Call of Cthulhu: Skullhouse
The Keeper has created a summary of the backstory for this scenario.
The investigation Weltgeist begins November 30, 1921 with a call to Dr. Howard Marsh, MD from Dr. Clegman of San Francisco General Hospital. Professor Robert Garrick, an old acquaintance of Marsh’s, has been admitted and is being held as a suspect in the death of Larry Jackson. Jackson was Garrick’s assistant in his astronomy research at his mansion above South San Francisco.
From the police, Marsh learns that Jackson’s fiancée, Ramona Travers, became concerned when she hadn’t heard from Jackson for several days. In the rain, she was escorted to Garrick’s house by an officer, who discovered Jackson’s body, his neck broken, down the slope from a disturbed bit a brush behind the house.
Garrick was intercepted leaving the rear of the mansion, scribbling in a notebook as he walked. He tried to flee, insisting that he had to get back to work, and speaking of a “they” in fearful terms.
Outside a pawn shop across from the hospital, the newly-arrived investigators meet a family of moonshiners who report they’re pulling up stakes and moving south on account of a glowing red “haint” that terrorized their homestead and killed all their chickens. They point the investigators in the direction of the cabin, downslope to the Northeast of Garrick’s mansion.
Meanwhile, Marsh observes Jackson’s autopsy, where the only surprising details are signs of undernourishment and extreme exhaustion. The state of decomposition also seems to put the time of death earlier than the known facts of the case would suggest.
The investigators head for the Garrick mansion, stopping at the moonshiners’ homestead en route. The scene is as described, with a smouldering pile of chicken bones in the pen behind the cabin. Continuing on up the hill, the investigators note the locked pumphouse above an artesian well.
Garrick’s property contains the mansion (with cupola observatory on the top floor), a greenhouse, and a large barn. Investigators see the brush where Jackson collapsed, and recover the notebook that Garrick was writing in when confronted by police, now damp from laying out on the rain-soaked ground.
The spacious mansion is only partly lived in. Several rooms are empty. The pantry is stocked with canned food, cereal and the like.
At the foot of the main stairs are a number of empty shipping crates from scientific suppliers. A handwritten letter lies on the floor.
An upstairs office contains assorted papers related to the financial aspects of Garrick’s work; Sophie finds an invoice from Ace Construction for work on a new extension to the barn. A series of journals similar to the rain-soaked one are collected in the bookcase. The most recent is from 1917, the year of Garrick’s earlier bout of madness. Any journals from his release through 1920 are elsewhere.
A quick read of the last 1917 entries brings out an “Island Universe Hypothesis” and the line
Optical Xenoscope ready by mid-may, Material [capital M] will be perfect
Up in the cupola, Alex Hasley notes that parts have been removed from the reflector telescope, even though Garrick’s recent notes gave the impression that it had been used quite recently.
Hoping to find a darkroom, the Investigators enter the cellar through the doors outside the house.
Below ground there is indeed a darkroom and workshop built into the southwest corner of the area. Items found there:
- A wood crate containing five unlabeled one-gallon paint cans, their lids soldered shut. It sounds like gravel might be inside (the “Material”?)
- A number of vacuum cleaners, their bags removed
- A workbench with an unfamiliar bench tool that Alex thunks is a lens grinder. Reddish dust surrounds the tool, and some sort of red spores are growing in what appear to be water rings on the work surface. A nearby coffee mug also has spores at its bottom, as does the inside of a breathing filter hanging on the wall. Was Garrick infected with something?
- A chest with business and personal correspondence, including a letter to Garrick from Adolph Sutro.
- A heavy, brass-bound chest containing wads of burlap packing material and a handwritten slip addressed to Sutro, describing the former contents. A tag on the outside of the chest readers, “Wagstaff Hughes 1898 #317a”
The investigators are surprised to find no photographs here. Having noted the extension to the barn, that seems like a logical place to find all of the items—telescope parts, journals, photographs—that have been removed from the house.
Sadly, the barn is locked up tight, though Deezer thinks he can slip in through a second-story window if he can get up there. Back to the house to look for the key or a ladder. Everyone notices that it’s getting dark out.
There is a key rack just inside the mansion’s back door, with a labeled key for the greenhouse, but nothing for the barn. Since the greenhouse might contain a ladder, or tools that would break the padlock on the barn, the investigators head over there.
There’s a foul odor of death and decay at the greenhouse, and it doesn’t take long to find the bloated body of Garrick’s dog Rudy. Dr. Marsh gets some equipment from his car and settles in for a twilight, alfresco autopsy.
The others explore the greenhouse. The plants inside aren’t doing so well, and there’s a large cement basin at the center that’s empty, save for some residue at the bottom. Hardware for a pulley and tie-up are nearby, suggesting that something heavy had been suspended over the basin. A nearly-empty bag of sugar lies on the floor. Was Garrick growing something here, perhaps connected to the mold spores found in his workshop?
Dr. Marsh calls his companion back outside. He’s noticed that there’s been some digging in the ground near where he’s working on Rudy. The dog exhibits similar symptoms to Garrick and Jackson: signs of exhaustion and malnourishment. Decomposition also seems more advanced than Marsh would expect.
Just then, the group notices a red glow down the hill to the north, just what the moonshiners were describing. They dash back inside the mansion, turn off the lights, and observe from an upstairs windows. Even with his field glasses, Tom can’t make out any details of the red glow, and it soon retreats back down the hill. The investigators take this eerie intrusion as a sign to wrap it up for the day, and they head back to South San Francisco, where they spend the night at the Metropolitan Hotel.
The morning of Thursday, December 1, the investigators split up to conduct research:
- Sophie goes to the newspaper to look into Garrick’s past, but only finds an old Examiner article about his 1917 asylum stay. She then follows up some leads at the South San Francisco police station, but since Garrick’s earlier troubles didn’t happen in town, they aren’t able to help her.
- Tom heads back to San Francisco and pays a visit to the law firm of Wagstaff & Hughes, responsible for the estate of Adolph Sutro following his death in 1898. He presents himself as an assistant to Woodrow Dilman of the Anthropology Museum. He’s able to confirm that the chest and its contents were a bequest from Sutro to Garrick, and gets a list of some of the other items from the Sutro estate, but not much else. A follow-up visit to Dilman, reveals only that the pottery described on the slip would probably not have been a Nevada Indian artifact.
- Alex will use his academia connections to get in touch with someone who worked with Garrick at Lick Observatory, hopefully Samuel Langton.
- Deezer is going to interview about Jackson’s work for Garrick.
- Dr. Marsh is returning to South San Francisco General Hospital to examine Garrick, and Jackson’s corpse, for signs of the fungal agent found in the workshop.
Deezer meets Ramona Travers at the Metropolitan Hotel and gets her to delay hiring her own private investigator for the case. He accompanies Ramona to the police station, where they learn that the chief is out investigating a death at the stockyards. The cops are also interested in Garrick’s next-of-kin; they need to turn his personal effects over to somebody.
At the hospital, Dr. Marsh isn’t able to learn much new from examining the sport cultures or re-examining Garrick and Jackson. He is able to get control of the item’s Garrick had on him when he was arrested, including a key to the barn and a confusing photograph that includes symbols familiar from the various gates the investigators have encountered.
Passing the stockyards on their way back to the mansion, the investigators meet Larry Conway, security man with the Western Meat Company. He tells them about a dead calf and the dead hobo that police are taking care of. Dr. Marsh checks the body and finds it consistent with the other enervated victims.
That evening in the hotel dining room two chemical workers are talking about a stampede at the stockyards.
There are two more dead cows at the stockyards this morning. Larry Conway reports that he saw the red light himself last night during the mayhem.
The key from Garrick’s effects opens the barn. Jackson’s car is inside, along with books and supplies pertaining to Garrick’s terrarium experiment, which investigators now know was transferred here after a failed effort in the greenhouse.
The miniaturized habitat resides in a refrigerated room behind the garage. The tiny, busy creatures within have nearly completed a gate around the perimeter of the basin. While investigators debate what to do with the tiny world, its guardian spirit, now grown to a ghostly, misshapen humanoid lunges out and strikes Tom Holub, causing him to double over in agony.
While the monster dances around Dr. Marsh’s shotgun blasts, Deezer extracts the battery from Larry Jackson’s car and introduces it to the high pH environment of the basin. Marsh blasts the battery, poisoning the habitat and dooming an entire race of unsuspecting beings. The realization of what he’s taken part in hits Deezer harder than the rest; this was a great crime.
The glowing element serving as the world’s sun is pried loose and taken out into the daylight. The guardian gives chase but fades into nothingness as the meteorite fragments are dispersed.
While his colleagues collect some of Garrick’s materials and prepare to incinerate others, Deezer discretely takes some of the meteorite pieces and petri dishes, thinking he can atone for the terrible genocide by restarting the civilization on his own.