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The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness


The Haunting of Hatfield Peverel
Chapter 10



2.15 pm, Saturday 14th March 1998

Stuart visits the village post office and faxes copies of the relevant pages of the Dee book to a postgrad friend of his, Mary, who reads Hebrew, in the hope of getting a translation of the interesting parts. He then stuffs book and stone firmly inside his jacket and returns to the Army & Navy.

Kyle remains in Hatfield Peverel to renew his search for Clive Stokes.

Back at the hotel, Stuart is collared by Kris, who gives him a vigorous dressing-down for nicking off with the stone. Jeffrey joins in the attack. 'Stuart - didn't you know it's wrong to steal? By taking that stone and book, you've made us no better than... well, than Stokely Rubens himself. You should put them back at once.'

'Never mind that,' says Kris, 'the point is we know the stone allows communication between the computers, but none of us knows how to use it - so if we don't give it back there'll be no chance of ever sending more messages back to Jeremiah.'

'Ah,' says Stuart cheerily, 'but what if we can use the book and stone to travel backwards in time ourselves?'


'...so the Manor House seems to be favouring the burnt-out state, if we don't send the message,' says Kris into the phone.

'If that means Clive Stokes winking out of existence, so much the better,' says Andre Swahn. 'From what you say, his ancestor Reuben hates him, so that probably means Reuben's a good guy. In any case, if he knows how to travel in time, we need him on our side. I want you to recruit him for SITU - offer him anything, money, protection, whatever. Going by what he told Gino, his enemies may well be our enemies, in which case we'll both do better working together.'

'So you're not fussed if the messages don't get sent, and Fulk burns down the house?'

'Well, I'm not going to encourage you to commit murder if you don't want to, even three hundred years ago, but let's just say that SITU won't be sending flowers if Clive Stokes meets with a sudden end.'


Stuart is heading back to the railway station when he hears a voice calling his name from within the alleyway behind the Rose of India curry house. Intrigued, he stops and peers within.

There he sees, standing in front of him, a figure clad in a shiny silver jump-suit, with silver hair standing up in spikes, its face and lips silver too. Its face bears an expression of beatific peace.

Stuart goggles briefly at the Miracle Visitor, but as he does so it reaches forward with one hand and clips him smartly round the side of the head with a truncheon it was concealing under its arm. Stuart staggers sideways, feebly trying to fend off further blows, but the Miracle Visitor is very quick and strong, and it quickly bludgeons him to the ground. The last thing Stuart feels is a hand delving into his jacket.


'On reflection, I approve of sending the various entreaties back in time,' says Grace. 'We should try to stop the definite danger before worrying about the more vague one to Ronnie.'

'Yes!' exclaims Jeffrey excitedly. 'Rubens may not want to kill himself, I accept that now, but he certainly wants Jeremiah to burn the house - which is bad for Jeremiah, who will be made murderer and no doubt be executed for the crime, bad for the baby, who'll be killed, and bad for Clive Stokes, who will wink out of existence. How can we prevent this?'

'Well, we could hide the stone somewhere so that Rubens will not find it,' suggests Grace. 'Perhaps we should use it as a bargaining tool: a direct swap for Ronnie? Or give it to SITU.'

'But we seem to be no nearer rescuing Mrs Leigh, and who knows what Rubens might do if we intervene,' continues Jeffrey agonizedly. 'Perhaps the only way to stop him - or at least stall him - is to convince him that burning the house will be bad for _him_ too...' he gains a slight gleam in his eye as this sentence tails off.

'Why does Rubens want to wipe out his descendants - this appears to be the effect on Clive Stokes?' muses Grace. 'Are they perhaps intent on thwarting him in the current time? Is getting rid of Clive Stokes in fact his prime purpose? That would leave us choosing between two people who have little to endear them to us.'

'I get the impression that Clive is working for Reuben's enemies,' says Gino, who has just returned from the village. 'If they're our enemies as well, then good riddance to him.'

Jeffrey turns his attention to the American. 'I'm concerned about the reckless way you mixed Paraquat in Stokely Rubens's face paint, Gino. You could hurt someone, you know,' he says, admonishingly.

Gino merely glares back insouciantly.

'In any case, whether Clive Stokes is a bad man or not, two wrongs don't make a right - we must avert this terrible tragedy. I absolutely refuse to go along with any plan that involves letting Jeremiah do what Rubens wants,' states Jeffrey firmly.

Kris raises her eyebrows.


Grace spends a rather tedious hour paging through the electoral roll on one of the County Library's computer. She establishes that Stokely Rubens is not on it at all, not even at the Manor House, let alone any further addresses. In fact there is no-one registered at the Manor House. Whether this is an artefact of its currently burnt-out state she cannot say. She phones the numbers she has for people at the Historical Society, but no-one there knows of any other address he may have either.

That done, she heads back to the village and drops in on the distraught Andrew Leigh. A friendly policewoman is making him tea, so Grace joins him in a cup. She establishes by subtle questioning that Veronica did know Stokely Rubens, to say hello to at least: she knew most of the villagers to this extent. 'She was very popular,' sobs Andrew.

Grace is disturbed at the way he is already talking of his wife in the past tense.


Jeffrey has spent his afternoon in a frenzy of activity, buying sheets of parchment, sprinkling them with lemon juice and slamming them under the grill, and scrawling on them in an imitation of a seventeenth-century clerkly hand.

He then photocopies the pages, and heads to the ruined Manor House to call on Stokely Rubens, who he finds perched on one of the walls, a satisfied expression on his face.

'I'm sorry to bother you, Mr Rubens, but I was given your name by the secretary of your Local History Society, who recommended you as something of an expert on the subject.'

'Oh, well,' says Rubens, clearly flattered.

Jeffrey explains that, while sorting out the archives of his predecessors in his parish in London, he recently came across a series of what appeared to be journal entries; he subsequently managed to identify these as the diary of a seventeenth-century Essex clergyman called Pettigrew, who apparently resided with relatives in East London for some months in the mid-1690s.

'We're not sure why the good Reverend decided to take a holiday in the city (that's my Bishop and I),' he adds, 'but reading between the lines it seems that something happened at home which he wanted to forget. "Home", we found, was this village - Hatfield Peverel.'

'I see. Sounds most interesting,' says Rubens politely.

'Of course, we realize Pettigrew's journal is an important historical document, but first and foremost it's the diary of a man, with family. We're hoping to track down that family - however distantly related they may be - and give the journal to them. It will be an insight into their past - and they will be best placed to decide what to do with it. We wondered whether you, as a local historian, might know what happened to the Pettigrew family - or how we might find out.'

'I brought some samples with me,' he continues. 'Just photocopies - the Bishop wouldn't trust the original to the back of my old motorcycle!' He pulls out the page and waves it under Rubens' nose.

'Actually, this extract is rather topical - it mentions Jeremiah Fulk, who I gather is quite well known in these parts at the moment. Something about a haunted computer...?'

Rubens is at once consumed with interest. He takes the pages and reads eagerly. Jeffrey looks over his shoulder:

...Met with Mistress Crane, who, coming to me in much of a pother, claimed she lately witnessed the shade of Master Stokes {horridly murdered, with his infant son, at the hand of Jeremiah Fulk - may God have mercy on his soul}. Said shade, she attested, was to be seen for the space of half the morning, winnowing amongst the ruins of his once fine home as though seeking a treasured object lost, and with much wailing, gnashing of teeth &c. I spoke firmly to her, saying that this was purest superstition, and sent her away with the admonition that prayer would quieten her fanciful thoughts. I pray 'twas indeed superstition, she rejoindered, and not an ill sending from some witch or sorcerer...

******

...Much consternation this day. More sightings of the prodigy some would proclaim the shade of murdered Reuben Stokes, once more searching the site of that blighted house, again by the crossroads, and yet again in this very churchyard, not yards from where I write these words. Still, I am unable to believe {or unwilling, perhaps}, having seen nothing of the shade myself. Perhaps the stickleback, lowliest of God's creatures, and so abundant this season, is once again the agent of human discomfiture...

******

...To-day, on the site of his death more than ten years ago, a sight as could scarcely be believed - Reuben Stokes, his hair all gone, his eyeballs shriven, his countenance hideously pocked and blistered as if by sulphur or some other such poison. He opened his toothless mouth to speak {curse or plea I shall never know}, but before he could speak Master Bleddoes and other strong men of the village fell upon him and seized him, and dragged him in bonds to Congle's High Barn, where they flung him roughly...

******

...A black time for the village, for sentence was performed this day on the witch Reuben Stokes, as decreed by Master Hopkins from Colchester. Not one man, woman or child absented himself, but stood by in solemn silence as the witch was lead from Congle's High Barn, lately his prison, to the stake. Suffice to say that Stokes did not go to his death quietly, nor with courage, as would a Christian man for whom is prepared, we are promised, a place in paradise. Even to the last, the women were afraid lest Stokes pronounce some curse upon their children. But Stokes offered no words, only screams as the purifying flames rose higher. The sound of his cries, and the stench of his burning flesh, shall accompany me to my grave...

The sheets of paper drop from Rubens's nerveless hand, as an expression of intense panic overtakes his features.


Stuart, recovering consciousness, staggers back into the hotel and recounts to a concerned Kris what has happened to him.

Grace returns from her travels and listens too. 'I spoke to a couple of John Dee scholars,' she says solemnly, 'and they said that there's some doubt about his stone. Apparently the one in the British Museum was bequeathed by Kelley, his assistant, but Kelley was something of a rogue - people think he may have been hoodwinking Dee. He certainly had an affair with Dee's wife, and took large sums of money from him. If you look in the picture we saw from the book, the stone there doesn't look anything like the one in the museum. Maybe Kelley hung onto the real stone himself, and then it somehow came down to Reuben Stokes?'

'Fax for Mr Winters? Mr Winters?'

Stuart listlessly holds up his hand and takes the wodge of fax paper. In it his friend Mary explains that she has translated the Hebrew and Latin notes. 'Looks like some kind of spell for travelling in time! Is this something to do with that role-playing you get up to? You need this special black stone "of many hidden facets", and then you have to say the prayer I've translated below, and invoke the angel Zimrael "guardian of the hours" - make the appropriate sacrifice, an animal will do, or something precious to you - and then this angel takes you wherever in time you want to go! Sounds brilliant - you could find out who's going to win the Grand National!'


Stokely Rubens makes his way through the closed-down market, underneath Chelmsford's deserted multi-storey car park, and heads for a large wheelie-bin tucked against the back wall. He opens it, and smiles at Veronica Leigh, who is sitting peacefully inside, her knees drawn up against her chest. 'How are you feeling, my dear?' he asks, but there is no response: she seems to be in a trance.

Just at this point Gino leaps down from behind a raised platform, sending Rubens crashing to the floor. They roll around together briefly, Gino pinning Rubens's arms and trying to slam his head against the concrete floor, Rubens savagely biting at Gino's face. Eventually there is a mighty thunk and Rubens slumps into immobility.

Veronica, waking suddenly from her trance, cries out 'What...?'

Gino leaps up, gathers her to him, and sprints out of the car park, fearful that the warlock will awaken.


In Willow Farm, the police have all been got rid of, and Veronica, wrapped in a blanket, is drinking brandy, being tended by Andrew. 'It was so strange... Mr Rubens bumped into me outside work, he said he'd been in Chelmsford on business, and said why didn't we go for a coffee before getting the train back... then I don't remember anything until I was in that horrible wheelie-bin and Gino was sitting on Mr Rubens. It was... I don't know... really strange.'

'Not to worry,' says Gino breezily, 'all over now. Have another drink.'

'We really can't thank you enough, Gino,' says Andrew with sincerity. 'Here you are a visitor to our shores, and this happens - you're a real hero.'

'Oh, this sort of thing is just everyday back in Brooklyn,' says Gino modestly.

'That's right, you have that dreadful Mafia, don't you? I expect they're always kidnapping women and so on.'

'And worse,' agrees Gino.


At dawn, all the operatives congregate at Willow Farm once more, to check on Fulk's response to the two messages, which have presumably now been sent.

"It IS all to mcuh I know not what to do THE CONFUSON THE CINFUSION I BELIEVE NOW TWOULD BE A SIN TO SLAY AN INNOCENT BABE AND MY GOOD NEIGHBOUR STOKES, BE HE Warlock or no, SO DO I BETRAY MY Miralce Visotie, but now anotehr message from him, what is this, oh woe, books of magci? What talk is this? Must I now rob Stoeks having spared his life, and send his property to Sicilia - what manner of barbarous place be that, the land where men's heads to grow beneath thei r hsoulders of which Shakespeare's Moor spoke? I am assaileed by instructions, the tongues of angels and devils alike lash my ears - wqhat hope for poor Fulk - poor fulk's a-cold, a-col indeed, alone , with none to trust - Stokes neighbour l9ooked me with a fyshy eye - he suspects - and that good man Pettigrew, or be he such? Be he perhaps a demon in human form? Or aare all such - Am I the only Man here - all else a snaer to torment me> demons to all sides, s ome with the mien of angels - there can be be no God, of that I am sure - best now to end it all, end this torment - I kept my Musket fromthe late War, that which accounted for six Royalist fdandies, plucked them off their horses to prvoide feats for the rows, now it will do me a last service, end this long journey of torment and misdoubt - and may the World end with me, if such be its true name, and this not but an Ant-pit where jealous Gods sport like Boys who pullt he wings of insects for their pleasuer -or whatever the line may be - even my Shakespears is deserting me now - to die, to sleep? I pray it not, at least not to dream - that sleep eternal must ineed be dreamless if one's Brain, teh seat of reason from whence dreams must emerge, be shattered and spread by powder and shot - farewell, Mother, all ememory of thee dies with me, your obendeitn son Jeremiah - farewell Father, thou strern but loving man, I never gagve thee as much respect as was thy due - and farewell last of all you my friends in Futirity, this is the last word and testament of,

"J Fulk Esq, late of Hatfield Peverel parish in the County of Essex."


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