
It was almost as if their watches, like the things in the city, were reacting to them against all logic. As if perception was subjective.
They continued on, trying to find their way towards the domed building.
They passed what appeared to be some kind of large, ornate, gothic warehouse on one side of the street. The sounds of a great deal of movement came from within. The windows of the building were set about 20 feet up but there was light coming from them. The sounds were reminiscent of machinery or people. There were a pair of large doors in the front with a single smaller door set in one of them.
Leonard looked at Randy and raised his eyebrows.
“Could we just peek through the door first?” Randy said.
They went to the doors and Randy pushed open the small door and peeked in along with Leonard and Sharon.
Within the large building stood long assembly line of some kind whereon brass clockwork automatons worked to assemble or disassemble things, though it was not immediately clear which or what. Other automatons slowly cranked the wheels of the assembly line, sending indeterminate brass devices moving down the line of “workers.” Some of them added things to the items while others seemed to remove parts. It was all quite strange.
The line ran out of sight from where they were. The warehouse was huge.
Leonard moved into the warehouse and tried to figure out what they were working on. He felt uncomfortable when he realized the machines appeared to be building, or disassembling, more clockwork devices like themselves. He thought he could get a better feel for it if he walked down the line. But he didn’t.
Sharon had rejoined the others. Randy waited in the doorway.
Leonard returned to Randy and told him what he thought. Randy mentioned it to the others, who loitered outside.
They headed further down the street.
The building they were trying to get to sometimes seemed closer and sometimes seemed further away. At one point, it seemed to merely be a block over but then it was much further away from their location though they thought they had been making their way to it constantly. They found a place where the street overlooked the temple, though there was no way down to it. The towers appeared to be decorative as they didn’t seem to be large enough to have any kind of staircase within. They were basalt and very tall. They could see light coming out of the main building through yellow, stain-glass windows. They thought they saw a shadow move across one.
“Well, people,” Randy said. “We got to figure a way to get out of this place. And I have a feeling the temple is going to give us the answer on how to get the heck out of here. If we just showed up on the street, hopefully we can just disappear from the street.”
“The yellow light is what got us here, right?” Sharon said.
“That’s true. The yellow light may be what’s responsible for getting us out of here too.”
“Sure,” Danny said.
“Unless someone else has a better idea …” Randy said.
Danny already headed down the street that seemed to lead to the temple or whatever it was. The rest of them quickly followed him. He was finally feeling himself again.
They passed what appeared to be a studio or gallery of some kind. The doors were open and there was no glass in the windows. Several paintings adorned the walls. Leonard and Sharon thought they saw a shadow of a man move inside the room.
They avoided the gallery and continued down the street, not wanting to get distracted.
They had gone several more blocks and thought they were only a few blocks away, or at least they hoped, when a man walked down the street in their direction. He held a lantern in his left hand and had long hair. His clothing was antiquated and looked like something people wore during the 17th or 18th century: pantaloons, shoes with large buckles, long knee socks, a tunic, and an open-fronted jacket. A cutlass was in a scabbard on his belt and he had long hair and was clean-shaven, though he grinned in a decidedly uncomfortable way.
He approached them, holding up the lantern, which was merely a stub of lit candle in a small glass box with a handle.
“Hey there,” Jacob called out to the man, stepping forward.
The others followed closely behind, Randy suggesting they stay back a little so they didn’t scare the man off. Though most complied, Danny moved ahead to approach the man with Jacob. As they got closer, they saw that the man was very thin as if he hadn’t eaten lately and his eyes were a bit wide. When he spoke, it was with a thick, British accent.
“Are you a righteous man?” he said.
Jacob straightened his tie. He liked to think of himself as a fairly righteous man.
“I’m a righteous man!” Danny said.
“I’ve found two,” the British man said. “I need to find at least 10 to stop the terror. You must answer me three questions.”
He looked at the two of them.
“Have you ever broken the commandments or killed another man?” he said.
“Uh … no,” Jacob said. “I never killed a man.”
“No,” Danny said.
The man looked each of them over and then frowned.
“How dare you lie to me?” he said. “Don’t lie to me. I need righteous men! I have to stop it or Sodom and Gomorrah will happen again … all over again. I must find 10 righteous men! Ten Righteous men!”
A single tear rolled out of one of the man’s eye. He looked past them.
“You!” he called to the others. “Are you righteous men?”
“Uh …” Randy said.
“We just arrived here in a plane,” Jacob said. “We don’t know where we’re at. Could you, maybe, tell us where we’re at?”
“It’s a sinful place,” the man said. “A place of sinners. It’s a terrible place. I’ve been looking for righteous men to save Port Royal. But I think I’m too late. I haven’t been able to find my way out of this place since … since the waves came and the … towers fell. It’s a terrible place. A terrible, terrible place.”
Jacob was fairly certain Port Royal was destroyed by an earthquake. Danny remembered for certain it had been destroyed in the late 17th century by earthquake and tidal wave. One of the ships ended up on top of a building. It had been terrible. And of those who survived, hundreds had died of disease after the terrible incident.
“But that happened hundreds of years ago,” Danny said.
“No!” the man said. “I’ve got to save it. I’ve got to save it.”
He started to back away from them, suddenly terrified.
The others approached and Leonard went to the man.
“Yes,” he said. “Yes! I’m a righteous man.”
“You’re a righteous man?” the other man said.
“You’ve never broken the commandments?”
“No. No. I do not judge my fellow man, but I think there are certain sins you probably have committed.”
“Have you? Are you a righteous man?”
“No! That’s why I seek them! I must find a righteous man!”
“Would you take a righteous woman?” Sharon said.
“We’re all the most righteous of men that you’ll find in these parts,” Jacob said.
“Would you take a righteous woman?” Sharon said again.
The man looked at Jacob.
“But I can’t just the most righteous men,” he said. “I must find truly righteous men. It’s the only way to save Sodom and Gomorrah - save Port Royal. It’s the only way. It’s the only way.”
He backed away.
“What is Sodom and Gomorrah?” Danny said.
“You don’t even know Sodom and Gomorrah?” the man said. “Read a bible! Read your bible.”
He left them, tears coming from his mad eyes.
“Can I have your cutlass, at least?” Danny called after him.
The man merely walked slowly and sadly away.
They went on their way. Only a block away, they came upon the building they had been searching for.
The black-domed temple had impossibly tall, thin towers jutting from the roof around the dome. Each was filled with dark windows filled with strangely-shaped, evil-looking gargoyles. Light glinted from the stained-glass windows of the place, which had strange scenes of people in masks floating gaily across a yellow background. Great golden doors stood in the front of the building.
“Well folks, we have nothing to lose, once again,” Randy said. “I’ll lead the way.”
He led them up to the doors and knocked. They felt greasy to the touch. There was no answer. He pushed on the door and it opened easily so he peeked in.
The building appeared to be one large room, deep and wide, with pillars holding up the black dome above. Something glittered up in the dome that almost looked like stars or small lights. The building was nearly square and, on the far end was an altar or table of some kind. Next to it stood a man in yellow robes. He was rather small, older, and wore wire-rimmed round glasses. He was balding and had a genial face, smiling when he saw Randy peeking in. He beckoned the black man forward and Randy saw he had a knife in his hand.
“All right,” the man said with a friendly grin. “Who’s first? C’mon!”
Randy pushed the door open and entered, the rest of them behind him.
“Just beware, people,” Randy said to the others. “He’s wearing a yellow robe but he’s a gentle-looking man.”
“C’mon!” the man said with a grin as they approached. “C’mon.”
“Is your name Hastur?” Leonard said.
The man laughed.
“No no no no,” he said. “That’s who I’m going to sacrifice you to. Who wants to go first?”
Randy wailed and the rest gaped at the man.
“Huh?” Sharon said.
“Yeah, I gotta kill you,” the man said. “I got this knife here. Who wants to go first? Just lay down on this altar.”
“Why do you want to do that?” Leonard said.
“That’s why I’m here,” the man said. “That’s why you’re here.”
“Oh,” Leonard said.
Sharon launched herself at the man.
“Oh, you’re first,” the man said.
She grabbed his arm as he tried to stab her. The two struggled with the knife.
“What is going on!?!” Debra wailed.
“If you just let me go, I’ll get it over with,” the man said.
Jacob rushed the man and tried to tackle him but merely struck him in the side at the wrong angle. He wasn’t as young as he used to be. Randy rushed forward as well and grabbed the man by the same arm Sharon had him by. He struck the man in the hand and knocked the knife free. It flew out of his hand and landed behind them.
“Dammit!” the man said. “Let me just get my knife.”
He tried to break free of Sharon’s grip and the two continued to struggle.
“Let go!” the man said.
Leonard ran over and picked up the knife, staying away from the man. It was slightly curved and looked very sharp. The pommel was adorned with large, yellow stones. It had a good weight.
Danny rushed forward.
“Can you hand me that so I can finish this?” the man asked him, indicating the knife Leonard held.
Danny punched at the man’s face but only landed a glancing blow.
“Get away from me!” the man said.
“Leave her alone!” Danny said.
“This is not how it’s done!” the man said. “This is not how it’s done!”
Jacob moved to the man and tried to put him in a hold but couldn’t get a good grip on him. Then Sharon swept the man at the legs, kicking them from behind and taking him down to the ground. She went down on top of him.
“Talk to me,” Randy said. “Will you tell me what’s wrong with you? Will you tell me where to go to the boss? What are you doing with this knife besides the sacrifice? Why?”
“I’m trying to sacrifice you because that’s what I’m here for!” the man said. “That’s what you’re here for. That’s why the plane brought you here.”
“But why do you want to sacrifice us?” Sharon said.
“Because, we need to make sacrifices to Hastur,” the man said. “I got the short straw so I’m stuck here in Carcosa.”
He looked at Sharon.
“Would you get off me, lady?” he said.
“No,” she said.
“Why do you have to sacrifice us?” she said.
“This is your destiny,” the man said.
“Like hell it’s our destiny!” Randy said.
“There’s no need to quarrel.”
“We’re going to get away from here.”
“Well, there’s no way out. Listen. Listen listen listen listen. I’m the keeper of this temple. Right? I’m here to sacrifice the people who come here.”
“Why don’t we sacrifice you?” Sharon said.
“It won’t matter. I’ll just come back.”
“I’m stuck here. I’m part of Carcosa now.”
“I drew the short straw. I’m not happy about it.”
“Will we come back?”
“Oh hell no. Well … you’ll be part of Carcosa forever. There’s this rich group of worshippers. Okay? So they thought … I was one of them. So we bought this Learjet and we enchanted it so it’d bring people to Carcosa so they could be sacrificed. It’s easier than kidnapping people off the street. So, if you give me my knife back, buddy, and just get on the altar, I’ll just sacrifice you, you’ll all be done, and … you’re not going to be able to find your way back anyway. Have you seen the streets? Do you know how to get back to the jet? It might have already left. It’s automatic. It won’t help you return. It’s going to leave shortly, if it hasn’t already left. You see, Carcosa changes. When you’re not looking at it, it changes into something different. There’s no way you’ll find your way back before … it’s gone. The plane goes back to Earth. You’re on Aldebaran, in the Hyades.”
“The moons didn’t change.”
“The moons didn’t change.”
“They’re not part of the city. They’re part of Aldebaran and the solar system. But have they moved? Time doesn’t pass here. Not since the King in Yellow came. They wrote a play about it! I read it. This building is your final destination. Just lay down on the altar; let me sacrifice you. Otherwise, you’re going to have to deal with them.”
He gestured upward with his head.
“Who’s them?” Leonard said.
“The byakhee,” the man said. “They’re servants of Hastur. They’re flying around. They know you’re here.”
“So what’s a byaskee besides a flying creature?” Randy said. “How do you describe it?”
“Well, it’s a thing that looks like a crow … and a bug … and a dead body …”
“It’s hard to describe. I still don’t like looking at them. But, you know … I’m not a masochist.”
He looked at Sharon.
“Get off me!” he said.
He struggled a little but she didn’t move.
“We’re just going to have to take you on back and we’re going to have to take our chances,” Randy said. “If you’re stuck here, it won’t be for a lack of effort on our part─”
“You can’t take me back,” the man said.
“I can’t go back.”
“We’re going to take our chances on that. Call us dumb, call us ignorant, but we’re going to do it and hopefully ignorance is bliss in this case and ignorance can get us out of this place as well too.”
“Good luck with that.”
“Well, of course, we’ll need luck─”
“It would be easier if you would just get down on the altar and just let me─”
“No way in hell or heaven or purgatory for that matter.”
“There’s none of those. They don’t exist.”
“I may have to differ about that!”
“It’s not an opinion. This isn’t purgatory. All that Christian bunk? No. Hastur’s a real god. He’s terrifying. I don’t ever want to meet him. You don’t either. Just get on the altar … would you get off me!?!”
“No,” Sharon said.
“Just get on the altar and let me stab you,” the man said. “It’ll be over really quick. It won’t even hurt that much.”
Debra watched the rest of them from across the room, her hands over her mouth, wide-eyed.
“So, what happens if we die not by the blade?” Leonard said.
“You become part of Carcosa anyway,” the man said. “Or if you go crazy here. They’ll come and get you if you go crazy.”
“Is there any way out?” Sharon said.
“There’s no way out,” the man said. “Just let me sacrifice you. You will never get back to the jet before it leaves. It’s automatic.”
Sharon and Jacob thought, for the most part, the madman was telling the truth. But he didn’t think the man was telling them everything. They thought the man wasn’t telling them everything about the streets changing.
“There’s got be something that is stable, right?” Sharon said. “This place has to have a core or something.”
“Hastur’s the core,” the man said.
“Have there been people who have come before us?” Jacob said.
The man looked at him.
“No,” he said.
“That’s a lie!” Leonard said.
Sharon punched the man in the face. It was a glancing blow that looked painful. He let out a shout.
“Stop it!” he said. “Don’t … hit me.”
“Tell the truth,” she said. “All the truth. Nothing but the truth.”
“Okay, fine. If you figure out how the place works, you can manipulate the streets, the roads, the buildings, but you can’t do that.”
“Because. To do that, you have to go crazy.”
“Hey, Debra, c’mere,” Sharon said.
Debra walked over, terrified.
“You’re crazy, aren’t you?” Leonard said.
“Pretty much,” the man admitted. “But I’m not taking you back to the plane. Nothing you can do to me is worse than what hasn’t already been done! I been living here for years. Wait. What year is it?”
“Nineteen seventy three,” Randy said. “When did you show up?”
“Time doesn’t exist here,” Sharon said.
“Nineteen seventy three?” the man said. “Oh wow. Okay. I been here for a few years. So what?”
“Define a few years,” Leonard said.
“When they built the Learjet,” the man said. “It was brand new. Right off the assembly line. One of the first, actually. It was one of the first off the assembly line. That’s when we bought it and did the plane and I got the short straw and here I am.”
“So, how’d you know we arrived in a jet?” Jacob said.
“Because I was part of it,” the man said. “I helped enchant the Learjet.”
He looked at them.
“The one that brought you here?” he said. “You rented it? Somebody rented it for you? You flew? All the sudden, you weren’t on Earth anymore? Now you’re here?”
“All right,” Leonard said.
“Where’s the rest of you?” Danny said.
“They’re back on Earth,” the man said. “I got the short straw. We’re all worshippers of Hastur.”
“Wait, Hastur’s on earth?” Sharon said.
“We want to make … no,” the man said. “The other elite. The others who are part of this plan. They were all part of it. We were all part of it together.”
“What are their names?” Leonard said.
“Uh … no,” the man said.
“Punch him again, maybe?” Jacob said.
“What’re you, a cop?” the man said.
Sharon punched the man again. It was another glancing blow that obviously hurt.
“Stop,” the man said.
“You know, if you helped us get back, we could force one of them to get the short straw instead of yourself,” Danny said.
“Yeah, you don’t have to take this,” Sharon said.
“You don’t have to be the one,” Danny said.
“Get her off me and give me my knife back first,” the man said.
“No,” Danny said.
“No,” Jacob said.
“Then don’t go!” the man said. “I’m not going to help you!”
“I’ll get off of you but we’ll hold the knife for now,” Sharon said.
She let him go and stood up. The man stood up and brushed his robes off indignantly.
“Hey man, what’s your name?” Sharon said.
“I don’t remember,” he said.
“Okie-dokie,” she said.
They realized the man was not all there. His mind seemed damaged.
“How do we manipulate the city?” Leonard said.
“Once you know how to manipulate, you do it,” the man said. “You might have already done it.”
They were all thinking about how they might manipulate the city around them. The thoughts that came to mind were not pleasant or natural and went against everything they knew and believed, but they felt it was right and proper somehow, even if terrible to imagine. If the universe actually worked like that, what other terrible truths were there that shouldn’t be but were? They realized the more they understood about the place, the more it broke their perceptions of reality, but the more control they might make. They figured they might be able to get through the madness of the place and control it. The more they thought about it, the more fractured and broken they each felt, but also the more they felt they understood how the strange and terrible city worked. They also came to the conclusion they might also work together to figure out how to manipulate the city and return to the Learjet.
“Now you’re getting it!” the man said.
He smiled and then had a thought.
“Wait, you can’t leave,” he said. “I need to sacrifice you. C’mon. C’mon. C’mon!”
“Well, we ain’t doing it,” Randy said.
“Why don’t you come with us?” Sharon said.
“C’mon!” the man said.
“And you could get your buddies.”
“No, I won’t make it back.”
“What do you get out of sacrificing us?” Jacob said.
“I got the short straw,” the man said. “I have to do it.”
“But what do you get out of it?”
“Worship to Hastur.”
“What happens if you don’t do it, though?” Sharon said.
“Hastur doesn’t care,” the man said.
“Just take the out then.”
“Does he care if you do do it?” Jacob said.
“Maybe?” the man said.
“It’s not definite.”
“Exactly. Now you’re getting it. C’mon! Who’s first?”
“No way!” Randy said. “People, let’s all tap our heels three times and focus on the plane, focus on the roads.”
“This ain’t the Wizard of Oz, boy,” the man said.
“Let’s figure it out,” Randy said. “Focus on the roads. Think of a nice, wide road, for us to walk back to wide enough to either A) let us take off or the road will just disappear, we’ll drop down and fly away from this madhouse place or this madhouse Twilight Zone area. Shall we do it together? Try to figure out how we see the road as? See the plane as? I would say, just think about this. Tapping heels three times optional. But nevertheless think of where the plane is at and think of us walking back to the plane.”
“That’s a lot to think about,” Jacob said.
“If we all do it together …” Randy said.
They realized they would have to walk as they tried to change the road ahead. Danny thought about finding the doll shop but realized that it was near the jet when they arrived but it might not be any more. They talked briefly about focusing on the lamppost but again realized things changed in Carcosa, and the jet might not be anywhere near the lamppost anymore.
“Can I have my knife back?” the man said.
“No,” Sharon said.
“Why don’t we just stab this idiot?” Danny said.
“No, he’ll come back,” Sharon said.
“That’s a bad idea,” Leonard said. “I’m of the idea that we go back to the art shop we passed, the closest one, with the shadow? It’s closest. We could go back to it.”
“But if the place changes all the time, we might not make it back to the art shop,” Randy said.
“Yeah, he’s right,” the man said. “Everything changes all the time.”
“Everything changes but if we focus─” Randy said.
“The art shop?” the man said. “You gonna go talk to Jack Scott?”
“Shut that guy up, will you, man?” Randy said.
“I know what will be in the same spot,” Sharon said.
“All of our seats on the plane. We could all just imagine ourselves there. Then we’re in the plane.”
“That’s a sweet idea. So, what do you think? Do we all focus on being back in the seat of the plane and we’re also flying to Vegas or back to Chicago? With the pilots.”
“The pilots are there.”
“All right, focus on the pilots. Focus on the fact that we’re back in our respective seats.”
“So, I’m in between Randy and Debra,” Leonard said.
“Right,” Randy said.
“You think you’ll just magically teleport there?” the man said.
“Yeah!” Sharon said.
“You said everything moves about,” Randy said. “We’ll take the chance. At least get ourselves back to the plane.”
“If that doesn’t work, I’m stabbing this guy for real,” Sharon said.
“We sacrifice this chump for real,” Randy said.
“You don’t stab me,” the man said. “I gotta stab you!”
“No,” Sharon said.
“You’ve got it backwards.”
“I’m going to sacrifice you to Hastur.”
“You don’t know how.”
“I say we all just get in a circle and try Randy’s idea,” Leonard said.
“I’m immune to sacrifice,” the man said. “Somebody’s got to be here to man this place.”
They all stood in a circle and thought about being back in the plane. The old man in the yellow robes just watched them. Nothing happened.
“I say we walk towards where we think it is,” Danny said.
“Wait wait wait,” Sharon said. “It changes when we don’t look, right. So we should all close our eyes and open our eyes again.”
“Yeah, but I’m looking,” the old man said.
“We haven’t even tried walking back to the plane yet,” Leonard said.
“You want to put his eyes out?” Sharon said. “You’ve got the knife. But don’t kill him or he’ll come back with eyes.”
“Let’s walk back but think about where we’re going to go to,” Randy said. “Where are we going to think of as we walk back?”
They looked at each other.
“The jet,” Danny said. “The ramp of the jet.”
They headed out of the temple. Leonard kept the dagger.
“You’ll be back!” the old man called after them. “You’ll be back! I’ll be here. Bring muffins!”
“No!” Sharon said.
They left the temple, heading down one of the streets.
They started to experiment with the city, trying to figure out how to control it. It was not pleasant as most of them headed for the factory by agreement. Jacob, on the other hand, focused on the chalkboard. Danny couldn’t get the stage out of his mind and so tried to do something with that. Sharon couldn’t get the televisions out of her head.
“I’m just going to go find the plane myself,” Jacob said.,
“You sure?” Sharon said.
“Your funeral,” Danny said.
Jacob headed off on their own while the other five tried to figure out the city. It was not pleasant but they did have a better understanding of the city as a whole.
They saw the temple, which seemed very far away. However, they could see the old man had somehow gotten up on the roof. He held his arms in the air and he was singing or chanting. Some of the horrible creatures flew down to him and then he conferred with them and pointed in their direction. The things took to the air again.
They decided to try to understand the city a little more as they moved through the town. They were finding a terrible understanding of the place was coming to each of them. They decided to experiment some more before they tried to make their way back to the jet.
* * *
Jacob wandered through the terrible city and then tried to figure out how better to manipulate it. He was very lost and seeing roads and streets he had never seen before. It made him nervous. It was worse being in the place alone than amongst others. He wasn’t sure he’d ever find his way back to the jet but was determined to try.
Then he saw the terrible flying things. He didn’t think they were coming for him. He hoped they weren’t. He prayed they were.
He turned a corner and saw the Learjet on the street ahead. He ran to the vehicle and realized it was on a street that looked nothing like the street he’d been on. No one was in the Learjet and the hatch was still open. Everything looked exactly as they left it what felt like hours before. He crouched near the hatch, peeking out in terror.
* * *
The horrible creature flew over the tower tops and swooped towards the other five people trapped in Carcosa. The hybrid winged thing flapped rhythmically. It was not altogether a crow, nor mole, nor buzzard, nor ant, nor decomposed human being, but something like all of them together. It was horrible to behold and they felt filled with terror at the sight of it.
Leonard was suddenly filled with terrible paranoia. Not only were the things out to get him, but he was certain all of his companions were, likewise, just trying to kill him. He backed away from the group and then ran away, sprinting away from them in a random direction and disappearing from sight almost immediately.
The rest of them only hesitated for a moment, Randy calling after Leonard, but then joining the rest as they ran down the street in what they all hoped was the correct direction.
And it was! They turned a corner and saw the Learjet ahead. However, the horrible creature swooped down upon them, coming at Randy. He flung himself to the ground and the horrible thing crashed onto him and landing on top of him. It bit him in the shoulder, injuring him, and then seemed to latch on. There was a slurping noise and he suddenly felt weaker as the horror drank his blood. The stench of the thing was almost overwhelming. He screamed.
Sharon, Debra, and Danny all fled to the plane.
“Good luck, pal,” Danny called to Randy as he ran.
Randy screamed again, continuously, and reached into his pocket to pull out the straight razor he always carried. He whipped behind him, trying to cut the horrible thing. He felt it strike the thing but wasn’t sure if it hurt it or not.
* * *
Leonard wandered, lost through Carcosa, terrified of the horrible things that he was sure were pursuing him. He knew his so-called friends were in on the plot as well, and probably planned to sacrifice him in the horrible temple and would have succeeded if he hadn’t outsmarted them earlier and gotten the knife that he still carried in his hands. That was the only reason he was still alive. He could only depend on one person: himself.
But he was so lost.
Then he heard the flapping of wings from above …
* * *
The horrible thing on Randy continued to suck his blood and his vitality. The man screamed and screamed and screamed as he tried to break away from the creature. It held him down with all its weight.
* * *
Sharon went into the cockpit and closed the doors to the cabin. She didn’t want to be out in the city any more. Danny ran to his chair and strapped himself in. Debra moved to the back of the cabin and sat in her seat, terrified. From the hatch, Jacob saw Randy being apparently eaten by some horrible creature.
“Hey!” he called to the hairdresser. “Hey! Hurry up!”
* * *
In the cockpit, Sharon suddenly realized there was a man-sized mannequin in the co-pilot’s seat. The head was turned so if it had had a face, it would be have been looking directly at her. It looked like a large puppet, made completely of wood with hooks where the elbows, knees, shoulder, and hips were so that it was probably very flexible. She didn’t know where it had come from. She wasn’t even sure if it had been in the chair when she had entered the cockpit.
* * *
Randy slashed at the horrible beast upon him with his straight razor again. He couldn’t really see and he wasn’t sure if he was actually hurting it or not. The horrible thing continued to suck his blood and vitality.
* * *
Danny took the napkin out of his pocket. He had kept it ever since he had met Sharon Best in 1968 and they had gone out to dinner. It was the napkin she had used at dinner that night and he had treasured it ever since. It wasn’t even dirty. He muttered to himself as he clutched it and hoped they would somehow escape.
Jacob stood in the hatch doorway and watched the terrible thing continue to maul Randy. He felt like he had his moneymakers and employers safely in the jet. He looked over his shoulder to see Danny with his seatbelt on in his chair, whimpering and clutching a piece of paper. He didn’t see Sharon but knew she had entered the jet. Even Debra was safely in the back seat, her head in her hands. He closed the outer door of the plane, pulling up the lower hatch up and then pulling down the upper hatch.
Sharon came out of the cockpit dragging a mannequin or a life-sized puppet of all things.
“You need to let me get the mannequin out,” she said.
* * *
Randy slashed at the thing again, feeling his strength ebbing. This time, something splattered on him that was warm and sticky and the thing shrieked angrily. He thought he might have actually hurt the horror on this back but felt terrible. The thing let go of him and stopped sucking his blood, however.
* * *
Danny whimpered and held the napkin, thinking about Las Vegas as much and as hard as he could.
“Just throw it in the back,” Jacob said.
“I’ll put it next to Debra,” Sharon said.
Sharon shoved the mannequin at Jacob, who let it fall to the ground.
* * *
Randy felt like the horror on his back was walking on him and trying to grab at his shoulders. He flung his hands over his head, trying to cut the thing again with the straight razor. He hit something but was unsure if he hurt the horrible thing that scrabbled at him. He spun over and slashed at the horrible creature with the straight razor again. He actually cut the thing and saw it bleed. It shrieked at him in anger. The thing tried to grab him and he fought back.
* * *
Jacob pushed the clamshell hatch open and pushed the mannequin out of the jet altogether. Sharon stood near the door. Then she saw Randy.
“Randy’s coming but the monster’s going to get him!” Danny said.
* * *
Randy leapt to his feet and staggered towards the jet. He heard wings as the thing pursued.
* * *
Leonard was still lost but suddenly realized, the others weren’t all trying to get him. He stopped and tried to get his bearings but then heard the nearby flapping of wings again. He was lost. He didn’t know where his friends were. He didn’t know where the jet was. Something was after him.
* * *
Jacob froze, unsure what to do.
Outside, Randy stumbled towards the aircraft as the horror hit him in the back, nearly making him fall. It was flying above him, trying to grab him with the claws on its feet. It ripped at his clothing and one of the claws struck the horrible wound it had inflicted before. He screamed.
Sharon pushed past Jacob and shoved up the partially opened top of the clamshell hatch. She burst out of the plane and saw the horror hovering over Randy, trying to grab him. She rushed the two of them and leapt at the horrible thing. Randy ducked to one side as she leapt and fell short of the horrible thing.
Randy stumbled to the plane and got inside, bloody straight razor in his hand. He was covered in blood.
* * *
Leonard looked up to see another of the horrors swooping towards him. He thought about using the dagger on himself and ending it, or trying to find his way back to the Learjet. He turned and ran, hoping to spot the Learjet.
* * *
Danny undid his seatbelt and ran out of the jet. He was terrified to see Sharon was fighting some kind of horrible thing. He ran over to her.
“Get in the plane!” he shouted at her.
He tried to punch the horrible thing using his car keys and the thing tore at him in turn, clawing at him with hooked claws on its feet. Danny screamed and there was a lot of blood. Then Jacob ran out with his briefcase and hit the horrible thing with it. The uppercut seemed to actually hurt the thing and it let out a grunt. Then it came at Danny again but the man dodged out of the way. He saw more of the things flying towards them.
“Get in the plane!” he yelled.
Sharon ignored him, instead leaping up and punching the horrible thing in the side of the head. She felt the thing’s eye burst under the blow and it came down with her, crashing to the ground next to them. She noticed more of the things coming, flying down towards them.
She fled back to the plane.
* * *
Leonard was still lost but the horror was close behind him. He looked around in terror, ducking down an alley and looking for the Learjet.
It was nowhere to be found.
* * *
Danny ran into the plane closely followed by Jacob.
Was Leonard ever real to begin with? Jacob wondered.
* * *
The thing swooped at Leonard but he leapt aside and it flew by him. He kept running down the street, looking for the Learjet.
* * *
Sharon closed the door and, after a moment of hesitation, pulled the lever to seal it.
The roar of the Learjet’s engines suddenly filled the cabin. Those who could see windows saw the stars all around the jet once again. They had escaped.
* * *
Leonard heard what sounded like a Learjet fly away. He contemplated what was left for him. Even if he fought and somehow killed the horrible creature, he would be left wandering the terrible city of Carcosa, possibly forever. He looked at the large sacrificial dagger in his hands. As the horrible thing swung around towards him again, he took the knife and rammed it into his chest and his heart. The pain was intense but brief and he died there, in Carcosa, by his own hands.
* * *
As the plane flew, they heard noises like ripping and tearing outside of the Learjet. No one wanted to see anything and no one looked outside. Danny was bandaging his terrible wound. Randy lay in a puddle of blood on the floor in the fetal position.
Jacob suddenly freaked out. He realized everything happening there, every terrible thing, was his wife Maggie’s fault. She had convinced him to represent Lady and the Scamp. She was the one who had done it. He hated her. And there she was, where Sharon Best had just been sitting.
“First you cheat on me!” he shouted at her.
“What?” Sharon said.
“This is all your fault!” he screamed at her.
“You’re fired!” Danny said to the man.
“No, you’re fired!” Jacob screamed at him.
For some 30 seconds, Danny and Jacob screamed at each other as Jacob accused Sharon of cheating on him and blamed her for everything wrong with his life. He finally snapped out of it and looked around the cabin, dazed. Danny realized the man had snapped, but was still angry about it.
I’m going to need a shrink when this is all over, Sharon thought.
Then they noticed the patterns on the chairs inside the Learjet moved in a strange and unsettling way. It didn’t seem natural at all. Debra was very disturbed by it and put her face in her hands again. Danny and Sharon were also disturbed by the strange patterns and textures.
The cockpit doors suddenly slammed shut.
“This is your pilot speaking,” a voice came over the intercom. “Please fasten your seat belts and put away all drinks and snacks. We’ll be landing in Las Vegas in just a few minutes.”
They felt the aircraft descending and they all just stared at each other as the jet landed and then taxied to the terminal. The cockpit door opened and the pilot climbed out with a smile. Then he saw all the blood.
“What the … hell happened in here?” he said.
He moved to the hatch and opened it.
“Call an ambulance!” he called.
The co-pilot looked into the cabin and then turned back to the controls. They heard him radioing for an ambulance and for police. The thought they realized was going through both men’s minds was that they must have done it to each other. Randy still had a bloody straight razor in his pocket. Sharon’s knuckles were bruised.
Soon, an ambulance and police officers arrived. Randy and Danny were taken away in an ambulance. Debra, in shock, didn’t speak. The police questioned both Sharon and Jacob. They asked if Randy was responsible for the attack.
Debra refused to speak and was soon taken to the Desert Springs Hospital as well.
Sharon was questioned as to whether Randy White had attacked her with a straight razor and if she had to fight him off. She said he did not and she did not. When they asked what happened, she told them the truth, leaving nothing out. Though very persuasive, she was first transferred to Desert Springs Hospital and sedated and then sent on to speak to a psychiatrist and was soon transferred to a psychiatric hospital, as was Debra.
Both Danny and Jacob refused to talk to police before they talked to their lawyers. That ended the inquiries for them for a while though police kept trying.
* * *
The tabloids and even legitimate newspapers had a field day. Headlines blared that “Lady is in an Insane Asylum!” and “Scamp Attacked by Hairdresser and Fought Him Off!” Newspaper stories about the terrible attack and photographs of the Learjet’s bloody interior made the front pages for days.
CBS cancelled all talks with “Lady and the Scamp” due to the scandal. “Lady and the Scamp” gigs were cancelled all over the country. It looked like both of their careers were ruined.
* * *
Leonard Penrose had apparently never existed, except in the minds of the five people in Learjet that fateful night. Aside from those memories, there was no trace of him. It was as if he had been retroactively erased from history. Another agent had represented “Lady and the Scamp” for years, but wanted nothing to do with them after the terrible “Learjet Scandal” of 1973. His office in LA was gone, replaced by a tattoo parlor. No one remembered him. It was as if he never existed.
* * *
Jacob Brown, figuring being an attorney was too dangerous, retired. He divorced his wife, never forgiving her for convincing him to represent “Lady and the Scamp” and putting him, literally, through hell. He tried to push to the back of his mind the terrible things that happened to him and never faced or admitted the terrors of that plane trip.
* * *
Debra Wright never fully recovered mentally from the terrible ordeal. She quit working in LA and vowed never to fly again. She returned to Yakima, Washington, where she married the man she’d dated in high school. Not a very good person, he ended up abusing her for the rest of her life and she fell into the role of a perpetual victim, broken by what happened to her in Carcosa. The thought of leaving Leonard behind haunted her for the rest of her life. He had always been so nice to her and they had just abandoned him.
* * *
Randy White never recovered physically from the terrible ordeal with the horrible creature. He was an invalid and, unable to even walk, was soon confined to a wheelchair. His current lover, Henry Morris, left him soon after, not having signed up for the job of tending to an invalid. Randy went from one public home to the next, living off the state, until he died in obscurity.
* * *
Danny Trent was in the hospital for at least a month. When he got out, he realized his career was over. He found Sharon soon after that and tried to turn it around, as Danny always did. He still loved Sharon who took up boxing after her release from the sanitarium in Los Angeles. She started to work on the boxing circuit as a female boxer and invited Danny to come along as her manager. He took her up on the offer and both of them thrived in the boxing circuit.
She found as much success in boxing as she had in the music industry and it was only a few years later that she was approached by the World Wrestling Federation and offered a job in professional wrestling. Both she and Danny agreed and she made her fame in professional wrestling.
The experience also brought them closer together and they married in 1980.
In which the players take Larkin to the Pyramid.
Reminder: My players don't entirely know they are playing through Masks of Nyarlathotep. As far as they know, this is a 1920s Pulp themed Fate Core game. This article does contain spoilers for the new edition of Masks of Nyarlathotep.
Cast of Player Characters This Episode
Lin Ru-Shi - A Hong Kong street urchin that grew up to be a thief.
Lord Declan MacManus - A minor Irish Lord and Great War pilot turned smuggler. Lives on his flying boat and has a way with the ladies.
Abdul “Abe” Tepema - An Englishman of color, born in Egypt, he has a little knowledge of the old magic, and is a skilled detective.
Salim Dali - A negotiator, translator, expedition assistant extraordinaire.
Doctor Bhisaj - Great War ambulance driver that recently completed medical training in London. A bit too trusting for his own good.
The player of Sebastian was not able to attend, so his character was essentially ignored as we weren't able to come up with a good excuse for him to not be present.
The group is also accompanied by the NPCs of Jackson Elias and a reluctant Professor Sanchez.
When we last left our cast of globetrotting explorers, they had learned more about myths of the pyramid and the Kharisiri, and decided that Larkin was a victim that the monsters were attempting to prepare as a vessel for the dark god in the pyramid. In particular, they thought his situation was similar to that of the author the journal from the museum, only his mind had been altered with magic somewhat. Their plan was to rush to the pyramid, a three day journey by footpath, and slot the gold fragment back into the "spell worked in gold" before Mendoza an his fellow monsters could catch up with them.
The players made arrangements to leave on an expedition the next morning, so almost everyone spent the night in a local hotel. Declan slept on his plane. The players made no moves to observe or secure Larkin, so I determined that he cast a spell that night to make everyone more greedy for the gold in the pyramid. The spell was limited to those present in the hotel at 3am, when the spell was cast. That night, everyone dreamed of gold in the pyramid and what they could with that kind of wealth, and then awoke with a strong sense of greed (and a magical aspect placed on them) except for Declan, is is conveniently naturally greedy. My players were good about accepting this aspect and effect while assuming their characters either wouldn't immediately notice or want to share the thoughts of greed.
They gathered up their supplies, mules, and hired bearers and headed out of town on foot. After an hour or two it became clear that Larkin was not healthy enough for a three day march, so they had him ride a mule, and divided that animal's supplies among the others and the bearers. At the end of the first day's march through the mountains they made camp on a flat area at the upward slope, unconcerned about the steep drop off at the down-hill side of the road. They took turns keeping watch around the fire all night, and an hour or two past midnight Declan, on watch, heard a noise from the slopes above the camp. He casually and quietly tried to wake the rest of the team, successfully getting Lin Ru-Shi awake but causing a bit of a ruckus getting Salim up. At that point, everyone was awake, but the source of the noise up the hill had stopped. Most of the group went about making a distraction at the fire, while Ru-Shi snuck up the slope and got the drop on a Kharisiri in rags lurking up the hill. She knocked it down the slope, with it landing near the fire. In the light it was clear that it was a feral kharisiri conquistador, making it one of the original monsters but also somehow not as alert or intelligent as the other Kharisiri they had encountered thus far. In the ensuing fight, the creature was burned in the fire and lost an arm before it attempted to flee. It was shot in back as it ran, but fell down the cliffs so the body could not be found and fully dismembered. It was, however, now missing an arm. No one slept much after that (and I had them roll to resist the hardships of long marching at altitude with interrupted sleep. Using fate rules, I treated this as a flat attack they they resisted with Physique, and which inflicted mental stress.)
On second day of travel, they came over a ridge and found a man hunched over a child. Ru-Shi, who has a thing about children, and Declan, who thinks himself a monster slayer, both charged the man, assuming him to be a Kharisiri caught feeding. They would later learn he was actually the boy's father who had found his son half-dead, and in turn thought the whiteman charging him was the monster responsible. It took Salim with some well rolled negotiation skill to stop the fight from going lethal, in the end only a donkey was injured. Doc provided some incredibly well rolled medical care to the boy, likely saving his life.
The expedition spend the night at the family's farm with the bearers setting up tents in the yard and several of the players getting to at least sleep inside. The players asked the man and his wife about the blighted valley and the pyramid and heard that the place is considered cursed. When they find out the group is carrying gold from the pyramid, they demand it be removed from their house. Ru-Shi, still feeling very greedy, decided to sleep with it in the barn. Declan, being white, was also not especially welcome in the house. Ru-Shi woke up in the early hours before dawn to find Larking with eyes like the night sky ("They're full of stars!") casting some kind of spell, and knocks him out with the gold bar she'd been sleeping with. Realizing that several members of the group were greedier than normal and Larkin was now most likely the cause, they figure out how to wipe the magic out by replacing it with new spells. They spend the morning casting spells on each other (mostly Salim's negotiation enhancing meal ritual cast over breakfast) to clear the greedy magic away (this is a feature of the magic system in my game: only one spell at a time per target.) They also debate what to do with Larkin, who is clearly more than an empty vessel. They decide they can't just kill him, and the farm family indicates that he will not be permitted to live if he is left on their property.
(Note: I had everyone that didn't sleep inside make another roll to deal with the harshness of the expedition.)
They tie Larkin up with ropes and toss him over a mule, and head on towards the pyramid. The expedition bearers, hired in Puno, refuse to go on further and instead promise to remain camped out at the farm for the next three days before they declare the group dead. The group heads out without them, a little chagrined at the confidence the bearers have that they won't be returning, but taking all the mules, and Larkin, with them. No one seems to question that Larkin isn't putting up a fight.
In the late afternoon of the third day the group comes over a high mountain ridge and looks down on the pyramid in the wasted valley. They arrive in time to see two Kharisiri feeding the father by discouraging fat into a crack on the top of the pyramid, and then observe the two monsters climb down a hole in the ground.
The spend another hour coming around the side path on the valley and approach the pyramid and the wall around the grounds in the safest path. They decide not to trust the entry archway and instead a few of them climb the wall. Looking around, they openly discus their plan to locate the tunnels and repair the wards, which results in the fragment of the dark god inside Larkin to give up on his subtle plan of hoping they would loot the gold on their own. He takes full possession of Larkin, which at this point is such a weak vessel that the party can visibly see his body dying while the thing talks through him. God-Larkin has no issue breaking the ropes that bind him and turns to the players and mocks them while the stars shine through where his eyes should be. He offers them a more direct deal: take as much gold as they can haul away from the pyramid, and he will let them live to spend it. He will keep all his little children away from them, otherwise they can all die, and he will simply have to start over with new volunteers. Declan is not entirely untempted by the idea, and banters with the god for while, learning that the god has plans for within the next year or so (my timeline is altered from the main book, with Peru set in early 1924), and that he has many names and worshipers all over the globe. While this conversation takes place, Doc loads up four syringes with all the remaining heroine, more than enough to kill a man, and gives it to Lin Ru-Shi. She makes an impressive leaping attack, plunging a pair of syringes into each side of Larkin's neck, and driving the plungers home to inject what should be a lethal dose or raw drug directly into system. That god-larking's reaction is to giggle instead of dying outright frightens the group, but also encourages Declan to use a slug-loaded shotgun to finish the job, taking God-Larkin's head clean off.
The players burn waht's left of Larkin's body. They also burn out the charnel hole they had seen the kharisiri crawl down, using up all their lantern oil and alcohol to get it burning. A few of the characters attempt to look down through the crack on the top of the pyramid. Salim is too overwhelmed by the stench, but Abe manages to get a look, but not before vomiting into the crack. The view of the swarming fat-worms is not pleasant, but he mostly holds it together. They briefly consider ways of killing the mass through the crack, but the best they can come up with is fire, and they have now used all their flammable materials on the charnel hole. They decide to stick with the gold-spell-repair plan.
While the tunnel of corpses and bones burns, The group takes turns at watch that night. They actually setup camp over the ridge but keep track of it from the high point, trusting the fire to keep the Kharisiri trapped, if not dead. I didn't tell the players it, but as GM I figured the smoke was sufficient to kill the two Kharisiri, but that they regenerated back after the fire burned out.
The next day, the players descend into the now smokey tunnels under the pyramid. Inside they fight the Kharisiri in creepy dark tunnels, where the monsters lung at them from side passages in the dark. Having dispatched the monsters, they debated looting a chamber full of gold trinkets of various ages, and eventually managed to patch the gold spell, although not without issues involving a pool of rancid fat and worm-monsters. One of the "maggots" burrowed into a cut on a PC, and Doc had to surgically remove it.
Once the gold was fitted back into the pyramid base, all the maggots left in the fat-pool popped in a disgusting manner, and the crack through which they were leaking closed shut. When the characters got back onto the surface, they arrived in time to watch several Kharisiri, called by Larkin, drop dead on the road. In particular, Mendoza's body shrivvles and dies as age catches up with it, while the younger kharisiri seem to sicken and die like they are hollowed out.
Declan and Jackson Ellias advocated for taking some of the non-spell gold, and Abe actually pocketed some while no one noticed, but most of the rest of the group wasn't comfortable with taking gold which might be cursed. That left Jackson and Declan with large shares to strap to the mules.
They returned to Puno, and then flew back down to Lima. Jackson Elias thanked them for their help and said he would have to edit a lot of the supernatural out of his next book, afterall, no one would believe him if he used the whole truth. He also expressed an interest in learning more about Larkin, as it looked very much like Larkin's arrival in the area is what caused the Kharisiri to become more organized and expanded their numbers. God-Larkin's rants about more names and cults also intrigued Jackson.
Next Time: The Roar of the 1925 New York!
Art Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ushnu_o_Piramide_Inca_-_Vilcashuaman,_Ayacucho.jpg
Sunday, November 11, 2018
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign (Runequest) scenario “The Spiral Crypts” by Clint Staples (online) today from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. with John Leppard, Yorie Latimer, and Ben Abbot. This game session was also in honor of Greg Stafford - Feb. 9, 1948 ─ October 11, 2018. #WeAreAllUs)
The morning of Tuesday, November 9, 1875, was cold but sunny. Lambert Otto had finished burying the two men they had found dead in the Inn of the Smiling Spirit. The others napped that morning after their terrible night of paralysis with their eyes open. They might have dozed a little, but it was hard to sleep with one’s eyes open. Only Professor Brandon Stalloid had a decent night’s sleep, having dozed off while watching over them. Even he was sore from sleeping on the floor with his back up against the fireplace. Jacali was very sore as well.
Professor Stalloid had slipped out when Otto initially mentioned burying the other bodies to make sure there was no blood on the middle grave. It had been washed away by the pouring rain the night before but the dead chicken was there. Professor Stalloid flung it into the bushes. Then he searched the house for other lanterns while Otto buried the bodies. When he didn’t find any, he went out to help Otto.
The three of them, along with Marshal Clayton Pierce and Lydia Fitzsimmons, saddled up their horses and headed out, going west towards South Arkansas, the next village up the Arkansas River.
* * *
They had ridden a couple of hours down the road when they ran into four men walking from the other direction. They were roughly dressed and armed, two of them with rifles on their shoulders, a third with two pistols tucked into his belt, and the last with an old Charleville musket on a strap over his shoulder. They had wide-brimmed hats of straw or felt and carried backpacks or rucksacks, along with picks and shovels. They were unshaven for the most part.
Professor Stalloid felt a little concerned. Otto made sure his badge was visible.
“Howdy!” Professor Stalloid called. “How are you doing today?”
“Howdy,” one of the men said.
“Where are y’all heading?” Professor Stalloid said.
One of the men pointed down the road.
“Are you heading to The Smiling Spirit?” Professor Stalloid said.
“We’re probably going to stop there,” one of the men said. “I don’t think we can make it to Canyon City before nightfall. We’ll probably stop there and make and early day of it.”
“It’s been abandoned,” Otto said. “But it should be safe enough for you to stay there. The inn.”
“Oh,” one man said.
They all looked at each other.
“Something happened,” Otto said.
“Oh,” the man said. “Did you see … uh … a man there with a scraggly beard? Got …”
“Yeah, I saw him. He was dead. I just finished burying him this morning.”
“Oh. He didn’t leave anything, did he? He had some tools. We knew ol’ Gulliver. And … uh … uh …”
Otto looked at Professor Stalloid.
“His tools are still there,” Professor Stalloid said. “His current … haul … had to be destroyed─”
“Oh!” Jacali suddenly said. “Raiders!”
“Raiders took that. Yep, it was thieves.”
“You’re a terrible liar, Jacali,” Otto said.
The four men looked at each other, obviously confused.
“And I would recommend─” Professor Stalloid said.
“What me and my friend, Stalloid here, are trying to say is that there is something dangerous in the geodes and we had to destroy them,” Otto said.
“Okay,” one of the men said.
“That’s why I said it was thieves,” Jacali said.
“And I would recommend, wherever he got those … don’t go back,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Or keep any,” Otto said.
“Unless you want to destroy them too,” Professor Stalloid said.
“What are you talking about?” the man said. “We’re just meeting Gulliver up here. He’s a friend of ours.”
“Ah,” Professor Stalloid said. “He had found some geodes.”
“Geodes ain’t worth ****,” one of the men said.
“He-he thought they were.”
“Well, he was always pretty stupid.”
“There was an unstable compound in it,” Otto said. “Blew up the …”
“It was poisonous!” Professor Stalloid said.
“Oh!” Jacali said. “Yep! It blew up.”
“It dehydrated the human form.”
“Yep! Dehydrated. Blew up all the water. All the water gone.”
“Well, okay,” one of the men said.
The four men eyed them warily.
“It’s a spooky curse!” Jacali said.
“Where are you coming from, before you leave?” Otto said.
“South Arkansas,” one of the men said. “That was our last stop.”
The four men crept around them, watching them carefully.
“Have there been any more … odd generosities going on?” Professor Stalloid said.
“Oh … yeah … there was some money or something,” one of the men said. “I don’t remember.”
“Okay,” Professor Stalloid said.
Marshal Pierce snorted as he woke from his dozing in the saddle.
“Happy trails,” Otto said.
The men continued on up the trail, constantly looking over their shoulders.
* * *
The weather continued clear with blue skies and scattered clouds as they rode for another two hours or so along the muddy trail. Otto and Marshal Pierce talked about Otto’s duties and responsibilities. Otto learned he was pretty much a marshal, though under Marshal Pierce’s authority for the time being. The badge he had said simply “Federal Marshal” though Marshal Pierce noted he would be his deputy for now. Otto asked who he should report to if Marshal Pierce died and Pierce told him there were places in San Francisco he could go to.
They saw a campsite up from the road, a little smoke still coming from a fire pit. Near the pit, a man all in black was standing up against a tree.
“Hey!” the man called. “Hey!”
“It’s Jack West!” Jacali said.
“It’s Pete Sutter!” Professor Stalloid said.
Jacali squinted, looking at the man.
“Oh God, is it?” she said.
“Help me out!” the man called.
His voice did sound like Pete Sutter.
“How many times do we have to run into Pete Sutter before he just goes away,” Jacali said.
“We don’t know if it’s Pete Sutter,” Professor Stalloid said. “It just sounds like Pete Sutter.”
“God damn it, help me out here!” the man yelled. “Get up here!”
“That’s Pete Sutter,” Jacali said.
“Where’s my piece!?!” Professor Stalloid called.
The man struggled violently against the tree.
“He’s tied up!” Jacali said. “Oh, we need to see this!”
“Pete Sutter?” Marshal Pierce said.
He shook his head and sighed and continued on down the road. Miss Fitzsimmons’s horse followed as she was asleep in the saddle.
The other three rode up to the campsite where Pete Sutter was, indeed, tied to a tree, hands and feet. He looked at them carefully as they road up.
“Oh,” he said. “It’s Jacali!”
“Pete Sutter,” she said.
“How long have I been missing this spectacle?”
“Well, it happened a few hours ago. Why don’t you cut me loose?”
“Well, why don’t you tell us why you’re tied up first?” Otto said.
“Yeah, I might want to enjoy this for a little bit,” Jacali said.
“Oh, I see how it is!” Pete said. “I see. You just use up ol’ Pete Sutter. Just take him on some crazy whirlwind tour back to injun country a hundred years ago and then, all the sudden, gonna make fun of him when he gets ambushed by a … by a bunch a low-down desperado claim jumpers!”
“What, were there four of them?” Otto said.
“What? Were you with ‘em?”
“All I know is I walk up, they had some bacon cooking,” Pete said. “And I was heading for South Arkansas. And I said ‘Why gentlemen, would you care to share your lovely meal with me? I would cut some wood or do some chores in exchange.’”
“Is that the voice that you used to talk to them?” Jacali said. “Because I think that’s probably why they tied you up to a tree.”
“It sounds like sarcasm, sir,” Professor Stalloid said.
Pete struggled futilely against his bonds.
“It was not sarcasm!” he said. “There was a fourth one! And they jumped me! And they took my piece! My piece! They got my piece! I gotta get my piece!”
* * *
Pete Sutter had smelled the bacon frying when he woke up from his uncomfortable sleep that morning. He had crept up to the nearby campsite and saw the three roughly-clothed, grizzled men sitting around the fire, cooking up bacon and eggs. He had drawn his piece with a wicked grin and stepped out of the foliage.
“Give me some God-damned bacon!” he had said to the three men.
Pete had not seen the fourth man, who had gone for firewood, but who came up behind him and struck him about the head with one of the pieces of wood just before the other three men leapt up and jumped onto him, beat him up, and tied him up.
* * *
Pete struggled against his bonds and they noticed his holster was empty of the usual Colt Peacemaker he carried.
“Just untie me!” he said. “They went … they went thataway!”
He gestured down the trail the way they’d come.
“Pete, I’m not sure if … I’m really required to help an outlaw get his gun back,” Otto said.
“I will untie you but … aren’t you supposed to watch Jacali?” Professor Stalloid said.
“Oh, that was a while ago,” Pete said.
“Yeah, but did they ever tell you to stop?” Professor Stalloid said.
“Stalloid!” Jacali hissed at the man. “So help me! What the hell?”
Pete thought really hard.
“Wait a minute!” Pete said.
He was looking at Otto’s badge.
“You’re a marshal!” he said.
“He’s a deputy,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Well, I’m working for the Secret Service, so I outrank you,” Pete said. “Untie me!”
He struggled against his bonds again.
“You know that’s not right,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I don’t believe that claim, Pete,” Otto said.
“What!?!” Pete said. “Well, I’d show you my badge, but they took it away ‘cause I was trying to get all them free drinks - I mean, they took it away for cleaning.”
“Do you have any paperwork, Pete?”
“No. I don’t need no stinking paperwork!”
“Well, then I have no way to verify your claim.”
“Just untie me!”
“So, Mr. Sutter, what you’re saying is we should untie you and let you lead us to desperados who have more guns than us now so that you can get your badge and gun back, and you just want us to follow you for that?” Jacali said.
“If you want,” Pete said.
“We’re going back the opposite way of the way we were going.”
“Hey, who went back to that injun town and helped you folks out? Huh? Helped you out, Otto. You came to me for advice.”
“You were like ‘Hey, what shall we do, Pete?’ And I gave you some wonderful advice.”
“No, you didn’t,” Otto said.
“I told you to get the hell away from me and that’s always good advice!” Pete said.
“You were there?” Jacali said.
“Okay, let’s leave,” Professor Stalloid said. “He’s telling us to get the hell away from him.”
“No!” Pete said. “Untie me!”
“I don’t know. You’re giving me conflicting messages now.”
“Yes, I was there!”
“I’ve got an idea, Jack,” Jacali said
“Pete,” Otto said.
“Pete,” Jacali said.
“I was there!” Pete said again.
“To be honest, they’re very similar,” Otto said.
“Jack West!” Professor Stalloid said.
“Oh, I hate Jack West,” Pete said.
“What if we go back to the bandits, get your gun and badge ourselves, and definitely come back to untie you afterwards?” Jacali said.
“Because they been gone for hours,” Pete said.
“But we’re on horses,” Professor Stalloid said.
“They’re after - they’re after some Gulliver fella,” Pete said. “They said he had a map. I heard ‘em talkin’ after they - they - they gave it to me.”
Professor Stalloid set to untying Pete.
“They said he had a map,” Pete went on. “Says he always stays in the same room at some … weird smiley place and that he always hides his map and his gold under the mattress. They’re gonna follow his map and get all the rest of his gold. They’re claim jumpers!”
He looked at Otto’s badge again.
“They’re claim jumpers Mr. Policeman,” he said.
“Pete, do you know what this … treasure they’re searching for is?” Otto said.
“They said he had a mine,” Pete said. “This Gulliver fellow had a mine. And it’s fulla … they were pretty vague on that part.”
He was untied by that time and he kept reaching for his holster and fidgeting uncomfortably, obviously anxious and upset about losing his sidearm. Otto looked down at his own Peacemaker and pitied Pete for a moment. Then he remembered it was Pete Sutter.
“I gotta get my piece,” Pete said. “I don’t care if y’all come. If you want to. But I gotta get my piece. Gotta get my piece!”
He started to walk away but Professor Stalloid stopped him and asked if he knew how to use a shotgun.
“Well, enough,” he said.
Professor Stalloid took the shotgun off his horse and handed it to the man. Pete broke it open and checked that it had shells.
“It’ll do,” Pete muttered. “It’s better ‘en nothing. Who the hell are you?”
“Brandon Stalloid!” Professor Stalloid said. “Slime Slayer.”
They shook hands.
“Slime Slayer,” Pete said.
“You always add another title to your name, don’t you?” Otto said.
“I’m gaining them quite frequently,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Oh,” Pete said. “Nice to meet you. Nice suit.”
“Thank you,” Professor Stalloid said.
Pete walked down to the road in the direction of the inn. Professor Stalloid followed on horseback. The other two rode after him more slowly.
“I have … problems following Pete Sutter,” Otto said.
“Listen Otto, I think it’s going to be a fun thing to watch whatever happens, you know?” Jacali said. “We’ve earned this, really. Dinner and a show?”
“We’ve also got to make sure that his ‘claim’ doesn’t have any more of those geodes,” Professor Stalloid said.
“And listen, if he does anything illegal on the way, you’re a deputy, and you can put him in handcuffs and tie him back up to that tree and you can leave him right where you found him,” Jacali said.
“My ears are burnin’!” Pete called back to them.
“You gave him a gun!” Otto said. “How am I supposed to arrest him when he has a shotgun?”
“Knock him out,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Well, I expect you to help me knock him out.”
“Of course. I’ll try.”
“Let’s follow him.”
“Anyways, it’s Pete Sutter. He’ll get off that tree no matter what.”
“Uh … yeah …”
“I’ve seen him die on the streets and he’s still here!”
“Maybe we could test that theory.”
“Do any of us want to offer him a horse, because he’s not riding on mine,” Jacali said.
They caught up with Pete Sutter and Professor Stalloid offered him a ride.
“Both of us on one horse?” Pete said.
“There’s plenty of room,” Professor Stalloid said.
Pete looked at him and the horse.
“That way your hands are free to shoot those desperados when you see them,” Professor Stalloid said.
Pete thought it over.
“I would rather we not shoot these men immediately,” Otto said.
“Oh, they’re gonna be shot!” Pete said.
“Pete, if you don’t want me to … arrest you, I would advise you to cooperate with me and at least try to take these men in peacefully at first,” Otto said.
Pete looked at him.
“Gimme your gun,” Pete said.
He pointed to the Peacemaker on Otto’s hip.
“Gimme your gun,” he said again.
“That’s …” Otto said.
“Loan me your gun,” Pete said.
“He is a better shot with a revolver,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I have a shotgun you can have,” Pete said.
“He could disarm someone with it,” Professor Stalloid said.
After a moment, Otto offered Pete his Peacemaker and took the shotgun. He held it out to Professor Stalloid.
“You … you can hold onto it,” Professor Stalloid said. “I never use it.”
“And if anybody needs any arrows … I’ve got them,” Jacali said.
Pete checked the bullets in the pistol by rolling it along his arm and watching the spinning cylinder. Then he spun the gun around in his hand and gently holstered it.
“That’s not bad,” he said. “It’s not my piece though. I want my piece!”
* * *
It was over three hours before they were back at the Inn of the Smiling Spirit. Otto kept an eye on the tracks on the road and they led right back to inn. As Pete, Professor Stalloid, and Jacali went to the front door, Otto rode around the side of the inn yard to check on the graves out back.
“Maybe we make a circle around the entrance and maybe shoot a gun in the air and say ‘Hey! Desperadoes! We know you’re in there!’” Professor Stalloid said.
“You know, I really think that if I was a desperado …” Jacali said.
“… and somebody shouted ‘Desperadoes, we know you’re in there.’ I would definitely come out with my airs held high.”
“Oh. I know. Same here.”
“You’d make a terrible desperado,” Pete said.
Pete aimed at the front window on the second floor, the only window on the front of the inn that wasn’t boarded up.
* * *
Otto found the graves undisturbed in the back of the building but noted relatively fresh footprints going around the side of the inn and heading to the southwest into the hills. He rode back around to the front of the inn.
* * *
“All right,” Pete said. “So, we bustin’ in and shootin’ everybody we find? That marshal ain’t here.”
“Well, since the deputy is here with us─” Professor Stalloid said.
“He ain’t here right now!”
“─we should give them a chance to surrender.”
“Surrender or we’re gonna come in shooting!”
There was no reply from within.
“They wanna be shot,” Pete said. “Obviously.”
“Or they’re gone,” Jacali said.
“They could be gone,” Professor Stalloid said.
Pete started jumping lightly from foot to foot.
“They got my piece,” he muttered. “I gotta get my piece back. This is a piece o’ crap!”
He indicated the Peacemaker Otto had lent him.
“Well, I mean, wherever they’re going, they have a map,” Jacali said. “We can try to follow them. We can find their trail. But, I would imagine that they’re not going to holed up for too long.”
“Let’s go!” Pete said.
“All right,” Jacali said. “You first. Find your piece.”
Pete ran into the inn. Jacali and Professor Stalloid walked in behind them.
They found Pete muttering at the furniture, looking under tables, and kicking them over.
“C’mon you sons o’ bitches!” he yelled.
“C’mon you sons of bitches,” Jacali said calmly. “You gottem, Pete.”
Professor Stalloid headed up the steps as Otto entered the front door and sighed.
“They’re not here!” he said loudly.
“Oh damn, Pete,” Jacali said.
“What!?!” Pete said. “ Whatta ya mean!?!”
“I saw their tracks,” Otto said. “They went out that way.”
“Let’s go,” Pete said.
He walked to the door.
“We’ll catch up with them sooner on horseback!” Jacali called after him.
* * *
Upstairs, Professor Stalloid entered the room where they’d found the body of the prospector the night before. The mattresses had been pulled from all of the bunks. He found nothing in the room except for the pick and the shovel they had left there the night before. He grabbed the tools and headed downstairs.
* * *
They mounted back up and Otto led them into the hills. Pete rode with Professor Stalloid once again. Otto had no trouble following the trail and realized the men were not trying to hide their tracks or cover them or anything.
* * *
It was nearly dusk when they came to a small valley with various small, obviously man-made cuts in the relatively steep walls. There were also a few fire pits with cold ashes within scattered about. It was chilly as they rode into the narrow cleft in the mountains. The small valley were about a mile deep and half a mile wide. The tracks continued on directly through the middle of it.
“Do we want to stop here for the night?” Otto said.
“No!” Pete said.
“We wanna get my piece!”
“It’s nightfall, Pete.”
“It’s not night yet!”
“It will be,” Professor Stalloid said.
“We gotta get my piece,” Pete said. “C’mon, let’s go!”
“I want to check out this mining area first,” Otto said.
“What’re you doing? What’re you checkin’ for? What’re you looking for?”
Otto dismounted and started to lead his horse towards one of the fresh cuts in the hillside.
“What’re you - what are you doin’?” Pete said.
“I’m trying - I’m checking for something,” Otto said.
“Did they go that way?”’
He didn’t think Pete needed to know everything.
Professor Stalloid dismounted and headed off the other direction to look at one of the mining cuts as well. Pete sputtered ineffectually behind the two of them.
Both Otto and Professor Stalloid noticed there seemed to be a lot of snakes in the area. Otto almost stepped on a rattlesnake and backed carefully away, aiming the shotgun at it.
“What’re you pointing at, Otto?” Jacali called.
“Rattlesnakes,” he called back.
“Oh ****!” she said. “I’m not keeping my horse in here if there’s snakes around.”
Pete drew the Peacemaker Otto had lent him and looked around.
Professor Stalloid saw several rattlesnakes in the area but he noticed them before he was very close to any of them. He avoided them and made his way to the cut. It looked like someone started a mine there or did some preliminary diggings without getting very far. He looked for any markings that might indicate the miner found geodes but there were none.
The sun was setting over the mountains to the west. The sky to the east was purple.
They returned to the horses and mounted up once again. They headed west, Otto following the trail he’d found. The snakes seemed to be going to ground as it got colder.
At the far end of the valley, it looked like there had been a recent avalanche which exposed a cave entrance some 25 feet up the side of the cliff face at the end of the valley. They wouldn’t have thought anything of the dark hole except there was a pair of boots sticking out of the cave mouth, toes down. If anyone was wearing them, he was on his belly.
“Huh,” Professor Stalloid said.
Pete gasped and aimed his pistol at the cave.
“That’s one of ‘em!” he hissed.
“Oh!” Professor Stalloid said. “Oh, that guy’s dead.”
Otto dismounted and crept quietly to the cliff face under the cave mouth. He found himself by a steep cliff side and saw there were lots of handholds above. He thought it would be a pretty easy climb. He slung the shotgun and started climbing up, going quickly up to the cave mouth.
When he got to the cave mouth, he lifted his head just enough to see into the cave. The man wearing the boots was on his face in the cave, which was fairly regular and sloped down at the back. Next to him was the biggest rattlesnake Otto had ever seen. There was also a lot of blood on the floor. The snake must have been at least six or seven feet long. Otto took one look at it and climbed down just using his hands, his feet just hanging below as he slid down in almost a controlled fall, landing, turning, pulling the shotgun from his shoulder, and walking rapidly back to the others.
“Snakes, right?” Professor Stalloid said.
“Biggest one I ever seen,” Otto said.
“What, like two feet?”
“You’re lying,” Pete said. “Ain’t no eight-foot snake up there.”
“There are no snakes that big,” Jacali said.
“You just want my piece!” Pete said.
“It’s six or eight feet,” Otto said.
“You climb up there, Pete,” Professor Stalloid said.
“All right, I’ll climb up there!” Pete said.
Pete walked to the cliff side and looked up, holstering the Peacemaker and climbing up the side. He got stuck about 14 feet up the side of the cliff, going to the left of where Otto had been. He looked around and tried to find more handholds, feeling around desperately.
“You went the wrong way, idiot!” Otto called.
They heard him grumbling.
Otto went to the cliff and called to him, telling him how to get down. When Pete was back on the ground, Otto pointed out some of the handholds he’d used to get up to the cave mouth. With another grumbled reply, Pete started climbing again, getting stuck only a couple feet.
“Pete, just believe him!” Professor Stalloid said. “I’ve seen weirder things than an eight-foot snake.”
Pete climbed back over.
“I don’t care about the snake!” he said. “I want my piece! Maybe that fella’s got it.”
“You want to climb back up there together and pull the body out?” Professor Stalloid said.
“You want me to mess with a snake!?!” Otto said.
“No no no no,” Professor Stalloid said. “Not the snake. Just grab him by the boots …”
“Yeah!” Jacali said.
“That’ll wake up the snake!” Otto said.
“… pull him very, very slowly,” Professor Stalloid said.
“By the ankle,” Jacali said.
“You’re a cowboy aincha?” Pete said to Otto. “Lassoo him!”
“Ah! You could lassoo him,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I’m a cavalryman, not a cowboy,” Otto said.
“Oh,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Oh,” Pete said.
“Yeah, I don’t think he can lassoo him,” Professor Stalloid said.
Pete turned to Jacali.
“You’re an Indian, aincha?” he said. “Lassoo him!”
“Lassoo him!” Professor Stalloid said to her.
Professor Stalloid suggested to Jacali he tie a rope to one of her arrows. She would shoot the body with the arrow and they would pull it down. She agreed and he did so. She went to the cliff, standing off about 20 feet. She fired and the arrow went a little high, flying up and over the body and disappearing into the cave. She pulled the rope and it soon came out of the cave along with the arrow.
She walked back over to where the rest of them stood about a hundred feet away.
They discussed the rope and how to get it attached to the man. Jacali told them the arrow didn’t fly well with the heavy rope attached to it. Pete suggested she needed a grappling hook on the arrow, getting him looks from all of them. Jacali asked Otto if there was a place for a better, closer shot. He didn’t think so. Professor Stalloid asked about the tracks Otto had been following and learned they led directly to the avalanche and beneath the cave mouth.
Jacali said she’d try shooting the arrow again but noted if she missed it would probably be easier and more worth the time to just climb up and grab the man’s ankle, pulling him down. Professor Stalloid said they would cover her with their various guns.
Jacali went to the edge of the cliff and fired at one of the feet, shooting nearly straight up and hoping to pierce one of the man’s feet. The arrow missed but came down on the other side of the pair of boots, the rope draping across the feet and hanging on both sides of them.
“That’s … what I meant to do,” she called to the others.
She climbed up the wall but only got up about 10 feet before she couldn’t find any additional handholds. She leaned against the wall and tied the rope in a knot, trying to tighten it the best she could from there, hoping to get the knot to climb up to the feet. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get it to tighten correctly and it wouldn’t go up but just hung there, too low. She gave the rope a little tug to make sure it was still secure. It felt like it was and, as she pulled, the knot finally tightened around the man’s feet. She gave it a hard jerk and the body slid out of the cave mouth, tumbling down the cliff right towards her, but struck the cliff side and bounced away from Jacali, crashing to the ground with a sickening thumb.
She slid down the side of the cliff and ran to the men.
“I planned every bit of that and it all went according to my initial idea,” she said.
Pete looked at her and the body with his mouth open.
“Okay Pete, watch the hole,” Professor Stalloid said.
“That was a fine bit of chicanery,” Pete said to Jacali.
The three of them left Pete by the horses and went to examine the body. The front of it was covered with blood but Professor Stalloid only found a couple of wide bite marks. The jaw of the snake seemed huge. The body was bloated and the skin blackened as if by poison. They were not sure where the blood came from as the snake bites hadn’t seemed to bleed much. Strapped on his back was a Charleville musket, probably a gun used in the War of 1812 or the Mexican War. There was also black powder and shot on the body. There was no sign of the backpack he had been wearing when they had passed him that morning. He wore buckskin clothing and boots.
Otto took the musket, black powder, and shot.
“Well, if they went in that hole, what are we doing about that snake?” he said.
“Well, we’ve got to get in there somehow,” Jacali said.
“It’s quiet up there,” Pete called to them.
“We have a rope,” Jacali said. “One of us could climb up there, string it somewhere. Easier for us to climb in but, if that snake is right up in the front of it, then …”
“Pete has the handgun,” Otto said.
Pete had come over and kicked the body. Then he searched it again, obviously hoping to find his piece. He even took the man’s boots off and shook them out, looking for it and cursing under his breath.
“If it’s as big as you say, is that going to be enough?” Jacali said.
“If I shot it with this, I’d probably kill it,” Otto said.
He hefted the shotgun.
“I do have the poison from Ophelia,” Jacali said. “I don’t know if that works. I don’t know if snakes are immune to their own toxins or if this is even the same thing. But it could be worth a try.”
They realized rattlesnake venom was terrible stuff that shut down the nervous system. The poison that had killed the man must have been terribly toxic and Professor Stalloid, who had seen rattlesnake bites before, was concerned.
“Is there any antidote for rattlesnake bite?” Otto said. “Is there any treatment for it? In case one of us gets bitten.”
“Suck the wound,” Professor Stalloid said. “Get it out. Tourniquet if it’s on a limb.”
Otto didn’t like snakes. He knew they were insidious and tended to stalk their prey, especially men. Even if they heard someone near, they would lay in wait and attack at the worst possible time. He was convinced the snake up in the cave was waiting in ambush.
There seemed to Jacali to be an awful lot of snakes in the area. She knew there were rattlesnakes in Colorado but there seemed an inordinate amount in the valley and they seemed to be out in weather colder than was normal. It made her uneasy.
“Listen, everyone, our best chance of getting this thing is at night when it’s coldest,” Jacali said. “Which is, unfortunately, when we’re going to have the least visibility on it but I think we should act while it’s still dusk.”
“Why is this man covered in blood?” Professor Stalloid said.
“I don’t know. How did he die?”
“I wonder if it was some sort of camouflage? Is that snake blood?”
“You think when people die they explode blood!?!”
Jacali looked at him.
“Well … I mean, we did throw him off a cliff,” she said.
“They don’t explode blood,” Pete said. “I killed plenty of people. They don’t explode.”
“I threw him off a cliff,” Jacali said.
“He was already bloody when I saw him,” Otto said.
“He was already bloody,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” Jacali said.
“Hey, he broke his legs and stuff but he ain’t got no cuts,” Pete said.
“This blood was put on him,” Professor Stalloid said.
They more carefully examined the man in the waning light. The front of his shirt and pants were soaked in blood that was only starting to congeal. Otto opened up his shirt but found no injuries on his bloated, blackened corpse.
Professor Stalloid looked around the area of the landslide but didn’t see any dead snakes or blood except on the dead man.
“Well, Otto, you’re the only one to climb up the full way,” Jacali said. “Do you think you could climb up and tie a rope up there?”
“Not really,” Otto quickly said.
“Well, it might be anybody’s shot.”
“Let’s keep trying until someone does it!” Professor Stalloid said.
Otto climbed up the cliff wall, Professor Stalloid close behind him. The latter didn’t get more than about four feet up before he got stuck. Otto, meanwhile, climbed all the way up to just below the cave entrance. He tried to get the shotgun off his shoulder without luck, losing his balance and clutching the side of the cliff. He peeked his head up again and could see the snake was still there. It hadn’t moved and he was convinced it was a cunning snake indeed.
“Try to talk to it!” Professor Stalloid called up.
Otto lowered his head again.
Jacali called up for Otto to just hook up a rope but he hadn’t taken it up. Professor Stalloid tried to throw the rope up but it fell far short of the man. He tried again and this time the rope fell right back on him, knocking him off his feet. He found himself tangled in the rope, trying to get free. Jacali put her head in her hands. Pete nudged her.
“You know, that’s more common than you would think,” he said.
Otto climbed back down and took the rope, climbing back up with it but found himself on the wrong track about 12 feet up. Professor Stalloid climbed up successfully, finally, but he didn’t have the rope. Otto flung the rope at Professor Stalloid but missed him and it fell to the ground below.
“Hey, how you doing?” Professor Stalloid, just below the cave mouth, said quietly.
Silence was his only answer.
He had hooked the lantern to his belt and unhooked it, holding it up and peeking cautiously over the ledge. The snake lying on the ground in the cave entrance was huge, at least seven or eight feet long. He saw the glitter of light from his lantern off the scales and the rattle was probably a half foot long. It wasn’t moving. He realized the cave continued on into the darkness well past the snake. It looked like it sloped downward gradually just past the entrance to the cave.
Professor Stalloid climbed back down. He told Otto they’d tie the rope to both of them and climb in tandem.
“That’s a terrible idea, Stalloid,” Otto said.
“No no no,” Professor Stalloid said. “Because if one of us makes it, the other person just unties the rope and the other person has the rope with them.”
“But if one of us falls when we’re tied together …”
“Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. I’ll catch you.”
“But, if you’re the one that falls─”
“This is a genius idea,” Pete said. “Go ahead Otto.”
“Pete Sutter, I thought you would be the show on this adventure, but it looks like I’m wrong,” Jacali said. “It’s my fellow companions.”
“Ayuh,” Pete said.
“Hey, I’m the one that thinks this is a bad idea,” Otto said.
Pete took out a knife and cut some rope off the 50 feet Professor Stalloid had. Then he used the rope to hobble the three horses so they wouldn’t wander very far. Professor Stalloid still wanted to try the tandem rope idea.
“If you need a second person, I’ll do it,” Jacali said. “But it seemed like Otto was so enthralled with the plan.”
The two of them climbed up to the edge of the cave, both of them side by side. Jacali looked back down at Otto.
“Was this really that hard!” she called.
After a few moments, they found a jutting piece of rock they could tie the rope to. Pete climbed up the rope followed by Otto. All of them hung on the side of the cliff face.
Professor Stalloid and Jacali climbed into the cave. She immediately took the bow off her shoulder and readied an arrow. In the gathering darkness they could smell metal and, with the light from Professor Stalloid’s lantern, they could see the blood on the floor all around it. They then noticed there were several bullet holes in the snake and realized the blood had come from the snake when it had been shot several times.
“I do not believe we should shoot this snake,” Professor Stalloid said.
Jacali moved forward as Pete climbed up and drew his pistol. She took the arrow out of the bow and poked the snake gently with it. It didn’t move. She realized it was dead. She noticed a small white crescent shape on the snake’s head. She did not trust anything crescent-shaped anymore.
“Oh look,” she said. “It’s a crescent snake. And it’s dead.”
“The crescent?” Professor Stalloid said.
“What?” Pete said. “Oh, that’s what them Secret Service agents wanted, wasn’t it?”
Otto climbed up as well.
“Do y’all reckon this snake touched the Crescent and it judged it pure of heart and that’s why it got so big?” Jacali said.
“Obviously,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Obviously,” Jacali said.
She picked up the snake. It was very, very heavy and covered in blood. She pushed it out of the way, laying it to one side.
The corridor was a precipitous ramp sloping downward. Pete led the way with Jacali and Professor Stalloid behind him and Otto bringing up the rear.
In the light from the lantern, they saw the cave was not natural. It was a tunnel with the walls and ceiling made of cyclopean blocks and slabs, smoothed and round-edged with the passage of eons. The floor’s surface was covered in spiraling whorls and ridges that were slightly disorienting to look upon. Footprints went through the dust. About 30 feet down the corridor, the friezes and panels began on the walls. They depicted serpent folk that had a strong resemblance to Ophelia and were in positions of triumph or dominance. Sometimes they were simply the heads of such beings wearing headdresses or accoutrements of various kinds. Many of the panels showed humans as chattel or victims, slaves or being sacrificed. The humans were depicted as hairier than those of modern day and there were other … things … depicted that were obviously not human. There were odd, hairy creatures that were definitely not men.
Some 40 feet from the entrance, Pete stopped. He, Otto, and Professor Stalloid noticed a panel on the wall to the right that looked like a hidden door. Professor Stalloid moved past Pete and pushed on the panel, which easily pivoted as if it weighed nothing.
The footprints appeared to simply go down the corridor, having missed the door altogether.
They looked into the tiny room beyond. The dust was thick on the floor of the small room and against the far was were some small pieces of metal. The dust in the middle of the room appeared to be a different color from the rest of the dust. To the right was another small pile of metal.
Stalloid held up the lantern to better illuminate the small room. Jacali crept in, leaving a trail in the inch or two of dust there, and carefully brushed away some of the dust from the little pile against the opposite wall. She found several small tools or bent pieces of metal. She moved to a larger pile to the right and found a set of manacles, long ruined with the passage of time.
“Looks mostly like … prisoner holding or slave holding,” Jacali said.
“Okay,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Why would they hold a slave at the entrance?”
“I don’t know.”
“I would guess that the flesh decayed and the bones decayed and all of it decayed.”
“Or this is where it was killed.”
Professor Stalloid started to search around the room. He found a knife with a saw-back edge. It had no handle but the metal had survived. He also found what appeared to be large nails with circular hooks on the wide end. There were two more sets of manacles and flint and steel. Otto took the latter. They also found five small black round stones. Professor Stalloid picked one up and realized it was too heavy to be coal but lighter than lead. He tucked all five of them into his satchel.
“The body was turned into these five stones is what I hypothesize,” he said. “Let’s go.”
“Is my piece in here?” Pete said. “Let’s get out of here.”
They continued down the corridor which went down about 70 feet in total. There were more friezes and carvings on the walls, some of them quite disturbing and all of them with the serpent people predominant.
At the end, the corridor opened into a chamber roughly 40 feet wide and 30 feet deep, the corners dark with shadows. A breeze blew down through the room from the surface, the dust there scattered and thickest in the corners. They saw a wide niche in the wall to their right with an obvious door. There was another door in the same wall the tunnel entered the room. They heard a click or a clunk from behind them.
Jacali turned and looked back up the corridor. She could barely make out the entrance, yards behind them, by the ever-darkening sky outside. It would be night soon. Professor Stalloid likewise turned around to look, holding his lantern high. Then he looked at his and everyone’s feet.
“Stop,” he said. “Is anybody standing on some sort of … thing that’s lowered?”
“I’m standing on the ground,” Jacali said.
“Like a well?” Pete said.
“Like a …” Professor Stalloid said. “… some sort of stone that might be lowered from the floor?”
Pete started to lift up his feet and put them back down.
“Oh, don’t step!” Professor Stalloid said.
Professor Stalloid looked more closely at everyone’s feet but didn’t see any kind of trigger mechanism in the floor for a trap.
“I’m thinking we should press on through,” Jacali said.
“I think we should move away from this doorway, real quick,” Professor Stalloid said.
He stepped to one side of the entrance and gestured the others to do the same. They all moved clear of the corridor. It was very quiet. A cool breeze blew down into the room.
They moved to the door in the same wall as the corridor. There were no hinges on the door and Jacali pushed on it. It didn’t feel like there was any weight to it at all and it pivoted open with only the barest of sounds. It was made of rock and only the slight grinding of rock on rock came from it. It opened 90 degrees, exposing a corridor that went back about 20 feet before turning to the left. Pete, beside her, aimed his pistol into the corridor.
Otto continued to search the room for tracks and found vague signs someone went to both doors. He went to the niche with the other door and nudged it with the shotgun barrel. The door easily pivoted open, revealing a dark corridor with a door at its end and a niche to the left.
Jacali noted the thick dust on the floor and saw several tracks that both entered and exited the corridor. Professor Stalloid suggested leaving someone in the first room to keep an eye out and Jacali wondered about splitting their numbers. Otto walked back over and pointed out there was only one light source.
“They left this place,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I think we should see if they left anything or found anything or if there’s anything else we need to know about,” Jacali said.
“Like a big ol’ snake,” Professor Stalloid said.
Jacali looked at him.
“Well, if they got out then so can we,” she said.
“One of ‘em didn’t,” Pete said. “One of us won’t. I pick him.”
He pointed at Otto.
“I pick you, Pete,” Otto said. “At least─”
“No no no!” Pete said. “I picked first!”
“Here’s my reasoning, Pete, you’ve come back from the dead twice now,” Otto said.
“He doesn’t remember that,” Professor Stalloid said.
“So …” Otto said.
“He always lie like this?” Pete said. “Don’t lie! Even I don’t lie. When I’m going to shoot somebody in the face, I shoot ‘em in the face!”
Jacali and Professor Stalloid moved forward while the two men argued.
The corridor turned to the left and only went another ten feet before it opened into a room some 30 feet wide by 20 feet deep. The footprints went through the dusk into the room to about the center and stopped, turning and heading back. The walls were covered with shelves cut into the rock. The niches were only about a foot deep and high and covered both walls. They were filled with geodes. There must have been hundreds of them there.
“All right …” Jacali said.
“How about we just leave these fools to their fate and turn around?” Otto said.
“Afraid of a bunch of rocks, there, Otto?” Pete said. “It ain’t here. My piece ain’t here. Let’s go.”
“Yeah … uh … what Pete said,” Jacali said.
She backed slowly out of the room.
“Is there anything we can do to destroy these, Stalloid?” Otto said.
“We need fire,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I have a fire-making kit,” Otto said.
“Lots of fire,” Professor Stalloid said. “A little bit of fire just wakes them up. We need lots of fire.”
“You might be able to start a fire, get a spark, but it won’t keep going in here,” Jacali said. “Plus, it will eat up all our oxygen and drown us.”
“Also, I’m not dragging a bunch of firewood from who-knows-where,” Professor Stalloid said. “All the way up that hole again, and then in here, and then down to this room to burn all these.”
“Let’s just go,” Otto said.
“Is my piece in there?” Pete said.
“No,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Let’s go,” Pete said.
Otto backed out of the room, keeping an eye out for any movement at all. He realized all of the geode-shaped stones were covered in dust and a few had fallen, obviously, from the shelves, and lay on the floor. They were not cracked, however. Nor were they moving.
When they got back to the door, it was closed.
“That monster did the exact same thing,” Otto said.
Professor Stalloid pushed on the door and it swung silently open. He told Otto he thought it was just a swing-back door, like a saloon door. He examined it but couldn’t find any easy way to jam it closed. He thought about using the round stones and examined one of them closely. They were small and round, like a marble, somewhat smooth as if they had been created as opposed to occurring naturally. They didn’t make any noise when he shook them by his ear. They appeared to be a solid piece of something. He wasn’t sure what.
He remembered the metal from the first room.
“This room should never be opened again,” Professor Stalloid said. “Let’s go get that metal real quick and we can wedge it shut.”
“And we can check the entrance while we’re up there,” Otto said.
“I guess,” Jacali said. “I mean … I think we could just save it for last, but …”
“We might be leaving here in a hurry,” Otto said.
“Yeah,” Professor Stalloid said.
“That’s true,” Jacali said.
“We do leave a lot of places in a hurry,” Professor Stalloid said.
“We’ll be leaving some corpses behind, but I’ll bet we ain’t gonna be running from ‘em,” Pete said.
“Some things don’t leave corpses,” Professor Stalloid said.
Pete looked at him.
“What?” he said.
“Let’s not scare our new friend, Pete Sutter,” Jacali said. “Let’s just get those things and do that thing you were talking about.”
They went back up the long corridor and returned to the first room. They found the door there shut as well. They got the pieces of metal and returned to the door to the room filled with geodes. Professor Stalloid wedged them into the crack under the door on the inside so no one would get it open again, hopefully. He wedged the outside of the door with the pick he’d taken from the Inn of the Smiling Spirit. While they did that, Jacali looked around the room, finding worthless debris in the corners. The walls were covered with frescos showing the serpent people in various positions of power over men and beasts.
They went to the other door out of the room, Pete in the lead again. It opened onto a corridor some 30 feet long that ended in a door. A niche was to the left with another door within it. The footprints on the floor indicated the men went both ways. Otto suggested going to the niche door first and it opened easily. The 20-foot by 20-foot room had small holes in the walls and heavy dust covered the floor to a depth of a couple of inches. Otherwise the room appeared to be empty.
The footprints stopped at the door.
Jacali entered the room and looked at the holes, finding them small and only a couple of inches deep and angled down. They realized the holes might have held wooden pegs to hang things on the wall. Then she went to the center of the room, wiping away the dust, and found the biggest snakeskin she’d ever seen. The skin was strange in that it was a snakeskin but had arms and legs on it as well.
Otto walked back out into the corridor as soon as he saw it.
“Maybe molting is a very stressful process and they need to be restrained,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I imagine if I had to change out my whole look and be totally unclothed for it …” Jacali said.
“Your piece, your piece,” Professor Stalloid said. “I get it.
“What the hell are y’all talking about?” Pete said.
“Well, Pete Sutter, have you ever considered that snakes shed their skin and, if a snake this big─” Jacali said.
“Everybody knows snakes shed their skin!”
“Well, what if you had to shed your skin? Have you ever thought about that?”
“No. Who would think about that?”
“I would think any normal person would think about that.”
“Yeah,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Well, you’re an injun,” Pete said. “Nobody cares what you think.”
“What about me?” Professor Stalloid said.
“You’re not wrong,” Jacali said.
She walked out of the room.
They all proceeded on to the other door at the end of the passage. It opened as easily as the ones before it had. The corridor beyond curved to the right. There appeared to be many narrow passages leading off it with ceilings lower than the corridor’s 10-foot ceiling. The footprints in the dust went straight down the hall.
They discussed following the footprints or looking at the rooms. They finally decided to follow the tracks.
Pete was careful at each connecting corridor, peering in each with gun pointed but quickly moving on.
“You get ‘em Pete,” Jacali said.
“Well, there ain’t nothing to get is there?” Pete said.
“Oh, they better watch out for you,” Jacali said.
The connecting “corridors” proved to be deep niches, alcoves deep enough for coffins to be laid within. Some were intact while others were broken to flinders. Some of the niches were empty but showed signed of having once held a wooden coffin. The ones that were there looked very old and made of some kind of strange wood that wasn’t familiar to them. The coffins had flaking and peeling paint of some kind and interwoven coils and knot work of some kind of metal in many cases. Some of them still contained corpses of serpent folk or at least their bones.
Both Jacali and Otto felt strange when they were close to each coffin. It was almost a noise in their head, a thrumming, like something was vibrating near the coffins or within them. Even the broken coffins near the entrance gave them that strange feeling. It was not pleasant. Pete kept looking around like he was feeling it as well.
A larger niche a short distance down to the right held an intact coffin laying on the floor with the body of a serpent person. The thing’s hands held an ornate and heavy-looking obsidian cleaver. The niche to the left held a coffin containing only the bones of a serpent person, this one holding a slender, verdigris-covered bronze poniard clutched to its chest. Further down to the right, just before the corridor widened, was a sarcophagus wherein appeared to be the skeleton of a serpent person clad in a heavy snakeskin robe that matched its own mottled hide.
They stopped and Professor Stalloid touched the snakeskin robe. Jacali touched it as well and realized it was obviously very heavy.
“Can you keep an eye on this skeleton?” Professor Stalloid said. “I don’t trust it.”
Pete looked at him like he was crazy but aimed his pistol at the skeleton as Professor Stalloid started to remove the robe from the bones.
“Don’t you move now, Mr. Skeleton,” Pete said. “Oh! Oh, he’s okay. Watch out! Oh, it’s fine. He ain’t moving. Don’t move, I told you!”
Professor Stalloid finally got the robe off the bones and looked it over.
“These are weirdest-lookin’ injuns I ever seen,” Pete said, looking at the bones in the sarcophagus.
“I’m worried that we’re desecrating a sacred place, but I would like to bring something back to Ophelia,” Jacali said.
Professor Stalloid tried to roll up the robes but they proved too thick and wouldn’t fit in his satchel. Rolled up, they had more the consistency of a thick bedroll. He shrugged and emptied the pockets of his jacket, tucked it into the satchel, and put on the robes. They were very heavy but he felt it looked pretty good on him. The robes went down to his feet and had wide sleeves.
They also noticed the skeleton wore a bone ring. Professor Stalloid pointed it out.
“You got bone on your bones,” Jacali quipped.
They all looked at her.
“Because it’s a bone ring?” she said. “And it’s on a skeleton?”
They all looked at her.
“That’s funny!” she said.
“Jacali, what’s wrong with you?” Pete said.
They left the ring and continued on.
“Keep up,” Pete said. “I don’t wanna be in the dark.”
They reached a place where the corridor opened up a little as it split. The junction was dominated by a column carved into the form of a spiral-coiled serpent, it’s long ivory fangs glinting beneath emerald eyes that peered from near the ceiling some eight feet off the ground. A large white crescent was on the forehead of the serpent. A passage ran straight ahead while another curved off to the left, both with more niches evident. A door was to the left before the corridor. Additionally, another wide passage went down and to the right.
“That’s a big statue,” Pete said, pointing his pistol at it.
“Don’t mess with this statue, Stalloid,” Otto said.
“I’m going to touch it!” Professor Stalloid said.
“Don’t!” Otto said.
He aimed his shotgun at Professor Stalloid.
“Can I touch it with a stick?” Professor Stalloid said.
“No!” Otto said.
“Oh, we playing that game?” Pete said.
He pointed his pistol at Professor Stalloid.
“Wait a minute,” he said.
He pointed the pistol at Otto. Otto pointed his shotgun at him.
“I just want to touch it,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Don’t touch it!” Otto said to him.
“Don’t aim a shotgun at me, boy!” Pete said.
“Why are you aiming a pistol at me?”
“‘Cause you aimed a shotgun at him. I might need him to get my piece back.”
Otto lowered the shotgun and Pete stopped aiming his pistol at him.
“Don’t do that again!” he said.
“Can I touch it with a stick?” Professor Stalloid said.
“No, don’t touch it at all,” Otto said.
“How about if I wrap my hand in this robe?”
“You let me touch the robe already. C’mon.”
“But this is different. Last time we dealt with a statue that had gems for eyes, shadow beasts came at us and they disintegrated people! They’re acidic. They’re acidic. They’re like that creature you killed.”
“Yeah, I’m a slime slayer! Let me touch it!”
“Don’t touch it!”
“I want to touch it!”
“What is wrong with you?” Pete said to Professor Stalloid.
Jacali has not entered the junction but lingered, worried, in the corridor they had come from.
“You don’t want to touch it,” Otto said.
Professor Stalloid moved towards the statue. Otto, annoyed, went back to the entrance of the room where Jacali stood nervously, ready to run.
Professor Stalloid walked over to the statue and looked up at it, then reached out and touched the surface of the thing with a single finger. The snake looked down at him silently. He bowed and moved away. An impression crashed through his head, alien and cold, noting his trespass. It reminded him somewhat of his contact with the Crescent though this impression seemed to encompass the entire world.
Yeah, but we’re just chasing the trespassers, he thought. We’re trying to find them.
He got a strange feeling and the only way he it made sense was: Are you a servant of Bast?
No no no, he thought. I hate Bast. Bast doesn’t like me.
The pressure in his mind was suddenly gone as quickly as it had come.
The others saw and heard nothing but watched as Professor Stalloid touched and then bowed to the statue, backing away to rejoin them.
“All right, Stalloid,” Jacali said. “How was it?”
“Um …” Professor Stalloid said.
“What the hell was that?” Pete said.
“It called me a trespasser,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I told you!” Otto said.
“Should we …” Jacali said.
“What?” Pete said.
“… try to pay our respect in any way to this …” Jacali said.
“I don’t know how!” Professor Stalloid said.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have taken their robes,” Jacali said.
“I’m keeping it!” Professor Stalloid said.
“Take the robe back,” Otto said.
“It didn’t say anything about the robes!” Professor Stalloid said.
“Do you think I should …” Jacali said.
“I don’t think it even cared about the robes!” Professor Stalloid said. “Let’s keep going.”
“What the hell are you people talking about!” Pete said.
“It doesn’t like trespassers,” Professor Stalloid said. “So we should get these trespassers and stop them.”
“It identified you as a trespasser,” Otto said.
“But I told it I wasn’t,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I feel like I should make some reverence,” Jacali said.
“I … I don’t know how,” Professor Stalloid said.
Jacali walked across the room and put a hand on the statue, bowing in front of it. She didn’t look up but knew the thing was leaning down to look at her. She was shaken when she realized something had noticed her that had never noticed her before, perhaps because she was too unimportant to be noticed. Perhaps she had been safer not being noticed. She was thinking of Ophelia and wondering what the connection might be.
Her mind was flooded with images too quickly to make out. She saw flashes of humans and things that looked like they were not quite human, but humanoids with thicker hair and thicker skulls, working in fields, under the lash of serpent people. She got the impression of some kind of great upheaval though was unsure exactly what kind. She saw the humans and proto-humans rising up and attacking their masters. She thought she saw men in metal armor unlike anything she’d ever seen before of brass or bronze or gold. She got an idea of a great flight in the direction they were going through the crypts of many serpent people. She got the impression the place they were in had some other purpose besides just housing the dead and, for an instant, she heard the strange thrumming again and knew it was some kind of power being taken from the dead to do something though she was no sure what.
What she didn’t see were dinosaurs or great ferns or anything like what she had seen through the gate Ophelia had come through.
She stumbled backwards a step as the images faded and were gone. But she could hear the thrumming more clearly now, moving from the top of the crypts, where they entered, and going down into the ground, following the tunnels and the coffins and the dead, through the spiral of the place, to where and for what purpose, she did not know.
Professor Stalloid moved to Jacali.
“Can I touch it again?” he said.
“No,” she said. “It’s fine. There’s something else here and we need to go down and find it. It’s greater than … it’s greater than the trespassers, greater than the piece.”
“No, it’s not!” Pete said. “We find my piece, you can do anything you want with this crap!”
He gestured at the crypts all around them.
“I don’t really care,” he said. “You can take your snake statue and your emeralds. I don’t care. I just want my piece.”
“I feel that─” Jacali said.
“I gotta job to do,” Pete said. “I need my piece.”
“I feel like I should mention: whatever we do, I feel like we should leave this place as much as it was before,” Jacali said.
“Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah,” Professor Stalloid said.
They continued to follow the tracks of the other men going straight ahead and, as they passed what they thought was another corridor to the right, saw it was only a short corridor going down into a room some 30 feet deep and 20 feet across. There were more large sarcophagi there.
Jacali concentrated on the strange thrumming that seemed to be going through her head. Maybe it was her imagination but she was certain she could still feel it. It seemed to be coming from the entrance and going down the corridors ahead. It worried her.
“I feel like it might be best to check both places,” she said. “I don’t know which one we want to do first.”
“Well, we know they went down the straightaway,” Professor Stalloid said.
“That’s where my piece is!” Pete said.
“So, do we want to check the curved left one?” Professor Stalloid said.
“They could connect to the same place,” Otto said.
“My piece ain’t down there!” Pete said.
“I feel like it would be better to go around the curve,” Otto said. “I think it goes to the same place.”
Pete pointed down the corridor the tracks went.
“Do we just follow the tracks for now or do you want to go to the left?” Professor Stalloid asked Jacali.
“I … I want to get everywhere eventually,” Jacali said. “I just want to know what this place is, but … if Pete’s incessant then─”
“Let’s just go straight,” Professor Stalloid said.
“… we can go straight,” Jacali said.
“It’s about time somebody saw some sense,” Pete said.
The corridor ahead ran straight for about 40 feet and they passed more alcoves, many with broken shards of humble coffins or the occasional sarcophagus, all empty of everything but bones, before it curved to the right once again. A connecting corridor ran to the left, probably to connect up with the other corridor they had passed. The corridor to the right, which started to curve back towards the left, had tracks of the men. The left corridor actually curved even further to the left, though the shadows at the edge of their light showed a large sarcophagus in a niche to the right.
The tracks followed the main curve as it descended in a long spiral and so they continued carefully down, passing more alcoves similar to the ones they had passed before and more carvings on the walls of serpent people and enslaved humans. They had gone perhaps another hundred feet they came upon a place where there were three doors in the wall to the right and a single door in the wall to the left. The left door appeared to have been sealed up with stone and metal wedges nailed in all around it. The scrapes on the floor suggested the door might have been shaken somewhat loose at some point.
They had the same plan as I did, Professor Stalloid thought.
The wedges were covered with dust. Only a single set of footprints went up to the door and didn’t seem to come back.
Jacali went to the door and pressed on it with the palm of her right hand. The door didn’t open but it felt like her hand was moving into the stone of it, pressing in like it was made of some soft material. She looked at the others as it felt like her hand was being pulled into the door.
“This is just like the beds,” she said.
Otto and Professor Stalloid rushed forward, grabbing the woman and pulling her away from the door. When her hand came away pain ran up her arm from her palm and she turned her hand over to see the flesh that had touched the door was covered with blood as if it had been flayed. She cursed.
“Maybe it was good that you pulled me back from that then,” she said.
Professor Stalloid quickly wrapped her hand in his handkerchief to stop the bleeding. Her hand hurt terribly.
“Man, that’s a pretty sharp door,” Pete said.
“Yeah, Pete,” Jacali said. “You want to check it out, see if you can do any better, be my guest. But … uh …”
“Why the hell would I want to do that?” Pete said. “Wait, is my piece in there?”
“Maybe Pete,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Yeah, who knows?” Jacali said. “The one set of footprints goes in.”
“No no no no,” Professor Stalloid said.
Pete thought on that and then glared at them.
“Let’s keep going,” Professor Stalloid said. “Follow the tracks.”
Before they went, they opened the doors on the right side of the corridor. The first was filled with destroyed coffins and bones. The second had four coffins within, mostly intact. The last had a single coffin within, likewise in poor condition. Each time Jacali looked into a room, the thrumming grew louder, as if whatever was making the noise was moving through it.
Professor Stalloid took off the serpent skin robes.
“I don’t feeling comfortable taking this, but if you still want to, you can,” he said to Jacali.
“I think I was one of the people who said we shouldn’t take things from these places, so …” Jacali said.
“Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. Okay.”
“When we go back by that place, you can give it back to that nice skeleton.”
“Okay. Okay. Okay.”
He donned the robe once again.
“And remember, tell him sorry for taking his coat,” she said.
“I will,” Professor Stalloid said. “I will. I will.”
“He’s dead!” Pete said.
“I get a very bad feeling about this place,” Jacali said.
“His god’s not,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Dead men walking …” Otto said.
“His god?” Pete said. “What’re you talking about?”
“Oh, don’t worry, Pete,” Professor Stalloid said. “Let’s get your piece.”
“All right, let’s get my piece,” Pete said.
Both Professor Stalloid and Jacali realized Pete’s pistol, his piece, was more important to him than was probably healthy. He was obviously very attached and obsessed with it. He was incomplete without it and it had amazing meaning to him.
Otto looked at his watch and saw they had been in the place for a little over a half hour. He told Professor Stalloid.
“Okay,” Professor Stalloid said.
He pulled out his own pocket watch.
“I’ve got a watch too,” he said.
“You can tell me what time it is,” Jacali said. “I don’t have a watch.”
Otto showed her his watch.
“I know,” she said.
“What the clock says,” Otto said.
“What does the clock say, Jacali,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Oh. My. God,” Pete said. “Who cares what time it is!?!”
“It’s time to get your piece!” Professor Stalloid said.
“Exactly!” Pete said.
They continued down the corridor only a dozen or so yards before they saw strange, flashing lights ahead. They came across a wide niche to the left with a large metal ring 10 feet in diameter. There were strange sigils and odd signs upon it. It was embedded in the walls of the niche. The footprints went by the thing. Professor Stalloid touched the ring and thought “Open.” Nothing happened.
“I’m not powerful enough,” he said to the others. “I’m sorry.”
Jacali stuck her hand through the hole but nothing happened.
“It’s not active,” Professor Stalloid said.
Jacali realized the thrumming was not as potent at that particular spot. It was still there but not as powerful or heavy. It felt like it was more in the background.
“What the hell’s wrong with you?” Pete said.
“Well, this is kind of like … you remember how those people sent us back in time through their minds,” Professor Stalloid said. “And we were in the Indians?”
“Yes,” Pete said.
“Well, this would just bring us back there as you,” Professor Stalloid said.
Pete looked at him.
“Don’t break him,” Jacali said.
“This is some kind of time portal that can break the bonds of time and space, and place us, possibly, on other worlds or even other times?” Pete said.
“Yes,” Professor Stalloid said.
They looked at each other.
“But usually, the last one we saw─” Professor Stalloid said.
“My piece is not in there!” Pete said.
“No no no no no.”
“Okay. Let’s go.”
“Don’t hurt his head Stalloid,” Jacali said.
“It didn’t hurt my head,” Pete said. “I took paraphysics.”
“It was at the Secret Service Institute,” Professor Stalloid said.
“No, that was at Yale,” Pete said. “Let’s go!”
They saw a flashing, strange light ahead, almost like an electric light, like lightning. It came from up ahead around the curve. Without telling anyone else, Otto slipped ahead as they stopped to discuss what to do. When they looked for him, he was gone.
“He must’ve gone ahead,” Professor Stalloid said. “Let’s go ahead.”
* * *
Otto crept ahead, little more than a shadow. He came to a spot where there were two shallow niches on the right, each of them with another of the metal rings. A strange light moved within them, completely silent, occasionally flashing and moving about, sometimes little more than a burst of electricity, but sometimes filling the entirety of the ring. Lying next to the nearest of them was a body. His right arm was missing from the elbow down and he lay in a pool of blood. The man looked like one of the men they had passed on the road that morning.
He saw there were niches on the left with doors and he thought he heard voices from a niche on the right between the two shallow niches with the rings. Beyond that, in the strange, flashing light, he could see the spiral crypts continued. He crept forward quietly and thought he heard footsteps approaching from behind, guessing it was the others.
He quickly peeked in and recognize the other two prospectors they had run into on the road that morning. They stood in a room of indeterminate depth with an open door. Another one of the 10-foot diameter rings ran across the room about 10 feet from the door but this one was filled with an opaque white field of light. The two men were discussing quietly what to do. One of them had two pistols stuck in his belt and the other one had a buffalo rifle in his right hand, holding it by the barrel. They discussed whether they should make the claim there and if it was Gulliver’s spot.
Otto crept back towards the others.
* * *
The others had just reached a spot where they could see the body in the corridor when Jacali heard someone whisper her name and turned to see Otto standing there.
“Jesus Christ Otto!” she hissed.
He shushed her.
“They’re ahead!” he whispered.
“That’s the best way to announce it to me - when you’re completely invisible!” she said.
“You know what? If I had appeared in front of Pete, he would’ve shot me. So … I figured it’d be better if─”
“Hey!” Pete said. “There’s a dead guy up here!”
They shushed him.
“Quiet, they’re ahead,” Otto whispered.
“They’re ahead,” Professor Stalloid said. “We’ve got to use the element of surprise.”
“Let’s just shoot ‘em,” Pete said.
“No!” Otto whispered. “If you do, he’d use the buffalo gun.”
“What’re you trying to tell me, Otto?” Jacali said.
“They’re armed,” Otto said. “One has two pistols.”
“Let’s go!” he said.
Otto held the shotgun up as Pete made to head down the corridor.
“I want to try to get a good shot before they know we’re here,” Jacali said.
Pete grabbed the end of the shotgun.
“Get out of my way!” he said.
“Now Pete, when we started this, I said we’d try to arrest these people fire,” Otto said. “Not, you know, blast their brains out like you obviously want to.”
“I’ll arrest ‘em with a bullet!” Pete said.
Jacali had her bow in her hand.
“How about you two come around the corner first and say ‘Federal Marshal!’” Professor Stalloid said. “And stay ‘Stop! You’ll not be taking this land!’ or whatever, ‘You land grabbers!’”
“Yes,” Jacali said. “Exactly like he said.”
“We’ll be waiting in the shadows,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Can you keep Pete behind here until …” Otto said.
“I figure Pete will be in the front.”
“He’s going to shoot them.”
“No no no no no. You’ll keep him under control. You got this.”
“I told them to stay away from this place,” Professor Stalloid said.
“They weren’t going to believe us,” Jacali said.
“No, I know.”
“I mean, Pete Sutter doesn’t even believe us.”
“Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. So, what’d you see when you touched the snake?”
“I saw … back in Ophelia’s time. And ever since, I’ve felt the energy of this place. And I felt it heading in a direction deeper inside.”
“You have more shotgun shells, Stalloid?” Otto said.
Professor Stalloid handed over the six shotgun shells he kept in his pocket.
“I think we should get as close as we can without alerting them and we should all got at once,” Jacali said.
“Nip it in the bud,” Professor Stalloid said.
“We want a signal?”
“Raspberry?” Otto said.
“So, one of us will shout a berry,” Jacali said. “Who is giving the signal?”
“What’s the most terrifying berry?” Professor Stalloid said.
“Am I going to confront them?” Otto said. “I feel like I should as a federal marshal.”
“I want someone at your back, Otto, if you do that,” Jacali said. “Because …”
“It can’t be Pete Sutter,” Otto whispered. “‘Cause he will shoot at them immediately.”
“He’ll be in the back,” Professor Stalloid said.
Pete was looking down the corridor, not really paying attention to them, whispering about his piece.
“I can have your back but I won’t be lethal,” Jacali said. “I won’t be as lethal.”
“I don’t feel like you should stand out in the open,” Otto said. “One of those men has a buffalo rifle and if he hits you with that …”
“Yeah, that’s why we hide in the corners and tell them we have 50 men,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Where else is there, though?” Jacali said. “This is just a hallway.”
“Well, tell them we have eight men,” Professor Stalloid said. “Or six men. Six men will be great.”
“Let’s go!” Pete said.
They explained the plan to Pete and he grudgingly went along with it, a little annoyed. Professor Stalloid explained if they blasted the man with his piece through the portal, they were never getting his piece back. Pete seemed annoyed at that. They discussed the plan as Professor Stalloid blew out his lantern. The light from the activated portal poured out of the room and the intermittent light from the other two flashing and sparking portals was enough to light up the rest of the corridor.
They crept up, Otto and Jacali moving forward ahead while Pete and Professor Stalloid held back, only going as far as the dead body. Both Otto and Professor Stalloid were quiet but Jacali and Pete were quite loud moving down the corridor. Otto ended up on the right side of the hallway near the corner that led around to the room the two men were in. Jacali was on the opposite wall, creeping by the closed door to a position she might peek around Otto’s corner at a distance. Pete and Professor Stalloid were on the right side 10 or 15 feet back.
It was quiet around the corner in the room Otto had seen the two men.
“All right boys!” Otto called. “Put your weapons down!”
At that same moment, Jacali leaned far enough to see into the room and spotted the two men, both of them aiming their weapons in her direction. The man with the pistol fired but the bullet ricocheted off the wall right next to Otto’s head and striking the wall next to Jacali.
“Don’t be foolish boys!” Professor Stalloid called. “We got four people here! We’ve definitely got you outgunned!”
“Damn straight!” Pete yelled. “You sons of bitches! Gimme my piece!”
Spit flew from his mouth and struck the back of Professor Stalloid’s neck.
Otto held the shotgun around the corner and with both hands and fired both barrels blindly. It flew out his hands, struck Jacali in the abdomen, and crashed to the ground.
“Oof!” she yelled.
Someone screamed from around the corner.
“Jacob!” a man screamed.
Otto reached towards Jacali and she kicked the shotgun back to him.
“Seriously, put the gun down!” Professor Stalloid called.
The thrumming in Jacali’s head got a little more intense for some reason.
Pete moved up behind Otto and poked him in the back with his pistol.
“Well, go gettum,” Pete said. “Go gettum!”
“You go gettum,” Otto said.
“No, you go gettum!” Pete said. “Get my piece. Hey! Hey! You sons of bitches got my piece!?!”
Otto broke open the shotgun and put a single shell in, closed it and reached around the corner to fire it blindly once again. A pistol-shot came from back there around the corner and there was another ricochet.
“That’s my piece!” Pete said. “Gettum!”
Jacali leaned out with her bow, intending to shoot at the man. For just a moment, she thought he was gone. Then she saw him, lying on the floor using the body of his friend for cover. There was a pistol blast as the man fired at her and she let fly her arrow. She saw the arrow strike the man, who let out a shriek. At the same time, she was struck in the lower left shoulder by the man’s bullet.
Jacali felt the energy she was sensing in her head spike. She looked back at Professor Stalloid just as the dead man by the broken portal stood up.
“Corpse! Corpse! Corpse!” Jacali yelled.
Otto looked over his shoulder and saw the dead man standing there, directly behind Pete.
“Pete!” he said, pointing behind the outlaw. “Your piece!”
“Yes, we know there’s a corpse,” Pete said. “We walked right over it.”
“He has your piece, Pete,” Otto said.
“No, my piece is in there!” Pete said. “I heard it!”
Professor Stalloid aimed the lightning gun at the walking dead man, backing up a few feet and waiting to see what it would do. He realized the thing was definitely a dead man. Otto dropped the shotgun and drew his saber; he gestured at the corner and held his sword ready if the walking dead man came at him.
Jacali backed up, going along the wall, and shot the walking dead man in the upper right leg. The man didn’t react at all, almost as if he didn’t feel a thing. He turned to his right and lurched towards Professor Stalloid, both arms up in the air. Professor Stalloid thumbed the button on the lightning gun and there as a crash of thunder in the corridor. Unfortunately, the lightning actually went around the walking dead man and forked, hitting Pete in the right foot and striking the saber Otto held like a lightning rod.
Pete picked up his right foot and jumped up and down on his left.
“What the hell was that!?!” he screamed.
The dead man tried to beat Professor Stalloid about the head and shoulders, pummeling him with the left arm but missing with the missing right arm.
“Don’t fire it again!” Otto shouted.
“Don’t worry!” Professor Stalloid said.
He retreated from the dead man and pointed the lightning gun at him. Pete turned around.
“What the hell?” he said.
It finally came clear to both Jacali and Professor Stalloid that the man was definitely dead and lifeless but still walking. Jacali was shaken by the terrible realization but held her ground. Professor Stalloid was filled with terror.
Otto rushed the walking dead man and stabbed him in the back. There was a lot of blood on the sword and Otto was certain he had stabbed the man through the heart, but it didn’t fall. Jacali fired another arrow at the man, hitting him in the left leg. The man turned around and brought his good arm down on Otto, beating him over and over until he was on the floor, covered with blood.
Then the dead man looked at Pete, who wailed, put the gun into the man’s mouth, and pulled the trigger, blowing out the back of his head. Professor Stalloid, standing some 20 feet away, was actually struck by the blood and brain matter. With a scream, he turned and fled up the corridor.
Jacali ran to Otto and tried to aid him but the man didn’t wake up.
“You damned people are worthless!” Pete said. “Worthless!”
He peeked around the corner with his pistol and fired, hitting the man in the right arm. The man’s return fire missed completely. Pete pulled his head back.
Jacali got up and went to the corner again, peeking around and seeing the man who had been shooting now had his head on the floor. His pistol was gone from his shooting hand as well and the palm of the hand was splattered with blood.
“You got him, Pete,” Jacali said.
“Good,” Pete said.
He walked around the corner and shot the man again, this time in the head.
“My piece!” he said to the dead man.
He threw down the pistol Otto had lent him and started searching the two bodies.
“If it’s - if it’s not here I’m gonna kill everybody!” he muttered.
“Okay Pete, watch over Otto and find your piece but I need to find Stalloid to get him help,” Jacali said.
He grunted at her and she turned and ran up the corridor. She met the man coming back, having regained his senses.
“Otto needs medical attention,” Jacali said. “You need to get back there.”
They heard a voice as they approached and realized it was Pete, around the corner.
“Oh, there you are, baby,” he said. “Oh my God. I missed you so much. I missed you so much. You don’t understand. I was looking for you and looking for you and looking for you.”
He was talking to his piece.
Professor Stalloid tried to rouse Otto but could not wake the man up. He administered some laudanum to the man. Pete walked out from around the corner, happy to have his piece.
“Well, thank you boys,” he said. “And lady.”
He holstered his piece and smiled, actually smiled.
“I don’t know who that other fella was but damn, he was scary,” he said.
He looked up the corridor.
“Hey, can I have your lantern?” he said.
“Uh … that would leave us in the dark,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Uh-huh. So? No, this place has plenty of light around.”
“And you still have to watch Jacali.”
“Ain’t made up my mind about that yet.”
“Did they ever tell you to stop?”
“I-I don’t know the answer. You only know the answer.”
“I don’t have to tell you anything.”
“No, you don’t. But we got your piece.”
“Well, Pete, you got on me earlier for people of my skin color not being able to medicine members of our party,” Jacali said. “Do you know anything about … Otto’s condition. Might you be able to help him?”
Pete looked down at the unconscious Otto.
“I’ll try to wake him up,” he said.
He straddled Otto on his knees and started slapping him hard in the face over and over again. Otto awoke with a start to find the man slapping the **** out of him. The last thing he had remembered was being beaten by the dead man only to wake to find Pete Sutter repeatedly slapping him in the face.
“She told me to do this,” Pete said when he realized Otto was awake. “I hope you realize that.”
“I did not,” Jacali said.
“You told me to wake him up!” Pete said. “Look! He’s awake.”
He held up his hands.
“Master healer,” he said.
Jacali looked at the ceiling and thought about Eva Weisswald.
Professor Stalloid and Jacali went to look at the glowing portal. Of the bodies near it, one man’s foot was blown off and he probably bled out from the wound very quickly. The other man had taken a bullet that ran up his arm to his shoulder and burst out the back. He had likewise bled out and died very quickly.
Otto got up and hobbled over, using the shotgun as a crutch. He saw a bloodstained piece of paper on the floor, no doubt left there by Pete after he’d searched the bodies. He picked it up and found a map of the locale upon it. He tucked it into his pocket.
“You want to throw a body through it?” Professor Stalloid said.
Jacali pulled an arrow out of one of the corpses and stuck it into the portal. She pulled it back out but it was fine, apparently. She could feel the thrumming going on in her head. It was loudest near the portal.
“There’s something important here,” she said.
“Yeah, some damned wall of light,” Pete said.
Otto recovered his peacemaker from where Pete dropped it. Another pistol was there as well as the buffalo rifle.
Jacali put her hand near the portal, trying to figure out if it was warmer or colder than the surrounding air. It didn’t feel any different to her. Professor Stalloid took the shotgun from Otto and used it to push one of the dead bodies partially through the portal. Once it was about halfway in, he pulled it back out by the legs. It didn’t look any different to him.
“Pete, you’re the bravest of us and we got your piece back,” Professor Stalloid said. “Would you like to put your arm in the portal?”
“No,” Pete said.
“I’ll put my arm in the portal,” Jacali said.
“Pete,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I saw …” Pete said.
He pointed out towards the corridor where the walking dead man lay.
“What about that fella’s arm,” he said.
“That fella was putting his arm in a blinking portal,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I ain’t puttin’ my arm in no light,” Pete said.
“Listen, I could tell, after I touched that statue there’s something important here,” Jacali said. “We need to know.”
“I’ll go in at the same time,” Professor Stalloid said.
Jacali stuck her left arm into the portal.
As Professor Stalloid watched, he suddenly saw something in his mind. It was some kind of strange spiral or a coiled snake with nodes and modules sticking off it. It took him a moment to realize he was seeing the structure he was standing it. The corridors were all twisted and coiled. Out of the knobs, the niches, seemed to be some kind of light, going to the very spot they stood on and the very portal they were examining. It felt, somehow, the entire complex was set up so that the corpses were somehow powering the portal. He was certain of it, overwhelmingly sure of what he suddenly knew.
It felt like a warning to him.
A warning against or a warning for? he thought.
Jacali was moving her hand around on the other side of the portal but didn’t feel like there as any difference in temperature. She didn’t feel any kind of change whatsoever. She stepped through.
* * *
The only light on the other side of the portal was from the portal she had just stepped through. It was pitch dark in the cavern otherwise. She didn’t see any exits and, though it seemed to be a large room, she could feel the weight of the world above her, as if she were far, far underground. In a panic, she suddenly turn and rushed to get back through the portal.
She slammed into someone on the way through, making it through but being knocked aside as she did so. She found herself on their side of the portal as she fell to the ground with a crash.
* * *
Professor Stalloid saw Jacali step into the portal and it caught him off guard for only a few seconds. Then he hurried to follow her. He struck something a glancing blow as he went through and then crashed to the ground on the other side. He dropped his lantern but the glass didn’t break and the flame didn’t go out. He looked around and saw he was in a black cavern only lit by his lantern and the glow from the portal. It was very dark and he couldn’t make out anything.
There was an oppressive feeling as if he was deep beneath the ground. He had a little trouble breathing and he realized it might have been due to the increased air pressure at whatever depth he suddenly found himself at.
* * *
Jacali lay among the corpses and the blood, breathing heavily. Otto came over to try to comfort her.
“Don’t get too close!” she said, flinging out her arms.
He stopped a few feet away.
“What’s wrong, Jacali?” he asked.
“It was … it was … it was the darkest thing I’ve ever seen and it was all around me and I couldn’t move and I had to … I had to leave,” she said. “I couldn’t breathe. I swear to God I couldn’t breathe.”
“So, it was like inside a whale?” Pete said.
“I don’t … I didn’t really stay long enough to see what it was inside,” Jacali said. “I just know I couldn’t see anything and I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t get out and I just - I just - I-I couldn’t control my legs. And I just came back and … I don’t … oh my God.”
“Where’s Stalloid?” Otto said.
“Huh? I don’t know. I hit somebody.”
“He went in after you.”
“I might have knocked into Stalloid. I don’t know. I just. Oh my God. I couldn’t stand to be there more than a second.”
“Well, hell, he’s got the lantern,” Pete said.
“Well, Pete, if you want to go in and help him get back,” Otto said.
Pete glared at him.
“Don’t try that crap with me, Otto,” Pete said.
“I can’t go in after him!” Otto said.
“Look at me. I’m using a shotgun as a crutch. Do you think I’m going to be able to get him out of that portal?”
“I think you can.”
“I think you’re better suited at it.”
“I seen you go over to Jacali.”
“I feel like maybe we should just wait.”
“You all are both the most cowardly people,” Jacali said.
“Well, Jacali, what do you want me to do?” Otto said. “I can barely walk!”
“I don’t care! Just go in or don’t!”
“I don’t want to go in.”
“I don’t walk into walls of light,” Pete said. “I don’t like it. It’s not natural.”
Otto turned to the portal, intending to put his head through.
* * *
“Jacali?” Professor Stalloid called softly.
He figured she was close and feared something else might hear him.
He heard something moving out in the darkness somewhere. It dragged itself along the ground and, from the sound of it, was quite large. He looked around for a moment and then turned and left the place via the portal once again.
* * *
Otto moved to the portal and then Professor Stalloid stepped out.
“Hey,” Otto said. “See? I was right.”
“Nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope!” Professor Stalloid said.
“What was it?” Otto said.
“See?” Pete said. “That’s why you don’t walk into light! Look at him!”
“You know how there was that eight-foot snake?” Professor Stalloid said. “This one was probably at least … 10 feet! Probably longer though. I couldn’t tell the distance.”
Pete rolled his eyes.
“Let’s get out of here,” Otto said.
“Was it the statue?” Jacali said. “Was it the thing from the statue?”
“Maybe?” Professor Stalloid said. “I don’t, for the love of … whatever god … want to know!”
They looked at each other. Jacali looked at the portal. She wanted to know what was in there but was terrified of the room itself.
“Do you think it was the statue?” Professor Stalloid said. “I mean, I’m fine talking to the statue, but … talking to the real thing? Oh no! The real thing will eat you.”
“Should we just leave?” Otto said.
“I … I feel like whatever is beyond there is important but I … I know I’m not ever going back in there,” Jacali said.
“Right,” Pete said. “Smartest thing you said all day. You don’t go into circles o’ light. You learn after the first time. Huh.”
“Dark caverns in the deep, damp depths,” Professor Stalloid said.
They examined the doors across the corridor from the working portal. Each one had a room like the room with the working portal. However, the metal ring in each was just a ring. They were not activated.
They continued down the corridor, much to Otto’s horror and Pete’s annoyance. There were more niches, more coffins, and more sarcophagi. At one point, they found a hole in the back of a niche that seemed to lead into a small cave system.
“It’s definitely newer than this place,” Jacali said.
“You want to see it?” Professor Stalloid said.
“I don’t want to lead the way.”
“I’ll lead the way.”
Professor Stalloid led them, single file, through a steeply sloping cave system that descended quickly and then leveled off. It led them to natural caves and other steeply sloped, natural tunnels before finally opening back into another niche with a coffin. The floor beyond the niche was another corridor filled with other niches. There were no footprints on the floor of that corridor.
“Humans weren’t meant to be in the ground,” Jacali muttered. “We weren’t supposed to be here. People weren’t supposed to be like this. God I hate it.”
“She’s right, you know,” Pete said.
“I need to go see a doctor,” Otto said. “I’m not sure why we’re wandering around … a stupid snake cave … when I need to get my …!”
He gestured at his head.
“… treated!” he said.
“And I need to see the sun again,” Jacali said.
They backtracked out through the cave. Otto checked his watch again. Though it had felt like forever, they had been in the crypts for less than an hour, total.
“Otto, do you need help walking?” Jacali said.
“I think I can manage on my own,” Otto said.
“I feel like we need to discover everything we can about this place,” Jacali said. “But if that lantern goes out, I am going to … I will stab each and every one of you to get out, if that’s what it took.”
“Let’s go ahead and track out,” Professor Stalloid said.
They went back through the narrow natural caves until they reached the corridor again. Then they went back to the area with the corpses and the portal, passing the dead men.
When they came to what they thought had been a connecting corridor, now on their right, they thought they saw movement at the very edge of the light.
“Do you want to go see?” Professor Stalloid said.
“No,” Otto said.
“Okay, you keep heading towards the front─”
“No, I cannot.”
“We gotta know if there’s something else down here. We don’t want whatever is down that way to come this way and sneaking up behind us.”
“We don’t necessarily want to engage it.”
“If it’s another one of those walking corpses,” Jacali said. “Then we’re … we’re done.”
“Okay, let’s just keep going then,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I just think we should be incredibly cautious, whatever we do. And we need to have another way out that’s not towards it.”
They continued through the junction with the great snake statue and then by the room with the strange skin and into the room with the breeze. Nothing had changed with the pick Professor Stalloid had wedged in the door. They went up the inclined corridor and to the cave mouth. They climbed down the rope and collected the three hobbled horses.
The moon was three quarters full and the skies were clear. It was chilly out and they could see their breath. They headed back towards the Inn of the Smiling Spirit, Professor Stalloid extinguishing his lantern once they were out of the strange valley of the rattlers.
* * *
Nothing had changed at the Inn of the Smiling Spirit. The front door still stood wide open and it was dark.
Professor Stalloid took up residence in the large room with the fireplace upstairs. It was a cozy room with no windows and he made a huge fire in the fireplace there. Otto climbed into the double bed in the room and was instantly asleep. Professor Stalloid climbed in next to him.
Jacali had picked the other room with a double bed, this one with a window, and climbed in to fall quickly asleep under the quilts there. Pete took one of the bunks in one of the other rooms.
* * *
The morning of Wednesday, November 10, 1875, dawned bright and clear and cold once again. The room Professor Stalloid and Otto shared was chilly but not cold with the still glowing coals in the fireplace. Professor Stalloid saw to Otto’s wounds once again, trying to aid the man without much luck.
He went to find Pete Sutter to try to convince him to help Otto with his wounds. He tried to use the excuse they had gotten his piece back for him but he wasn’t buying it.
“I don’t have time for that!” Pete said. “I’ll wake him up again. Can I wake him up again?”
“No,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Just rub some dirt on it!” Pete said to Otto.
* * *
Jacali’s room was cold but she felt finally well-rested the next morning. She found blood on the sheets of her bed near her head and realized she had done nothing about the bullet wound in her shoulder. It ached. She went down to the common room where Professor Stalloid had made a fire. He had also lit a fire in the fireplace in the kitchen and someone had pushed the broken down closed.
They looked over the map and saw it marked the inn and South Arkansas and a few other towns. It also showed where the Spiral Crypts were located. Professor Stalloid kept it.
“I need a doctor,” Otto said again.
“Where’s Weisswald?” Professor Stalloid said.
“I mean, my guess is as good as yours,” Jacali said. “When we came out of the Yithians vision, we weren’t together, so …”
Professor Stalloid looked at Pete.
“Hey, where’s Weisswald?” he said.
“Who?” Pete said.
“White-haired lady,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Oh,” Pete said. “Iunno.”
“I know she’s doing well wherever she is,” Jacali said.
“Okay,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Who wants that horse in the barn?” Pete said.
“You can take it,” Otto said.
“I don’t think that’s anybody’s,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Well, it’s mine now,” Pete said. “You can decide what to do with … gimp here, and … I got places to be.”
“Don’t break the law, now,” Otto said to him.
“Uh … well everybody here is dead and that horse is gonna die,” Pete said. “So, I’m doing a humane act.”
“Well, you are, but I mean, once you leave, don’t.”
“Oh yes sir.”
Pete rolled his eyes and Otto did as well.
“I’m not a lawbreaker, officer,” Pete said.
“You have a bounty in California!”
“That was a misunderstanding with 40 people, a bank, a train, and those children. It’s not that important.”
* * *
Professor Stalloid took Jacali aside while Otto and Pete talked.
“Would we like to ask Gulliver about anything?” Professor Stalloid asked her.
“Who’s Gulliver?” Jacali said.
“The dead man.”
“How are we going to ask a dead man?”
“Oh, you still don’t know.”
“I said it when you were paralyzed. I can talk to ghosts.”
“You can talk to what!?!”
Pete and Otto looked over to them and then Pete left the inn. Otto went to the window and looked outside.
“I feel like … I don’t know,” Jacali said to Professor Stalloid. “I … I’m curious still about that place but I couldn’t get myself, if I wanted to, back into that portal.”
“No no no,” Professor Stalloid said. “We don’t have to go back in right now.”
“But if we’re asking about it, isn’t that to find out information if we should go back?”
“Well, yes. Eventually. With Ophelia.”
“I do want to go back with Ophelia.”
“Yeah, so we should know more about it. Should I ask about it?”
“I mean, you can. I don’t really know what that entails.”
“Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.”
“God, do I want to be there for that?”
“Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.”
“Yeah yeah yeah.”
“How … how invasive is this procedure going to be?”
“Well, he’s going to come up out of the ground. It’s really spooky. It makes me twinge. And we can ask him questions.”
“You know … does Otto know about this?”
They looked over at Otto, who had moved from the window to the bar and had taken out a bottle of whiskey and a glass. He was obviously trying to ease his terrible pain with liquor.
“No no no no no,” Professor Stalloid said.
“We shouldn’t trouble him,” Jacali said.
“No no no no no.”
“All right. Well, let me know how I can help.”
“I’ll need you to catch me a chicken.”
“I need to kill a chicken.”
Professor Stalloid went over to Otto.
“Which grave holds the prospector?” he asked.
“Why do you want to know which one’s the prospector?” Otto said.
“We were going to see if he had any more notes on him. I don’t remember searching his body very well.”
“That’s desecration, Stalloid.”
“Yes! But, you saw that cave!”
“They made no mention that he had any more notes.”
“And we just desecrated that grave.”
He held out his arms to display the heavy, serpent skin robes he still wore. Jacali came over.
“Would you mind if we got that to Ophelia?” she said.
“Of course,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I feel like she should have it.”
“I’ll keep wearing it for now.”
“Once we get a chance. I understand.”
She left, going back out the front door.
“And desecrating one grave makes desecrating another okay?” Otto said.
“To … find out answers that might save lives,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I mean … I checked─”
“That place was very dangerous. There’s more slimes there.”
“I mean, I didn’t find anything.”
“Well, you know.”
“I didn’t find a notebook or anything.”
“I’m not going to take his bones and bring them back here and dance them around like a puppet. I’m just looking through his pockets.”
“Stalloid, unless this guy stuck it up something, I doubt you’re going to find any notes on him.”
“Doesn’t hurt to try.”
“I want to watch you while you do it.”
“I don’t want you to steal anything, is what I’m saying.”
“That’s why Jacali is there, I thought.”
“You never mentioned Jacali.”
“Oh, I thought I did. She’ll be there. She’ll stop me from doing anything.”
“I’ll at least point out which one it is to you.”
“Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.”
Otto pointed out the grave to Professor Stalloid through the back window of the common room. Jacali came back into the inn with the chicken in hand.
“All right, I have the chicken,” she said. Then she saw Otto. “Oh.”
“That’s for dinner,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Go ahead in the kitchen. Prepare that.”
“Oh, also, Stalloid, I forgot to mention this, but I do have a bullet wound.”
“I’ll take a look at that too.”
Otto offered the bottle to the woman.
Professor Stalloid tried to clean up the wound, which was more of a bad graze that had bruised her wounds. Otto opted to take a look at her wounds as well and managed to better wrap up the injury. He also examined her badly bandaged hand and changed the dressing and cleaned it up. Jacali felt much better.
“Wait, you dug a six-foot-deep hole, right?” Professor Stalloid said.
“Yeah,” Otto said.
“Oh darn, I don’t want to really … that’s a lot of work. I don’t have a shovel.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Okay, I guess I’ll get to work.”
“Do you still need this chicken?” Jacali said.
“I told you to go prepare that in the kitchen!” Professor Stalloid said.
He was upset he’d actually have to dig up the body. He just wanted to know which grave was the prospector’s so he’d know which grave to cast the spell upon.
“I thought you needed it alive!” Jacali said.
“Just go prepare it in the kitchen,” Professor Stalloid said.
“I can’t cook.”
“Just go gut it, I mean.”
She leaned in to whisper to the man.
“Is that what I need to do?” she whispered to him.
“Yes,” he said.
“I’m going to go cook this chicken,” she said to Otto.
She left and Otto and Professor Stalloid went to the grave. Otto planned to watch Professor Stalloid dig the hole. Professor Stalloid asked Otto if he’d like to help and the man asked how he could in his terrible condition. He said he’d try though and the two men dug down to the prospector’s body. Professor Stalloid made a show of searching his pockets but only found some coins and paper money. They soon smelled cooking chicken.
Professor Stalloid put coins on the dead man’s eyes and they buried him again.
Jacali had cooked the chicken on the spit in the kitchen. They ate the chicken in the early afternoon and talked about the strange things that had happened in the crypt. Stalloid pointed out his theory that the dead were somehow being used to power the gates in the place. Jacali shared her strange experiences as well.
She got Stalloid alone again.
“All right,” she said. “Why does it need a cooked chicken?”
“It doesn’t!” Professor Stalloid said.
“Then why did I cook this chicken!?!”
“The chicken’s great, by the way,” Otto called from the bar.
“I’m glad you like it,” Jacali said.
It really wasn’t that good but it was adequate.
“To cover up?” Professor Stalloid said.
“Does that mean I need to kill another one!?!” Jacali said.
“Did you save the blood?”
“Did you tell me to save the blood!?!”
“No, I didn’t. But … did you save it?”
“Why would I think to save the blood?”
“Well, we’re going to have to get another one. I can only do this at night anyways.”
“And you didn’t think … Stalloid! I swear!”
“We’ll have to wait until he goes to bed. But he’s injured so he’ll want to go to bed early.”
“The blood is in the grass and dirt.”
“That was good chicken though.”
“I’m glad you liked it.”
“It was good chicken.”
* * *
Towards evening, a horse and rider arrived. The man was a deputy marshal from Granite who had been in South Arkansas when Marshal Clayton Pierce had come to the town. Marshal Pierce had found him the evening before and informed them of the deaths of everyone at the Inn of the Smiling Spirit and he had come to investigate. He recognized the three of them from descriptions Marshal Pierce had given them. Professor Stalloid told him they had waited at the inn until someone could come to take possession of the house and deal with the incident. Otto told the man he was Marshal Pierce’s deputy marshal.
When the man asked Otto if he were going to take charge of the case, Otto confessed he didn’t know who had lived there. The deputy marshal seemed perplexed as to why the three had stayed there and Otto pointed out he had been badly injured so they decided to stay.
The deputy marshal told them the place had been owned by Homer and Mary Smith and they had had a young woman working there by the name of Daisy Mae Harrington. There had also been a stable boy named Fred Jackson.
He asked them how they had died and Professor Stalloid used some chemistry jargon to make up a story that the geodes had been filled with something poisonous that had killed them. Otto noted where the bodies had been buried. He told them about the prospector named Gulliver as well.
Otto asked where there was a nearby hospital or doctor and the man pointed out there was a doctor in the area of South Arkansas.
He joined them for dinner of leftover chicken and he drank some beer with them. He decided he would take the small room with two bunk beds in the front of the building that didn’t have any windows.
* * *
Professor Stalloid asked Jacali if the deputy marshal being there was a sign he shouldn’t cast the spell.
“Wha?” Jacali said.
“Should I do the magic?” Professor Stalloid said.
“It’s magic? Well, I guess it’s talking to the dead. Uh. I don’t … would … did I? Okay. So, the chicken was good and it was a nice meal.”
“I liked the idea of it.”
Professor Stalloid told her about the ritual: how he would begin chanting and then kill the chicken and drip its blood on the grave, of how the ghost would come up from the ground and talk to him. He could ask it four questions but was questioning whether or not to cast the spell while there was a lawman there.
“What is he going to … do?” Jacali said. “Is it illegal to talk to ghosts?”
“I don’t think so,” Professor Stalloid said. “But … people react … I mean … we’ve reacted in the past …”
“Could he react that bad?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’ve-you’ve done it before, right?”
“Is it that bad?”
“There’s a ghost.”
“I know there’s going to be a ghost, Stalloid!”
“He talks and he shouldn’t be there. That’s about it.”
“Look, he took the room with no windows─”
“Okay, let’s do it.”
“That’s all it took!?! I don’t think he affects anything. If you’re going to do it, do it!”
* * *
Otto slept very soundly that night, snoring like a sawmill. Professor Stalloid couldn’t sleep for the noise. He had given the man some laudanum to help him sleep and it had worked well. It was well after midnight before Professor Stalloid crept out of the bed they were sharing. As he opened the door, it creaked and the snoring stopped for just a moment. Then, somehow, it got louder!
He met Jacali in the common room. She had another chicken in hand. They went behind the inn and Professor Stalloid took the chicken from her, slit the throat and allowed the blood to pour all over the grave as he chanted the words of the spell for many long minutes. His voice seemed to reverberate through the hills, echoing loudly. Clouds blew in from every direction.
“I have done so many terrible things to chickens,” Jacali muttered.
Finally, a translucent figure came up out of the grave. He was a pale-looking and rugged older man wearing the same clothing the prospector had worn when they found him.
“We get four questions,” Professor Stalloid said to Jacali.
“Uh …” Jacali said.
“Who calls my spirit to this realm?” the grizzled old prospector said in a hollow, cracking voice with a deep echo.
“T’was I: Brandon Stalloid,” Professor Stalloid said. “Slime slayer. Avenger of Gulliver.”
“What do you want from me?” the ghost said.
“I destroyed all the slimes that you recovered from the geodes and then we found the snake cave and we went in and I was wondering how far did you explore into it?”
“I didn’t go far. Only to the room with the geodes. But they’re worthless! They’re full of slime. Stupid geodes.”
“And then the slime killed you. How did you find this? Did someone show you?”
“I was working in the valley and there was an avalanche a week ago. It exposed the cave so I went to look. And there it was: some strange place that was made by man or beast, I know not which. With a terrible things on the walls.”
“Did you possibly drop any of the geodes anyplace else?”
“I brought ‘em all here. There was five of ‘em. And then I found there was nothing in ‘em! Stupid things! Stupid, terrible things!”
Jacali touched Professor Stalloid’s sleeve.
“I want to ask a question,” she said. “Have you asked one of these guys if God is real?”
“Yeah, I asked one and he said ‘What do you mean?’” Professor Stalloid said.
“That’s reassuring. Do you want to ask him if he had any more money? If he had any regrets?”
“Actually, I did do that for the first person too. I probably should use the last question for if there’s anything he wants to do. I like doing that. That’s a good idea.”
Professor Stalloid addressed the ghost again.
“Is there anything you would like for us to do to appease your spirit?” he said. “As a final favor.”
“If it was killing a chicken, we did that,” Jacali said.
“Twice,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Take my $200 in gold dust,” the spirit said in his terrible voice. “Give it to my niece, Amelia.”
“We never found that,” Professor Stalloid said to Jacali.
“She lives in Denver,” the spirit said.
They thought about the gold and realized they had not found the money on any of the bodies. Then they remembered Pete Sutter had searched the bodies in the Spiral Crypts. They guessed Pete might have stolen the gold dust. Professor Stalloid made a note of the money in his journal and then put the ghost back down and it disappeared into the grave.