Saturday, March 3, 2012

Wildwyck County: The Case of the Haunted House: Part II

On the morning of Thursday the 7th, the trio once again met at Joe’s Cup & Saucer to plan their day’s excursions. In light of the discovery beneath the ruined chapel, a descent was in order, but more research was warranted before they placed their lives on the line in that crumbling cellar. Charlie, having had dealings with Wesley Carroll at the Sentinel, knew that he was off on Thursdays and that the investigators might have better luck accessing the morgue with him away from the desk. Also, further information regarding the Chapel of Contemplation’s conflict with Ashton’s Finest was needed, which meant a trip down the local constabulary headquarters.

The three men arrived at the Sentinel and found that Carroll was nowhere in sight. In his place was Steven “Sparky” McDowell, the paper’s intern and would-be newshound. Enthusiastic to a fault and somewhat uninformed regarding the paper’s policy on restricted access, Sparky obligingly got the investigators to the dingy back room that contained the paper’s archives. There, the men found further confirmation of the stories that Jim Dooley had spun at his newsstand the previous day as well as another article that never saw print. This one told of a French family, the LeFevres, who occupied the house on Willow Street in 1880 only to move out when the parents died and three of the children became crippled in violent accidents. The house stood vacant from then until 1909.

Leaving the Sentinel’s offices before being discovered, the trio went to Ashton’s central police station to see if they could access the records concerning the 1912 raid. Luckily for them, the desk sergeant on duty was Sergeant Richard “Dickie” Schultz, a cop that Charlie had dealt with in the past, sharing information and sometimes money in exchange for leads in his private cases.

Dickie had been a cop in Ashton for several years, but had no knowledge of the 1912 raid—a fact which allowed the investigators to look at files that seemed to cover a minor event in a closed case. Pursuing the official records brought new light on the Chapel as well as unnerving implications.

In 1912, the police collected several affidavits from Drybog residents implicating the Chapel of Contemplation in a series of missing children cases. A raid was launched on the Chapel, during which three policemen were killed and seventeen cult members died in either gunplay or fire. Fifty-four church members were arrested, including Pastor Michael Thomas, but only eight were ever convicted and sentenced. Pastor Thomas was given 40 years in the Snake Hill Penitentiary on five counts of second-degree murder, but escaped in 1917. His whereabouts are currently unknown.

Although this was all very surprising to the three long-term residents of the Ashton environs, even more disturbing was evidence that there had been a cover-up. The autopsy reports on the slain church members were all cursory, lacking common details usually found in such reports. This indicated that the medical examiner had not actually performed autopsies—he merely filled in the forms and swept the deaths under the rug. Other evidence in the official reports hinted that the entire raid had been silenced by a local official with some influence, explaining why the biggest criminal action in Ashton’s recent history was entirely unknown by its citizens. Who was involved and why they hid the raid was not clear. It might warrant more investigation at a later date.

In a related note, the file contained an aged news clipping going back to the previous century. The brief news item mentioned a similar raid conducted against the Congregational Church of Rotskill, NY in 1731; another lead or a further smokescreen?

Departing the police station with this knowledge, the investigators stopped at a local hardware store to acquire a coil of rope, pry bars, and a trio of electric torches. They piled into their vehicles and returned to the ruined chapel in Drybog. After ascertaining they were unobserved, Chuck and Joseph shimmied down a rope to explore the sodden cellar, leaving Charlie to keep an eye out for anyone seeking to stop them.

The cellar was damp and moldy. Ankle-deep water had seeped into the basement over the last eight years and the hole above let in scant illumination. Throwing their torch beams about, the duo perceived a blocky pair of filing cabinets in one corner and a massive, mold-covered desk in another. Near the writing table were two piles of rotted cloth, protruding from the stagnant water like mildewed islands.

The filing cabinets drew their attention first, and rifling through them uncovered a sheaf of decaying church records. Compiling all the partially-filled drawers into a single one, the two tied a rope to the drawer and Charlie hauled it out of the basement to be examined in detail later.

The desk proved empty, but chained to its surface was a massive folio bound in mildew-stained leather. The rusted restraint was easily broken and the tome carefully removed from the site. The two basement spelunkers then discovered that the piles of cloth contained the sodden bones of humans; perhaps church members who perished in the 1912 raid and whose remains lay undiscovered in the Chapel’s basement until now. Keeping a cautious eye on the bones, Joseph and Chuck scampered out of the basement and the three departed the site to sift through their finds.

Taking the records and book back to Joseph’s farm, the three quickly learned that the church records were precisely that: daily accounts pertaining to the operation of a religious institution. However, nestled amongst the mundane accounts was a small journal. Written partially in a cipher to hide the identities of various cult members, the investigators were nevertheless able to discern the name Corbitt amongst the alias. Specifically it was written that Walter Corbitt was buried in the basement of his home “in accordance with his wishes and with the wishes of that one who waits in the dark.” At last! A break in the case!

Elated to fine a possible cause of the house’s unsettling difficulties, the three turned their attentions to the large, leather-bound tome. Unfortunately for the three, none of whom graduated high school, the archaic Latin that the book was written in proved indecipherable. As it was beyond their own skills to decipher, the investigators decided to bring in an outsider to assist them.

Piling back into their cars, the three drove back to Ashton to pay a visit to St. Michael’s, the most prominent Catholic church in town. There they introduced themselves to Father Theodore Sullivan, a long-time resident and priest. Claiming that they were employed by a collector of rare books, the three told the good Father that they were hired to ascertain the authenticity of this particular book after their employer purchased it in an estate sale. Father Sullivan examined the book carefully before declaring it to be in Medieval Latin and seemed to contain certain instructions. It would take some work, but he could likely make heads or tails of the old book in a few days—at least enough to provide the three with a summary of its contents for their employer. The investigators agreed and left the book in Father Sullivan’s care.

With time to kill while the priest translated the ancient text, Joseph headed down to Ashton’s Templeton Price Memorial Library on Castle Ave. Within its quiet environs, Joseph found Miss Agatha Coleridge, the library’s foremost reference librarian. Producing his journal, Joseph showed Miss Coleridge the symbol he copied from the chapel’s crumbling walls. Together, the two consulted the library’s scant occult collection to no avail. Just as Joseph was about to give up hope, Miss Coleridge declared that she had an associate at one of Newgrave’s larger repositories of knowledge and that she’d be willing to forward the symbol to him and see if his library’s collection could shed more light on its origins. Unfortunately, the process would take a week or so. With no other options, Joseph agreed.

It was Saturday the 9th when the three finally decided to enter the house. Knowing that there were reported phenomenon on the second floor of the house and that Corbitt’s earthly remains were likely interred in the building’s basement, those two locations were deemed the most probable places to focus their investigation. To be safe, the trio staged a watch on the building from the late hours of Friday afternoon into Saturday morning. Working in shift to observe the house, they discovered that no one entered the place, nor were there signs of activity within its old brick walls.

Prior to their entrance, they reassembled at Joe’s Cup & Saucer to compose a missive to their employer, Mr. Dobbs, informing him that they had a break in the case and expected to have an answer soon. They finished breakfast and returned to St. Michael’s to see if Father Sullivan had completed his survey of the archaic text.

Arriving at the church, they were greeted by Father Andrew Dewey, the assistant priest at St. Michael’s. Father Dewey revealed to the three that Father Sullivan has departed the church abruptly the previous day, explaining that he received word that his sister was deathly ill and he was rushing to her bedside. Father Dewey expressed some surprise at this turn of advents, as Father Sully had never mentioned that he had siblings in the years the two had worked together. The investigators inquired about the book they had entrusted with the good Father, but Father Dewey could provide no information other than he knew nothing about such a text and that there was no such tome in Father Sullivan’s quarters in the rectory. Needless to say, this was very distressing to the three and they begged Father Dewey to alert them the instant he learned of Father Sullivan’s current whereabouts…

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