,,A friend has been engaging you in correspondence for some time. As of late he has been going on at great length about one Mr. Alan Barton. Without saying much about what exactly Mr. Barton does, your friend has written, in no uncertain terms, that should the opportunity arise, you simply must see this man in person.
You recently discovered that Mr. Barton is in town, and find yourself unable to resist your curiosity. You decide to see him. Rather than admit a certain concern regarding the erratic and feverish tone of your friend’s letters, you explain away your desire to see Mr. Barton.
[[As a patron of the arts it is important to keep up to date on the trends of the art world. Perhaps he will finally show you something worthy of your funding|30]]
[[Your passion for antiquities, rarities, and curiosities always keeps you on the lookout for persons sharing the same passion. Mr. Barton could hold the promise of a new ally through which to acquire some interesting items.|2]]The halls of the museum are bleak white marble. The art is bland at best. The other museum-goers are uninteresting. You sigh. You’ve seen it all before and now it all feels so distant.
In a corner of the exhibit you see a man with an artist’s demeanor surrounded by half a dozen people, listening eagerly. You recognize the man as the featured artist, Mr. Alan Barton.
[[You have been looking for a promising artist to sponsor. Perhaps this Mr. Barton could be the one?|20]]
[[Curious, you mill about the crowd, asking about Mr. Barton.|42]]You call on Mr. Barton to visit you at your shop. Early the next morning, several minutes before you’re due to open, you are roused from your routine by an insistent tapping on the door. Opening it, you see a man in a suit that would look fancy if it weren’t so wrinkled and worn.
“Good morning, my name is Alan Barton.” His voice is light, but his tone is weighted with a pressing need. He continues.
“Our mutual friend suggested I see you. I suppose you’ve no reason to believe me, but I simply must tell someone.” His eyes dart along the shelves, down the aisles, searching. “I am being followed. But not by any man or thing of this earth. No, I believe there is something much worse after me. It means to silence me, to stop me from speaking about what I’ve seen. What’s more it seeks to colonize our city, and I believe it means to start with the Wabasha Bar.”
You stand in shock for a moment. In your time collecting curiosities you have come across some bizarre items and strange books mentioning dark things, but never imagined they were anything more than flights of sinister fancy.
[[As delusional as it sounds, there is something about this man’s story that rings true to you|22]]
[[This man is clearly disturbed. Best to let him poke around a bit and leave quietly|8]]“This is my only hope. You’ve come highly recommended as a dealer in curiosities and this, by far, is the most curious item I’ve ever encountered.”
Mr. Barton turns to you and sets a scrap of paper on the counter. The drawing is crude and barely more than a sketch, but it is strongly suggestive of a technical schematic. At the back of your mind you remember seeing something strikingly similar to the sketch, but where?
[[Out of the corner of your eye you catch a glint of light from a dusty shelf at the back of your shop and remember just where you’ve seen the thing.|28]]
[[You scan the shelves of gadgets for just a moment, then remember a colleague’s shop near the river! He just recently mentioned getting something like this from a traveling junk trader.|7]]Mr. Barton’s mood drops. His suit, already wrinkled, looks positively ragged as his posture sinks into a broken slouch and begins muttering to himself. After slowly shuffling up and down the aisles of your store twice he stiffens. He snatches an item off your shelf and hurriedly brings it to the counter.
He taps his fingers anxiously as you ring up the sale. Before you can open your mouth to thank him for the purchase, he’s out the door.
[[Continue|11]]Over the past few days you have found yourself strangely fascinated with the Wabasha Bar. Why you chose this evening to finally visit, you’re unsure. Was it simple curiosity? Or had Mr. Barton’s insistent references to the place planted the seed in your mind? Regardless, you find yourself being sized up by the doorman. You clearly do not belong to the working-class crowd that frequents the Wabasha Bar.
The bar itself is sunk into the limestone caves along the river and the area surrounding it is damp and musty. The inside is dank and dreary, dimly lit, and poorly cleaned. Your eyes wander across the scene, repeated at every table: a man, hunched over his drink, his eyes narrowly staring at you. Off in the corner you see a small, more secluded booth, and make your way towards it. Just a few steps from the table you are stopped in your tracks.
There, slouched in the corner of the booth is Mr. Alan Barton. A man you thought mad, or incarcerated, or dead… or worse. He hasn’t noticed you staring just yet.
[[If it is Mr. Barton, you suppose it would be best to at least say “hello.”|5]]
[[It is simply impossible that man could be Mr. Barton. Even if he were, you want nothing to do with him. Not after what you’ve seen|17]]Not wanting Mr. Barton to notice you – if indeed it is Mr. Barton – you turn and leave the bar quietly. As you move on with your life you can’t seem to shake the nagging thought: was Mr. Barton telling the truth? Was he simply disturbed? What ever happened to him? Despite your curiosity, you feel a grim satisfaction knowing that some questions are best left unasked and unanswered.You clear your throat and the figure raises his eyes to look at you. With a sigh of relief you sit across from Mr. Barton.
“I didn’t expect,” he smiles awkwardly, his voice seems oddly forced, “to see you again.”
He engages you for a moment in the usual pleasantries, seeming to have forgotten or put out of his mind the events of the past week. Before you can get up to leave, he grips your forearm and leans in. His whisper sounds like the buzzing of a moth against a metal cage.
“How would you like to see,” he buzzes, “the stars and the spaces beyond? I can show you. They can show you.”
He opens his mouth wider. You clasp your hand to your mouth to silence a scream. Where his tongue should be there hangs a bone-white metal parasite, twitching and writhing mechanically as it produces the sound of Mr. Barton’s voice. “We can show you!”
Not waiting to find out what it is, you wrench your arm free of Mr. Barton’s grip and bolt for the door. You flee into the night, not daring to think about Mr. Barton’s fate. Whether he’d been right all along, whether he’d been that thing since the very beginning. For the rest of your life you live in fear of Mr. Barton and the chitinous thing that replaced his tongue and watch constantly over your shoulder for the thing that did this to him.When you wake up, you appear to be inside a tall, narrow, closet, staring straight forward at a series of glass jars framed in brass. Your eyes begin to focus and you can make out the odd shapes floating in jars. You desperately try to turn your eyes away, but can’t. Instead, you are forced to stare ahead at the brains perpetually floating in those cylinders. It takes only a moment to realize you’re not standing. You, too, are floating in a jar, just like them. But where? And who did this to you? Your mind cries out, shrieking and wailing futilely. You are trapped here, forever to dream your life over and over, until your mind breaks. And to slowly and eternally discover what new horrors await you.Mr. Barton’s smile unnerves you, as if it were hiding something wicked.
“Thank you for,” you’re not sure why, but you think his voice has a slight buzzing quality to it, “your kind offer, but I must decline.”
His smile widens, deepening your unease. “Perhaps,” it sounds as if he is constantly clicking his tongue as he speaks, “Perhaps I can offer you something, instead? Would you care to know the secret of my inspiration?”
Not waiting for an answer, he opens his mouth. In shocked terror you watch as his mouth widens unnaturally. There, behind his peeled back lips, is a writhing bone-white chitinous horror. Clicking mechanically as it lolls around in Mr. Barton’s mouth, you realize it is this thing that has been speaking for the artist.
As Mr. Barton reaches up and begins to peel the skin back from his face, your blood freezes in your veins. Behind the skin, instead of a skull is a brass cylinder with a glass window.
[[You tear yourself away, averting your eyes and fleeing, not wanting visual proof that the deranged artist’s brain is in that jar.|16]]
[[You grab the poker from the nearby fireplace and rush at the monster before you|13]]You run for the door, bursting out into the remains of the daylight.
For the rest of your life you live with haunted dreams. You attempt, in ever increasing alcoholic and narcotic binges to drown out all memory of Mr. Barton, his terrifying paintings, and the monstrosity that inspired him.
You know these binges will be your demise and you thank whatever god there might be – no matter how cruel it is to unleash such horrors on the world – for your approaching mortality.You raise the poker above your head to strike, but when you swing your arms forward you find they come away empty. Wheeling around you see another one of those terrifying creatures, gripping the poker. Before you can react, the thing swings the poker with inhuman strength, knocking you to the floor. As blood fills your eyes, blinding you, you feel a pressure on Your chest. Slowly, methodically, that slimy weight crushes your chest, your ribs, and your lungs, leaving you to bleed out and suffocate.A cloud passes over the sun as you approach your colleague’s shop. The sudden shadow is chilling. When you knock on the door it swings open with a begrudging creak. Even in the dim light, you can see something is not right. Several of the display cases are broken and much of the contents of the shelves is strewn about the floor.
A shadow moves behind the curtain separating the back office from the shop. The familiar face of Jeremiah Hartley peaks around the curtain. When he steps around the counter, standing only a few feet from you, every one of your senses screams alarm.
While not uncommon for an antiquarian to smell of dust, your mind can not reconcile the fact that the man’s very skin seems to smell of mold and wax. You can not believe your eyes. Mr. Hartley’s mouth seems largely immobile, and he seems to strain physically in an effort to smile as he greets you, “Well, hello gentlemen, how may I help you?”
As he opens his mouth to speak, you see the bone-white, chitinous, horror within. Where the man’s tongue should be is a mechanical abomination that wags and flops like a dying fish. It is this thing, not Mr. Hartley that is speaking.
“It’s one of them!” Shouts Mr. Barton, lunging forward to tackle the shopkeep.
[[It’s all too much to take in at once. But the initial shock wears off quickly, and you join Mr. Barton in assaulting the dangerous imposter.|34]]
[[All you can see is that white thing biting down where your colleague’s tongue should be. Filled with terror, you turn your back on the scuffle, and run|43]]Fueled by your terror, you rush at the impostor. Together with Mr. Barton you succeed in tackling it to the floor. As you grapple with the man, you become dimly aware of a slowly approaching, rhythmic, thud. Out of the corner of your eye you see an unnatural fleshy protrusion, and as you follow it up, slowly, you see the thing standing over you. You raise an arm to defend yourself, but the creature’s powerful claw knocks you onto your back. Crushed beneath an insectoid foot, all you can do is scream as you watch the horrible white mechanical thing crawl from your late colleague’s mouth towards yours. You fight to keep your mouth shut, but the chitinous parasite’s crawl pry your jaws apart. As the thing’s teeth bite down into your tongue, your mind retreats, refusing to believe this is happening. In your delirium, you hardly notice when the same fate befalls your new acquaintance, Mr. Barton.
[[Continue|4]]Terrified beyond belief, you turn around and run. You run from the store, from the thing inside, from Mr. Barton whose agonized screams echo in your ears. You run until you collapse in a heap in a public park. You can not shake the image of that parasitic abomination, clamped down where your colleague’s tongue should have been, speaking for him. Several days pass, and still you find yourself watching over your shoulder and jumping at shadows.
[[Continue|3]]You put the whole incident with Mr. Barton out of your mind. Forgetting it entirely except in a brief mention in your correspondence to your friend about how odd the man acted.
A week passes before you receive word from your friend in the morning mail. His letter is bland: the usual pleasantries and wish-you-wells. That evening, as you are closing up shop for the night, a man walks into the store.
“Have you seen,” the man rasps, “Mr. Barton?”
He doesn’t give you a chance to respond. Instead, he continues, his voice harsh and rough. “We believe he was here. And bought this.” The man slides a piece of paper onto the counter, but in the dim light it’s difficult to make out the scribbled sketch. “Where is he?”
It takes you a moment to remember just what Mr. Barton bought. Some curio or some such. As you recall Mr. Barton’s destination, you also remember his fear of being followed.
[[Clearly Mr. Barton is in some sort of legal trouble. Who are you to meddle in such affairs? You tell him the truth.|26]]
[[You were wrong to doubt Mr. Barton, and now you must lie to keep the wolves off his trail!|15]]You run to the bathroom and turn to the mirror in horror. The flesh on your face is melting away. You panic, feeling no pain as the rubbery mass drips in waxy pools on the countertop. Hysteric, clawing at your face, tearing away the flesh in chunks, you open your mouth to scream.
Only a mechanical whir escapes your lips. With several holes large enough to peer through, you see the true horror behind the wax which was your face. A glass jar, framed with brass brackets and a tangle of wires, sits where your skull should be. Your brain floats inert within.
[[Fascinated and disgusted, you can’t help but stare.|12]]
[[Certain this is all a bad dream, or a shared hallucination, you return to comfort your partner|21]]You gaze deeply at your reflection, terrified and mystified by the horror you’ve become. Too late, you hear the footsteps rush up behind you. Too late, you turn to see your partner swing at you. As the glass shatters and cuts into your soft grey matter, you lose all of your senses. Slowly, ever so slowly, the void of death washes over you, offering no answers to the cause of your condition, no answers to what you’ve become. Neither does it offer any questions. Only oblivion.You watch with a heavy heart as your partner rushes at you, unaware that the thing that made you this way is right behind them. Your mechanical, buzzing, voice does nothing to calm or reassure. The fungal abomination, the crustaceous horror, makes short work of your partner with its insect-like claws.
The Mi-Go comes to you, its head pulsating a soothing rhythm of oscillating colors, to bring you back. To return you – a brain in a cylinder – to Yuggoth, to see, and live, and dream. Forever.You feel a pang of envy as the thing steps forward to take your partner. Your life has become so tedious, so uneventful, that now you long for this thing to take you away. While your partner fights and screams, you covetously dream of the horrible wonders you could see if only the creature would take you.
After that night you find that not even your wildest parties, your most intoxicating binges, you most hedonistic debaucheries, hold no thrill. You count the days until the city fathers will unveil the first of the suicide chambers. Perhaps then you will know one final moment of excitement.The shadowed figure thumps a fist on the counter and repeats its question.
“Where is,” the voice and the speaker’s unnatural pauses send shivers down your back, “Mr. Barton?” His jaw clicks loudly, settling your nerves, providing a simple explanation for the harsh, jarring voice: a military injury, certainly, and nothing more.
Gathering yourself together you explain that Mr. Barton was staying at a nearby hotel, but that he had expressed a desire to visit the Wabasha Bar.
“And,” the man asks gruffly, “his purchase?” he taps a large, calloused finger on the sketch.
You explain that Mr. Barton bought a dusty old trinket from a back shelf. It was nothing spectacular, but yes, it could have been that thing.
With that, the hulking figure turns and leaves, without even the common courtesy to close the door.
[[Several days pass.|3]]You straighten up and look the man right in his eyes. They appear dull and dim. Even if you don’t fully believe Mr. Barton’s story of someone following him, or don’t believe it at all, you find yourself wanting to cover for him. Maybe he’s delusional, but this person asking after him doesn’t sit right with you either.
As you begin your story, leaving out key bits of information, you hear a slow quiet whirring sound. You pass it off as one of the many clocks in your shop, but as your lie continues, the noise grows stronger. Soon you can hear an arrhythmic clicking and chitinous hum. The man across the counter from you clearly isn’t buying your fabrication, and as you finish it by insisting for the fourth time you’ve no idea where Mr. Barton could be, you realize the mechanical hums, whirs, buzzes, and clicks are coming from him!
He slowly opens his mouth, revealing a writhing white metallic thing where his tongue should be. From somewhere far away you hear yourself cry out. There’s a sharp pain at the back of your neck. You want to turn around so desperately to see the cause of your pain, but you find yourself immobile. What’s worse, you soon find yourself looking downward. At your own body, collapsed on the floor. Your vision blurs and blackness rolls in.
[[Continue|4]]You seem to have caught a bit of Mr. Barton’s fervor. You’ve never felt a thrill like this before. Together you make your way quickly to the Wabasha Bar.
The bar itself is sunk into the limestone caves along the river and the area surrounding it is damp and musty. The doorman eyes you curiously; the customers are usually from a much more working-class background than yours. Mr. Barton scarcely waits to be waved inside before entering. Several patrons rise from their stools at the bar, watching the two of you cautiously.
“They could be anyone.” Mr. Barton whispers sharply.
Two men walk towards you, staring darkly.
[[Their gait is too uneven, even for a drunk. It must be them!|38]]
[[The two men brush past you gruffly on their way to the exit. The real menace must be in the back office.|29]]Unsure of how to wield the device, you swing it at the nearest man’s head. A loud crack splits the air, making your ears ring. The room fills with a bright flash. Lightning leaps from the device and engulfs the him in flames. His cohort leaps at you in a rage, and knocks the device from your hand. His mouth opens with a mechanical hiss, a writhing white metal monstrosity where his tongue should be. His voice buzzes and clicks as he spews threats and curses at you. Pinned helplessly, you can do nothing but cry out as he lands blow after blow. Behind his eyes you see an inhuman glow and the fury of an alien intelligence. With a primal yell, Mr. Barton lunges into the thing on top of you, knocking it to the floor and firing the device at point blank. By the time you collect yourself and get back on your feet, the rest of the bar patrons have cleared out and the police have arrived.
As the police drag you away to the paddy wagon, you catch a glimpse of your assailant. His head is split open. His brain floats in a brass cylinder with a glass window, wired to the twitching white chitinous thing in his mouth. You scream for the police to look, but they do not see.
By the time the police return to conduct their investigation, the body of your attacker has disappeared, but the other man’s has not. Charged with murder, your story of other-worldly creatures posing as humans saves you from prison. Instead you are taken to the Mayland Sanitorium, where you spend the rest of your life jumping at shadows and fearful of even the simplest mechanical devices.The two of you move cautiously to the hall at the back of the bar. You feign an innocent misunderstanding and walk through the small door at the back of the hall into a dimly lit limestone tunnel. A sudden sharp noise from the darkness to your right startles you. In the shadow, a figure of a man slumps in a chair, head lolled back. You approach him, thinking he is merely drunk. With a start he leaps to his feat, the top half of his head hanging limply to the side. His mouth hangs open and you can see the faint outline of a mechanic protrusion where his tongue should be.
“He’s one of them!” Mr. Barton shouts.
Unsure of how to wield the device, you swing it at what’s left of the man’s head. A loud crack splits the air, making your ears ring. The room fills with a bright flash. Lightning leaps from the device and engulfs the shambling man in flames.
In the flickering light you realize the true horror beneath the caves at the Wabasha Bar: every wall is lined with shelves of glass cylinders in which float dozens upon dozens of brains. From an opening into a natural limestone cave, two more figures shamble out.
Too stunned to act, you let the device fall from your numbed fingers. Mr. Barton picks it up, shouting and laughing hysterically as he charges the strangely insectoid men.
Later, when asked by police to describe the events of that night, about the disappearance of Mr. Alan Barton, and about the disturbance in the storage room of the Wabasha Bar, you remain silent. The fear of knowing that the police found no bodies, no jars, no brains, gnaws at you for the rest of your life. You will never be able to explain to anyone your fear of subterranean places, not without recalling a horror you’d do anything to forget.As you explore the equally Spartan upper floor of Mr. Barton’s house, you hear loud and sudden noises from the basement. You are unable to exactly discern the source of the sound, but it reminds you of large shuffling footsteps.
[[The footsteps are getting nearer! Hide!|33]]
[[It sounds like the sounds are coming from the basement. You head downstairs to investigate.|37]]You begin to feel lightheaded and dizzy. You sit down to avoid falling as your vision blurs. Mr. Barton walks into the room and begins to speak. His words buzz and hum through the air, dreamlike and unreal.
You recall him making an offer: offering the opportunity to witness things beyond your imagination. You remember seeing the horrible fungal crustaceous thing behind him, the cylinder, and equipment it carried.
You desperately want to remember saying no, running away, escaping. But there is no changing the answer you gave: the answer that ended with you here, amid the unending shelves of brass cylinders, each with a different brain floating within. All of them trapped here, like you, to witness wonders and horrors beyond comprehension.You descend the stairs to the basement, and see Mr. Barton standing beside a small table. He rests his hand on the cloth draped over the object on the table and addresses you. “For you who think you’ve seen everything,” something behind his voice buzzes and clicks like a distant radio, “I have the ultimate offer.”
A creature of unimaginable grotesqueness steps out from a shadow at the far end of the room. Its discolored pinkish flesh conjures images of fungoid growths and exotic insects. “Just a simple surgery,” Mr. Barton continues, revealing, with a flourish, the alien cylinder beneath the shrowd, “and you will live forever and see things beyond the imagination.”
At the mention of surgery you see the glint of various metal objects held in the appendages of the creature just behind Mr. Barton.
[[Oh! Finally an answer to your interminable boredom!|19]]
[[Realizing the terrifying implications of Mr. Barton’s proposition, and the frightening nature of the terror standing beside him, you turn around and run for your life.|16]]You can hardly contain your ecstasy as you agree to the surgery. At last you have found an exit from your circle of unending tedium. Before you can contemplate the horror you are bringing upon yourself, the giant crustaceous monster neatly severs your head and removes your brain. All consciousness flees from you.
When you return to consciousness, you find yourself on an unknown world. Time has no meaning for you now. The eternity you will spend witnessing new terrifying wonders and unfathomable horrors is immeasurable, incomprehensible. Your mind is repeatedly broken, but you will never die. You will live forever, beyond insane, and beyond the stars.Mr. Barton smiles at you and extends his hand. Something about his smile doesn’t sit right with you. A sense of frightful déjà vu washes over you as he introduces himself.
“Perhaps you would like to see my,” he rasps, his voice catching as if something were caught in his throat, “chef d’oeuvre? I could arrange a private showing.”
[[You politely decline his offer, certain that his masterpiece couldn’t possibly be more interesting than the dull, tepid, art on display.|31]]
[[You smile and graciously accept his offer, intrigued that the man would not display his best work to the public.|23]]For the next several nights after visiting Mr. Barton’s quaint exhibition, your dreams are filled with a dreadful curiosity. You find your dreams returning over and over to Mr. Barton and his works. These unconscious thoughts begin to bleed into the day, growing into an obsession with what his masterpiece could possibly be.
And yet, that sense of déjà vu you felt when he introduced himself lingers. Somewhere, at the back of your mind, you feel like you should know his work, should already know what his masterpiece is.
[[You decide to satisfy your curiosity and seek out Mr. Barton for a private showing of his work.|39]]
[[You occupy yourself with parties, soirées, drink, and an assortment of your other sordid distractions.|24]]Mr. Barton leads you to his home. You are not surprised that the artist’s home is bare of furnishings. He excitedly leads you to the basement to view his studio.
The room is lined with increasingly fantastic landscapes that are so chillingly vivid and realistic, and yet disturbingly alien. In your ennui you were convinced you’d seen everything, but these paintings chill you to the bone.
[[Stunned by the exotic beauty, you offer Mr. Barton your patronage.|6]]
[[Shocked and appalled, moved to a terror you didn’t think possible, you leave immediately.|32]]You bring Mr. Barton to the back shelf of your store and blow a cloud of dust off a curious item you had almost forgot was in your shop. You compare it to Mr. Barton’s diagram and marvel at the workmanship of the thing.
An intricately woven web of brass wire forms a gently curved handle. At the top, the wires separate and twist together into three delicate tines. The whole thing almost seems to defy physics in the way that such a fragile-looking construction could so firmly hold in place a crystal half the size of your fist.
[[You couldn’t agree more with Mr. Barton, there is no time to lose. If what he’s said, and the things you’ve seen in ancient pages are correct, the time to act is now!|14]]
[[It takes a brief argument, but you finally convince Mr. Barton that if the situation is as dire as he says, you’ll need all the information you can if you are to succeed.|41]]You make a half-hearted attempt at a polite excuse and turn to leave. Mr. Barton grabs your shoulder firmly, and in a terrifyingly buzzing voice growls, “You can’t leave. Not after what you’ve seen.”
A shuffling thud approaches, descending the stairs in front of you. Your eyes water up in fear when you see the monstrosity descending the stairs. Neither human, nor animal, the thing defies description. The closest you can come to comprehending it is to imagine it as some sort of bipedal crustaceous monster.
You feel a sharp, sudden, impact as Mr. Barton slams the fireplace poker into the back of your knees. Collapsed on the floor, you can do nothing as the beast on the stairs approaches, takes your neck in its claws, and neatly severs your head from your body.One night, during a particularly enjoyable debaucherous liaison, your partner begins screamingly hysterically in terror. At first you are confused, but you quickly realize the cause.
[[There is something on your face!|9]]
[[Something terrible is right behind you!|35]]You turn around and see the source of your partner’s terror. In the doorway stands a disturbingly insectoid creature covered in something reminiscent of fungal growths, aquatic fins and claws, and a strangely glowing spherical head. Staring at the thing, you know you should feel horror, but you find yourself filled with a sense of longing, of familiarity, of despair.
[[Your time is up. You must go with the creature.|25]]
[[It’s not here for you, but for your partner.|10]]The thing holds out a cylinder of glass, framed in wires and brass fixtures. You know it is time. The screams of your partner echo in your ears as you walk towards the thing, ready to return your brain, your mind, your existence to the canister in its claws. With surgical precision, and a surprising dexterity, the fungal abomination severs your head, removes your brain, and carefully connects it to the cylinder.You chase the two men to the hall at the back of the bar and through a small door into a dimly lit limestone tunnel. You listen carefully for any signs of your marks. Instead of any form of human footsteps, you hear the slow shuffling gait of something beyond the ken of man.
“It’s one of them!” Mr. Barton barks, pointing at a distorted silhouette.
With shaking hands you point the device at the shadow. A loud crack splits the air and in that brief flash of light you see what you had hoped never to see.
Too stunned to act, you let the device fall from your numbed fingers. Mr. Barton picks it up, shouting and laughing hysterically as he charges the strangely insectoid thing at the entrance to a darker branch of the tunnel.
Later, when asked by police to describe the events of that night, about the disappearance of Mr. Alan Barton, and about the disturbance in the storage room of the Wabasha Bar, you remain silent. The fear of knowing that the police found no bodies, no evidence of the strange creature you encountered in the tunnel, and no sign of Mr. Barton, gnaws at you for the rest of your life. You will never be able to explain to anyone your fear of subterranean places, not without recalling a horror you’d do anything to forget.You have always felt that knowledge was equally as strong a weapon as brute force. After a brief argument with Mr. Barton over the best course of action, you convince him to see things your way. At the library a very polite and orderly librarian assists you with your research.
“Perhaps,” she suggests, “This title might be useful?” She pulls a small, unassuming book, from the shelf. The black and white cover is fantastically illustrated and the title, “The Outsider and Others,” strikes a chill cord.
In a quiet corner of the reading room you peruse the book, shivering at the hideous things hinted at in the text. While you can find nothing that describes the device clutched tightly in your coat pocket, you find a description that makes Mr. Barton cry out in shock, drawing disapproving glares from the other patrons.
“They were pinkish things about five feet long; with crustaceous bodies bearing vast pairs of dorsal fins or membranous wings and several sets of articulated limbs, and with a sort of convoluted ellipsoid, covered with multitudes of very short antennae, where a head would ordinarily be.”
[[Mr. Barton becomes more and more agitated as time wears on, eventually pulling you from your seat and dragging you to the Wabasha Bar.|36]]The more you gather information about Mr. Barton, it seems, the more interesting he becomes. Perhaps he is merely eccentric, perhaps a man of taste unwilling to soil his work by showing it all to the grubbing public, but it seems Mr. Barton keeps his best pieces hidden away, only showing them at very exclusive private showings.
Intrigued, your sense of elitism placated, you approach Mr. Barton and introduce yourself. He smiles at you and extends his hand. Something about his smile doesn’t sit right with you. A sense of frightful déjà vu washes over you as he introduces himself.
[[When he invites you to a private showing of his work, you can not resist the invitation.|23]]You ask around your usual channels and eventually get an address for Mr. Barton, though throughout you get quite a few quizzical looks and odd reactions. It seems Mr. Barton and his art are not the standard fare for the weak stomachs of your high society counterparts.
When you knock on Mr. Barton’s front door it swings open with a begrudging creak. Peering inside you find the entryway, and all the other rooms on the first floor, completely empty.
[[A true artist would have his studio in the basement.|37]]
[[Perhaps Mr. Barton is upstairs?|18]]As Mr. Barton leads the way down towards the limestone caves near the river, into which the Wabasha Bar is carved, you regret seeking comfort in knowledge. Still unsure how the device works, and now more certain that the enemy you face is one more horrible than you care to imagine, or witness firsthand, you nervously step past the bar’s doorman. All eyes turn to the two of you. Some turn back to their drinks, content to simply remind you that you don’t really belong here, but others linger.
Those that linger belong to stiff, unmoving faces. The three men slowly rise and you catch a glimpse of something metallic in the mouth of the one nearest to you. As soon as he speaks, terrifying images from the tales you read come flooding back.
“Mr. Barton, we’ve” they buzz, speaking in unison, pausing unnaturally “been waiting for you.”
“Now, you fool! Now!” screams your companion.
Without hesitation you level the device at the nearest man like a pistol. A screeching metal sound tears your eardrums and a bolt of light flashes from the crystal. Your target erupts in a plume of white flames. The two other men turn and run to the back of the bar.
[[Call the police!|40]]The rest of the bar patrons flee out the front door, terrified at the events they’ve just witnessed. You grab the phone from the bartender and scream at the operator to summon the police immediately.
By the time the police arrive, however, the man you shot has disappeared. Beyond be consumed by flames, it appears that all traces of the man had vanished. The more you and Mr. Barton insist on the details of the events of the night, the more the police begin to question your very sanity. By the time they bring you to the police station for questioning, they’ve made up their minds. It’s only a short wait until the Mayland Sanitorium van arrives at the station to take you away, screaming deliriously about fungoid creatures from beyond the stars.<img src="https://site.pelgranepress.com//nas/content/live/pelgranepress/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Invitation-CYOA-feat.png" width=420 height=300 alt text="invitation cover">
The following pick-a-path adventure was written by Sam Friedman and originally appeared in //See Page XX// in 2009.
Adapted to Twine by Noah Lloyd, October 2020.