The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Blood In The Cup
7.05pm 4th October 1998.
The debate raged around the operatives and Amanda, all of whom looked on in varying states of amusement or boredom.
George leaned forward, indicating for the rest of the team to come closer, 'Our options do seem to have polarised around two choices: do nothing and wait for an opportunity later or do something now. I opt for the former,' there was general consensus in the form of vigorous nods and George continued, 'I think we must try to get the cup tonight. As soon as we can get away from this 'meeting' we can discuss it in more detail.'
Amanda looked doubtful, 'You mean steal it?' she asked.
Sam nodded enthusiastically, 'It'll be the perfect end to your story, you can say anything you like about the object and no one will be able to disprove you!'
'Hey yeh!' enthused Amanda, 'ever thought of being a reporter, Sam?' she winked at her.
George cleared his throat, 'Anyway, I think we need a good diversion, to draw the guards, including Zombie Foster, so a couple of us - Sam and Donald, you seem to work well together - get their hands on the cup. Perhaps we can set up a load of lights and cameras pointing away from the spring. That will enable people to get in behind us without being seen. We can also get night-time interviews with the guards. Also, even if it is a fake, I want to get the cup from the Chalice Well. I have a feeling about it and my curiosity has been well and truly piqued. Whether we get the cup or not, the next day we need to keep the pressure on. We must continue to 'film' every step of the excavation and removal of the cup, getting as close as we can and talking to those involved on a regular basis. We don't want to get thrown off site, but we need to poke our noses in.'
A phone began to buzz and Donald pulled his mobile out of his pocket, 'Hello!'
'Hello old chap,' piped Rupert down the phone, 'I was getting bored, and I wondered if you would appreciate some heavy breathing. Either that or maybe a wrong number, one of the annoying ones who won't accept it's wrong. Hello, can I speak to Tarquin, please? He must be in. I don't believe he isn't there. Put me through to Tarquin or I'll come round and fart through your letterbox!'
Donald took the phone away from his ear and stared at it in suspicion before finally handing it to Arabella.
'It's Rupert,' he said, 'I think he's on something,' he made a spiral motion at the side of his head to demonstrate Rupert's state of mind.
Arabella took the phone and Rupert continued, 'Well, seriously chaps... well sort of seriously, chaps. What's that old battle axe got you doing?'
'This is the old battle axe,' Arabella stated flatly.
'Ah well,' said Rupert, 'just come back to the inn. I'm getting so lonely that even Donald would be welcomed! A handgun would be handy of course, but still...'
'We're on our way,' said Arabella handing the phone back, 'We can't talk openly here,' she said to the rest of the group, looking around suspiciously, 'let's get out of here, grab Rupert and sit and think this through, there's nothing we can do in this mob of people.'
'I'll just hang around here for a bit,' Phil stated, leaning back in his chair and surveying the scene, 'see what else is said. I'll catch up with everyone else at the hotel, unless anybody else wants to stay? Don't worry, Arabella, I won't start anything.' He winked slyly at her and she looked doubtful, 'I'll speak to the Pritchards, see if we can get their permission to get on the site tonight.'
'I don't know about you,' said Donald rising to his feet, 'but I don't really want to be here at the moment I think we have more important matters to attend to.'
'Agreed,' said Sam, 'let's go.'
'I think I'll stay with Phil,' Amanda said, slipping her arm through his, 'I've a feeling that some pieces of the puzzle are hidden here.'
'Me too,' said Jo, 'I want to pin down Simon and Nigel.'
'OK,' said Arabella, 'we'll go and pick Rupert up, get our equipment together and we'll see you at the hotel soon!'
Rupert had spent a low key evening drinking the free whiskeys that he had been getting from the barmaid.
He was definitely looking wobbly when the others returned.
'Georgie-porgie pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them sick, etc., etc.!' he crowed as they came in, spilling some of his drink on the shiny bar. Standing from his stool he raised his glass as if to make a speech, 'I'd just like to say how much I love you all. Well, apart from...' Suddenly he realised he was alone in the bar. Putting his glass down he stumbled upstairs to Arabella's room where they were waiting for him.
'All right, here's the situation as I see it,' Arabella said slowly. 'We have to stop that excavation tomorrow, without doing anything that'll get us into hot water.' Rupert began to sing quietly to himself, but she ignored him and continued, 'I just wish that the pool could be flooded again, it would slow things down and keep the grail where it is. Or perhaps if another protest was set up. Unfortunately, unless there's a miracle, it's not likely to happen. In the meantime I have another project in mind, one that will require a lot of courage and possible even more luck. I want to have a chat with the White Lady. That ghost bothers me. If it's a fake, it's a damned good one, if it isn't, she may hold a key to this mystery. What do you think?'
'Tremendous. I'm with you all of the way,' said Rupert, 'Great idea. Whatever it was. Can you remind me of it again? I seem to have forgotten!'
The others sighed, 'Well, I'm in!' said Sam. They all agreed that it was the best course of action and that they needed to do it tonight. Gathering together any equipment they thought necessary they ate a meal in almost silence, waiting for the others to return.
The meeting continued to be chaotic and any semblance of a civilised question and answer session dissolved before their eyes.
'Damn,' said Jo, 'I want to ask Charles and Hugh some questions!'
Amanda laughed, 'Unlikely, I think!'
Arguments began to rage amongst the audience and the people on the stage stood as if to leave.
'I wonder who that Mr Chow is?' Phil mused.
'I'll find out shall I?' Amanda said, pulling her headscarf closer around her face, 'you keep an eye on the Kidnap Brothers and I'll report back to you at the hotel!'
'And then there were two,' said Phil, 'we'd better get on with getting permission for our night time activities. The Pritchards are leaving the stage now, let's try and talk to them.'
They fought their way through the crowd, spying the fact that Amanda had cornered Mr Chow. It took a while to get to the Pritchards, but they got there eventually.
'So, it's finally coming up then?' Phil said in an enthusiastic fashion, 'Brilliant, it's 'bout time. You don't foresee any more problems then?'
Marie grinned widely, 'No, I think we're there now, the object should come up tomorrow!'
'Good. Good. Did you finally manage to obtain some financing for the dig then?'
'As you know, financing was never a problem, the grail trust are looking after the whole thing.' Richard replied.
'Listen, I think we've got a lot of background shooting in the can, but I'm not sure we've got enough of the actual excavation. I take it there will be no problem getting access on the final day?'
'No, no problem, but you're going to have to try to keep out of the way somewhat, it's going to be tricky finally getting the object out.' Marie answered.
'Well,' said Phil slyly, 'we could get a lot of the background stuff filmed tonight if that'd help.'
'Won't it be too dark?' Marie asked.
'We use lights for the close ups and besides, the darkness is very atmospheric. It'll look great, I promise you!'
'OK, if you think so,' Richard said, 'we'll leave your name at the gate.'
'Thanks!' said Phil, 'see you tomorrow!'
They headed back to their seats, leaving Amanda to pump Chow for information.
Phil and Jo arrived back at the hotel at around nine o'clock and the others met them in the lounge to relay their plans.
'We hung around until the meeting broke up,' Jo said, hungrily tucking into the plate of scampi and chips that the ever-smiling barmaid had placed before them, 'nothing much happened.'
'Charles and Hugh disappeared before we could follow them,' Phil said, 'and the middle class of the town are very cross at the Grail Trust. I'm sure that they're being manipulated.' he said, 'there's no reason for them to be so stirred up, the Trust have done everything to show that they intend to keep the damn cup in Glastonbury. Someone is behind it, I'm sure.'
'Anyway, Amanda seemed to be getting on quite well with Mr Chow,' Jo said, her mouth full, 'we may have some answers by the morning.'
'I hope so,' said George, lowering his voice, 'we're planning to head out to the site, see if we can communicate with Donald's ghostly friend.'
Phil looked doubtful, 'I don't think we'll find anything and besides we might be jeopardising our chances of filming tomorrow.'
'But this is our last chance to investigate on our own,' said Sam.
'And I want to try and get that cup out of the well!' said George.
Looking around at all of the enthusiastic faces Phil shook his head, 'Looks like I'm out numbered again. OK, I'll come, but we have to be careful!'
'We're setting off at midnight,' Arabella said, 'get some rest before then and wear something dark!'
'Yes sir!' barked Rupert and with an exaggerated salute marched upstairs to his room.
Seven figures, dressed in black silently slipped out of the Royal Cup Inn a little before midnight. Outside they shared out the cameras and lights to carry and headed towards the site.
At the gate a blank-faced Alan Foster let them in wordlessly. Phone calls had been made once more and the way cleared for them. The floodlights which had lit their way to the spring were turned off and so they flashed torches along the path, which sent inadequate beams of light flickering across the landscape. The trees danced wildly and the roaring of the wind in their branches was so loud that the operatives had to yell to hear each other. The steady rain of the day had turned the grass into a swamp and there were curses as shoes were sucked into the mud and coats and trousers were spattered. The trek to the spring had never seemed longer and the lights and cameras they were carrying made it ten times worse.
After a while George wondered a loud if they were lost, 'Perhaps we're the ghosts,' he said mournfully, 'cursed to wander this miserable place for ever.' Ordinarily his comment would have brought mild derision or at least various statements on the state of his mental health. But tonight his words seemed chillingly plausible. Already they were cold and wet and they hadn't even started the evening's business. The atmosphere was strange, dream-like and they were communicating their tension to each other wordlessly. And it was growing by the minute.
'No, I know where we are,' Donald stated with relief evident in his voice, 'that dead oak, the spring is just behind it.'
There was general agreement that he was right and they hurried off towards it, finding to their delight that the area was deserted, even the guard hut was empty.
'Well, it is a fact that most burglars get put off by bad weather,' said Sam gleefully, 'obviously they weren't banking on us!'
'Let's get some cameras and lights set up,' George said firmly, 'just in case they send any patrols to check up on us.'
They spent a soggy few minutes dragging cables through the mud, but once they'd set everything up and the place was flooded with electric light, they all felt a little more heartened. They arranged the lights in a ring around the spring, pointing outwards so that any activity inside would be unobservable. The cameras were arranged at strategic points.
'OK,' said Arabella, 'before we start on the grail I want to contact our floating friend. You're all welcome to observe, but please don't say anything. I'm the expert here.' There were nods of assent and Donald lead the group over to where they had encountered the banshee.
'Maybe I ought to talk to it,' Donald said, 'I've had some contact with it, so we may have more chance of finding it, if it senses me.'
'Let me try first,' Arabella said.
They trooped over to the copse of trees which had been the site of the ghostly experience. Arabella walked right into the copse so that she was almost hidden from the view of the other operatives who edged nervously closer. Donald stepped right up behind Arabella, remaining only a few feet behind her. The others could see him a little more clearly.
They stood. And waited. And waited. Rupert giggled a little until a sharp jab in the ribs from Jo's elbow silenced him.
'Is there no way to summon it?' Donald hissed to Arabella, waving his hands in the air as if to demonstrate some sort of mystical ritual.
Arabella shrugged her shoulders, 'I don't know what triggers its appearance...'
'You are the expert,' Donald reminded her.
'Well, what's was the consistent factor between the last two sightings?' she asked
'Me?' suggested Donald.
'Yes...' said Arabella, 'but that's obviously not working now.'
Donald passed Arabella's question back to the others and there was murmurings as they discussed it. Arabella bit irritably at one of her nails. How could she put her questions to the spirit if it wouldn't materialise?
'Rain!' suggested Rupert.
'Perhaps a phase of the moon?' George offered.
'Or a particular time of night?' said Jo.
'Maybe the planets aren't aligned right!' Phil suggested flippantly.
'Stress!' said Sam, 'both times you were under stress Donald - the first time the guards were coming and we'd coshed Charles and Hugh, the second time you were running from the police!'
'I think you're right,' said Donald, 'I'll tell Arabella.'
Arabella nodded enthusiastically when he passed on the suggestion. Squeezing the cold rainwater out of her ponytail she said, 'OK, we're going to have to try to re-create that stress. Close your eyes and try to follow my instructions. Think back to that night when the police caught the others trying to steal the grail and we were confronted by the spirit, think about those feelings you had, the fear, the dread, the terror. Remember what it was like to experience them, how it felt... can you feel what it was like to be confronted by the unknown...?'
The wind grabbed the trees ferociously and flung the topmost branches in all directions so that they were all showered with wet leaves.
'Yes...' answered Donald, his voice small.
Arabella could feel the fear too, creeping up on her like a malevolent child about to do barbarous mischief, it clutched at her heart suddenly and she gasped. Donald seized her arm.
'There,' he stuttered, '...look..!'
About fifty feet away from them, right on the other side of the copse a feebly glowing light shone like a will-o'-the-wisp.
'It's her,' murmured Donald.
Despite hardly being able to see what was happening, the other operatives were also seized with an unexplained feeling of dread. Hardly daring to, they inched forward, through the trees and into the copse where Donald and Arabella clung to each other like sinners at the last judgement.
Immediately they saw the form on the other side of the copse, glowing a sickly white colour and pulsating with yellow light. Fear filled the heart of everyone there and they clutched at each other indiscriminately, past feuds forgotten as terror united them.
The form began to grow and the light looked as like flowing milk around the shape, as if being pumped by some ghostly heart. The flowing became faster and faster and the shape continued to grow until it was recognisable as a young girl. But this was no ordinary young girl. She hovered three or four feet off the floor and her eyes were filled with the burning flames of the righteous. They stared, unable to look away, hypnotised by her eyes. She was fully formed now and looked around the place, surveying the scene as if she had just awoken from a deep sleep. Almost immediately she focused on the operatives. Suddenly as if reality had been bent, she was only twenty-five feet away, though none of them had seen her move. The fear in them increased a hundred fold and Rupert and Sam took an involuntary step backwards.
Arabella tried to open her mouth to speak, but it would not obey, her lips parted slightly, but the only sound to escape was a whimper. She squeezed her eyes shut to block out the vision and tried to speak again.
'...talk...' she whispered, her voice hoarse, '...we need to talk with you...'
The ghost's head snapped to the side as if listening. It screamed. The sound was absolutely unearthly, like a thousand children letting out their death cries, like a million animals having their throats slit.
The operatives screamed also, terror finding its way out them in the form of sound. They wailed and cried, their mouths the only things moving as they remained rooted to the spot.
'Gwenhwyfar!' the ghost wailed, 'Gwenhwyfar! So long ago thy deeds rendered me unto this state and yet I find thou hast returned to thwart my plans once more.' She was looking right at Arabella who stood with her mouth hanging open. The other operatives subconsciously backed away from her. 'Not now, Gwenhwyfar,' the spirit continued, 'for they are all here, the prophecy hast come to pass, the grail shalt have a new guardian and I will be freed to go to my rest!' Suddenly she was in front of Donald, 'Arthur, it had come to pass, thou art the once and future king, take the Merlin,' she indicated George who found himself stepping towards her involuntarily, 'and recover the grail, take it into your bosom and guard it, as it is said in the prophecy. Now!' she raised an arm into the air and there was a loud crack. She turned on Arabella, 'I will hold this wretch, who tore the true faith form this land and replaced it with the god who failed. Gwenhwyfar, should I condemn thou to wander the earth forever as thou didst to me?'
'I'm not... I didn't...' stuttered Arabella.
'Silence!' ordered the spirit and Arabella fell to the floor with the force of the order.
'Go now, take the grail!' she commanded George and Donald.
'No, wait...' George said, 'she isn't...she isn't Gwenhwyfar, I'm not the Merlin... this is the twentieth century.'
For a moment, the spirit looked benign, 'Mayhap thou dost not remember it, Merlin, but thou art he who strove to keep the true faith in the land and this is the boy-king who brought peace and happiness to the land, until his Christian wife cuckolded him and the land!'
Donald shook his head, 'I...I'm not Arthur, we're just here to investigate the grail.'
'But you are,' said the spirit, 'you are all here; Lancelot,' she pointed to Phil, 'Morgaine,' she indicated Jo, 'and the lovers; Elaine and Taliesin,' she indicated Sam and Rupert who still clung to each other in fear. 'Now go, take the grail as danger draws near from all sides. I will take this controlling wench.' She pointed to Arabella.
'No!' shouted Donald and George in unison, 'if we are to take the grail, then she comes with us, we won't let you hurt her!'
The ghost looked wistfully at Arabella's prone form, 'You would deny me my vengeance?'
'Punishing Arabella would achieve nothing!' yelled Jo suddenly, 'we aren't the people you think we are, merely their representatives.'
'Arabella is just the messenger,' George said, 'and you can't punish the messenger for the tidings they bring, for they are sacred to their gods!'
Anger grew on the spirit's face and they cowered backwards, 'Go then, take the wench and the grail. But go quickly, opposition is coming swiftly, move now or one of your number shall die tonight!'
With that, the turned and fled, George and Donald quickly rousing Arabella and dragging her to her feet. As they ran towards the spring they quickly saw that all of the equipment had been destroyed, lights were shattered and the cameras lay on their sides, shattered and ground into the earth. The water pump was crushed like a discarded drinks-can and water flowed freely into the grass and the spring source. The destruction of the lights meant that they didn't realise at first the magnitude of what had happened. As they grew nearer they realised that the rocky shell which the spring had flowed into was cracked in two. The grail lay evenly on top of the two halves and the red spring water spurted out in all directions, giving the impression that blood was flowing freely from the grail.
'There it is!' gasped Sam, who dashed towards it, and scooped it out of the water. A thrill of electricity ran up her fingers as she held it and reverberated in the golden bracelets on her wrists.
'Careful!' yelled Phil, he pointed and suddenly saw the live wires from the electrical equipment snaking in the water. An electric charge snapped into the water and Sam turned and fled, clutching the precious object to her chest. Jo ran to meet her and the others looked around worriedly. The terror had left them all as soon as they had gone from the spirit's presence, but a feeling of apprehension and imminent danger had now filled them all.
Jo met Sam and they ran back to where the others were waiting.
'I think we should go!' stuttered Jo, 'and quickly, something is going to happen, I'm sure of it!'
'But the cup down the well...!' said George.
'And the cameras,' said Phil, 'if the film is still intact, it'll incriminate us!'
'Something is happening,' Rupert said slowly and they looked to where he pointed. A figure was hurtling towards them, screaming and gibbering as it did so.
'It's Alan Foster,' said George, 'is that a knife he's got?' The man careered towards him, one hand clenched into a fist, the other clutching a large knife. Drool was pouring form his mouth and he was shouting unintelligibly at them.
'Look!' said Phil suddenly, Charles and Hugh were running at them, their long dark coats flapping behind them gave the appearance of huge vampire bats. A sharp sound careered around them and the operatives suddenly realised it was gun fire, the men had guns and they were using them. Like startled deer they suddenly found their feet and began to run but almost immediately froze again as a huge spotlight shone on them.
'It's the guards!' hissed George.
They were trapped next to the spring with Foster approaching behind them, Charles and Hugh on the right and the guards (of which there were approximately four) on the left. Sam clutched the bowl tightly to her and closed her eyes...