Maestro

From last post…

“You guys shouldn’t be here!” [Leticia] whispered. I asked what she meant. “I mean that everyone here is…” she glanced to my left and gasped. I looked in that direction and saw a pair of guys glaring at me. They looked familiar but it took me a few seconds to place them: they were the vampires Leticia was with when we first met her. They strode toward us.

“Pike,” I said, “are we crashing a film festival of the undead?”

“You brought them here?” snapped one of Leticia’s former companions.

“She had nothing to do with this,” I said.

Other people in the crowd were starting to look at us. “We’re just here to see the Pickman film,” said Pike.

“You’re not welcome here!” hissed the second guy. I think he’s the one Pike hit with his sword in our first encounter. He opened his mouth wide, exposing his fangs. “You will regret this intrusion.”

“Ho ho!” said Ingrid. She pulled from her purse a metal rod and shoved the purse at me. “You want a piece, Twilight?”

I didn’t find out until later that Ingrid was holding a collapsible baton. The reason I didn’t find out is that we heard a voice say “Stop.” It was an interesting voice: calm, commanding, and with the purity of a struck tuning fork. Everyone was silent.

I looked around and saw a figure that I somehow knew was the source of the voice, even though his back was to us. He was wearing a long, dark coat and had hair to match. He was standing in front of an open door and we saw his pale face in profile. He raised his right hand, pointed into the room he was standing in front of, and went in. I followed the direction without questioning it for a second, and it appeared that Ella, Pike, and Ingrid were equally compelled.

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We found ourselves in a classroom, facing two men. One was the person who directed us into the room, a man whose face had a refined majesty that evoked the portrait of a great historical figure like Washington or Jefferson. Or Lucius Malfoy from the Harry Potter movies. The other was a man with a beard and a scar near one eye, and I realized he must be Bertrand, one of the vampires Ella met at the bookstore. Ella, Pike, Ingrid, and I stood in the middle of the room while the other people took places around the walls. I spotted Leticia, who looked worried.

“Greetings,” said Maestro Nosferatu or whatever he was, in that same fascinating voice.

“Hello” I said. “Nice to meet some fellow film fans.” I gave Leticia a small grin, and she responded by widening her eyes and shaking her head.

“Well. An insouciant [I had to look that word up] young man who is acquainted with our sister Leticia and whose company includes a warlike Norsewoman. Arthur Lewis Ormand, I presume.”

“Yes.” I was a little surprised, which Maestro appeared to pick up on.

“I find value in the public chronicles of the hidden world. There are others who do not. Leticia has told you this.”

“She has. She’s not the reason we’re here, by the way.”

“You need not fear for her. What you will do is tell me why you are here.”

I explained our earlier run-in with Pickman and that we thought the film was by the same man. Maestro asked his people if Pickman had made an appearance at the festival and he hadn’t. Next he spoke to Ella, asking her if Pickman was connected to the lore she discussed with Bertrand; Ella said she was unsure.

Maestro and Bertrand had a brief conversation and Maestro looked at us. “One of us will deliver the Pickman film to you,” he said, “if we feel it would be…appropriate. The four of you shall leave, unimpeded. Bertrand shall accompany you, as there are some things he wishes to discuss with Miss Sherrinford.”

Maestro then looked at me and everything around us seemed to grow dim, as if we were on a bare stage, each illuminated by a spotlight. “I trust, Arthur Lewis Ormand, you will make a better attempt to stay on good terms with those who walk in the dark. You will need all the allies you can acquire, if you continue to confront these eldritch things.”

I don’t remember what I said in return, just feeling desperate to get out of there. Pike, Ingrid and I stayed close together while Bertrand and Ella walked ahead, talking in low voices. I glanced at Leticia, who gave me a relieved sort of smile.

On the way to the car I kept looking behind me, “In the Hall of the Mountain King” running through my head. When we got there Bertrand departed with a slight bow. We all let out a sigh. Except for Ella, none of us had said anything since we left the classroom.

“We totally could have taken those guys, you know,” said Ingrid.

The discussion between Ingrid and Pike on the way home, going through the various combat scenarios possible with Ingrid’s weapons and whatever objects we could find on site, helped make me feel a little less anxious about the whole encounter. Not by much though. I think Ingrid picked up on that, because she proposed that we all stop at her home before we went our separate ways. We wound up staying there until dawn.

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More movie fun with Pike

Last post I talked about some video Pike recorded at an underground film festival and he recently told me about another festival that was keeping a low profile. He hadn’t heard of this one before and found out about it through someone he knows at the University of Minnesota, who said that a screening room on campus was reserved all weekend by an unidentified organization. Pike went there the first night and, while he didn’t pick up a schedule or see any movies, was able to use his camera to zoom in on a large schedule posted outside the door, where we were able to see Pickman’s name attached to a film.

I asked Pike why he didn’t investigate further, and he told me the crowd there was “dressed like the board members of a goth corporation” and he would have stood out. Not a good thing for an event he and most other people apparently weren’t supposed to know about.

Pike was going to go again that night and asked if Ella and I wanted to go too and see if we could get in. Both of us were interested. I also called Ingrid, who’s interested in that creature Pike showed me from Pickman’s video, and she wanted to go as well. I tried to invite Leticia but was only able to leave a message on her phone.

Saturday evening we arrived at the screening room, all dressed in dark semi-formal wear. Ella used this as one of her rare occasions to wear makeup, which included eyeliner and dark red lipstick. Ingrid was wearing a long skirt, which was the first time I’d seen her not wearing jeans, and carried a large purse which I imagined contained her high-class evening combat gear.

We must have arrived between screenings because there was a small crowd outside the doors. No one seemed to look at us like we were out of place and we checked out the schedule of films. When I looked at Pike’s image of the schedule I didn’t pay attention to the entries other than Pickman’s, but now I saw that the film that we had apparently just missed was created by someone named Leticia.

I pointed this out to the others and looked at the crowd, wondering if it was a coincidence, when I saw “our” Leticia talking and laughing with someone. We made our way over to her, and when she finished her conversation she noticed us. Her expression quickly became one of shock.

“You guys shouldn’t be here!” she whispered. I asked what she meant. “I mean that everyone here is…” she glanced to my left and gasped. I looked in that direction and saw a pair of guys glaring at me. They looked familiar but it took me a few seconds to place them: they were the vampires Leticia was with when we first met her. They strode toward us.

“Pike,” I said, “are we crashing a film festival of the undead?”

Favors and sharing

Saturday Ella went to Minneapolis to connect with her old roommate Tes, who added a comment about Pickman to the last post. I asked Ella about Tes’ uncommon name, and she told me Tes is short for Tesla. Tes has a twin sister named Faraday, who goes by Fara.

Ella was supposed to work at the bookstore on Saturday so needed someone to cover for her on short notice, and I volunteered. When I got there Saturday morning, Ella and Miriam appeared to be finishing up some kind of kids’ event. A blond girl with gumdrop-shaped cheekbones was writing something on a whiteboard. Nearby was a young boy with a bandage on his chin, looking around with a “what just happened?” kind of expression. Their mother soon collected them and let them out of the store. “Bye El-la!” said the boy. “Bye El-la!”

I picked up pretty quickly from Ella what I would need to know that day, and we agreed to get together later that night so she could tell me what she learned from Tes. Ella deleted the history on the store computer’s browser and I kidded her about that. She told me that some of the things she had been looking at were “kind of intense” — I chose to do the gentlemanly thing and not take the bait.

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There were only a couple of customers and I was able to handle them fine. I did have a strange experience with someone who seemed to have mistaken the store for the university’s rare books collection, based on the titles he was asking for. He must have been from out of town because I have to believe that I would have noticed him before in a town the size of Detling: he was astonishingly tall and had a weirdly resonant voice.

The most interesting experience of the day was a visit from Pike. He showed me a video he had secretly recorded at an underground film festival, produced by a filmmaker named Pickman.

I saw a familiar-looking stone ring in the ground at night. An arm shot up from it, and I saw a clawed hand grasp the edge. Then another arm and claw. A dog-like head emerged, and then the entire creature leapt out. Its body was shaped like a human’s but with a forward slumping posture, and the camera followed it as it loped away from the ring.

Pike stopped the video. The whole thing had a home movie kind of feel, with no music or stylized lighting. “It gets pretty nasty after that,” he said.

“That monster looked pretty realistic.”

“I don’t think it could have been more realistic.”

“You don’t think it was, like, real real, do you?”

“Actually, I do.”

Pike may have been on to something. He joined Ella and me at Emmie’s Bar when she reported on her conversation with Tes. Apparently many years ago there was a painter by the name of Pickman in Boston, whose artwork featured astonishingly lifelike depictions of monstrous creatures. And Tes had learned of an urban legend that claimed Pickman used living models for his work.

Enemies new and old

Ella and I think we have a handle on what happened the day and night of our shared memory loss. It relates to some construction going on at the site of the amphitheater, putting in some new seating. This had been something Ella was wary of, given what she knows about the place, but since they didn’t appear to be digging up the area around the stage she wasn’t panicking.

What was causing her some alarm, however, was the stone ring in my mystery photo from last post. Wanting to know what it was about, she had looked into the construction project and discovered that one of the decision-makers was someone in the university’s art department, named Pickman. The appointment on the bookstore’s calendar that Miriam discovered was created by Ella as a reminder to go to Pickman’s office. Apparently I had gone with her and her intent was to look at just the office, because at about that time was when Ingrid got the phone message from me asking about getting a lock picked.

For the rest of the story, including the bar fight, we had to rely on Leticia. The handful of results a “barfight detling” image search on Google yields is something called “Sexy Red Head Kicks Male,” but I’m pretty sure that’s not a photo of her.

I got a call from you asking if I knew anything about that pit being created at the amphitheater. I didn’t but I told you I would ask around, and we decided to meet up at Emmie’s Bar that night to report. I talked to some of my guys, who told me that when they were around there at night they thought they saw some activity around there, but when they got close enough for a good look nothing was going on.

You two were at Emmie’s when I got there. I told you what I knew and was going to ask if I could see Ella’s famous darts skills when three guys approached us. I recognized two of them, even though I hadn’t seem them in person: they were two of the guys you’ve written about on the blog! The guy with the John Deere hat and the guy with the glasses. In the middle was someone I’m assuming was Pickman, since he was about twenty years older than the other two guys and dressed in a dark suit. He was slightly shorter than them, and had thick, dark hair that he combed straight back. Blue eyes that were bright and cold, like…I don’t know, you’re better at similes than I am 🙂

So, Pickman got all melodramatic villain, telling you and Ella to stay out of his affairs. You were like “or what — you’re going to put a threatening sculpture on my doorstep?” Pickman turned his head to the left, looking around the bar, and when he turned his head back to look at us, about four other guys had left their seats and were standing in front of us. They had the some kind of dazed look that people get when I work my magic on them.

Pickman said “Leave the bride of darkness to me,” so he knows what I’m about. I gotta admit that it felt kind of cool to be referred to that way. John Deere and Glasses were confused though, because they were like “um…you mean the goth chick?” who I guess was Ella.

I could have taken all the guys Pickman assembled, but whoa – Pickman was tough! He came at me with a knife, silver I think. I was able to dodge no problem but his speed was pretty close to my own. I had my hands full with him so I wasn’t able to see what was going on with you two. I got in some good hits, though, and I think I was close to winning when…

Actually, I don’t know what happened, because I suddenly found myself in a different part of the bar, with Pickman nowhere around. The fight you guys were in was over. The four guys from the bar were still around, looking confused, but Glasses and John Deere were gone. I thought they had just vanished, but that wouldn’t explain why I shifted in space. Then I realized that Pickman must have done a steal memory trick, which is something I’d heard of before. Sometimes, like in my case, you get only a minute stolen, but you and Ella seem to have gotten hit a lot harder.

So I don’t know the final fate of Pickman, though I haven’t looked too hard. I don’t know if there was some major revelation that he didn’t want us to remember or if the memory steal was just an evasion tactic. Ella and I went to Emmie’s after that night and some of the patrons had some photos from the fight, including one of Ella standing on the bar and kicking someone in the head, but that’s the only record I’ve been able to find of what happened to us that night.

We went to the stone ring at the amphitheater during the day and the bottom looks solid, so I don’t know if there’s something there we need to be watchful against. I don’t plan on staying there after dark to find out.

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A haunted rivalry

Harryhausen skeletonsElla follows some Twitter feeds similar to Milwaukee Ghosts and one of them gave the address of a home in Detling that was known to have some paranormal activity. It’s been vacant for years and Ella suggested that Ingrid and I join her for an investigation there, which I was enthusiastic about. Ingrid was interested too, and Friday night we went to the home. Ingrid wasn’t as geared up as she was in Verona, carrying only her crossbow and police baton. Ella had her video camera.

The house was a Cape Cod style, in town but at the edge of a park with no close neighbors. The front door was unlocked so we went in through there into a living room. We didn’t have long to wait for our first encounter. From a back room a pair of figures merged, shining flashlights in our eyes. “This house is already being investigated,” we heard a male voice say. Then we heard another say “Oh, man! It’s them!”

Ingrid used her baton to knock the pairs’ flashlights aside. We used our own lights to reveal two college-age guys: one wearing a John Deere cap and the other in glasses. It was the pair who stole the occult book from the university library.

“You?!” said Ella. “Are you investigating or instigating?”

“We’re investigating!” said Glasses with petulant defiance. “We’ve got equipment!” He showed us a handheld device that looked like EVE from WALL-E but colored black.  “You can’t be serious,” I said.

Meanwhile, Ella must have explained to Ingrid who the guys were, because Ingrid said “Oh-ho! You’re the guys who caused those shenanigans, huh?” She waved the baton at them. “I’m thinking I ought to…”

Ingrid was interrupted by a muffled, clacking noise, which sounded as if someone were shaking a wooden box containing a dozen golf pencils. Glasses waved his PKE meter around. Ingrid went through an open doorway to the kitchen, flowed by Ella.

“Hey!” said Glasses. “We got here first! We should get the first look!” We went to the kitchen and saw no one there, but there was an open door revealing narrow stairs going down.

Glasses groaned. “We can’t let this guy ” – Glasses pointed at me – “scoop us again!”

“Scoop you?” I said. “Yeah, I suppose by solving a crisis you guys created, I may have scooped you.”

We heard the clacking sound again, a shout from Ingrid, and pounding footsteps. “I think we should get out of the way,” I said, and we moved back into the living room.

Ella came running through the living room followed by Ingrid. A long, white object flew toward them from the kitchen and struck the wall. I didn’t get to see what it was because I was looking at what was chasing Ella and Ingrid.

It was a skeleton. It had only one arm and was brandishing a long bone like a club. A second skeleton, with both arms but one leg, hopped behind it.

“No fair!” said Glasses. “That should be us getting chased! Was that your plan? Distract us?”

Ingrid swung the baton at the armless skeleton’s sternum. Its ribs clattered onto the floor and the rest of the body collapsed.

“Plan?!” I said.

The legless skeleton jerked its left arm out of its socket and swung it at Ingrid.

“I saw a couple more of these things in the basement if you want ’em,” yelled Ingrid.

“There are more?” said John Deere. He was recording the battle with a video camera. “Um…I think we have enough footage.” His partner agreed and the two ran down a corridor.

Ingrid gave the skeleton a sternum strike like she gave the last one, with the same effect. I heard the clacking again. “I don’t mind calling it a night,” said Ella. I agreed. Ingrid shrugged but I agreed with Ella, and we left the house to the sound of an increasingly loud clacking.

The next day I checked in with Ella at the bookstore. She had a file folder and some papers in front of her and I guessed she was doing some sorting and cleaning, since a few of the documents had the word “SAVE” at the top. She told me posted a warning about the house but hasn’t seen the video from that night posted anywhere.

Pastor Jill’s invitation

oldschool_exorcismLast week, I got an e-mail from Pastor Jill asked me to stop by her office after church that Sunday. She didn’t give details, so I spent the intervening time figuring out what I was going to say if she wanted to talk about the tag I have for her on this blog.

Sunday I arrived at the scheduled time. Pastor Jill has her office set up with a desk against the wall, so there’s no barrier between her chair and the two visitor’s chairs. One of the visitor’s chairs was occupied: it was Ella. Were we going to have to talk about the werewolf incident?

“I wanted to talk to you privately because there’s a…situation I thought you would want to know about,” said Pastor Jill. She took a long breath and exhaled slowly. “You’re probably familiar with the idea of…possession?” she asked. We were. She explained that, out of nowhere, a girl in the congregation had started exhibiting behavior that was drastically aberrant. Everyone who had visited her was baffled. After some lengthy discussions and a variety of attempted solutions, Pastor Jill was going to be performing an exorcism that night and had invited us to observe.

“Lutherans do exorcisms?” I asked, genuinely surprised. “Have you done anything like that before?” “I’ve… had experience with the…less common duties of a pastor,” she responded.

Pastor Jill smiled at Ella. “I suppose you’re wondering why I thought you would want to know about this,” she said.

“I was,” said Ella. “I mean, I wouldn’t describe my spiritual views as…Lutheran.”

Pastor Jill smiled again. “Very diplomatic. That night in the woods when I came across you, Arthur, and that intriguing friend of yours, I saw you wearing a sweatshirt with the word Miskatonic on it. That’s the New England university?”

Ella confirmed that it was. “You’ve heard of it?” she asked, a little surprised.

“I have,” said Pastor Jill. “I heard a talk by a Miskatonic professor about cults, in fact. I don’t know a lot about the school but I think it’s safe to say that people go there because they have a taste for the unusual, correct?” “Oh, yes,” said Ella. “Well,” said Pastor Jill, “perhaps when you see this situation you’ll have ideas about how to resolve it.”

“So, why did you think of me?” I asked.

“Ah,” Pastor Jill said. It wasn’t a glad-you-asked “ah” or a contemplative “ah,” it was an I-knew-I-wasn’t-getting-out-of-this “ah.”  I figured she was about to say something like, “Well, I read on your blog that in addition to thinking I’m hot, you have some personal experience with possession.”

Instead, Pastor Jill picked up a photograph that was lying on her desk and showed it to me. It was a group of boys and girls in their late teens, and she pointed out one of them, saying it was the girl who had allegedly been possessed. She asked if I knew her. I had seen her around church but we hadn’t met and I didn’t know who she was.

“I see,” said Pastor Jill. She put the photograph back on the desk and looked out the window. “Well,” she said, still looking out the window, “when she was in her…state…” She sighed and frowned. She moved her gaze to the floor for a few seconds. Then she looked at me.

“When the girl was in her state she asked for you. By name.”

About Detling Adventures

A mission from Miriam

I stopped by the bookstore near closing time last night and received some interesting news from Ella. “We’ve got a bit of a crisis,” she said. She informed me that someone had broken into the university library’s rare books collection the previous night and stolen one of the occult books. “It wasn’t one of the really dangerous ones,” she said, “but it’s dangerous enough.” I asked what she meant. “It contains instructions on various…rituals. Including…summoning rituals.”

“Summoning?” I said. I thought of Doctor Faustus. “You mean, like, demons?”

“I…ah…recognize that the concept of such entities is part of your…ah…yes, summoning demons. Anyway, since sundown Miriam’s been monitoring the…magical ether, I guess you could say. Ted Spindle’s been doing something similar.”

“They’re trying to sense a disturbance in the Force?” I said. Ella arched an eyebrow and pursed her lips. “Yes, I suppose that’s a useful way to think of it,” she responded.

I went to the back office to check in on Miriam and found her seated cross-legged on the floor, her eyes closed. Ella said she was going to stay at the bookstore with Miriam at least until midnight. I decided that I would like to see if anything happened so I went home, got my laptop, and returned to the bookstore.

After a couple of hours occupied with talking to Ella, helping myself to some of the books, and miscellaneous online foolishness, Miriam left her office and strode to the door. “Let’s roll,” she said when she passed us, not pausing. After exchanging a Did Miriam just say ‘let’s roll’? look, Ella and I followed Miriam to her car.

On the way to wherever we were going, Miriam said she was confident that we were dealing with amateur magicians, and that as long as we got to them before they completed the ritual they were performing, there would be no danger. I noticed that Miriam was wearing a ring that must have been the one Ella described in the last post.

Miriam drove to the university campus and parked near the fine arts building. We followed her to a courtyard behind the building that featured a set of kilns.

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There, we saw a pair of college-age age guys. I was expecting our quarries to be wearing black clothes and makeup but they weren’t. One was wearing glasses styled like Gordon Freeman‘s and the other was wearing a John Deere winter hat.

The floor of the courtyard had been shoveled and the guys were standing in the middle of a circle drawn in chalk, with lit candles at periodic intervals. One of them was carrying a large open book that both were reading.

Miriam cleared her throat and the pair looked up. “It’s time for you to stop,” said Miriam in a businesslike way. The two peered at her. “You’re those chicks from the bookstore, aren’t you?” one of them said. The other looked at me. “Oh, man. Are you that guy with the blog?”

“Blog?” I asked. “Yeah,” he said. “You’re that guy who thinks he’s a ghostbuster and won’t shut up about all the hot chicks he knows.”

“Look,” said Ella, “we know you stole that book. Just knock off whatever you’re doing and give it back.” “Or what?” chortled the first guy.

Miriam stepped forward. “You will stop,” she said. She didn’t raise her voice but I had a sensation in my chest like I was standing next to a bass drum being struck. “Whoa,” said the second guy.

And then everything went dark. It was so sudden and so complete that I thought someone had put something in front of my face, but that’s not what happened. Then I saw a fire spring up in one of the kilns. Someone was standing in front of it, facing the flames. Someone who hadn’t been in the courtyard a moment ago.