Mansions of Madness: Blood Ties (Part 2)
West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut.
— H.P. Lovecraft, “The Colour Out of Space”
When we last saw our intrepid investigators, they were about to begin their adventure. Such suspense! This time, we’ll definitely get to see some actual adventuring as they investigate the estate of “Ashcan” Pete’s deceased uncle, who was quite strange. Before continuing, you should probably read Part 1.
Tired of waiting for the womenfolk to get over their fear of dank places, Professor Walters meanders around to the other side of the old storage shed, searching for a way in. As soon as he is out of sight, Sister Mary almost breaks her ankle stumbling over a box that has been placed on the path between two garden bushes. It has been laid here deliberately, and would have been plainly visible by daylight. Mary brings it to the light of the fire, where they all inspect it and speculate that it was left there by Artimus, and must contain something important (Ashcan hopes it’s treasure). Mary finds it locked by means of a strange puzzle. She hikes up the sleeves of her habit and sets to solving it.
This has two immediate and profound effects. The first is that Ashcan is horrified by her hairy and unwomanly arms, and immediately leaves to join Professor Walters at the shed. The second is that Kate, always the scientist, is put off by Mary’s insistence that the puzzle can be solved by the power of prayer, and so rescues the box from the nun’s amateurish fumbling and solves it immediately. Mary is not happy with this turn of events, but her anger is replaced with puzzlement as the contents of the box are revealed to be… a fire extinguisher.
Ashcan finds that Professor Walters has succeeded at his own puzzle, having picked the lock that prohibited entry to the slouching shed.
Inside the shed, Ashcan and Professor Walters gape in horror. Crude sharp instruments fill the shed, lining its walls and covering its workbench as though left by an avalanche. Most of them are rusted beyond use (at least they hope the brown smears upon the blades are rust), but Professor Walters spots a crowbar off to the side of the shed and tests its weight. Ashcan mentions that it would be better if he carried the instrument, as he is young and strong, but Professor Walters eyes him suspiciously and reminds him that Ashcan is the nephew of the man who owned this shed, and he will hold onto it for the time being. Ashcan glares at him with stony eyes, with Professor Walters staring right back. They are interrupted by a moan and a scream from the direction of the campfire.
Following their altercation, Sister Mary had huffed off in the direction of the north house, hoping to find a clue that would both help to solve the mystery and prove her more useful than Kate. Kate was left alone at the fire, and busied herself (as all respectable scientists are wont to do) with reading the directions printed on the side of her new fire extinguisher. It was at that moment that she found herself beset by a member of the shambling undead. This naturally caught her off guard, but the creature was slow enough that she was able to fall backwards out of the way of its overhead swing, which left her on her back and the zombie on its face. She clambered to her feet before it could right itself, and brought her fire extinguisher cracking down onto its skull. Sister Mary, hearing the scream, ran back from the front path in time to see Kate dash a good portion of the monster’s brains out. The women look at each other for a brief moment, instantly putting aside their squabble. They both know what must be done with the possessed dead to prevent yet another reanimation. They lift and (on three) toss the zombie into the crackling flames.
Professor Walters and Ashcan run out of the shed at the sound of the scream, but they find that they have their own problem to attend to.
Ashcan charges at the foul, moaning creature, grappling it with his bare hands. He is terrified and panting, but assaults the thing without the barest regard to personal safety. They wrestle for a moment, then Ashcan grips the creature’s head and violently twists it to the side. Bones and sinews snap under his grasp. Ashcan steps back, triumphant, only to see the zombie lurch forward, still grasping at him. He is suddenly overcome with a feeling of fathomless darkness crushing him from every side, so he blindly runs yelping into the night. Professor Walters, now alone with the creature, boldly steps forward and readies his crowbar. The zombie stumbles closer, and Walters launches the crowbar with all his might. It catches the monster square in the face, and it collapses heavily to the ground.
The encounter has taken a toll on the Professor’s calm, and as he picks up the crowbar he feels a sudden possessive flush. The weapon is the only thing keeping him alive, and he will never relinquish it.
With the first zombie burned, Sister Mary begins to explore the graveyard and the north house. She finds a bottle of whiskey standing upright on one of the tombstones, and in the drawer of a guest room finds a Colt ’38 revolver. She eventually returns to where Kate remains at the fire. She has produced her microscope and is examining an unburnt portion of the creature, trying to pinpoint its origin. “There are multitude species, genera, orders, classes, and phyla of the undead,” she snaps at Sister Mary, who has interrupted her work. Sister Mary grins and hands Kate the pistol. “But no families?” she asks. Kate scowls and pockets the weapon with nary a thank-you, while silently wondering where Mary could have picked up biology humor.
Ashcan comes to behind the shed, wet and trembling from the rain. His loyal hound Duke is licking his face. As he stands up, he hears a voice. It is both intimate, as though spoken from lips at his shoulder, and distant, as though called by the stars themselves. “Hello Precciouzz one,” the voice hisses through the patter of rain. “Your uncle and I had a bargain, a pact youz see… Will you abide it?” Ashcan feels within himself the power of ages, ancient strength. He cannot tell if the voice is from God or some form of devil, so he takes his chances and breathes silent acceptance. Terrible knowledge floods his mind, and when he opens his eyes he realizes that he knows a phrase from a dead language.
He returns to where he ran from the zombie, but Professor Walters shouts that Ashcan will never get his crowbar before scurrying away. The zombie then stirs and rises to its feet. Ashcan readies himself for a fight, but is caught off guard when a shriek echoes through the grounds, coming from the shed he just left. A terrible creature bursts through the door, and Ashcan knows instinctively that it is hunting him, trying to make good on the mysterious bargain between his uncle Artimus and some elder force.
As the creature closes in on his position, Ashcan calls for help. The professor is nearby, but is grumbling about his crowbar and calling Ashcan various epithets (“Dirty hobo thief” briefly hurts Ashcan’s feelings). Sister Mary and Kate are nowhere to be seen, and Ashcan soon sees why: another zombie has crawled out of the graveyard. The women probably escaped into the north house to take shelter and formulate a plan.
As Ashcan prepares to be shredded, his foot brushes over something metal; it’s a manhole cover! He falls to his knees and tries to pry it open, but it’s soon apparent he will need some sort of blunt instrument to get it open. He turns his eyes to Professor Walters, who, despite squaring off against a zombie, feels Ashcan’s eyes on his precious crowbar. “You’ll never have it!” he screams.
How will our heroes escape this predicament? All will be concluded in Part 3!