The Man of the House
Cthulhu Hack continued today with my colleague Robert. After a day investigating the disappearance of his high school classmate and threatened by law enforcers to leave town, our investigators holed up for a night at the Helton Hotel.
After breakfast at the hotel café, private detective Sean Columbo and his friend and partner Dr. Bogdanowicz considered their options.
Where would the real estate broker Margaret Hilton could have disappeared to?
Why did everyone believe the Woodson estate, which Margaret was trying to broker to developers, was haunted?
How did the Woodson house burn down 35 years ago, killing the matron of the family Evelyn Woodson and her sons David and John?
He remembered the two photos he had salvaged from the ruins of the Woodson house the previous day. They then took a cab to the Leon County Public Library to look up records on the Woodsons’ gardener Jim Talbot and housekeeper Susan Bernardin.
The cab left them right in front of the library. Before they began looking up records, Sean struck a conversation with the librarian on duty, a 40 year old woman named Gladys. (Thanks to a good Smokes roll) The lady, when asked about the Woodson estate, informed Sean and Dr. Bog about two survivors of the house fire 35 years ago.
The first was Jim Talbot the gardener who after that night was committed to a mental asylum. The second was Susan Bernardin the housekeeper who spent her days alone in her house out in the bayou. Sean recalled the two photographs he had discovered in the half-burnt, mouldy bureau in the remains of the Woodson house.
Then, Gladys also warned them that people have claimed for many decades that the Woodson place was haunted.
Before they left, Dr. Bog looked up the phone book and found Susan Bernardin’s address. Ultimately they decided that talking to her would be easier than talking to someone locked up in a sanatorium.
The taxi carried them south and deposited them near a wooden cabin by the swamps. Sean walked up to the door and gave it a knock. An elderly black woman opened the door cautiously and spoke with the screen door still shut.
“Who is it?”
Immediately, Sean introduced himself and Dr. Bog. But when he mentioned the Woodson Estate, the woman slammed the door on them. Sean knocked harder on the door while telling the woman that if she was Susan Bernardin, then they needed some answers from her. Through the door, Sean informed her that they were looking for Margaret who had disappeared while attempting to sell the Woodson land. Furthermore, information from Susan might be able to save Margaret’s life if she was in danger.
The door opened, allowing their entry. The woman said, “I am Susan Bernardin.”
During the interview Susan told them to leave town. She began ranting, “Nothing good will ever come from going to that house. For your own good, you should get on the first plane out of Tallahassee.”
When Sean told her about Margaret and their friendship, Susan paused and asked, “Is your friend a good person?”
Sean said, “She is.”
“The only thing I can say,” Susan said, “is that look for the fireplace for warmth. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. You may leave.” After that, they thanked her and left.
Back in town, Dr. Bog turned to Sean and told him they should quit, as Susan Bernardin has implored them to. This investigation was beginning to feel perilous as they had been threatened out of town by Sheriff Gillespie and his deputies.
“You really care for your friend Margaret?” asked Dr. Bog. Sean said of course he did because they were close since high school.
“What about me?” Dr. Bog exclaimed. “You put yourself and me in harm’s way to find your friend. Don’t you care about me?”
Sean, with great empathy, told her, “Of course I do, but I also need to find my missing friend. I can’t just ignore her disappearance. You know how important it is to help people in trouble and Margaret is in trouble. And I cannot do it without you.” Dr. Bog, with great reluctance, agreed to help him a bit more.
Later, they were back at the gates to the Woodson place and they found that the gates’ padlock had been unlocked. Sean pushed the gates open and walked towards the house.
20 minutes later, after navigating the thick brush beneath the large trees whose leaves blocked out the sun, they arrived at the derelict house. At the fireplace, Sean looked for and found a button. Upon pressing it, the solid slab of rock slid open automatically to reveal a dark hole in the floor.
Sean led the way by descending the stone stairs. They immediately identified (with a successful Flashlights check) some poisonwood leaves and branches that were taking up half the space of the descending tunnel. Sean and Dr. Bog both fortuitously manoeuvred their way past the poisonous tree (with a successful Dexterity save).
After the tunnel levelled off into darkness, Sean turned on the flashlight he took from the Woodson tool shed the previous day. He was about to step forward (while failing a Flashlights check) when Dr. Bog (who succeeded it) yelled out, “Don’t move!”
Sean froze immediately while eyeing his friend, who told him, “Look down.” There was a fine line in the dirt below that Sean had almost tripped where he saw a booby trap of some sort. However, they did not wish to know what sort of a trap it was.
They both stepped carefully over it, and then pressed further into the darkness.
Turning a corner, they abruptly stumbled across a human corpse. Dr. Bog (failed her Sanity check and) turned to flee back towards the tunnel entrance, but Sean caught up with her. He (with a good Smokes check) calmed her down and got her to overcome her fear. When Dr. Bog felt better in control, she inspected the corpse, which was a 30 year old man who had died about 3 weeks earlier. She determined the cause of death to be a stab to the heart.
Before long, they found a fork in the tunnel. The fork to the left remained completely dark, but there was a light coming from the right. They both headed down the tunnel and soon discovered that thick, black waters blocked their path for about 5 metres. The depth of the waters was unknown. Light was streaming in through small holes in the rocks above where roots have broken through and grown into the ceilings and walls of the tunnel.
Not wanting to risk wading in, they backtracked and headed down the left tunnel. The left fork extended fifty metres at a divergent angle before it turned left around the corner. There was an ornate wooden doors about five metres away waiting for them.
It was not locked, Sean discovered. He pushed on one of the doors and it swung outwards. Unfortunately, it creaked loudly and caused the person standing within to turn and face them. It was Sheriff Gillespie and he was wielding a shotgun. Then he raised his weapon, aiming it at them. Sean quickly withdrew, shutting the door behind them.
A second later, a shotgun blast shattered part of the door into splinters as they ran back down the tunnel.
When they reached the fork, they heard more angry voices and footsteps coming from the direction of the entrance of the tunnel. During the pause, Gillespie caught up with them and fired his weapon. While Sean was able to duck into the other fork, the buckshot spray caught Dr. Bog’s shoulder.
Injured and bleeding, Sean led Dr. Bog towards the submerged tunnel and they immediately decided to plough into the murky waters. They found that the foul-smelling water was just below chest depth. Moreover, underwater roots and weeds hindered their motion. Despite that, Dr. Bog managed to reach the other shore.
Unfortunately (upon a failed Dexterity save), the weeds had entangled Sean’s legs. He lost his footing and fell into the drink, which caused him to be entangled in even more weeds. Realising he was drowning, Sean (used his brand new MacGyver talent t0) reached down to the bottom to find something that something helpful. He found a sharp rock shaped like an arrowhead and used it to slice through the weeds.
Before long, he was safe on the other side of the pool.
“Hold it!” a voice cried out from the shadows on the far end of the tunnel. It was a young man with a gun pointed at them. “Don’t move or I’ll shoot.”
Sean drew his gun and pulled the trigger, and then the man fell face first into the water.
So then they ran, and before long they turned a corner and entered a doorway. Sean noted that it was a long room with a dinner table in the middle. There were lighted candelabras on the walls that illuminated the chamber. On the far end were doors which displayed clear signs of a recent shotgun damage. There was no sign of Gillespie, but someone else… something else was in the room.
It sat upon a chair which reminded Sean of a throne in a slight alcove on the wall. It was completely naked and its skin appeared to have been burnt to a crisp many years ago and had not healed. The thing moved and gestured to them.
“Do not run,” it said in a deep, inhuman voice. “If you do, you might not find your friend Margaret after all.”
“What do you know about Margaret?” Sean said pointing his revolver at the thing. “Who are you?”
“I am David. This is my house and land. Margaret should not have tried to sell them off, just as John and my mother should not have tried to stop me that night. I have much work here. I know what is coming and I need to be prepared here, with my people, those who decided to join my work.”
“Where is Margaret?” Sean asked.
“Margaret is with my brother John and soon, you too will join her,” David Woodson intoned while he raised his right hand. He gestured and Sean’s eyelids grew incredibly heavy. Beside him, the injured Dr. Bog fell unconscious onto the floor. Ultimately, Sean thought, Well, this would be one way I could find Margaret.
He surrendered to the drowsiness and abruptly, unconsciousness took hold of him.
Sean woke up and looked up to see the cool night sky which was cloudless and studded with a billion stars. His arms were above him, tied to a wooden beam which was evidently a part of a wooden structure that he was bound to. Below him, he saw a wooden platform. Under the platform, he saw black, motionless waters. He saw the thick trees which surrounded the pool and a mound of boulders on one side, and deduced that he was at Woodson Pond.
“Welcome,” David’s guttural voice drifted from behind. Sean glanced over his shoulder and saw the repugnant form of David Woodson below, on the ground. He was surrounded by man others and of course one of them was Gillespie who still brandished a shotgun.
When Sean, standing barely on tiptoes, spun to face David, the entire wooden hanging structure spun with him. As he spun counter clockwise, the long wooden arms of the structure turned with him; the left arm moving over the pond and out of the shadows.
He saw Dr. Bog tied to the end of the left arm, hanging over the dark waters below. She was still injured, but was awake now.
Suddenly the waters below churned and bubbled. Something huge, perverse and Cyclopean emerged in the form of a fleshy mass the size of a small truck. Dozens of pseudopodial tentacles, big and small, writhed upwards reaching for Dr. Bog, while in the middle of the obscene spectacle, a mouth ringed with sharp, inward-bent teeth opened up like a nightmare. (Thankfully, both Sean Columbo amd Dr. Bogdanowicz did not fail their Sanity checks.)
“Meet John,” said David Woodson.
While Sean spun in the same direction further so Dr. Bog swung back onto dry land, he noticed that strapped to the opposite arm was the unconscious and heavily bruised figure of Margaret Hilton. Upon understanding the function of the swinging structure as a feeding device, Sean tried his best to keep both his friends over dry land by turning to face David.
He continued, “John was against me; in fact, he fought me, burning down our house. I had to teach him a lesson, one that I learned as an OSS agent in Eastern Europe. Now look at him. At least I feed him daily.”
David gestured and Sheriff Gillespie climbed up the ladder onto the platform where Sean was bound. The sheriff levelled his shotgun at Sean’s chest and said, “Now either you choose one of these ladies to die first, or you die.”
Without warning, Sean swung his body and kicked the weapon out of his hands and into the shadowy trees to the left. Incensed, Gillespie tried to punch Sean a few times and landed some blows. Sean was also able to nimbly twist out of the way of the attacks even with his hands bound above him. Gillespie was so enraged that in one last lunge, he lost his balance and fell forward past Sean… right into the pond.
Flailing tentacles snatched him as he fell and dragged him through the air into a hellish maw. There was a loud crunch, then the flailing stopped. The unspeakable monstrosity that was John Woodson submerged completely into the pond.
After that all was silent for a while.
David spoke, “Now that John has fed, I suppose we shall have to wait until tomorrow to continue.” He turned to leave. Most of his followers went with him except for one man in a deputy’s uniform who motionlessly glowered at Sean from the ground.
“Come!” called David, and the deputy left, disappearing into the foliage.
To be continued.
- The game began with acquiring new Talents. Robert bought the MacGyver talent for himself and the Deduction talent for Dr. Bogdanowicz.