The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Witless In Whitby
From: Andrew Swahn
To: Agents: Isobel Blyth, John Stone, Michael Thomas, Wotan Andrew Weiser Executives: Steven Anderson, Matthew Culver, Celestina Mirande, Adam Twitchin
Mission Objective: To investigate the disappearance of Benedict Riggs, and if possible to recover him.
On 9th August 1998, Benedict Riggs disappeared from the safehouse in North Yorkshire where he had been accommodated for his own safety, so that he could undergo psychiatric treatment at the expense of SITU. His response to this treatment had been erratic, and while he at first seemed to be making considerable progress as the result of the medication assigned to him, in the fortnight leading up to his disappearance, he had become withdrawn, and even hostile. It is now believed that with some ingenuity he had been disposing of the meals that were provided for him, without eating them.
At 10.30pm, the security camera in his quarters ceased to function. At the time when this occurred, Riggs was seated on his bed some seven yards from the camera, which in any case was mounted above his reach at ceiling height, and therefore it does not seem likely that he could have been responsible for this malfunction.
Approximately ten minutes later, a large number of the guards assigned to the installation were drawn to another quarter of the building by a different incident. A SITU operative named Jeffrey Fanlight was at that time in the building visiting a man named Jeremiah Fulk, who had also been given quarters in the sanctuary. Without permission from SITU headquarters, Fanlight attempted to escort Fulk off the premises, causing some confusion among the guards. Since Fanlight was technically of higher rank than those currently on duty, he was eventually allowed to leave, with Fulk in his custody. Since that time it has been firmly established that Fanlight acted without the consent of SITU headquarters, and measures are being taken to trace him, and to recover the man in his care.
At 10.52pm, screams were heard from the moors to the north of the safehouse. The voice of Benedict Riggs was recognised. It was quickly established that he was no longer within his quarters. Search parties found no trace of him on the moors.
On 21st August 1998, a series of paintings were displayed in jpeg format upon the web site of an artist called Karl Hendleby. A black and white printed version of one of these paintings is attached [use your imagination - ed.] Hendleby is a well-known artist in the Yorkshire town of Whitby, where he resides and exhibits most of his work. He has one sister, named Sarah Louise, who also lives in Whitby.
Hendleby's art often exploits the 'gothic' connotations brought to Whitby by Bram Stoker's novel, "Dracula." The painting represented by the printout depicts the famous 199 steps that lead up towards St Mary's church.
As can be seen by examination of the printout, the figure depicted climbing the stairs is rendered with almost photographic realism, particular detail being paid to the features of the face. Those operatives who are personally acquainted with Benedict Riggs will notice the singular resemblance.
Given the proximity of Whitby to the safe house, which is to the south of the village of Littlebeck, this matter has been judged worthy of investigation.
Your team will be given permission to visit the safehouse for purposes of inquiry. After such investigation has been made, it is recommended that you proceed to Whitby, where rooms will have been reserved at the Cove Hotel from the night of 18th October 1998.
The Synod of Whitby, which established the dominance of the Roman Church over the Irish in Britain, has earned Whitby a privileged place in ecclesiastical history. Whitby was also to become the site of the abbey erected by the abbess Hild, concerning whom many colourful legends remain.
Whitby was the birthplace of James Cook, and numerous local museums will testify.
Recently, the town has become more firmly associated with the events of Stoker's novel, "Dracula." The city has a thriving tourist industry, which is abetted by these associations, with the help of such enterprises as the "Dracula Experience." Last year, large numbers of visitors assembled to celebrate the centenary of the publication of "Dracula."
The little, black box in the corner of the ceiling turns itself like the head of a snake, a tiny red eye gleaming, unblinking. When the man in the room below shifts, with a furtive, disconcerting motion, the little red light flickers briefly, like the rapid flame of a serpent's tongue.
The only occupant of the room is seated on the bed, half-hunched, half-slouched, like a string puppet casually abandoned. His limbs sag as if forgotten, and his head lolls back, his mouth an appalled gape as he tracks the motion of the camera with his eyes. He seems transfixed, as if he were indeed caught in the hypnotic gaze of a real snake. Now and then his face and limbs are gripped by a form of spasmodic tremor, as if parts of his anatomy were continually making abortive gestures towards fight or flight, gestures barely suppressed by the drowning consciousness.
When the camera pans away, the man slumps a little, drawing a shaking hand across his face. Sweat has glued his long, black hair is glued to his forehead and cheeks, and the flesh of his face twitches around a singular scar running down the left side of his face.
"I dropped in on Benedict, did I tell you? At dear old SITU's 'high security institution.'" Dr Matt Culver is reclined upon the worn but serviceable sofa in Side-step's flat, a bottle of beer supported upon his chest. On the coffee table beside him are ranged the bottle's predecessors.
"How is he? Still 'Lost in Space?'" The ceremonial exhaustion of his liquor supply does not seem to have drugged Side-step's spirits. While Culver has gradually subsided into a hazy mellowness, Side-step has developed an air of suppressed animation, of anticipation. The prospect of leaving England for Serbia the next day in order to 'advise' the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo has visibly improved his spirits.
"He visits our planet from time to time, but not often enough. They're keeping a close eye on him, and I've given them my advice about his course of medication, but..." he shrugs. "The last time I saw him, he was pretty bad, stuffed to the eyeballs with 'Trust No-one' and 'Big Brother Is Watching Me.' Even while we were talking, I noticed that he kept glancing at my neck to see if he could make out an alien implant."
Side-step gives a small mirthless snort that suggests scorn, but has a hint of compassion in it. His face is hard to read as he gently breathes out the smoke from his cigarette. In some respects, he resembles the little flat in which he entertains his guest - stark, pragmatic, resolutely reserved.
In the small silence that follows, both men hear the car door slam.
"That's probably her." Side-step gives Culver a quick grin. The doctor rises to leave, putting on his leather jacket. By the window he pauses, looking down into the street to where a young woman is locking the door to her car. After pausing to put her keys back into her bag, she pushes a long, liquid wave of brown hair back from her face, revealing bare shoulders and a graceful neck. She wears her slender, serpentine evening dress with a cool, leisurely confidence. An observer would think her a guest heading for a select dinner party, rather than a member of the oldest profession.
"But Side-step, are you really telling me you need to pay for sex?" Culver runs his eyes over his host and offers him an arch smile. "With an arse like that? Don't worry, I know the score: you latent, me blatant. Still, it's a terrible waste," he continues quickly, leaving his companion no time to expostulate. "I only hope the old baggage is worth it - at that rate, I'd expect Julia Roberts shooting ping-pong balls."
Side-step takes this raillery with remarkably good humour, sensing that at least on this occasion he has succeeded in shocking his outrageous friend.
Culver watches the approach of the woman on the street. The ease in her firm, measured tread, the gloss on the thick snake of hair that swings as she walks, these things speak of health, vitality. He watches the plum coloured silk of her dress crease hither and smooth thither with the motion of her stride, the highlights of the fabric snaking up and down a body casually, thoughtlessly vigorous and healthy.
The glass of the window offers him a ghostly image of himself, rendering him pale despite his tan, and exaggerating the hollows of cheeks and eyes in the youthful face. The face in the glass is a chilling reminder of his recent weight loss and weakening, and the futile, harrowing search for answers and partial remedies. Faced with this reflection, for an instant Culver almost feels as if his flesh were shrivelling away from the bone, as if he were becoming a skull-headed, long-fingered monster from some old film...
Somewhere in the distance, at one of the few houses that scatter the moors, dogs are barking. The bark of a dog is a sound that is made strange by distance. A dog in the flesh may overwhelm you in anger through tooth and sinew, or love you with the full force of muddy paws and salivating caresses, but it is never mystical. However, there are ideas of dogs that haunt corners of the mind - the idea of the great dog with eyes of fire that can strike men dead with a look, even in the heart of a church; the idea of the black dog that greets newcomers to the witches' Sabbath, shaking their hands with a paw that has long, black fingers; the idea of the little dog that follows travellers along lonely paths, all the while drawing closer, and growing larger, until the traveller feels breath on the back of his neck and dares not look back... these ideas still haunt the distant, disembodied bark of a dog.
The single occupant of the cell is still rigidly seated, eyes wide, mouth wide as if to breathe more quietly.
There is a little television on the desk by the bed, wired to a video recorder. On the small, black-and-white screen, two figures exchange a long, mute, meaningful glance, their eyes also dilated, as if they shared the prisoner's concern. A moment passes, and then they begin to mouth silently at one another. The sound has been turned right down.
Benedict Riggs is listening, but not to the dogs.
The worst of any adrenalin high is the emptiness that follows its subsidence.
Haiti had been a nightmare, a revelation, another world.
Brixton is as real as a hangover, or a month of Mondays. Rather than welcoming back the conquering hero that has returned intact from his journey through the netherworld, the ungrateful city has been doing its level best to crush his spirit through stifling him with the mundane.
The said hero is currently on his knees in the lounge of his bedsit, feeding coins into his gas meter, under the guise of a gaunt, elderly academic in a bath robe and cloth slippers.
Once the experience of waking to find the gas meter exhausted and the room unheated would have demoralised him. It would have awakened the old bitterness at the narrow-minded prejudices among his academic colleagues that had lost him his lectureship. Now, he can regard the cheap bed-sit, the ignominious task of feeding the gas meter, the cup-a-soup awaiting the boiling of the kettle, as parts of a game of appearances, as facets of a 'front' for his activities. Brixton has, to a large extent, been losing its battle against the spirit of Professor Twitchin.
As he makes up the cup-a-soup, the Professor vaguely contemplates the Unknown Enemy, and wonders how aware they are of his activities. For a moment he is tempted to glance quickly under the table to look for secreted bugs. But no, if he starts to behave like this he will soon be no better than poor Riggs...
Riggs' lips flutter, like curtains in a draught. While the camera is upon him, he seems to attempt to control their motion. When it pans away, he takes a deep breath. When he exhales, the breath carries out a stream of whispered sound.
"Yes, I heard you coming."
Benedict Riggs is talking, and not to himself.
Isobel Blyth holds in her hand the latest present from her husband.
It is unexpected heavy. She turns it about, accustoming herself to the grip. It feels cumbersome and rather alien in her grasp, the metal cold and unrelenting. As she turns it, a dim reflection of her face slides over the metal. The image is minute and distorted by the contours of the object, but it is possible to make out the neat, dark brown, bobbed hair that hangs about the sensitive face. The discreet makeup and the tiny, elegant ear-rings are invisible.
Isobel examines it closely, then holds it at arms' length, and applies pressure to it with her forefinger.
There is a sharp detonation, and a small hole appears just beyond the outer ring of paper bull's eye across the room. The pistol jumps resentfully in Isobel's hand.
"You're still letting your wrist slacken at the last moment. Hold it like this, prepare for the kick." The instructor takes hold of her arm and straightens it, angling the hand that holds the gun.
Isobel glances past him at her husband, who stands at a distance watching. He gives a supportive smile, and silently mimes applause. Nonetheless, he must be wondering why his wife should suddenly have taken an interest in learning to shoot...
The cobra-dance of the camera in the corner of the ceiling suddenly halts. In mid swing, it emits a low creak, and halts. Its red eye dims and dies.
Riggs sags, and subsides into heap upon the bed, his face a haggard parody of calm. After drawing a few ragged breaths, he opens his eyes, and gazes up towards the little window set high in one wall. The sight seems to calm him, and the spasms of his limbs relax a little.
When he speaks again, his voice is calmer and more coherent.
"I can't come with you yet. Culver will come back...he promised he would... I think he can be saved...don't know about the rest, don't know how long they've been under the control of them."
There is a pause, then a whisper is returned in a voice at once musical and harsh, like the song of sword sliding from its sheath.
"How long do you imagine that you can live on insects, Benedict? If I leave you to the mercy of your captors, I fear for your strength, nay, your life."
"What choice do I have? The food they give me... drugged, poisoned, must be... better starvation than living death as their slave."
On the television screen, a young man and woman in dark, tasteful business suits watch a slideshow of mutilated bodies with impassive faces.
With the regality of his kind, Bead has claimed his place on Celestina's lap, turning around and around to find a comfortable place, with the unsteady, cautious deliberation of movement common among older cats. Now, as she sets about typing up another chapter of her book, "Legend and Supernature in Modern Society," she can feel the comforting weight of the great cat on her legs, the painless prickle of his claws as he kneads the fabric of her long, print skirt, and the throb of his purr where his chin rests on his knee.
From downstairs drifts the smell of coffee and the sound of voices, one of them that of Celestina's mother, Marie Therese.
After a while, Bead tires of his position and manoeuvres himself onto his back. A large white paw is used to bat at the Baron Samedi fetish that nestles amid the other jewellery about Celestina's neck.
"I'm sure you're hungry, Benedict. I want to help you. I want to give you a nice, nourishing meal. But you have to help me help you."
On the silver screen, the man and woman debate in silence. Mulder wants to believe. Scully is sceptical. The argument continues.
After the last echoes of a truly apocalyptic sunset has ceased to pour its gold and copper tones over the red rock and sand of the valley, John Stone takes off his Raybans and places them in his pocket.
This, he told himself, was a glory worth more than the gilt of a thousand churches.
So, here he was, under an American sky of deepening purple, in the great canyon temple of his god of nature, looking for... what?
Easing his backpack off his shoulders, he lowered himself into a sitting position, feeling the rock starting to cool after the long day. There are books and a torch among the possessions in his rucksack, but he does not reach for them. The old man at the Native American reservation had told him that he would need to find a place alone in order to encounter his totem spirit. The books in the pack are distractions, threads that link him to 'civilisation.'
For a long time he waits in the shadow of the great, crimson rock, feeling the stone chill beneath him, and watching the stars pierce the darkening sky one by one. Every tiny shifting of sand alerts him. At last, he seems to glimpse something dark that silhouettes itself for an instant against a looming pillar of rock. It escapes his eye, but he moves towards the place where it passed.
Noticing a pale protrusion amid the sand, he stoops.
"If you find a bone," the old man had said, "bring it back with you - the beast from which it comes is relevant to you."
He lifts the fragment, brushing off sand.
It is a small piece of a narrow, pointed tooth.
"Someone will come to fix the camera, Benedict. You know what to do."
"The gates...the security systems..."
"Will not be a problem."
"There will be guards, waiting, watching...building full of guards..."
"I think they will be distracted. Trust me."
As if in response to these words, there comes the muffled sound of raised voices from another part of the building. One male voice that has a distinctive Irish accent is raised in a particularly strident fashion. A door slams not far from Riggs' cell, and feet patter away down a corridor towards the sound of the confusion.
A few moments later, the door to Riggs' room starts to open.
After the other student had been helped from the room, with his white outfit heavily spotted with blood and a reddened handkerchief clutched to his face, there is an awkward silence.
"Don't worry, Mr Thomas," the trainer says, after regarding his new acolyte for a few moments. "Broken noses tend to look worse than they are."
Mickey Thomas looks ruefully at the few spots of blood on the tiled floor of the training hall, which mark the fruits of his first ever lesson in kick-boxing. Unfortunately, even in a simulated combat situation, it is easy for one's instincts to take over...
"Well, your reflexes are good, I think we've established that. However, we may have to work on your self-discipline. You seem to have a certain amount of anger in your system. And maybe we'd better find someone a little more experienced for you to train with next time."
One more doorway to pass through like a ghost and, yes, Riggs is safe in darkness, safe from red-eyed unblinking cameras, safe from the hell of eternal surveillance. The nocturnal moor breathes a cool welcome upon his face.
Then he starts, as another figure rises up from the turf beside him, like the mist that is thickening about him.
Then he is runningoff across the moorlands as if all the great black dogs from the folktales were at his heels.
He leaps rocks, and wrests his feet free from the tussocks that tangle at his ankles like terriers in play. Soon he can no longer be seen from the safehouse.
A long scream echoes across the plain, and then there is no further sound of his footfalls.
In the domestic haven of his apartment in Bergen, Wotan Andrew Weiser is indulging his interest in eighteenth-century English politics. The university at which he holds a professorship has recently brought in a bulk order of books, and Weiser had noted that a brand new copy of "Faces of Revolution" had been among them. Now this very book lies in his lap. He turns another page, to show a reproduction of two posters, one bearing a legend in English, one in French.
"...these two posters show the different ways in which the same imagery could be exploited by opposing political perspectives. The French poster depicts Marie Antoinette as a vampire, 'bleeding' taxes from the people, and letting them waste away through hunger. Many other revolutionary posters similarly portray the aristocrat implicitly or explicitly in vampiric terms. The poster on the left appeared in an English magazine, and shows 'Madame Guillotine' as a vampire, drinking the blood of the innocent who are led to her. Thus an old and potent legend is given many faces..."
The returning security guards soon notice the open door of Riggs's quarters, and find within the unconscious form of the attendant who had been surprised by Riggs' ambush. The camera turns its head drowsily to and fro, to and fro, as if searching for the inmate in its charge.
On the television screen, Mulder and Scully edge towards a door, guns drawn, then throw it ajar. They find within an empty room, unfurnished, uninhabited.
We're too late, Scully mouths silently.
Now do you believe? a mute Mulder enquires.