Past Stories: 2014
O'Dell's Coffin Works
Enter the master coffin makers and embalmers lair. Explore his insidious workshop filled with mysterious machines, evil chemicals and clues to his nefarious plans. Will you make it out alive or will you become one of his next experiments?
Listen: "Digger" O'Dell is a spider. He's woven a web across the entire Southern Tier so masterfully constructed that nobody even knows it's there or how pervasive it is.
A lot of people in the know about such things regard him as the architect of many events dark and sinister in the area. Unlike other notorious folks like Jonathan Kingsbury, or Thaddeus Ortch, or the crone up at Chimney Bluffs, all those types just seem to be merely passengers on the ferry of dark rivers. Digger O'Dell, however, is truly one of its pilots.
I know you're new to the area, but I remember him from way back. He started plying his craft years and years ago. He was originally a restorative artist, embalming bodies and reconstructing the really bad ones for services. He was a legend amongst morticians, wielding a trocar like a painter's brush, his talent was so great. The bodies he worked on looked more alive than when they were alive.
And then he started building. For a long time, the local funeral homes subcontracted out to him to build the coffins and caskets used for their services. At some point he added the Embalming School and he trained fledgling undertakers to become artists too—though never at his level of mastery—and they went off to be employed by funeral homes. And THEY would train new people. And eventually the funeral homes started purchasing chemicals from him for the same reason they bought his coffins and caskets: they were very high quality, local, and cheaper than other suppliers.
You ever wonder why such a man with talent and passion wouldn't open his own funeral home? We wondered that too, the other Directors and I, knowing he could put us out of business in nothing flat. Makes sense now: when the Devil plays Chess, we are all his pawns.
The turning point came, I remember, when Jack Kingsbury came into my funeral home to preplan for himself and his wife. It was peculiar, though, because he asked about a safety coffin. Have you heard of those? It's a coffin with some kind of contrivance to alert the surface if one is buried prematurely. A string fastened to a bell, or a tube to call out through, that sort of thing. Well, heck, we'd never been asked that before. Very peculiar indeed.
Naturally, I had to talk to O'Dell to make us one. I can see just like it was yesterday how annoyed he was when I asked if he could build one. Just an expression of contempt like I'd asked DaVinci to make chopsticks. We haggled over the price and terms...he got quite cross with me. He stormed away at one moment dismissing me to one of his assistants and I was so upset I pushed past his man and followed him into his workshop.
There were containers of various substances everywhere. Some of those liquids were glowing. Some of them circulated in giant canisters with no visible means of current. And the workshop was a prickly labyrinth of saws and lathes, and coils, all manner of tool and instrument laid upon tables and benches and shelves. There were great steam pipes weaving all over, entering humming components of wood and brass and rubber. It was neat and tidy, very well organized, but also sheer madness in its stupefying complexity. And you know what? Here's the part that got me: it was cold in there. Now how do you explain that?
I remember asking him what all that stuff was – wasn’t he a carpenter and a chemist? He stopped his tirade long enough to smile at me, his eyes and teeth glistening in the gaslight. He said he was a "renaissance man, an artiste." He said if death was an orchestra then he "would be its maestro."
Listen: the look in his eyes when he said that triggered something deep in my brain, something left over from when we were just primitives roaming empty lands, something that remembered the primordial darkness and why we feared it. That darkness was in his eyes, in his voice. What the blazes was I doing back there?
That wasn't even the stuff that set me off, though. There were books, too, all about. Now, some of them were what you'd expect: anatomy, cosmetology, chemistry. But some of them, opened and annotated, were OLD. You could smell the paper. And they had symbols and glyphs and diagrams of things I knew I didn't want any part of.
I inquired about these and we argued some more. He threw me from his office, quite literally into the street. But I wasn't to be deterred. I'd always felt that this man was not as he appeared and my curiosity now would not be stymied by his arrogant fury.
I did my research. I was obsessive. Did you know that his real name is Darragh—a traditional Irish name? Rhymes with "Ira" to my ears, and it proved to continually be a challenge for most other folks too. Everyone just started calling him "Digger" because of his professional trade.
Months later, I went to Jack Kingsbury's funeral. O'Dell handled it personally after he and I had our falling out. That was only six months prior, for Pete's sake! Did Kingsbury know he was going to die? Or was it a coincidence? And was it a coincidence that as I sat watching the Kingsbury mausoleum that night like a madman...well...I mean, like a man looking for some hard evidence to validate what his gut was feeling...that the bell outside the door started to ring?
What would you say if I told you I heard noises inside the mausoleum shortly thereafter, along with O'Dell's own voice giving direction? I know, you'd say I was a lunatic. But I pounded on the great bronze door and demanded to know the meaning of it all. I screamed that I knew what he was and I think that may have been my fatal misstep there, in my excited state, because I was struck on the head from behind and next I remember I was being brought to you.
Listen: do you know what a necromancer is? Digger O'Dell is one. That stuff he makes, the embalming fluids and adhesives and fixatives and aromatic agents...it's unholy. It does things to those bodies. Those boxes he builds look like coffins, but they're not; they're harvesting machines, drawing all the decay and putrescence and channeling it to God knows where. They're like Leyden Jars for death, storing it. O'Dell has built his web across the entire Southern Tier. An agent of his is in nearly every funeral home. He's punched holes in every single cemetery for 100 miles, injecting his venomous contraptions and covering it all up with flowers and grass.
I know you think I'm a crackpot, a conspiracy theorist on the edge. But I'm telling you the truth, Dr. Keller. I was THERE in his workshop. I've SEEN the seething, glowing liquids. I've seen the machines masquerading as coffins that he puts bodies in like he's loading a gun. You've got to believe me. Take this straitjacket off of me and help me alert somebody! No seriously...what is that? What's in that needle? Is that one of O'Dell's concoctions?! Please, please don’t….
Behind the Walls
Secrets lay behind the walls of Kingsbury Manor. Enter the biden passages where mysteries that should never see the light of day are discovered. You'll find yourself face to face with awful things....and their legions of rat guardians.
It was an afternoon in late summer when a scream rocked the service areas of Kingsbury Manor. Gretchen Kingsbury was socializing with the staff as she always had, finding better conversation and genuineness than in the stuffy elites of her station, and even her overly-busy husband. And thus it was with these maids, servants and cooks that she ran to investigate the shrill cry from the pantry.
Arriving at the pantry door, a young scullery maid was bent over, panting but clearly in no danger. The rush of help and inquisitive looks led her to breathlessly describe a large, grey rat sitting on some canned goods as she entered the pantry. The rodent had since absconded into some hidden nook.
Some of the senior staff huffed and shook their heads. "Haven't seen a rat in years," they said, some of them looking troubled as the younger staff just seemed disgusted.
The farmhand, lured in from the yard by the cry, blurted out a witty statement to participate, “Shoot, we see rats ever'day, Mrs. Kingsbury"
"What does that mean?” The Kingsbury woman asked.
The head kitchen maid, Vera Spencer, pursed her lips and answered for him, "The rats in the pictures."
Gretchen squinted her eyes and curled a lip conveying both cluelessness and utter incredulity.
"There are rats in practically every picture on the property. Surely you knew...?"
The current Kingsbury Matriarch wrinkled her nose in disbelief. "You're putting me on." A slideshow ran through her mind of all the paintings and murals and tapestries that she'd seen every day for well over a decade now and hadn’t ever seen anything even vaguely rodent-like.
"You just didn't know to look, then." Vera said. "They're there. We've found most of them, for sure." This was greeted by half nods and a round of “mm-hm." The head kitchen maid continued. "The staff has always known for decades. All the new girls are shown. It's a quirky Kingsbury thing, if you'll pardon the expression, Madame."
"I swear. Go look. Start with the tapestry in the dining hall. There are two in the trees in the foreground. Seriously, go look."
Gretchen walked with purpose to the dining hall and up to the tapestry, inspecting the image with her nose nearly brushing the fabric. During how many meals for years had she looked at this piece? After several minutes she stood up frustrated that she'd fallen for a ridiculous prank. She shook her head with her hands on her hips as another maid entered to set the table for supper.
"Pardon ma'am. Didn't see you in here."
"I feel like a fool. Mrs. Spencer tried to tell me there were rats in all the paintings."
"There are rats, ma'am." The maid walked over and pointed to a dull spread of colors around the base of the trees in the foreground, and as if she'd suddenly found a viper in her baby's crib Gretchen gasped as two rats suddenly became obvious amongst the fall leaves. All this time since she'd come to live in the manor she'd looked that tapestry up and down and she'd never seen them.
The next several days she could hardly keep herself together as she scoured the estate and inspected every portrait, every tapestry, every little thing she could lay her eyes on. Her husband was away on business anyways and she was extremely bored; she needed this little mystery and she couldn't wait to ask him if he knew anything about it. Most of the random art pieces purchased around the world passed muster as quite ordinary. On the other hand, every bit of art commissioned to depict a family member or the estate had anywhere from one to as much as five rats concealed within the image. Some were fully rendered, some were just outlines or implied shapes. Sometimes they lurked in the curlicues of an ornate frame. But they were always there in every piece of art.
Except for one.
It was a painting of Jonathan Kingsbury, the grand patriarch, standing regal, proud, and arrogant with the manor and it's vast property in the background. It was displayed in the parlor right as one walked in. She looked and looked. She came back and looked some more a few days later. She asked the staff about it and, with raised eyebrows, they'd look off in the distance contemplating and then realize, "You know, you're right. I've never seen one in that painting."
She began taking her tea in that room to stare at the painting and turn over in her mind what the significance was. Why all the others and not this one?
It was in this fashion one evening that she'd fallen asleep in a great, high backed armchair, and it was the thin clink of a teaspoon against china that woke her to see a grey rat sitting on the service tray on the low table in front of her. She gasped and blinked and shook off the fog of sleep while she involuntarily pressed herself back into the chair away from the glittering, candlelit eyes.
The animal stared at her silently for a moment before it glanced over its shoulder at the painting. At that moment, there was a tap of metal against wood, a distant ratcheting sound and weights knocking against lath and plaster as they descended behind the walls. A panel in the wainscoting next to the hearth receded back into the wall and slid sideways. Wide eyed, Gretchen shivered as a musty draft unfurled throughout the room. A dark passage gaped open in the wall.
A second rat padded into the light. It stood there, stock still, waiting. After a beat it turned and ambled silently into the darkness as the first one hopped down and followed. She held her breath, completely flabbergasted at what had just happened. Now she was so curious she stood as if drawn upright by a string. Taking the candle from the side table by her, she stepped into the murky passage.
The two rodents walked slowly in front of her, looking back occasionally as if to check her progress. She followed them through turns, brushing away ancient cobwebs and sniffling in the dusty air and squinting through the darkness to see the rats' dim little bodies and pink, hairless tails.
The passage was barely as wide as her shoulders, some turns necessitating a sideways angle to negotiate, which by the third or fourth of these her curiosity was being eroded by the tang of fear and she started reconsidering the prudence of this expedition. It was at this point that a final turn opened up into a small space. Multiple passages shot off into black possibilities. Directly in front of her was a large painting hung on the lath and plaster wall.
It was a copy of the painting in the salon, with several important differences. Jonathan Kingsbury still stood front and center, still regal, proud, and arrogant, but his hair was thin and wispy, filthy with grave dirt. His eyes were shiny, black and sunken marbles, and his face was twisted into a horrific grimace of pain and malice. Behind him, the landscape was not the estate's sprawling manor and cultivated tobacco fields, but rather wild land with no signs of industry or civilization. The sky was no longer a bright afternoon blue but a turbulent, stormcloud-banded ocean of fire. Worst of all, rats by the thousands dotted the scene around the phantasmal, demonic Kingsbury.
She looked into that painting for several minutes taking in all of its grotesque detail.
Looking down finally at her furry guides, she saw they were no longer just a pair. Several companions had joined them, looking up at her with twitching whiskers, and a writhing noise of furry body against furry body suddenly entered her awareness. She took a breath, and summoned the courage to peer over her shoulder, a look returned by hundreds of tiny eyes reflecting the candle's glow and hundreds more emerging from the darkness of the passage behind the walls.