Tes and I chat about meeting Morgane

Consider this reminiscence a follow-up to Arthur’s last post, in which he introduced my old roommate Tes and our friend Morgane.

9:10 PM me: I was looking through the journal I kept at that time.
short4tesla:I remember your journal!
9:11 PM me: My first impression of you is rather amusing now.
short4tesla: *grin* You probably thought I came on pretty strong
9:12 PM me: That’s a nice way of putting it.
short4tesla: I didn’t know if you were scared of me or if you were just quiet.
9:13 PM me: It may have been a little of both at first.
short4tesla: Ha!
me: I suppose things really got interesting with the trip to Innsmouth.
9:14 PM short4tesla: FIRST trip
me: Of course. You were looking for a good place to climb.
9:15 PM short4tesla: And found the cave with the weird writing on the wall. When you said “I’ve seen this before” it was like something out of a movie.
9:16 PM me: Yes. Sort of like your idea to wait around past dark to see if anyone would come back.
9:17 PM short4tesla: Hey, it’s not every day you make it to Innsmouth when there’s going to be a full moon. That’s what you thought one of the drawings meant.
9:18 PM me: I couldn’t argue with your logic then and I can’t now. Somehow we were able to occupy our time in Innsmouth until nightfall.
9:19 PM short4tesla: We were lucky in a lot of ways that night.
me: True. And so was Morgane.
9:20 PM short4tesla: Right. We saw those guys in robes with the weird hopping walk dragging her into the cave.
9:21 PM me: And you leapt from our hiding place and demanded that they let her go, since it was obvious they would take demands from 5-foot tall female college student they’d never seen before.
9:22 PM short4tesla: 5 foot 1 and I totally knew what I was doing.
me: Apparently Morgane knew what she was doing too, since she was able to take out one of the people holding her.
9:23 PM short4tesla: And once they saw that we weren’t afraid to swing heavy sticks at their heads, they took off. Wait – you got one of them with a crotch shot, didn’t you?
9:24 PM me: It took a few swings to get my aim right. Anyway, they didn’t put up much of a fight.
9:25 PM short4tesla: So, we ask Morgane if she’s all right and she’s all panicked and says she needs to get to the beach for her skin.
9:26 PM me: Later, of course, we learned what she meant, but it was quite baffling at the time.
9:27 PM short4tesla: So we follow her to the beach and she finds her seal hide or whatever, and then we see something coming from the water.
9:28 PM me: Two or three somethings. For months afterward I wished the moon hadn’t been so bright. I still don’t like thinking about them.
short4tesla: Let’s just use Morgane’s phrase: froggy folk.
9:29 PM me: Associating them with something mundane helps. But even though I was repulsed and scared I was also fascinated, maybe even jubilant.
They were proof that this obscure branch of folklore I was studying was astonishingly real.
9:31 PM short4tesla: That must be why you seemed so dazed when we were trying to tell you we needed to get the hell out of there.
9:32 PM me: Probably. But got the hell out of there we did.
short4tesla: And yet all three of us were crazy enough to go back.
9:33 PM me: Which is, of course, a story for another time.

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Maestro does not appreciate my roguish charm

From last post:

We both jumped. It was a voice from my balcony. A commanding, resonant voice that I thought I recognized. I went to the balcony door and slid open the blind. Looking back at me was a cold, aristocratic figure. He was alone, so while our second meeting wouldn’t have the same danger as our first, his stern expression told me that it was going to be at least as nerve-wracking. Maestro Nosferatu.

I slid the door open a crack. “You’re looking for Ella?” I said. She had followed me to the door but was standing in a corner, where she couldn’t be seen from outside.

“My time on earth has been long so it is simple to overlook such an inane quip. Yet my patience is not infinite.”

“So why wait for me to…” I looked at the threshold, which Maestro had made no move to cross. “That’s an actual thing? You can’t come in here unless I invite you?”

“It is a taboo. Even those among us with little interest in tradition would not violate it.”

I opened the blind fully but slid the door only slightly further, so the opening was as wide as Maestro’s shoulders. “Be right back,” I said, and retrieved the two chairs from the dining table. I pushed one outside and put the other in front of Ella. For myself I pulled over a kitchen stool. Ella and I sat down, and then Maestro.

“Can I get you anything?” I asked Maestro. “Some wine?”

“I am familiar with the reference. I do not do requests, sir.” Maestro then spoke to me with a faster cadence then he had before, without losing any of his precision. “When we last spoke I advised you to stay on good terms with those who walk in the dark. Since then you placed one of us in a situation where she was manipulated by one human and injured by another. Perhaps you think showing defiance in spite of your limited powers gives you a sort of roguish charm.”

“I didn’t place Leticia in that situation. I’d like to know how she’s doing.”

“She is well. Nevertheless there are those, more prideful than I am, who see her injury as an affront to be avenged. Those following Miss Sherrinford tonight are among them.”

“So they’re with you?’ said Ella. She actually seemed relieved that she was being stalked by vampires and not by a Welsh goat-worshipping cult.

Maestro nodded. “I accept the veracity of Mr. Ormand’s account and do not believe you acted out of malice. I would regret your loss and have told your pursuers of this. They will not impede your return home.”

I decided to overlook the “your loss” crack but wanted to press Maestro on something else. “What about Pickman’s camera being stolen? Do you know about that?”

“It is possible that the thief performed a favor for you. There are some things that are best left unknown even to a highly disciplined human mind.” He looked at Ella again. “You know of what I speak.”

Maestro stood and so did Ella and I. “Until we meet again,” he said. He turned and I asked him to stop. He stopped but didn’t turn back around.

“This is the second time we’ve talked,” I said, “and I still don’t know your name.”

“The name you applied to me in your account of your first meeting.”

“What, ‘Maestro Nosferatu’?”

“That will suffice. Farewell.” And he was gone.

Problems

Something disquieting happened to Pike shortly after he posted his comment about Pickman’s footage: someone broke into Pike’s home and stole the camera. And nothing else. And the folder on Pike’s computer containing the files he transferred from the camera was gone too. There was some transferred footage that was either undiscovered or left alone, however, which he showed to Ella and me.

There were a few woodland shots of a beast similar to the one we had encountered. Others showed buildings in the background that looked like those at the corporate campus we investigated a year and a half ago. There was movement in the foreground but there wasn’t enough light for me to tell what it was. Another shot appeared to be looking out a window from the inside and the screen just showed blackness within the frame of the window, as if the camera wasn’t registering whatever was out there.

The last shot showed part of a town street at night. The camera was perpendicular to the street and close to the back corner of a building, as if Pickman were trying to avoid being spotted. Moving down the street was what I initially thought was a line of people in frog or fish costumes doing some sort of weird dance. Then I saw that they weren’t dancing, but hopping. A couple of the figures had what looked like tall white tiaras on their heads. Even though we didn’t see much of the street it seemed familiar, as did the weird figures. Pike thinks it may have been the main street at that strange town we visited in our trip up north.

A few nights after that, Ella stopped by my apartment unexpectedly. I’ve seen her in a lot of different situations and she’s always had a measured sort of attitude, even when she’s been fearful, so when she paced around my living room looking pale and anxious I was pretty alarmed. I asked if she was all right.

“I’ve been a little…pressed lately,” she said. “This thing with Pike getting robbed…” she stood against the wall next to one of the windows and moved the blind slightly to look outside. “You probably hadn’t heard of those entities I’m studying before I told you about them.”

“What,” I said, “the goat thing and those other guys?” Ella grimaced. “No, I hadn’t,” I said, before she had a chance to chastise me.

“Well, people besides folklorists do know about them,” she said. “Tes and I found that out in college. We were working on a project that we thought was historical research but ended up being…” She uttered a sardonic chuckle. “An adventure, I guess. Us versus a whole organization.”

“An organization? Like a secret society?”

“Sure. I thought we took care of them.”

“You and Tes took out an entire society?”

“Not alone. I only mentioned that because I didn’t think I needed to take any special precautions anymore. But then the Pickman footage was stolen. And tonight I’ve been followed.”

“What? Are they out there?”

“I don’t see them.”

“Well, do you want to call the police? Or Ingrid?”

“I guess I…”

“ELLA SHERRINFORD.”

We both jumped. It was a voice from my balcony. A commanding, resonant voice that I thought I recognized. I went to the balcony door and slid open the blind. Looking back at me was a cold, aristocratic figure. He was alone, so while our second meeting wouldn’t have the same danger as our first, his stern expression told me that it was going to be at least as nerve-wracking. Maestro Nosferatu.

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.

DSCF6742

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.

Detling tailgate party

From last post:

Behind the wall the kiln was embedded in, there was a large black mass of an undefined shape. We saw part of the mass move, extending in a wide column over to our side of the wall as if it had been poured from a pitcher. It reflected the light of the fire and the patterns of the reflection were constantly changing: it looked like the surface of the mass was bubbling.

“Oh no,” Ella whispered. “Oh no.”

Ella gripped Miriam’s arm. “Tell me you can destroy that or banish it or something.”

“I suppose I…but…it’s a living thing, isn’t it? I…”

“No,” said Ella brusquely. “We need to get rid of it.”

A thin extension had sprouted out of the column, perpendicular to it. But while the column appeared to be made out of dense liquid, the extension seemed solid and like a blade.

“I don’t suppose you know its true name, do you?” asked Miriam.

Ella uttered a short, bitter laugh. “If I did, I doubt I could pronounce it.”

We heard the sound of an engine behind us. Looking around, we saw a pickup truck driving on the grounds of the campus toward us. It stopped near the edge of the courtyard and both its doors opened.

“Uff da!” said Ingrid, getting out of the driver’s side. “Looks like somebody tried making caramel with some mutant sugar.”

“Greetings, adventurers,” said Ted Spindle, coming out of the other side. He was wearing a heavy overcoat and fur hat that made him look like a Russian World War II officer. “It is safe to leave the bounds of Miriam’s circle. I suggest you do so quickly.”

The three of us ran to the truck. I couldn’t figure out how they knew where to find us until I remembered that Ella told me Spindle was doing the same kind of monitoring Miriam was doing

“Mr. Ormand,” said Spindle. “If you will take the driver’s seat and give us a safe distance, the rest of us will use the arsenal in the back.”

I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see the action but agreed. The keys were in the ignition. Prompted by a shout from Ingrid, I drove the truck around and started going back toward the road. In the mirror I thought I saw the thing’s blade make a horizontal swipe. When Ingrid hollered again I stopped.

Looking in the driver’s side mirror, I saw a jet of flame issue from the back of the truck, accompanied by a whoop from Ingrid. Putting my head out the widow, I saw a small canister fly in an arc toward the courtyard, where it exploded in a cloud of dust. I heard Ingrid say “Give me one of those” and saw the same thing happen, only this time the cloud of dust had a reddish glow.

Then I saw a bolt of lighting appear above the courtyard. And it stayed there. And it wasn’t up in the clouds, either: it was no higher than the second floor of the fine arts building. It was like the air had cracked. The crack widened and I saw the mass of whatever-it-was float up. I got out of the truck and watched. I saw Miriam standing in the cab, raising her arms like she was conducting an orchestra in a climactic crescendo. From the direction of the light I saw something that looked like Aku‘s claw reaching toward Miriam so I got back into the truck. I drove forward but stopped when the reflected light in the rearview mirror became so bright that I couldn’t see.

And then everything was dark. Not the total darkness we had experienced earlier, but a natural nighttime darkness. The courtyard was empty and whatever was beyond it was gone. I moved to the back of the truck and looked at Miriam. She was leaning against Ingrid, breathing heavily with her eyes closed.

Miriam opened her eyes and smiled a little. “I’ll be all right,” she said. “Just tired… first time I… so strange…”

Ella grabbed Miriam in a fierce hug. In an odd coincidence, Ingrid and I both got something caught in our eyes at the same instant and looked away.

Spindle approached me. “Shall we return to the courtyard? The two individuals who created this predicament departed hurriedly and may have left the book there.”

Spindle and I went to the chalk circle in the courtyard and found the book there. “So,” I said, “Do you know what that was?”

Spindle nodded. “I believe it is something known as a shoggoth. Do you recall hearing that word before?” I didn’t at the time but later I remembered that it was a word I heard in the dream I posted about. “Ella will be more knowledgeable about such things than I,” Spindle continued. “But I know enough to be thankful Miriam was able to dispatch it.”

We returned to the truck and saw that Miriam was walking around. Spindle showed her the book and the two discussed what to do with it. They agreed that it should be under magical lock and key, but acknowledged that the subterfuge and red tape involved in getting such a protection established at the university library would be prohibitive.

I approached Ella, who was amused by Spindle and Miriam’s discussion. I asked if she was all right. “I suppose,” she said. She looked toward the courtyard. “I’d heard of them, of course. The Antarctic expedition.” I waited for her to remember that I wasn’t her study partner and wouldn’t get the references, but she went on. “I didn’t imagine I’d ever see one. Satisfying and terrifying at the same time.” She looked at Miriam. “I’m so glad she’s all right,” she said softly. She looked at me. “Oh, I’m sorry. I…of course I’m glad you’re safe. All of us.”

She smiled at me and I smiled back. We were silent, just looking at each other. Ella opened her mouth, smiled again, and looked down.

The truck’s horn blared. “Hey, let’s get out of here!” called Ingrid. “We can talk about shakalakas or whatever they’re called later.”

Miriam gave Ella her keys and we returned to Miriam’s car. Ingrid strode over to us. “Hey, I’m too antsy to go back home. Wanna go bowling or something?” I suggested that that the one alley in Detling was probably closed. “Oh, yeah,” said Ingrid. She turned to Spindle. “Spin-man! You should get a bowling alley installed at your house!” She looked back at us. “Seriously, we should go somewhere.”

“Sure,” I said. I looked at Ella. “What’s open 24 hours? Perkins?”

Ella grinned. “Yeah, Perkins,” she said.

So yeah, we went to Perkins. By the end we were all in good spirits, though that was probably because we managed to avoid talking about the elephant in the room: namely, two hostile beings from different cosmologies appeared to have some sort of cooperative agreement. Cross that bridge when we come to it, I guess.

Two guests join the party

From last post:

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.

Miriam gasped and said “Don’t move!” and I saw a circle of purple light form on the ground around the three of us. By now the light from the candles had come back. All five of us in the courtyard were looking at the figure in front of the kiln.

“Did you complete the ritual?” Miriam asked, looking at the two guys in the chalk circle. They responded that they hadn’t. At this we heard the mysterious figure laugh softly, and saw him turn around and step toward us.

I assumed that, if a fallen angel were to condescend to take human form, he would be majestic and imposing. That’s not the person I was looking at, in spite of the nice suit he was wearing. For one thing, he was wearing glasses. His height was only average. The face was unusually wide and there were no perceivable cheekbones, as if a sculptor had placed a finalized mouth, nose, and pair of eyes into a clay bust that was a week short of completion. He had a short beard that gave him at least some gravity. I felt like I was looking at a homelier, more well-fed version of Leonardo DiCaprio who wore his hair like a Lord Byron kind of style.

“True,” he said. His voice gave a whole different impression. It was soft and sharp at the same time and I could feel it in the base of my spine.

“You didn’t complete the ritual,” he continued, “but you performed enough of it to get my attention.” But he wasn’t looking at the two guys. He was looking at me. He came closer to our circle and stood in front of me.

“Well,” he murmured. “Here is one favored of the creator.” He was moving his head in small, slow movements from side to side as he peered at me, giving him a reptilian kind of appearance. He looked at the circle of light and smirked. “Impressive work, little one,” he said, not looking up. He looked at me again. “So quiet? Surely you have questions for me.”

I would have liked to have asked lots of things, but I had a strong instinct to avoid a conversation or anything else that would subject me to rhetorical subterfuge. The smart thing would have been to say nothing.

“Yes. Yes I do,” I responded. “Hot enough down there for ya?”

Miriam made a woeful, disapproving “mmmm” sound. The man snarled for an instant then composed himself. “My time here is short,” he said. “So I will leave you with a gift. One Ella will appreciate. I’d stay to accept your thanks but, frankly, these things disturb even me.” He waved his hand toward the fire. Behind the wall the kiln was embedded in, there was a large black mass of an undefined shape. We saw part of the mass move, extending in a wide column over to our side of the wall as if it had been poured from a pitcher. It reflected the light of the fire and the patterns of the reflection were constantly changing: it looked like the surface of the mass was bubbling.

“Oh no,” Ella whispered. “Oh no.”

Mysterious visitors

While I do not regret urging caution with respect to Leticia, after reading the previous post I am more inclined to view her motives favorably. And of course I was quite pleased that she would try to get more information about the subjects I study. I had an unexpected opportunity to thank her when she arrived at the Bookmark two nights ago, wearing a white sweater decorated with the image of an evergreen forest.

She accepted my thanks, though she seemed somewhat preoccupied. “It’s funny you should bring that up,” she said. “Those guys I mentioned? They want to talk to you.” This I was not as pleased with. Even if Leticia and her cohorts weren’t actual vampires – and I had little reason to believe they were – the prospect of a meeting with elder (self-professed) nosferatu about knowledge that some would call forbidden made me uneasy.

“Well,” I responded, “That would depend on the time and place.”

“Um…yeah,” said Leticia. “That would be here and now.”

The door opened and a pair of tall gentlemen entered, dressed in black ulsters. Arthur used the word “refined” to describe Leticia’s features and refinement was certainly the impression I got from her comrades. They appeared slightly older than Leticia, with solemn expressions. One had a neatly trimmed beard and near his right eye there was a small vertical scar, which didn’t seem like it would be a characteristic of a being who could be harmed only by a handful of materials. The other was clean-shaven, with dark wavy hair and a narrow but sensuous mouth. I looked at him and found myself staring into a pair of smoldering dark eyes.

“Good evening,” said the bearded gentleman. The other greeted me by name. They both had slight accents that I had difficulty placing, though the way the second one said “Miss Sherrinford” was quite delightful. “I hope you will forgive our sudden appearance,” said the first gentleman. He introduced himself as Bertrand and his companion as Aubrey. Apparently part of the vampiric code is to dispense with last names.

“It is rare to encounter one with your…specialized knowledge,” continued Bertrand, “and I was most enthusiastic for a meeting. If you would feel more comfortable accompanied by your sorceress friend, I would welcome her presence.” I responded that I would like Miriam by my side, and went to the back of the store to speak with her.

“Vampires?” she said when I told her about the situation. “You know, I was debating whether I should have protected the store against them.” She explained that she has placed various charms at the entrance of the bookstore to prevent malicious non-human entities from entering. “I know I shouldn’t just assume all vampires are evil, but still… Anyway, I’ll join you. I know some ways to keep them in line if they misbehave.” She reached into a desk drawer wand withdrew a ring with a large purple stone, which she placed on one of her fingers.

The five of us sat at the coffee area in the back, Bertrand, Aubrey and I at one table and Leticia and Miriam at another. What followed was one of the most fascinating conversations I’ve ever had. They shared some astonishing information with me, and surprisingly enough I appeared to have some information they lacked. I won’t share the details here, for a number of reasons, but it was certainly time well spent and gave me a number of new ideas for research.

When our guests departed, Leticia purchased a copy of Dewey and Aubrey gave me a card with a number to call in case I had another encounter with the strange forces we were discussing or their avatars. I’ll certainly contact him if that happens. Or perhaps I may request his assistance with an investigation of another sort. I am, after all, a seeker of… specialized knowledge.