Advanced studies at the Miskatonic University…
This being a report on a Call of Cthulhu session I played in on 2nd March, in the style of the times.
In the decade since our return from the war, Mr. Ambrose and I have had our difficulties, but life had settled into a pleasant flow here in New Orleans, until we were thrown into the strange affair of the cannibal baby factory, and our eyes began to open to the dark secrets lurking beneath the veneer of American life.
Our story began one lazy Sunday afternoon, as we sat on the balcony of the pleasant New Orleans home we had been sharing this past year. Bourbons and cigarillos in hand, we had just swung into reminiscence about the hard times that beset us after our return from the trenches – hard times that were a far cry from our recent good fortune. Just a year earlier I had finally been able to open my own medical practice just off of Canal Street, and though business was still slow, for the first time in years it appeared that I had a future. Of course matters were still more complex for Mr. Ambrose, who had shared my good fortune during the war and had witnessed the full horrors of trench warfare as a participant, rather than a sawbones, and who was having trouble settling into a steady civilian life even now. Nonetheless, things were looking up on that peaceful Sunday afternoon as we sat on our verandah, lazily discussing troubles that once held our lives in such a pinch, but now seemed just vaguely amusing from the perspective of a little distance, and a little whisky. Oh, to think now that we could have been so pained by the troubles of the mortal flesh – as if such concerns as addiction, poverty and strife could hold any real terror, when compared to what we were about to discover in our neighbour’s basement …
For it was at that moment, as we embarked upon our second glasses of bourbon, that our neighbour came home. Our neighbour Mr. Corbett – good, upstanding citizen, semi-retired from his shipping business, who still attended his warehouse three days a week, whiled away most middays at a well-respected gentleman’s club in the centre of town, and commuted regularly to New York – New York! – in pursuit of his extensive business interests. A man of such wealth and respectability that he owned his own Model T Ford, and a house across the way from our somewhat ramshackle bachelor’s pad, where he enjoyed extensive grounds and even a separate garage for his car. There he was now, as the Bourbon warmed my palate, struggling up the pathway to his front door with two packages in his arms – one round like a bowling ball, the other roughly the length of a folded billiard cue, both wrapped in butcher’s paper. He seemed to struggle with them, and as he attempted to open his front door he dropped one on the porch. Then, the strangest thing: he looked all about him most furtively, as if caught in the act of smuggling something illegal through his own front door, snatched up the parcel as if it were contraband of some kind, and slipped inside his house most surrepititously.
Perhaps his act would have been dismissed as merely a whiskey-induced vision, and forgotten as a lazy Sunday afternoon’s fancy, were it not for the strange events that followed. When we were perhaps some distance into our third or fourth slugs of that fine Bourbon, lights came on in Mr. Corbett’s basement. We would not even have noted this, but that the light we could see through his basement window grew brighter and brighter, till it was fit to dazzle us; and then, with a distinct popping sound as of electrical shorting, suddenly went dark. Upon first seeing that light, I had remarked to Mr. Ambrose that perhaps Mr. Corbett were in possession of a subterranean billiards room; however, that bright light spoke more of a workshop or laboratory.
This, too, would have passed unremarked, but for the later events of the evening. I had just laid myself down to sleep, having finished another chapter of Fishbein’s New Medical Follies (that pertaining to Eclecticism, I believe) when I was struck by the fancy that I could hear a low moaning, crying sound coming from across the road. I initially discounted it as some old tinnitus, but in truth that tinnitus was only ever psychosomatic and is long cured; and certainly though he bears many ills from the war, Mr. Ambrose has no hearing difficulties, and he had not only heard it but was up and about, trying to fathom it. I joined him and we returned to the verandah, there to listen more closely. It was a strange sound, in some regards like a baby’s crying, but in others like that of an animal or some swamp beast; a kind of gurgling, unpleasant choking sound, interspersed with sloppy gusts of breath and low wails. It was obviously muffled from within Mr. Corbett’s basement and insufficient to wake the neighbours, but it set me to shivering and nervousness such as I have not experienced for years, and perhaps Mr. Ambrose too. For it resembled a sound we had not heard in 10 years, and which the last time we heard it we discounted as merely the horrific vapours of wartime: sometimes, lying in the trenches at night after one of those reckless charges that left so many dead on the battlefield, after the last cries of the dying had subsided, we would hear that same sound, as of some wild beast that prowled the no-man’s land and perhaps feasted on the dead and dying. And once, approaching the bins behind the field hospital where we would dump amputated limbs, I also thought I caught such a sound, though I never found its source. Both Mr. Ambrose and myself dismissed those mysterious and ugly tones at the time as mere trench-madness; yet here it was, clearly emanating from our ageing neighbours basement.
We must, perforce, investigate. Dressing hastily, we marched across the road to Mr. Corbett’s front door. After a brief listen to confirm it was indeed his basement from which the wails and slurps arose, we knocked upon his door. After a considerable delay he answered, wearing that same furtive expression as crossed his face during the incident of the dropped package. I proceeded to make a noise complaint, and to ask him to still “whatever wild animal he was keeping in his basement.” He looked most alarmed at our having caught his game, and immediately tried to mollify us, also promising to still the beast at once. By now my curiosity was piqued, and placing a foot surreptitiously in the door to stop its closing, I offered to accompany him down to his beast, observing that he was old and perhaps not well, and might prefer to be accompanied by two men in the prime of life, lest there be some accident? He declined firmly, and begged of us to wait outside his door – all the while pushing the door against my foot as if to close me out, the scoundrel! I assured him we would wait, and that it were better he left the door open lest there be trouble. Being unable to close the door against me, he finally agreed, and off he went to still his beast. Listening at the door and window, we could faintly hear him talking to the mewling animal, saying to it “hush now!” and “be still, it’s okay!” and other phrases as if he were speaking to a baby, rather than a beast! Whatever he kept down there went silent, and he soon returned, looking even more furtive, and bid us please be gone. After we left him, assuring him we would assist him with his beast were he to need us, we heard the sound of several locks being turned in his front door. Why such security, in peaceful New Orleans?
The next morning we determined to break into his house and see what manner of beast he kept. We convinced ourselves that we did so only out of civic duty, but I think we both felt something was wrong, and needs must assure ourselves that some primeval fear waking in us were unjustified. Oh, had we only had the lack of imagination necessary to assure ourselves it were but a wild beast, and to return to our normal daily routine, we would never be troubled by those horrors such as subsequently have haunted us daily.
While I did my morning at the surgery Mr. Ambrose sought out and purchased the services of a Mr. Boleyn, a feckless and worthless man who spent some time in the trenches with us, and proved himself good for little but causing trouble. One line of trouble he was very good at was breaking into our Colonel’s whiskey safe, and it was the employ of these skills that we engaged for $15 and the promise of a bottle of good tequila. We met him on Mr. Corbett’s verandah at midday, and once he had us through that multi-locked door we bid him wait in the hallway, both to watch the door and to assist us were we to run into further barriers. We then proceeded into Mr. Corbett’s basement, me carrying that bottle of tequila as insurance against Mr. Boleyn’s services and Mr. Ambrose carrying his service revolver.
The basement was surprisingly spacious, consisting of a hallway with two doors on each side, all closed. We followed the traditional process for room clearing that we learnt in darker times, moving anti-clockwise down the hall, and so opened the first door on our right, entering the strangest room we have ever been in, and the first room to ever test our sanity. Before us lay an ordinary nursery, in which were a normal cupboard, a cot, a rocking horse, and over the cot a mobile of little winged angels. From within the cot came the sound of a baby sleeping gently, and the entire room was rich with the smell of formaldehyde. One door led out of the room, though we did not immediately notice it. We approached the cot to view Mr. Corbett’s basement-dwelling baby, thinking perhaps here was the source of last night’s sounds, and before we had time to prepare ourselves we found ourselves facing the most terrible of sights.
The cot did indeed hold a baby, but it was a monstrous construction, a baby with six arms, and all the parts of its body stitched together from what were obviously the discarded remains of other bodies. The arms were of mismatched sizes and colours, unmatched either with his legs; I say that it was a “he,” but that part most necessary to designate gender was not attached; and I swear his ears must have been procured from a girl, though I had no way to prove it. This monstrous frankenstein baby was also the source of that formaldehyde smell – for the body parts from which it had been made were obviously once pickled.
Both Mr. Ambrose and I would have loved to have dismissed this beast as some kind of grotesque doll, constructed for god knows what reason by Mr. Corbett. We knew he had lost his own son and wife, so perchance he was in the midst of some mad delirium, constructing a family life for himself out of the dregs of others; but at this point something so alarming, so horrific, happened that we would never again be able to look upon the macabre and seek easy or dismissive answers for it in the pscyhology of others. For as we stood looking into the cot, the dead eyes opened – and the baby started to scream. The eyes were the most chilling of all for me, because they had obviously been procured from different people. One was blue and slightly rheumy with early cataracts, as if snatched from a middle-aged diabetic; the other was, I am sure, taken from an Oriental of some kind, dark brown and almond shaped and much younger. As if the horror of this were not enough, though clearly the baby could see us and was responding to our presence, those eyes retained the glassy stare of the dead, a look we had both seen many times – but never thought to see mobile and directed at us!!!
We stepped back from the cot in disgust, and it was then that the baby sprang from the cot, hitting me in the face and proceeding to grab on to me with all six arms, bearing down on me with superhuman strength as it chewed at my face. The pain was abominable, as was the stench of mild rot and formaldehyde given off by this grotesque beast. I fear we both panicked, for I have a memory of punching myself in the face and screaming at Mr. Ambrose to get it off me! But after some moments we managed to drag it from my face, and Mr. Ambrose was able to place the upturned cot over it, then putting the rocking horse onto the cot to ensure its immobility. We then squatted before the cot and looked at this beastly thing, as it stuck its fat little mismatched arms through the bars of the cot and hissed and spat at us. We looked into its dead eyes for just a few more seconds before, turning my back on it, I said to my colleague, “Mr. Ambrose, if you please…?” Understanding my intent immediately, he shot that abomination in the head, right between the eyes, and it fell bloodlessly to the ground, dead at last. Shaking and disturbed, we retreated from that room and closed the door fast, leaning against the wall in horror and disbelief. What had we witnessed in there? How could such a golem be made real? Our world had begun to turn …
Our interest, though, had begun to rise. We must find what horrid scheme Mr. Corbett was engaged in, we must end it, and we must confront him and, if necessary, end him too. We would explore the rest of the basement.
The next room proved to be a kind of study. Its walls were lined with bookshelves, and there was a desk with a journal upon it, and next to it a strange, irredescent metal box. The box held a strange allure for me, and without much thought I put it in my jacket pocket. The journal I read, and it told us what we needed to know: Mr. Corbett was engaged in some strange ritual of reanimation, which he believed connected to some ancient Indian god called Ramasekval, and he was obtaining body parts from a deluded religious nutcase called Tomas Zewski, clearly some communist Jewish Pole, who worked at the local hospital. Mr. Corbett was plying Zewski with drugs, and in exchange convincing him that he served some dark lord, and that this lord’s purpose was served by cannibalizing bodies at the hospital for body parts to be sent to Corbett. Such a repulsive scheme as I had never heard of before! Though I spent two years sawing off legs and arms in the trenches of the bloodiest war the world has ever seen, believing myself to be as close to hell as it is possible for living men to go, I now realize that I had only just begun to splash in the shallows of human depravity – and that beyond what I already knew and believed so foul, was an ocean of depravity so deep no one could ever know what horrors lay at its depths. I fear now I am beginning to see just how dark and evil a man’s soul can be, and it unnerves me.
The next room in the basement was confusingly normal: a laundry, full of drying baby clothes. We investigated, but found nothing of interest. At the far end of this room was a door, which we passed through into a machine room, stacked full of parts that had been stripped from various machines. In the corner was a massive generator, and many cans of petrol, that must clearly be used to power whatever light we had seen the night before. We left this room and returned to the hallway. There was one final room off the hallway that we had not looked into, and this we now entered, to find a small space cramped and full of jars and bottles. Many were empty, but some contained pickled body parts – heads, arms, legs. There was a strange picture on the wall at the end of the room, somewhat akin to Michelangelo’s man, but in an Indian style with many more arms and legs. We came close to this picture to investigate it, but it had a strange, unnatural aura that caused it to seem larger, as if it filled the room; strange sounds assailed our ears, and it were as if the painting had been painted on a canvas that was more complex and mathematical than real; only some part of it, wrongly folded, protruded into our own time and space, and looking upon it gave us a twisted and sick hint at those other places where its full form was stretched out. These bizarre contortions of reality sickened and terrified us, and for some minutes I passed out. I must confess that I soiled myself in my terror, and Mr. Ambrose had to drag me, twitching and frothing, from the room. When I came to he was cleaning me up in the laundry room. He had taken off my soiled jacket and trousers, and bid me wear replacements from amongst the stacked laundry of the room. I did, and did not notice at the time that in taking off my jacket he had also stolen from me that lustrous silver box.
So, we had found all but the room in which Mr. Corbett made his baby, and we knew this must be in the room beyond the macabre nursery we had first entered. We needed to return to it, but before we did, I had an idea. I poured the tequila away, and returning to the machine room filled it with petrol. I then stuffed it with a rag from the laundry, also well-soaked in petrol, and thus made a makeshift firebomb. Now we were ready for trouble. We passed back through the nursery, trying not to look at that horrid infant, and through the other door in that room. This took us, we were not surprised to find, into a dissection room filled with the equipment required to build a horrific golem of flesh. We searched it thoroughly but found nothing more to enlighten us. We did, however, find a trapdoor leading deeper into the basement, and were just beginning to look down into it, contemplating further exploration, when behind us we heard the sound of pattering feet, a grinding sound, and a crash. Dashing back into the nursery, we saw the cot had been overturned and the baby’s body was missing! It had somehow survived Mr. Ambrose’s perfect shot, and was now out somewhere in the basement.
We passed carefully out of the nursery and into the hallway, and yet still we could hear the sound of that baby’s feet, pattering around in the basement. Fearing it behind us, and wanting to calm our nerves, we ducked back into the room full of pickled body parts and slammed the door shut. I stood near the door, and Mr. Ambrose returned to look at the picture. As he did so, he suddenly disappeared! One moment he was there, and then he was gone! I was left alone in the room, with nothing but that maddening patter of baby feet, and the body parts. Somewhere behind me, an empty jar fell off of a shelf and smashed. I confess I panicked: I lit my petrol bomb, through it amongst the jars, and ran for the door. The bomb exploded, and up went the formaldehyde, creating in moments a conflagration I was sure would take that damned baby, and I dashed out of the room. Moments later though, leaning in the hallway, I heard Mr. Ambrose crying for help from inside! He had somehow reappeared in that inferno! I thew open the door, dragged him out, and slammed it shut again, then dragged him to the laundry to tend his wounds. He was badly burnt, though not in a life threatening way.
We now, however, had no time. The basement was beginning to burn, and upstairs we heard Mr. Corbett returning. We dashed up the stairs to find him standing ready to confront us, and outside a crowd gathering as the fire began to consume the house. Having no time to spare, I punched Mr. Corbett in the face, and bid Mr. Ambrose drag him outside. I dashed upstairs to his room, grabbed the only useful thing I could find – a pile of letters on his desk – and dashed out after Mr. Ambrose. Putting the doubts of the gathered crowd to rest with my doctor’s manner, we dragged Mr. Corbett’s limp body to my house to “tend” to him.
Once the crowd and the police were gone, and Mr. Corbett’s once-proud home nothing but smouldering ruin, we woke him and began to demand answers. He denied any knowledge of the doings in the basement, and professed to a singular terror at what we told him. We believed him innocent of the charges laid, though we could not think how such could be, and decided instead to investigate Mr. Zewski. It came as no surprise to me than elderly, respectable gentleman would not be the one most to blame for such evil deeds, when a Polish communist were also in the frame. It was time to visit with him, and to have words.
What horrors do they seek beneath these peaceful avenues?
Our pursuit of Mr. Zewski came to nothing. He tried to escape us in a car, and we were forced to commandeer an ambulance, eventually driving him off the road and nearly killing him. Under duress he revealed himself to be exactly the dupe Mr. Corbett’s journal described him as; less a communist mastermind and more a foolish drug addict who believed himself a satanist, though he was a member of no covern. I patched him up as best I could and we drove him back to the hospital in the same ambulance. At the hospital I procured a few harmless injectable placebos such as we occasionally use on the worst of psychosomatics, and we returned to our house. I was now convinced that Mr. Corbett knew more than he was admitting to, and enacted a fiendish plan to get the truth. I injected him with one placebo and told him that it was a poison, and the only antidote was in my possession. Showing him another vial of a harmless placebo, I placed a bell in his bound hand, and told him he had three hours to tell us everything. Before we had even left the room, he was ringing that bell madly, desperate to tell us all. Yet still, when we interrogated him, he denied all knowledge of the doings in his basement. Exasperated, we left him to his imagined death, and decided there was only one thing left to do: before the police dug deep and discovered the body parts from the ruins of his house, we needed to enter that trapdoor.
We wasted no time, and kitting ourselves up with shotgun, pistol, rope and flashlight, we returned to Mr. Corbett’s ruined house. We re-entered the basement and, after digging away ash and rubble, opened the trapdoor. I went first while Mr. Ambrose covered me, and then he followed. We found ourselves in a narrow tunnel, that curved away and out of sight. Most perplexed, we followed it for some minutes. It descended a little and straightened, and we followed it for a few more minutes before encountering the most perplexing and disturbing of sights. Ahead of us the tunnel ended in a blank wall. In front of the wall were some dozens of the same homunculi we had seen in Mr. Corbett’s house, all constructed from discarded body parts, all of different sizes, though all vaguely human. They were digging frantically at the tunnel end, extending it through the earth, and as they dug they hurled the soil behind him. There, blocking a part of the tunnel, was a terrible ugly slug-like thing, larger than a man, that oozed along behind the monsters, eating the soil they threw away with a horrid slurping sound.
The creatures had not seen us, so busy were they at their digging, and we were in no way well-enough armed to best them. We were also deeply, profoundly disturbed by what we saw. We backed slowly away and then fled in terror back down the tunnel, reemerging in the basement as fast as we could. We slammed that trapdoor shut and ran back up into the light, shaking in terror. What were we to do?
Mr. Ambrose became then the most practical of men. He directed me to find a map and a hose. While I did so, he turned on the engine of Mr. Corbett’s car. The hose we snaked from the car’s exhaust pipe down to the trapdoor, where we fed it into that tunnel. We then sealed the trapdoor and returned to the surface to consult the map. Our guess was that those horrid cannibal babies were digging straight towards the centre of town, to an old statue that stood there. Perhaps there was something buried beneath that statue, something they sought, that we could dig up first?
So I must end this diary entry, for we rest now before approaching the resolution of these mysteries. Why did Mr. Ambrose disappear before that warped and mysterious picture, and what was its purpose? Was his strange disappearance linked to the lustrous silver box? How can Mr. Corbett not know what goes on beneath his own feet? And why does his legion of homunculi dig towards that statue? By what fiendish power does he animate those corpses? What secrets have we uncovered in New Orleans? I fear we are on the cusp of a great and terrible discovery, and that our lives will never be the same again …