Duane D. Drew
 

Hobbs Hill

Malleus

 

What fiendish nightmare lurks in the stygian darkness of night? Can Detective Robert Thorn of The American Detective Agency find out in time to save lives?

 



    
There are those who think I am odd never to use the subways, having a distinct and marked fear of subterranean tunnels. I steer well clear of the city's ancient cemeteries as well, never venturing near to them after dark. I have good reason not to. It is only with great reluctance that I find I must now commit to paper the horrifying events of the summer of 1932. My growing alarm and concern over the recent newspaper articles now appearing in the Miskatonic Ledger indicating that an Archeological/ Historical Expedition of enormous proportions will be undertaken in the Hobbs Hill area next year force me to take pen in hand. One Ledger article cites, “Recent ground penetrating radar findings indicate there are tunnels dating to the revolution that may still contain artifacts of great importance from the Revolutionary War!” Those tunnels are much older than the revolution. I know three of Arkham’s finest, which I entered in the summer of 32, and only two of us came back from its nitrous laden depths. Those tunnels must remain sealed.
     Arkham is one of New England’s oldest and most archaic cities. It lies west of Boston in the sloped hills of western Massachusetts. Arkham contains extravagant and elegant architecture, from the gothic marbled houses of the wealthy to the squalid tenements of the poor, from the highest widow's walk to the quads of Miskatonic University to the wicked places of folklore where witches once gathered and paid tribute to Yog-Sothoth under gibbous moons.
      "American Detective Agency/ Robert Thorn Detective," are lettered on my office door, one of the best detective agencies in New England. A one-man operation, I was proud of it. Six years I worked to get my reputation where it was, by dedicated persistence, and assertiveness, long hours and hard work, sometimes round the clock surveillance, whatever needed to get the job done!     
     I had spent ten years with the Boston police department before moving to Arkham and opening my own detective agency. I had even received an award from the Arkham police department for helping solve a murder my first year in the city. Therefore, I was no stranger around the police station and was very good friends with Sgt. Timothy O’Malley and several other officers.    
      It was sweltering in the hottest of summers in 1932. Starting in April, the temperature never dipped below 90, even at night, and soared above 100 every other day. Sitting within the office on July 5th, even with my fan on me I was sweating rivers. At 10:30 it was already 85. The knock on the door briefly took my mind off the intense heat.
     "Come in?"
      It was an older man in his late forties.  When he removed his bowler, I could see he was balding slightly, overweight a family man by the look, dressed in a decent Sears, Roebuck and Co. suit.  I figured him for a shopkeeper or bank teller. I had a good eye for people that never let me down. "Come in and sit down Mr.?"
       "Keating, Patrick Keating."  He held out his hand.
        He had a firm grip that showed strength beyond his appearance. His eyes also held the look of great anguish.
     "Mr. Keating what can I do for you?"
      "It’s my wife."  He curled and uncurled the edge of the bowler again and again.  "She’s… she’s gone, vanished into the night."
      I studied his face carefully. It was not unheard of for a husband to murder his wife and craft a careful alibi, beseeching the world to help him, while it was he, himself, who committed the crime. Yet the pain in Keating’s face was that of true loss and concern over his wife.
     "Where do you live?"
     " Hobbs Hill."
     "When did she disappear?"
     "Two nights ago."
     "Have you been to the police?"
     " Yes, they…said she may just have run off. We're good Protestants!!" Keating was half rising, from his chair. I put my hand on his shoulder and eased him back down. Reaching into my desk drawer, I retrieved my bottle of John Jameson I kept for medicinal reasons. I poured myself a dram and Keating a double. He thanked me and quaffed half with the first sip. Sitting on the edge of my desk I returned my attentions once more to questioning Keating, who had calmed some with the Jameson's in him. "Tell me what happened just before your wife disappeared."
     "Myma, her name is Myma it means beloved in Gaelic we’ve been married for twenty-five years come September. We live just down the road from Trinity church and the Old Hollows cemetery. Myma loved the view of the church at dusk; it sits about a quarter mile distant. The town clock had just struck 2:00 am, when Toby our dog started barking in the backyard.He barked for maybe five, six minutes."
     "Skunk?"
     "Nope don’t think so, come to think of it I haven’t seen a skunk or possum yet this year. Well after a bit Toby went quiet."
     "He just stopped barking?"
     " No, he let out a little yip then went silent."   As Keating told me his story, he began to lean forward more and more, a sign of man who is telling the truth. "Myma had woken up and went down stairs to get a drink. I fell back to sleep. I woke up at 6:00 a.m. Myma wasn’t in bed. I thought she was already up making breakfast. I went down stairs. The door to the backyard was open, and a glass of water was sitting on the counter. Myma was gone. She wasn’t outside she wasn’t at the neighbors no one had seen her. It was then I phoned the police, and they come out."  Keating collapsed back into the chair, as if a measure of his grief had somehow been lifted from his soul, his tale told.
     "What about Toby?"
      "Toby, Mr. Thorn? He’s gone, chains snapped clean off."
       I asked Keating the usual questions about ransom notes, enemies, and people with grudges. I gave him my listings of fees and promised him I would meet him at his place later that afternoon after visiting the police.
     "Mr. Thorn, can you find her?"
     "I’ll do my very best Mr. Keating, that I promise you!"
      He thanked me and closed the office door as he left.
     I believed Keating's wife had been taken by persons unknown. What puzzled me was the dog.  The usual thing to do was kill the dog on the spot to silence it, but to take it with them? Maybe to hide evidence? Sure that makes sense! I shook my head trying to make sense of that little peculiarity. I checked my 45, dropped it in my shoulder holster, put two extra clips in my jacket pocket, and headed for the Police station with a slew of questions.
     The station seemed a little busier than I had expected. I waited till O’Malley saw me. "Robert old boy! Let me drop off this report and we’ll grab some lunch! Now, as I remember it, you lost, so the tabs yours. Maybe your Boston Red Sox will win a game someday," he laughed.
     I needed to stop betting lunches on baseball games it was costing me a small fortune, either that or pick a better team.
     We ended up at the Mayden-Head Inne, known for its fine steaks and an excellent selection of ports. We talked of baseball and the incredible heat through lunch. As O’Malley lit up his cigar, the conversation turned more serious. "So Rob, what are you digging into today?"
     "The Keating abduction. Mr. Keating has hired me. Are there any leads?"
     "Officially, or unofficially?"
     I looked at him for more than a second while he smoked. "Officially," he continued. "Mrs. Keating is believed to have run off with a lover yet to be determined."
     "And unofficially?"
     "That night three people disappeared." He pulled long, exhaled a cloud of cigar smoke and pointed to it.  "All of them just like that!"
      I watched the smoke swirl and vanish. "No trace of any of them?"
     "None."  Tim continued, "In the last six weeks, 28 people have gone missing in and around Hobbs Hill area.. We have searched the quarter, the church, the cemetery. We turned over every stone and haystack, searched every farm and barn for six miles out, nothing. People have gone missing while walking home, from inside their homes. One child was taken from the same room the mother and father were sleeping in."
     "Something just does not add up here."
     "Damn it Robert I know that! Right now we have more questions than answers." Tim checked his pocket watch; I am late getting back to the station I will talk to you later. "Remember let’s keep this low key. We don’t want people grabbing torches and heading out into the night. "
    "Maybe they should, Tim. Maybe they should." 
     The next stop was the Arkham Ledger to check their copy files.  It was just as Tim had said. Twenty-eight people in six months. Acting on a gut feeling, I began to check previous years. More people had gone missing.  It was as I had expected. What was unsettling were the numbers I began to uncover. The highest was 217 in 1837 the year that the Arkham Asylum was constructed. The second  highest was 167 in 1899, the year work started on Trinity church. I had gained an important piece of information, which chilled my blood, people in Arkham every year simply ceased to exist. It was late afternoon, yet I wanted to make one more stop before I visited Keating.
     Miskatonic University was in its summer session.  I hoped Professor Kessler was still in his office. He was. His door was open he was sitting, intently looking over a stack of papers on his desk; I knocked on the open door. He peered over his Windsor glasses, obviously annoyed at the interruption, but his face brightened when he realized it was I. "Robert my boy come in, come in!"
     "I am not interrupting you am I Sir?"
     " Any interruption from grading these dreadful papers is welcome!"   Kessler had been one of my Professors at Cambridge.  Recenlty, he had been on hiatus from Miskatonic to do research in Salem. At 62, his once six-foot frame was bent now from the effects of time. He walked with a cane, his foot crippled from some boyhood accident. "Well,  have you come to keep an old man company or have you need of some assistance?"   Before I could answer, he said, “You need my assistance.”
     "How did you know, Professor?"
     "The same way I know when one of my students is cheating on one of my exams."  He winked.  "Teacher’s intuition!"   He was beaming from ear to ear. I remembered now that several students had tried one time to test him on this point, every one of them had been not so gently ejected from the examination room by him.
     "You grew up in Arkham didn’t you professor?"
     "Yes, my father came to Arkham just before the War between the States, married my mother and worked at the Asylum. Why?"
     "What do you know about the area around Hobbs Hill?"
     "Well, the church has been abandoned since Father Cullen disappeared years ago. Hollows Cemetery was there before they built the church; technically, it is a state cemetery."
     "Oh?"  My interest was peaked. "Why is that?"
     "It is a Cemetery for those who died while in the care of the state mental asylum." Kessler noticed the puzzled look on my face and continued. "Before Trinity Church, that site was where the original Arkham Asylum stood before it relocated to Danvers after the fire. It burned down.  There was a  terrible loss of life, very few of the patients and staff made it out alive. My father was one of the few survivors. They built the church over the existing foundation."
     "How did the fire start?"   I asked curiously.
     "My father once said it was an accident in the furnace room that started the fire. My father said that several of the inmates had started the fire from fear of some hallucination. Mind you, Robert these are things I heard as a boy."
     "Did your father ever say what kind of hallucination?"
      He thought for a moment before saying it had something to do with old hags. Through the window, I could see the sun begin to sink below the western hills, turning the sky a deep crimson.
     "I'm not sure of what has sparked your sudden interest in Arkham history, Robert, but the Native Americans had a Micah mine on Hobbs Hill. No maps show where it was, and no one ever wrote down its exact location."
    "Then how do you know it existed professor?"
     He stood and scanned a shelf above him before taking down a large ancient tome with metal hasps on each end.  Turning back the hasps, he began to leaf through the pages, at last stopping and handing the book to me.
      I looked at a wood Block image depicted on the right hand page; opposite were several lines of text. The depiction showed a group of men in what appeared to be puritan dress. I took them to be priests by the crosses on the front of their vestments; one was holding a woman with her arms bound behind her. Before her, there was a large opening in the ground with another similarly bound woman, dropping into the pitch-blackness of an opening. I read the passage, Arkham witch trials, 328 women condemned for wickedness. Three hundred and nineteen hung, nine condemned to Indian mine, Hobbs Hill. I handed the book back remarking what frightful times it must have been to live through. He looked long at the picture then back to me. "Frightful is not half the word for it, Robert. Most of the women were young girls some not even twelve. They were beaten, scalded, raped. Some had their eyes torn out, and ears cut off. Every imaginable insidious torture to force them to confess to a crime they did not commit. Then they were sentenced to death. I can only think how most would have welcomed death as a relief from the things done to them. You know Robert, the Malleus Maleficarum stated how to interrogate Witches, yet no substantial proof was ever presented at any trial be it here, Salem or in Europe."
      I thanked the professor for his time and information.
      It was a silent ride to Keating’s.  I mulled over all the information I had gleaned from the Ledger and professor Kessler.  With the twilight red sky above, the first stars had begun to show through the blackening tapestry of night. Full darkness had crept over the western hills some twenty minutes before I pulled into Keating’s yard. I pulled in and shut the car off.  The house lights, save for one, were all out.  I half expected Keating to rush out asking for news of his wife, yet only the sound of crickets in the thickets was heard. Pulling my Colt, I called for Keating.  Something was wrong, very wrong. I checked the front door.  It was locked. I made my way to the back, still seeing no sign of Keating or anything else. The night suddenly became mute. The back kitchen door was ajar. I entered calling for Keating again with no response. He was not inside, and the backyard was empty. I was trying to decide what my next step was, when it was decided for me by what I spied near the abandoned well. It was a hand, just a hand. It looked torn from the wrist. Keating’s I surmised. I needed to make a call, fast.
     I took my flashlight from the car and lit a cigarette. By the time I had finished my fifth, the headlights of a Squad car passed over me, silhouetting a larger blacker version of myself against the crumbling Church wall. Tim got out of the car, went to the trunk and pulled out two large duffel bags. Three other officers exited the car. I recognized two, Holden and Jakes. The other officer I didn’t know. Tim spoke, handing him a third smaller duffel bag. "Just as I said, Gill, light the fuse, drop them in, and run like hell. All three of Keating’s places, the one off Pine Street, back of the school, and the one on Hutchins Street, one after the other got that?"
       "Yes, Sarge."  Gill looked at me then back to Tim.
      “Good luck” he said, and was behind the wheel of the squad car setting new speed records in old Arkham.
     Tim reached into the first bag and handed out the Thompsons “fifty rounds in each drum, two spare drums for each of us.  Holden, you carry the dynamite, for you and Jakes twenty second fuses on each bundle, five sticks per bundle, ten bundles. Bring it all down, close off every tunnel you find." Tim shouldered the second bag.
     We made our way into the church and into the secondary foundation of the old Asylum. It didn’t take long before we found what we were looking for.  I lifted the iron ring in the boards and pulled. The mouth of the old mine yawned wide before us. Tim set his bag down, took a bundle of twenty-five sticks of T.N.T, and set it on the floor looking from man to man. “Last man out lights the fuse and drops it in. This will seal the mine and bring down what’s left of the church. Once it’s lit you have 40 seconds to get out.”
     Silently, we nodded.
     We descended on a rope; the depth must have been around twenty feet to the bottom of the shaft. Each man had a flashlight taped to the side of his Thompson. The light revealed a shorter tunnel, which branched into a fork ahead of us. The coolness of the air did little to dry the sweat dripping off us. Fear of the unseen kept us on edge. Tim pointed to the right tunnel.  "Holden, you and Jakes take that one. Robert and I will head down the left.  Watch yourselves."  It seemed an obvious statement that Tim didn’t need to make. Death lived behind every shadow.
      Tim and I moved down the tunnel with a vast sense that we had intruded on some ancient malevolence.  We walked for some time. Water dripped down the walls creating nightmarish figures in black ichors. We came on a larger chamber; here the floor gradually became strewn with cracked and yellowed bones. There was no need to stoop and examine them. What they had been was plain to us. As we walked forward, their brittleness made every splinter and snap of them echo off the stonewalls, while they disintegrated under our tread. The light we cast revealed the dimness of another tunnel mouth. We moved forward. The frantic interlaced staccato of Thompsons firing broke the necropolis like silence. Tim and I raced through the tunnel, intent on making our way back towards the junction. Holden and Jakes firing became erratic; giving the indication, they were running and changing drums. The first shockwave sent us careening off the stonewall, the second, rapidly coming behind the first, collapsed part of the tunnel's ceiling, raining rock, and debris upon us. Partly deafened, I realized now that only the firing of one Thompson could be heard, when the flesh rending screams began, only to be quickly silenced by the violent detonation of the full remaining amount of T.N.T carried by Holden and Jakes.
     Bruised and battered, we continued through the thick dust, which now clogged the passageway. Rounding the junction, we found the shaft sealed. Tim cursed slamming his fist against the barrier. Holden and Jakes in what appeared to be a desperate act had brought down the tunnel on themselves. We headed back determined to end this. We entered the last chamber in the second tunnel. Neither of us was prepared for what appeared before us.
     Five bodies, once women, leaned against the wall the decomposed remnants of puritan clothing still clinging to their rotting fetid corpses. They crouched together as if protecting the two midpoint. Moving closer we could see why. The center two held babes to their breasts. Four more bodies lay supine to the right. Now more skeletons than corpses, they had resorted to cannibalism to sustain life before the end, except they had never stopped. We lost no time in setting the charges; Tim set the ones in the tunnel, I the ones within this macabre sepulcher. We lit the fuses and ran. A shriek, as if hell itself had opened, caused me to chance a glance. I wished upon heaven I had not. A blue light filled the last chamber, and I vow the dead had stirred! That was my last sight, which I dream to forget, before masses of rock came down. We exited the church before it vanished in clouds of dust and shards of hurtling granite.
     I spent a week in the hospital,  the result of a broken shoulder from a thrown bit of granite. Tim was there when Professor Kessler visited me. We related all that occurred. His health was never quite the same after that. You see, the infants each had two unmistakably large horns sprouting from their heads

 
Copyright © 2009 Duane D. Drew

Duane D. Drew is currently a Psychology Major and
Dealer/Collector of Antiquarian books, with a specialty in Pulps. A life-long resident of N.H., he is
inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe.
He is an avid collector of Science Fiction movie posters and lobby cards, and is friends with Allen Steele, Katya Reimann and Bob Eggleton.