Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wildwyck County: Case of the Wretched Writer, Part II

And now, the finale... 

 Three weeks passed and the investigators gleaned a few more nuggets of information during the hiatus. Luis completed his reading of the partial copy of Cultes des Goules. It provided him with a greater and more unsettling understanding of the forces that might very well be lurking in the dark corners of the world, as well as containing ancient incantations named “Draught of Dreams,” “Fortify the Mundane Blade,” “Call Forth the Forager of the Dead,” and “Draw the Voorish Sign,” but nothing that gave more insight into what Desmond was up to.

Jonathon and Wolfgang learned some historical facts about Newgrave and the Old Dutch Church. There was a Corbin Vickers, the patriarch of the Vickers whaling family who died very rich in 1710 and that it was he who constructed the mausoleum to house his and his family’s mortal remains. In a small monograph written by Alistair Philips and titled Folklore, Fables, and Frightful Tales of the Hudson Valley was a short account called “The Goblin in the Graveyard.” This three-paragraph tale told of a legend that there were once mysterious hoof-prints found in the snow around Newgrave during several days in December of 1712. A party of men tracked the prints back to the cemetery and staked out its grounds. They glimpsed a terrifying “hobgoblin cavorting amongst the stones” and fired at it with little effect. They eventually cornered it near a large mausoleum and stabbed it with bayonets before setting it alight and scattering its ashes in the Hudson River. After that, no more hoof-prints were seen.

Research about the church determined that it was founded in 1716 and it was the oldest church in Newgrave. However, there were also at least two references to the church standing on its current site prior to that date, making for a discrepancy in the historical record. They also learned that in 1883, the church took out a loan to make renovations on the building. As part of that process, an independent inspector examined the church to determine its structural integrity. During the inspection, a forgotten sub-cellar was found beneath the church. It was deemed not a threat to the church’s structural stability and no other mention of the subterranean space was given in the historic record.

Most disconcerting, however, was the discovery of a recent news article reporting the abduction of a young boy from his home on the night of October 13th. Freddy Cole was taken from his bedroom in an act that mimicked a similar kidnapping on September 28th, a date just prior to the investigators arrival in Newgrave. Something or someone was stealing children in Newgrave and the investigators had an idea of what if not who was responsible. Calls were made, telegrams were sent, and the four found themselves standing on the platform of Newgrave’s train station once again on the morning of October 26th, 1920. All three had acquired firearms in the previous weeks and now sported handguns and a single sawed-off shotgun between them. Venturing out to the parking lot, they found Desmond’s car parked in the lot (albeit covered in more leaves and debris than when they left it). They climbed in and returned to his home.

Gaining entry with their key, they found the place as they left it. The groceries left in the icebox had turned and it took a little time to clean the place out, but in short order they had a base of operations again. A trip down into the basement revealed that the earthen floor was undisturbed and that nothing had burrowed into the home in their absence.

Their plan was to return to Desmond’s apartment to see if he or another had returned to that place and then to scope out the Old Dutch Church, posing as individuals with interest in genealogy and historic architecture. They crossed their fingers that James would not be remembered by Reverend Mortensen as they were unwilling to split their numbers in light of their experiences from the weeks before.

The trip to the apartment showed that eldritch forces had not been idle since they departed Newgrave. Climbing the stairs to Apartment C, they found that the door had been broken open and that there was a definite cloven-hoof shaped mark in the wooden frame. A similar mark was found inside by the now-open floorboard that had covered the cavity in which the partial Cultes des Goules and bloodied knives were once secreted. The blood stains in the bathroom were gone, as if licked clean. Clearly at least one ghoul had discovered Desmond’s secret hideout.

The party stopped to check the apartment’s mailbox on the porch and question the downstairs neighbor, but the mailbox held only a note from Cook’s landlord reminding him that his rent was due and that the downstairs neighbor worked the nightshift at one of Newgrave’s many factories and slept most days. He hadn’t heard or seen anything unusual. The foursome headed for the church, aware that evil was afoot.

They discovered the Old Dutch Church open and heard Reverend Mortensen puttering around in the choir loft sorting hymnals. He came down to greet them and no look of recognition clouded his face when he saw James. It seemed the old minister was a little absent-minded. Sticking to their cover story, they asked the reverend some questions about the church, specifically the fact that there were references to the church prior to its construction. Reverend Mortensen said he was no scholar, but did state that it was common for the early Dutch settlers to meet in the home of a prominent citizen prior to the construction of a central place of worship, so it might have been those meeting that led to the discrepancy in the historic record. The existence of the sub-cellar was not spoken of by either side and the reverend graciously gave the investigators permission to look around the church while he sorted the worn out hymnals in the loft above.

When the clergyman returned to his labors, Luis slipped outside and gave the exterior of the church the once-over. The team wanted to get down into the basement and find the sub-cellar, but weren’t certain how to reach the lower level of the building. As Luis searched the outside, Wolfgang sauntered up to a door beside the altar and slipped into the sacristy when the reverend’s back was turned. In that space, he discovered not only a set of stairs to the basement, but a side door leading outside as well.

After Wolfgang slipped out, Luis returned and his arrival caught Reverend Mortensen’s attention. Looking down from the choir loft, the clergyman noticed that one of the four was missing, but a quick lie about him being in the washroom deflected the reverend’s suspicions. Meanwhile, Wolfgang had descended the stairs to find an unlocked office, a community room, and a robing room in the basement. All seemed ordinary, but there was a locked door at the end of the single hallway. He slipped back up the stairs while the three others left the church to see if they could find another way into the area where Wolfgang had vanished. As they rounded the corner, Wolfgang stepped outside, the door closing and locking behind him!

James once again proved to be more than a match for a lock and the four snuck back into the church and down the steps. Quietly inspecting the rooms below, they found nothing out of sorts and James got them access to the locked room—which was the boiler room. Old boxes of clothes and household goods destined for the church thrift store stood in heaps and a cobweb-covered oil burner kicked on in the gloomy, dusty space. As quietly as they could, the foursome looked about for a door leading to the supposed sub-cellar, but without avail. Hearing the reverend walking overhead, they determined to flee the building before being discovered and to come back later if need be. Luck was with them and they made it back to their car without being discovered.

As it was only early afternoon, the team decided that since they didn’t find the entrance to the sub-cellar, they might as well bite the bullet and go back to the mausoleum. So with much more firepower and light sources than last time, they pulled into the cemetery and made it back to the crypt. Inside, they discovered more cloven-hoof prints and saw that the stone slab to Nathaniel Vickers’ interment niche had been replaced by another stone. Knowing that Corbin Vickers was the family patriarch, they paused to defile his resting place, but found only bones and a collapsed, worm-eaten coffin.

They moved the stone to Nathaniel’s niche and made their way into the tunnels below. Both Jonathon’s and Wolfgang’s girth made their entrance a slow, grunting one, but eventually the four crouched in the low tunnel—Luis in the lead, Jonathon behind him, and Wolfgang and James in the rear ranks. Guided only by the downward slope of the tunnel and their torch beams, the investigators descended.

They came to the first of several side tunnels, each one being a mere 3’ in diameter and sloping upward at a greater angle. Luis shimmied up the first and came up through the bottom of an empty coffin, its contents sucked clean like the tasty nougat of some obscene candy bar. Once he recognized where he was, Luis shuddered and slid back down the shaft. As the team worked their way deeper into the warren, they encountered another side passage that Luis explored and found it terminated in a den filled with old bones that had been cracked and their marrow licked clean. Luis decided that they should stop exploring the side passages and continue straight down the main artery. The rest agreed and they forged ahead.

As they continued an unknown distance further into the earth, a glimpse of dim light was seen ahead, like the glow of many candles. Shutting off their lights, they crept forward to witness a ghastly sight. The tunnel terminated in a large earthen cavern. The walls were decorated with bones set in patterns both mundane and arcane. Candles stood everywhere. Several pillars adorned with bones rose up to support a gallery above their heads and three other tunnels exited the space. Upon the far wall hung a gruesome parody of "The Last Supper" wherein Christ and the Apostles dined on human flesh and drank blood.

But by far worse was that which squatted in the center of the room. A massive, bloated thing rising 15’ in the air with a body like a noisome grub and a human/dog head that was dwarfed by its giant girth occupied the room. Its massive gut roiled as if something within begged release and an obscene slurping sound emerged from its toothless maw. Standing before this beast was a ghoul, one that appeared far more human than the others they had seen. In fact, this ghoul still bore the familiar facial features of Desmond Cook!

Whether it was disgust or pity, the investigators wasted no time in bringing their weapons to bear and firing on both the beast and Desmond. Wolfgang drew his sword-cane and hoisted his girth up one of the pillars, waiting to drop down on Desmond once he rushed them. James fired directly at the beast, but his shot proved to be much less effective than anticipated. Luis and Jonathon also fired, but missed as the Desmond ghoul charged.

The fight that followed was rough. Wolfgang tried to set Desmond alight with a kerosene lamp and failed, while Jonathon and Luis battled their friend with both guns and a shovel. James’ shot caused a ripple to occur in the beast’s massive gut and a moment afterwards a small, child ghoul emerged from a vaginal-like opening that ruptured the creature’s stomach. The child ghoul rose from a pool of foul liquids, took unsteady steps like a newborn colt, and then rushed towards the four investigators looking to eat its first meal.

In the fight, the Desmond ghoul was slain, but the child ghoul worried Wolfgang’s flesh horribly and the giant German nearly died. James continued to pour bullets into the beast, aiming at the birth canal that now stood open in its belly. The child ghoul continued to fight Luis, and another ghoul appeared on the gallery above, staring down at the fight hungrily. Jonathon gripped the injured Wolfgang and made for the exit, but encountered a pair of ghouls coming down the tunnel. He readied his weapon and prepared to die fighting.

As all looked grim for the four, Luis’ next blow killed the child ghoul at the same time James’ final round slammed into the beast. With a horrendous shriek, the great, maggot-like thing died and the remaining ghouls began to wail and meep piteously. Their birth father slain, they vanished up the tunnels as the beast began its death throes. Flailing about as death claimed it, the beast slammed into the cavern walls and a shower of dirt and bones began to fall. The four investigators wasted no time in heading back up the tunnel and they climbed out just as a gout of dirt, stench, and debris blew out of the mausoleum and a large section of the Old Dutch Cemetery collapsed into the ground to leave a massive sink hole littered with ancient bones and decayed coffins. They limped back to their car and drove away from the scene before they could be stopped by authorities.

The four had learned the fate of Desmond Cook, if not necessarily all that led to his final state or what gave birth to the creatures beneath the earth. Their sanity shaken, but intact, and with wounds of their own to attend to, the foursome left Newgrave, NY with one less source of evil lurking in its shadows. It was a victory for the forces of light in that embattled place known as Wildwyck County.

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