In this series of posts, I will document the story of our Betrayal: Legacy campaign, chronicling the unhappy history of five families unable to escape from their ties to the House on Haunted Hill.
Chapter Two: A Crucifix
Thirty-five years had passed since Martha’s madness shook the House on Haunted Hill, the bodies buried in the cold unfeeling earth never leaving the mind of the proprietor. Tobias Goldstein had made good with his life, the uneasy peace secured with Martha’s murderous rampage allowing him to bring his family to town and conduct his affairs free from her victims’ families’ harassment. In recent years, his children having gone off to make their way in the world, his wife taken by disease, Tobi turned to scripture and study for solace. The grounds and the house, the ground floor built out to accommodate the growing family while the second floor lay substantially untouched, was now cared for by a farmhand, an itinerant worker of few words who served loyally. The house’s master, immersed in time and his books, was cared for by a cook. Both had come on after the mistress of the house had passed, claiming to feel a certain sense of safety and purpose at the Goldstein estate.
For Tobias, however, the Good Book was less a thing of study and more a desperate anchor to sanity. The dreams, of being buried alive; the hunger, for meat red and raw and screaming. Paranoid visitations from the past – shadows in the woods, like vestiges of those whose blood had watered the houses grounds. An apparition, of a young girl near his bed – just another shadow, but how could he not remember seeing his beloved Thomasin strangling young Peggy with a leather strap of bells? The solitude of the house had come to haunt Tobi, his quiet servants small comfort in the face of the burdensome specters of his own mind. Resolved to remind himself of the peace, and to acquit himself of his lingering guilt, Tobi sent word into the village, inviting the local families to join him for Sunday dinner.
Perhaps it was fear that had kept the families at bay. Of those that had chosen to respond to his invitation, each had sent but a single representative, the remainder begging off for this or that reason. Jane Edison, whose great-uncle Charles had died at the House, was derided around these parts as a wild child, an unkempt and savage thing who could not be married off. No doubt her poor mother had been only too happy to send her away for the evening. Mary Brittenridge, whose grandmother Eleanor had been one of Tobi’s tormentors in days of old, had lived in Maine during the Dummer’s War, returning to the main branch of the family at the tender age of 15 with the harrowed soul of a war orphan. Young William Luther was well off, and an uneasy sight for those his grandmother had slain; the Luthers had made good in the world, and William was determined not to be chased away from the family lands by some old spat about his mad granny. Of all of the guests, however, none unnerved Tobi so much as Agatha Fuchstag, a precocious “miracle child” who the doctor had said would surely die in the womb. Her birth marked the death of her mother, and it was said that Agatha had taken after her departed Aunt Delia in pursuits of scholarship that some would call medicine and others would call witchcraft. All of nine years old, she echoed the shadow at the foot of Tobi’s bed too much for his peace of mind. Inviting the others to his hearth and pardoning himself, Tobi slipped away to an unfinished room to collect his book of scripture, hoping to ease his mind.
Jane lacked both manners and patience, electing to search for the kitchen to find food or wine. Instead, she found a bit of jewelry that the cook had hidden in the pantry – a jeweled brooch. Family rumor said that a dispute over this very item had led to her great-uncle’s murder, and she was only too happy to help it leave the house behind. Agatha thought to play in the common room, where an unsettling specter awaited – a bloody corpse, howling in rage and tearing at its own flesh. None heard a scream from the small child, for none was forthcoming – in truth, the gleam of rage shined in her eyes as well, though none were there to witness it.
William was of a mind to engage an attorney and see about taking out his family’s grudge against the house by suit. To that end, he used his host’s absence and the distraction of his companions to sneak off and get a feel for the size and value of the Goldstein holdings. In the guest quarters on the ground floor, he was unprepared for a fell omen – blood, bubbling up from the floorboards, hot and red, like the blood spilled by his grandmother all those years ago. He could not explain what drove him to do it, what drove him to go to the floor like a dog and sip at the blood. He could not explain why it was delicious.
Alone by the Hearth, Mary grew uncomfortable, leaving to go find someone to keep her company. Her search led her down a cramped passageway, where she found a book that seemed to draw her toward it, bound in something akin to but different from leather. A diary of acts most foul and violent, it included a list of victims’ names, claiming their flesh had been used to bind the book. Seeing the name Eleanor Brittenridge, Mary flung aside the book with a scream, drawing the attention of Archibald, the farmhand.
Having found his book to give him comfort, Tobi proceeded to the dining room to check in with Linda, the cook, and collect his spectacles. Meanwhile, Jane, brooch in hand, decided that she deserved to take whatever else she could from her host – his penalty for not watching her. Using the stairs to the basement, Jane found Archibald’s workroom and the servants’ quarters, where Linda had stashed a valuable chalice. This she would also claim as her own. Young Agatha found the kitchen as Jane slipped away, cheerfully taking a piece of the roast to sate her hunger. Unnerved by his vision and the taste of blood, William stumbled outside to compose himself, finding instead of a pleasant garden the house’s graveyard, where the shallow graves of his grandmother’s victims seemed to suppurate a sticky red mud. William fled in horror to the front landing, his sanity badly frayed.
Mary had helped Archibald shift some planks from the passageway into the attached Stables, only to find that the man had vanished. The cook had come out to find her for dinner, only to scream in panic as Mary lifted a silver crucifix from the wall to examine it. As Linda fled in panic, Mary felt a dark pall come over the house, and heard a terrifying giggle echo through the building. The servants fled to the upstairs, finding their master and confessing that they had not come here purely by chance; each of them, they admitted to Tobias, had once made a pact with the Devil, and had come to the House on Haunted Hill as Hell could not claim them there. Linda had been keeping items of power concealed around the grounds of the house in order to keep Hell’s agents at bay, and Jane’s greed and Mary’s curiosity would allow the Devil’s agent free rein to come and collect them.
Tobi knew of one sacred relic they had not yet collected; the burial mask of the old minister Tuck. Hurriedly, he collected it from the upstairs bedroom. Jane, feeling the darkness flooding the house, felt her way through the basement to the cellars, where she found a well bucket. Little Agatha Fuchstag, giggling like a maddened jester, crawled up the stairs, glowing with hate and wicked glee. Her singsong voice called out to Archibald, drawing him against his will down the stairs toward the graveyard, where a bright light heralded the appearance of a gateway to Hell. A shadowy shape on the Front Landing became solid outside the window of the upstairs bedroom – a huge black steed, breathing a wicked cloud of hot sulfur through the glass and injuring Tobi. The nightmare’s shadow vanished from the window, revealing itself to be guarding the threshold to the house’s only safe exit.
Hoping that the guest quarters might give him something more than a taste for blood, William ran back to the room and begged the spirit of his grandmother to help him. His fraying despair was met with silence. Mary, seeing Archibald walking against his will toward the front door, shouted at him to snap out of it and led him down the cramped passageway. In the basement, Jane found an incomplete painting staged in the crawlspace, depicting a little girl at a horrifying feast of strange meats. Taking up a paintbrush, Jane felt compelled to add a few strokes. The eerie Fuchstag child, the minion of Satan himself, crawled toward the cramped passage to lead Archibald with her voice once more, while her demonic familiar appeared at the top of the stairs to menace Linda into fleeing the house. William, seeing her approach the nightmare and the portal to Hell, shouted at Linda to look and see where the beast truly lurked, helping her break free from the spell and flee upstairs anew. Continuing his muttered exhortations to dead Martha, William discovered a long marrow spoon, muttering to himself about “good old friendly Scoops.”
Crucifix in hand, Mary elected to confront the nightmare, whose demonic gaze caused her to wither. Following her example, Tobi joined her at the front landing, chanting from his book of scripture to drive off the fiendish foal. He, too, failed to make an impression, and his mind began to splinter under the awful gaze of the nightmare. Following a secret passage from the crawlspace that led up beneath the bed in the guest bedroom, Jane fled outside, compelled by the chalice to stand at the foot of the Hanging Tree and drink from it. As Agatha pursued Archibald into the stables, William used the nightmare’s distraction to slip past it into the woods, where he was confronted by a sinister wolf, its bestial glare searing into his deteriorating mind. Undaunted by the demon horse, Mary presented the Crucifix once more, which seemed to lose its luster as the last motes of twilight struck from its silvery surface into the nightmare’s flesh. Having hoped for more, Mary fell back toward a pond in the forest, where feral beasts lurked about her in the shadows, checking her escape.
Tobi, following Mary, found himself tripping into the creek rather than making it to the pond. Under the cold water, his hand closed around a leather strap – Thomasin’s murderous Jingleberry bells, mysteriously undamaged after more than five decades. Jane, filled with the Chalice of Insanity’s strange potion, wandered into the pasture where her great-uncle Charles had been murdered, finding an old hammer. Struggling with his haunting visions, William fled from the wolf and found himself alone in an untilled field whose soil was moist with blood. A fell wind, searingly cold, reinvigorated him in body, though not in mind. Tobi presented the strap of bells against the nightmare, sounding it with the words of his holy scripture. The horse recoiled from the sound, snarling but powerless. Hearing the sound, Jane charged toward the front landing of the house, diving at the horse bare-handed in her Chalice-induced state and being tossed aside.
William stumbled toward the group and the horse of Hell, a fell wind at his back and the sins of his grandmother fresh in his mind. Time and time again, the blood had come to find him, and as he struck at the nightmare he prayed to be shriven of her crimes and wickedness. The nightmare seemed to falter at his words, but Linda had been drawn to the portal, and her despair at his talk of sin and the damnation of Martha pulled her through. The Devil had claimed part of his due.
Hearing Agatha’s maniacal giggling from within the house, Mary took Jane’s hammer and charged at the little girl, who overpowered her with unnatural strength and evaded the swinging weapon. Presenting the burial mask, Tobias tried once more to banish the nightmare back to Hell. This time, however, the gaze of the demon turned the power of the mask back on its holder, Tobias being confronted by the horrors of his childhood and the murder he had committed to claim the house. His conviction broken, Tobi screamed as the nightmare’s whinny shattered the remains of his aging mind, clawing bloody rents in his face as he tore out his own eyes and died upon his own front step.
With Agatha once again coaxing Archibald to his doom, the time to defeat the Devil’s minions had grown short. With a vision in his mind of blood running from the chalice, William took it from Jane’s grasp and drank from it, feeling power surge within him as he struck at the nightmare. Mary swung her hammer at the beast to finish the job, causing its mortal form to crack and burn before vanishing into foul smoke, swirling into the vanishing gateway and leaving the survivors broken and gasping.
Agatha would be found in the town a day later, seemingly with no memory of events. It was later rumored that her mother had confessed to the doctor that she had been unable to conceive, and had made a pact with dark forces to grant her a child. Though the other survivors wanted to act against her, they feared they would not be believed – not William, who spent the next month pacing at his hearth and scrubbing at blood that was not there. Not Jane, who dreamed of a girl trapped in a painting and a hanging tree. And not Mary Brittenridge, who claimed the House by dint of the Goldstein heirs’ absence and the curious matter of the missing will. She held the deed, and the village did not see fit to contest the war orphan. Archibald would remain on, his sins to hopefully be forgotten. In later years, the survivors would contemplate why the nightmare had been unable to physically enter the house, and why the Devil had needed to send such a weak emissary as little 9-year old Agatha. Perhaps the graven stones would be the key…