Friday, August 9, 2013

NYC CoC #18: Stag Party Gone Awry!

May, 1924

We take a moment today to reflect on something other than personal degredation or cosmic.  Every once in awhile, there is an ounce of joy pervading the veil of humanity.

For Eric Bowsfield, PhD, Professor of History at Miskatonic University, it was the upcoming nuptuals with his beloved Katie. 

For Henry "Hank" Hart,  General Manager of Phone Rentals for Massachussetts Bell, it was a time to provide his good friend Eric with a raucous week of manliness out in the Maine woods.  An elaborate cabin, with fully stocked larder, a rack of shotguns for hunting or target practice, and a beautiful lake for recreation.   He would invite a few of Eric's other friends from across the years:

Dr Daniel Kobza, DDS - A dentist, formerly of Boston, who left town for Philadelphia a few years back under some questionable accusations.

David Lievense - Transcontinental antiquitarian who loved collecting antique advances in technology. 

...and two more individuals of questionable reputation:

Dr Nathaniel Millheim - a friend and classmate of Eric's at the East Stroudsburg Normal School.  Some call him a crackpot parapsychologist, today many are calling him a successful author of both fiction and folklore.

Steven O'Hara - another classmate from East Stroudsburg.  A friend of Nathaniel and a professor of physics at Columbia.

The group arrived at different times in Bangor, Maine.  Once there, they would begin the festivities, then load themselves into two rented Model Ts for the two hour drive into the Maine woods. 

After a questionable steak dinner and pocket flasks running low, they loaded up the cars and congregated outside them before heading out.

With the squeal of tires, a truck could be seen barely making it around a corner and headed straight for the group.  Dr. Kobza and Hank narrowly dove out of the way of the truck before it hit a sizable street lamp.

With steam and fluids pouring out of the engine block, a husky fellow emerged from the cab with just the slightest hint of a drunken stagger.

Smitty, former speakeasy owner and friend of Millheim and O'Hara, had arrived. 

Realizing that alcohol was not mentioned at all, Steven enlisted his friend Smitty to procure some for the week.  Figuring no one would miss a few cases of the booze he was guarding for the Boston mob, and realizing that Eric had helped save his life before, he felt obliged to deliver it personally.  A few moments later, Smitty and the booze were in the cars and the group sped away, before the police showed up.

The group's late start and the poor back roads of Maine ensured that the two car convoy drove right through the primeval darkness of the forests of the darkness of Maine.  Dr Kobza acquainted Smitty with the wonders of ether and the rest tore into the hard liquor.  Just a little over two hours in, and no sight of the landmarks to denote their cabin, the morale of the group dipped to the point of staring blankly into the small oval of light the cars' headlights were burning into the upcoming darkness. 

While everyone was in this zombie-like state, a single man, wearing only a blood soaked nightshirt, bolted across the trail from the darkness.  Steven, driving the first car, could do nothing but watch in horror as his attempts to steer away were countered by the deep ruts in the road.  The man's chest hit the radiator of the car with a resounding thud.  He managed to hang on for a few seconds before falling under the car with a grinding noise.  Free of the mysterious stranger, the Model T finally popped out of the rut right at the most inopportune moment, and the car hurtled off the road, down an embankment, and struck a tree. 

For David, driving the second car, the sight of a body emerging from underneath the lead car forced him to panic, running him over in the process, and forcing the Model T to flip repeatedly until striking the lead car already resting at the tree. 

Although everyone survived the crash, most were shaken by the strange man lying in the middle of the road.   By some great miracle, he was still alive, but could barely emit the words  "help" and "jack."  Hank attempted to give him liquor to soothe the wounds.  When he wouldn't respond to any questions, except for those words, they decided he was French Canadian and Eric tried speaking to him in French to no avail.  It was finally up to David to build a litter and figure out where they could take this poor soul.

Steven and Doc Millheim looked over the wreckage that was their small convoy, busted radiators, broken spokes or flat tires made the cars undriveable without repairs.  The ditch they resided in the the darkness of the night prevented that from getting started.    However they did spy a small light coming from a house on the hill, with a twisty driveway leading up.  Hoping that  was where came from, the group embarked up the hill.
The house on the hill was a nice sized cabin, situated in a small clearing.  A Model T with 4 flat tires and a missing crank sat outside the wide open front door.  While the rest of the group tried to get the man into the cabin and onto a bed, Smitty and Dave tried unsuccessfully to follow some tracks that started at the car and wandered into the woods. 

Following every instinct in seasoned investigator's minds, Doc Millheim spent as much time as possible before going inside, staring at the woods, the car, and the structure, looking for anything to hint at the cause of the man's episode.  Eventually as the group ventured from the bedroom they placed the man in to other rooms of the cabin, he forced himself inside. 

The building was a proper hunting cabin, with trophies along the wall, a sizeable
Doc Millheim scoured the bookshelves in the living room, discovering a copy Thaumaturgical Prodigies in the New England Canaan, sitting alongside Civil War histories and cheap dime novels, as well an an odd "bone" flute sitting atop the mantle of the firepalce.  Hank and David discovered a trap door in the kitchen that might lead to a cellar.  Those achievements were overshadowed by Steven casually asking, "Fellas? Does anyone else see an Indian standing outside?"

Much to Steven's chagrin, not another person in the cabin could see the solitary Indian peering into the window.  Doc Millheim and David went so far as to go outside and look for it, the doctor waving his hand right through his chest, according to Steven.

David did notice something far more sinister.  The pine trees surrounding the cabin felt like they had closed in, but far more dire was the open areas between the trees had filled in with a six foot high wall of thorny brambles, essentially blocking any route of escape.
With a bit more fear in their hearts, the group checked on the man (still alive) and went about their searches.  Hank and David volunteered to go down the steps in the trap door.  At the bottom of the steps was a woman's body.  Although the average person could deduce he had died of a broken neck, Dr. Kobza dental experience, and Hank's suffering sanity made them concoct crazy stories as to her demise.  They also found a mysterious pool coagulating blood, some very peculiar stones in the foundation, and bones sticking out of the dirt floor!

Their discoveries were to kept secret a bit longer, as a horrible commotion came from the pantry.  Eric and David were rummaging around there, checking the larder, and a back entrance.  Little seemed out of the ordinary from their foraging for food, save two jackrabbits that had been shot and were hanging on hooks to drain.  Both men saw the skinned rabbits begin to dance while hanging on the hooks and at least Eric's sanity began to crumble.  He had grabbed a fire poker from the living room "just in case" and when the creature began to dance, he used it to beat it away.  Unfortunately he couldn't hit the broadside of a cabin, and ultimately, the rabbit became unhooked and he flew out of the pantry with it dancing on his chest.  In a fit, he threw it away, tossing it into the living and smacking Smitty in the face.  The rabbit went limp and the everyone went back to searching, most notably the new finds in the basement.

Seeing oddly carved stones in the basement, pools of blood, and a skeleton missing it's skull half-buried, Steven and Doc Millheim decided the time for dawdling about was over and clues must be found, before someone really gets hurt.  They tried to read the Thaumaturgical Prodigies, but one of the deer heads on the wall came to life and ate the good doctor's hat!  They then went up to the attic to look around, while some of the level headed men remaining checked another bedroom and the bathroom and the main floor.  David was given the .30-06 and told to guard the outside of the cabin.

The men did discover the body of a young boy with his throat slashed (Jack?)  As well as the crazed rantings of the man.  Apparently, something had driven his wife to madness, slitting her son's throat and forcing him to push her down the cellar steps in self-defense.  With her gone, the malevolent spirt forcing its presence onto him.  That last sentence he scribbled was hearing two cars coming down the road
In the attic, Steven and Doc Millheim found the journals of Colonel Nathaniel Fuller, a retired Army officer who once owned the cabin.  According to his accounts, he had laborers move the large stones that littered the clearing and used them as part of the foundation, despite the pleadings of a few random Indians who begged him not to.  After chasing them off with gunshots and other threats of violence, they stopped bothering the construction. 

As the first group reconvened in the living room, the one wall began pouring blood out of it.  That was enough to make Dr Kobza go completely catatonic.  Eric Bowfield  shuddered uncontrollably and staggered closer to the fireplace.  As the others stepped and Steven and Doc Millheim made it down the steps, they could all see a large knife come out of Smitty's chest.   A wild eyed David was holding the other end behind him and it took the better part of the group to subdue him.

Eric had had enough.  That final horrific act to a man that had saved his life triggered a horrible fear of blood, so he bolted for the back door.  Unfortunately for him, the others had rehung the rabbits in the pantry, so when he busted through the door, he ran smack dab into them, pulled them off the hooks by his force and essentially carried them as he ran out straight into the thick briars, trapping himself, and making him .... bleed.

For Doc Millheim, the only idea that had any chance of pleasing this malevolent beast was finding the skull and burying the body back in the cellar.  The skull was found in the armoire in the main bedroom.  (Check on the hurt man, still alive...)  Doc and Steve hurried down to the basement and buried all the bones with their own hands. Moments after placing the last handfull of dirt over the skeleton, an eerie spectral image of an aged Indian appeared.  The nonplussed duo watch the image repeat a pattern over and over, for what looked to be playing a flute.

The veterans of more multi-dimensional disasters with beasts man was not meant to see, did exactly what anyone would expect them to:  They climbed the stairs, grabbed the bone flute, and told their musically talented friend Hank to go downstairs, learn the song the Indian ghost was trying to teach, and play it to save everyone.  The ever eager Hank agreed, and ran down the stairs.  The pair proceeded to step around the catatonic Dr Kobza, over the corpse of Smitty and the unconscious body of David, and walked outside in the cool night air. 
They could hear  the sound of the flute coming out of the basement, even overcoming the incessant whimpering of Eric Bowsfield in the briars.  The cabin itself began to move as if it were a lung, the man they had hid could be seen through the one window walking towards the kitchen, there was an odd "pop" emmitted, and the woods went quiet.  When they went back inside and ventured into the cellar, they discovered Hank, his mouth a bloody mess, surrounded by the bodies of the family members, and Smitty.  Every tooth in his mouth looked like it had exploded.  Through his muffled cries, he described how he saw the Indian, and in proper hank fashion, thought he could mix a little improv to it.  After all, "These Indians didn't know jazz and Mozart and shit.  I thought I could make it much better."  After playing it a few times, the body of the woman came to life, then Smitty walked down the steps, followed by the young boy and finally man.  They all kept trying to steal his bone flute, but he kept dodging them, right up until he felt his mouth tingle and every tooth burst like a grenade.  Yet somehow, he kept on playing until the dead fell limp to the ground.
It took some time for the group to recover.  Over the Summer, Millheim and O'Hara led the effort to take the sacred stones out of the foundation and place them back in formation.  They even made a trip or two back to New York City to complete some research that was actually contained in the doctor's old shyster folk tale and Indian legend collections.  They also took the family, who were descendants of Col Fuller and staged a horrible accident that someone found within the week.  Once that was done, they took a quick respite as Hank took over responsibility.  He made Dr Kozba's month by filling his mouth with fake teeth, then got his lawyers in the action to inquire about buying the Maine property.   Once the bodies of the family were discovered, the legal teams took little time to finalize the property transfer at a significantly higher price than market.   The remains of the group reconvened on site to do what was necessary:  burn the cabin to the ground and cut down a number of trees to block to path from the road.  

For Eric Bowsfield, his first full encounter with a supernatural entity was horriffic to say the least.  Luckily, the view of his bride-to-be Katie, brought him back from the brink of madness, and some tender loving care helped him act like a normal member of society.  Most of his wounds were healed by the time the wedding occurred, and with the help of his new groomsmen, Steven and Doc Millheim, plus the "million-dollar" smile  of Hank, he headed into wedded bliss with a flicker of hope in this world.

For seven players, one many of whom hadn't played CoC in a decade, it was a great experience.  Even the conflicting play styles melded together as the madness of the situation set in.  Having the my two veteran campaign players just wash their hands of cabin by letting a novice handle it was the high point of the entire game.  Perhaps the death of Smitty has finally given them a better no-nonsense edge.  They're going to need it.

As I mentioned in my blog post detailing the whole weekend, here, the whole purpose of the session was to scratch "Playing Cthulhu with Hoyce (Eric Bowsfield)" off my gaming bucket list, but I sure hope we can get together and play again, even if Professor Bowsfield needs to retire to the simpler life of wedded bliss.

The Horrible Lonely House in the Woods from Worlds of Cthulhu #4.

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