Trail of Nyarlathotep

Prolog: Spare the Rod

Letter from Helen to her grandmother

Dear Grandmama,

I know I promised to tell you the rest of the story about the Frenchman, but that will have to wait. I’ve just had the strangest adventure in a little town called Arkham, and I need to tell you about it while the details are fresh.

It all started when Elizabeth contacted all of us that got involved with that mess with the paste jewels back in the war. Do you remember that? Such a great fuss for nothing, but it did earn me my staunch defender. Thomas is a dear, but a bit overprotective. I think he may have been the reason that Maurice got scared off. But no, I said I wasn’t going to talk about that in this letter.

It was good to see John again—I never can get used to calling him Father Yang. I think Natasha, the Russian lady, may have nearly decided to let bygone be bygones with regard to the whole business of the jewels. For awhile she seemed to think I was trying to steal the jewels from her—can you imagine? Elizabeth also introduced us all to a new gentleman, Major Edwin Radcliffe. He’s Canadian and sounds like he was quite a hero in the war. Well, I can imagine that he must have been, having now seen him in action, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Mr. Morgan rounded out our little party. I’m still not sure what to make of him—I think he is a good deal cleverer than he lets on.

Elizabeth is working on a new book and running short on time for research so she asked us to check out some reports of hauntings in this little town. Most of it was nonsense, as I’m sure you can imagine, although I did get to pretend at being a criminal in order to chase down one of the leads. Things finally got interesting when Mr. Morgan and I went to check out the house that once belonged to a convicted witch.

The house was out on the edge of town and supposedly abandoned, but it was in excellent condition, and we found a locked room with cages inside. But that’s not all—while we were investigating, a group of miscreants came along and knocked out our cab driver! We had to fend them off with fist and branch to save the poor man, and then we made a hasty escape with another car hot on our heels.

In the end, we managed to foil a would-be thief and interrogate our pursuer which led to the discovery of an ancient book. It was quite a day. I had two glasses of wine that evening. I might have had a third, but I wanted a clear head for the adventures we had planned for the following day.

Our second day in Arkham found us in pursuit of kidnappers. Two local children had gone missing in as many months and the more reserved members of our little group thought they had linked the disappearance of the children to a cult—the very cult that Mr. Morgan and I had scuffled with the day before! So off we went to interrogate a reporter whose story didn’t measure up. The Major and I broke down the door to his place—no time for decorum when children’s lives are on the line!—and forced him to tell us all about his cult.

You won’t believe this! He truly believed he was trying to resurrect a witch from the 18th century, and he needed the blood of the kidnapped children to do it. How delightfully macabre! And deranged, of course.

We left the reporter to the police and proceeded straight to a well that we had discovered connected to a series of underground tunnels and caves. I know it sounds straight out of a ghost story, but it’s true—you know I wouldn’t lie to you! We had to climb down into the well on ropes—I was glad for my days of childhood tree climbing—and then squeeze through narrow passages and wade through rivers. There were bats and mice and dripping water and only the light from our flashlights. It was all perfectly creepy!

In the end we found several cultists who were quickly dispatched by Major Radcliffe. I know the wretches were delusional kidnappers, but I feel a bit sorry for them nonetheless. I should not like to ever get on Major Radcliffe’s bad side. They were keeping the children in cages around a bonfire. I freed the children and sent them along with Major Radcliffe with instructions to make sure he alerted the police to the potential for further kidnappings, patched up Major Radcliffe’s work as best I could, and then listened for awhile as Natasha and John went on and on about a strange skeleton that we had found along the way.

The skeleton wasn’t as interesting to me as the cave, but there were some odd things about it. For example, Major Radcliffe tried to blow it up with a grenade (I think the war may have affected him), but it was not damaged in any way. However, when we removed it from its chair, the chair did crumble away. According to the cultists, the skeleton belonged to the witch that they were trying to resurrect. Hm, perhaps.

So here’s the tally: masqueraded as a criminal, knocked someone senseless with a tree branch, escaped in a car chase, broke down a door, interrogated a cult leader, explored underground caves and tunnels, survived a gun battle, rescued kidnapped children, and patched up various and sundered body parts as per usual. I think I deserve three glasses of wine tonight!

From here it’s back to New York and then I shall see where the wind takes me!

Love always,

August 1919


The idea that Helen can vacillate so easily between “wow, this is all just so exciting!” and “oh, right, but also, you know, completely terrible” is hilarious. I’m not certain whether Maurice’s exit has more to do with the brooding protector or the sudden realization that his beau might not be entirely sane.

I also really like the vast gulfs between what the Major thought were the important parts of the story and what Helen focussed on. Interesting times ahead, to be sure.

Prolog: Spare the Rod

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