Call of Cthulhu: Horror on the Orient Express

Diary of Lt. Raj Deol Singh

Crumpled up in the wastebin of a British Army postroom in a forward operations centre in France, the first half of this letter was redacted to make safe to travel in the postal system through foreign lands. It appears as though the logistics officer who was performing the redaction stopped halfway through and discarded the letter. Perhaps he thought it nothing more than fantasy- a joke played on him by his peers. Either way it was never sent to its’ intended recipient and when the officer went to retrieve the letter to prove he wasn’t making it up, the letter had vanished

Saturday <redacted>th November 1918

Mata, I am sorry for not writing to you sooner. I wish I could say that I did not receive your letters or that I had scarce time with which to conduct my response but to claim either excuse would be a falsehood. The King’s postal service is nothing if not tirelessly efficient even in war-torn Europe. No, the reason for my penned silence is I am afraid more troubling than that. I hope that my next letter will describe my state of mind in a happier place. Perhaps I shouldn’t send this, it would only cause you to worry but then not hearing from me would do just as much damage.

At first I did not write because the only events I witnessed which would shape my letters were too horrifying to describe. The scenes of devastation after a battle, the cry of the wounded and dying, the feel of arterial spray from a stabbed enemy. These are not the things one should write home to their parivara about. These are all over now, for the time being at least. The offensive at <redacted> was a success and the front is advancing rapidly. It is unlikely that my unit will see combat for <redacted> at least as we are cycled back to <redacted> for rest and recuperation.

In truth, the events of the past week are the real source of my inability to put pen and ink to paper. I feel though that I am ready to share the experiences now. Perhaps in giving the bizarre events form on paper would help to begin explaining the unexplainable.

It was last Tuesday, the <redacted>th when I first met Dr. Howard Jackson, medical auxiliary attached to my unit, the 3rd Lancaster Rifles. In truth I had seen the man before, he had even patched me up when I took some shrapnel to the shin a few weeks before. He had always seemed quiet but likeable enough so when he wandered past one afternoon as we were both taking a break in the camp. Sitting in camp listening to the far-off sound of guns pounding some unknown battlefield was always a tense affair. Even behind the lines, everyone expected a surprise attack and everyone carried their gas masks just in case. I said hello and bade him sit with me to keep each other company.

Our conversation was interrupted when we spotted smoke coming from behind the medical tent. Rushing to investigate we found Pvt. <redacted> burning a pile of books over a makeshift fire. This was the start of a few days of very strange behaviour.

Pvt. <redacted> ran after we questioned him so we decided to follow him into town and see what he was up to. I don’t know why but we both seemed to think this was a smart course of action. Oh how I have spent many sleepless nights since then wishing I hadn’t gone to that town. To that church.

His trail led us to the largest structure in the town- the church. We found no sign of him there though- only evidence of a birdwatching enthusiast in the tower. Hidden among the innocuous-looking books was a find of much stranger variety. A man’s arm was wrapped in a bed sheet, cleanly severed with not a drop of blood or hint of rot. Dr. Jackson confirmed my suspicions- no surgeon could remove a limb so cleanly as to not spill blood and whoever did it must be nearby as the arm was as fresh as if it had been removed that very second, not to mention its’ original owner. We debated searching the grounds for the victim as they could be in need, but glancing up I distinctly remember seeing storm clouds gathering where ten minutes previously it had been a gloriously sunny if not warm winter’s day.

As I pen these words I am surprised by my nonchalance when recording these events. At the time I was confused and nervous about the implications of the arm and the strange changing weather, but the episode which was to follow had a much greater impact on my psyche (and I hesitate to admit, my sanity) that I had quite forgotten about the other discoveries we made that day.

We made our way down the stairs and it was as we entered the battle-damaged apse of the church that I saw the alcove and the hideous painting that was ensconced within. I had seen the paintings on the way in, depicting scenes from the Bible. Jesus I recognised, my Sandhurst education made sure of that even if I didn’t revere him as others did, but the other figures in the painting were too obscure for me to name. Not that it mattered. For this was no mere painting. As I watched it, the painting came to…

It has taken much effort to write that last sentence. I stared for two days with pen in hand at the page, unable to write the words, especially the last for to give the words substance on page was to admit that it happened- but it couldn’t have happened.

Could it?

That was what it seemed like. Perhaps it was a trick of the light, or the unsettling discoveries made in the tower which played on my mind but I perceived the painting as moving even if Dr. Jackson claimed afterwards it was not. I felt as though the figures in the painting were coming for me from all angles, knives bared, teeth gnashing and screaming accusations at me, all the while Jesus looked on judging me and finding me wanting. Their inexorable approach was slow and frustrating, each second they loomed closer yet I was rooted to the spot unable to move or scream for help. For hours they came at me, the promise of death growing with each of my rapid heartbeats. They were going to kill me I was certain of it. Just as the knife of the man to my left reached my throat and I was sure I could feel it cutting into me, the compulsion holding me ceased and I stumbled backwards. When I looked up the painting was as it was, perfectly still and the figures were just paint on a canvas. Dr. Jackson looked down at me quietly with a quizzical look on his face.

We decided that we had spent enough time in the town of Sambre as I was unashamedly relieved to be walking away from that painting, even though I was assured it hadn’t moved. The stormclouds I saw gathering had cleared also, and our walk back would have been pleasant if under different circumstances.

Dr. Jackson took the bizarre limb back to his superiors for investigation while I attempted to relax in the camp with the men.

I didn’t.

The camp was abuzz that evening with talk of one Gen. Smith coming to visit the camp. No-one had heard of him but he was supposedly top brass so everything had to be cleaned and re-cleaned prior to the inspection.

Gen. Smith arrived to full fanfare and parade attention. I must admit the evening passed in a blur as my mind was on the painting and I was jumping at shadows. I found myself at the officer’s mess being summoned to Gen. Smith’s table. He said some words which I cannot recall- I don’t think I really heard them at the time. But I do remember being pulled aside by his assistant- a thin civilian man with a suspicious air about him. He explained that the General had chosen Dr. Jackson and myself for special assignments and that my CO had signed off my transfer to Gen. Smith’s staff. I was bemused but took the news rather easily so I recall- my mind was still not functioning properly after the encounter that afternoon.

Our first mission was to recover a book which Gen. Smith wanted. He was certain that it was in the vicinity of Sambre and I got the feeling that Gen. Smith had travelled a long way just to acquire this book and it was likely the reason for his visit to our camp. That intrigued me and I had to know why a General was so interested in a book that he came for it himself, but then sent underlings to fetch it for him. I sensed a deeper conspiracy but was too shaken by the day’s events to properly question things so I went along with it. The book was called the Ornithological Guide to Birds of the East.

Jackson and I exchanged glances. We knew just where to start looking.

Pleased about heading back to the church in Sambre I was not. We headed out the next morning, wanting to get the job over with. I was glad Dr. Jackson didn’t suggest going there immediately, the idea of exploring that place after dark gave me chills under my skin although I was too proud to admit that fact.

We arrived at the church, this time I had brought my weapons- the quartermaster practically threw them at me across the desk he was so eager to sign them out. Word of my reassignment must have travelled fast. Perhaps it was the cold steel in my hands, perhaps it was the lack of storm clouds but I felt much better about crossing the ruined threshold of the church than I anticipated. That was until we heard the howl. Or the scream. I am still unable to properly recall the tone of the noise which drew our attention to the rear of the church. Not wanting to be trapped within the church, we readied our weapons and rushed behind the building to find out what had caused such an eerie noise.

Whatever had made the noise had quickly departed for we found nothing but a statue and an entirely surprising sight. A naked man was chained to the back of the church, his chest cut open and his entrails ripped out. I didn’t need Dr. Jackson’s medical training to know this man was dead.

Dr. Jackson examined the body while I kept watch. On reflection I was remarkably calm about this find, and even now the thought of the body does not fill me with dread- perhaps I am deadened to such mundane horrors as an eviscerated man. What has become of me? Jackson remarked that something had cleanly removed many of the man’s internal organs with the precision we found on the limb the day before, but the entrails were tugged out with the force and subtlety of a hungry animal. Suddenly the surrounding trees seemed full of hiding spots and unseen watching eyes. We decided to continue our search inside.

We passed the alcove where the painting which had nearly killed me the day before (and still keeps me from sleeping to this day) once sat. It was gone. As were the other similar paintings which were there. Something had clearly been searching through the church evident from the scattered items and scratch marks. We hurried upstairs and thankfully found the pile of books still there. Dr. Jackson even found the book we were looking for. The Ornithological Guide to Birds of the East.

Heading back down the stairs with our prize, I started when I thought I saw a wolf prowling through the rubble. Crouching and looking over the parapet, my heart stopped when my eyes locked onto the unmistakeable outline of a wolf with silver-blue fur. It turned and sniffed the air and I ducked back into cover. Had I seen a human face? Human hands? Blood dripping from its’ teeth? Glowing red eyes? I couldn’t be sure. I couldn’t be sure of anything any more. All I knew was that we had to get out of here as fast as possible. Gesturing to Dr. Jackson to ready himself, I threw one of the books that we didn’t need across the room to distract the wolf-thing. It worked, the creature stalked towards the sound, thinking it a victim. I realised that I wouldn’t like to be the one it was sneaking up on. Was there one sneaking up on me at that moment? I gave Jackson the signal and ran for the door.

As I reached the entrance, I glanced over my shoulder just as Jackson was stumbling down the stairs, making more noise than the book and drawing the attention of the creature. Stupid, Jackson was attached to the military but wasn’t trained in combat hand signals. When I had gestured he had stared dumbfounded at me where my brain registered understanding. When I leapt up to run, he must have fallen over himself in surprise. I dragged him to his feet and we both ran full pelt out of town.

We eventually slowed and leaned over our knees to catch our breath. We had escaped. Jackson opened his mouth to say something when the wolf-thing appeared out of nowhere and snatched the book from his hand. We both jumped in alarm but the wolf paid us no heed, turning and loping off into the forest. We had no chance of catching it so, not wanting to lose our prize I readied my trench gun and advanced towards the retreating wolf. Jackson was the first to shoot, his bullet flying true but the beast barely noticed. The 12 gauge Winchester 1912 combat shotgun was a different calibre of weapon however and it only took two rounds to blow the creature’s legs clean from under it even at 10 yards.

Gen. Smith was too busy to see us, but his assistant took the book from us with a smile and tucked it into his jacket pocket with little more than a thank you. We were still on special assignment to Gen. Smith but we had no further orders so I returned to my unit. That was when we found out that the offensive had been successful. The Huns had been broken by the combined efforts of the 1st and 3rd Armies along with meagre armoured support and French divisions.

I sit now on a train which is taking me to Calais where I will board a ferry to cross the English Channel. I should be back in Chichester by tomorrow. I am not sure what I am going to do. The events of the past few days have shaken me to my core and I had hoped that writing this letter would assist me somewhat in reconciling my idea of what reality should be with what I had seen. In truth I feel no better than I did before. There must be someone who can explain it all to me, make my understand all the things I have seen. I no longer have nightmares about piles of bodies and the horrors of war. No longer do imagined gunshots wake me from my tortured sleep. Instead I see that painting and the horrific creatures depicted within it. In my dreams they are no longer Biblical figures but creatures made of writhing worms holding human skulls in their hands in place of knives. Instead of standing in ancient Jerusalem, these worm creatures cavort in scenes of sheer madness in rooms with impossible geometry or atop ziggurats made of light from a gibbous green moon. Wolves with the heads of men roam at their feet gnawing at discarded scraps. The dreams all end the same, the worm-men all turn to face the centre of the scene where a man in cream robes and a pale yellow mask stands with arms outstretched. The man removes his mask to reveal Jesus’ benevolent face and for split second there is hope. Then Jesus’ eyes explode in a shower of blood and tentacles emerge from his mouth to strangle me until I wake screaming and pissing my bedsheets.

I cannot go on like this.

Perhaps this strange club that Gen. Smith’s assistant recommended can help. I have kept the card on my person and will seek them out as soon as I return. I have been given no orders so it would not be remiss of me to leave the unit to its’ rest for a while, a short trip to London for a few days would be fine. Anything to stop the dreams.

Lt. Raj Deol Singh
1st Battallion, Royal Sussex Regiment
Honi soit qui mal y pense

Diary of Richard Twist

I thought myself a man of the world. A man of broad horizons. A man who had “seen things”.
Plying a certain trade will do that. It will put you in touch with a wide range of experiences; from the fevered delightful delirium that comes from chasing the dragon to the harrowing that comes from seeing where that merry chase inevitably leads. I have visited distant shores. I have tasted of foreign delights of many forms. I have seen things that laid bare the constructs of our civilization and peeled back the veneer of reality.

Or at least. I thought I had.

What I record now is my epiphany. My realisation that all the world I thought I knew was but a puddle beside an ocean.

Three nights previous, I received an invitation from an esteemed artist by the name of Coburn to attend the presentation of a grand artistic display.
It was not so odd as you may think for one such as I, I am occasionally requested by certain contacts to supply certain party favours.

I attended directly, and was pleased to notice an aquaintence of mine, Theodore Sermont had arrived at around the same time. A stroke of luck, as we were both unfasionably early for the affair!

Still, it gave us a chance to nose around, and who doesn’t like a good nose.

The display began in oddity; with cards. A, B, C. Red, Black, Green. Strange and curious. Just an artists piece of pretention said one part of my mind, BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN screamed another.
Red, Black, Green. ̸̢͝G͜͝r̸̨e̷̕e̶͝ņ̡͘͘.̷͜͢ ̴̨̢Ŕ̶̵̡͘e̸̢̛͝d̨̢͘͞͠ ҉̢͘͡ą̷͟͡n̴̶̶͞d̀́͟͡͝ ͢͜͠͠b̷̵̛́̕l̶̸̨͝a͜͟͝c͟͟k̨̛̕ ̸̶̀҉͏a̸̕͢n̵̴̨̕d̨͘͢ ͏g̛͞r͡͠e̡̢͠e̷̸͜͝n̡̛ ͟͜à̛̀͡ǹ̴̡d̶̢͢͝ ҉̢̨͢g̵̨̛̀r̛̀̕e̡̧̛e̡͡n͏̀́ ̶̀a͞͞ń̡́̕d́ ̧̡̕͟g̨͞r̴̛̀̀͟ȩ̷̨ę̷͟͡ń̶͡ ̴́͢͟a̸̡̕͜n̸̴͡͡d̡͞ ̛́͟͝

The drinks correlated, they had
TEDDY DID NOT HAVE A CARD, why. There was some confusion there, and the receptionists dithering afforded me the opportunity to swipe myself the two cards I lacked. To be honest I recall not which one I was initially issued with.

Inside there were the usual upper class bourgeois scum, milling around and preening and peacocking and preparing to sell themselves and those under them to the highest bidder. I had been quite looking forward to seeing if I couldn’t ruin someones reputation before the end of the night BUT THE DRINKS
They were red and green and black. They all smelled wrong. I could not quite pick out why and this nose knows my friends it always does but this stuff was just ư̡̕͡n̨͟͏̧a̶̶̸̴͠t̸u̶͢͡͡r̛͜a̴̷̡l̷̸͜͠


It was incorrect.

A red cherry liquer, a green absinthe, a black OTHER yes yes but then hers was a black cherry liqueur thats just wrong, that doesnt fit with the syste m THAT doesnt fit

While we browsed we encountered a̛͟͟͝͞ ͘͜s̶̀͞c̸̢u͞͡l̶̀͟͟ṕ̵̶͟͟t͞͏̶̕҉u̵̢͝r͏͟͜e̴͡ ͞w̴̡͝h̷̡͞i͘͝͞͡͝c̴̛͘͡҉h̶̛̀

There was a tower in the centre. A tall series of enclosed rooms, with four doors one on each side. It was surrounded by Coburns harlequins, masked and robed ominous figures. Did you know his wife died? The tower held some quite gory imagery, clearly Coburns artwork had taken on more than a touch of the macabre. There were mutilated mannequins, the injuries of which seemed strangely reminiscent of ones noticed on the receptionist. (FURTHER MEANING? RITUAL? WHAT SORT?)

But yes, the art. Very well then.
I must commit this to writing. The cause of this ranting, the need to get this out of my head and onto something as inoffensive as paper and ink.

When we looked upon one of Coburns works, a giant hunched figure clutching a painting, time… stopped.
no No no thats not right it didn’t just stop it Ceased To Be.
T̴̕h̸̢̀̀͡e̷̷r̶̡e̡͘͟͟͟ ҉͝҉ẁ̶̸̢͝a̷͢s̶ ͡n̷ơ̡͢͟t͜͜͜h͠҉i̢̧ņ̸͟͝g҉̷͘,͜͡͏̨͢ ̛t͢͝h͟è̶̢̛ŗ͜͜ę͟ ̶̴̕͏w̸a̡͘͢s̵̴̡͘͡ ̵̀͜͡ń̛͝o͟͢͡ ̵̨͟e̶̛͘͡s͠c̶̨̕͢a̕͞͞p̸̨͠e̸̢̕͟,̛́͞ ̧̧̡̀͞t̸̷h̕͘͟͝͝è̵̡̛͡r̵̡͢e̢͘͢͞ ̵̨̧̀͞w̕a̴͢͢s͜ ̶̧Ń҉̴͘O̕ ̢̢́͜C̷̨͘͏҉O̶͢͟͟N̷͡T͝͞I̴̷̸̕͜N̴̶̨Ứ̧È͏D̡͘ ͟͡͝M̸̸̷̕O҉́̀͞͡T͘I̸̡̡͠O͏̴̷̴̧N͡ ̵̕͡O̴̵̵̢̕Ŕ̸͟͠͡ ̶͜҉̸R̨E̷̢̨͢͟A̸̸̕͝C̸͟͏̡̀T̛͡Í̷̴O̡͢͠N̷̕͜ ̷͟͞͞u̡͞҉̸t̛̀͜͟t̴̨̢̢e͜͞r̵̨ ̸̧ṕ̴̢͘͟a͞r̵̨̢̡͘a̛̛͢l̸̴͝͏y̵̨̡͠͞s̴̸̛͡i̵̵̧͞͠ş̛̛ ̴͞

Describing the experience is… difficult. Suffice it to say that this was the encounter which convinced me that my horizons were not as broad as I had thought, and at the time pursuaded me that if they were broad enough to see the whole world as it is then I would lose myself entirely.

I would simply Cease To Be.

I am no longer convinced of this, but I digress.

Upon exiting our Experience we were approached by a man, who requested that we come to meet with his employer. He was confident, but not threatening. The curious request was a welcome break from ŗ̢̕͏é̴̸̢́a̶̵̧͡l͟͠i̴̧ş̧͝į͘͞͞ņ̧g҉̡́͜ ̵́͡͝͝r̷̕҉̛e̷̴̢̛͡a̧̛͜l̴̴̀͜į͜͟͠͠t̸̷̨́͟y̛ ̡į́͡ś̛̕͢͝ ̢́̕a̢͟͢͡ ̸̷́͘͡l̸̢͘i̢̢͞e͘͘͜ ̡̛͝ą̡͜͡n̷̸̸d́͘͡ ̸̢͡͝w̨͏͜҉e͞҉ ҉҉a͟r̛͞e̢͘͟ ̨̛́a̸l̢̨̛l̡̢͢ ̸̷͢͠m͏̡͟e̕҉r̴̛e҉̸҉͞l̵͡͝͞͞y̨͘͞҉ ҉͟͜͜͡m̸̨a҉̡g̶͢͢͟g̶̶͘̕ò́t̢̀s͝҉̵ ̷͘w̢͠͏́r͟͡i͢͏͘t͞҉́͝ḩ̢̕͞͞i̷̡̧҉̸n͏̨͘g̶҉ ̶ì͝n̶҉͟ ̴͘͠͠a̴̧ ̀̕̕͡ḑ͜͠ę͏͟a̴̛͢͏͡d͘҉̸̕ ͏̢g͘͞ó̷̶d̕͠s̷̶͟͢͝ ̵e̷̢̢͟y̷͠e͘͞

The gentleman was in the employ of a Professor Smith, and this fellow was willing to pay handsomely for the procurement of an amulet that he claimed had absconded from his possession and wound up round the throats of one of the pretty little piglets downstairs. Obscenely handsomely.

We of course obliged. We talked and walked and looked and saw and
The man in the mask. I say man, I could not see what they were under the mask and cloak. They seemed to look into me. I could not see their eyes, but I could sense their gaze penetrating to the core of me. Was that even real?

We found the amulet. We retrieved it, with a little less grace than we intended, but effectively and discretely. It had been sitting on the shoulders of the richest woman in Russia.
The richest woman in Russia. The very pinnacle of the mountain of entitlement that is crushing our species, and I barely spat a single barb her way. I didn’t try to bed her, or mock her, or kill her.

I had other things on my mind.
Whatever caused my strange experience was real, and I feel Professor Smith was somehow linked to all this… strangeness. If I wish to discover more, my best road to doing so may well be to make myself of use to him.

Diary of Teddy Sermont
Huw's Blog from - The Coburn Display 1918

February 13th 1918

I am in two minds.

Nigh everything that lies within my heart and soul sullenly pleads
to forget my evening at the Coburn display. A parade of crass
grotesques and ill thought out “Showmanship” that rests upon my
chest like a familial passing.

But yet, there is another part of me. A part that craves. however
resentfully, answers. Richard and I were called to this gruesome
spectacle by a gentleman steeped in aloof mystery and somber
menace to- hasty but fastidious scrawling conceals the rest of the

For the purposes of organizing my thoughts and steeling my will
against the scattered nightmares that have haunted me since, I
shall commit my recollections of the evening to paper. I’m told
it aids in detachment and compartmentalization.

We shall see.

As fortune would have it, Richard and I arrived at much the same
moment. More embarrassingly, we had both mistaken the spirit
of the invitation we had received and arrived on time. In an effort
to avoid dawdling in plain sight, we quickly introduced ourselves to
the doorman and proceeded into the building (some sort of
appropriated dockworkers offices or some such, it appeared).

Upon entry, we had our invitations checked and were issued the
first curiousity of the evening. Lettered cards. This was swiftly
followed by the second curiousity though. I had not been assigned
a letter as my compatriot had. After a few moments wherein I was
actually grateful that we had arrived early enough to avoid such
a scene causing a stir, I was instead granted a sealed envelope and
told that I was not to reveal it’s contents until the appropriate time.

After passing the second gatekeeper, we arrived into a hive of bustling
activity. We had arrived so painfully early that the work was still being
completed on the exhibits. And while the workers paid us no mind,
we were left with precious little to do other than make small talk and
bemoan the lack of refreshments.

I shall skip over the fine details of the next few hours. The other guests
eventually filtered in as the labourers finished their tasks and we
ingratiated ourselves with them quickly. Once the exhibition was truly
revealed, we distracted ourselves with viewing the pieces on show.

Now, some of the things I have seen in my admittedly short career
in art had prepared me for the worst of the clumsy attempts at
scandalizing those in attendance. But still, the content of the
pieces on display turned the stomach and caused a slight sweat
upon the brow. The worst piece of all was featured underneath a
towering humanoid figure of worked steel and rivets. When we went
to inspect- The rest of this section is covered with far more erratic
and aggressively thorough scribbling.

While pausing for breath we were approached by a bear of a man. He
introduced himself and asked us to accompany him. Hardly in any mood
to stay in the exhibition hall and not detecting any sinister purpose in the
man’s tone, we followed him through to the fire escape and traveled
through a number of preparation rooms and corridors before finding
our way onto the roof of the establishment.

It was here, in the stout wind of London’s evening, that we met the
gentleman who had engineered our invitation to this glamoured
nightmare. Professor Smith, or so he was introduced. He, it turned
out, had a proposal for us. And as baffled as I was by my inclusion in
such a venture, there was a grim confidence about the man that I
feared to deny him his request.

I shan’t commit what happened next to paper, for fear of repercussion.
But let it be known that the distraction our task provided proved a
blissful release from parade of contemptible “genius” going on about
us. Mostly.

Once our work was done, we exited before the grand finale of the
exhibition. The cries we heard as we retreated from that room attached
themselves to me like a funereal shroud and to this day I sometimes
catch myself hustling far faster than is proper while traveling a long stretch
of corridor by my lonesome.

Professor Smith was pleased with us however, so at least we had satisfied
the gentleman whose cruelties have cost me so many hours of rest.

I still find myself in two minds.


Diary of Dr Howard Jackson

A lot has happened over the past couple of days. I shall try to recall everything I can. The events are… somewhat traumatising, but I remain surprisingly calm. But if these two days are a harbinger of things to come, I cannot expect to stay that way, if only because death seems like a very real possibility.

The adventure takes place in our camp stationed in the Sambre. The Great War left us with little time to relax, but I had a couple of days free. I was chatting with a fellow by the name of Lt. Ras Deol Singh, when we spotted mysterious smoke coming from behind the hospital tent. We were both on a break and so decided to investigate. We saw a man burning some leather-bound tome, and whilst it wasn’t one of our textbooks, book burning is something that I cannot abide. But before we could stop him, he sprinted into the nearby town.

It turns out silently climbing over a collapsed wall is surprisingly difficult, so after brief negotiations we left the camp and headed towards the church. It was hit fairly hard by artillery and one of the double doors was replaced by rubble that extended to the belfry’s staircase. Paintings were miraculously intact, but not of particularly high quality and I do not recall the Bible stories they described. We continued on, moving up the staircase that once had a banister.

Near the top, we saw a cache of books and a figure wrapped in a blanket. Our professions teach us not to be shocked by the dead, but that was not the shocking thing about him. His arm was sliced cleanly, as if separated by some mathematical plane. Whatever caused this cut, the surgical implications are huge. I carefully wrapped it up in its blanket to bring to the hospital tent for further analysis. This body had to be reported to the superiors. So, we had to head back.

As we descended, we became increasingly aware of this thumping sound; a background heartbeat, omnipresent yet subtle, whose escalating tempo carved through the soul. As for what this sound was, I cannot say for certain; but what I do know is that Ras was gazing at a painting, stuck in some sort of trance, neither rapt in awe nor engulfed in terror. There was simply staring, followed by fainting. And then, this was followed by walking briskly back to camp.

The day was not over yet. Both of us were dragged into attending a fancy dinner to welcome a General Smith, whom neither of us knew. The meal was a nice change of pace from the constant barrage of gruel but I confess that I am not exactly a huge socialite. The evening was a drag but the General’s assistant cornered us and entrusted us with a task. Tomorrow, we were to head into town again, and track down a book entitled “The Ornithological Guide to Birds of the East”.

So, the next morning, we headed into town. We saw plenty of books in the church yesterday, so this was our first stop today. There were strange noises that could be heard in the distance, but no heartbeats this time; it sounded a bit like a wolf- at least, this is the easiest parallel to draw. To ensure we would not be ambushed we circled around to the back of the church, and saw a figure not unlike the one we saw earlier; arms cleanly sliced but intestines ravaged. Despite the howling, there was no immediate danger. We had a mission to perform. We went into the church.

It had changed. The paintings were no longer there, much to the relief of my partner, but something else had been here. And that something must have been searching, for books were flung haphazardly across the floor. But the one book that we needed- the Ornithological Guide to Birds of the East – we still very much intact and in a yellow-bound cover.

It was then that we saw it. As to what it was, I cannot say. But the howling was this beast’s, its form prowling and searching near the altar. Ras snuck to the exit with ease. I tried to follow suit. I tripped. Then I tripped again. But I was outside. Alive.

I thought the beast had ignored me. I thought I had made it outside. And I suppose this was true. It had ignored me and I was outside. But now I see why. For it to kill me would imply my corpse meant something. Its target was the book that was now snatched from my hands and embedded in its jaws. I had no time to react as it was snatched from me, but I did have time to react as it backed slowly away from us towards the forest. I pulled out my pistol. It barely flinched as I hit it.

Of course, my partner’s gun was about ten times more effective than mine and its skull was blasted into the stratosphere. In the meantime, I was still badly injured from tripping over rubble.

I am clearly not ready for what lies ahead. But it is useless to prepare, for what could have prepared me for the last couple of days? They say that it is a sign of wisdom to know that you know nothing. But I simply feel naïve and vulnerable, like a child wandering through tall grass, blissfully unaware of the snakes that reside within.


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