May 17th, 1915 - Grove, United Kingdom
The rest of the day on Sunday, Benjamin, Tali, and McKinley stayed in the Volunteer Inn to recuperate and discuss. Lattimore was nowhere to be found that night. By Monday morning, the 17th, McKinley called the Gasworks to leave a message for contact.
While they waited, Harris Benjamin received a phone call from the New York Times office in London requesting he return at once and he did promising to return as quickly as possible.
After seeing Benjamin to the station, Tali and McKinley decided to look in Lattimore's room. Asking the innkeeper, they received a key and went inside. It was obvious the bed hadn't been slept in the night before. On the table by the bed, they found the key to the car. Car keys weren't terrible common with pre-World War I cars, but were accessories post 1912 for the more expensive.
They also found the crate Lattimore had hauled from London. Inside, they found a pair of Webley revolvers, an Enfield rifle, along with some ammunition and a set of four gasmasks. It appeared half of what had been in the crate was missing.
They returned downstairs, after taking gas masks, a revolver, the rifle, and some ammunition, to ask the Innkeeper if their was anyone in town they could hire to drive the car. The man mentioned Father Christopher Worel, the new vicar of the church St. James the Great, who was rumored to know how to drive an automobile.
McKinley and Tali decided to visit him.
May 17th, 1915 - Grove and London, United Kingdom
Harris Benjamin boarded the morning train to London. Buying a copy of the London Times, he settled into his car for to read and laugh at his competition. Twenty minutes into the trip, the door to his private berth opened and a large, well muscled man entered. Checking the room, he signaled and a smaller middle aged man with greying temples followed him and sat across from the journalist. Standing outside, remained another thick man similar to the first in bulk and scowl.
"Mr. Benjamin," his guest finally spoke. "You are your companions have been snooping around where you'd be better not."
"Of course, I agree," replied Harris.
The newcomers' bodyguard blinked at the journalist, while the man frowned. "I see." He seemed confused for a moment as if rethinking his speech. "We want you to stop your investigations in Grove."
"Done," replied Benjamin.
"Eh, well, thank you," the man replied.
"Not at all," smiled Benjamin who then offered him a cigar. "Have a Cuban, Mr?"
The man took the cigar, "William Gabriel."
Examining his face, the journalist wracked his brain for where he'd seen the man and heard the name. "Ah," he replied lightening, "the magician."
Gabriel seemed pleased and dropped his threatening demeanor. "You know my work?"
"Of course," replied Benjamin, "I've seen you a few times. Conjuring is a passion of mine." Thanks to a critical success with Fast Talk and a relevant Current Affairs skill roll, Harris Benjamin not only got the name of the man threatening him, but created a mutual love of stage magician feats. By the time he arrived at Paddington Station, Benjamin had agreed to see one of Gabriel's performances.
May 17th, 1915 - Grove, United Kingdom
The walk across the village to visit the vicar was fairly quick, and before long Tali and McKinley stood before the door to the vicarage. The recent frost two days before had killed some of the early blooming flowers, which McKinley noted with interest.
After a short wait following their knock, the vicar, Father Christopher Worel, greeted and invited them in. McKinley told him they were investigators from the Army looking into what was going on with the shipments. He noted their driver was missing and asked Father Worel if he'd be willing to drive them. The priest agreed. He decided to visit some of his parishioners just out of the village.
When he realized neither McKinley nor Tali knew where they were going, he recommended they stop in to the Caldwell family's farm first and see if they had any ideas.
The morning was chilly will low rain storms rolling across the Vale. Father Worel tentatively asked McKinley and Tali about their faith. Tali told him he was a member of the Church of England, but Father Worel quickly realized the Welshman's views on the devil among other things was highly unorthodox.
McKinley told him bluntly he was an atheist and only accepted a rational scientific view. Worel surprised him with his knowledge of modern science, while Tali couldn't decide what to think and instead stopped listening.
Arriving at the Caldwell's farm, Father Christopher introduced Tali and McKinley to the family. They sat in their kitchen as the Caldwell's told them of the army at the old Dowell place, about the strange noises and animal cries in the middle of the night and they mentioned the Jenkin's boy who crossed over into the Dowell's farm for a look and came back sick.
After some tea, they said their goodbyes to the Caldwells. Father Worel looked concerned as he drove them to the Jenkins farm. "What is going on here?" he asked.
"I wish I knew," replied Dr. McKinley, "but as a medical doctor I feel I need to see the boy. Hopefully, we can determine what is wrong with him."
The next farm up the road, the Jenkin's farm, was a cheery little home much like the Caldwell farm. But there was a hush over the place as if everyone were quiet and on edge. They met the Jenkins family at the door. On seeing Father Worel and shaking hands with Doctor McKinley - they mostly ignored Tali - they were shown the youngest.
Upstairs in his room, a window cracked for the breeze, lay the Jenkins boy, Theodore. His hair, the mother said, had fallen out after the visit to the Dowell place and then come back white. He babbled sometimes, but mostly when he was awake, just stared at the ceiling.
"He's been this way for a week now," the father told them. "We've seen a doctor from Oxford with no luck." He seemed embarrassed. "I've been meaning to tell you, Father Christopher, but haven't gone back to Grove of late."
The priest nodded and offered a prayer for the boy - all but the doctor joined in - while McKinley checked the child's vitals. He asked to take some blood as well. The child did not cry from the pain of the needle.
After a while, the boy began babbling but no one could understand him. Tali crossed himself again.
Saying their goodbyes to the family, the three men stood by the car and smoked. Father Worel looked at them both. "Something awful is going on here. Let's look at the Dowell place." He stubbed out his cigarette.
Strangely, the Army had leased the Dowell farm in July of the year before, prior to the outbreak of hostilities on the continent. The driveway to the house and barns was tree covered. The weather had cleared after lunch and the temperatures, while cool, were the warmest in days. Tali leaned out the window watching the house approach.
The yard was weedy as if it hadn't been cared for in sometime. McKinley noticed fresh ruts in the ground near the house. "Trucks were parked here yesterday or this morning," he noted.
The farm seemed deserted, but Tali loaded and slung the Enfield rifle over his shoulder. As the three men entered the house, they walked quietly, listening for footsteps. Nonetheless, the house seemed empty. Checking the rooms upstairs, downstairs, and the basement, they found bunks recently slept in, a basement with Army crates - food, supplies - a kitchen with unwashed sinks. In the bathroom of the master bedroom, someone had attached hooks to the wall. They found ropes still tied to the hooks.
In the rear of the house were two barns, both still opened. In both GURPS games I have run so far, someone always takes Curious as a disadvantage. Tali is that character in this game. Tali insisted they found out what was going on, talking Worel and McKinley into going into the barn.
Once inside, Tali slid the barn doors open more to allow in additional light. He revealed a scene where ten cows had been hung from metal hooks attached to chains connected to the ceiling. The long hooks jutted through the sternum and out between the ribs next to the spine. Additionally, the cows' throats had been cut and their blood drained down their bodies into basins. The basins were mostly empty now.
Tali became ill and rushed quickly from the building. His fright was so great, he now has a quirk Dislikes Beef. Father Worel also paled and stepped from the building. Dr. McKinley found the scene distasteful, but no stranger to autopsies and the violence of war on bodies, he proceeded to document the injuries to the cows and examined the rotted carcasses in the rear of the barn. Counting an additional forty cows.
After Tali had managed to recover from the shock - though he refused to return to the barn - McKinley suggested they examine the second barn. He and Worel entered first, while Tali waited outside. They found a few broken Army crates but no mutilated animals. Tali entered after hearing this. Making their way to the back of the second barn they found a darkened room, now lit by their torches, with a great circle of dried blood covering a spiral of silver.
Not wanting to disturb the circle, Tali examined the silver and found it had been poured in a molten state onto the floor before cooling. He insisted it was "the Devil's work."
McKinley drew a sketch of the spiral circle. He swore he had seen it somewhere but couldn't pinpoint where or when.
After some time examining the room, they returned to the car and heading back to town. Tali turned and watched the house as they drove away. For a moment, he thought he saw someone watching them from the upstairs window of the farmhouse, but then, blinking, no one was there.
May 17th, 1915 - London, United Kingdom
Leaving Paddington station, Benjamin returns to his flat to change and cleanup first before arriving at the New York Times London office later in the day. As soon as he enters, his manner becomes shy and obsequious - far different than the brusque air he presented to his companions.
After waiting nearly an hour, his superior finally sees him. A balding middle age man, the London Desk head seems amused to see Benjamin. After listening to his reporter explain he had been called back to London, the man shook his head. "No one here called for you Harris." He pulled out a cigar and offered it to Benjamin before taking one himself. "Sounds like you were setup."
They discussed any arrangements Benjamin had made with Captain Watson and the Quartermaster Corp thefts. "I look forward to reading your findings," the man said as Benjamin turned to leave. "Too bad they will never be published," and he turned his chair to look out the window into the London rain.
Harris Benjamin frowned at the thought. Not so, he thought, this story will make me famous. With evening come on, he decided to return for the night to his flat and head out the next day. After picking up his cleaning, of course.
May 17th, 1915 - Grove and Reading, United Kingdom
Back in Grove, Father Worel parked the automobile at the inn. "Well, gentlemen," he said, a look of fatigue covered his face giving his youthful features decades of age. "Whatever is going on is unnatural. It is against God and man." He rubbed his hands together and stared to the north. "If you need any further assistance, please let me know."
Watching the priest leave, Dr. McKinley decided a rest was due. Tali was still visibly shaken from the ordeal at the barns. As they entered the Inn, they were stopped by a pair of Berkshire constables and are informed that someone reported them breaking into a house in Grove. Asked to accompany them to Reading to make a statement, they agree.
A short trip by lorry later they arrive at the headquarters, are shown to a room, and offered tea.
An inspector informed them that the man who lived next door to Snodgrass's house in Grove has claimed they were breaking in the day before.
Unfortunately, McKinley's attempt to dissuade the authorities was railroaded by Tali's wild accusations of animal sacrifice. They held for the night while the a superintendent reviewed their case.
Tali managed to sneak a flask in the cell and lay in bed drinking whiskey and babbling about the cows and the blood circle. McKinley convinced the constable to allow him to keep his doctor's bag, and so an injection of morphine and he slept.
Doctor Thomas McKinley woke on the floor in the hallway of the abandoned house in Grove currently rented by one Harold Snodgrass. He stood quickly and, realizing he was alone, attempted to open the door from the house. After much tugging he found the door would not open.
Checking his person, he realized his pistol was missing (left in the car, he thought) as was his doctor's bag. As he was checking his pockets, he heard the sound of bumping coming from above. Carefully he trod the hallway. Pale moonlight shone through the slats in the boarded windows, though the hall was fairly dark. He approached the stairwell and began ascending. Halfway, he heard a creak behind him and turned to see the door to the basement open in greater darkness than before. From the basement came the scream of a woman followed closely by the scream of a man. Then the sound of scratching.
McKinley woke in his bed covered in sweat. Shoving Tali, he took out his journal and wrote down his dream. "We forgot the basement," he said. "We forgot to check the basement."
Tali looked at him, eyes bleary. "Oh, alright. Well, if we don't go to prison, let's do that."
May 18th, 1915 - Reading and Grove, United Kingdom
The next morning, the superintendent interviewed the pair again and decided (after a critical success and good roleplay from McKinley's player) that they were in fact working for the British Army. He also had a constable drive them back to Grove and provide them with assistance.
A short trip back to Grove and the constable parked the Constabulary lorry in front of the Snodgrass house. Though they lacked a key, Tali opened the lock to the front door and they went inside. The constable had shrugged and looked the other way while Tali picked the lock. The house was similar to the way they had left it two days before with a stronger scent of rotting soup.
Walking slowly toward the basement door, they found it bolted shut from the hall. Tali opened the door and peered inside. He noticed the smell of coal and rot. Creeping down the stairs with his torch lighting the way, he fell suddenly, crashing into a walled space beneath the stairs and knocking up coal dust. His left ankle hurt from the impact and his back twinged with pain. Glancing around he saw the coal chute leading outside and a door.
The constable and McKinley made their way down as quickly as they dared. Reaching the floor, McKinley's torchlight illuminated two figures on the opposite side of the basement room. There, they saw, Lieutenant Samuel Lattimore and an unknown woman in her twenties, nude, crucified to posts, their throats cut with copper basins beneath them to catch the blood.
The accompanying constable shrieked and backed against the wall. Tali, hearing the yelling, limped from the coal storage, into the basement. Seeing the victims he stopped stunned, but held his composure better than with the cows. McKinley was again unfazed and moved to examine the bodies. "Where dealing with some sick minds," he noted.
A knife stuck in Lattimore's chest at the heart began to twitch as McKinley walked forward. He stopped, confused and stared, as the knife flew from the body and dove at him. Now McKinley screamed. Apparently it took something beyond the realm of early 20th century science to shake him. The knife sliced his arm as it dove by and embedded itself in the heart of the shrieking constable.
Tali, however, this time was emboldened by the knife. Here was something he understood. "I said it was the devil's work," he cried. Rushing to the dead constable he seized the knife with his gloved hand and, struggling with it, embedded it in the brick mortar until the knife stopped moving.
Panting and pale, McKinley leaned against the wall. Tali grinned large at his catch. "We've got the devil now."
McKinley looked about the ceiling with his torch. "Some kind of spring or wire trap. Be careful," he told Tali.
They heard scratching behind the wood panels directly behind the two bodies. McKinley pulled out his revolver, while Tali unslung his wrench. "Might be rats," Tali noted, and began breaking open the boards. Before long a stream of biting rats poured from the panel. Tali and McKinley backed away, kicking the rats who quickly rushed for the body of the constable. Firing a shot, McKinley spooked the rats and they fled the stairs.
Now both men felt ill. "Let's see what's through these boards," Tali said, wiping his face. Poking his head and torch inside he saw a four foot space filled with rat nests and droppings. The air stank and he vomited again. "This is getting to be a habit," he declared.
On the other side of the space were more wood boards. Wrenching them away, they found another room, half the size of the first basement room. There their torches lit a stone slab that held a desiccated corpse which lay before a great silver spiral placed in the wall. The corpse wore a silver necklace with the same spiral. To the right side of the room, Tali spied an old trunk.
Gently creeping to the trunk, he found it locked but rotted and pried open the lid. Inside was a pile of rags that unsettled Tali and beneath them a foot long bone box with strange carvings and symbols on the sides. Inside he found the impression of a knife that matched the one he had stuck in the wall. He slid the box in his coat for later.
McKinley eyed the corpse from a distance. "Dead sometime. Nearly mummified." Tali showed him the case. "I'll collect the knife," he told the Welshman, taking the box to the first room.
While McKinley gently removed the knife from the wall and placed it in the bone box, Tali decided to examine the silver spiral in the wall. As he touched it, the corpse's hand reached over and grabbed his leg.
Great session. When I first ran another version of The Haunting (in Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu 5.5), which I set in the 1990s, the players were more concerned by the idea of facing the walking dead. In the years since the late 1990s, zombies are everywhere and, while I suspect they would be very unpleasant to meet in person, I think the idea of them has lost some of the shock.
I like the way GURPS 4 lets me handle fright checks and consequences. I am reading GURPS 4e Horror now to see how they handle corruption and fear.
The story continues on Its Hour Come Round at Last 1.3.