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Saturday, 31 December 2016

Virus

Something is wrong with the computer. Its performance slows erratically, it crashes too often. Strange responses appear from ordinary requests. Files are corrupted, data is damaged.

A virus checker reveals nothing – the computer is not infected with any known virus. However, the corruption is certainly symptomatic of virus activity.

Then, of its own accord, things get better. Performance improves, the machine stops hanging. In fact, it almost seems as if it is performing better than usual. Everything is right again. Except...

The files are weird. Fragments, oddly named. They don’t execute, and when examined seem to be random masses of code, or occasionally, sheer meaningless text. Deleting the files does nothing – they just reappear. Careful checking reveals that the files are all modified while the computer is on - somehow it is creating them. And, while it first created lots of small files, it now produces fewer, larger files.

Eventually a single file appears: RUNME.EXE.

Running the program causes the screen to clear – and then an image forms. It’s a box, an old stone artefact about the size of an ordinary cardboard box that was recovered from a recent investigation. And yes, the problems with the computer started about the time the box was retrieved.

On the screen, the box begins to glow...

Possibilities

1 Millions of years ago, the serpent people realised they were losing their battles for control of Earth and made preparations to ensure their survival. They constructed subterranean hibernation chambers to wait out their enemies. The chambers were never reactivated ... although that may change shortly.

The box is a serpent people device, a control mechanism for their hibernation sites. It has successfully created an interface program between it and the computer, allowing for the appropriate instructions to be entered.

On the screen, the glowing box dissolves into a spinning map of the Earth – as it was millions of years ago. And dotted on the map are several brightly glowing dots: serpent people sites.

2 The box is a powerful old one computer. It can now be communicated with, via the interface it has constructed. It is undoubtedly malign.

3 The box is the egg of a virtual demon. As the image glows on the screen, the box itself (the real one, that is) glows brightly, then crumbles into pieces. The egg has hatched, the computer is now possessed by a mathematical demon.

The creature is quite evil, and gobbles up all the files on the computer – and demands more. (It doesn’t like duplicates, either.) It is cunning; deleting files doesn’t work and neither does switching off the computer.

But what does it want? And what does it do when it finds the Internet?

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The Spider Man

He is their least favourite patient. Everybody, even arachnophiles, find the presence of so many spiders disturbing. They are everywhere in the barren room: on the floor, walls and ceiling. They infest his bed, scamper across his clothes, and stalk through his hair.

They are ignored by the patient, known to the staff of the Seaview Home for the Insane as ‘the spider-man’. He sits on his chair, head cocked to one side, staring blankly at nothing. He does not speak and needs to be hand-fed, not a popular task among the staff.

The spiders have defeated all attempts to shift them. Steely nerved cleaners used to periodically clean the room, but each time they were back within a week. Now they just don’t bother. Besides, the spider-man does not seem to mind.

Possibilities

1 Blown off course by a severe storm, the crew of a capsized tramp steamer found themselves cast on a pacific island inhabited by natives belonging to a spider cult.

In the months that followed, those that weren’t killed lost their minds. Eventually, the cult elected one of the crew to godhood, sacred for the rest of eternity. They cast him adrift in the lifeboat to take the word to the masses, quite unaware that his mind was utterly blank.

The man was picked up by a warship, pronounced insane, and committed to Seaview. There he has attracted the attention of the local spider population. He is their god, and they like being around him.

2 The spider-man is host to the Children of Anansi, huge spiders with horrible faces. In a nightmare, he stumbled across Anansi, the spider god, who happily took the opportunity to inject its young into a suitable host.

He awoke in screaming terror. If it was only a dream, why did he hurt so? Then he saw the neat puncture marks in his abdomen, and felt their presence. It shattered his mind.

Now the spiders are waiting for the joyous day when Anansi’s brood will hatch from his rich flesh. For beneath the spider-man’s tender skin they slowly mature, soon to hatch.

3 The spiders are all one species. The spider-man has been cross-breeding them. His listless, blank periods are interspersed with activity when he is permitted to go into the gardens and catch spiders for his room. There he is breeding a new species.

© Steve Hatherley

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

A Wolf at the Door

A doctor is contacted by Charlotte Langley who is having disturbing dreams at night and wishes the doctor to prescribe something to stop them.

Charlotte is twenty-three and rather attractive. She has had dreams ever since she was about thirteen. They have almost always been the same – blood, matted fur and a longing to run free through dark, damp forests. Charlotte has no idea where the dreams originate.

Then, about a week ago, the dreams started to intensify. They became stronger, more possessive. She has been waking in a dreadful fright every night since. Could the doctor do something about it?

Possibilities

1 Charlotte is a werewolf. She contracted the disease when she was bitten by an infected dog at thirteen. Since then, the disease has been slowly maturing. She will shortly develop the full symptoms and turn into a terrifying werewolf and murder several innocent people. Charlotte will have no memory of the incident.

The dreams themselves are an unpleasant prelude to the change.

Curing Charlotte would be a considerable accolade, if any of the doctor’s peers would believe it. A silver bullet will kill Charlotte, but can one be justified when Charlotte could be cured instead?

2 Charlotte was scratched by a werewolf, but hasn’t contracted lycanthropy. Instead, she has become psychically linked to the werewolf that wounded her. Her nightmares intensify each month and are at their worst when the werewolf kills. Her dreams contain fragments and clues that can be used to track and destroy the werewolf. Only then will she sleep soundly.

3 Charlotte is a werewolf, but only in the Dreamlands, beyond the wall of sleep. During the hours of the disease’s climax a terrible, unstoppable beast stalks the streets of Dylath-Leen. Silver is rare in Dylath-Leen and nobody has thought to waste it upon the beast.

Charlotte does not remember anything of the Dreamlands, just the terrible nightmares, which occur every month for three consecutive nights, as if by clockwork.

© Steve Hatherley

Saturday, 24 December 2016

The Writing on the Wall

The symbols and half-letters scrawled messily on the wall are not from any recognisable language. They look like the drunken attempts of a lone vandal, and are not particularly remarkable. Except for one thing: they appear elsewhere. On lorries and trains, schools and churches. In the country, in town. On sheds and walls, windows and signs. Usually in paint, and once or twice in blood.



Possibilities

1 Each instance of the symbols is accompanied by a body. The cause of death is unknown – other than being dead, the victim is otherwise healthy.

The victims have been possessed by body thieves, spectral haunters who take control of their victims and discards them when they become bored. Possession is fatal to the victim, but in their last moments the victims leave clues to their tormentor. Unfortunately, the clues are written in the symbol language of the haunter and are not easy to decode.

2 The symbols are written by the Royal Order of the Third Man, a secretive society originally founded by Queen Victoria. The Order is dedicated to opposing the forces controlled by an entity it knows as the Bone Swallower. The Order’s oracles have recently foretold that the Bone Swallower will emerge at specific co-ordinates. The Order is using the symbols to weaken the Bone Swallower: the symbols face the appointed location, and are arranged at various distances from it. They can be marked on a map, and the co-ordinates determined.

Some symbols are decoys (including those on vehicles) to hide the Order’s intent. To most onlookers, the decoys look no different, but a practiced eye or ‘sensitive’ can tell one from another.

Some in the Order have concerns, however. They suspect that the Order has been infiltrated, and that the symbols, far from weakening the Bone Swallower, are instead bringing it into being.

3 The symbols (written by sleepwalkers) originate from a long-forgotten language. Eventually they are translated to form one word. ‘Rejoice.’ What does it mean? Is it a sign from God?

Then, a second word: ‘for.’ Then ‘He,’ followed by ‘is’ and ‘coming.’

‘Rejoice for He is coming.’ But who?

© Steve Hatherley

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Dreamfire

Abruptly she awakes. Something is burning, there is smoke in the air. The house is on fire!

Opening the bedroom door reveals and angry orange hell. The fire rages fiercely in the hall, the walls and floors are blazing and impassable.

With flames licking at the door, there appears to be only one way out of the house: through the bedroom window. Outside, the street it quiet, nobody has yet noticed that the house is burning merrily. There is nothing to climb down that is not already burning. The only option is to jump.

She leaps out, towards a cold, hard safety. Landing is a sudden shock, a searing pain, and unconsciousness.

Possibilities

1 She wakes up in hospital. There she is recovering from injuries sustained from having leapt from her bedroom window. Returning to the house, it is untouched.

The nightmare is the work of a protective spell in a forbidden book she is translating. Into one of the pages the author has worked a fiendish spell to prey on the fears of those who should not be reading the book.

Each time anyone studies that book, there is a chance that he will glance at that page, so triggering the spell. Next time anyone takes a flying leap from their bedroom window they might not be so lucky: they might be on the twentieth floor.

2 She ‘wakes’ to find himself in the Dreamlands. She has been summoned, ripped out of normal slumber to appear in the Dreamlands. Whether friendly allies or dangerous enemies have summoned the investigator is not yet known.

In the waking world, she appears to have fallen into a coma having leapt from her bedroom window for no apparent reason. She also has a broken ankle and is currently in hospital.

3 She sits bolt upright in bed. It is night, the bed covers are twisted and drenched in sweat. It was only a dream.

© Steve Hatherley

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Homunculi

It’s a finely crafted chest made of walnut, but of a slightly mean character with four rows of six drawers. The drawers are 1.5 inches square and 3 inches deep and each contains a small clay figure: homunculi, 24 of them.

Possibilities

1 The chest is an Advent calendar, a ghoulish present by a Dr Rant to his sister, for his nieces. The homunculi themselves are carved to look like little people, sleeping in their drawers. Dr Rant promised that his sister would never have to suffer vermin if she accepted his present. Dr Rant’s sister disliked the macabre advent calendar and hid it their roof space, where it was forgotten

Time passed, and the house changed hands, several times. The house developed a peculiar reputation: pets never thrived and would disappear, or grow ill, or die prematurely.

When the roof space was eventually opened as part of building work for an extension, the Advent calendar was found, in perfect condition. Around the chest were hundreds of tiny bones from rats, mice and pigeons

2 The homunculi are crudely fashioned, and made of a mixture of clay, dung and blood: they are golems.

The interior of the chest, behind the drawers, contains a piece of parchment covered in writing. The writing is Latin, and when translated describes instructions for controlling the golems. The golems’ orders must be written inside a pentagram in which one or more golems are placed. A splash of blood and a short incantation complete the instruction.

Once activated, the golems carry out the instruction to the letter – and become inactive the moment they complete their task.

3 Each of the homunculi are extraordinarily detailed, and uncomfortably lifelike. Each one is unique, and dressed in fine robes suitable for 17th century nobleman and women. They appear to be representations of real individuals. Most of them are broken, however, with their heads severed as if by a chisel or knife.

Each homunculus has an eyelet in the top of its head, so that with a length of yarn or thread they can be suspended as if in a grotesque mobile. Four of the homunculi even have ancient thread still attached.

If any of the remaining intact homunculi are suspended, then they swing and spin before settling down into a very specific direction. Every time they are moved, they again swing and spin, before returning to that same direction. It’s always the same direction, as if they are pointing towards something.

The homunculi were commissioned by Mr Gideon Stem, an occultist. The figures represent powerful supernatural individuals. The homunculi, magically tied to the individuals, always turned to face them, and Mr Stem used this property effectively. He tracked and destroyed many of the individuals before removing their heads. He did not finish his task before his enemies caught up with him.

© Steve Hatherley

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Unnatural Behaviour

It's nothing unusual at first. After all, everyone thinks they see movement from the corner of their eye, don't they? Although it doesn't usually happen quite so often. And, on reflection, it's always around the investigator's house, inside and out. Never further afield. Odd.

Then there are the birds. Lots of them - an unusually large number. Drawn by the beetles.

In fact, there do seem to be rather a lot of beetles. Always a common sight, they now seem to be everywhere, scampering in the yard and around the house. They hide behind jars, on shelves and in cupboards.

They get bolder. The investigator gets the feeling he is being watched - but there is nobody around. Nobody and nothing - except for one of the beetles. A big one, nearly an inch from antenna to tail, sitting on the windowsill. Motionless until the investigator moves - and then it turns to track his movements.

Pest control, doesn't work. Chemicals and pesticides leave hundreds of crispy little corpses, but there are always more.

A bird's painful screeches draws the investigator's attention. The bird, a thrush, flaps painfully in the yard. It seems to be covered in berries, or beads - or beetles, attacking en masse! Eventually the bird stops flapping, and the beetles swarm over the corpse in triumph.

Then the neighbour's dog goes missing . . .

Possibilities

1 It is not only their behaviour that has been altered. Many of the beetles are mutants. Most look perfectly normal, but a few are bloated and corpulent. Some even have seven legs.

Closer inspection shows that not only are the beetles mutated. Other insects look similarly affected - as is simple plant life and, eventually, birds and small mammals. Everything becomes more aggressive, more belligerent.

The mutation is caused by a massive build-up of underground toxins from a nearby government facility. Waste from dubious processes is dumped into fissures in the ground, away from environmentalists' eyes. Over a period of time, people fall ill and even die. Random acts of violence soar, from slavering dogs savaging young children to freeway slayings over minor traffic misdemeanours.

As things get worse, the facility keeps on pumping chemicals into the ground . . .

2 Poorly conducted investigations leave loose ends untied - and those loose ends are rarely pleased.

A sorcerer, warlock or witch has been overlooked in a recent case and is now taking revenge on the investigator. The investigator has been cursed with a plague of beetles, and before long he is suffering from rashes and bites - beetle bites.

Eventually, if no way is found to lift the curse, the beetles attack. Millions of beetles swarm over the investigator and smother him. They fill his mouth, crawl in his ears, his nose. He suffocates painfully under the foul black sea.

By morning, the beetles are gone.

3 The beetles have formed a hive-mind consciousness. This rough collective intelligence is the precursor to the great beetle race that the Great Race of Yith will eventually inhabit, millions of years in the future. But its origin starts here, and now.

The beetle consciousness, in this formative state and a long way from intelligence, is groping blindly, unable to make sense of much what it experiences. It learns slowly, but reacts to anything it perceives as a threat.

The Great Race is naturally very interested in the emergence of the beetle intelligence. Agents are in the area, watching from a distance. It is imperative that the organism survives. If the investigator moves against the intelligence - they will act. If eliminating the investigator looks to cause more problems than is worth, the agents move the hive-mind instead. The investigator wakes to discover that two whole days are missing from his memory - and the beetles have gone . . .

© Steve Hatherley

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Enchanted Wood

Just outside Tunbridge Wells in Kent there is a small wood known just as The Wood by locals. The Wood can be found between Tunbridge Wells and one of the surrounding villages; many people pass by, but few stop.

There are several strange stories associated with The Wood - tales of strange beasts and stranger people living there. Sometimes the animals escape and are seen by locals.

None of the locals dare enter The Wood and only talk of it in hushed voices around frothy pints in the local public houses. It is regarded with some suspicion, as are those that seem interested in it. Nothing good ever came out of The Wood.

The Wood barely appears on any map and can be walked around in three hours or so. However, attempts to explore The Wood are usually frustrated, and the curious usually find themselves at the edge again without having penetrated very far.

From a nearby hill, several tantalising views can be seen. Somewhere in The Wood there is a clearing with a tower in the centre. However, reaching the tower is almost impossible as The Wood jealously guards its secrets.

There are several nearby farms and some of these have witnessed some of the things that came out of The Wood. When they hear the strange growlings and snortings they simply close their windows and wait. Eventually the beasts always return to their home in The Wood.

People have also been sighted coming from The Wood, although their manner of speech is always strange and their clothes even stranger.

Occasionally an ‘Outsider’ will move into a nearby farm and take an unusual amount of interest in The Wood. Such people are avoided by locals, considered troublemakers. The Wood is ancient, proud and should be left undisturbed. Stories of ‘Outsiders’ vanishing into The Wood never to return are quite common.

Possibilities

1 The Wood is a gateway to the Dreamlands. It is where the two realities intersect and travellers can cross. However, the gateway is protected and only the very determined can make their way through. Travel is possible in both directions, and the sightings of people and beasts are those that have stumbled through from the Dreamlands.

2 The Wood is haunted by a ghost of a woodsman who lost his girl. She is buried at the tower and he guards her grave jealously. He will try to prevent anyone from reaching her grave, and has strength enough to form long dead beasts from sticks and stones to frighten the curious. His last resort is his unparalleled skill with bow and arrow.

3 This is one of several special places. Dragons, unicorns, elves and the like all live in The Wood protected from outside interference by powerful magics.

© Steve Hatherley

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Sinne Eater

Morton Blakelock is a tall, dark man in his early thirties. Thin to the point of being underweight, Morton dresses neatly and respectfully in black.

His business card gives his name, business and profession:

Morton Blakelock, H. Blakelock & Sons, Sinne Eaters

Sinne eaters offer a service – they consume the sins of the recently deceased. The practice was at its height in the 16th and 17th centuries, when sinne eaters would attend the funerals of the upper class. In return for a penny or two and a hearty meal provided by the bereaved, they would consume the sins of the deceased, permitting the soul to go to heaven.

In modern times, there are very few sinne eaters left. However, in certain strata of Society their service is still requested.

The Blakelock’s have been sinne eaters since the 1800s. Their exclusive service come at a price.

Possibilities

1 Whether Morton actually consumes the sins of the deceased is open to debate. However, thanks to the circles he moves in, Morton knows many influential families. And he knows many of their secrets.

Morton typically attends seven or eight funerals each year. At times of such distress, inevitably guards are lowered and Morton finds himself privvy to confidential information and family secrets.

Of course, he will never reveal any of it. At least, not while his clients are so generous.

2 Morton’s older brother is now in care in Hampstead following a mental breakdown. Mental illness runs in the Blakelock family, but what Morton doesn’t realise is that the illness is caused by the act of eating sins.

The act, or ritual, of sin eating genuinely does mean that the body of the deceased passes to purgatory without sin. However, the price paid by the sinne eater is that they slowly become tainted by the sins of others, and in due course this can express itself as schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.

3 Morton is well known by certain members of London’s Metropolitan Police Service who are prepared to explore unorthodox means to solve particularly tricky crimes. It seems that Morton sometimes knows things that only the deceased would know – and has been instrumental in solving a few particularly difficult cases.

Whether the deceased’s sins are actually transferred, Morton does not know. What does transfer during the ritual, however, are some of the deceased’s memories – and Morton sometimes learns details of crimes and other aspects of the deceased’s life. He is happy to share relevant details to the authorities, provided that his reputation with his clients remains intact.

© Steve Hatherley

Saturday, 12 November 2016

The Tattoo

You don't know how long it has been there, but a friend points it out. In the small of your back, on your left side, near your kidneys. A tattoo of a jewelled spider. It is quite exquisite, quite unusual, oddly evil - and a complete mystery. How on earth did it get there?

The design is surprisingly lifelike - except that you are certain that no spider ever looked quite so malevolent. Tattooists who see it are impressed - the design has a richness of texture and colour that they have never been able to achieve.

Yet the question remains. You have never had a tattoo in your life. So where in hell did this come from?

Possibilities

1  Three weeks later and there's a second tattoo, on the sole of your foot. This time it is a reddish ball, which appears to glow eerily.

Then you begin to feel increasingly tired. You have difficulty waking in the morning, and begin to look drawn and haggard. As the weeks pass you become weaker, and fall prey to the weakest of germs. Coughs and cold cripple you; you are quite sick.

All this time, the spider tattoo never moves, never changes. The same cannot be said for the ball. It swells and grows to the size of a large coin. It becomes oddly translucent, and smaller spidery shapes can be seen inside. It is an egg sac.

Then you wake one morning feeling fresher and brighter than in ages. The sac tattoo has gone, but in its place are dozen of tiny spider tattoos, covering your skin. And three days later they are also gone - as has the larger spider, their mother. They are never seen again.

2  Over a period of time, the tattoo seems to get smaller. In fact, if you measure it, you learn that it is getting smaller. Then one night, it has gone.

Two days later, it reappears - but on a different part of your body. It is bigger, bloated. And again, over a period of several weeks it shrinks, growing smaller until once more it vanishes. Only to reappear.

This cycle is repeated over and over. Each time the tattoo returns, bloated, corpulent and somehow sated. As if it has fed from something. Or someone . . .

3  The tattoo is the mark of the spider-god. Spiders from all around come to be near their god. Your house slowly becomes infested with spiders. They are everywhere, as are their cobwebs. (There is not an insect to be seen, naturally.)

Wherever you goes, spiders are drawn to you. They climb through your clothes, hide in your hair, scamper across your skin.

They simply like being with you, near you.

© Steve Hatherley

Monday, 31 October 2016

The Old Cottage

At the end of an old track, a mile long through dark woods filled with twisted, stunted trees lies a cottage. It’s an old cottage, ruined and overgrown with vegetation. The windows gape open, the door is rotting and ruined. Inside, the cottage is pleasantly unspoiled. The woodwork is in good condition, and there is still even furniture inside.

On top of the old beams, between the joists that hold up the first floor, a small coin-sized artefact can be found. The artefact is silver, and not quite circular. On one side is writing, and on the other is inscribed a five-pointed star inside a six-pointed star on one side.

Possibilities

1     The artefact is a ward of protection - it has protected the cottage from the elements, wildlife and dark forces. As a result, no animal will stay in the cottage and plants wither and die. The ward was created by Zachary Bleach, a nineteenth century occultist and member of the Golden Dawn, who used the cottage as a retreat and haven. Removing the artefact from the cottage destroys the ward.

2     The artefact is an old Moroccan coin that has worn over time. It was placed in the rafters of the cottage by the owners as a lucky charm.

3     The cottage used to belong to Alice Catmint, a white witch whose spirit is bound to the place. When she died, her neighbours tried to remove her body, but when they did the cottage started to immediately decay. So, they returned Alice’s body to the cottage, and put it into the bread-oven in the side of the inglenook fireplace. (A local legend has it that bread baked in the oven brings good luck.)

As for the artefact, it belonged to a stranger who sought shelter from a storm in the cottage. The stranger was Alice’s true love, and she only spent one night with him. Before he left the following morning, she stole a coin from his purse and worked her magic on it. The coin brings good luck to the stranger and his descendants, and it continues to bring good luck to this day. Exposing the coin to moonlight breaks the spell.

© Steve Hatherley

Friday, 14 October 2016

Stones of Doom

The stone fragments are at the bottom of a shoe box filled with stone arrowheads. Although now broken, they fragments clearly fit together to form a larger stone. The arrowheads have been collected from Anasazi ruins by archaeologist Dr Rachel Smith. She is auctioning them along with her other finds because she needs to raise money fast.

She found the stones of doom in a previously undiscovered Anasazi chamber, but forgot about them. They have been lying in the shoebox with the arrowheads for years, quite forgotten.

Possibilities

1 The stone is an ancient Anasazi fertility symbol. Originally steeped in the milk of Shub-Niggurath, when assembled (and bound together so that it cannot fall apart) the stone causes everything in the immediate area to become fertile. Everything - plants flourish, insects swarm, rats and mice are everywhere. Milk sours overnight, creeping mould is rampant and weeds overrun the garden.

The stone affects humans as well - curing infertility and increasing the likelihood of twins and triplets.

2 The stone is an ancient Anasazi curse stone. The curse inscribed on the stone can be translated only after painstaking research. From what is left to be translated, the curse appears to have been put on a woman who was unfaithful to her husband. Whether the stones had an effect cannot be determined, although the Anasazi took their curses very seriously and held their shaman in high regard.

3 The stone is an old deep one device. When the pieces are assembled the symbols emit a bright light. The stone fuses together into a single piece, and starts sweating. But it appears to do little else.

The stone is a shoggoth leash, used by deep ones to protect themselves from the terrible shoggoth attacks launched at them by the elder things during the war millennia ago. The stone itself causes any shoggoth that comes near to lose control of its mass, reducing itself to bubbling ooze until the holder of the stone moves away. The deep ones have lost the means to create more leashes, and would be interested in recovering the stone (should they learn of it) to rediscover that lost art.

Quite what the stones were doing in Anasazi ruins is a complete mystery, however...

© Steve Hatherley

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Gargoyle's Watch

Every old building has its custodian, often a caretaker, who watches over it. They take care of their ward, undertaking repairs and maintenance and ensuring that the building doesn’t fall into ruin. Custodians know their charges like the backs of their hands.

And old buildings have gargoyles. Often grotesque, always ornamental, gargoyles are everywhere. Custodians can tell you all about the gargoyles - who they are, what they represent, why they are there.

But there’s something the custodians of these old buildings rarely admit to themselves, let alone to other people: sometimes the gargoyles change...

Possibilities

1 When John Dee, the queen’s astrologer, formed the Royal Council of Magii, he did so because he was worried. London was changing. He could sense forces gathering: sidhe, Templars, witchfinders, and others. There was a power struggle looming, and Dee formed the Royal Council of Magii to advise the crown as to the best response.

One of the first commands the council was given was to provide more information. More knowledge. So the Council began to develop a network of eyes and ears.

One small part of that network was known as the ‘stone maiden’, an upright coffin-sized device that, when used correctly, allowed anyone inside it to ‘inhabit’ any gargoyle within a radius of about five miles. The subject’s face would replace the gargoyle, and they would be able to watch and listen.

The ‘stone maiden’ is still in use by the Royal Council, and they are still watching as the forces are still gathering and the true power struggle has yet to begin.

2 The ‘devil’s stone chisel’ is the name given to a stonemason’s chisel found in an unmarked grave uncovered in Wapping in 1782. According to eyewitnesses, the body in the grave was horned and hoofed, and the chisel was clutched in its withered hands. The body and the chisel were quickly removed from the site.

Nobody knows what became of the body, but in 1892 the chisel was used in a series of brutal murders committed by Thaddeus Shrike. Although only three bodies were found (each of them ritually mutilated using a chisel-like implement), Shrike claimed to have killed ten people across London using the ‘devil’s stone chisel,’ which he claimed contained dark magics.

Shrike’s victims, killed by a powerful magic item wielded by a madman, are now restless spirits, their terrified features appearing intermittently as gargoyles.

The chisel itself was never found.

3 Chittern are solid, stonelike creatures of the fae Wildwood. They are ambush predators, waiting patiently for their prey.

Their favoured prey are fae younglings, who are cast into the Wildwood by their unfeeling fae parents. Most fae younglings never survive their first year, eaten by chittern or worse. Those who survive are tough, careful and resilient.

Some fae younglings even make their way out of the Wildwood, crossing where the boundaries are weak. In London, those places include the untidy corners of parks and gardens.

And where the fae younglings go, so chittern have been known to follow. Chittern are drawn to old buildings, with their ornate stonework and decorative gargoyles. They are ideal places to wait in ambush...

© Steve Hatherley

Sunday, 31 July 2016

The Tower on Dulas Island

In 1821 Colonel James Hughes constructed a stone tower on Ynys Dulas (Dulas Island), off the north east coast of Anglesey. The tower is nine metres high topped with a tapering top, and was provided as a refuge for shipwrecked sailors. The tower provided shelter, and Hughes stocked it with essential foodstuffs.

The tower was only used three times, in 1825, 1839, and 1842 before better maritime aids eventually rendered it unnecessary. The tower still stands on Dulas Island today.

Possibilities

1 Building the tower was a cover story for a greater purpose: the construction of a great ward, protecting Anglesey from invasion. Colonel Hughes was a member of the secretive Order of the Unseen Crown, who regard Anglesey as sacred.

The great ward is made up of a number of individual smaller wards (the exact number is known only by the Order). On Dulas Island, the ward was carved into a stone slab that was placed in the floor of the tower, with tiles then laid over it.

Other wards placed around Anglesey’s coast include the South Stack lighthouse and Church Island.

2 A sea-troll has recently taken the tower as its home. For most of the time it stays on Dulas Island, but two or three times a month is steals ashore and takes a sheep in the night, leaving behind nothing but a ravaged carcass.

The attacks are being blamed on a big cat, but no cat has been found and farmers are getting restless.

3 An old, mostly forgotten legend describes Ynys Island as being the site of an ancient shrine to a fertility god. These days the legend is mostly forgotten, except for a persistent story that couples who are having difficulty becoming pregnant should visit Ynys Island on a full moon. Colonel Hughes’ tower provides all the privacy that couples need.

It is all a story of course, although it is also striking quite how many of the local children are quiet, have dark curly hair, and sea-blue eyes.

© Steve Hatherley

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Snuff

Dear Montagu,

 I hope this reaches you as I am not sure I have your current address and I'm not sure what a stranger will make of this.
  
Do you remember Great Uncle Sebastian? We were finally permitted to declare him legally dead. He had been missing for 15 years after all, and he had been 87 when he went missing, but his will had been contested and... Anyway, to cut a long story short we've now had The Reading of the Will.  

It turned out that Great Uncle Sebastian had three houses that none of the Family knew about. All of them in Blackheath, all of them boarded up and hadn't been lived in in decades. So obviously we've had to clear them out.

Which brings me to the parcel accompanying this letter. In the attic of one of the houses we found a collection of snuff boxes - and remembering your collection of antique pipes, I thought you might be interested in them.

I hope you can use them and that this letter finds you in good health. Do let me know your latest news.

Sincerely, Miriam

Along with the letter, the package contains a small wooden box with a mahogany veneer, brass fittings and a family crest inlaid with mother of pearl on the lid. Inside the box are a dozen or so small containers - each exquisitely hand-decorated and no two the same.

They are snuff boxes.

Possibilities

1 The snuff boxes contain the cremated remains of Burnt Yates (so named because he famously singed his fingers once when cooking toast), a south London undertaker. Burnt Yates was notorious for breeding emperor rats in a bid to create a rat-king. Nobody knows if he succeeded or not.

The crest on the box is a family crest that Yates invented for himself. The box contains (apart from Yates' dusty remains) a secret compartment and in that compartment is Yates' last will and testament.

2 The snuff boxes all contain fine black crystals - a little like obsidian sugar granules.

The crystal are known has "hadgh" and are a dietary supplement required by body thieves. Without regular doses of hadgh the body thief starts to lose control of its host - hadgh is used to supress the victim's spirit. Extended possession can lead to the victim developing mental illness when the body thief finally moves on.

3 The snuff is a set of experimental Victorian snuff, lovingly collected by Sir Cromwell Higgins, the eccentric hunter-explorer.

The bottles are labelled in Sir Cromwell's spidery handwriting and are now rather faded. Deciphering his handwriting reveals titles such as "extract of duck", "scrapings of a Belgian church pew" and "essence of the Kilimanjaro elephant". What they really contain is another matter altogether.

© Steve Hatherley

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Fungus

Dr Samuel Christian Chiltern is a driven mycologist and brilliant in his field. Unfortunately, he is so wrapped up in his work that he does not easily interact socially with the real world – Chiltern is rather shy and doesn't take well to strangers. While discussing mycology he is fluent and clear, but as soon as conversation strays from his field he develops nervous twitches and uncomfortable mannerisms. However, his worst trait is his failure to admit to being wrong.

Chiltern is happy to talk about his new discovery. He explains that his studies have proven, beyond all doubt, that the samples he took in the three states all came from the same plant. However, he is at a loss of how to describe it, as the fungus does not behave anything like other fungi. He has a specimen in his laboratory should the investigators show an interest.

The fungus has taken over one corner of a workbench. Thin tendrils reach out from a large glass tank filled with soggy leaves. The tendrils have spread out, dangling onto the floor. One of them has reached a phone book and is feeding from that, reducing the directory to a pulpy mass covered in pale fur.

Chiltern uses a spatula to push aside the decaying leaf litter to reveal a fleshy lump the size of his fist. Thin tendrils sprout from this, and he explains that there are other lumps, or nodes, in the tank. Chiltern is particularly interested in the nodes as he hasn't discovered any in the field to date; these have all been grown from cuttings taken in the field. He is still examining the fungus and has yet to form any theories.

Chiltern is reluctant to provide details of the exact locations of where he found the fungus, although that is driven from a sense of scientific confidentiality rather than anything more sinister.

If asked about Dr Meredith, his ex-wife, Chiltern scowls nervously. He worshipped the ground she walked on, and she treated him by divorcing him - he isn't even allowed to see his son. His is still emotionally scarred, and it hasn’t helped that Dr Meredith has publicly denounced his work. It is a subject best avoided.

Possibilities

1 The fungus is concentrated around the nodes which are greatly dispersed in the wild. The nodes themselves are about the size of a three-storey house, growing in large subterranean caverns which glow eerily with a weak phosphorescent light. Land around the fungus is rich in mutated flora and fauna. Trees suffer attacks from fungi of myriad colours, and the area is generally damp and unhealthy.

There is also an effect on communities drinking untreated water drawn from wells tainted by the fungus. Such communities become isolationist and secretive. Inbreeding is common, as are wine-stain birthmarks. Such communities have even been known to practise cannibalism. As a side effect, such people are susceptible to the temptations offered by the Outer Gods - and temples to blasphemous creatures can sometimes be encountered in such communities.

The fungus' most visible symptom during an investigation is the large proportion of cultists with wine-stain birthmarks. Simply destroying the cultists will not be enough - the fungus must be destroyed as well. (At the very least, the water supply needs purifying.) The sheer scale of the fungus may become apparent when investigators encounter different cults worshipping different gods in different parts of the country all displaying the same wine-stain birthmarks.

2 The fungus is a huge Mi-Go supercomputer wrapped around the globe. Each node is, in human terms, a processing centre and may grow to the size of a small house. The fungus may be found in all locations that the Mi-Go have been know to frequent.

Each node (the exact number of which is known only to the Mi-Go, but it is believed to be no more than three dozen or so) is carefully monitored by the Mi-Go. The Fungi from Yuggoth themselves (often through their human agents) watch over the nodes to ensure that each operates undisturbed. The nodes are usually located in isolated areas, but there is a chance that construction activities will disturb one. When a node is threatened, the Mi-Go will act - preferably using government agents and legal means, but with direct force if absolutely necessary.

The computer's purpose is unknown - although it has been suggested that its existence is the reason that the Mi-Go remain on Earth. Whether the Mi-Go serve the computer or whether it serves them is a subject open to debate. Certain serpent people texts uncovered at Borobodur, Java suggest that the Mi-Go act on the computer's behalf – for what reason, the texts do not disclose.

3 The fungus is not of terrestrial origin. In 1908 a comet fragment collided with the earth over the Siberian wastes. The comet was mostly rock and ice, but also carried a Mi-Go terraforming fungus. From its cataclysmic arrival, the fungus buried into the soil and spread across the globe.

The fungus is engineered to provide a climate on Earth similar to Yuggoth. Once the fungus has infiltrated an area it attacks the native flora, killing it and replacing it with a new ecosystem. The fleshy nodes (which grow no larger than a soccer ball) contain the genetic information for a variety of fungoid forms. At present the fungus has only colonised several subterranean caverns. Where active, the Mi-Go have encouraged the fungus' growth, achieving toe-holds in remote areas.

Elsewhere, the fungus slowly creeps around the globe, burrowing invisibly through the earth's crust. Once this phase is complete, it will move toward the surface and smother the planet in a thick, fungal embrace.

© Steve Hatherley

Monday, 21 March 2016

Seven Woodcut Blocks

It's an online auction for seven woodcut blocks by Thomas Kilner. The seller's username is bugman666, and the starting bid is £100.

Thomas Kilner (1803-1831) lived in London and was an artist of minor repute. He was a member of the occult Order of the Silver Thistle, and illustrated the order's only publication with a series of 35 woodcuts. He was savagely attacked with a knife while sleeping. The murderer was never found.

The Order of the Silver Thistle was an occult society formed in 1820 by James Pinkney. The order broke up in 1831. The order published one book, Light of the Seven Orders of Truth, a 128 page volume written by Pinkney. No volumes are known to remain intact.

Possibilities

1 The auction is a lure. Bugman666 is an avid collector of magical esoteria and artefacts. He knows that the order was involved in powerful occult rituals, and hopes to lure other magically-inclined individuals to bid. His plan is to sell the woodcut blocks and get a postal address (he'll insist on a real address, not a mailbox). Bugman666 will then make a personal visit to rob the seller not only of the blocks, but also any other artefacts, books or ephemera he can find at that address.

2 The winner of the auction is Colin Jessop and he has been fascinated in the Order of the Silver Thistle for the last five years. Colin has collected anything and everything to do with the order that he has laid his hands on, and he would love to meet some like-minded individuals to reform the order.

3 Bugman666's real name is Thomas Kilner and he is now nearly 200 years old.

The order's last ritual in 1831 was livelier than they could have anticipated. Through powerful magics that they never really understood, Kilner underwent some fundamental physiological changes. Nobody else survived.

Kilner is now an ageless vampire, and hates his pathetic existence. He has few vampiric powers but must drink human blood once every few years or so. The rest of the time he spends in his increasingly dilapidated house, feeding from rats and spiders. As his resources and finances dwindle, he finds new ways of raising money - including selling his work online.

© Steve Hatherley

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Type Case

Some months ago a type case (a wooden tray divided into sections to hold the various metal letters of a typeface used for printing) was sold in an auction. According to legend, the typeface was used to print an occult book.

Possibilities

1 The type case was sold to a collector, and one day the collector decides to print a book (a short treatise on astronomy) using the typeface and an old printing press.

Everything is normal until the book is finished. Then a buzzing is heard in the whole house and the collector (and any guests) start suffering nightmares...

The typeface is evil...

2 A printer bought the case to publish profane books. As soon as the first page is printed the bad luck begins.

First, the printer loses two fingers to the printing machine, Then his assistant injures himself. And then the office cat dies...

Eventually the printer is found dead, having committed suicide by putting his head into the printing press.

3 A poet buys the type case to print his works at home. He publishes a limited collection of his poems and sells them through libraries and exhibitions.

Although his poems are about spring, summer and love, readers of the collection experience depression, hate and fear. They also suffer from an inordinate number of paper cuts - for some reason the little book of poetry inflicts paper cuts. It is as if it needs feeding...

© Jochen Koltermann 

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Forked Tongues

Martin Coleford-Johns is fascinated by dinosaurs. His father worked hard uncovering fossilized skeletons of the giant creatures and passed the bug on to Martin. It was only natural that he should attend Oxford and study the science of palaeontology. Now, at the age of 42, Martin Coleford-Johns is the acknowledged leader of the field.

Tall and good looking, many women have fallen for this aristocratic figure. However, Martin has but one passion - dinosaurs. He is distant and uninterested in anything except his favourite subject. When anyone mentions anything to do with the prehistoric world he suddenly becomes lively and alert, almost undergoing a complete personality change.

However, this reclusive man does not like to publicise his work. He lives in the family house set back in extensive gardens behind high brick walls. His two servants, a butler and a maid, aid him. Currently he has only one heir, Justin Coleford-Johns. The boy is at boarding school, his mother having died in childbirth.

Coleford-Johns rarely appears in public, preferring to work either in the field or in the extensive laboratories constructed on his grounds. When he does appear (evening engagements only) he is always impeccably dressed.

Visitors to the house are unwelcome. If the visitors cannot express an interest in either the extensive reptile collection or the study of fossils then they will be shown the door. Otherwise Coleford-Johns will talk animatedly to his fellow devotees on the subject until he grows tired of them.

The Coleford-Johns family has for years been a sanctuary for the Serpent People. With the aid of Consume Likeness the Serpent People have taken the place of Martin, the butler and the maid. There are other Serpent People hidden about the house.

The only human member of the family is Justin, and he is kept away from the house as much as possible. Once he has bred and has at least one heir, the Serpent People will kill and replace him as well.

The house is filled with reptiles and dinosaur books. The shelves are lined with anything even vaguely connected to the subject. There are fossils and bones and several scale models of dinosaurs. There are also several Serpent People tomes, but they are well hidden. Lighting in the house is always soft to avoid casting betraying shadows. The Serpent People never go out in bright sunlight and have most of their needs delivered direct from Harrods.

Coleford-Johns has a purpose other than the study of fossils. He is engaged in a programme to return the People as rightful masters of the Earth. In rooms concealed below the house he has several clutches of Serpent People eggs, just waiting to hatch.

His fossil hunting expeditions across the globe conceal a more sinister purpose. Chipping at rock in distant countries is a good cover for his true goal - finding the lost temples of the Serpent People.

The Serpent People were a violent, possessive race and fought many battles with other aliens that wanted Earth for their own. However, their enemies were cunning and powerful and, at the end of the Permain Era, they began the preparations which would preserve their ancient race until such time as they could reclaim the world for their own.

Their preparations consisted of a series of temples scattered across the globe in isolated locations. In each, a number of the Serpent People were placed in a state of deep hibernation, along with much of their (now lost) technology and sorcery. Eventually, when the wars were over they would awaken to reclaim the Earth.

However, something went wrong and the temples' inhabitants never woke. As the Earth grew older its crust moved and shifted, crushing many temples. Others were lost as the land dropped and the sea rushed in, or were found by other races and destroyed. Now, 230 million years after their construction, there are only a few of the temples left. Martin Coleford-Johns wants to find them.

Possibilities

1 Justin Coleford-Johns is troubled by nightmares about reptiles. In them he dreams of giant walking snakes which talk in strange hissing voices. Sometimes, in the really bad nightmares his father turns into one of these creatures. Periodically he runs away from the boarding school, but is always found and sent back.

2 Carelessly, slip Martin Coleford-Johns is photographed in broad sunlight while working on a large fossil in Utah, America. The photographer is a journalist reporting on the expedition and does not notice the strange, inhuman shadow. However, while Martin is still in the USA, the photograph is printed in one of the London papers. The paper has the print in its files, the shadow is much clearer on that.

3 Should reports pointing to a new Serpent People colony reach his ears, Martin will begin to investigate. Stories of dinosaurs, giant reptiles, and samples of shedded skin will stir his interest.

If the Investigators are involved he may try to infiltrate the group by casting Consume Likeness. Coleford-Johns may decide to use one of his different forms to avoid attracting attention to his sanctuary.

© Steve Hatherley

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Harsh Words

It’s a sudden pain in the head, a searing agony that slowly subsides into a pounding headache. And there are the words, meaningless words:

"Kath rinto Cha’col neblod zin."

Possibilities

1 The words mean "Embrace the waters and rejoice" in an ancient, nearly-forgotten language. They are the result of a powerful spell that has recently been cast. The spell only affects potential deep ones - and all of them within the spell’s range will have felt the effect.

The spell triggers "the change." Fairly soon, everyone affected will learn that the only way to completely ease the pain is by immersion in water - be it a bath, swimming pool or the sea. Over time, physical changes will become apparent, until eventually the call to the sea becomes too strong and they are never seen again.

2 The words are instructions, and with them comes an image of a distinctive building at night, and on that building a gargoyle. Through trial and error, the victim learns that to ease the pain they have to be actively working on visiting the building. First they have to find the building, then travel there. Then, once they are standing at the corner of the building below the gargoyle’s perch, at night, they must shout the words. Only then does the pain finally ease.

Upon hearing the words the gargoyle blinks and turns its head. Then, under the cover of darkness, it spreads its stony wings and flies heavily into the night to assist whomever (or whatever) summoned it.

3 The words are instructions; simple commands that the victim is compelled to carry out. The instructions are meaningless - go to the third stair, walk on the left side of the street, comb your hair backwards. After completing the first task, the pain fades. Then, after a while, a new instruction arrives…

The victim only recently recovered from a head injury that resulted in hospital treatment. Although the head surgeon is internationally renowned, he is also a servant of the mi-go. In their service he implanted a device during surgery. The device conveys mi-go instructions, and is now being tested.

Unfortunately, this model of the device doesn’t appear to be working well as the instructions are being followed incorrectly. Soon the mi-go will need to kidnap the victim and harvest the device to find out what has gone wrong and where they can make improvements...

© Steve Hatherley

Saturday, 12 March 2016

The Followers

You are being watched. You cannot see the things that follow you. It could just be your imagination, but movement at the edge of your vision and malicious chattering voices in the wind, haunt your every waking moment. At night they come closer and hide behind reflections in mirrors and darkened windows. And if you turn out the light . . . they become really bold. So you sleep with the light on. Always.

It’s that or the nightmares . . .

Some nights you wake unable to breathe as if something heavy is sitting on your chest. And the room still smells of fetid breath and damp fur.

Possibilities

1 Your block is the subject of secret government experimentation. An experimental drug has been introduced into the water supply, in minute quantities. The drug is heightening everyone’s paranoia and is affecting their sanity.

As well as your own difficulties, other residents are affected. Arguments flare at the slightest provocation. Nobody talks to their neighbours. Security systems are installed. And then nice Mrs Dolittle, who made you cookies the other day, is arrested for making a stew with her husband’s head.

After that, the experiment stops and things slowly return to normal. Nobody is any the wiser.

2 The shock almost killed you. You were having a cup of coffee in a café when suddenly another customer screams and flails at the air as if attacked by something. You stood up to help but, like an after-image of bright lights, you could see things swarming over him. Or at least that is what you think you saw.

Since then you have perceived those things everywhere. And they know that you can see them. Whatever their malign purpose, they wish to do it unobserved and are Now out to get you.

3 For hundreds of years scientists have observed, catalogued and dissected things to see how they work. If a few dogs die of lung cancer or a rabbit has its eyes burnt out, well, it’s all for the common good. We need to know that cigarettes are bad for us and that our cosmetics are kind to our skin.

Now scientist of a different hue are making the same justification. They come in the night and drug you so that you can not remember exactly what has happened and they take you away and conduct experiments. A dissection one night, mazes and electric shocks the next. It’s cruel, yes, but they need to learn a few things before they arrive and it is all for the common good. Well, their common good - and they have never considered that any other kind matters.

© Nathan Gribble

Night of the Long Knives

The investigators are invited to a revue of Chinese theatre by Professor Charles Ashbourne, expert on all aspects of China. He tells them that it is a social invitation but hints that there is some point to the meeting.

A treat of Chinese culture is in store. Jugglers, gymnasts, dancers in dazzling costumes and paper dragons. The finale is a lady conjurer assisted by two giant Mongols. After an impressive display of magic and muscle flexing the finale, the classic box-of-swords illusion, starts.

Both assistants are too massive to fit into the box so the conjurer calls for a volunteer from the audience. Much to his delight, Ashbourne is chosen from several enthusiastic volunteers. He steps into the box and the door closes behind him.

The two Mongols spin the box then thrust their swords clean through it. The box is rotated again to show the swords protruding right through the box. Then the conjurer screams and faints.

As the house lights go up blood can be seen running down the blades. The swords are withdrawn and the dead body of Professor Ashbourne tumbles from the box. The curtain drops, none too soon.

Possibilities

1     Ashbourne's death was an unfortunate accident, a trap door that should have opened below him malfunctioned. The theatre's insurance company has made a substantial out of court settlement to Ashbourne's widow.

2     Access to Ashbourne's papers will point towards his investigations into Chinese Tongs in London. In particular he seems fascinated by Dr Cheng, an almost legendary figure wielding absolute power. Ashbourne was getting too close and was eliminated.

3     Ashbourne's wife was having an affair with the son of a peer of the realm. Using his contacts in the Chinese community, they arranged his death. In return they are to pay the Tongs half the insurance money that Mrs Ashbourne stands to receive from both her husband's and the theatre's policies.

© Garrie Hall

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Snails

It's a massive snail. It's body must be nearly 9" long (and maybe 2-3" in girth), with a huge shell to match. Worse than that, it's in the cellar. The cellar was always damp, but never home to giant snails...

Closer inspection reveals that there is a crack in the cellar wall, and the snail has come through from next door. The neighbouring house is owned by Sebastian Crease, a thin gentleman in his late-fifties, who lives alone.

Possibilities

1 Sebastian Crease is a discredited scientist - having been fired from his previous employer he is trying to create a comeback. His cellar is filled with test tubes, petri dishes and tanks full of snails. Crease is trying to create a cheap, nutritious superfood based on snails that he can sell to the agribusiness that fired him. He has successfully bred snails up to 9" long, but is aiming for twice that.

2 The snail is a rare Amazonian Flesh-Eating Snail, and Crease is a snail enthusiast. He keeps them in his cellar, which is full of tanks containing specimens from across the globe.

Unfortunately, Crease is now dead - he slipped on a step-ladder while changing the light bulb in the cellar. He fell onto one of the tanks, shattering the glass and his body ended up on the floor in a pool of blood, a shard of glass in his windpipe.

As for the tank, it contained the giant Amazonian Flesh-Eating Snails, and they have been gorging on the feast. With Crease's corpse mostly consumed, they have gone in search of other food.

3 The Grand Vitae Society is an illustrious thirty-year old society that researches ancient Roman customs and traditions - and re-enacts them. (Since the death of society founder Lucius Splitfoot three years ago, the society has become more enthusiastic in its re-enactments and recent gatherings have repeated some of Roman society's worst excesses.)

Sebastian Crease is a prominent member of the society and is responsible for providing a particular Roman delicacy for the next meeting - fattened snails. He feeds the snails on a kind of pap made from, amongst other things, sweet wine and honey. The snails have thrived.

Having successfully bred the snails, Sebastian is now trying different recipes for cooking and serving them. Anyone who calls is invited to try a plate of meaty snacks and titbits...


© Steve Hatherley

The Plated Skull

The high-ceilinged, oak-panelled entrance hall of The Whistable Reserve, an exclusive Knightsbridge gentlemen's club, is lined with artefacts gathered from across the globe. The artefacts comprise various tablets of stone, a few ancient tribal weapons, some mysterious urns and jars - and in the pride of place, a hideous plated skull. In front of the skull is a faded handwritten label: "Plated skull, Thebes 1936, circa 500BC."

The artefacts have all been donated to the Whistable Reserve by members, either in the course of their membership or as part of their will.

However, there is something strange about the hallway - it is reportedly haunted and cleaning staff refuse to clean after dark. At least, not without a full member of the Reserve present to watch over them.

Possibilities

1 The plated skull isn't human. The skull has been taken from one of the skeletal warrior-guardians of the legendary Fleece of Gold. The bronze plating is etched with celtic designs and appears to have been added to the skull much later. It is quite battered - neither the skull nor the plating is in good condition.

The original guardians of the Fleece of Gold were magical warriors, and skull still contains magical reserves. That energy sometimes leaks out, giving the hallway its haunted reputation. Should the skull somehow regain mobility, it will unthinkingly try to carry out the last orders given to it - to kill all those aboard the Argos.

2  The plated skull is a gregori, or "Witness". The creation of a gregori requires a ritual sacrifice. During the ritual the victim's soul is trapped into an object (often the victim's head or skull - sometimes some other object). The ritual is difficult and expensive, and gregori are prized items as a result.

The gregori itself has only limited consciousness, but perfect recall. With the right ritual, the gregori will reveal everything that it has witnessed since it was created. The plated skull was created in Ancient Greece, and it has 2500 years worth of memories to reveal.

3  The plated skull belongs to the club's founder, Sir Wilberforce Whistable. Sir Wilberforce had two great loves in his life - the occult and exotic wines. He founded the Reserve in 1880 so that he could and other like-minded gentlemen could combine their interests in civilised oak-panelled surroundings.

Sir Wilberforce died in 1916 and he left his skull to the Reserve. The Reserve had it partially-plated in silver and put it on display in the Reserve's hallway. During the war, the Reserve moved its prized possessions to a country estate in Shropshire to escape the Blitz. When they returned to Knightsbridge in 1945 (the club had survived the war largely unscathed), many of the Reserve's records had been lost and the skull became labelled as an archaeological find.

The wine cellars of the Whistable are fully stocked and extensive. Some of the wines even date back to Sir Wilberforce's era - although they are now largely undrinkable.

© Steve Hatherley

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Jars

In a remote corner of Laos, on a hard-to-reach plateau, are hundreds of massive stone jars. They cover an area of 30 square miles and are scattered through the thin forest with varying density. In places they seem to cover the ground, with barely space to walk between them.

The jars themselves are huge, typically three feet tall and carved from granite. Many of them appear to have been moved to the plateau, for reasons unknown. Some of the jars have lids - perhaps all of the jars once had lids, and a few are sealed. Others have strange markings carved in their sides.

The plateau is sparsely populated, and the natives have no more idea of what the jars are for than anyone else. They use handy jars for storage, or as water butts. Most of them, however, are just left.

Possibilities

1 The jars are stone-age artefacts and were carved 3-4000 years old. They appear to have been used by the stone age tribes of the area for storage - as some of them have been found to contain pots and shards of bamboo. The jars also seem to have some kind of religious significance, as several of the sealed jars have been found to contain skeletons.

2 The jars had originally been brought across from the dreamlands. They had been used by the Men of Leng centuries ago to transport moonbeasts into the waking world. The jars have since been left scattered, debris of an ancient scheme. They have since been used by the local people for storage.

The jars are not entirely benign, however. In the original scheme some of the moonbeasts were missed. Some have died, and strange twisted bones can be found in a few of the jars. In one or two of the sealed pots, however, hibernating moonbeasts wait for the unsealing. They are unlikely to be pleased when they finally awake.

3 The jars are ancient artefacts of worship. Long ago, the people of Laos worshipped an avatar of Nyarlathotep, the Bloated Woman. She would visit annually, and would be most displeased with her people if the offering had not been properly prepared. They were therefore always most eager to prepare it properly.

The offering, a vile mixture of rotting herbs, pustulent body parts and live sacrifices would be prepared over the course of several months and poured into a hand-carved stone jar. The lid would then be sealed and the concoction left to turn in the sun for several weeks. At the time of the Great Coming, the jar’s lid would be removed and, upon smelling the fragrant aroma belching forth, the Bloated Woman would arrive to bless the people of Laos.

© Steve Hatherley

Monday, 29 February 2016

Couch Potato

Darren Richards, aged 13, is not a happy boy. Neither is he an unhappy boy. At least, not so far as you can tell. He sits vegetatively, occasionally rocking to and fro, unresponsive to external stimuli - even his favourite TV show. His parents spoon feed him mush. "The lights are on, but nobody seems to be home," as Doctor Clarke says.

Darren was found in exactly that state, sat in front of his computer game console plugged into the wide screen TV in the family home, a little over a week ago. Prior to that he was a perfectly normal lad of his age.

Questioning the family reveals a seemingly irrelevant detail, that the computer game had malfunctioned, the screen looked "odd". If pursued it emerges that Darren was video taping his progress to enter a "game glitches" competition in a magazine. The tape shows the player's character in the game moving through a seemingly solid mountain range in the game environment into a "wrongly" coloured surreal landscape where moving images leave strangely blurred after-shadows.

Possibilities

1 The game provides an entrance into the dreamlands. If the investigators play the game and retrace Darren's route (requiring hours of frustrating practice), they are also drawn into the dreamlands, leaving their unconscious bodies behind. Getting out of the dreamlands is a little more complicated, but if they manage it, they restore Darren and themselves to normality.

A larger issue remains to be solved. Is it only Darren's copy of this game that has this potential, or will there be an epidemic of dreamboys amongst fanatical players of this new game?

2 The game's effect is caused by a combination of its addictive gameplay and hypnotically flickering lights. It has induced a form of catatonia. Darren is not the only player affected, and while medical hope remains, he may remain unresponsive for years.

3 The effect is deliberate and has the same effect on any weak minded player. After a few days, Darren starts to come out of his catatonia, and returns to normal. However, he has now been reprogrammed by the game. In response to broadcasting a further subliminal signal (teenage computer gamers always watch too much television) the affected feel a compulsion to carry out some great and terrible task.

One of the programmers at EtherTec, the game manufacturer, has been corrupted and seduced by an agent of the mythos. He has added unnecessary code to the game, and although he now swears allegiance to his new master, he has no real understanding of the additional code.

© Jon Freeman

Friday, 26 February 2016

The Dee Signet

The signet is a heavy gold ring with an oval of jet stone. The stone has been inscribed in silver with the image of a stylized skull. The signet was commissioned by John Dee, the Elizabethan court astrologer and was supposed to have been blessed with magical powers.

According to records, Dee never wore the ring and instead kept it in a locked cabinet in his Mortlake home.

For a short while the signet ring was in the possession of Sir Isaac Newton, and it has been mentioned in the collected papers of the Order of the Silver Thistle. The signet has also been unreliably linked with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

The signet now resides in Blenheim Palace, in a locked cabinet in the Yellow Room.

Possibilities

1 The signet is older than it seems - it was old when John Dee owned it. The signet was forged in Greece by an unnamed necromancer. The ring allows the wearer to communicate with the skeletal undead, and it's maker used it to command a private army of skeleton warriors.

Unfortunately, the wearer of the ring is only able to communicate via the language of the skeletal undead - although it sounds like they are speaking normally, to everyone else sounds like harsh, brittle sounds. And everything the wearer hears sounds like gibberish, unless it is from one of the skeletal undead.

Of course, with the art of constructing skeletal undead artefacts now lost, the ring is of little use.

2 The signet ring is magical, protecting its wearer from edged or cutting weapons. The wearer's skin simply can't be cut with a knife or blade. However, as tough as their skin has become, it has also become quite brittle which makes them more vulnerable to blunt weapons and crushing blows.

Also, rather strangely, the wearer of the signet finds that their mouth tastes of peppermint.

3 The signet ring is magical, its origin unknown. Dee knew of the signet's secret, which is why he never wore it...

As soon as the signet is worn, it contracts painfully and cannot be removed. If it isn't somehow removed (and the only way of removing it is to remove the finger) then the wearer goes through a horrible transformation - although it doesn't seem like that at first.

To begin with, the wearer feels refreshed and invigorated. They lose the need to sleep, eat or defecate. They also no longer tire, and the sensation of pain is dulled and distant. However, after a month or two things take a turn for the worse: their hair starts falling out, and their flesh becomes dry and withered. Their eyes glaze over, as if they have cataracts (which is most peculiar because they have never had better eyesight in all their life). After three months, they have such a ghastly appearance that they cannot be seen in public. By six months the transformation is complete: they have become a living skeleton.

© Steve Hatherley

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Mr Feste's Old Curiosity Shop

London is dark, mists are swirling around cold feet and the street is deserted. Deserted, that is, except for a soft glow from the lights of a small shop halfway down the street. In its doorway stands a small, portly man who, despite his baldness, has the appearance of a child. In his hand is a steaming mug of soup. He waves and beckons to passers by to take shelter on this cold and dismal night.

Once inside the investigators will find that Mr Feste (as he introduces himself) is an affable, eccentric old man. The shop itself has the appearance of a rubbish tip with all manner of items strewn about tables and shelves. However on closer inspection the rubbish turns out to be an impressive collection of antiques and curios from around the world.

While examining these the investigators may discover something of particular interest, maybe a book or an effigy or even a stuffed and mounted Zoog. Mr Feste can give a brief but intriguing history of any item in his shop and will negotiate with the investigators if anything takes their fancy. Payment may take many forms.

Mr Feste himself is very much like his Shakespearian namesake. Outwardly he is a bumbling eccentric but this only masks the wise and shrewd man within. He is a fine judge of character, it is almost as if he can see into their very soul. He talks in riddles but these often disguise important and enlightening information.

Possibilities

1 Mr Feste is a servant of Nodens and the shop exists outside of normal time and space. He assesses his guests and if he thinks they are capable, presses them into service as investigators. Because of the nature of the shop there is no guarantee that the investigators will leave the shop where, or even when, they entered it.

2 Mr Feste's shop is located in a hidden, forgotten part of town. It is practically impossible to find but relatively easy to stumble across when lost. The whole area, close to Crouch End, is dimensionally unstable and on occasion unwary travellers are lost forever. Sometimes terrible things and places are superimposed onto our reality. Mr Feste is its appointed guardian, a 'Watcher at the Gates' and will gladly direct any lost souls to safety.

3 Mr Feste is an aspect of Nyarlathotep. He finds brief distraction and slight amusement in the games he plays with his customers - although his information is both reliable and useful and his books and artefacts are genuine. Secure in the knowledge that any gains made by the investigators are ultimately insignificant, he throws his knowledge around quite liberally, while steering them away from where they might do most harm.

© Garrie Hall

Monday, 15 February 2016

Black Book of the East


The Black Book is eventually sold, after much hard bidding, for over £1000 to an unknown bidder operating through an agent. The book was originally written in French, although that has been largely annotated in a number of languages since.

Possibilities

1 The book is a fake. Kirby was known for his practical jokes, and this was his last. He wrote largely nonsense inside, much of it made up. Despite this, the book contains several passages which appear to be uncomfortably prophetic.

2  The book is not the Black Book, but is an original version of the Bible. However, the Bible has changed much since this was written and its tone is completely different. It tells of the Lord being defeated by Satan and cast to earth in the form of Jesus, only to be crucified by the Romans. It is a blasphemous work, but it is so horribly plausible.

3 The Black Book of the East was written by the French sorcerer, but when he died his soul was imprisoned in the tome. The book can only be opened by satisfying his hunger and spilling human blood across the covers which is quickly absorbed into the material.

© Steve Hatherley

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Into the Darkness

One of the investigators begins to suffer from blackouts. Short at first, they get gradually longer. Each time the investigator cannot account for his movements and can remember nothing except afeeling of darkness and extreme cold.

Any attempt to psycho-analyse the investigator draws a blank. He can only recall the dark and the cold. During these 'blackouts' the investigator undergoes a personality change and does not recognise his friends. He is possessed.

Possibilities

1 The Revelations of Yuggoth is a rare book that only a few have seen. Supposedly brought to Earth from Yuggoth aeons ago, the book is a translation telling of the ecstasy brought by the Crawling Chaos. The book contains a prayer which binds the soul of the reader to The Haunter of the Dark, who possesses the body for his own means during the blackouts. One of the investigators has been unfortunate enough to read it.

Eventually the investigator is completely possessed, and then the Crawling Chaos loses interest in the body and destroys it.

2 The blackouts are caused by a member of the Great Race looked in an ice cavern in Alaska. It has been unable to flee to the future but can still take over the minds of men. The creature is trying to organise an expedition to Alaska to free itself. Once free of the ice it can build a machine and send its mind into the future.

It has no malign intentions towards the investigators unless they try to interfere with its plans.

3 In a previous year, the investigator participated in an archaeological excavation which uncovered the mummified remains of several corpses. One of these corpses, a sorcerer, is not quite as dead as it seems and is able to mind swap with those who have come into close contact with it.

The blackouts are caused by the corpse slowly exercising control over the investigator. As they get longer it can be predicted when they will be permanent. At that point the sorcerer will be free.

The sorcerer has tried this with others, but their weak constitutions have failed before the mind swap was complete. These deaths are recorded in the papers (the 'Curse of the Tomb') and may alert the investigators to the trouble.

© Garrie Hall

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Welcome to Tales of Terror

When I read roleplaying game scenarios, I am usually stripping them for ideas, hunting for the flashes of inspiration behind them. And because I have seen other GMs and Keepers treat scenarios similarly, I wondered if there was a market for a collection of short ideas that would be used rather than ignored or stripped down for spare parts.
Cover of Tales of Terror
Tales of Terror - the first edition

And so Tales of Terror was born, a showcase of ideas, thoughts and flashes of inspiration - ready for use. Each Tale is a scenario idea stripped clean of dead meat, rotting statistics and wretched prose.

The original collection, a badly-edited mess of assorted ideas for Call of Cthulhu, was mostly the work of myself and Garrie Hall. It was fun, it almost got us into trouble with Chaosium, it eventually sold out and I vowed never to do another.

Yet the monster will not die.

Cover of Tales of Terror #2
Tales of Terror #2
Tales of Terror lived on in the pages of the erratically-published The Unspeakable Oath, and two collections were published by Pagan Publishing.

Then there were the websites, which I curated for a while. The last one stagnated for years, but I have decided to revisit it with this blog.

The original Tales of Terror books were specifically written for Call of Cthulhu, most of them are now completely systemless.

While I am not sure if Tales of Terror succeeds in its original brief (whatever that was) it produced an interesting effect.

While many scenarios (and this is especially true of campaigns) are Earth-shattering romps of cosmic significance, most Tales tend to be quite the opposite, concentrating on the personal horror and quieter weirdness encountered by our poor heroes.

Cover of Tales of Terror #3
Tales of Terror #3
If scenarios can be compared to horror novels (and campaigns to trilogies), that makes the humble Tale of Terror a short story. And while I've enjoyed horror novels, it has always been short stories that send shivers down my spine. Hopefully, when you drop these Tales on your poor unsuspecting players, they will feel equally unsettled.

Above all, this collection is yours to do what you will. Adapt them, twist them, steal them. But most of all, please use them.

Steve Hatherley

The Carpet

It's odd, but you never really noticed it before. Until one of your acquaintances suddenly knelt down and studied it, you had never given the carpet a second thought. In fact, now that you are thinking of it, you can't even remember where it came from in the first place. Try as hard as you like but you just can't remember how (or when, where or why) the carpet came into your possession.

It is a small carpet, barely eight feet long by three wide. It is threadbare and worn, and of indeterminate middle-eastern style. In the centre of the carpet is an oval of abstract design. Surrounding this is a long fluid line of wavy characters, possibly letters from an obscure alphabet.

Things are sometimes seen in the oval pattern in the centre of the carpet. A flicker on the edge of vision, a suggestive shape or threatening shadow. They are slightly unsettling, but vanish upon closer inspection: a trick of the light.

Possibilities

1  The carpet is an ancient cult weapon. The words on the carpet are known as the Circle of Suggestive Deaths. If chanted within earshot of someone standing upon the rug, that person will surely die. Whether by bullet, knife, monster, accident, disease or injury, the result is always the same.

2  The carpet contains the immortal soul of Kastajhan, a sorcerer originally living in Constantinople in the fifteenth century. Legend has it that no sooner had Kastajhan discovered the source of true immortality than he was sentenced to death. One hundred assassins were sent to his house, and when the dawn light fell across Constantinople none remained alive - there were only shadows on the walls. Of Kastajhan there was no sign.

The script around the edge of the carpet describes a short spell, the casting of which allows communication with Kastajhan's spirit. Unfortunately, the spirit is now quite insane and babbles only nonsense.

3  Al Azif contains an illustration of the carpet and describes the words as "The Summoning of the Blood." Although it feels new, the carpet is actually older than that ancient tome. In order to summon the blood, all someone has to do is chant the words while standing on the carpet.

Nothing immediately happens, but over the course of the next few nights the carpet drains a small amount of blood from the caster. Upon wakening, they feel weak and unwell.

No matter, it only lasts a few nights - for then the spell is complete and the Blood is summoned. The Blood is a vaguely human figure, with ropy limbs and fluid movements - and is composed completely of blood (actually far more than the caster has supplied). The Blood obeys one command, before returning to the carpet.

© Steve Hatherley

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Can I touch the angel, mummy?

Everyone sees them from time to time, but nobody knows why they do it. What does it all mean? Why do those white and silver rag-shrouded street performers with benignly vacuous faces stand motionless in city centres like shabby angels? When someone drops a coin in their box they move, open their eyes, smile, turn, wave. Then as suddenly as they activated, they return to a motionless pose. No one ever hears them speak.

Things are changing. No longer just the occasional angelic visitation, they are seen with increasing frequency. No longer solitary, they sometimes appear in twos and threes. Their motion is no longer gentle, and sometimes when “activated” they writhe and gyrate frantically while remaining unnaturally rooted to the spot. Their expressions are tortured, and small children run crying from their baleful red-rimmed stare.

When at rest their heads are cocked to one side as though listening to something that no one else can hear. They fix on a spectator and mouth indecipherable messages with horrible urgency. To a lip reader they appear to be saying “the waiters in the light” over and over again.

Possibilities

1 The white angel people have been touched by Gabriel, a deranged lone sorcerer under the sway of a little known demonic entity. The entity is referred to as Lumen Formidolosus (the terrible light) in an obscure Roman text, Concoquere Nefandis (the deplorable digest). Gabriel believes himself to be an angel serving this being of pure light, winning converts to the cause of universal light. Those who watch the street performer feel strangely calmed - and are compelled to gather in a secret location where Gabriel awaits them. Exposed to the power of the terrible light, they serve it by becoming a tortured white angel-person, their sanity slowly slipping away as they mime.

2 The weird street entertainers are converts of a profitable cult that uses hypnosis to win members at public meetings. The new members make little money for the cause in their miming, but (more importantly) donate all their worldly wealth when they join. The leader of the cult is a charismatic guru, known as Lumen, who mixes woolly new age philosophy about “universal light” with a healthy dose of capitalist enterprise.

3 The angel-people are sub-human. These beings are the product of an infection passed to ordinary people by touch - so don’t get too close when you drop those coins. Those infected then undergo a painful and sanity blasting metamorphosis. Is a cure possible, or is eradication the only solution? How widespread is the problem, and why is it only manifesting now?

© Jon Freeman