From: SECTION 7, SURVIELLANCE
TO: SECTION 9, RECORDS
SUBJECT: TRANSCRIPT OF audio recording FINISHED BY SUBJECT SAVAGE DATED 11-09-00.
NOTE: This appears to be the rough draft of an article subject savage is writing. Recommend immediate “D” notice coverage and selective editing of subject savage’s long term memory.
The Cassandra Files
“ The Past is another country, they do things differently there … “
The last light of that hot August day had already faded from the sky by the time the car carrying Sergeant Jones and I reached the outskirts of Brichester. It felt strange to be bound for that place not on a matter of national security but rather to celebrate the birthday of our long – time companion, C23’s very own Heather Scott. Despite the innocuous reason for our visit I could not bring myself to relax, for the past few nights had brought me strange and disturbing dreams and I couldn’t help associating the streets of this Gloucestershire town with deadly peril and macabre horror.
A slight detour delayed our arrival at the ( CLASSIFIED ) Street safehouse but, a little tardy, we eventually pulled up outside. On crossing the threshold we quickly discovered that the other partygoers were already there – mostly familiar faces but there were a few newcomers. Heather and Mr J. were acting as hosts and re-introduced us to Gabriel Olding with whom we’d worked on the Midsummer Affair and two new faces, a slightly mysterious “government” man named Jack Cole and a young psychic who went by the name of Thessally. I wasn’t sure how these people knew Heather but everything was soon to become clear.
It appeared that we had been summoned under false pretences because, although it was indeed Heather’s birthday, Mr J. had merely used that as a cover to assemble a C23 team to investigate a string of murders that had occurred over the past few weeks.
The ever-efficient J. slipped effortlessly into his Intelligence Mandarin persona, outlining the facts of the case as they were known up to this point. Apparently, over the last month or so there had been a series of mysterious deaths, all of which achieved notoriety due to their bizarre nature. According to the press reports which we were provided with, all three victims had suffered a massive loss of blood at (or near) the time of death and all three victims had twin puncture marks on their bodies. The newspapers had drawn the obvious conclusion and labelled the deaths, the Vampire Murders. While I have seen and heard of many strange and terrible creatures since I joined Cassandra 23 I had never encountered any reference to actual vampires so I resolved to keep an open, but sceptical, mind.
As well as the strange nature of the deaths there was another factor that linked all three victims. It appeared that they were all associated in some way with a local publishing house called the Westgate Press, which catered to the tastes of the area’s “Goth” community. This in itself got the attention of the press, due to the link in the popular mind with the theme of vampirism and Goth culture generally. It also seemed a good place to start the investigation as, even if the other members of the Westgate Press were not involved, they’d known the victims and might well have details that could be of use.
This was obviously Mr. J’s intention so he arranged to move Heather Scott’s birthday party from the plush surroundings of Taylor’s to the local Goth club , “Sanctorum”, apparently the main gathering place of the Westgate Press circle. I was quite relieved to hear this as the sight of Mr. J. dressed not in suit and tie but rather in dark Gothic apparel had quite unbalanced my worldview. I was, however, alarmed at the prospect of venturing into this potential den of vice, iniquity and death, not least because I suspected that Sergeant Jones and I would stick out like sore thumbs. Fortunately our other companions, even the staid zoologist Olding and the government man, Cole, seemed, chameleon-like, to have comfortably assumed a guise that would pass muster in the dim surroundings we were likely to find ourselves in. The voluminous wardrobes of the safehouse provided a few items of clothing for Jones and I that would permit us to blend in a little.
That dealt with we ventured out into the night heading for the “Sanctorum”. Heather warned us that the club closed shortly before midnight so, late as we already were, we would have to hurry our investigations along. As we scurried through the darkened streets and thoroughfares of the fear – shadowed city I thought I felt the presence of a hundred unseen watchers, lurking amid the blackened boughs of the night-touched trees which seemed to me to be swaying eerily in the still night air. Despite the danger that might well await us I was glad to see the recessed entrance of the mysterious nightclub.
An Unsafe Sanctuary
The Sanctorum consisted in the main of a large, dimly lit room with a well-lit bar at one end and a slightly sunken dance floor, overlooked by clusters of tables formed into separate areas by low fence-like wooden partitions. On arrival Mr J. made his apologies and moved off, obviously he didn’t wish to compromise the team by associating with us. Heather then led us to a side table, pointing out to us the various members of the Westgate circle who were already present.
Although we were somewhat isolated from the other patrons it was impossible to make any detailed plans as the club’s music pounded out its insistent beat, furthermore I was a little intimidated by the pressure exerted by the eyes of dozens of curious ( or perhaps hostile ) strangers. Unable to effectively communicate we abandoned our perch at the side of the dance floor and moved back to the bar where, further from the music, it was possible to talk with relative ease.
After long minutes of hesitation we decided that we’d have to approach our suspects directly. I felt that Thessaly, Olding and Jack Cole would be better at that than Jones or I but, having learnt from bitter experience, I told them to make sure they had a believable story ready to deal with any awkward questions. It later occurred to me that we probably should have adopted a cover story that covered all of us, thus making it less suspicious when we got together to share information.
While the other C23 agents went out into the dim recesses of the club Sergeant Jones proved once again that, difficult though he found social situations, he had an eye for detail second to none. He told me that, while inspecting the club goers, he had seen the sinister figure of Sebastian Lux, seated on the table next to us as we discussed our plans. The courageous soldier had approached this eldritch sorcerer and attempted to learn what he was doing here and tried to discover whether he knew anything of the murders but was unable to pry any details from the recalcitrant ex – Cult leader.
While I stood at one corner of the bar, discussing the situation with Agent Scott, a strange figure approached me. He was a lean, fit man around thirty, dressed in casual evening clothes. In other circumstances, I wouldn’t have given a second thought to his presence but in this dim cavern, crowded with a collection of strange figures, made grotesque in the subdued light, he stood out as much as Jones or I. He was reluctant to introduce himself properly but as we got into conversation it quickly became apparent that he was here for similar reasons to my own, namely to investigate the circumstances surrounding the strange ‘vampire’ deaths. I quickly surmised, from his manner and from his ready dismissal of any supernatural origin for the attacks, that my unknown interlocutor was actually an undercover policeman. Unfortunately it appeared that he knew little more than I did about the events surrounding these crimes. I thus gained little from our conversation save the impression that the police were wedded to their story of Adder bites, which, as it turned out, was not as far from the truth as it seemed.
Moments after the plainclothesman departed I was approached by an individual who would have stood out anywhere. Dressed in a mix of PVC and other strange fabrics the odd lighting made her vivid make-up even more arresting1. This could only be Tarantella, a transvestite performance artist and a member of the Westgate Press circle. Although I’d never met anyone quite like this I decided that the best way to approach her would be in the guise of a reporter, interested in her work, but also in the mysterious deaths surrounding the Westgate group.
Initially Tarantella was suspicious of me, having seen my meeting with the not–so-undercover policeman but it was easy to prompt her into conversation, particularly when it related to her and the other members of the Westgate circle. I didn’t need the keen senses of a journalist to realise that Tarantella held those others in utter contempt, not having a good word to say for Scales, his wife, Li Chaos or the three people who had died. I was trying to discover what she thought of the mystery surrounding those deaths when we were interrupted by a smartly dressed man, handsome, tall and powerfully built. Turning straight to Tarantella he inquired if she was being bothered, if she needed any help. I detected in his manner a concern deeper than that which one might expect of a friend, a concern both insistent and urgent. Having ascertained that his companion was safe he turned and introduced himself as Thomas (a name familiar from the briefing dossier as a confidant of Serpentine). He asked me why I was interested in Tarantella and I sold him my reporter story and asked what he thought about the deaths. It was clear from his reaction that the murderers had shaken him, not because of their innate tragedy but because they were creeping closer to Tarantella, whom Thomas believed was next. Further questioning didn’t reveal much except that he was even less convinced by the possible supernatural aspects of the murders than the policeman had been – indeed he rejected the mystical elements of the deaths with fanatic venom.
Tarantella and Thomas drifted away into the darkness and I glanced down at my watch, alarmed that we had so little time before the club was due to close. Prompted by Heather I gathered up the others and tried to find out what they’d discovered. Thessaly and Gabriel had talked to the owner of the Westgate Press, Ian Scales, who had spent most of the evening sitting at a table just beyond the bar, overlooking the dance floor. Mr Scales seemed an unlikely impresario, dressed in a tie, white shirt and smart waistcoat he looked like he’d be more at home on a trading floor than in the dark confines of a Goth club.
Nonetheless Gabriel and our young psychic had approached Mr. Scales, masquerading as promoters of a Goth club in Oxford who were interested in setting one up in Brichester.
The entrepreneur was apparently brusque in his dealings with the two C23 agents, informing them that the ‘Sanctorum’ was hardly the place to deal with such things, they should come and meet him at his home Tomorrow lunchtime. The ex-intelligence man also approached Scales but had received a very frosty answer but it appeared that no had questioned the other pivotal member of the Westgate circle, the lead singer of Chaos Energy, Li Chaos. This didn’t surprise me, Chaos was as intimidating as Tarantella, if in a different way – but I was sure that we should at least make an effort to learn what he knew. I therefore asked Jack if he would talk to him and see what he could discover.
Cole returned a few moments later, having learned very little from the taciturn Westgate Press impresario. I was a little surprised that a skilled intelligence operative should be so easily foiled but he told me that he wasn’t used to being thrown into such situations ‘cold’. Apparently he would normally have been given a detailed cover story and a full background rundown on those who he was dealing with.
While I was pondering whether to make an approach to Li Chaos or Ian Scales myself I overheard Tarantella talking and I caught a mention of that dread book, the Necronomicon. The merest reference to that dark and terrible Thomase, filled as it is with secrets drawn by madmen from the shadowed corners of the cold and terrible void, was enough to make me break out in a cold sweat. If any of the Westgate circle were meddling with that awful work then we were clearly treading in waters deeper than we knew. I had to discover so I approached the exotic figure of Tarantella and ‘her’ ever-present shadow, Thomas, who was still by her side.
I tried another approach with the gender-bending poet, appealing to ‘her’ professional vanity by showing interest in producing an in-depth piece on her work. I made every effort to learn what Tarantella knew of the Necronomicon, that blasphemous recording of the dread whispers of the mad Arab, Abdul Al-Hazrad. ‘She’ seemed fascinated by it, claiming to have read large sections and drawn to have drawn inspiration from its grim pages. Such a blasé attitude made me sure that there was more to Tarantella than met the eye, difficult though that was to believe, and I was sure ‘she’ knew more than ‘she’ was telling.
Thomas intervened in our conversation, obviously prompted by his desire to protect ‘her’ from danger. He scoffed at the supernatural connotations implied by the presence of the Necronomicon in this affair but did mention that, apropos of the occult, the local area, and particularly a place called Hailes Abbey, had connections with the Templars, that perennial well-spring of occult groups and secret societies.
The background music drowned out some of what he said and I was also distracted because, while we spoke, Tarantella seemed to be ‘sniffing’ me or taking my scent. I found this unusual but didn’t let it phase me, in my current role as a well-travelled reporter I couldn’t let it break my concentration. In the light of later comments by Jones I should have been more alarmed than I was. As Tarantella and her ever-present shadow made to move away I asked if it would be possible to meet tomorrow to do a more in-depth interview. ‘She’ told me that couldn’t be done but, if I wanted, my friends and I could accompany her to the ‘after-club party’. I thanked her and said that we’d almost certainly be there.
Unfortunately it was fast approaching closing time and C23’s efforts had been, at best, disjointed. I tried to make good some of my earlier mistakes by approaching Ian Scales and his wife Alyssa. I found the entrepreneur much as I expected, cool and brusque, but he did agree to let me tag along with a group he was meeting at 12:30 Tomorrow afternoon (I later learned that this was, in fact, Gabriel and Thesally). I tried to learn what I could from Alyssa but she seemed much as Tarantella had described, distant and cold.
As closing time approached I asked Jones to gather the others so we could discuss what we learned. As the reliable soldier moved off I saw the sinister sorcerer, Sebastian Lux, standing alone. Although I realised the risk I decided to approach him to see what I could discover – we engaged in some verbal sparing from which I learned little save a feeling that Lux wasn’t directly involved in this particular set of nefarious acts.
We gathered together again on the pavement a short distance from ‘Sanctorum’s’ entrance and shared information. It appeared that Thessally, Gabriel and Jack had managed to get more information from Scales than I and had opened a fairly ‘friendly’ dialogue with him. They didn’t learn much about the murders, save that the Westgate Press proprietor didn’t seem worried by the deaths that seemed to be creeping closer to him and that he shared the same low opinion of his associates as they apparently had of him. It was at this point that I learned that it was their meeting with Mr. Scales that I was tagging along for.
Thessaly also revealed that while she moved through the ‘Sanctuary’ crowd she had made use of her psychic senses. These had given her a disquieting feeling about all the denizens of that strange and darkened haven but, most particularly, made her extremely wary of Thomas, who she believed was under the control of some supernatural presence and thus possibly possessed by some evil spirit. I pointed out that, as it was Tarantella who knew of the Necronomicon, maybe she had used some black sorcery on Thomas but, whatever the case, the others generally felt that we shouldn’t accept the invitation to go back with the two of them to the party.
That decided we then split into two groups, one would go back to (CLASSIDIED) Street to research the hints and clues we already had while the others would investigate the two crime scenes located near the ‘Sanctorum’. Thessaly, Heather and I made our way back to the safehouse while the others disappeared into the chill night.
Murder Scenes and Mysterious Tales
Ensconced in the cosy confines of the (CLASSIDIED) Street safehouse, Thessaly and I made use of the information sources that were immediately to hand – researching the leads that we had. We started with an examination of the available information on the web relating to the members and associates of the Westgate Press circle, browsing through websites devoted to the Press itself, Tarantella and Li Chaos’ band, Chaos Energy. These sources of information provided us with tantalising hints but little more, we learned that Tarantella’s was related to an old gentry family from Cornwall who had a history of interest in the occult, a fact which may or may not have been relevant. The Westgate Press site gave us further information about the entrepreneur head of the organisation, Mr. Scales and also revealed some interesting facts, notably that Scales had a background in pure and applied mathematics at a very high level, with particular reference to theoretical multi-dimensional science. This all echoed the career of the insane physicist, Alec West, whom we had dealt with before. Curiously Scales had also used his mathematic skills to debunk many fake occultists and stage magicians. Available information on Li Chaos mostly surrounded his band the Chaos Energy, interesting though this was it didn’t seem relevant to our investigation.
Having started by zeroing in on the outré members of the Westgate Press we then widened our search, looking for local references to anything unusual or out of the ordinary. As we should have expected, this turned up a plethora of recent stories on subjects ranging from a ghost train to wild machete attacks. Thessaly and I slowly ploughed through this mass of information and eventually selected a few stories that seemed to be of relevance. There were a number that concerned a local historical sight, Hailes Abbey, which grabbed my attention, mainly because I remember Thomas telling me that the Abbey had been a major Templar site.
One of them detailed the disappearance (and later re-appearance) of a pair of German tourists from the site of the abbey under mysterious circumstances. Another concerned the nearby railway, which, although it had been disused for years, was apparently graced by the apparition of a ghost train that still thundered down spectral tracks. These continual references to Hailes Abbey intrigued me; I have learned that such repetition is rarely coincidence so Thessaly and I proceeded to direct our research towards discovering more about the ancient monastic ruin.
Many strange stories clung to the Abbey, none more so than the explanation of its final ruin, which involved a huge explosion, either caused by a meteoric strike or staged as a ruse to allow the monks to hide their treasures from Henry VIII’s dissolution.
As we pondered the Abbey’s mysteries we heard the door of the safehouse open, heralding the return of Sergeant Jones and the other investigators, with a strange and macabre tale to tell.
After leaving us at ‘the Sanctorum’ the three agents made their way to the second and third murder scenes, located nearby, within the confines of the terror-haunted city’s heart. The second murder, that of Anna, the girlfriend of Li Chaos and, previously, of Jeff, the first victim, had occurred at a disused burial ground in the centre of Brichester. A short walk brought our intrepid trio to the spot where they began a minute examination of the ground, hoping to find something that the police might have missed. Their keen eyes quickly picked out an incongruity among the long grass and the rows of headstones. When they investigated further they discovered a number of curious items, diamond shaped with a certain pearlescent lustre that Gabriel identified as having come from some reptile or serpent, clearly of gigantic size and from a species unknown to the learned cryptozoologist. Making use of sample bags that Dr Olding had shown the forethought to bring, they collected these strange objects for further examination.
Having swept the second murder site for clues the trio moved off through the Gloucestershire night toward the site of the most recent atrocity, a local recreation ground called Mercy Park. It was within the confines of this ‘green lung’ that Giles Hampshire died. Of the three victims he was clearly the most suspicious for he had links with both Sebastian Lux’s Church of the Inner Light and some of the Templar front organisations that we had encountered during the Midsummer Affair. A thorough examination of the site was hampered by Sergeant Jones’ reluctance to be seen diving into the bushes with two other men in an area known to be frequented by homosexuals. Fortunately Olding and Cole were not so concerned and together they looked over the scene. Another frenetic search revealed more of the curious scales that had appeared at the previous site.
There were also signs of a brutal struggle which had apparently terminated when a giant ‘man’, over seven feet tall, smashed Hampshire’s head onto the iron railings of the park with enough force to crush his skull and bend the railings backwards. It was clear that our ‘prey’ had considerable physical prowess.
With the second and third sites investigated, Olding, Jones and Cole made their way back to (CLASSIFIED) Street, starting to show weariness as the effects of the late hour began to take hold.
On their return we shared information and made our plans for the following day. The first order of business would be for Gabriel to make a thorough and scientific examination of the curious scale that had been found and then we would all make our way to the site of the first murder, Crickley Hill. If we started early enough there should be enough time to investigate the murder scene and make our rendezvous with the evasive Mr. Scales. Having decided what the course of action would be each of us retired to our makeshift beds, all save Dr. Olding, who we left pouring over the plethora of strange newstories that our searches earlier that evening had revealed2.
A High Hill and a Low Deceit
My sleep that night was troubled with dreams in which I heard strange songs and snippets of words which came to me through the grey veil of sleep. Most strongly of all I felt a strong urge to keep everyone together, and not to allow anyone to be “on the outside looking in” as the words I heard apparently warned. When I awoke these half-remembered fantasies of sleep seemed a distant distraction. Nonetheless I felt it wise to ensure that the ‘team’ was not divided that day and that therefore, when Thessaly, Olding and I went to see Scales the rest of the group should definitely tag along.
The creeping horror of the previous evening had allowed me little sleep but the effect on my fellow agents appeared to be the opposite, for they slumbered past the appointed moment of awakening. Reluctantly I awoke my dreaming comrades and we gathered in the dinning room of the safehouse to discuss our next step.
As already agreed the first step was for Gabriel to apply the penetrating eye of scientific analysis to the mysterious scales that he and his colleagues had discovered last evening. While he was doing that, the rest of us were reviewing the information we’d acquired, in particular a more thorough review of the mass of odd news stories that we’d encountered seemed to be in order.
Leaving the others to their research for a few moments I decided to make a further attempt to contact ‘Tarantella’. His/her knowledge of the dark and horror tainted pages of the Necronomicon was disturbing and I had a strange feeling that she had some deeper involvement in this matter than we had divined up to that point. The only point of contact we had was an e-mail address so I sent a message speeding through the copper lanes and silicon streets of the ‘web, asking for a further meeting.
Meanwhile Gabriel’s research had born fruit; the objects that he’d gathered the previous evening were definitely some form of snake scale but from a species totally unknown to the erudite expert. The scales had a number of strange properties, chemically speaking, most significantly they were extremely alkaline, so much so that even touching them would cause serious burns on a person’s skin. All of this, plus the marks that were seen at the murder scenes spoke of a creature which stood utterly outside the reach of modern science, an alien paraform or an antediluvian remnant of some ancient age. The plot became more convoluted and macabre when Jones mentioned that he, like myself, had noticed Tarantella sniffing me and others during the meeting at the Sanctorum. He had realised at the time that sniffing one’s prey is a facet of the behaviour of snakes but hadn’t wanted to share his suspicions with us until there was some corroborating evidence. All of this made the mysterious poet a very serious suspect but we decided to examine the last murder scene and interview the evasive Scales before we followed up our suspicions.
By now time was pressing if we wished to make our rendezvous with the elusive entrepreneur, scheduled for half past twelve that afternoon. Agent Scott had already warned us that Scale’s house was located in the countryside some distance outside Brichester so we would have to allow sufficient time to get there after visiting the murder scene high on Crickley Hill.
Leaving (Classified) Street behind us we weaved our way through the Saturday morning traffic before heading up the steep, tree-clad roads that surround the city, on our way to the local beauty spot of Crickley Hill. In the bright August sun the streets of Brichester seemed quiet and inoffensive, making it difficult to believe the strange experiences of the night before and the pall of murder and death which was hanging in the summer sky.
The C23 convoy turned up the steep and bumpy lane to the Crickley Hill viewpoint where we parked the cars and debarked onto the compacted dirt and stones of the carpark. A few steps took us to the steep side of the hilltop with the view of the ‘Golden Valley’ of Brichester and Gloucester laid out below us, bright and safe. Surely, I felt, such a clear and perfect day could harbour no dark secrets or terrible tales.
Following the description from the police report we made our way through the sun-dappled woodland that covered the crown of the hill towards the first murder scene. Sergeant Jones apparently knew more of this area than the rest of his comrades because he took off in an odd direction into the maze of trees and bushes while the rest of us blundered around trying to follow the police report’s guidance.
Eventually, after considerable confusion and a good deal of misdirection, we arrived at a hollow in the hillside, located deep in the wood. To our surprise we found that the elusive Jones had actually managed to locate the site before the rest of us.
Sun dappled trees threw dark morning shadows across the scene but the hollow itself was free from vegetation, save for a small copse in its centre, close to what appeared to be an “old” fire pit. Thessaly opted not to enter the hollow, apparently the location was filled with darkly resonant emotions that disturbed the young psychic. She watched from the lip of the hollow while the rest of us descended to inspect the murder scene. Not surprisingly given the time that had elapsed since the murder there were no obvious clues for us to follow but a close examination of the ground by Gabriel provided another disturbing revelation. Nestled amongst the browns and greys of the leaf mould he found a number of the strange reptile scales that had been present at the other crime scenes – with his usual thoroughness the cryptozoologist gathered the scales for later analysis. As we poked around in the leaf mould Jack Cole’s tracking skills came into play. He followed a series of odd marks and indentations on the ground to an area where the leaf mould had been disturbed. Searching the disturbed area thoroughly the ex-intelligence agent discovered a further curiosity, a shiny penny but not from our modern decimal era rather, according to the date, from 1919, over eighty years ago. I suppose it was possible that the coin had been mislaid by some keen coin collector but I (and others) couldn’t help imagining a more outré explanation for the coin’s presence. Wasn’t it possible that we were dealing with some form of time traveller who spread mayhem and terror through our twenty first-century world and then retreated to the distant era of the 1910s or 1920s? Given some of the things that I’d read in Professor Phiness’ journal I was unwilling to rule any possibility out.
Disturbed, but still unenlightened, by what we had discovered but pressed for time it was decided that we would immediately make our way to Mr. Scales’ house, as, even if we left straight away, we would probably still be late. As we walked back to the cars in crisp morning sunlight Thessaly approached me and told me of the psychic impressions which had struck her at the hollow. It appeared she had seen images of terror, violence and death, surrounding strange robe clad figures and others armed with guns. As she continued her description of what she had seen a strange sense of familiarity crept over me.
Suddenly I knew why! Her psychic senses were picking up reverberations from the confrontation between Cassandra 23 and Lux’s Church of the Inner Light in January. Clearly the intense nature of that encounter had swamped any subtler shades of emotion that might have lingered from the later “vampire” attack.
As the other agents drove off I waited for Sergeant Jones to return. I must admit that, at that moment, I had my suspicions about the good Sergeant. He had, after all, disappeared into thin air earlier and was now taking an inordinate amount of time to return to the car. Did he have some secret rendezvous with his hidden masters? Although I had my suspicions they were mostly allayed when Jones returned, panting and out of breath. Apparently he had attempted to take a “shortcut” back to the car and had become lost amid the green paths of the Crickley hillside – for some reason this had a truer ring than any more sinister explanation.
An Imbalance of Scales
Due to our delayed start and the many tasks we’d been forced to undertake we were going to be late for our appointment with the head of the Westgate Press. I hoped he would be more reasonable about it than he had appeared the previous evening. Scale’s country home was located some miles beyond Brichester and reasonably close to Hailles Abbey. Our initial plan had been for Thessaly and Gabriel to meet with Scales (with me tagging along), while the others inspected the nearby Hailles Abbey and the associated church. I always have reservations when we split the team and, in this case, I pressured the others to come with us (remembering the strange insights from my dreams). Unfortunately this last minute change of plans rather threw the pre-arranged cover story into disarray, forcing us to think on our feet (not one of C23’s strong points).
Arriving late we crowded into Ian Scales’ country home where the entrepreneur had thoughtfully laid on a barbecue lunch and buffet for us. I must admit to having been very suspicious of Mr. Scales but there seemed no immediate harm in accepting his hospitality. My suspicions were confirmed when the publisher, dressed in a dapper waistcoat and smart trousers, brushed aside our cover story and blithely informed us that he knew we were government agents. He told us that if we laid our cards on the table (so to speak) he could provide us with information that might be of use. Disturbed at this turn of events I turned to my oldest comrade, Sergeant Jones, and told him that, in order to coax information from our “host” we should tell him the truth. Jones was vehemently opposed to such a course of action, he preferred to pose as an RAF intelligence/security officer, although I pointed out that such a cover would hardly work for all of us. After a long “discussion” I persuaded the Sergeant to follow my plan although he warned me that, if Scales learned of C23 he would have to kill the publisher at some point.
I have always shied away from such acts of horror but there was something sinister about Scales … who knew what other horrors lurked beneath his cold exterior? In any case I was sure that, if he turned out to be innocent, I would be able to dissuade Jones from any drastic action. Having sorted that out we presented Scales with our credentials.
Assured of our identity the publisher explained to us what he knew about the murders surrounding the Westgate Press and also filled us in on the other strange occurrences that he was aware of. Scales believed that the attacks on the Westgate Press were actually directed against him, being carried out in order to intimidate him into abandoning a certain item he had acquired, a copy of that darkest of all books, the Necronomicon! Once again that accursed book appeared in this matter, a fact I found all the more alarming when the publisher explained to us his interest in the work.
Apparently Scales had originally been drawn to that terrible work because he had heard that some of his Westgate Press artists had been using it for inspiration and, while doing so, had greatly increased the popularity of their work. Intrigued Scales had obtained a copy and perused it. Although he claimed to find the actual contents of the book unintelligible the publisher apparently believed that there was some hidden code or subliminal message incorporated into the structure of the text that made it so compelling. Employing his own wide mathematical knowledge and the formidable computing power that he had at his disposal he analysed the structure of the text and identified what he believed to be the key passages and sentence structures. When inserted into otherwise innocuous pieces these created a compelling, almost addictive need on the part of the reader for further exposure to such works. The publisher explained with perverse pride that he had at once seen the opportunity to make a fortune by incorporating these passages into his Press’s publications, creating a vast pool of readers unable to put the Westgate Press books down and ever thirsty for more.
Although I was sure he didn’t deserve it I gave Scales the benefit of the doubt and inquired whether he had investigated, or even considered, the effect of these passages on the minds of certain impressionable people who might read them. His reply was chilling – as far as he was concerned, any damage done to the readers was their own problem, he didn’t care what happened to them as long as they continued to buy his books and fill his pockets. Such a monstrous attitude marked him out as an evil on the par with Lux or the Fungi and I, in breach of my own normally non-violent attitudes, had no compunction in agreeing to Jones’ request to despatch the monster after he had provided what assistance he could.
Having given us the background to the affair Scales got to the heart of the matter. He took us up to his attic and showed us the place where he had been stored Al Hazrad’s foul work. In the gloom we could see nothing save a pair of solid roof joists which had been cleanly cut through in some strange manner. There were few clues to go by, for Scales had installed a sophisticated burglar alarm system that should have prevented anyone from entering the attic from bellow without being detected. It was possible that the intruder came in by removing some of the roof tiles but to do so without detection and to single handedly remove the Necronomicon and the lead-lined box which held it seemed difficult to believe.
The mystery was further deepened by the fact that the joists had not been cut through by any conventional means, instead some form of heat-based cutting tool was employed, like on oxy-acetalyne torch but one which left no noticeable collateral damage.
On top of this Mr. Scales told us that the book itself had been behaving strangely, “phasing” in and out of reality. He could detect no reason for this but it was this strange behaviour that led him to place it in its lead lined sarcophagi.
Having given us the background the ruthless entrepreneur laid out his proposal to us, he was sure that the person responsible for stealing the book was the same one who had carried out the murders. If we recovered the Necronomicon for him then Scales we would also find the murderer.
The thought of making any kind of deal with this loathsome madman chilled me to the marrow but he had information that could put an end to these terrible murders, information which we might not be able to acquire through other means. I talked the matter over with Jones and the others and we decided to accede to his demands, although I had already resolved that Mr. Scales was not long for this world.
Smugly satisfied that things had gone according to his carefully laid out plan, Scales then told us the rest of his story. He claimed that the force that had stolen the Necronomicon and was responsible for the murders within the Westgate circle was somehow linked with the medieval ruins of nearby Hailes Abbey. He confirmed that this mystery was also connected with the earlier disappearance of the two German tourists. When we asked him to elucidate further he became evasive, only willing to say that it was too difficult to explain and that we would have to see for ourselves. None of us were very satisfied with this explanation but, partly due to the impending threat of further murders but more because of Scales’ suave, yet friendly, manner, we went along with our devious host.
That decided Scales and his wife Alyssa drove us through the sunlit Gloucestershire countryside to the nearby Abbey – as we approached it the road passed over the deserted railway where the “ghost train” of local legend had been recently sighted. The summer light played tricks on my eyes and I could have sworn that I saw two long steel lines receding down the disused cutting, before I could look again we had passed over the bridge and were pulling into the car park at the edge of the ruined monastery.
His latent hostility seemingly a thing of the past Mr. Scales adopted a jovial demeanour as he turned tour guide, showing us areas of interest in and around the Abbey. As we gazed out over the ruins of the medieval place of worship Scales explained its history and told us about its more recent past. This included details of an excavation only a few short months before which had uncovered a hidden chamber containing a treasure trove of books dating from the time before the Abbey’s destruction. The mathematician turned businessman informed us that many of these books dealt with abstract mathematics, which, he believed, could have been the cause of the destruction, suffered by this place of contemplation and worship. Scales apparently felt that the monks had attempted (in a flawed way) to open a dimensional rift in the Abbey’s grounds, failed and caused the devastating explosion that ripped through the building.
By now our tour had led us to the great grass covered quadrangle that had formerly been the heart of the Abbey’s cloisters. It was here that the German tourists had disappeared and later reappeared. He informed us that this was the heart of the unusual phenomena that had been detected around the site. According to the research carried out by the archaeology team that had recently excavated the site there was an inexplicable radiation field centred on the Cloisters that, according to their readings, did not extend a centimetre beyond their boundaries! They were at a loss to explain it but Scales believed that this curious effect was some hold over from the doom-shrouded experiments carried out by the monks centuries ago.
Although I could detect nothing out of the ordinary in the plain square of grass that dominated the cloister area there was clearly a malign presence at work. Thessaly, far more closely attuned to the spiritual realities that stood behind the façade of the staid “real” world, was overcome by a feeling of dread and peril and fainted from the onslaught of terrible images. Unaware of the horrors assailing her Gabriel rushed over, bringing her to the rest of us in the centre of the cloister. Thessaly managed to scream out a strangled warning but it was too late, we had fallen into Scale’s trap! All I saw was a sudden demoniac smile cross his lips as he flicked a switch on a controller that he had been carrying – then everything changed.
All around us the world suddenly began to twist into unrecognisable shapes, I could tell that Scales was saying something but his words were twisted and lengthened almost beyond recognition as time seemed to draw out around us and then suddenly snap back to a single compressed point. For an endless moment we were caught between worlds, in the terrible void between then and now and in that moment, both eternal and ephemeral, I thought I caught the briefest glimpse of some horror whose very nature defied the ability of my waking mind to describe.
After an Aeon long moment trapped in eternity we snapped back into the “real” and collapsed, our minds shocked and stunned by what we had experienced.
Slowly we regained consciousness and our initial assessment of the situation seemed promising, for all around were the sun-bleached ruins of Hailes Abbey, as they had been moments before.
Our confidence was quickly shattered as we stared at the entranceway to the ruined abbey, where, only a minute ago a brick and glass visitors’ centre had stood. Now all that could be seen was a sturdily built wooden structure with a refreshments hut next door, watched over by a uniformed old man who had not been there last time we looked. Our senses swimming we looked around at the other visitors in the Abbey grounds, who had been clad in smart nylon trousers, shell suits and the occasional T-shirt. Now these fellow travellers were clad in a bizarre assortment of garments – tweed suits, plus fours, panamas, straw botas and smart bowlers, the women dressed uniformly in dresses and skirts, all with feet contained in smart leather boots and shoes without a trainer or Nike logo in sight. In a flash of revelation each of us realised what had occurred – the brand new 1919-penny we’d found on Crickley Hill pointed to the truth, we had travelled in time!
As the reality of our situation sunk in I finally remembered the last words that Scales had said before hurling us into this strange world. “Follow the tracks north and look for Howard”, a cryptic message to be sure but the only lifeline that we had to cling to. It seemed clear, given what we’d learned of the area earlier, that the tracks must mean the railway tracks where the ‘ghost train’ had been seen. In this year, at this time, that train was no longer spectral, but rather a thing more rooted in this reality than the bewildered members of Cassandra 23. Now driven by a desire to discover what Scales had done and to see if there was anyway to return to the our time we had no choice but to follow the madman’s directions and head north to seek out the mysterious ‘Howard’.
Ignoring the strange looks of passers by we made our way out onto the highway, now a dusty track rather than a tarmac covered thoroughfare. As we headed towards the railway we were passed by a number of cars, Austins and Model-T Fords, which rattled by, swerving alarmingly as they passed. Eventually we reached the railway tracks, gleaming brightly under the summer sun, running both north and south. Looking around we saw a rough path running parallel to the railway as it headed north. With some trepidation I followed as the other agents began to forge along the overgrown path. Time and again my gaze was drawn to that iron road, cutting its way straight through the countryside like the marks of some monstrous creature, leaving a gleaming trail of steel behind it.
In my mind’s eye I wasn’t seeing the rail line, instead I was picturing the last silver trail which I’d set foot on – the blood-soaked Faerie trod of that strange Midsummer evening. Fear began to creep up my back and I edged away from those bright ribbons of steel, gazing at the trees that overhung the tracks, looking for some movement or twitch not explained by the light wind.
We must have made a strange sight as we made our way through the Gloucestershire countryside of yesteryear, an eclectic group of strangely clad individuals, poorly equipped for a day amongst the hedgerows. Our unpreparedness for such an undertaking slowed our progress, which meant that we missed the train we saw standing at the first station along the route, apparently on its way back to Brichester. Despondent, fearing that we had missed not only the train but our last chance to return to our own time, we made our way to a nearby hostelry, following an attractive young lady and a well-dressed, tall, gaunt gentleman who had clearly also missed their connection.
We sat down to discuss our situation. As we were doing so I couldn’t help glancing over towards our two fellow travellers, who had also stopped nearby. I was sure that I had seen that man somewhere, his face was familiar although I couldn’t think from where. Ultimately my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to approach them and pass the time of day. If nothing else I hoped that they would know when the next train would be leaving the station and where it would be going.
I politely introduced myself to the two travellers and asked that they forgive our outlandish garb, explaining that my friends and I had been to a fancy dress party. The gentleman, dressed in a smart linen suit topped with a white Panama hat, spoke with a refined New England accent, introducing his companion as a Miss Evangeline and himself as one Howard Lovecraft! I was flabbergasted, for this clearly was not only the Howard that Scales had spoken of but also none other than the famed writer of macabre tales, H.P. Lovecraft.
I asked him where he and his companion were going. It seemed that Howard had inherited a property from his Uncle Theophilus, who died recently. He had met Miss Evangeline on the boat from America and had struck up a friendship, thus when he arrived in Britain Lovecraft invited the young lady to be his first houseguest at the house he had inherited. I introduced the other C23 agents to Howard and Evangeline and was relieved when the aspiring writer asked if we would like to accompany him back to his new property and spend a pleasant evening tucked away from the August night. With no other avenues to follow we accepted with alacrity and accompanied the two Americans back to the station.
The Disoriented Express
We settled down into the comfortable, but not plush, surroundings of the second class compartment, with Evangeline and Howard sharing a seat while the rest of our party shared two other tables. Initially I sat down opposite the two Americans and engaged Lovecraft and his companion in conversation, hoping to learn what he had that the sinister Mr. Scales could possibly want. I found talking to Evangeline and Howard refreshing after the brusque conversational style of the twenty first century. Even given the situation which my companions and I found ourselves in I would have found the experience a pleasant one were it not for the infernal chatter of steel wheels on track and the distant bellow of steam and soot screeching from the engine at the front of the train. Trying to set that aside I politely questioned Howard and Evangeline about their plans.
Apparently Howard had other matters to deal with in addition to his uncle’s house – in particular a certain book that his uncle had entrusted to him, requesting that he pass it on to a lawyer named Trelawney who was to collect it that very evening. Reaching into his travel bag the erudite American pulled out the object in question. Not for the first time in the course of this macabre affair I suffered a terrible shock, for the tome that Lovecraft set on the table could be nothing other than the terrible book that Scales wanted recovered, the dread Necronomicon. It looked innocuous enough as it sat on the polished carriage table, despite its strange contoured binding and the ancient occult symbol that had been embossed onto its cover. A shiver ran down my spine when Lovecraft opened that awful book and a strange, sickly sweet scent assailed my senses. The parchment leaves of the book were cracked with age and marked by the passage of time and the touch of fire. At some point during its history someone had tried to destroy that repository of darkness, they had clearly failed for the closely packed gothic type was still clearly legible and the twisted woodcuts which adorned its stained pages had lost none of their original horror. The young author seemed fascinated by that tome, drawn to the secrets hidden within its fear-touched pages.
In my already disturbed state I could hardly bring myself to look at those blasphemous parchments but even my briefest glances showed annotations in bright green ink, such as might be made by a modern marker pen. Unbelievably this must be the book that Scales had possessed and lost, coming by some unfathomable route into the possession of Lovecraft, eighty years before. I gathered that Howard was somewhat unwilling to give up so a fascinating source of inspiration but that he would carry out his uncle’s last wishes. By now the mere presence of the Necronomicon and the repetitive rattle of the rails was becoming too unsettling for me to bear so, making my excuses to Howard and Evangeline, who were both concerned, I left my seat to go to one of the carriage windows for fresh air.
Leaning out of the carriage window I allowed the rushing wind to mask the awful symphony of wheels on rails, which seemed to be whispering a unholy litany of madness onto the afternoon air. I stared fixedly out over the fresh greens and browns of the English countryside rather than be mesmerised by those silver rails stretching away into infinity.
While I regained my composure Thessaly and Gabriel took up the conversation with our new travelling companions. Both seemed interested by Thessaly’s skills at palmistry, although Howard maintained a sceptical point of view concerning such “supernatural mummery”. Having won their confidence Gabriel persuaded Howard to let him look at the Necronomicon and the cryptozoologist transcribed a number of key portions from that devilish book – sections that would prove useful in the hours to come. Jack Cole managed to garnish sympathy from Evangeline when he told her that he had served in the Great War and suffered from head wounds and shell-shock, helping explain some of his strange behaviour. Only Jones remained aloof from this intercourse, I later learned that he didn’t want to get attached to someone that he might have to kill, an attitude which seemed professional but not totally commendable.
Eventually fatigue caught up with us and we spent the rest of that journey in quiet contemplation, with Gabriel feverishly scribbling notes into his journal.
Regrettably it appeared that the train would not be able to take us into Brichester itself, instead disgorging us onto the platform of a quiet country stop, some miles from the nearest major habitation. From there we had to walk through the country lanes to Winchcombe where Howard told us he had arranged for two charabangs to pick us up and take us to his house in the city. For a short while I found myself glad to be in the 1920s, for our journey through the narrow lanes was undisturbed by the lunatic roar of the motor car, which would surely have been present in the time we had so recently left. After a short, but tiring, walk we arrived in Winchcombe where we stopped at a local pub to get some refreshments while we waited for the cars.
A House of Horrors
Refreshed by a variety of beverages Evangeline, the C23 agents and our would-be host then made our way out to the cars, one driven by Theophilus’ man servant Bates, the other by a hired driver. Although it was a tight fit we managed to squeeze into the cramped confines of the charabangs and gritted our teeth as they made their bone-jarring way back to the bright lights of Brichester.
Eventually we drew up outside a white-painted urban villa, apparently three stories tall with a cellar and a gabled attic, and Bates, the late Colonel’s genial batman, gathered our luggage, such as it was. Howard politely refused Bates’ offer to take the bag containing the Necronomicon.
Entering Lovecraft’s new home really made me really feel that I had stepped back in time, for it was decked out in the warm, slightly cluttered manner that I had expected of a 1920s townhouse. Howard led us into the front room/study, a comfortable chamber with glass-paned bookcases, a well-stuffed sofa and a fine house organ. Conspicuously lacking were the modern conveniences that we take for granted, a hand-wound gramophone taking the place of hi-fi system and a sheaf of music replacing the ever-present television.
We settled into the comfortable surroundings of Howard’s front room and made small talk while Bates, the efficient manservant that Lovecraft had inherited with the property, went about his duties. Glancing around at the possessions, which lined the walls of the study, we asked the young writer about his Uncle and his journeys, hoping to learn how the Necronomicon had come into Theophilus’ possession. Our host regaled us with tales of his relative’s travels, informing us that his uncle had been a keen antiquarian as well as a world traveller and he had gathered an impressive collection of works concerning folklore and occult from every corner of the globe. Apparently the old man had kept extensive journals which detailed his journeys but, regrettably, they had been misplaced when his possessions had been moved from Egypt back to Brichester a few months before his death.
At that point Bates returned, informing us that tea would be served in the dining room. One by one we filed out of the front room into the hall and then to the dining room, just next door. In the hall I noticed a solid and serviceable cavalry sabre standing in the umbrella rack – I asked the reason for this incongruous sight and Bates informed me that the sabre belonged to “the old master”. At the time I admired Bates phlegmatic approach to the death of his former master, giving no show of outward emotion – later I would come to see the reason for such detached coldness.
Before we could enter the dining room a series of scratches and thumps could be heard coming from upstairs. At first Howard dismissed them as rats in the wall but they persisted and grew louder. Unable to restrain their curiosity, Jones, Jack and Gabriel went up to the first floor landing to investigate but could see nothing to explain the strange noises. I asked Bates whether the house had a history of such strange occurrences but the smiling manservant denied any knowledge of such things. Still curious, but unable to penetrate the mystery at that point, we proceeded to the dining room.
We seated ourselves around the Howard’s fine wooden dining table, trying not to mark his freshly laundered tablecloth. Moments later Howard’s other servant, a dusky young Egyptian maiden apparently called Rose, came in carrying a heavily laden tray, crammed with cups, saucers and the impedimenta of evening tea. She seemed to be stumbling and shaking under the weight of her burden but I took this to be a combination of being overburdened and nervous in the presence of her new “master” and so many strangers. Later the dreams that I’d had before embarking on this mission came back to me, speaking of shaking while under the influence of possession, but for the moment I foolishly dismissed the young maid’s behaviour. Over excellent cups of tea and a fine repast of cream, jam and scones we continued our pleasant conversation with Howard and his houseguest.
Evangeline gave a sympathetic ear to our (imaginary) tales of woe and Howard was a pleasant host, if a little opinionated about certain things. We learned that he was writing a series of tales and poems with a certain macabre, not to say horrific, cast, partly inspired by the little he’d been able to glean from the Necronomicon. Surprisingly though the young American scoffed at such things, evidently a sceptic through and through. I tried to hint that there were perhaps things under heaven and earth that science had not, and could not, explain, but our host was having none of it. For him all such suggestions smelt of quackery and superstition.
During this polite repartee Sergeant Jones had been trying to get my attention and was becoming more insistent, almost to the point of being rude to our hosts. Rather than disturb Lovecraft and his friend I asked his forgiveness and went outside into the hall to talk to the sturdy soldier. Apparently Jones hadn’t dismissed Rose’s strange behaviour as quickly as I; he had also noticed an interesting fact, that we never saw Rose and Bates together. I wasn’t sure what to make of this but, as I thought back on the matter, I realised that the observant soldier was correct. I therefore agreed that Jones should try to keep an eye on the two servants in order to penetrate this mystery.
Returning to the dinning room I finished my tea and scones and Howard suggested that we retire to the front room where he would read us some poetry that he had recently completed. Leaving Jones to keep any eye on the servants the rest of the Cassandra 23 cell accompanied the two Americans into the front room.
We settled down into the comfortable armchairs and sofas and sat back while Lovecraft recited one of his short pieces of macabre poetry. I must say it was a strange experience to sit there listening to a recitation of Lovecraft’s poetry coming from his own lips. Once he had finished his evocative and haunting piece Howard reached into his valise to show us a passage in the Necronomicon that he planned to use as the inspiration for his next work. There was a moment of shocked silence when the writer discovered that his treasured possession, the book which he was duty bound to pass on to the mysterious lawyer Trelawney at nine that evening, was missing. A cool, quiet anger spread across our host’s face as he turned to his assembled guests and asked us if we knew where the book might be – he didn’t want to believe that anyone could have stolen it but he couldn’t see any other explanation.
We immediately reassured our distressed host that we had nothing to do with the book’s disappearance but that we would help him scour the house until we found it. Lovecraft was not totally reassured and he reluctantly warned us that, if the book had not been discovered by 9:30 he would have to contact the police. We set out to search the urban villa for the missing tome (and, coincidentally, looking to locate and question Bates and Rose). We were too were keen to recover the book, as it might be hold the only way to return to our own world and time.
While the others investigated the guestroom and the staff bedrooms I went with Gabriel to search the small library which was located on the house’s first floor. It seemed that Theophilus had an eclectic but extensive range of books, organised in haphazard fashion. Looking at those rows and rows of leather bound spines I despaired, trying to locate another leather bound tome among that multitude would be like finding a needle in a haystack. I shouldn’t have given in so quickly for the keen eyes of my companion spotted an incongruity among the massed ranks of literature, a larger work that seemed somehow out of place. Taking the book from the shelf it was obvious from its weight that it couldn’t be real. Opening it revealed that it was nothing more than a shell, a secret hiding place which had been used to conceal a small hidebound notebook. A glance at the flyleaf revealed that we had stumbled across the old soldier’s missing journal, which might throw some light on his mysterious death. We wasted no time in telling the others what we had discovered and, after getting permission from Howard, Thessaly and I began a detailed examination of the neat little journal and the elegantly written notes within.
As we suspected it took up at the point when Theophilus arrived in the busy harbour of Alexandria aboard HMS Vigilant. There followed a detailed (and atmospheric) account of his travels amid the crowded bazaars and back streets of Alexandria and Cairo culminating in his purchase of a number of rare books from a curious bookseller, including a copy of Dee’s Necronomicon. After he made the purchase a note of paranoia began to creep into the old soldier’s journal, he apparently felt he was being watched and, on his journey home, suffered a number of minor thefts and searches of his belongings. Nothing more untoward seemed to have occurred until the time of the last journal entry, June 1st 1922, when the old man seemed in a state of terrified panic. His last madness-touched scribblings were difficult to decipher but it seemed that he believed he was being hunted by some Serpent-like beast that could assume the form of anyone it consumed. It appeared that Howard’s uncle believed that a sigil of protection, the fabled Elder Sign, could provide some defence against the horror that stalked him. The last entry was cryptic but, as we soon realised, of great significance;
“Their habitation is one with your locked and guarded threshold,
their hand is at your throat yet you see them not!”
The time I’ve spent working for Cassandra 23 has, in part, inured me to such horrors but it is impossible to be unmoved when one learns of another good man or woman who has succumbed to the alien and heartless evil that seems to lurk around us all, just beyond sight, amid the shadows of our modern Babylon. However, in his last moments the Colonel had at least let us know that the Elder Sign, if we could produce one, would provide some succour against the horror that had finished him and now (it seemed) stalked us. More than ever it became imperative to find the Necronomicon!
I grew restless and ultimately decided to leave Thessaly pouring over the journal and join in the search for the missing book. Frustration then caused me to break two of my cardinal rules, firstly I went off alone to search and secondly, needing something to steady my nerves, I took Theophilus’ trusty sabre from the umbrella rack by the door.
I could hear the other members of C23 searching the upstairs rooms so I decided to double check the areas they had already searched, beginning with the cellar. I am not, by nature, a brave man, and my nerves were stretched taut as I went down into that cool, subterranean room. By the weak light of a naked light bulb I searched through the bric-a-brac that Howard’s Uncle had accumulated during his travels. Unfortunately, although there were many items of interest I could not find the missing book. Dejected, I slowly climbed back up the narrow stairs into the kitchen, which I then proceeded to search. That too proved fruitless and I was preparing to move back into the main body of the house when someone came through the kitchen door.
I sighed with relief when I saw Jack Cole’s familiar face appear, relief that turned to a splintered second of utmost horror as Jack’s friendly features seemed to split in two. Replacing my comrade’s stalwart visage was an alien monstrosity of seemingly snake-like origin, a diamond shaped head covered in dark, shining scales and two awful eyes, pools of hypnotic gold bisected by slashes of stygian black. I had no time to react as this ophidian terror opened its awful maw, revealing a pair of savage fangs that dripped pearls of viscous poison onto the kitchen floor. With lightning speed the terror struck, burying those awful fangs in the pliable flesh of my throat.
My own recollections of the next half hour are dark and terrible, for as the poison coursed through my veins, paralysing me, it awoke an ancient race memory of a time before human history began when the forebears of modern man were nothing more than slaves, serving dark serpentine masters. All I can now recall are scattered images, perilously high towers made of some unknown rock, columns of human slaves labouring at the behest of ophidian overlords … dark and terrible temples lit by spectral illumination emanating from great iron braziers, throwing dancing pools of light onto megalithic altars dedicated to horrific deities of decay and corruption. I can still hear those sibilant, blasphemous chants echoing in the corners of my mind, paeans of praise dedicated to powers whose names I must not dwell on … some things are surely best forgotten.
Eventually I began to pry myself free of those terrifying remnants of race memory, back to the “present”. The poison was still doing its work and I had no control over my muscles, indeed I could not even open my eyes. I could, however, begin to hear what was happening around me and what I heard struck me with terror. A three-cornered conversation was going on nearby involving Jones, Thessaly and the horror that wore Jack Cole’s form. Apparently the others were going to search the house again for the book and for whatever had attacked me leaving “Jack Cole” to watch over my helpless body. I cannot express the horror I felt at that suggestion, knowing now what Theophilus’ journal referred to and realising that the Serpent Man, that terrible remnant of an antediluvian age, would almost certainly ‘consume’ me if it were given the opportunity. Beads of sweat appeared on my brow as I heard “Jack’s” footsteps coming closer but I could do nothing to save myself. You can well imagine my relief when I heard Sergeant Jones stop the monster, requesting that the two of them go to examine something in the cellar. I later learned that a combination of Thessaly psychic sensitivity and Sergeant Jones’ sharp eyes had detected something amiss with “Jack” and thus they steered him away at the last moment.
At this point I should probably explain (as far as I am able) how ‘Jack Cole’ came to be consumed by our Serpent Man foe. Apparently, while Thessaly and I were rapidly reading Theophilus’ journal, Sergeant Jones and Jack decided to search the upstairs rooms. Brave as ever Jones led the way with Cole following cautiously behind, unfortunately for the ‘retired’ spy he didn’t pay attention as the dusky young maid servant Rose came up behind him and, in a moment, subdued him with her terrible venom. By the time Jones turned back to see what was going on Jack was lying supine on the stairs with Rose standing over his body, looking shocked and concerned.
Apparently a brief conference between Gabriel and the Sergeant followed, the result of which was that, following the recommendation of Dr. Olding, Jack was left in the tender care of young Rose! Suffice to say the ophidian killer wasted no time in consuming the helpless C23 agent and then proceeded to join the searchers masquerading as her/his most recent victim and the events already recorded above unfolded.
When we left the narrative of that terrible evening Sergeant Jones had just steered the now suspicious figure of ‘Jack’ away from my sickbed and escorted him downstairs. Persuading our former comrade that the next place to search should be the cellar Jones enticed him into that subterranean chamber. The Sergeant then pushed our disguised foe down the cellar stairs and, with lightning speed, drew his pistol and sent a fusillade of lead into ‘Jack’ as he lay on the cold flagstones of the cellar floor. The stalwart soldier was horrified to see the creature get to its feet while his bullets bounced off its human façade. At a loss Jones turned and slammed the door, blocking it with Lovecraft’s solid and heavy ‘ice box’. Although this was in no way a final solution to the serpent problem it did at least buy us some time.
Although I didn’t seem him until later it would probably be best to describe this newcomer as he arrived on the stage. Trelawney was a very tall, powerfully built man, lean but not thin, with a shock of black hair and a neatly trimmed moustache and beard. He spoke with a clipped, upper class British accent and there was an air of authority around him, coming across as a Guards Officer rather than a quiet solicitor. Unsurprisingly the lawyer was disturbed to discover that Howard was unable to hand over the Necronomicon to him.
Naturally the distressed Lovecraft did his best to explain to his new guest that there were mysterious circumstances surrounding the book’s disappearance and that his other guests (the C23 agents) were busy searching for the aforementioned document even as they spoke. His attempts to persuade Trelawney of his rectitude and good character were doubtless not helped when the lawyer entered Lovecraft’s kitchen and discovered the ‘ice box’ rammed up against the cellar door and Sergeant Jones liberally spreading oil over the floor.
It was clear that, unless the book were returned, the lawyer would feel compelled not only to cut Howard out of the will but also to call the police and have this group of clearly insane individuals arrested.
With Jones occupied in the kitchen, me incapacitated, Jack Cole dead and Thessaly busy reading Theophilus’ journal only Gabriel was left to search for the missing tome. Fortunately the scientist’s keen eye for detail eventually uncovered the Necronomicon, hidden away on the top of a cupboard in Bates’ room.
With the Necronomicon in his hands Trelawney proceeded to read the will, which left all of the Colonel’s remaining property (save the book) to his American relative. Having carried out his appointed task the sceptical lawyer prepared to depart, taking the book, and our last hope of returning to our own time, with him.
By this time the Serpent Man’s poison had begun to wear off and, although I still felt sick and unsteady on my feet I managed to stumble downstairs. Thessaly, seeing my distressed condition led me into Howard’s lounge where I sunk into a comfortable armchair while Evangeline and Howard looked on. The two young Americans were concerned to see me in such a haggard state and Evangeline in particular was very solicitous, insisting that I rest while she fetched me a glass of water.
While I slowly recovered from my ordeal Gabriel was doing what he could to persuade Trelawney to allow us access to the Necronomicon. The lawyer was alarmed by our increasingly desperate pleas for access and was becoming more and more determined not to allow us to take the tome from him. It was at this point I stumbled into the dining room where Gabriel and the lawyer were locked in discussion – given the seriousness of the situation I felt I had to make my own plea to this upright legal stalwart. I pointed out to him that all we really wanted to do was transcribe a number of key passages from that black book and that we would then return it to him. Although he was obviously distrustful of us Trelawney agreed, which I later learned was just as well, for Sergeant Jones was on the verge of taking more . . . extreme action to recover the book.
A Sign of the Times
Given my obviously distressed state, and Thessaly’s reluctance to even touch that reservoir of madness, Gabriel had to undertake the task of transcribing the ritual we would need to create the Elder Sign. In order to do so we would require a suitable material to carve the protective sigil on to – normally a soft stone would be used but no such item could be found. Ultimately we had to settle for a bar of soap, hardly the most appropriate option but there was little choice in the matter.
The carving of the image had to be carried out under the stars, perhaps to give some connection to the Elder Gods whose sign it was. Now Gabriel came into his own, employing his well-honed surgical skills in a fashion his tutors at medical school could never have imagined. Under the light of the August stars his hands moved deftly, making precise incisions in the soft and yielding soap and, slowly but surely, an accurate representation of that eldritch sign appeared in the milky white surface. I watched in horrified wonder as this work progressed because I knew that the cryptozoologist was putting his heart and soul into his work. Even the Elder Gods demand a price for their protection and that price is the stuff of soul, which Gabriel willingly gave up to protect us all.
Yet even with that mystic symbol carved the matter was only half done, for the ritual laid out in the time-stained pages of the Necronomicon required a circle of four to gather under the night sky and chant out an ancient litany first recorded amid the mad howling of the desert winds over a millennia ago. In order to gather the required number of participants we needed to approach either Howard or Trelawney. It was obvious that the sceptical lawyer would have no part of such mummery but I hoped that the young writer, dismissive as he was of such mumbo-jumbo, would be agree to help. Fortunately, given what had already happened, Howard agreed to help, setting aside his doubts for a short while.
I still wonder whether any of Lovecraft’s staid neighbours witnessed that strange ritual from the safety of their warm homes and what they made of the long, loud imprecations which shouted into the dim and empty vaults of that summer sky.
I shall not fully detail that fearful ritual here; for fear that even an incomplete report might affect the sanity of those who read it. Suffice to say that, as it ended, we felt a cold wind that seemed to blow through the passages of our souls and knew, with certainty, that the sigil we had created would provide protection from the horrors that awaited us.
Armed with that enchanted protection it seemed the time had come to finally confront the Serpent Man and face him on his own ground. I had barely recovered from my last encounter with that serpentine foe so the task fell to Sergeant Jones and Dr. Olding. Although Jones was confident that he could overcome his foe I admired Gabriel’s bravery for, as a cloistered academic, he had few skills of relevance in a physical confrontation. Nonetheless it was the cryptozoologist who led the way as the two C23 agents descended into the cellar where our Ophidian foe was trapped.
Guns and Rosy
Moments after the two men descended into the cellar’s half light the quiet was split by the deafening report of a pistol, fired rapidly at close quarters, followed by a long scream of agony. I then heard Jones shout for a medic and rushed down the stairs, into the restricted confines of the cellar itself.
I cautiously peered around the door and saw the blood soaked form of Dr. Olding, lying on the cold stone steps. I reached down and, with the assistance of Miss Evangeline and Thessaly dragged the critically wounded man up onto the tiles of the kitchen floor.
A single glance told me that he was on the verge of death and that the blood flow must be stopped immediately. I raced back to the hall and recovered Gabriel’s first aid kit, rushed back and begun to apply bandages to my stricken comrades. I must also acknowledge the invaluable help of Thessaly and Evangeline who, seeing that Gabriel was going into shock, wrapped him in a cocoon of warm blankets. I was chilled to the marrow by Gabriel screams, screams that under happier circumstances could well have been mistaken for laughter by an uninformed observer.
Once I was sure that Gabriel was beyond immediate danger I went back to see what had happened in the cellar. Glancing downwards I saw the powerful form of Sergeant Jones moving in the darkness and the true serpentine form of the creature that had been Rose, Bates and then Jack Cole dissolving into the cold floor.
Later discussions with Gabriel and the Sergeant have allowed me to recreate that final intense confrontation with our monstrous foe – a confrontation that almost ended in disaster as soon as it began. We had all forgotten that the creature had looted Jack’s body when it consumed him and had acquired his C23 arsenal, so, when Gabriel set foot on the cellar stairs the inhuman time traveller cut him down with a hail of lead. The terrible thing turned to deal with Jones but it had bargained without the Sergeant’s nearly superhuman reflexes, in a moment his guns were shot out of his hands and he was sent stumbling backwards, retreating from the Elder Sign that the grim-faced C23 agent brandished. With no other line of retreat the creature was forced into the loathsome hidden lair it had constructed behind a false wall in the cellar.
Unfazed by the awful, pervasive stench of death and decay that came from that dark abode Jones continued to advance, forcing the horror into the utmost recesses of its hidden chamber. Finally, with nowhere else to retreat to, the creature could no longer avoid the Elder Sign that Jones brandished and, on its merest touch, that awful survival of the distant and terrible past was unmade. The magic, which had kept it alive over countless centuries, was undone in the blinking of an eye.
An inspection of the creature’s liar helped fill in the blanks that had puzzled us. Amid the squalor of the Serpent Man’s abode we found personal belongings that had once belonged to Bates and Rose, clearly the creature had consumed both of them weeks before and had then used them to stalk and kill Theophilus. This dark chamber also threw light on another matter, the one that had drawn us to the fear-shadowed environs of Brichester in the first place, for, along with the servant’s belongings we also found fragments of a costume that could only have been Tarantella’s. Clearly the Serpent Man had been making a two-pronged attempt to gain the Necronomicon, stalking Theophilus and his nephew in the 1920s and pursuing the ruthless Scales at the turn of the Third Millennia. This was, of course, its undoing, for if the creature had restricted its activities to the 20’s it wouldn’t have drawn the attention of C23 and the events of the past days would never have occurred.
A Terrible Gatekeeper
Although the terrible ophidian monstrosity had been defeated and its plans foiled we were still faced with the problem of returning to our own time. At this point Gabriel informed us that he had stumbled over a time-travel ritual when he scanned the Necronomicon earlier in the day. Unfortunately, in order to perform it we would need the book itself. We therefore had to persuade the stern countenanced lawyer, Trelawney, to give us the book so we could return to our own time. I did everything in my power to persuade that upright man of law to hand us back the Necronomicon but nothing I or others said would make him change his mind. He acknowledged that some very strange events had occurred that evening but informed us that he was duty bound to pass the book on as Theophilus’ will required.
I saw then that we had no choice, we had to lay our cards on the table, telling Trelawney, Lovecraft and Evangeline of our true situation in the hopes that they would not only believe us but would agree to give us Dee’s black tome. Thus it was that I embarked on what Howard and Trelawney must have regarded as the rantings of a madman. I told them that we were travellers from the future and that we must have the book in order to return to our own time. It was obvious that they were not convinced so we produced what evidence we could to back our claims.
I showed our host and his two guests an assortment of modern items, digital watches, fibre tip pens, an APS camera, every variety of early twenty first century technology that we had on our persons. This demonstration seemed to sway Howard but Trelawney remained adamantly sceptical – he could, however, see that we believed it and he eventually agreed to humour us and allow us access to the book. Sure of himself he merely requested that if our little ritual failed (which he was sure it would) we would then surrender ourselves for psychiatric testing. Sadly Trelawney and Evangeline insisted on one further caveat, namely that, in order to protect the Necronomicon, they should take part in the ritual.
We tried to dissuade them from such a rash course of action but they were immoveable, either they participated or there would be no ritual. We had no choice but to agree but I comforted myself that, when the ritual succeeded, we could give them a copy of the relevant passages and they would quickly be able to return to their own time, where they belonged.
That settled we all gathered in a circle, eyes closed, holding hands as I led the chant. Almost immediately a chill ran up and down the spine and we were assailed by a terrible sense of vertigo, as though we had been removed from the claustrophobic surroundings of Howard’s cellar and catapulted into some empty void far beyond the confines of our mundane world. In some way the feeling was similar to that which we’d experienced when Scales’ machine had hurled us back through time earlier that day (earlier that day . . . it seemed like centuries had passed!!!). For an endless moment I felt as though my soul was being stretched impossibly thin, drawn out across all the moments between the past and the future, then I felt it, a presence so alien it is almost impossible to describe, compelling and majestically horrific. Unable to help myself I pried my eyes open and gazed into the very face of infinity . . . I know what I saw was an illusion, a veil created by my mind to mask the utter alienness of that which confronted us, but I will describe that phantasm nonetheless. It appeared to me to be an agglomeration of spheres, of myriad sizes but all glowing with an ethereal light filled with beauty and madness. It seemed oblivious to our presence but then the globes shifted and reformed and the black protoplasm that linked them shifted in time – although it had no features that Man could discern I was sure it had noticed us.
Then this primeval power ‘spoke’ – I describe it as speech but it was nothing that human ears could decipher, rather there was a vibration that we all felt in the marrow of our bones, a resonance that sang in our blood and a photonic symphony that played across our eyes – thus did It make Itself known. I gathered that it was Yog-Sothoth, the Gate and the Key, guardian and master of time and it stood at the portal of Eternity, intelligent beyond measure yet mindlessly dedicated to its task of guardianship of the streams of time.
It seemed to me that this primal force questioned us, probing our knowledge of the cosmos as it truly was, unconstrained by the meagre efforts of Man to codify it. Between us we managed to answer some of its ‘questions’ but no human mind could know all that it required and remain sane. By some fluke of blind chance we possessed enough knowledge to satisfy this monstrous Outer God but we could feel its displeasure echoing through every cell and over every synapse. It was clear that the Gate of Time was closed to us and we should never try that portal again.
As the all-encompassing presence of Yog-Sothoth withdrew we felt the Four Dimensional world of normal reality assert itself around us. As our eyes cleared, we found ourselves standing in a cellar which in most respects resembled Lovecraft’s save for polystyrene packing materials scattered here and there, a sheet of bubble wrap emerging from a packing case and the naked light bulb hanging from a white plastic flex. We had returned!
Naturally Trelawney and Evangeline were shocked by their experience but Gabriel, Thessaly and I comforted them as best we could. Jones had already raced ahead, seeking to secure the area.
That’s not Evil . . . It’s Capitalism
Emerging from the cellar we found ourselves in a kitchen very like the one we had vacated seemingly only moments before but as we took a more detailed look around the differences were obvious, the electric cooker, the fridge/freezer and the microwave. We were in the 2000 AD reflection of Lovecraft’s 1920s abode. Reassured we began to relax, elated at having defeated the Serpent Man’s plot and on having returned to our own time relatively unscathed. I felt very sorry for our two inadvertent companions who, given the ban imposed by that dread Gatekeeper, were stranded in our time, separated by the world of their birth by an unbridgeable gulf of almost eighty years.
Wearily we stumbled down the hall into what had been Lovecraft’s comfortable front room and received a final, terrible shock – there waiting for us, still neatly dressed in his dapper waistcoat, was Mr. Andrew Scales!
Jones did not hesitate, he leapt towards the insane scientist, hoping to gun him down with the weapon concealed in his prosthetic hand. It was a futile gesture, the madman flicked a switch on a remote control and we were all frozen in time, unable to act. Having demonstrated his power Scales offered us a simple choice, hand over the Necronomicon so he could continue to exploit it, or have him publish everything he knew about Cassandra 23 and our activities. Gabriel could contain himself no longer, he shouted out to Scales, “ That’s totally evil you twisted lunatic”, unfazed the publisher merely smiled, “No my friend, that’s not evil, it’s capitalism!”
Unable to physically assault Scales we still had the Necronomicon in our possession and, as team leader, the decision on what to do fell to me. I thought back on all we had been through to get that dread tome, of the terrible fate of Jack and the temporal marooning of Evangeline and Trelawney. I thought of all the murders committed by “Tarantella” as she closed in on Scales and the horror he planned to spread to countless thousands of other young minds – there could be only one answer, to quote the Iron Duke, “Publish and be damned.”
(As ever, I must apologise to my C23 comrades if I have forgotten or belittled their efforts or work. This account is a purely personal one, written from memory, and surely not free from unintended errors or inaccuracies.)
The C23 team left the Lovecraft Residence immediately, leaving Scales laughing and sneering about how much he would make when he published his account of C23 as a popular paperback and blew their cover. To their relief he never did, as he never left the house, dying seconds after they closed the door in a horrible and mysterious manner…
Ian Scales was found dead the next morning by a hired cleaner. His body was punctured with several bizarre deep wounds, and coated in a strange blue slime which defied analysis. Dr Ignatius Drake of the Parapsychology Division of C23 conducted the ‘clear up’ operation on behalf of Mr. J, but Scale’s untimely death was finally explained and fully understood only after the sixth C23 mission, Remembrance of Things Past
1. Pronouns are always an issue here.Alex Rothwell used her, which is correct.
2 Surveillance indicates that some details of this account may be inaccurate, possible loss of cognitive function due to incipient insanity.