A Taste of Evil

Clemens Park, Surrey, April 10th, 1940, 8:30am


Clemens Park

In one way or another,  each of them had been identified as a capable person who had been exposed to the darker things that lie beneath the surface of the real world, and as someone willing to aid the fight against them. Their initial contact had been a cheerful, engaging red-haired young man named Charles Payne, who explained that that they had been assigned to or been offered a place with an organization named simply “Section M”. All very hush-hush – but then that’s normal; there’s a war on and careless talk costs lives.

Several people arrived at this stately pile, just south of Biggin Hill, last night. Now they were gathered in a room set up for meetings or briefings after a rather topping breakfast.  There were a couple of minutes to get acquainted before the briefing started;

The only person in uniform was a tall, well-built soldier with an SAS beret and a Lieutenant's rank tabs, who introduced himself as Joe Vandeleur. He was smoking a pipe and was surrounded in a cloud of tobacco smoke.

Next to him sat a young woman with a dreadfully scarred face who spoke with a slight French accent and had a reporter's notepad on her knee; strangely, a fishing-rod case with some rather strange lumps visible in it was leaned up against the back of her chair. She gave her name as Jane Noe, but her papers read Anné Laurentine.

Even more strangely, next to her was a spotty youth, no more than fourteen years old, with oddly compelling eyes. Gregory Snickers looked like a child but conversation with him began to uncover a disturbingly sharp brain behind the acne.

Two academics sat together, discussing with some eagerness the library they'd glimpsed as they came downstairs to the meeting room. Both had the indefinable stamp of the Colonies on them; Marcus Brody was a Professor of History, originally from Cameroon, and easily the oldest of the group in his late forties; Cyril Boston-Flint was from the Gambia and a had been a parapsychologist until being drafted into the Intelligence Services. From his dress, he was clearly pretty well-off.

As each looked around at the others, they saw in their eyes that which they had only before seen in their own; the expression of someone who had seen things beyond the real, things which had changed them forever.


Margaret Walsh

At that moment, the door opened again and an immaculately-dressed young woman with flaming red hair walked briskly in, carrying a buff folder. "Good morning, everyone," she said in a warm, slightly Scottish accent. “Thank you all for coming. My name is Margaret Walsh; you can call me Miss Walsh for now. As you have been told, you are now part of Section M. You’ll learn more of what we do as time goes on, but for now suffice it to say that while the Forces fight the main enemy, we investigate and oppose the less canny enemies. All of you have had some exposure to the supernatural at some point so I don’t have to go through the process of persuading you that it’s real – you know.”


Newspaper Clipping

“Normally, you’d get rather more briefing and preparation for operating in the field, but unfortunately something else came up in Northumberland and Alec took pretty much everyone up there.” She snorted slightly. “Typically, something else has cropped up down south.”

From the folder she took a newspaper clipping and handed it around.

“We picked this up in the local paper. There have been twelve disappearances now, and nobody knows quite what’s going on. You are to go down there and find out what’s going on, stop it if possible, and if it is something uncanny, keep it quiet. The last thing the public need to know is that there’s more to worry about than reality!”

“Start off in Bishop’s Stortford; Inspector Mower has been sent a telegram and is expecting you.”

She fielded a few questions, firmly squashing suggestions that the police should be dealing with this one, and confirming that equipment was available to be drawn from Clemens' Park's stores; "Just use it where appropriate. Take what you need; but you're not going there to create a showy massacre - you may be there to prevent one!"

Keeper Note: It's always appropriate to make a note of how long it is before CoC characters hit the library. In this case, about 15 minutes table time...

Marcus and Cyril took the opportunity to do some research in the Clemens Park library, locating some local folklore and legends, but nothing especially relevant to abductions from motor-cars.

Bishop Stortford Station, Hertfordshire, 10th April 1940, 16:25

The Travel Warrants Miss Walsh had handed round had got them onto the first train, though it was a squeeze - First Class was a rarity these days. The train was, as ever, packed with soldiers, airmen and sailors going this way and that, plus pitiful evacuees and some few civilian travellers.  The journey was uneventful, and the five investigators were soon stretching their stiff limbs on the platform of the station in Bishop Stortford.

It looked a typical small Hertfordshire town, with life going on as best it can with taped windows, baffled lights, sandbags around doorways and so forth.  The odd soldier could be seen, but the most common uniforms were RAF from the nearby Stansted Mountfitchet bomber base.


Humber Super Snipe. Quite big enough for five people!

Cyril glanced around and spotted a man in a suit so bad it had to be a policeman's leaning against a large motorcar, smoking a cigarette and looking as if he was waiting for someone. "That looks like our man," he suggested, and the group went over to speak to him.

The man did indeed turn out to be Inspector Mower, and - after checking ID cards - he greeted them cordially. "I got the telegram, telling me some experts from London were coming down to look into our disappearing trekkers," he said, opening the car door and ushering Anné in first. "I hope you don't mind, but I'll drive to the Station" - he meant police station of course - "before you take over, then I don't have to walk back."

As they drove, the investigators quizzed him further about the disappearances. There'd been no damage to the cars, no sign of any struggle, no bloodstains. Nothing stolen, no attempt to make off with the cars themselves.


Inspector Mower

It struck Cyril that this was rather a large and luxurious car for a Police Inspector in a rural town to be driving, and he said so. Mower laughed. "You're right; I don't have a car of my own at all, as it goes. This is one of the abandoned Trekkers' cars; we've three or four parked up behind the station waiting for next of kin to claim 'em, and we figured you might as well use one for this as leave it standing around."

Joe perked up. "Any motorcycles available?" he asked. Mower shook his head. "We have one, but it's out on patrol today," he said.

"Has this car been well searched?" asked Joe. Mower nodded. "All of them," he said gloomily. "Nothing. Half-eaten sandwiches in some of them, newspapers, books, as if the occupants just put 'em down for a moment." He braked to a halt and put the parking brake on. "Here's where I get off," he said, not without some pleasure.


The map - click it for larger image!

He reached into the glove compartment and pulled out some pieces of paper. "Here's a list and a few details on the missing people," he said, "and a map of the locations where the cars were found. The number for the station is Bishop Stortford 31 11 if you need to get hold of me." He closed the door and leaned in through the window. "Good luck!" he said cheerfully.

With Cyril Boston-Flint at the wheel, it looked as if they might need it. A cyclist, a dog and a postbox were left shaking with fear as the big car veered around the road. Glancing backwards, Anné could see Mower pointedly looking the other way as he hurried inside; she guessed if he'd had to pay attention to the car's progress he'd have had to arrest them. "Banana!" shouted Cyril, evidently by way of a curse. Finally getting the car under some control, he headed it away from Bishop Stortford and towards a random marker on the map; the one just south of Nuthampstead.

Rural Road, South of Nuthampstead, Hertfordshire, 10th April 1940, 17:15

They'd found their chosen scene easily enough, a rough gravel passing-place on Park Farm Lane, around half a mile south of Nuthampstead. This was where the most recently-abandoned car had been found. Parking up, they spent some time exploring the scene, but found nothing of any interest.

Anné and Gregory had noticed a farmer ploughing his fields a couple of hundred yards to the east, and set off across the stubble to speak to him.

Joe eyed a large sycamore tree, then heaved himself into its' branches and clambered up to a good twenty feet above the ground. From there, he scanned around, and something caught his eye. Calling down to the others, he directed them towards what he'd seen. Cyril and Marcus cast around for a bit, before Marcus suddenly noticed a cavity, artfully concealed in the hedgerow between the fields and the road. Joe scrambled down and the three of them peered into the hole. It was roughly square, about two and a half feet across, and disappeared down into darkness...


Anné and Greg came up to the farmer, who noticed them approaching and halted his horses. The animals stood patiently, occasionally whisking a tail at a fly. "Well, whaaat can oi do for you?" he rumbled good-naturedly. His eyebrows went up at Anné's French accent, but he agreed readily that "Lunn'n folks" were disappearing "out they moty-cars." He seemed very keen to get his name in the paper and promised to buy a copy when it came out. Just as they were leaving, they picked up the snippet that the "old ducks" in Nuthampstead made a thing of being "Vary hos-pit-a-bul" to the poor frightened trekkers, making up breakfast for them in the mornings.


When they got back to the car, they found Joe down the hole, which turned out to be between five and six feet deep. At the bottom, it connected to a horizontal tunnel of compacted earth leading off nearly straight north and slightly downwards. There was no reinforcing or propping, but the rammed earth seemed strangely solid and secure. Even with an electric torch, he couldn't see more than twenty yards or so.


Sniper Rifle

After some debate, it was decided that instead of going into the tunnel, they'd set up a trap using the car and see what came out after dark. Gregory and Cyril placed themselves in the car, mimicking sleeping drivers, while Joe and Anné set up angled camouflaged shooting positions and readied their rifles. Marcus was settled in next to Anné, grumbling slightly at the discomfort of being covered in leaves and dirt.

Rural Road, South of Nuthampstead, Hertfordshire, 11th April 1940, 03:45


Ghoul

By the time it happened, Gregory had actually perfected his trekker impression; he was asleep. Heavy rain was beating down, and with no sources of light it was almost entirely dark. Only Anné, with her telescopic sight, caught sight of the movement as the bushes thrashed briefly over the hole. Then a hideous face emerged into view.

A misshapen head, with canine, dribbling features and rubbery, loathsome skin. The clawed forelimbs - no-one could have called them hands - had a repellent hoof-like quality to them. The whole movement of the creature was dreadfully wrong as it clambered out of the hole.

The horror of this sight clawed at Anné's brain, for a moment overwhelming her with terror. She whimpered to herself for a moment, and then her mind cleared. Instinct took over and her breathing slowed, and she squeezed the trigger. L'Etranger coughed heavily and the 7.5mm soft-nosed bullet tore into the hideous creature. It seemed to have gone right through at the top of the chest, but for some reason it was still moving, still climbing up.


Very Pistol

Joe Vandeleur, unable to see what she had shot at, whipped up the Véry pistol he'd laid close to hand and shot a flare high into the air. The tiny parachute opened and the flare ignited, flooding the whole area with lurid green light. If possible, this illumination made what they then saw even more horrifying.

Frantically, Anné worked the bolt on L'Etranger and sighted again. The sniper rifle barked a second time, and the hideous thing dropped backwards out of sight; there was a thump like a dropped sack of potatoes as it hit the bottom of the shaft.


Baffled Headlights

Cyril snapped the car's headlights on, dimly lighting the scene through the slit baffles on the front of the lenses. Nothing happened for some time, except that the flare sank to the wet earth and vanished. Clutching various weapons, the investigators gathered around the hole, Anné shivering slightly with reaction, and Gregory shone his torch down onto the body. The creature was huddled at the bottom of the pit, two bullet-holes through chest and head, dark red blood pooling around it. Wild-eyed, Cyril emptied his Browning into it, shaking enough that he managed to miss some of the time even at that range. Bullets tore through it and into the earth, but it did not move again. Finally, Joe went down and hauled it out. As they stood and looked at it lying dead on the mud, Anné took heart again. Merde, it was ugly! But they could be killed, and she had killed this one. She could kill another if it came to that.

Still very wary of it, they secured a coil of rope from the car's boot, and lashed it into a bundle before locking it firmly into the boot. While they did this, Anné kept an alert eye on their surroundings, in case the shots had attracted any attention. Then they resolved to follow up down the tunnel. Joe took the lead, M1911 in hand, with Gregory behind him holding the torch. Bringing up the rear came Cyril.

Anné and Marcus elected to stay with the car, both to prevent any possible loss of their "evidence" from the boot, and to cover this end of the tunnel. Neither really fancied crouching down half a mile of mud passage either to be honest. The agreement was that if they heard nothing in an hour, they'd go back to Bishop Stortford and get help.

Tunnels under Nuthampstead, Hertfordshire, 11th April 1940, 04:26

Keeper Note: At this point I carefully waited for someone to say they were marking the tunnel from which they had emerged. Alas, no-one did - so after a failed Navigate roll, nobody had any idea how to get back to the car...

Slowly, the three wormed their way down the tunnel, eyes and ears stretching for warning of possible attack. Nothing happened, however, and eventually they came out into a wide earthern chamber, forty feet across and twenty feet high. Seven other tunnels like their own opened into it, and in the middle was a metal ladder leading up to a grating in the ceiling.

After waiting a moment for something to happen, they moved over to the ladder and Joe scrambled up to look at the grating. It should have been see-through, but there appeared to be some kind of heavy cloth lying on top of it. Cautiously the soldier pushed up with his pistol untl it slid back and he could see what was above. He found himself in ... a cellar.

It was neat and clean, with a wooden staircase leading up to a door in the far wall, a small framed needlepoint declaring There's no place like Home, tidy shelves racked around the walls holding all sorts of household stores and foodstuffs, a rack of clothes... Clothes? All three climbed cautiously into the cellar and started to look around a bit more closely.

The rail of clothes were neatly hung up, meticulously cleaned and pressed. There were around a dozen outfits, all the sort of thing well-to-do Londoners might wear. There was nothing in the pockets and no sign of blood.


Meat Paste?

At this point it dawned on Cyril that there was an overabundance of one kind of food on the shelves. He looked closer; jars and jars of it; meat-paste. At the same time, Joe had slipped a tarpaulin off an irregular shape against the other wall, to discover a mincing machine, immaculately cleaned butcher's block, and beautifully cared-for butcher's knives.

All three stared at each other in mounting horror.

Rural Road, South of Nuthampstead, Hertfordshire, 11th April 1940, 04:25

Professor Brody glanced at his watch. "More than an hour," he said worriedly. "Something's gone wrong." Anné shrugged. "Shall we go into Nuthampstead and hope to find them, or go find M.Mower and get help?" Marcus frowned into the darkness. "Bishop Stortford, I think." he said eventually.


There's bad driving - and then there's this sort of thing...

Anné started the car, and moved it into gear, slewing it across the road in the first movement of a three-point-turn. Then she selected reverse and backed towards the passing place. Unfortunately, the cars she was used to were rather smaller than the huge Humber. There was a brief rustle of hedging, then a bump, then the nose of the car rose suddenly and sharply. Both were flung back in their seats and found themselves looking at the sky, to the sound of an expensive-sounding metallic crunch and a shatter of glass.

The engine died and the car settled, back wheels mired in the ditch, front end stuck up in the air. There was a moment's silence - and then the argument started.

Marchpane Cottage, Nuthampstead, Hertfordshire, 11th April 1940, 04:35

Cautiously, Joe led the others up the steps and cracked the door open. Beyond was the hallway of a prettily-decorated country cottage; a front door directly ahead of them, a door each side of the hall, and stairs leading up on the left to a top floor. Nobody was visible, so the three walked quietly down the hall to the doors, Joe checking up the stairs with a glance. As he bent to listen at the right-hand door, Cyril noticed some letters lying on a hall table and picked one up to note the address.


Emma and Maud

There were sounds of conversation coming from the door to their right, silence to the left, so they opened the right-hand door and went smartly in, weapons readied. They found themselves in a small cottage kitchen, neat and well-organized, with a small table whereat were two elderly ladies were seated, eating breakfast. They seemed too well-bred to object very strenuously, and tried with some politeness to offer the three muddy, heavily-armed intruders a chair, some tea or cake; or maybe a sandwich? (!)

"We've just come from your cellar," explained Joe in a flat voice. One of the ladies sat down; "Oh, dear..." she said wistfully. The other, Emma, had started to edge for the hall door, until a gun was waved at her. "Tut!" she said, and stopped.

Joe started trying to get some answers out of Emma, but met with firm but gentle resistance. While he did so, Gregory had quietly approached the seated one - Maud - who looked up at him. "What a nice young man," she said, casting possible doubt on her eyesight. "Would you like some tea, my dear?" Gregory looked deeply into her eyes, and gently moved his fingers across her field of vision, murmuring softly and mesmerically.

"Why are you killing people?" Joe was barking at Emma. "There's no need to be rude, young man," she said crisply. "Sit down and have some tea and we'll talk about it." Cyril snorted. "Not likely!" he scoffed.


Critical Hypnotize from the Boy Wonder!

"What kind of meat is in the meat-paste?" asked Gregory, quietly and compellingly. Maud looked trustingly back at him. "Why, human of course," she said calmly. Joe's head snapped around in amazement, but Gregory contimued in the same calm voice. "Where does it come from?" he asked. "Oh, that nice Mr Stubbins brings it to the cellar," she said. "Hmn," said Cyril, "does Mister Stubbins have claws and hooves?" Maud gazed at him like pondlife for a moment before looking back to Gregory, who shot the parapsychologist a sharp look before asking the same question. "Why yes, young man, he does." she said. "You can call him up by ringing the bell." Cyril remembered seeing a bell mounted on the cellar wall.

Leaving the other two with the prisoners, Cyril went out into the village in search of the post office. He found it near the middle of the village, and flashed his ID, requesting access to a telephone. "It's just there," said the puzzled postmistress.

He first tried to ring Bishop Stortford's police station, but there was no answer. Bit early, he thought. So he called the number he'd been given for Clemens Park, and was soon through to Miss Walsh. She arranged to send a clean-up crew down to pick up the pieces, and asked the investigators to stay with the scene until they arrived.

Marchpane Cottage, Nuthampstead, Hertfordshire, 11th April 1940, 06:10

With Maud and Emma safely secured in the lorry under guard, Joe and Cyril decided to check into the cellar in a little more detail. Accompanied by Gregory and two of the clean-up crew, they went back down and searched in more detail.

The discovery of some paraffin gave them some ideas, and with the aid of some soap and empty meat-paste jars they made up some Molotov cocktails. Gregory's eyes lit up at this, and the skill he showed in making them was another alarming discovery for the others. Finally, having prepared themselves, they rang the small brass bell.

After a few minutes the sound of multiple creatures rushing closer could be heard through the trapdoor. Cyril felt a flash of relief they'd not decided to wait for developments in the earth chamber below! A moment later, a ghoul erupted up the ladder, moving faster than anything had a right to move. Only Joe, sten gun readied, reacted in time, double-tapping two rounds into the brute as it came into view. Squealing, it reached the top of the ladder and glanced around at them.

This was Gregory's first proper look at a live ghoul, and the shock was too much; he threw himself to the floor and curled into a ball, moaning. There was a sharp crack and a strong smell of paraffin filled the air. Joe fired again, and it dropped back down the ladder just as a second one came up. Cyril shot that, and it too dropped down again. Below, the sounds of began to move away, as if the monsters had thought better of their welcome.


Mills Bomb

Joe moved smartly to the trapdoor, pulling the pin out of a Mills bomb, and dropped it neatly down before stepping back again. On an inspiration, Cyril siezed the paraffin can and lobbed it neatly afterwards. Meanwhile, the clean-up men had siezed Gregory and hauled him towards the steps. There was a dull boom and a flash of flame as the grenade exploded, peppering the ceiling above the trap with shrapnel. A moment later, they felt the floor heave. Joe managed to lunge and grab the stairs but Cyril wasn't quick enough and was carried with the flow as the entire floor collapsed into the cavern beneath.


Seemingly Innocuous

When the dust cleared, the parapsychologist was sprawled atop a heap of rubble, bruised but alive. The collapse had completely closed the tunnel mouths and obliterated all sign of the lower chamber. There would be no catching the ghouls now; but likewise there would be no more dodgy meat-paste sandwiches served in Nuthampstead.

Epilogue

When the clean-up crew had finished with Maud and Emma's house, no-one but an expert could have told that it hadn't burned down by itself. Quite by chance, several scorched documents had survived that implicated the two as German spies, much to the shock of the villagers - and their gosspiy glee for years to come.

They then helped salvage the Humber from the ditch, after Anné and Marcus had trudged into the village looking for the others. It was still functional, but Inspector Mower's expression as he heard the story showed what he thought of a man who let a woman struggle with a car that size. Marcus shrugged; he'd never taken the time to learn to drive.

Cyril spent a couple of days in hospital for cuts, bruises and mild concussion. Once he started shouting "Banana!" at the nurses, though, they let him out in a hurry. Gregory was more of an issue, however. It took nearly a month for Clemens Park's resident psychiatrist to straighten him out, and he still looked a little haggard afterwards.

Alec, Viscount Towton, put down the report he'd been reading, and nodded to himself in satisfaction. An odd bunch, no doubt, but the sort of experience required for this mob didn't produce much else. Once the last two got here, they were going to be ideal for that job that "Camile" had just dropped into his lap. He scribbled code-names for them, and closed the file. Now, what was going on in Russia today?

Session Date: 28th November 2017