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A Pretend Terror

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A chronicle of Call of Cthulhu games, mainly with the Herefordshire Board Gamers' club.

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Cold Warning Part 1

WARNING: Spoliers!   The Diary of Harry Harrison: Mystic   December 1922
Bangor, ME   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…

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Forget Me Not (1920s style) Part 3

WARNING: Spoilers!   The Diary of Harry Harrison: Mystic   20th October 1922
Arkham, MA   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!

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Forget Me Not (1920s style) Part 2

WARNING: Spoilers!   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!

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Forget Me Not (1920s style) Part 1

WARNING: Spoilers!   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…

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