Saturday, 21 February 2009
Claudia Henshaw. BBC World Service journalist. (Manoj A)
"Mad Frank" Nicholson. Financial consultant, circling the drain. (Ben F)
After the horror in Ipswich, the team spent time in therapy to try and deal with what they saw. Frank and Claudia were the first to return to active duty, and were assigned to investigate a potential case of spontaneous human combustion reported by the fire investigator working out of the Blackwall station in south-east London. The pair headed over to meet with the investigator, and he took them to the scene, explaining that he wanted them to see everything for themselves before he told them what he thought was going on. The "incident" occurred the day before, in the late morning; neighbours heard a long, piercing scream from the flat in question, tried to gain entry, and upon failing, called the police, who then called the fire brigade.
Claudia and Frank entered a small flat, which showed the signs of a lonely man down on his luck. In the bedroom they discovered a notebook full of ideas, marking the flat's owner as a creative type; Claudia's knowledge of psychology led her to suggest that the individual's creativity was often frustrated. In the living room, they found a vast collection of films, mostly of the horror and suspense genres, and a small library of books on film history and theory. One section was made up of the output of one director, a Terence Masters, who Frank recognised as a fairly prolific maker of horror films in the 60's and 70's.
In the kitchen, the pair discovered a human body curled up in one corner. Although the sight and smell were disgusting, both investigators were hardened after their experiences in Ipswich, and were barely affected. The body was a shrivelled husk, apparently burned in a great heat, but there was no sign of burning anywhere else in the flat, and even the corpse's clothes were whole and undamaged. Claudia and Frank headed back out to chat to the fire investigator, who confirmed Masters' identity and their findings, and expressed his dislike for the spontaneous human combustion phenomenon; it was something they could not deny, but nor could they explain it, and his hope was that the investigators from Stardust would be able to help. He suggested that Claudia and Frank head over to the post-mortem examination, which he had booked and ready pending their investigation of the scene.
The pair then went to see the coroner, who expressed an immediate dislike for them, calling them "charlatans" and "faux psychics", but Claudia turned on the charm and went some way to softening him up. The examination revealed that despite appearances, the body was not burned at all, and rather that it had been subjected to rapid and intense desiccation; if he didn't know the body was new, the coroner would have said it was some kind of mummy pulled from an ancient tomb.
Claudia and Frank then hit the books, and their research turned up two further cases of similar deaths, both in the past year. One was an actor, and another a retired cameraman, and both had worked with Masters on an unreleased 1968 horror film called Curse of the Sign. Digging further, the pair discovered that the film had a reputation as being cursed, and that almost everyone involved in the production had died; certain deaths and accidents during the production period led to the company destroying all existing prints of the film, leading it to pass into fan legend. The investigators pulled two names from their researches: Udo Bellinger, a film enthusiast who saw the unfinished film in a pre-screening in 1968, and Belinda Irons, the lead actor in the production.
Bellinger was by now independently wealthy and spending most of his time on the renovation of the famous vintage cinema in the Hobb's End area of London. Frank became sick at discovering this, as the Hobb's End swimming pool was the scene of his encounter with some bloated malformed creature which ended with the death of his friend; the team passed by the blackened remains of the famous building on the way to the cinema, and Frank's composure was shattered. Arriving at the cinema, the pair gained an interview with Bellinger, and while Frank turned to tea and cakes to soothe his frayed nerves. Bellinger confirmed that he had seen the film, and described it as an intense and disturbing experience that he had no wish to repeat. He briefly sketched out the plot as he remembered it, but explained that many of the details were obscured in his mind.
(He describes an abbreviated version of The King in Yellow.)
Bellinger knew that Belinda Irons retired to Exmoor, where she had become a recluse due to failing mental health, or so the rumours claimed. Bellinger hadn't seen her in person for at least five years. Figuring that someone was trying to kill off anyone involved with the production of Curse of the Sign, Claudia and Frank made plans to head out to Exmoor the next day. They procured a van from Stardust, and spent the morning driving over to Exeter, where they tried to track down Irons' address. They found a rough location, but no exact address, so went to a pub in the area to find out more. Perhaps through luck, perhaps through charm, or perhaps through Frank buying and eating most of the pub's menu, the publican was amenable to the investigator's questions and confirmed that Irons lived just a few miles up the road. Claudia and Frank decided to head over in the morning, and secured a room at a local hotel.
The next day, the pair headed up to see Irons, who turned out not only to be exceedingly paranoid, but armed with a shotgun. The investigators managed to convince the ageing actress that they were of no threat to her and managed to get inside the house, where Irons provided them with tea, coffee and sandwiches, while also keeping them at a distance, shotgun loaded and at hand. During a scattered and confusing conversation, Frank and Claudia came to the conclusion that Irons had a copy of the film, but could not convince her that ownership put her life in danger. The actress became increasingly irritable, but the pair didn't want to leave quite yet, so formed a plan. Frank attempted to distract Irons, while Claudia pretended to leave, instead circling around to get into a position from which to disarm her.
Claudia leaped, and got into a struggle with Irons. The gun went off once, missing everything except the ceiling, and the two women continued to wrestle, until the second barrel fired straight into Claudia's guts, flinging her across the room. Frank entered the fray them, knocking Irons to the ground as she attempted to reload, and retrieving the weapon. Frank quickly applied first aid to Claudia's wound, going some way to stop the bleeding, then called the police and an ambulance. Then, pretending that he'd reloaded the gun, he gave it to Claudia then made a quick search of the house and found a strongbox in the attic in which, wrapped in heavy blankets and curtains, he found an old film canister containing Curse of the Sign. Also finding a small projector elsewhere in the house, Frank chucked both in the van and awaited the emergency services.
Frank and Irons were taken into custody, and Claudia was rushed to hospital. Over the next couple of days, the investigators' stories were confirmed and they were released from the enquiry, Claudia convincing the hospital that she was well enough to travel and check in for treatment at home. Instead, they returned to their hotel, set up the projector in their room, and watched the film, with Claudia making a digital copy.
(The film was a fairly faithful adaptation of The King in Yellow, and the opening credits featured the Yellow Sign, in a Thing style burn-through effect. Frank became quite affected by the viewing, and watched it a second time while Claudia retired to bed.)
Frank tried to convince Claudia to watch the film again with him, as he was certain that it contained some kind of truth, but the journalist was unconvinced; as they argued, Frank's mobile rang, and an Officer Gibson asked if the pair were available to go to Irons' house so that they could put some final details together. Sensing a trap, the pair took the film to Exeter train station and secured it in a luggage locker, while Claudia called the police station to confirm that there was in fact an Officer Gibson, and that he was involved in the investigation at Irons' house. Satisfied, they returned to the moors.
Arriving, they found a police car and a forensics van parked outside, the house lights on, and the front door ajar. Calling and knocking produced no response, and Frank became jittery, deciding to return to the van and the waiting Claudia. Just as he was opening the door, something large slammed into the side of the van, but Frank refused to look around, and jumped into the driving seat. Frank slammed the van into gear and sped down the drive, and a confusing and panicked series of events occurred. Shots rang out, Frank was hit and a number of dog-like creatures assaulted the vehicle, and while Frank crushed at least two below the wheels of the van, he eventually lost control, and it ground to a halt in the scrubland to the side of the driveway.
The pair climbed out of the van, sensing their demise at the jaws of whatever these dog things were, and were hailed by a man's voice from somewhere in the scrub; Frank recognised the voice as "Officer Gibson", but could not place its point of origin. A tense discussion followed in which it became clear that the voice wanted the film destroyed, and nothing more than that, and the investigators managed to convince him that they had the only copy and that they would be happy to have it destroyed. At this, the owner of the voice stepped out from his hiding place and introduced himself as Thomas Church. A dishevelled man with a manic look, Church seemed to be an investigator like Claudia and Frank who had been tipped over the edge by his discoveries; he was aware of Stardust Investigations, and had even heard of the incident at the Hobb's End swimming baths.
Achieving a sort of cease fire, the pair took Church to the train station, and gave him the film canister. A look of great relief passed over the man, then he took out a bottle of some sort of paraffin, poured it over himself and the film, and set himself on fire. He burned in complete silence, and by the time anyone was able to put out the flames, Thomas Church was dead. Claudia and Frank were taken in for questioning once more, but claimed they had been kidnapped at gunpoint by Church, a story supported by the illegal handgun he carried, and the CCTV footage from the train station backed their story of suicide.
The pair then returned home, shaken and disturbed yet again, and clutching Claudia's DVD copy of Curse of the Sign, unsure of whether to report it to the management at Stardust Investigations.
Yep, this scenario is indeed named after the movie forum at yog-sothoth.com. "The Unfilmable" was a nice fit for a story about a cursed film, so I just had to use it.
This scenario saw me use the critical wounds table from BRP for the first time. I'd been wanting to use this for a while, as the collection of mental and physical scars is part of the fun of the game for me; the CoC equivalent of experience points and +1 swords. Claudia only just survived an instant kill from the crazy lady's shotgun blast, but got away with massive organ damage instead, reducing her CON and Move by two points.