In a private room on the third floor, Rupert Merriweather lay dying wheezing, unconscious, and covered with blood spatter. Outside his room, and the busy activity of the doctor and nurses, the slightly bewildered associates of the doomed man pondered the recent events. It was now almost one-thirty in the afternoon, and the day, made strange by the unseasonal weather, had been made stranger still by what Rupert had told the group. Right before he vomited forth a stew of bile and blood… right before he dropped into a deep coma.
As the doctor ordered everyone out of the room, Father Alistair Begg picked up the metal box off of the bedside table and took it with him as he was escorted outside. Rupert had mentioned it was all the help he could offer for their “task.” A few of those present were more than a little skeptical of Rupert’s ghost story, but the box could offer some clues as to what Rupert had been talking about.
Alistair arrived last into the hall, and he was greeted, as were the others, by Geoffrey, the son of the bedridden man. The sneering young man was obviously upset, though how much it had to do with his father’s worsening condition remained to be seen.
“Are you in the will?” Geoffrey nearly shouted. “He never told me about you! You are not in it! You *can’t* be! Why has he asked you here? You have no right to try and take what is rightfully mine. Well? Why?”
“I am sorry about your husband, and your father. He has been carrying a burden on him for years, it seems. He has asked us to help, to relieve him of that burden. I will do my best to do so, so that he can go to Heaven at peace with himself. Perhaps later we may be able to discuss with you two what task he has asked us, but for now we must respect his wishes. Be assured it is something that will bring no harm or shame to either of you. God bless Rupert, and God bless you both.”
“Now my son why don’t we all say a prayer for your Father?” asked Alistair.
“What…yes…yes.. I apologize for shouting like that. It is just terrible…terrible..news.” muttered Geoffrey. The full impact of his Father’s condition seeming to hit him.
“Thank you all for being here at this time.” said Elise. “My husband will be so grateful you were here. Come now Geoffrey.” she continued. “There is nothing more we can do here.”
Alistair calmly spoke to Geoffrey and Elise. “I am sorry about your husband, and your father. He has been carrying a burden on him for years, it seems. He has asked us to help, to relieve him of that burden. I will do my best to do so, so that he can go to Heaven at peace with himself. Perhaps later we may be able to discuss with you two what task he has asked us, but for now we must respect his wishes. Be assured it is something that will bring no harm or shame to either of you. God bless Rupert, and God bless you both.”
That said Elise and Geoffrey walked back to speak to one of the doctors. The seven strangers stood looking at each other. Each overcome with the recent development.
“Old problems surfacing from out of the blue, interfering with my search” Harald Green muttered to himself.
He turned to Father Alistair and looked at the box he was holding. Harald began to feel strange, as if he had seen a similar one.
“I’ve seen some crazy stuff in my life too…I wouldn’t go thinkin’ that he is a crazy old fool.” Henry stated to break the silence. “I don’t know what an old Coffee can is going to do to help..Plus I am just a poor musician.”
“Quite right Mr LaHaroue.” said Alistair as he introduced himself to the rest of the group. “I am Father Alistair, of the New York Archdiocese. For Rupert to call us together when he was so ill must be important. Maybe we should retire to somewhere more private to look through this box and discuss the matter further.”
Harald gawked at Alistair. “You, a man of the cloth, willing to help Rupert? He is asking us to stand in a circle and replace superstitious saps as his last wish. That house is probably just a hooch factory by now, with a big scary monster to discourage people from going there.”
Harald scratched the back of his neck and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Father. It’s been a long ride and I need a cig. Let’s scram and talk this over. Anyone else hungry?”
Harold Sloan had stepped out of the hospital room and into the hallway, drawing a handkerchief from his pocket and usied it to wipe at the sweat on his brow. Finding a seat he sat down, looking a little pale.
He let the others talk for some time before interjecting, “I’m not sure what had happened to him, but I don’t believe what he said.” he wiped his brow. “Still, there’s obviously something going on, and we should look into it.”
“I agree, Mr. Sloan,” said Father Begg. “I do not yet know the truth of his story, but it is certainly possible Mr. Merriweather unfortunately had some encounter with demonic influences. We have a duty to at least investigate this. I further agree with Mr. Green that we should go somewhere else to examine the contents of this box, such as an eatery.”
Gilmore LaVey was deeply embarrassed as he sheepishly entered the back of the room. Normally the punctual type he muttered “My apologies to you all, my delay was caused by the uncooperative nag of a Hansom, please forgive me and please don’t let my late arrival impede the proceedings.”
Gilmore quietly took off his coat and slowly scanned the room and the people about him. After a few minutes of silence he offered: “I must say, that box is very particular and indeed we should investigate but I dare say that an eatery might not be the best place for such an endeavor. Lord knows what that box contains and I, for one, am not interested in opening such a device in a public place. We know not what the box contains, it may have simply papers in it but knowing Rupert it just as likely contains some mystery from some dark corner of the world.”
He paused and then continued “Given that demons are involved it may be wise to simply burn the box unopened but I don’t think any one here will spare the curiosity for that. At the very least we should open it somewhere far away from the general public. An empty room or outdoors at the least.”
“But then this is Rupert we are talking about and it’s just as likely to contain butterflies but let us not take the risk, shall we?”
Helena Hecate had been speaking quietly to one of the nurses before returning to the group as they walked towards the exit of the hospital.
Outside dark clouds had drawn across the sky making the streets dull and depressing. It matched the mood of the group as they walked slowly along the sidewalk.
Gilmore LaVey looked closely at some of the buildings they passed. It had been a while since he had last eaten and, despite the dreadful site of his old friend in the hospital, he needed something to eat.
“I do say, it seems that some of these restaurants are rather empty, I think they are devoid of coustomers enough that we could safely conduct our business therein. I also have to say I have not eaten in several hundred miles and the food available on the train left much to be desired and perhaps we can satiate both our curosity and our stomachs in one place.”
The group made their way across the street to a moderate looking establishment called “Warwick Club”, the group was lured in as much by the look of the place as the scent of fresh baked bread emanating from within.
Inside was dark and cosy with a fire blazing in the hearth and candles dotted around the various booths and tables.
They were greeted by a pleasant woman. “Hello there, my name is Mary-Anne. Sit wherever you wish and I’ll bring over some hot coffee to take away the chill of the day.” The were only a few other customers all lost in their own thoughts or the days paper.
Removing their coats and gloves the group sat down in a secluded booth near the back of the establishment. Gilmore, feigned a soreness in his neck and took the chair furthest from the box. “One of the other individuals with more steel and bravery takes the box and presumes to begin opening it,” he thought.
Mary-Anne was soon at the table with cups of steaming hot coffee. She quickly took their food order and hurried off to greet some other customers who had just entered.
Harald Green looks around and appeared to be uneasy at the restaurant. He kept pocketing his left hand and felt around for something.
“Alright. I think we’ve been spooked about this whole damned box for long enough now” He grunted to no one in particular. He pulled out a cigarette, lit it and took a drag. The smoke he exhaled swirled around the box, sitting in the middle of the table. “How about you give it a go, Father Alistair? You seemed to be more worried about it than anyone else.”
Lefty took a seat with his back to the wall, looking uneasy at the other individuals. He pulled out a guitar pick, lint, and a dime from his left pants pocket, looked at them, and quickly put them back in his pocket. ” I would just rather we get this opened and go about our way. Y’all are making this out to be more than it is. A dyin’ man wantin his life to mean somethin when he is gone. I’ll open the thing and then we can get on with our lives”.
The silvery metal of the box was worn and tarnished with age, but it may have been an expensive piece in it’s day. Gripping the corners of the low, flat lid tightly, Father Begg opened the mysterious container.
Inside, a yellowed envelope, a small gold-colored rectangular box like a small sarcophagus, complete with a lid and hieroglyphics traced around the outside, and a slim book bound in worn black leather rested.
Father Begg bowed his head in brief prayer, then picked up the book. Bound in plain black leather the book turned out to be a journal. A quick look through it showed the entries date from June 1881 to March 1882. The ink was faded and the text dense and detailed. It would take a few hours of study to find out all the secrets within.
As Father Begg leafed through the journal the a waitress arrived at the table with their food. They all began to eat and with more coffee, brewed cider and cigarettes they all felt a little more relaxed.
Gilmore LaVey examined some of the contents of the box. Opening the yellowed envelope he pulled out an official looking piece of paper, and a small metal key. “Mmm. Deed to a house. A farm near Ross’s Corners. This must be the key, too.”
Helena, putting down her long cigarette holder lifted up the golden box. Heavy and obviously gold, it was like a small sarcophagus, complete with a lid and hieroglyphics traced around the outside. “I’ve not studied Egyptian history well enough to know what period it belongs to. I wonder if it’s authentic?” she asked those around here.
Pacing the ornate box on the table she opened it. The lid flipped open. Helena peered inside while the others looked on vainly to get a glance at the interior.
“Well? What’s in it?” said Bobby, looking mildly disinterested.
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” Helena turned the box towards them to show them it’s empty confines. Empty save for the strange runes carved on the interior walls of the vessel. These symbols were completely unlike the Egyptian script that decorated the exterior surface. They were unfamiliar to everyone.
As they pondered the small golden box over their food they all discussed their memories of Rupert and all got to know each other a little better.
As the hours rolled by Father Begg had been reading the book.
During a lull in the conversation Father Begg spoke.
“Okay, I have got the gist of what Rupert and his friends where up to. Poor, poor Rupert. What have you done?”
“Well go on Father,” said Gilmore, “don’t leave us in suspense.
“Okay. Here is what I have found out. The entries date from June of 1881 to March of 1882. A group of friends, calling themselves the Dark Brotherhood, held their first meeting in the early spring of 1881. Rupert was the recording secretary, thus he kept this journal. The membership numbered six including Marion Allen, the founder and their nominal leader.” Alistair continued. “In June of 1881 they purchased an old farmhouse outside Ross’s Comers. It was to be a place where they could conduct their experiments in privacy. Representing themselves as a student literary fraternity, they cleaned and furnished the place while this Marion Allen fellow carved special warding signs over the wooden doors and windows. At the time, the others were amused at such precautions. The journal goes on for some length, describing a series of experiments – innocent and apparently ineffective attempts to contact the spirit world. The most boring part of the read, really, but-”
“Father Begg, please continue.” Harold spoke. His face was serious, and his steely gaze forced Grant back to his informative narrative.
“An entry dated February of 1882 notes Marion Allen’s acquisition of an artifact, purportedly Egyptian, described as a small sarcophagus of gold with a hinged lid. Inside was a large piece of amber entrapping a specimen of some unknown species of arthropod. Allen became very excited, for the box corresponded to a description he had found in a reference at the Miskatonic University library. Allen said that in another book, a thick Latin tome titled De Vermiis Mysteriis, there is an explanation of some purported powers of the box. The small animal trapped in the amber was supposedly said to contain a friendly spirit – a guide to the spirit world. This is when things get interesting. The fellows set a date to conduct a ceremony intended to summon this spirit creatures. One cold Saturday night in the middle of March, they were successful. I’d better read you the actual passage from the journal. I’m afraid my memory cannot do justice to all it’s gory details.”
Flipping through the journal, Father Begg began to read when he found the appropriate page. “This entry is simply dated ‘March of 1882.'” Clearing his throat, Father Begg’s rich voice soon held the others enthralled as his words wove a picture too grotesque to be real, too horrible to have happened, yet too detailed to be the rantings of a madman.
“We begin the ceremony as Marion instructed, according to that described in his book, De Vermiis Mysteriis. A fire is set in the fireplace and a pentagram chalked on the floor, marked with the appropriate symbols and illuminated by two black tapers placed near the center flanking the piece of amber with its entrapped spirit. The others sit in a circle while I, the designated ‘watcher’ who guards for malevolent spirits, sits in the far corner of the room.”
“Marion throws a handful of powder in the fireplace, producing an evil-smelling smoke and dampening the flames which now burn a sputtering green and brown. Those seated begin the Latin chant Marion Allen has transcribed from his book.
“After nearly two hours I see a trail of smoke curling up from the piece of amber. Its surface seems to be bubbling, melting. Could this be it? Have we finally achieved success? I can see a form -”
Father Begg turned to everyone. “His handwriting differs here. He is clearly writing with a shaking hand.” He then went on.
“It is the following day. We have finished with our plans and have sworn a pact to never speak of what happened last night. We have satisfactorily explained the death of Robert, and in some manner the madness of Harold. The sheriff accepts the explanation of a carriage accident — we planned it well. Robert’s neck was broken in the fall, we told him. Harold struck his head on a rock when the horse’s leg broke and the carriage rolled. Would it be that it was only that. For the rest of us, we will be forever changed by what we experienced last night.”
“The thing formed in the center of the pentagram, shapeless, nearly invisible. Its terrible voice should have given us a clue but we were foolish. It spoke, then Marion cast that damned powder on the spirit, the Dust of Ibn-Ghazi he calls it, and that’s when we saw *it*.
“Words cannot describe the faceless thing with a thousand maws. It roiled and bubbled, never fully revealing itself. So terrifying was its aspect that I sat as though frozen to the floor, the pen falling from my nerveless fingers. Cecil and Marion seemed as lifeless as I while a short, sharp cry issued from Crawford’s mouth. Robert, however, rose to his feet and before anyone could stop him, stepped forward as though to embrace our horrible guest. With its arms, or those appendages that seemed most like arms, it took hold of poor Robert and twisted his head around as though it were a mere doll’s. The lifeless corpse was then thrown back in Harold’s lap and that’s when he began that damnable shrieking — the shrieking that hadn’t stopped even after we handed him over to the sheriff’s men.”
“Even then we still had a chance. Marion now believes that if we would have kept our wits we could have reversed the chant and eventually forced the creature back to wherever it came from. But Crawford panicked and, mistakenly believing that it would dispel the creature, reached forward and destroyed part of the pentagram, breaking its effectiveness. Released from the binding symbol the thing — with a screech that could only have been unholy satisfaction — fled the house, disappearing out the window as a roaring, screaming wind of boiling colors.” “Marion believes that the thing could still be destroyed, or at least dispelled, but none of us who remain have the stomach for such an undertaking. It is believed that the spell we cast inextricably binds the thing to the house and it is true that when we went back a few days later to retrieve our things, we heard it bumping about in the attic over our heads. The warding signs so cheerfully carved by Marion Allen during better times — times that seem so long ago —apparently are effective and bar the thing entry except into the attic of the house.”
Father Begg closed the journal and looked at his ashen companions.
“Jesus…” muttered Helena.
“Not quite,” Chase retorted to Mahoney’s remark.
“There are a few more things of interest in the journal. Then we can discuss our options, such as they may be,” said Father Begg. He opened to near the end of the book. “The next entries are the names of those belonging to the Dark Brotherhood, followed by the dates of their deaths. All by the same hand, but in various inks.”
“Robert Menkin, March 1882”
“Harold Copley, August 1882”
“Marion Allen, August 1883”
“Crawford Harris, January 1915”
“Cecil Jones, March 1922”
“Rupert Merriweather -”
“A small newspaper clipping, dated in August of 1883, is pasted next to the entry marking Marion Allen’s death.”
Father Begg read aloud again.
“A Murder At The Docks”
“NEW ORLEANS – The body of Mr. Marion Allen, late of Arkham, Massachusetts, was discovered early this morning in the dock area. A victim of foul play, the man was identified by local witnesses who said that Mr. Allen had been seen in the locale the evening before. Although robbery was the apparent motive, police report that the victim’s tongue had been cut out. Marion Allen had reportedly gone to police earlier this week claiming that he was being followed and that he feared for his life. He said his shadowy pursuers were after an Egyptian artifact which he no longer possessed.”
“And lastly,” Begg said in somewhat tired tones, “we have the final journal entry: I gravely fear that which I and my colleagues have loosed upon this countryside. Nothing of consequence has yet taken place but with my death the bonds will be broken and the thing then free to come and go as it pleases. Lives and souls not yet taken already lie heavy on my conscience. The method of delivering the Thing out of this world is still in that accursed house, the translation made by Marion Allen from the horrid De Vermiis Mysteriis. I am not strong enough to take on the task but I know of those who perhaps are. Should they fail me, may God have mercy on my soul.”
All sat around the table were silent as the last words bit them.