Note to Readers: a major outlet for my creative writing has always been gaming. I’ve been writing and running games since I was first introduced to D&D in fourth grade. The sword & sorcery worlds were fun and all, but what ended up really grabbing me was the urban fantasy setting of Vampire: the Masquerade. I liked the intersection of real world grit and supernatural elements. In fact, it reminded me a lot of Lovecraft’s work, and for my long-running chronicle Providence, I freely mixed and mingled Lovecraftian elements with White Wolf’s World of Darkness.
One thing that has always delighted me with writing and running games is designing props — little clues and gimmes in the game that characters can explore to expand the plot threads. I’ve produced whole newspaper mock-ups just to have my players go digging through them for one salient article. Maps, journals, excerpts of books … and it’s all great fun. Attached here is one such game prop produced for the Providence reunion game I ran at Oberlin college a couple of years ago. It’s a partial chapter from the memoirs of one of the town’s law enforcement officers, and it expands upon the tale of a house characters encounter that is reputed to be haunted. As you read, you’ll see why:
Guided by Providence: The Memoirs of Roderick Kemp
Chapter Five: The Wheatley Place
Now, this was an investigation that I was involved in back in 1875. It’s twenty-five years after the fact, and I will carry the details of this investigation to my grave. In all my days working in law enforcement, I never saw anything so awful, and I thank God every day that I never encountered anything like it since. Some nights, I still wake up seeing scenes from the inside of that house. I knew Thomas Wheatley. Not real good, but I had seen him now and again, growing up. I don’t know how a man can become such a monster, but Thomas Wheatley was a kind of evil that should never walk the earth.
Well, you’re not all reading this to listen to me proselytize about man’s inhumanity to man or to conjecture about the metaphysical nature of evil. No, you want the gory details. Well believe me, they’re gory! If there are any ladies reading this, or folks with a delicate constitution, you all may want to just skip along. Still with me? Well, here goes:
Everyone knew that Old Man Wheatley was up to no good. But since he kept to himself and rarely went out of his house, no one bothered to really call him on it. There were a couple of incidents involving missing persons that a detective Godwin tried to trace back to the Wheatley house, but his investigations went nowhere. And then Godwin himself went missing, and no one seemed brave enough to suggest that maybe this disappearance was also tied to Wheatley. Godwin was a good man, and a few of us on the Providence force, we kept niggling at the case, trying to get someone to do some honest-to-goodness investigation into the issue. But nothing ever went forward. Maybe he paid people off. I don’t know, and I don’t care to think about it now. Whatever it was, no one was ever brave enough to confront Wheatley directly.
In the end, Wheatley’s true crimes were not revealed because the old man was caught. His crimes came to light because Wheatley himself mysteriously disappeared. And, eventually, the stench coming from his abandoned house became too much for the neighbors, even though there was a good amount of space between them & the Wheatley house.
A reluctant deputy was sent to check on Wheatley at his property. He found that the front door was sagging open and a terrible stench wafted out on the summer air. The buzzing of flies was audible through that open door, so loud that the deputy at first thought some kind of machine was on inside the house, running. There were no lights on in the old house, and most of the windows were covered over with heavy cloth. Most of this cloth was nailed directly into the walls around the windows. When the deputy yanked the first of these makeshift window covers off to let in some afternoon sunshine through the streaked and yellowed glass, he found himself staring at the most macabre scene he had ever witnessed. Shortly after that, he was just staring at the gravel on Wheatley’s driveway, as the poor deputy knelt, hunched over, puking his guts out. Of course, by now, you all know that reluctant deputy was me, Roderick Kemp, though back then everyone called me Roddy. I thought the smell was the worst thing I’d ever been exposed to, but that was before I cleared off the windows and got a good look at what was causing that smell. Hell could never look so grim as that house on that June afternoon.
Inside the parlour, arranged in chairs as if they were just over for tea, were three corpses. They were well-preserved — almost mummified. One of them was the missing detective. One of them was Arnold Powell,* a drifter. One was a woman, never identified.
Five more corpses, similarly preserved and staged throughout the house were discovered. The most unsettling of these was the corpse of Kevin Blackwell, a young boy eleven years of age. He was in that attic. Wheatley (it could only have been Wheatley) had strung the boy from the rafters. He had also painstakingly fashioned wings for the child, cobbling them together with the bones and feathers of several birds, as well as a few bones from a human — never identified — who left no other remains in the house.
The stench of rot came from the basement. Wheatley’s most recent victims were in a jumble down there. Dr. Jacob Frost, the Providence Coroner at the time, identified the parts of at least seven bodies in the festering abattoir that lay beneath the rickety wooden stairs. A bathtub with saws and other implements as well as a worktable with needle, thread, and some taxidermy equipment, suggested that Wheatley had been planning to put these corpses together in much the same fashion as the others — only he seems to have been interrupted.
No sign of Wheatley himself was ever discovered. He must have been dead. I made a thorough search of the house – and I’m not too proud to admit that I had to make that search in pieces, as I had to vacate the premises on more than one occasion to vomit in the yard. After a while, I wasn’t even bringing anything up, but that didn’t stop the smell and the horror of it all from getting to me. Like I said at the outset, I never saw anything like it in all of my years, and I am happy to have never encountered anything so terrible ever again. We never did figure out who all of those body parts in the basement belonged to. Frost, the coroner at the time, he did his best, working late nights to piece the bodies together. But even he had to admit defeat, and Frost was a smart man. Scary smart, though some called him crazy. I think that was just because he preferred to always work at night and he spent so many long hours locked away with the corpses. But my insights on Dr. Jacob Frost – well, that’s all material for another chapter.
*Author’s Note: If you’re up on your vampire folklore, you’ll recognize this name as an homage to one of the first recorded cases of vampire attacks in Eastern Europe. Yay Easter eggs.