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.
I found Colonel John Smith in much the same condition as I had left him a year before. He sat, catatonic, his back pressed into the corner of his cell as though it might open up and swallow him mercifully. When the orderly opened the door and allowed me to enter poor Smith did not so much as look up at me. His cracked lips worked silently to form words and syllables totally alien to me and his gaze was locked in some far away place that I could not see.
"John," I tried to comfort him. "John, I have returned as I promised. The village you spoke of is empty. There is not a trace of the evil."
An unspeakable evil. A perversion of flesh guided by the unknowable hand of some cosmic horror. These were the things John had spoken of during my last visit. He had ranted hysterically before collapsing into his catatonia, screaming the names of his friends and the name of a town. Of his friends there was no trace remaining, but I found the town.
Innswich was on no map made by men, but it existed all the same, nestled in a strange harbor along the dark and insular coast of New England. When I had gone searching desperately for Smith's lost companions I had found nothing but the empty town. No faces greeted me at the shops and sea-worn houses, and no candles burned in the windows at night. The hoary rotting ships still moored in the harbor groaned in the darkness as if searching for their crews.
"They're gone, John," I patted his shoulder and he flinched. "Whatever you saw is no more."
"They're gone." John mimicked hoarsely, tears welling in his eyes. "They're gone, and it is my doing."
I realized at once that he spoke not of the mysterious forces, but of his companions.
"The others, the ones from the sea, visit me in my waking dreams, Carter." John clutched suddenly at my forearms, his ragged nails digging into the cloth of my shirt. "Let me tell you. Let me tell you how they scheme. When the stars are right, they shall exult as their plan comes together."
Feverishly, madly, John's story spilled out of him. I listened raptly as he spared no detail, afraid that a moment's lapse in my attention would drive the broken man back into exile within the husk of his body.
The woman, like so many before her, approached John for the assistance he covertly offered. Barely more than a girl, Henrietta Posthwaite had a pretty face but eyes too widely set and lips just slightly too large, her countenance was at once comely and disconcerting. She told John that her town needed help and John's military background bade him listen. John, always confident and puffing on one of his distasteful low-grade cigars, listened intently to the girl's tale. She sought him out from Innswich, one of many New England coastal communities where life had changed little in the past century and the community still rose and fell on the bounty of the sea.
She claimed that new faces had appeared in town, swarthy men who spoke with Spanish accents and carried guns openly. She explained to John that these newcomers had struck some sort of deal with the town elders to use Innswich in the traffic of their mysterious illicit goods. These strange Spaniards were quite menacing, and had even taken to striking the townsfolk in Innswich or threatening them with rifles.
Even though she had little to offer by way of payment, it took but a moment for John to put aside what he was doing and agree to help the young woman. He told her to return to Innswich and await word from him.
John did not tarry in calling upon his faithful companions who might offer assistance in his new endeavor. For mechanical knowledge and capricious genius, John sent a telegram to his good friend H.M. Murdock that instructed the queer antiquarian to join him at the Capering Gents supper club. So to did he send word to Bosco Baracus, the muscular and sage dilettante who had financed many of his exploits abroad and was known to be a reliable soldier.
John longed to involve his friend Face, but the man had delved too deep into the occult. Face's personal investigation into a group of nature-worshippers that paid tribute to "Mother Goat of the Woods" ended terribly when Face died under strange circumstances. John briefly investigated his death, but all he could learn was that just before Face collapsed on the docks of Providence he had been jostled by a mysterious negroid in a raincoat. Face had been scarcely touched by the man, but had looked at him with surprise before falling to the ground clutching at his neck. Despite this strange occurrence, the constabulary determined that Face's death was caused by a weak heart and John could discover little else.
Bosco and Mr. Murdock arrived at the Capering Gents as quickly as rail travel would allow and the three men enjoyed a fine dinner together. After the meal they gathered by the roaring hearth and imbibed aged spirits, their words laced with the intoxicating haze of the thick cigars John had passed to them. John told them both of the adventure which he had planned. Both men agreed that it was a rip-roaring case that would bring them together for an altruistic cause like they had in years past. John wanted to set about their adventure as expeditiously as possible and had booked passage on a postal aeroplane traveling to nearby Hog's Creek.
Bosco, relentlessly afraid of air travel, declined the offer and promised he would meet both gentlemen as quickly as possible by arranging travel on a fast-sailing yacht out of Providence. John and Mr. Murdock both agreed, but as they stepped out into the chill autumn air Mr. Murdock held Bosco's attention while John crept up behind him and waylaid the unsuspecting man with a blow to the head. They dragged his unconscious form to a waiting automobile and made speed to the aerodrome.
While unconscious, Bosco journeyed beyond the threshold of sleep and into the land of dreams as he had many times before. He eluded the ever-watchful Gug and crept on through the winding stones of Uthrai and to the dark gabled streets of Dylath-Leen. There, as always, the cats watched from the rooftops and before long Bosco had spied General Mittens, his faithful friend in the dream world. The white cat leapt down from a roof and was at his side in a flash. Over many journeys to Dylath-Leen Bosco had learned the language of the cats and knew of their intense hatred for the hairless and mad-eyed cats of Saturn.
"Friend Mittens," intoned Bosco, "I seek the Golden Key of Leng. Do you know the way?"
General Mittens did know the way, and he yowled out to his army of cats on the rooftops and they leapt down around Bosco. Together they would carry him to the terrible eldritch wood of Lugubar with one mighty flying leap, through the void of space, and to that sepulchral forest on the dark side of the moon. Bosco briefly felt the cats swarm and writhe around his body, and then he was carried, past the howling caves of Amneht-Sekh and through the cold darkness of space. He landed in the wood of Lugubar as softly as if resting his head on a downy cushion. The cats bid their leader a farewell and took flight again, into the twinkling sky above and off back to the twisting streets of Dylath-Leen.
General Mittens and Bosco ventured forward, their eyes stinging with the foul miasma that drifted through the dense forest like an ominous presence. Red eyes stared out at them, the swirling madness of the cats of Saturn, watching fearfully as the great warrior Mittens and the strange dreamer walked through the forbidden wood. They watched through the fleshy branches above as a dark galley passed by, bound for the secret warrens of the moon beasts, its holds loaded with unfortunate slaves. Their journey brought them to a clearing, where strange alien birds sung as flutes, and the unblinking eyes of the hateful cats lined the branches of the trees.
Arrayed in the center of this clearing were nine great pillars of basalt, extending far beyond the trees and into the impenetrable darkness of space. At the center of this array stood a pedestal of white-veined marble topped with a cushion of tanned and stuffed leather upon which rested a large golden key. Bosco approached cautiously and General Mittens stayed back, warning of danger and unseen trickery.
"My pity for the fool that would arrest my progress at this late point," offered Bosco with a confident smile.
Bosco reached out and snatched the golden key from its pedestal, placing it quickly around his neck. All was silent for a moment and then, with a great rush of air, a whirlwind of darkness roared down from the void. Coruscating shadows spawned screaming faces that howled madly at Bosco as he shielded his face from the wind. He found his breath stifled and the wind drove him back against his will. A shape not unlike that of a noble man began to coalesce in that twisting mass of indescribable horror.
Bosco awoke, his friends Mr. Murdock and John carrying him between them as they disembarked from an aeroplane. He immediately kicked Mr. Murdock away to free himself and rose to his feet, still feeling a bit befuddled.
"You incorrigible ruffians!" Bosco chastened them. "You have once again hoodwinked me into risking my life in one of those damnable contraptions! I have half a mind to crack your skulls."
"You were sleeping so peacefully after dinner at Capering Gents that I found it cruel to rouse you." John remarked as he lit a fresh cigar.
"I doubt that, sir!" Retorted Bosco, his anger all bluster. "I can see Mr. Murdock doing something so rude, but you, Colonel, should know better."
"Oy!" Cried Mr. Murdock. "Now, what do you mean by that, then?"
John calmed them both as the horse-drawn hansom carriage that would convey them to Innswich arrived at the aerodrome. As had been arranged, the driver stepped down with a doff of his cap - for he refused to carry them to Innswich - and Mr. Murdock took over on the reining board. Bosco and John stepped up and into the padded and gas-lit interior.
"Make haste Mr. Murdock," shouted John as they began to trot out of the aerodrome, "we have a most dire plan to foil!"
Had only they known of the deadly terrors awaiting them in that quiet harbor town they might have thought better of their mad dash across the New England countryside.
To Be Continued...
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