The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Haunting of Hatfield Peverel
From: Andre Swahn, Briefing / 99
To: Executives Kristina Macdowell, Grace Ndofir; Agents Ferdinand Bingly, Jeffrey Fanlight, Gino Ferrocco, Kyle McKenzie, Stuart Winters
Subject: Curious events in Hatfield Peverel
Enclosures: article from Essex Chronicle of 22nd February 1997.
Destination: Willow Farm, Hatfield Peverel, Essex.
Travel arrangements: meet at Chelmsford Army & Navy Hotel 1000 hours Monday 9th March, 1998. You are to make your own way to Hatfield Peverel as a group or otherwise as you see fit.
Accommodation: all have been booked in at the Army and Navy Hotel, Chelmsford, from the evening of Monday 9th March 1998, initially for three days: you should extend your stay as you see fit.
Background: Hatfield Peverel is a village of approx 5000 population lying midway between Chelmsford and Witham, at a distance of approx 5 miles from each. It lies beside the main A12 arterial route and on the London-Harwich railway line. It is a farming community, although most of the inhabitants now are commuters.
Willow Farm is the residence of Andrew and Veronica Leigh: it is a Tudor farmhouse converted into a modern residence. The farmland once attached to it has now largely been divided among neighbouring farmers. The Leighs have been resident since November 1997 and are the first inhabitants of the conversion.
The Leighs have made the news recently because of their claims that they have been receiving messages from the past on their computer. They claim to have established contact with one Jeremiah Fulk, who was resident in their house in the late 17th century. A clipping from the Essex Chronicle attached describes the facts of the case as known to SITU.
As far as we are aware Jeremiah Fulk is an authentic historical personage, although local records may be able to shed more light on him. One fact which may be of bearing or interest is that 1681 was the height of Matthew Hopkins's activities against witches in North Essex: between 1680 and 1683 some 27 witches were hanged in the county on charges prosecuted by him.
Your mission: to establish whether this phenomenon is genuine or hoax. Assuming it is a hoax, who is responsible? Are the Leighs behind it, or are they dupes - and if so of whom? Incidents of this type are often used by our enemies to spread confusion, or for other, more nefarious purposes.
You should note that while you are operating in Hatfield Peverel there will probably also be agents of other bodies there, investigating the Leighs for their own purposes - supernaturalists, psychic researchers, fringe press journalists and so on. You should as far as possible attempt to 'blend in' with this background, and you should give no hint that SITU is different in nature from the bodies they represent, to these persons or to the Leighs.
Note: the usual arrangements regarding expenses and extra-legal activity will obtain.
Haunting of Hatfield Peverel? (Essex Chronicle, 22nd February 1997)
Everyone knows that strange things go on in the Essex countryside - but a haunting? So say Andrew and Veronica Leigh, whose Hatfield Peverel farmhouse is possessed by the ghost of a former occupant - who leaves messages on their computer!
"It started just after New Year," said Andrew, 32, a dentist in Chelmsford. "I'd left the PC on overnight, and when we came down in the morning, there was a strange file, with a message - from a man called Jeremiah Fulk!"
A little research told the Leighs that Jeremiah Fulk had lived in their house in the reign of James II.
"We ignored it at first, thinking it must be some sort of joke - but then there were more messages. He told us it was 1681 when he was writing."
Historical details given by Fulk gradually convinced the Leighs he must be genuine. They began responding to him.
"He was very excited when we started replying. He said he'd been given a box of lights by a man from the future, and that was what he was typing on. The man had told him he was from the year 2118!"
Local vicar and local historian Reverend William Hendry thinks that Fulk is not really sending messages from the past, but is probably an unquiet spirit. "If he's been penned up in the house for the last three hundred years, it's not surprising he's a bit deluded, poor fellow. What he needs is a jolly good exorcism!" Reverend Hendry confirmed that Fulk was not buried in the churchyard. "Perhaps he was done away with and buried under the floorboards?"
Neighbour Harold Marsh, 63, was more sceptical. "If you ask me they're making it all up, to get their photo in the papers!"
The Leighs have not been put off by the cynicism of villagers like Harold, though. "We didn't believe it at first, either, and this has been a very difficult time for us," said Veronica, 34, a solicitor. "But Jeremiah Fulk is a very worried man, and we're his only link with the modern world - we can't let him down!"
The Chronicle reserves its judgement on whether life after death is possible or not (although you should see our newsroom at copy time!) But perhaps the last word should be left with Harold Marsh: "The worst of it is, I bet the village starts filling up with weirdos and cranks now this article's coming out - we'll become the Roswell of Essex!"
The Haunting of Hatfield Peverel
The Bishop of Stepney steeples his fingers, leaning back in his chair, gazing across his desk at Reverend Jeffrey Fanlight. His manner is cool. "Jeffrey, I really mean it. You're going to have to start applying yourself more straightforwardly. Stop wasting time with these absurd 'strange happenings'. Do you know, it's things like this column of yours -" he taps the copy of the parish magazine rather disdainfully "- that give the Church a bad name, in this day and age."
"But it's very popular with the parishioners, Your Reverence," says Jeffrey. He is looking straight ahead and is very still. Only the redness of his face gives away the effort of not bursting out with his thoughts.
The Bishop sighs. "Jeffrey, you know you don't have to call me that. Don't think that I don't appreciate the great strides you've made at St Mungo's - I do. You've provided an excellent ministry to the people there. That's exactly why I want you to stop this nonsense - concentrate on what you're good at, what I appointed you for!"
Kyle McKenzie is on the telephone. "Mm... uh-huh... aye, I think I can manage that... starting when? Oh. And who's the client? Oh." He pauses. "I'll... have to think about that. I'll get back to ye. Yes. Thanks." As he hangs up, he is sweating and pale.
"What was that, pet?" calls Siobhan. "Any chance of work?" She sounds less than hopeful: it has been several months since Kyle has been offered a contract. Since his return from Rumania it has been as if he is on a blacklist.
Kyle looks up at her as she enters the room. "Aye, it was an offer," he says with difficulty, "but I dinna think I can take it."
"Why not? What d'ye mean?"
"It was Hogg Robinson Coal. I..." His face twists.
"The folk in Yorkshire ye worked for before? What's wrong wi'em?"
Kyle's gaze is downcast, his hands knotting in and out of each other. "I'm afeared..." he whispers.
"Anyway, Stuart, when are you going to tell me what happened in Rumania?" asks Liz Foster plaintively, taking hold of Stuart Winters's arm.
Stuart shudders, and he takes another drag on the joint. "I don't think you want to know, Liz. Really."
"But it was me who got you involved in SITU in the first place! And I told you all about what happened in Scotland."
"Trust me," Stuart says, looking her in the eyes, "you don't want to know. You really don't."
Gino Ferrocco strides into the warehouse, annoyance in his stomach, but as usual showing no sign of the emotion. "OK Charlie - what have we got today?"
His second cousin Charlie Amato, who runs the warehouse for the di Scarlatto family, scratches his head and looks doubtful. "Gino, you ain't gonna like it - and the old man ain't gonna like it either."
"Just show me," says Gino calmly. "I'll deal with the old man."
Shrugging, Charlie leads him into the depths of the warehouse, which has alert-looking men scattered about it at various intervals: they all ignore the two men. Crates of miscellaneous goods are piled up all around, but by itself in the middle of a walkway is one crate labelled 'Café Puro Colombiano'.
"This is supposed to be the good stuff, from our friends in Medellin," says Charlie.
He opens the lid, but instead of the neat rows of white packets which should be present, there are the corpses of six spider monkeys, carefully packed in polystyrene beads.
Gino raises his eyebrows.
"So we can consider these marks to be diacriticals of some sort - possibly accents. But these similar markings are certainly vowel placeholders, of the type found in Hutchings's manuscript BM/1924/IIIA, in the Sumerian collection. One is inevitably drawn to speculation about what instrument must have originally been used to write the language - perhaps a pen, perhaps a wedge, but if the latter it must have been written in soft clay or some other such material; observe the flowing curves." Grace Ndofir's pen taps briskly on a copy of the papers recovered from the Transylvanian observatory.
"That's really fascinating, Grace," yawns one of her colleagues. He looks at his watch with pretended surprise. "Gosh, is that the time already? I must be off - so sorry! You must come by and tell me some more about your fascinating discoveries some time."
"Tomorrow?" Grace starts to suggest - by then she will have finished her exhaustive catalogue of the 712 characters and figures used in the manuscripts - but the door is already swinging shut.
She sits, her back dead straight as ever, for a moment, then quietly gathers her papers together and returns to her own office.
"Flip? Flip? Where are you?" Ferdinand Bingly bends to look under the table, but there is no sign of the black cat. Her black-and-white sister, mews protestingly, and Ferdinand absently scratches her behind the ears. "You'll miss your dinner!"
Straightening up, he opens the tin of catfood, cutting himself slightly on the lid. "Ouch! Here you go, Flop, you may as well start, anyway - we'll leave hers here, shall we?"
He returns to the computer, where he is busily reading through the debriefing of the SITU team recently returned from Heidelberg. As he reads, he stretches an elastic band between the fingers of his left hand. Occasionally it pings off into the mess of disks, manuals, circuit boards and miscellanea covering the desk, but without even noticing Ferdinand just takes up another.
The banging on the wall is now more a matter of routine than anything else, and Kris Macdowell routinely ignores it. She is slumped back in her biggest armchair, with Bach's Double Violin Concerto in D minor turned well up, and she is nodding her head along with it. Driving home from the library this afternoon, she had a scare on the road: a tarpaulin came loose on the lorry she was driving behind, and she had to swerve to one side to avoid its dark flapping.
The music comes to an end, and is replaced by Metallica's ...and Justice for All. The banging on the wall intensifies. Kris takes off her glasses, and pinches the bridge of her nose. Her eyes look hunted.