Wednesday, May 3, 2017
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu scenario â€œRoadkillâ€ by Jeff Tidball from The Unspeakable Oath Magazine Issue 12 on Sunday, April 30, from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. with Katelyn Hogan, Helen Koeval, and Ben Abbott.)
On September 25, 1928, three people were driving north through the wilds of Minnesota in a rented Chevrolet Tourer in the pouring rain. It was well after dark and the thunderstorm had overtaken them during their drive. Rain pattered on the canvas roof of the automobile and dripped from where the windows didnâ€™t quite meet the covering.
Nurse Abigail Daughton drove the vehicle. She was a very tall woman with green eyes and long blonde hair pulled into a bun. She wore conservative but comfortable clothing and squinted as she struggled to see the dark and twisting road ahead of her. She was tired as it had been a fairly long day of driving. She was 26 years old.
Sitting next to her was Dr. Alison Blake. Also tall, she was a professor of physics at the recently named Pembroke College in Brown University, dedicated to the teaching of women. She also taught chemistry and astronomy. She had short, brown hair and wore sensible clothing as well. She was 29 years old and had not been teaching for long.
Sitting in the back seat was Angelo â€œZippyâ€ Giovanni, a Providence Police Office. He was a tall, Italian man with slicked back hair who never wore a hat. He was not as good-looking as he thought he was, but he had a ready smile. He wore a leather jacket. He was the youngest in the motorcar, being 23 years old. Despite seeing numerous doctors about his horrible disfigured left arm, which was withered and twisted into nearly uselessness, he had found no help in healing it.
Lightning flashed over the trees, which grew close to the sides of the dirt road. Rickety bridges passed over rives that seemed dangerously high. The wood creaked under them as they passed over. Miss Daughton drove them at about 15 to 20 miles per hour; higher speeds would be terribly dangerous. They were probably less than an hour from their destination according to the instructions theyâ€™d received.
Zippy wasnâ€™t looking out of the windows. He still feared the forest and the trees since the terrible events in Iowa in August. The two women peered out of the rain-streaked windows of the automobile. At one point, Nurse Daughton thought she saw a man walking along the road in the rain, his back to them as they passed. Dr. Blake thought she saw a rope hanging off one of the trees.
â€œAre they movinâ€™?â€ Zippy occasionally called from where he huddled in the back seat, refusing to look. â€œAre they movinâ€™ out there?â€
â€œNo, theyâ€™re not moving,â€ Dr. Blake said.
Suddenly, an animal rushed out in front of the motorcar. Nurse Daughton shoved her feet hard down on the brakes but the automobile didnâ€™t even seem to slow, merely slide in the mud. Something large slammed into the front of the motorcar and the vehicle slid off the side of the road to the right. One of the headlights bent upwards and went out as the engine died.
Zippy, in the back, tumbled to the floor. Dr. Blake was flung into the dashboard but was uninjured. Nurse Daughton was slammed against the steering wheel.
The rain continued to come down as their thoughts went back to how they had gotten there.
* * *
In early September, Nurse Abigail Daughton had been looking for other esoteric books to add to the strange book she had found in the trip to Aylesbury she had taken in April of 1927 wherein several children had been kidnapped and some terrible ritual was performed in the woods. Ever since then, she had been unsuccessfully trying to learn spells from Ann Bishop Parkerâ€™s diary, which had been recovered from the historical society in Aylesbury.
She had stumbled upon a tiny bookstore in an alley in downtown Providence that she found had some interesting occult books. Talking to the owner, she learned of something called The Black Book, which seemed to be connected with events in Aylesbury. The owner told her heâ€™d look for it. He finally contacted Nurse Daughton after three days to tell her he had misspoken as heâ€™d sold the book. However he had the receipt of the man whoâ€™d purchased the book: William Rogers from Billingsly, Minnesota. The man had purchased the book some four years before but the bookseller had his address and was willing to give it to Nurse Daughton if she wanted to contact him.
She did so, mailing a letter to the address located on Rice Lake. The two corresponded for a few weeks and Rogers proved to be a friendly-enough man who was more than willing to let Nurse Daughton look at the book and hinted he might even be happy to sell it to her. However, he lived in Minnesota and was too busy to travel back to Providence. She was fine with that. He gave her directions to his house from St. Paul via road and was even willing to have a rental car waiting for her there. He also suggested there was no need for her to make the journey alone as he was willing to put her and any number of her friends or associates up at his house for however long she would like to stay and look at the book, noting how irregular it was for a woman to visit a man alone.
She made arrangements to visit him and began to look for people to accompany her on Saturday, September 22. She telephoned Miss Evelyn Fairfield, a friend of hers, but the woman was far too busy to make a trip to Minnesota. She was unsure who else to take, not having many friends with an interest in the esoteric. She went downtown for lunch to mull it over when she spotted a familiar face.
Dr. Alison Blake had decided to take lunch downtown that same day and saw Nurse Daughton. Both of them had gone with William Avery Rockefeller to the hotel in Wisconsin in late 1926 where the strange haunting had occurred. Dr. Blake had eventually locked herself in her room while the rest of those present dealt with the horror that haunted the place.
â€œOh, hi!â€ Dr. Blake said. â€œI think I remember you.â€
â€œYeah, Wisconsin,â€ Nurse Daughton said.
â€œOh right. I remember going there a little while back.â€
â€œYeah. I didnâ€™t see you after that. How have you been?â€
â€œUm â€¦ Iâ€™ve been fine. I â€¦ after it was over, I went back to the university and I continued working on my research.â€
â€œWould you like to get lunch? Actually, I have something Iâ€™d like to ask you.â€
â€œYes, that sounds good.â€
The two found a diner downtown and had a nice meal. They had coffee with their dessert.
â€œSo, Iâ€™ve been thinking of going out to Minnesota if you have time,â€ Nurse Daughton said.
â€œUm â€¦ why Minnesota?â€ Dr. Blake asked.
â€œWell, thereâ€™s a man who has a book that Iâ€™d like and I think itâ€™d be strange for me to go alone since itâ€™s a man and all.â€
â€œLetâ€™s see â€¦ I do have a deadline coming up but itâ€™s not for a couple of months so I should be able to take a few days off.â€
â€œGreat! If you know anybody else who wants to go, feel free to call them. Anybodyâ€™s welcome. Iâ€™m just going to go get a book but I think the drive up would be a nice vacation as well.â€
â€œAll right. Thank you very much.â€
They made arrangements to depart in two days via rail.
* * *
Nurse Daughton had returned to work at the hospital that afternoon. One of the doctors asked for her assistance with an examination. The patient had a terribly withered and atrophied arm that had been drawn up close to his body as if he had some kind of neurological disorder. The manâ€™s left arm looked as it had been burned though the doctor noted there was no damage to the epidermis as far as burnt skin or muscle. The skin was darkened, the muscles and ligaments were pulled tight, and it was more of a claw than a functional hand. He could move the arm a little but it was mostly useless.
She looked at the chart of Angelo Giovanni, who was listed as a Providence Police Officer. There was little detail on the cause of the terrible injury.
The doctor asked the man how the wound had happened and how long heâ€™d suffered from the malaise. He seemed of the opinion that it was some kind of long-ranging condition of his nervous system.
â€œListen doc!â€ Zippy said. â€œIâ€™m tellinâ€™ ya. I was out in the woods. I was coming up on this guy, right? And â€¦ all of the sudden, he â€¦ I hear some mumbling and then â€¦ itâ€™s this. It was fine before it. Nothing happened. It was just, I looked down, all of a sudden, there was a pain in my arm, and it looked like this!â€
Nurse Daughton looked at the man. It sounded suspiciously like some kind of spell.
â€œNo no no,â€ the doctor said. â€œThis must have been a neurological condition. Something that must have affected you for years. When did this happen? How old were you? Ten? Eleven years old? When you started to lose the use of your arm?â€
â€œNo. It didnâ€™t happen like that. Iâ€™m tellinâ€™ you, I been usinâ€™ this arm â€¦ Iâ€™m a cop, all right? I been usinâ€™ this arm for years. Years and years and years.â€
â€œWell â€¦ thereâ€™s â€¦ thereâ€™s nothing â€¦ known to medical science â€¦ maybe you had a mini-stroke of some kind. Perhaps it was caused by some of blockage of the blood thatâ€™s killed some of the cells â€¦â€
â€œYou sayinâ€™ Iâ€™m just walkinâ€™ down the street, all right, and I have a mini-stroke, and my armâ€™s a chicken wing?â€
â€œI â€¦ I canâ€™t see of any other way that it could have happened to you, sir.â€
Nurse Daughton smiled, trying not to laugh.
â€œLook, Iâ€™ve already been put on a desk because of this,â€ Zippy went on. â€œAnd it just happened one day, out in the middle of the woods. Isnâ€™t there â€¦ thereâ€™s nobody knows whatâ€™s going on!?!â€
The doctor offered the possibility of doing surgery on the arm with the possibility of the ligaments and tendons tightening up for some reason. He didnâ€™t have an explanation for it, however. He was quite perplexed, actually. Zippy realized the man didnâ€™t know of any way to help him. Like the other doctors heâ€™d seen, they couldnâ€™t figure out what had happened to him or why. Some of the others had suggested he talk to medical schools, but Zippy didnâ€™t want to be a lab rat. In the end, he was just as dissatisfied with that doctor as the others.
The doctor took blood and skin samples before leaving, instructing Nurse Daughton to help the patient get his shirt back on.
â€œMumbling, huh?â€ Nurse Daughton said as she helped the man.
â€œYeah, I didnâ€™t hear anything â€¦ he just â€¦â€ Zippy said.
â€œSo, was it like a chant?â€
â€œI â€¦ I donâ€™t know. He was behind a tree and, as soon as it happened, I was obviously pretty angry, so I didnâ€™t have â€¦ much more of a conversation with him to see what he said.â€
She looked at him.
â€œYou saying you know something like this?â€ Zippy said.
â€œI might have an idea but Iâ€™m not sure,â€ she said.
â€œWhat? What idea?â€
â€œItâ€™s gonna sound crazy, but Iâ€™ve been through a bit, so â€¦â€
â€œWhat, like trees walking around?â€
â€œUh â€¦ something like that â€¦ actually â€¦ yes. Yes. Yes.â€
â€œI never shoulda gone out to Iowa.â€
â€œUh â€¦ hey â€¦ this might seem a little weird, asking you right now, but Iâ€™m going to find this book that may have some answers if you want to come along.â€
â€œYes! Lemme tell you: answers, Iâ€™ve been getting jack-zero of â€˜em!â€
She gave him the details of the trip: they were leaving on Monday, September 24 and set to arrive around noon in St. Paul on Tuesday, September 25, whereupon they would drive the rental call to meet William Rogers. He had The Black Book, which she was interested in.
â€œLet me tell ya, I been huntinâ€™ for answers like a stupid kid in grade school, all right?â€ Zippy said. â€œAnything. Iâ€™ll do it.â€
â€œAll right,â€ she replied.
â€œYou need protection, you know Iâ€™m a cop,â€ he said. â€œI like firearms. I can take care of it.â€
She gave him her address and telephone number as well as her name.
After he left, she telephoned Dr. Blake and told her they had a Providence Police Officer accompanying them.
* * *
They met at Union Station in Downtown Providence on the morning of Monday, September 24, 1928. They took a sleeper car west to Minnesota. Zippy was a little uncomfortable as he was riding some of the same rails that he had taken to Iowa the month before.
They arrived in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the early afternoon of Tuesday, September 25, 1928. They overheard a few men talking about the bad weather recently. For the past month, rains had been heavy all through the Midwest and many of the rivers and low areas had been flooded. It took them about an hour to get the rental car that had already been arranged for them. The soft top Chevrolet Tourer was a sturdy little motorcar though it had obviously seen use. A trunk had been attached to the back for their luggage.
They headed north, following the written instructions in the letter from Rogers. The four-hour drive from St. Paul was uneventful and stretched lazily through the later afternoon and early evening, taking them to the tiny village of Billingsly by about 7:30. Since they had not eaten since St. Paul, the Bluewater CafÃ© looked inviting. They were seated at a rickety table and served by Ernest Wyatte, the owners and sole operator. Unfortunately, his service was terrible and the meal, though adequate, stretched wearily until well after darkness had fallen.
â€œMan, that guy moved slower than my grandma,â€ Zippy opined when they were back in the car. â€œAnd sheâ€™s in a wheelchair.â€
â€œIâ€™ve solved complex mathematical equations faster than I ate that meal,â€ Dr. Blake quipped.
The weather had turned foul with rain pouring down while thunder and lightning crashing across the sky. They found themselves on Maple Trail, going through the dark woods that seemed to reach out for their automobile. Then they had hit something.
* * *
The three passengers in the motorcar looked around, a bit stunned. Rain pattered on the canvas room. More water was dripping in where the canvas roof met the windows. The right wheels were in the ditch.
Nurse Daughton stumbled out of the motorcar and was almost immediately drenched. She wandered to the front of the vehicle and lightning flashed as the storm increased in intensity. Whatever sheâ€™d hit had broken directly through the radiator of the motorcar and into the engine housing. It looked like a big dog. She pulled up the hood and saw the grisly remains splattered about the engine compartment.
Zippy got out of the automobile and went to the front of the vehicle as well. It looked like the head of the animal was missing completely.
â€œJesus Christ,â€ Zippy muttered. â€œYou wouldnâ€™t happen to know anything about engines would you?â€
â€œNot more than the typical person,â€ she said.
Lightning continued to flash overhead as the rain poured down. Dr. Blake opened the door on the passenger side.
â€œWhatâ€™s going on?â€ she called.
â€œHit a dog apparently,â€ Nurse Daughton said. â€œItâ€™s wrecked my engine.â€
â€œAnd the engine wrecked the dog too,â€ Zippy said.
â€œYeah, it doesnâ€™t have a head,â€ Nurse Daughton said. â€œDonâ€™t come over here, Iâ€™d say.â€
â€œUm â€¦ okay,â€ Dr. Blake said, shutting her door again.
â€œHow far are we from where weâ€™re going?â€ Zippy asked.
Nurse Daughton went back into the motorcar and looked at the letter with the instructions. From Billingsly, Rogers house was less than an hourâ€™s drive north. They had been driving for a half hour or so. They guessed they were relatively close to the place.
Still standing by the front of the automobile in the pouring rain, Zippy looked up the road. A flash of lightning revealed a driveway or a connecting road about 20 yards away. A small sign stood next to it. He got back into the motorcar.
â€œHey, thereâ€™s a sign or a driveway just a little bit up the road, here,â€ he told them.
â€œReally?â€ Dr. Blake said.
â€œOh good,â€ Nurse Daughton said. â€œMaybe they can help.â€
â€œUh â€¦ should â€¦?â€
â€œAt least wait until the rain stops. Then we can figure out what to do with this rent-a-car. Any better ideas?â€
â€œI mean, if you donâ€™t wanna get wet, I donâ€™t think weâ€™re going anywhere,â€ Zippy said.
â€œSo, you want to just stay in the car?â€ Nurse Daughton said. â€œBecause who knows how long this will take.â€
â€œI mean â€¦ I donâ€™t wanna stay in the woods as much as I can no matter if Iâ€™m in a car or not,â€ Zippy said.
Lightning flashed overhead and thunder rumbled.
â€œIf this place isnâ€™t too far away, perhaps we could see if they could help,â€ Dr. Blake said. â€œMaybe thereâ€™s a mechanic there.â€
â€œYeah, Iâ€™d be up to get to a building where I canâ€™t see the trees,â€ Zippy said.
â€œWhat is your problem with the trees?â€
â€œThey â€¦ I â€¦ itâ€™s â€¦ I was in a bad place â€¦ and â€¦ I â€¦ it was the trees. They moved. All right? I canâ€™t think of it any other way. But the trees moved. And I killed them â€¦ but they moved.â€
â€œOkay â€¦ I believe you â€¦ I think. It doesnâ€™t sound very scientific â€¦ but â€¦â€
â€œHey, I mean, when you have a chicken wing for an arm and no one can tell you anything about it, scientifically â€¦ I gave up on that a while ago.â€
â€œAll right, well â€¦ Iâ€™ll go grab my umbrella and weâ€™ll see.â€
She got out of the motorcar and ran to the trunk getting her umbrella as quickly as she could. She still got completely soaked by the terrible downpour. She grabbed both her umbrella and Nurse Daughtonâ€™s and brought them back into the car. She handed off one to Nurse Daughton and they quickly discussed bringing their luggage before deciding to leave it for the moment. The women grabbed their purses but left the rest in the trunk. Nurse Daughton shared an umbrella with Zippy and they walked through the mud to the driveway Zippy had seen. Lightning became more frequent and the rain came down harder with each passing moment.
The sign next to the driveway bore the name â€œNorris.â€ Down the driveway, they saw a large, single-story house with a motorcar parked out front. A light was in one of the windows on the first main floor and, as they approached, they could see light coming from several covered basement windows on the right side of the house. As they got closer they saw the house could use a fresh coat of paint.
â€œYour fellow wouldnâ€™t happen to be named Norris, would he?â€ Zippy asked Nurse Daughton.
â€œNope,â€ she said.
The car proved to be a newer model Cadillac hardtop sedan parked in the driveway not far from the front door. All of the windows of the house were covered with thick curtains or simply dark.
â€œThis guyâ€™s pretty well-off to have a house out here in the middle of the woods and a big, nice car,â€ Zippy said.
â€œYeah â€¦ uh â€¦â€ Dr. Blake said.
â€œWell, letâ€™s go knock.â€
â€œAll right, letâ€™s go.â€
Nurse Daughton knocked on the door when they got to the stoop. They soon saw the light in the window dim as if someone had left. It took more than a minute before the door rattled and was opened. At first they thought a child had come to the door but then they realized a thick-bodied midget stood there. He had tussled blonde hair, wide eyes, and fat cheeks. He held a candlestick with a lit candle and glared at them all suspiciously.
â€œWho are you people?â€ he said. â€œWhat do you want?â€
â€œUh â€¦ we hit a dog, our engineâ€™s wrecked, and itâ€™s raining,â€ Nurse Daughton said. â€œI was hopingâ”€â€
â€œYou hit a dog?â€
â€œI think a dog? It looked like a dog.â€
â€œCan we stay here until the rain, at least, goes away?â€
â€œYeah, it mustâ€™ve been a pretty big dog. It tore throughâ”€â€ Zippy started to say.
â€œI donâ€™t own a dog!â€ the midget said. â€œCome in! Come in! Come in!â€
â€œOkay,â€ Dr. Blake said.
â€œAll right, sir,â€ Zippy said.
The entry featured oak paneling and two doors to the left that looked like cloakrooms. A small table occupied the wall opposite the outer one, next to a door, and another door stood to their right. A dusty vase with withered flowers sat upon the table.
â€œItâ€™s nice to meet you sir,â€ Dr. Blake said. â€œWhatâ€™s your name?â€
â€œIâ€™m Dr. Albert Norris,â€ the midget said.
â€œOh, youâ€™re a doctor?â€
â€œYes! Iâ€™m a doctor. Yes.â€
He closed the door behind them and locked it with a key.
â€œSo, what are you a doctor of, Dr. Norris?â€ Dr. Blake said.
â€œMedicine!â€ the little man barked. â€œMedicine! Iâ€™m a doctor of medicine!â€
Nurse Daughton looked around the room, noting the lack of electric lights. She guessed the house was fairly old.
â€œYouâ€™re welcome to spend the night if need me,â€ the midget said. â€œHow bad was your â€¦ I have no phone. Iâ€™m sorry. I donâ€™t have a telephone.â€
He walked over to the small table and drew forth three candles and three more candle holders, fitted them in and lighting them from the candle he held.
â€œWe have no electricity here,â€ he muttered.
â€œOkay,â€ Dr. Blake said.
â€œMust be an old place,â€ Nurse Daughton said.
â€œItâ€™sâ”€itâ€™s been here for quite some time, yes,â€ the little man said.
â€œWow,â€ Dr. Blake said.
He handed them the candle holders.
â€œCome with me!â€ he said. â€œCome!â€
â€œOkay,â€ Dr. Blake said nervously.
The little man seemed quite odd. He opened the door across from the outer door, which led to a hallway that ran only a little way to the back of the house. Doors were on all four walls. He led them to the door to their left and opened it, which led to another, longer hallway. In the dim candlelight, they could make out several doors on the walls of the hallway and a single door at the end. He opened the two doors on the right and the third door on the left. Each led to a bedroom which appeared to be rarely used and quite dusty. Each room had a bureau, a bed, and an uncomfortable chair. The beds had no linens upon them, just a mattress.
â€œThere are linens in the bureaus,â€ he said. â€œYou can each have a room.â€
He left and each of them took a room. Zippy started to take the large room at the end but then realized it had large windows and they looked out onto the trees. Even hidden by the curtains, he didnâ€™t want such a big window anywhere near him. Dr. Blake ended up in that room while the other too took the smaller guestrooms.
Nurse Daughton, in the northwest room, the first on the right, noticed brown stains on the mattress. She was certain they were old bloodstains. She touched the stain, near the top of the mattress, and found it dry. It had probably been there for years.
She went to the next room and knocked on the door. Zippy answered the door and she could see the partially made bed behind him.
â€œCould I look at your mattress real quick?â€ she asked.
He looked at her.
â€œWhatchu thinkin?â€ he asked.
â€œIâ€™ll explain,â€ she said.
â€œAll right,â€ he said.
She quickly looked at his mattress but it was clean and without bloodstains.
â€œIâ€™ll be right back and then Iâ€™ll explain,â€ she said.
She went to the room at the end on the left and knocked. Dr. Blake opened the door.
â€œHello,â€ she said. â€œDo you need something?â€
â€œCan I see you mattress real quick?â€ Nurse Daughton asked.
â€œUm â€¦ sure â€¦â€ Dr. Blake said.
Nurse Daughton found that mattress without stains as well.
â€œUm â€¦ Iâ€™ll be right back,â€ Nurse Daughton said.
â€œWhat was that about?â€ Dr. Blake asked.
â€œIâ€™ll explain,â€ Nurse Daughton said. â€œHold on.â€
She went back to her own room to confirm that the mattress was stained. She returned to Dr. Blakeâ€™s room.
â€œYeah, thereâ€™s bloodstains on my mattress,â€ she said.
â€œWhat?â€ Dr. Blake said.
â€œLike a woman had her first blood or murder â€¦â€
â€œUh â€¦ okay. Um â€¦ it couldâ€™ve â€¦ heâ€™s a doctor. It couldâ€™ve been childbirth.â€
â€œMm. Good point. Okay.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know what heâ€™s a doctor of, though. He just said he was a doctor of medicine.â€
â€œStill very unsettling.â€
â€œIâ€™m aware of that. Would you like to stay here for the night?â€
Unfortunately, the bed was a single. Nurse Daughton cursed to herself. She went to Zippy.
â€œOkay, your beds look clean,â€ she said to him. â€œMine has blood. Stains.â€
â€œWhat?â€ Zippy said.
â€œBloodstains. Yeah. Like â€¦ Dr. Blake suggested childbirth. That makes me feel a little better because I assumed murder. Yeah. So, itâ€™s unsettling. I was making sure it was just my room.â€
â€œDo you have a gun?â€
â€œYeah, a little one.â€
â€œYou know how to use it?â€
â€œI know a little bit more than relatively â€¦ if you wanna swap rooms.â€
â€œAre you comfortable with that?â€
â€œIâ€™m a policeman. Iâ€™ve seen blood before.â€
â€œI mean, I have too. I just donâ€™t know whatâ€™s happened and itâ€™s strange.â€
â€œYou mind if I take a look?â€
She followed him to her room as the thunder and lightning roared outside.
â€œThis place gives me the creeps now,â€ she said. â€œYou canâ€™t blame a woman for getting creeped out by this. Nothingâ€™s more unsettling than having blood where you sleep.â€
Zippy looked over the bloodstained mattress. It looked old and there seemed to be a lot of it. Nurse Daughton realized if it was the result of childbirth, it would have been a very bad delivery. She looked up to see if there might be something leaking from the ceiling but though it was dusty, there was no indication of any kind of stain. She looked on the floor around the bed but it was fine. She looked under the rug but there was nothing under it or on it. She examined the window and found it closed and latched.
Dr. Blake entered the room, surprising Zippy, who didnâ€™t hear her coming. He jumped when he spotted the woman.
â€œItâ€™s just me,â€ she said. â€œItâ€™s okay.â€
â€œI was looking at the blood,â€ he said. â€œSorry about that.â€
â€œGosh, medicine is really not my expertise,â€ Dr. Blake said.
â€œItâ€™s definitely blood,â€ Nurse Daughton said. â€œAnd lots of it.â€
â€œGosh, it could be childbirth. It could be surgery.â€
â€œIâ€™ve delivered a child. Thatâ€™s a lot of blood for a childbirth.â€
â€œOkay, what about surgery?â€
â€œWhy would they do surgery on a bed?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know.â€
Lightning flashed and thunder crashed outside.
â€œItâ€™s very unsettling,â€ Nurse Daughton said. â€œBut it was a long time ago.â€
â€œIâ€™m aware of that,â€ Dr. Blake said. â€œIt couldâ€™ve been whoever owned this place before Dr. Norris did.â€
â€œHm. Can somebody help me flip this mattress?â€
Zippy helped her and they saw that the stain went all the way through though there was less of a stain on the bottom. That made Nurse Daughton even more unsettled.
â€œGosh,â€ Dr. Blake said.
â€œMaybe it was suicide?â€ Nurse Daughton said. â€œBecause this person stayed here.â€
â€œSomeone could have slit their wrists. Possibly.â€
â€œThatâ€™s a lot of blood for the wrist. Or it could have been in the stomach.â€
They all examined the mattress more closely and noticed cuts in it. They were perhaps an inch long and narrow. They looked like stab marks to Nurse Daughton.
â€œCan I sleep on one of your floors?â€ she asked.
â€œUm â€¦ sure,â€ Dr. Blake said.
They noticed, as they went down the hallway, that the dust was thickest in front of the guest rooms as if the other three rooms were used.
â€œMake sure â€¦ keep your gun handy,â€ Zippy said. â€œIn case.â€
â€œI will,â€ Nurse Daughton said. â€œIâ€™ll sleep with it under my pillow.â€
Dr. Blake went to her room with Nurse Daughton and she looked through the bureau but found only linens. Nurse Daughton brought the pillow and the blanket from her own room and set up on the rug on the floor.
She left the room in search of the bathroom, picking the next door up the hall across from the guest rooms. It actually was a bathroom with toilet, sink, and tub. Another door off the room obviously led to the room on that side. She used the toilet and found it had running water. She tried the other door and found it unlocked. There was no way to lock the doors without a key.
She opened the medicine cabinet over the sink and found two toothbrushes, a razor, and a cup with a shaving brush in it. A box was filled with shaving powder. Soap and toothpaste were also there and the entire cabinet was dirty. She examined the toothbrushes and found them both well-used.
She opened the other door and peeked in, holding her candle high. It proved to be a bedroom. The bed was unmade and several stacks of folded clothing were neatly piled on the floor. A bureau was in the corner and a desk stood in another. An Oriental rug lay covered the floor.
She quickly examined the clothing and found it to be for a normal-sized man. She didnâ€™t think they would be for the midget.
She crossed the room to the desk and opened one of the drawers. A bound book with the words â€œJournal 1919â€ was in the drawer. She looked around and listened carefully but didnâ€™t hear anything but the rain, thunder, and lightning.
She picked up the journal and looked inside of it. It was one of those commercially available journals with a week of dates for entries per two pages. She quickly paged through it until she found entries. There werenâ€™t many. She quickly read over them, at first intending only to read the first entry but reading everything. They read:
June 5, 1919
â€¦ I have just found an interesting book at Humboldtâ€™s today. It is written in a language
that I cannot recognize, though some of the diagrams are of a medical nature. I will attempt
to determine what language it is tomorrow.
June 6, 1919
Showed the book to Dr. Bridges today. He does not recognize the language either, but some
of the more disturbing diagrams got to him. He encouraged me to get rid of the book. I donâ€™t
think that I will.
June 8, 1919
Am beginning to translate the book. Have had little success so far, but have managed (I think)
to make out the title, Humans and Others. It seems to be some sort of dissection manual or
book of experiments.
June 15, 1919
â€¦ have finally broken the code! Will try the experiments â€¦ I will be famous throughout
the medical world â€¦ have written Hymes at home to gather some money, as I will need
some place to work. Must keep this a secret, so that my place in history will not be stolen
July 1, 1919
Was suspended from school today, for â€œperversion.â€ What do they know, anyway. Iâ€™ll show
them, when Iâ€™m a famous doctor. Theyâ€™ll see.
July 6, 1919
Hymes has written me that he has sent the family away for a while, and I can work at the Estate.
I canâ€™t wait to get there. Will leave tomorrow morning.
She found it all rather disturbing.
* * *
Zippy, sitting on his bed in his room with the door shut, was trying not to think about the trees out there. He had left the curtains closed but sometimes glanced towards the window when the lightning flashed outside and he could see the shadows of the trees by the light. Then he heard the creak of a floorboard in the hallway right outside his door. Thunder crashed outside and he thought he heard someone run back away down the hallway on tiny legs.
He took his pistol out of his pocket.
* * *
Done with the book in the other bedroom, Nurse Daughton heard someone run by the room on short legs. She tucked the journal back into the drawer and slipped back into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. She thought the person running had passed the bedroom.
She tried to calm down a little bit in the bathroom and then finally opened the creaking door to the hall. She peeked up and down the long corridor, her candle not illuminating it very well. She saw no one so she crept out and across to Zippyâ€™s room, knocking.
Zippy cracked the door. He put his gun in his pocket when he saw her and opened it fully.
â€œI need to talk to you,â€ she said. â€œI need to talk to both of you.â€
â€œIs this about the mattress again?â€ Zippy said.
â€œNo. How about you come to our room.â€
He nodded and they went to the other room where they found Dr. Blake in the uncomfortable chair, reading a small textbook on theoretical physics.
â€œWhat took you so long in the bathroom?â€ Dr. Blake asked.
â€œUm â€¦ yeah, about that,â€ Nurse Daughton said. â€œSo, okay. There was another door in the bathroom so I went and peeked because, you know, Iâ€™m curious.â€
â€œBad idea, because I found a journal and it was by Dr. Norris and was talking about how he found this book called Humans and Others â€¦â€
â€œHumans and Others?â€
â€œâ€¦ and it had some disturbing diagrams. Medical diagrams.â€
â€œThat, apparently, was frowned upon. So, he wanted to try these experiments about dissecting. So, I think that was what the blood was on my bed.â€
Thunder crashed outside.
â€œThatâ€™s â€¦ you want to use this chair to barricade the door?â€ Dr. Blake said.
â€œYes,â€ Nurse Daughton said. â€œI do.â€
They leaned the door up under the knob and pushed it as tightly closed as they could.
â€œI think we should leave,â€ Nurse Daughton said.
â€œWas he â€¦ what was he?â€ Zippy asked. â€œDissecting?â€
â€œIâ€™m assuming people. Because he was â€¦ I forgot what it said. I think he might have been kicked out of his school. It was in another language that he couldnâ€™t understand but he apparently figured it out. Iâ€™m assuming Latin. Letâ€™s hope itâ€™s Latin. But then, assuming heâ€™s a doctor, heâ€™d know Latin.â€
â€œYeah,â€ Dr. Blake said. â€œGosh.â€
â€œI do agree,â€ Zippy said. â€œI think itâ€™s better if we stay together.â€
â€œAnd one of us with a gun keeps watch.â€
â€œRight,â€ Nurse Daughton said.
â€œI donâ€™t have any weapons,â€ Dr. Blake said.
â€œI canâ€™t sleep, so Iâ€™ll take first watch.â€
â€œYou wake me up when youâ€™re ready to sleep,â€ Zippy said.
â€œNow that I think about it, he seemed way too welcoming,â€ Nurse Daughton said.
â€œYeah, a little bit,â€ Dr. Blake said.
â€œTo three strangers in his house.â€
Lightning crashed outside again.
â€œI mean, I was just assuming he was a stand-up guy,â€ Zippy said.
Nurse Daughton remembered there were two toothbrushes.
â€œI was also sneaking in the medicine cabinet, just to see if there was anything useful in there that we could use,â€ she said. â€œLike matches? Thatâ€™d be nice. Or candles. Why would they be in there? Why not? Thereâ€™s two toothbrushes. Thereâ€™s only one guy here.â€
â€œOh,â€ Dr. Blake said.
â€œOh, in the other room, there are also folded clothes,â€ Nurse Daughton said. â€œNormal sized clothes.â€
Lightning flashed and thunder blasted again.
â€œNormal-sized?â€ Zippy said.
â€œNormal-sized?â€ Dr. Blake said. â€œLike notâ”€â€
â€œAll nicely folded too,â€ Nurse Daughton said.
â€œLike not for â€¦ you know â€¦â€
â€œLike theyâ€™d just done laundry.â€
â€œI donâ€™t like this,â€ Zippy said.
â€œGosh, Iâ€™ve been in academia for a little while,â€ Dr. Blake said. â€œAnd some of those medical guys â€¦ they do pretty unsettling things.â€
â€œI donâ€™t even know if we can leave because I did hear footsteps go by the door,â€ Nurse Daughton said.
â€œI heard that too!â€ Zippy said. â€œThatâ€™s why I had my gun out when you came to the door.â€
Dr. Blake went to the window and opened it.
â€œPlease donâ€™t!â€ Zippy said. â€œPlease donâ€™t. Please donâ€™t.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s wrong?â€ she asked.
â€œThe trees! I donâ€™t like the trees.â€
â€œIt was just an idea.â€
â€œIf it was just one tree, Iâ€™d be okay.â€
She closed the window again.
â€œItâ€™s just â€¦ you never know whatâ€™s in there,â€ he said.
â€œOkay, Iâ€™ll close the window for now,â€ she said.
â€œNo phone, no electricity, strange guy, weird book â€¦ I didnâ€™t take it because I didnâ€™t want to be found,â€ Nurse Daughton said.
â€œThat makes sense,â€ Dr. Blake said.
â€œThe only connection this guy has to the outside world is his automobile,â€ Zippy said.
â€œYeah,â€ Dr. Blake said.
â€œI wish this man had a phone,â€ Nurse Daughton said.
She looked at her watch. It was about 9:15 p.m.
â€œBut even if we do leave, I donâ€™t know how weâ€™re going to get anywhere,â€ Nurse Daughton said. â€œUnless you want to walk in the pouring rain. With lightning.â€
â€œIf the rain lets up, maybe sometime tomorrow, that would be good,â€ Zippy said.
â€œI just donâ€™t want to be here.â€
â€œOtherwise, if this guy isnâ€™t â€¦ going to kill us â€¦ we could try to use his car.â€
â€œGosh,â€ Dr. Blake said.
â€œIâ€™m not opposed to that,â€ Nurse Daughton said.
â€œNeither am I,â€ Dr. Blake said. â€œAlthough it would be theft.â€
â€œNo, I mean borrow,â€ Zippy said.
â€œWeâ€™d have to bring it back.â€
â€œWith his permission. Yeah.â€
â€œWith his permission,â€ Nurse Daughton said. â€œWould he give us permission if heâ€™s expecting to do something tonight? The welcoming man of strange hobbies? Stranger than what Iâ€™m used to working with?â€
â€œI say we see whatâ€™s going on tonight and then weâ€™ll play it by ear tomorrow,â€ Zippy said.
â€œUh â€¦ that might be a good idea,â€ Dr. Blake said. â€œThe weatherâ€™s still pretty lousy outside.â€
â€œAll right,â€ Nurse Daughton said. â€œIâ€™ll take first watch.â€
â€œYou just wake me up when youâ€™re tired,â€ Zippy said.
Dr. Blake took the bed and Zippy lay on the thin rug, the two of them going to sleep. Nurse Daughton blew out two of the candles and peeked out the window, listening. The flashes of lightning filled the room with light often. The thunder crashed overhead. Nurse Daughton tried to stay on her feet to stay awake.
About an hour after the others went to sleep, she heard the creek of a door open and close. It sounded like it came from down the hall towards the bulk of the house. She moved to the wall next to the door and realized someone could peek through the keyhole and could be looking at her right then. She took out her handkerchief and stuffed it into the keyhole, blocking it. Then she thought she heard a rattling and water sloshing from nearby. She guessed it might be something in the bathroom. The noises continued for a little bit. Then she heard a creaking of another door. She guessed it was the door to the other bedroom.
It was very, very quiet except for the thunder and the rain on the roof.
She crossed the room and looked outside again. It was very dark out there and she didnâ€™t see anything except for the ever-present trees.
She stay awake for another hour, lighting one of the other candles from the gutted remains of her own. That was around 11:30 p.m. She planned to wake Zippy up at midnight.
Then she heard another door open and the pad of feet. Another door opened somewhere further down the hallway. A minute or so later, she heard more padding of feet that sounded like it came closer. She heard another door open and then thunder crashed outside. Silence followed again and she crept towards the door. Then she noticed the handkerchief was moving, slowly being pulled out through the keyhole. She crept to the wall, standing near the door but not in front of it. The speed of whomever was pulling the handkerchief increased and it was whipped completely out of the keyhole.
The doorknob slowly turned and she drew her little revolver. The door moved carefully against the chair that leaned against it. Then the knob slowly turned back.
Aside from the noise of the storm, it was quiet. Nurse Daughton hunkered down on one knee, still watching the door. She set the candlestick on the floor beside her. She saw the doorknob turn again and the door rattle lightly against the chair as if someone were putting weight on it. Then the knob turned slowly back to its first position.
She stared at the door in terror.
* * *