Joined: 20 Jan 2006
|Posted: Wed Jan 24, 2007 3:05 pm Post subject: Horror on the Irient Express - episode 13
|The Belgrade bazaar was a cold place in winter, but five foreigners and their Serbian guide were not deterred from their shopping. It was Reverend Fellowes who spotted a white arm on an antiquities stall and a call from him quickly summoned him companions. Fellowes examined the arm and wondered aloud if a piece of the Sedfkar Simulacrum could really be on sale in such a place. As Fellowes examined the arm to determine its authenticity, Slovdan and Django observed two burly Turks amongst the crowd eyeing the arm with what appeared to be malevolent intent. Suddenly one of these figures rushed forward and snatched the arm from Dr Fellowes and then tried to flee. Django tripped the Turk and Fellowes snatched the arm back again before throwing ₤10 at the stall-holder and fleeing the markets. His companions covered his retreat and kept the two Turks at bay. Their scuffling quickly drew the attention of others and an unfortunate brawl between Turkish and Serbian observors began. In the resulting confusion, the companions managed to escape unscathed. Django lingered long enough to snatch the ₤10 from the stallholder and then disappear into the crowd.
When Fellowes was sure that he had eluded any pursuit he paused and removed his dog-collar. Mr Fitzherbert joined him and together they purchased a bag to hide the arm and then set off to their appointment at the Belgrade museum. Here they found Riccardo waiting for them, but their other companions had clearly forgotten the engagement and did not arrive. The three companions decided that they would proceed in the absence of their friends and asked to see Dr Milovan Todorovic, an archaeologist with the museum. After a short wait, they were ushered into a large chamber where Dr Todorovic was restoring a Roman-era statue.
Dr Todorovic appeared a little reluctant to discuss items of historical interest with the gentlemen until he could be sure of their credentials. He stated that if the gentlemen could obtain an export of antiquities permit then he would assist them in locating the piece that they were looking for. The gentlemen thanked Dr Todorovic for his assistance and left him to his work, stopping at the railway station on the way back to their hotel to employ the young guide Peter in the hope that he could assist in navigating the local bureaucracy.
Meanwhile, the remaining gentlemen had met up at the group’s hotel. Here they were alarmed to find that the securely locked case holding the pieces of the Sedfkar Simulacrum had mysteriously been opened and that the four pieces of the statue lay fitted loosely together on the floor. The gentlemen nervously secured the pieces back inside the chest and then retired to the hotel bar where they awaited the return of their friends.
The following day was a Sunday and the government buildings were closed, so the gentlemen chose to take in the local sights. With a frown they read an article in the local papers about violence occurring in Sofia, the next location on their tour. Dr Fellowes also determined that the arm he had purchased was a cheap fake.
The rest of the day passed pleasurably enough.
On Monday morning the gentlemen were met by Peter in the hotel lobby. Slovdan was somewhat put out that the Englishmen had felt it necessary to hire another guide. Despite his displeasure, the visit to the Bureau of National Treasures passed uneventfully and a provisional permit for the export of an ancient arm was obtained.
After gaining this permit the gentlemen visited Dr Todorovic once more and he told them to visit Father Philopovich, a country priest who apparently had an uncanny knack of locating ancient artefacts.
Father Philopovich lived some way out of the city and the trip to visit him was long and trying. The first stage involved a journey by train which took some five hours to travel only 40 miles. The Englishmen quickly regretted their decision to politely give up their seats to some of the locals who crowded aboard the “express”. However, one of the Serbs eventually uncorked a bottle of apricot brandy and this, along with watching some local colour provided by their folk singing fellow travellers, helped to pass the time.
At the village of Maldenovich the gentlemen changed trains and caught an even slower train that took them to a station some distance from their final destination – the village of Osach. The final stage of the journey involved a two hour walk through the cold Serbian countryside. Darkness was beginning to fall by the time the gentlemen finally arrived in Osach, and they were relieved to find the villagers welcoming and kind. Many regarded Django with particularly affection, saying that gypsies “bring luck”. Father Philopovich was quickly found and he offered food and accommodation. The local headman improved on this offer with an invitation to a feast in celebration of the “festival of the rain”. The gentlemen enjoyed good food, good company and observed a fascinating local ritual that evening. The ritual involved a young gypsy girl dressed in leaves who visited each house in the village to receive a gift.
The following morning the gentlemen were woken by the sound and smell of bacon grilling over a fire. Father Philopovich provided them with a hearty breakfast and then told the gentlemen that his source of artefacts was “the grandmother”, an old lady who lived in the forest. He offered to provide a packed lunch and a guide to take them to see her. An unsettling pall fell over his kindness when the Father’s wife quietly confided to Reverend Fellowes that her husband had become too close to some of the village’s non-Christian members. She offered a comb and told the vicar that if something strange were to pursue him in the forest, he should throw this comb behind him. Dr Fellowes thanked the lady for this and admired the delicately crafted and engraved comb with a thoughtful and slightly troubled gaze.
As the gentlemen thanked Father Philopovich for his assistance and set off after their guide, Riccardo remarked that the Reverend Fellowes was no longer wearing his dog-collar. The Reverend merely smiled quietly and sadly and buttoned his coat a little higher.
The guide led the gentlemen through increasingly thick forest and then pointed them down a little path. He bid the companions goodbye at this point and returned in the direction of the village. The travellers followed the path and found that it quickly led them into a darker, thicker and damper part of the forest.
After an hour or so the gentlemen came to a thatched cottage from whence came the sound of a young woman singing. The companions approached the cottage and called out a greeting. A pretty young woman came outside and invited them in, explaining that the grandmother was out in the woods and would return shortly. She bade the strangers to sit and offered them tea. As they waited, the gentlemen observed that the cottage was crammed to the rafters with interesting relics.
The grandmother returned to her cottage after only a short while. She greeted the strangers with enthusiasm and bid them to stay for lunch. The young woman began preparing vegetables as negotiations commenced. It quickly seemed to the gentlemen that the transaction with the old lady was likely to be a purely commercial one. She talked eagerly of prices and values and eyed their wallets keenly. After an agreement on price was reached the old lady motioned to an arm resting high upon a rickety cabinet and half concealed in the thatching. She bid Django to fetch this down and, after a false start, he clambered upon a chair and reached towards the arm.
At the moment he grabbed the arm Django became horribly aware that the thatching hiding it was not made of straw or reeds. Instead it was made of human hair that flowed from skulls hidden through-out the ceiling. Django fell backwards with a start. In a flash the grandmother snatched up a shovel and caught the falling gypsy with it. Django’s companions looked on in confusion for a second – wondering how she could have reached so far across the room to take the catch – and then realised that she had grown monstrous in size. Then the house gave a lurch and seemed to rise. The oven suddenly leapt from the wall and opened its door like a hungry mouth. The grandmother shovelled the screaming Django into this maw with a hideous, screeching laugh. In horror Django’s companions tried to flee to the only door out, but only Reverend Fellowes made it outside. He fell some distance from the door and to the ground below, finding in shock that the cottage had sprouted legs and was beginning to walk.
Through his panic Django kept his wits and held tightly to the arm he had snatched from the ceiling. As the dancing oven careered around the room he waited for an opportunity and then threw it to Mr Trucker. With both arms now free, Django managed to clamber from the oven and then dive through the door. He landed outside, next to Reverend Fellowes, with a thud. The vicar helped him bat out the flames on his burning clothes and then the two ran from the cottage and down the forest path. Inside the house the others were attacked by the witch, the young woman and various animated parts of the cottage. Riccardo was struck down and his companions tried to throw his unconscious form outside to safety. Down the path Reverend Fellowes and Django watched the Italian’s body plummet to the earth with a sickening thud. He did not stir again.
Slovdan, Mr Trucker and Mr Fitzherbert eventually managed to escape the house in various states of disrepair. Scratches and bruises covered their skin and their clothes were torn. Their minds also were not left untouched.
The horror did not end outside the house. The stakes which formed the garden fence turned to bones and tried to attack the fleeing survivors. The house too began to pursue them. As they fled back along the path, the Reverend Fellowes pulled the comb given to him by the priest’s wife and flung this over his shoulder. Shadows appeared that only the vicar could see. Shadows of hideous, unformed things. He shrieked and separated from his fellows, but the shadows did what he was told they would do. Although the grandmother and her minions continued their pursuit, they appeared blind to the vicar and his companions and could not catch them.
The travellers scattered in their flight. As evening drew closer each came to their senses not knowing which direction they had been running and found themselves alone in the dark, dank and cold forests of Yugoslavia.
My favourite roleplaying memory - "Daisy at Colonus", two drunk cowboys and a pantomime cow in a 'reinterpretation' of Sophocles greatest play.