In 1927 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Rhode Island underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as antiquarians and dilettantes who seek out mysteries of the beyond. If you have an otherworldly problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team. PART ONE
Through the claustrophobic New England mists they rode as hastily as possible. Mr. Murdock pressed the horses until they foamed madly at their mouths and their dark coats were slick with the sweat of exhaustion. The roughshod earthen road gave way to the hard cobbled stones of a street and Colonel John Smith called up to Mr. Murdock from the carriage and instructed him to ride more carefully. Innswich loomed out of the mist ahead, seeming to approach them rather than the inverse. It was a gaslight speckled tangle of moldering colonial homes that leaned uneasily at disconcerting angles, the bone like masts of moored ships visible indistinctly in the fog shrouded harbor.
"Pull off towards that stable!" John shouted over the clattering hansom and gestured to a dilapidated farmstead set a goodly distance closer to them than Innswich proper. "We will secure the horses in the stable and make our way into the town on foot."
The sagging roof of the barn was holed in several places where the ancient timbers had rotten and collapsed. The humid ocean air had turned the stacks of hay and wooden stalls into a breeding ground for foul-smelling molds and the air was heavy with the scent of their decay. The horses seemed nervous, but Mr. Murdock calmed them by cooing softly in their ears and feeding them from an oat sack. While he attended to the horses John and the muscular Baracus gathered the bags containing their belongings.
"Henrietta Posthwaite dwells on the town's north-west edge," explained John as he readied a Webley bolt action rifle. "We should be able to approach her homestead undetected and make contact there. I have arranged a secret code of knocks by which she will know our identity."
"Rightio," declared Mr. Murdock, "I will remain with the horses and see to their needs."
"I would give to you my pity, good sir, if you were fool enough not to accompany us." Baracus remarked with a bit more venom in his tone than was perhaps necessary.
John agreed with Baracus and the issue was settled. The trio set off across the foggy moors of Innswich towards the long shadows of the town. At length they reached a whitewashed two story colonial, its structure leaning askew with sea-rot and its backlit curtains stained with the omnipresent salt mildew. John approached a worn side door and rapped out a complex series of blows with his knuckles. The door quickly opened and in the dim glow of the naphtha light appeared Henrietta's face, livid and glistening with sweat despite the chill air. She appeared even more unhealthy than she had on the occasion of their last meeting and, as though drawn apart by strange forces, her eyes seemed to reside at an even greater distance apart from one another.
"Quickly, come in," she hushed, and ushered them into a well-appointed sitting room.
The house was furnished with fine relics of Americana and the usual trappings of the sea that could be found in any fishing community. What made John start with surprise was a queer bust of black stone or polished coral, shot through with milky veins and depicting a wild-haired man with Henrietta's wide-set eyes and thick lips. His visage was quite fearful to behold.
"My grandfather, Gilman Posthwaite." Henrietta explained when she noted John's surprise. "He was one of the founders of this town."
Abruptly, Henrietta swooned, and Baracus rushed forward to catch her in his powerful arms as she sagged to the worn carpet.
"It is my father's legacy, these spells of faintness. I fear the condition is only compounded by the presence of disruptive interlopers in our fair hamlet." She gestured weakly towards a window facing towards the dockside.
John crept to the pane and held aside the strangely damp curtain to glimpse the town outside. Down a twisting cobbled lane flanked on both sides by the leaning, almost sick seeming, buildings of Innswich John could see activity on the docks. Mr. Murdock joined him and produced a spyglass from his pocket. John held the brass lens to his eye and surveyed the movement. At once the situation became clear. A number of swarthy men in bizarre dark glasses had taken over the fishing activity. Many carried weird rifles with banana shaped metal boxes extending beneath them, and with these they mercilessly urged on the disheveled population to load crates onto waiting steamers.
"My condition granted me leave of the work, though they abused me mercilessly for it. Their weapons and demeanor are threatening and with them they have enslaved the entire town to load their ships day and night." Henrietta paused to be helped into a chair by Baracus and sipped from a cup of water given to her by Mr. Murdock. "The crates are loaded with strange white powder, intoxicating to taste even a fingertip of, like laudanum but it also invigorates."
"Voodoun essences." Confirmed John with disdain. "The pagan descendants of Spaniards and backwards tribesmen of the south seas use them in shaman rituals. They are dangerous and forbidden. These men appear to have quantities undreamt of."
"Alas, the seas churn and the Innswich festival of spawning approaches. With these foreigners here such a celebration is impossible, and the fishermen may starve in the coming winter." Henrietta seemed to regain some of her strength. "Is there nothing you can do?"
"I feel sorrow for them, for they have started trouble that we will undoubtedly finish for them." Baracus offered solemnly.
"They are too numerous for us to engage normally, but…" John trailed off, lost in thought.
"The Somme?" Mr. Murdock questioned mysteriously.
"The Somme!" Smiled John, lighting a cigar.
"I am sorry gentlemen, I am lost by this conversation." Henrietta leaned forward, clutching her forehead in confusion.
"September 15, 1916. The Battle of the Somme during the Great War." John explained, still beaming. "The Brits put to use the world's first tank, and it drove fear into the hearts of the Hun!"
"Halt your narrative immediately!" Insisted Baracus. "Most of those damnable contraptions broke down before they cleared the trench. The infantry still did all of the proper fighting. I will not see you rig up an automobile with sheet iron and attempt to charge into their ranks!"
"There are no automobiles in Innswich." Henrietta offered, still somewhat confused.
"The barn on the edge of town. Do the Spaniards ever go to it?" John asked, ignoring the vehement and continuing protestations of Baracus.
"No, they stay near the docks."
"I spied a steam engine I could use to fashion a turret, and boiler plates could be secured inside the hansom to armor us from their fell weapons." Mr. Murdock began to grow excited at the prospect.
"There is a Vickers machinegun I happened to bring along, it could be affixed to the turret and deal death with impunity to these heathen invaders." John added.
"I am no longer happy to have joined you on this outing Colonel Smith." Remarked Baracus sadly.
"Oy, now, you cannot go about expecting your incredible girth to solve every problem we encounter." Mr. Murdock fired back.
While the two engaged in a heated argument John pulled Henrietta aside.
"My dear Henrietta, we will retreat to the barn and carry out our work in secrecy. The preparations may require a full day's time, but I promise you we will drive these scoundrels out of your fine town."
In reply, Henrietta offered John a chaste hug. As they embraced momentarily John detected a faint aroma like freshly caught snapper and felt the queer way her skin seemed oiled and chill. He pulled back without commenting, putting the strange odor and her sickly skin down to further signs of a hysterical illness.
The men returned to the secluded barn, retracing their steps through the misty darkness and setting to work immediately in preparing the hansom for action. Their tools were limited, but with a hammer, tin snips, and lengths of bailing twine Mr. Murdock and Baracus accomplished the impossible.
By noon of the next day the hansom had been transformed into an armored wagon, thick plates of rusted iron hanging from inside, and a turret had been added to the top from which Baracus could safely operate the Vickers. Mr. Murdock even used sheet iron to fashion crude barding for the horses. When Baracus pointed out that he would be foolishly exposed on the driving board Mr. Murdock assured the large man that luck would prevail as it always had and carry him through the day without injury.
When night once again fell over Innswich the men had finished their preparations. They mounted in their hansom and with a wish of luck to one another they set out of the barn at a charge. The carriage wheels clattered and the wooden framework strained and creaked beneath the added weight. No doubt the Spaniards heard their approach from a good distance, but they seemed so confident and focused on their dark work that they paid no heed to the approaching carriage. When it did not stop a few cried out in fear and threw themselves from the docks into the icy waters of the Atlantic. Townsfolk scattered and, as they did, the battle began.
The rifles the Spaniards carried rattled and spit like machineguns, the flashes of fire reflecting in their sinister dark glasses. Bullets scattered and skipped across the cobblestones and thumped into the wooden frame of the carriage. A few ricocheted noisily from the barding worn by the horses or the metal dome of the turret. Then the Vickers joined the fury of sound and one by one the Spaniards were cut down where they stood. Mr. Murdock whooped from the driving board, pushing the horses madly and wheeling the carriage back and forth by the docks. Baracus raked the Spaniards mercilessly and John joined him from a firing slit, discharging a series of revolvers out into night air with great blasts of smoke and fire.
The Vickers was the last gun to be silenced, steam rising from its water-cooled barrel as Baracus searched for another chain of ammunition.
"No need!" John cried triumphantly. "We have bested them all and the survivors flee in their steam ship!"
It was true, the steam ship was pulling away rapidly from the docks, followed by a handful of Spaniards who did not board it quickly enough and were left floundering in the cold water. One by one they sunk beneath the waves, some seeming almost to be jerked underwater by providence, as the steamer disappeared into the foggy night.
When the trio stepped down from the carriage they were thronged by cheering townsfolk. Though it was a happy moment, John could not help but feel uneasy as the people of Innswich surrounded them. They all seemed perplexingly afflicted with the same strange disease as Henrietta, an illness that gave them an oily and grayish appearance almost like a fish. It did not rest well with John, but in the moment of glory he forced himself to assign it to the relentless work of the cruel Spaniards and the cold and damp sea air.
The cheering stopped abruptly and the crowd, as if given an inaudible signal, began to shuffle quietly to their individual homes. The perplexed trio had nothing else to do but return to Henrietta's homestead and seek payment for their rather costly endeavor.
"The folk of Innswich seemed very eager to return to their homes." Baracus commented to Henrietta when they had rejoined her.
"It is true, for they have preparations. The festival of spawning is tonight when the moon is high." Henrietta explained, covering her mouth as though embarrassed at her effusiveness.
"I am glad you will be permitted to celebrate." John affirmed. "I am afraid, however, that we must discuss the matter of recompense for our efforts and expenditures. A good deal of my own money has been used to finance this endeavor, as well as the funds of Baracus and Mr. Murdock, and I feel that we must demand payment before our departure."
An uneasy silence followed and John watched as a bead of sweat traced a lazy path down Henrietta's face. Her wide, dark eyes blinked, and for a sickening moment John detected the glistening pale sweep of a membrane, not unlike that seen on a frog or snake. He started from his chair.
"My…my God." He reeled in horror. "Wh-what's wrong with you?"
Henrietta stood, her smile breaking broadly with thick fishy lips that pulled back to reveal row upon row of serrated teeth. She reached up and allowed her dress to fall from her body immodestly to reveal a form at once that of a woman and a hideous manlike fish. Gills, revealed as the collar fell away, flared and hissed softly in the silence. The three men were paralyzed by the unearthly sight.
"My clutch swells and the sea calls. Join me and join us. Mother Hydra and father Dagon will rise to watch the spawning!" She lisped madly, stretching out her arms and webbed fingers towards John.
Baracus yelped and with a great meaty fist lashed out and knocked her to the floor. She flopped damply on the ground like a caught fish, before scrabbling back to her feat and hissing.
"Run, damn you!" John cried as he burst through the door.
Outside he was stopped by the sight of the entire town of Innswich, gathered and nude, waiting for them to emerge from the fish-thing Henrietta's home. They formed a tableaux of unimaginable horror, each representing a different stage in the same ancestral descent into horror. Some seemed almost completely human, others were hunched with huge mouths and rubbery lips, their bodies gray and speckled, spiny membranes extending from their jaws.
He would never forget their chant as they pursued John and his companions towards the docks.
"IA! IA! Dagon! IA! IA! Hydra! IA! IA! Cthulhu fhtagn!" They called in unison, chasing after the trio with alien loping gaits.
John realized they were being pressed inexorably towards the sea and turned just before the docks extended over the water. He leapt down from the raised earth of the town and the three men ran along the marshy coastline, the chant of the townsfolk seeming to draw ever closer. Baracus, larger and slower, began to fall behind. Mr. Murdock, of less sound constitution than such as John, fell back as well. John was too terrified to slow his pace or help them, the sight of the unearthly horror at their heels to much to allow any thought of his companions.
As he rounded a small inlet he heard a great rush of water and the screaming began. Creatures were emerging from the sea. They were hunched fish-men with enormous mouths and sharp predatory claws, their wet scaly flesh catching the light of the moon. There could be no doubt in John's mind that these creatures represented the final point of the town's vile mutation.
Two of the creatures seized upon Mr. Murdock, easily knocking aside his swinging arms and rending open his chest to feast upon his entrails. Baracus managed to fend off one of the beasts and continued fleeing for a few more paces. There was an explosion of water near him and John felt sickness and fear threaten to overtake him completely. There arose one of the monstrosities, ten times the size of its oceanic cohort, and with a single sweep of its enormous claw it grasped Baracus and thrust him screaming into its mouth.
John turned and ran, listening to the terrible crunch of bone and flesh as his friends were devoured. He told me that he still recalls hearing Henrietta's voice one last time as he disappeared into the forest, calling after him almost mockingly "IA! IA! Cthulhu fhtagn!"
I stayed in the asylum for the better part of the day and listened to John's story. When he reached the end it became more difficult to piece together as it came out of him in a fractured, stuttering, and disjointed staccato. When he at last told me of Henrietta's parting words his repetition of them seemed to awaken some form of schizophrenic dream. He began chanting it, louder and louder, until the orderly was forced to remove me from his cell.
I left Arkham shaken by my encounter with my old friend. Madness had clearly seized him utterly. I wired the asylum three weeks later, asking after a doctor who had assured me he would see that John received the finest care. The doctor replied with an extremely brief telegram that brought new horrors to me I did not think were possible.
JOHN SICK SINCE VISIT. STOP.
SWEATING AND ASHEN. STOP.
SCREAMING NONSENSE AT ALL HOURS. STOP.
DISAPPEARED TWO NIGHTS PRIOR. STOP.
NO IDEA OF ESCAPE MEANS. STOP.
WILL UPDATE. STOP.
The slip of paper fell from my fingers in the telegraph office. I staggered dazedly outside and looked out on the placid waters of Narragansett Bay wondering if John was there, swimming with eldritch predators that I could scarcely imagine.
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Please read it now before I sell all my stock in you!
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