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Friday, 29 January 2016

The Gibbet Frame

The old gibbet on Gallows Hill in Shropshire had a long and eventful life before executions were moved to the county town of Shrewsbury. Famed executions that met their end on the old gibbet included murderers, arsonists, poachers and even witches. The gibbet’s most famous victim was Salton Paxton, an unchristian person (it is not appropriate to describe him as a gentleman) who incorporated the bones of his victims in the walls of his hall. These were only found after his death, when the hall was being renovated. The hall has since fallen into ruin.

The old gibbet was dismantled, and only the stone blocks that made up the foundation remain, slowly weathering over time.

The timber that made up the gibbet was considered unlucky by the Shropshire residents, and left to rot. However, small pieces of the timber were taken by a witch, Luella Cawford and fashioned into a crude picture frame. Luella was eventually caught, tried and put to death by pressing. After her execution, the magistrates returned to her cottage to dispose of Luella’s possessions. They found the cottage completely bare. No one knows what became of her possessions.

Possibilities

1 Luella cursed her enemies with her gibbet frame. She drew or painted a likeness of the object of her enmity (a person or place) and placed it within the frame. From then on, corruption and foulness would befall the individual or location. If a person, they would suffer terrible accidents, or a wasting disease, or a became the victim of a brutal crime: they rarely lived for long. If Luella was cursing a place, then it suffered from infestations of vermin, vandalism, burglary and worse.

As the curse takes effect, the picture foretells reality. If the picture was of a person and the picture showed a bruise, then that person would soon receive a corresponding bruise.

The frame is now in a property managed by the National Trust. The frame is accurately described as being thought to have once belonged to the noted Shropshire witch Luella Cawford. The picture inside the frame is of a ruined folly in the property’s grounds. It seems that no matter what the Trust do, they cannot preserve the folly.

2 Luella used the gibbet frame to escape her fate. Some time before she was arrested as a witch, Luella poured her essence into the frame. From that time on, Luella’s was able to possess the body of whomever’s portrait the frame contained. Upon leaving the body, the victim had only a hazy memory of what had happened, and was often plagued by nightmares.

It mattered not the accuracy or likeness of the image in the frame. If the portrait was drawn with the intent of being the likeness of somebody, then Luella was able to possess that person. If the frame contained a picture of more than one person, Luella could posses any of them. Photographs, however, do not work.

Over time Luella became quite skilled. She learned to ‘lightly’ possess someone and watch through their eyes and listen through their ears, learning their ways and manners before fully taking over. In this way she saw her enemies act against her, and before she was arrested she took flight in the body of one of the magistrate’s clerks, took her possessions and fled.

With her real body gone, Luella is now a body thief. Her frame is now stuffed with portraits, and when she tires of a person, she simply adds a new portrait to the frame. The gibbet frame is her most important possession.

3 Luella was a kind witch and was commissioned by the local landowner, Sir Arthur Musgrove to protect him and his family from harm. For this she crafted the gibbet frame, and instructed Sir Arthur to place likenesses of those he wanted to protect within the frame.

Luella, however, did her work a little too effectively. The frame protects its wards from ill health and unfortunate accidents, and provides lucky escapes from calamities of all kinds. It effectively grants immortality. One side effect, however, is that the frame’s wards become barren and may bear no children.

Sir Arthur’s family enjoyed good health and vitality for many years, until, for reasons unknown, the picture in the frame was changed. Shortly after, Sir Arthur’s family suffered a run of shocking bad luck, as if their good fortune had run out. They were all dead within the year.

The gibbet frame is now owned by the reclusive Whistler family of north London. Mabel Whistler, on learning of the gibbet frame, understood exactly its powers and dangers, and uses it to protect her family - her sons, daughters and grandchildren. They are all much older than they appear.

© Steve Hatherley

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Band of Gold

It’s a murky pawn shop with smears on the glass and a stale smell coming from inside. But the ring in the window is eye-catching for all of that. It’s a ring, like a wedding ring made from greenish gold with an inscription running around the inside.

Possibilities

1     The inscription is simply the same three-armed symbol repeated: the Yellow Sign. The ring is strangely heavy, and is referred to in a few texts as Hastur’s Bridal Ring. Wearing the ring for any length of time results in two events. The first is that the ring contracts and cannot be removed, and the other is the arrival of a byakhee. The byakhee, summoned by the ring, takes the wearer of the ring (Hastur’s Bride) back to Hali. The byahkee only appears when Aldebaran is in the sky, and if somehow dismissed another replaces it on a following night.

At Hali, Hastur’s Bride commands all of the Great Old One’s attention. When the wedding-night activities are over, Hastur discards the remains of his bride and the ring is eventually returned to the pawn shop and its devoted owner.

2     The insciption is written in Hyperborean and says "Sleep Well, Dream Well." Wearing the ring whilst sleeping allows the wearer automatic entry (barring other effects prohibiting entry) to the Dreamlands via the Cavern of Flame. The ring is otherwise unremarkable.

The ring was sold to the pawn shop by John Montego who used it for some years before his Dream-self was killed, preventing him from returning to the Dreamlands. Through the shop’s records, Montego can be contacted. He knows much about the Dreamlands, but knows nothing of the horrors threatening the Waking World.

Perhaps he would make a good ally.

3     The ring is slimy and cold, and if worn will not come off - at least not without the finger. The inscription, if translated before the ring is first worn, says “Welcome friend, join us,” in the language of ghouls.

If the ring is not removed (with the finger) then the poor soul’s flesh slowly starts rotting and her appetite turns to rotten meat. She is turning into a ghoul. The ring falls off when the transformation is complete.

The ring was sold to the pawnshop after Laura Black vanished from her lonely city garret. Her family have no idea what happened to her, and found the ring among her belongings. Now, whoever buys the ring may soon be in a position to find out exactly what happened to Laura . . .

© Steve Hatherley

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

An Outbreak of Cancer


Doctor Jones will eventually require outside help, and will call upon the authorities or perhaps an old friend from medical school.

Possibilities

1 The cancers are punishments inflicted upon the population of Hodgeston and its surrounds by an ancient lloigor. The lloigor is trapped in the rocks, but has been woken by quarrying. It is slowly growing in power, tapping the life-force from those in and around Hodgeston. The cancers are a side effect of this life drain.

Eventually the lloigor will be strong enough to free itself from the rock, at which point it will disappear to wherever the lloigor go. By that point, however, there will be few left alive in Hodgeston.

2 A secret War Office munitions factory is pumping waste products into the sea at Tenby, just along the coast. The currents are bringing this waste around to where Hodgeston sends its half dozen fishing smacks. The cancers are a direct result of eating contaminated fish.

When the War Office learns of the  cancer’s potential link to its munitions factory, it sends soldiers to secure the town and suppress all further news. The poor people of Hodgeston are left in the hands of the War Office, which is more interested in weaponising the cancer than it is in treating the victims.

3 Several months ago there was a meteor shower above South Wales. One of the meteors did not completely burn up and landed in a small pool in the moors above Hodgeston. The meteor is highly radioactive and the pool drains into Hodgeston’s water supply, contaminating it.

© Steve Hatherley

Monday, 25 January 2016

Ghostwatch

St Crispin’s church in Church Stenton, in the Vale of York, is one of the most haunted churchyards in England. Dozens of sightings of a lone spectral figure stalking the starlit graveyard have been reported over the decades. Superstition has it that the last person buried is responsible for watching over and protecting St Crispin’s churchyard, and it is this figure that can is seen stalking the lonely churchyard by night.

The superstition originates from the trial and execution in 1644 of Maggie Green. Maggie Green was accused, tried and executed by legendary Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins and at her trial she cursed the community, the church and specifically the priest who turned her in to Hopkins.

Maggie Green was then buried face-down in an unmarked grave outside the churchyard. It's exact location is no longer known.

Once Hopkins had left the villagers, called upon noted alchemist Hector Speight to protect them from the curse. Speight used powerful magics to ensure that the last person buried would watch over the churchyard and keep Church Stenton safe from Maggie Green’s curse.

Possibilities

1     The southern corner of St Crispin’s churchyard is set aside for the Whistable family plot. The Whistables are minor aristocrats and can trace their history in Church Stenton back to the fifteenth century.

In 1650, six years after Maggie Green was executed, Sir Horace Whistable’s daughter died. Sightings of the spectral watcher had already been reported, and Sir Horace quickly reached the conclusion that while it was acceptable for a commoner to watch over St Crispin’s churchyard, it was quite unacceptable behaviour for a member of the aristocracy. So he contracted the family solicitor, Silas Nettle, to ensure that whenever a Whistable was buried in St Crispin’s churchyard, the service and burial would take place in the morning. And in the afternoon, a second burial would take place – that of someone lower born.

The contract has been in place ever since.

Whenever there is a Whistable burial in their family plot, their solicitors (now Creep and Nettle Solicitors, based in York) arrange for a second burial that same day. Usually their contacts in the hospitals and funeral parlours of Yorkshire ensures that no laws are broken. Sometimes, however, their contacts fail them – and then they resort to murder.

2     In 1706, as he lay on his deathbed, John Chobham made the Church Stenton community leaders an offer that they found it hard to refuse. In return for an annual fee (to be paid to his family and amounting to 10% of each year’s burial costs), he offered to be the ghost-watch. Forever. The agreement was made and papers drawn up.

Following each funeral, Chobham’s body is exhumed and then re-buried in a new plot - thus ensuring that he continues the ghost-watch and relieves the parishoners of Church Stenton from that particular burden. This continues to this day – and Chobham’s descendants are amongst the wealthiest in Church Stenton.

3     Church Stenton has started experiencing a series of troubles. The village pond has suddenly turned stagnant, killing the fish. A dog has gone missing. A barn has burned down. There have been a spate of mechanical and electrical failures. The church roof has developed a leak. So far, while these incidents are annoying, none of them have caused injury. So far.

The incidents are the result of Maggie Green’s slow return to power. A few weeks before the incidents started, the body of the last person buried in the churchyard was exhumed by the authorities following the re-opening of a murder investigation. The body will be kept until the case is closed.

However, removing the body also meant removing the spectral watcher and without her ghostly jailer, Maggie’s power has slowly built unchecked. Her strength is now growing rapidly, and it will not be long before she is able to dig herself out of her unmarked grave. Until then, Maggie is vulnerable and another burial at the church (or the return of the exhumed body) will create another spectral watcher and check her recent growth.

© Steve Hatherley

Saturday, 23 January 2016

The Locket

The locket is old, and made of silver. It’s case is adorned with an engraved rose, and inside is a faded painting of a young woman. Opposite the picture is an engraving saying “All my love. E.”

Looking closely, what at first glance appears to be rust around the edges of the picture, turns out to be a red-brown residue that flakes off. It is dried blood...

Possibilities

1 The woman in the locket was slain by vampires, and the locket was made by her widowed husband Ezra Thorne shortly after her death. Grief stricken, he became obsessed with destroying the monsters that had murdered his bride, and became a vampire hunter.

The locket bleeds when vampires are near - and as they grow closer it becomes awful to touch. Using the locket, Ezra Thorne became a successful and feared hunter of vampires.

2 The locket is haunted by the spirit of the woman in the picture. Her name was Alice Thorne, and she married her one true love, Ezra. They were due to be married, but the night before the wedding she was murdered. On the anniversary of her death, the painting of Alice cries tears of blood.

The only way that Alice’s spirit will rest is when the locket is placed in her one true love’s grave.

3 The woman in the picture is a deep one hybrid - before the Change. She is now a deep one, and is living off the coast of Innsmouth.

The locket has since been enchanted and now grows warm in the presence of deep ones. It has been used by the enemies of the deep ones in identifying hybrids before the Change; they then kill them.

The blood in the locket comes from the enchantment that has been placed upon the locket. The enchantments needs refreshing periodically, and the ritual that creates it requires a few drops of the caster's blood.

© Steve Hatherley

Friday, 22 January 2016

The Paper Under the Bed

The sheet of paper is covered in black ink. Crabbed, spidery words and diagrams cover one side of the A4 paper in a disturbing pattern that vaguely resembles a crooked cobweb. Around the edges of the paper are two rows of Arabic-looking script and in the centre of the paper, and the web, an eye.

The sheet of paper was taped to the underside of a bed in an unremarkable hotel room. It could have been there for months, it was only discovered when a guest was searching under the bed for their dropped keys.

Possibilities

1 The paper is a dreamcaster, a component of a powerful ritual. A dreamcaster allows a sorcerer to influence the dreams of another person – and in really skilled hands allows the sorcerer, over a number of nights, to place detailed subliminal instructions into the victim.

The dreamcaster itself must be tailored to its victim and, if deciphered, includes clues as to the dreams and instructions it will induce. It must be placed underneath wherever the victim is sleeping, which suggests that whoever put the dreamcaster in place knew who was going to be in the room.

2 The words and diagrams are the work of a disturbed child. The child was staying in the hotel with her parents some weeks ago, and in the process created many, many artworks and taped them over the walls and furniture. Housekeeping cleared the rest of the art – but missed this one last piece.

3 The paper under the bed is an inshō-shi, an ancient Japanese device used to identify victims of possession. When the inshō-shi spends a few hours within close proximity to someone who is possessed, it reacts to possessor’s psychic emissions. By recovering the paper and examining how it has reacted, the exorcists can (by referring to their comprehensive archives) determine exactly what has possessed the victim and how to deal with it.

In this case, the inshō-shi was placed by Vatican exorcists. The hotel is funded directly by the Vatican and as a matter of course inshō-shi are placed beneath each of the beds and are inspected each morning by the housekeeping team. Any inshō-shi that looks as if it has been affected is reported immediately to the hotel management who then contact the Vatican.

A guest who finds a inshō-shi showing a reaction is most likely possessed themselves (but may not realise it). As the Vatican exorcists are very experienced and very thorough, it is unlikely that the entity possessing the guest will recognise the inshō-shi – and the first they learn of it is when the exorcists come knocking.

© Steve Hatherley

Thursday, 21 January 2016

The Book

Following a successful tour in the SAS, Jim Book started a private security business (Book and Templeton Security) with an ex-colleague, Mark Templeton. They set up office on a business park in Redhill, south of London and prospects, initially, looked good.

The business was only in its fourth month when they were hired to protect Dr Michelle Crompton. Crompton’s enemies sent a werewolf – which killed Templeton and Crompton, and hospitalised Book, scarring him for life.

Possibilities

1 Book and Templeton Security now specialises in occult and preternatural security. Following the incident with the werewolf, Book investigated Dr Compton and found himself in a world of the supernatural and occult that he initially found hard to believe.

Once he overcame his scepticism, he pursued a crash course in the occult and mystic and has developed a niche in the security business – providing occult and preternatural security services to discerning clients.

Book runs the company alone, hiring in specialists as and when he needs them.

The business is now doing well (good occult security services are hard to find), and has moved from its original office in Redhill to a converted Islington town house.

2 The werewolf and its master are still out there.

It was three weeks before Book left hospital and the trail was then too cold to follow. With the business in ruins, Book vowed revenge. Starting with Dr Crompton, Book is slowly, methodically, patiently tracking the werewolf and its master. And when he finds them, Book will kill them both.

Book’s single-minded pursuit has led him to research and document various means of killing (or protecting oneself from) preternatural creatures. He is becoming quite an expert, and his documented research is now a valuable store of knowledge.

3 Following his near-death encounter with the werewolf, Book was rescued by Mr Broach, one of Dr Compton’s associates. Mr Broach brought Book into his carefully protected home and nursed back to health.

Mr Broach is a warlock, and a member of one of several factions battling for occult control of London. He plans to recruit Book, arm him with weapons and knowledge, and send him into battle.

© Steve Hatherley

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Witch Tree

In North Dulwich, London, there’s an imposing three-storey Victorian house with a large garden set back from the street. In the garden is a curious, stunted oak tree. Leaves never grow on the tree, although flowers bloom each year and it produces curious blackened acorns that never germinate.

The tree is known locally as the witch tree, and according to a local ghost story Eliza Halfpenny, a witch, lived on the site of the present house. Eliza was tried for witchcraft in 1642 by the Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins and burned at the stake in her garden. From the ashes of the fire the oak tree grew, and according to the story, if the oak tree ever dies Eliza will return.

The owners of the house now work in the City. They have a gardener and pay the tree no attention at all.

Possibilities

1 Although Eliza was burned at the stake she didn’t die. Instead she entered a torpid state to recover from her wounds. To the inexpert eye she appeared to be dead. Eliza’s charred remains were buried where they lay, and she remains there to this day.

Normally Eliza would expect to recover from her injuries within a year or so, but before she could recover fully an acorn was planted by Hector Speight (Hopkins’ alchemist). The acorn grew into an oak tree that draws nourishment from Eliza (its roots are entwined around her body) and prevents her from making a full recovery. As a side effect, it produces no leaves and its acorns are infertile.  If the tree is removed or dies, then Eliza will heal and she will return.

2 Eliza died when she was burned at the stake. As the fire died down a rainstorm washed her ashes into the soil. Into this rich fertile soil an acorn fell and, affected by Eliza’s magical residue, grew into the twisted, stunted, leafless oak tree present today.

Although infertile, the acorns produced by the tree do have unusual properties and are harvested each year (without the knowledge of the property’s current owners) by Eliza’s descendants.

3 Nobody knows whether the story about Eliza Halfpenny is true or not (although there are records that Matthew Hopkins was present in Dulwich in 1642) and nobody knows what has caused the oak tree’s peculiar appearance. And certainly nobody believes in witches.

Nobody except the gardener.

The gardener is the latest in a long line of watchers, responsible for caring for the tree and ensuring its health. The line of watchers can trace their existence back to the trial of Eliza Halfpenny – and three other witches in the Dulwich area. The gardener is responsible for all four trees and, thankfully, all are in excellent health.

© Steve Hatherley

Superswarm

Lake Vostok, under the Antarctic ice, has been sealed off from the rest of the world for millions of years. When a Russian probe finally brought back samples of the lake water, the scientists were amazed to discover that it was rich in microscopic life.

Deep in cold Lake Vostok, the life was dormant. The heat and light of the Russian laboratory brought a remarkable transformation and soon the samples were buzzing with life. In particular, the samples swarmed with a kind of primitive midge larvae that had hatched from tiny eggs.

The larvae grew and over a period of weeks matured and eventually grew into adults. The adults lived for three days in which they mated and each laid thousands of eggs in the water. The cycle continued.

Eventually, the inevitable happened and some of the midges escaped one of the Russian laboratories where they were being studied. (By this time samples had been distributed to a number of laboratories around the world.) The midges vanished into Siberia and no more was thought of them. The scientists continued their studies.

The midges colonised ponds and lakes in Siberia. During the winter they would go dormant, becoming active each spring and summer. Eventually they reached 400 mile long Lake Baikal in southern Siberia.

Five years after the midges escaped the laboratory (and only six years since being first discovered) the first superswarm appeared over Lake Baikal.

Possibilities

1 From their stronghold in Lake Baikal, the midges rapidly expand. A year later, midges have been found in Europe, Asia, North America and Africa, transported by migrating birds. A year after that a superswarm appears over Lake Victoria – and the year after that Lake Eerie.

Projections indicate that within ten years every freshwater body on the planet will be home to what becomes known as the supermidge. Superswarms will become regular features over any body of freshwater bigger than ten cubic miles. In tropical climates supermidges blacken the skies and threaten the viability of mankind’s already fragile drinking water supplies.

In cooler, temperate climates, winter brings at least some respite. But not for long, as the warmer weather is never more than six months away.

2 Although the midges individually live for no longer than three days, a superswarm typically lasts for about ten. At its height, when trillions of midges make up the superswarm, a kind of mental critical mass occurs and the superswarm develops a rudimentary intelligence.

Awareness typically starts on day three of the superswarm and is at its peak at about day seven. During these few days the superswarm is self-aware, and communicates in writhing patterns. It is aware that it only has a few days to live, but it is hungry to learn how it might live longer.

3 The midges are the heralds of the many-angled ones. Millions of years ago, when the many-angled ones last walked upon the Earth, Lake Vostok was open to the air. The many-angled ones left their spoor upon the Earth, but over time all was erased from the land, air and sea. Only Lake Vostok was left. Untouched. Unspoilt. Dormant. Waiting.

Now, with the Lake Baikal superswarm containing many trillions of midges, something begins. The superswarm starts to dance. Complex, fractal patterns appear, and the superswarm pulses rhythmically. The superswarm is tearing a rift in space-time, a doorway to where the many-angled ones dwell...

© Steve Hatherley