Beware, here be spoilers….
You’ve been warned…
Don’t say you haven’t…
In 1987, as my wife Veronique and I were expecting a baby-girl, Quitterie, Mark Morrison and Penelope Love came to visit us in our small house, West of Paris. Call of Cthulhu aficionados, we had never met before and would not meet again for another twenty-four years, but it was in those few days spent together that the seeds of Horror on The Orient Express were sown.
The history of that campaign is long, dark, and twisted, as it should be, and interested parties who do not care much for their Sanity can roll Library Use at this address on the yog-sothoth.com forum, where I have, over the years, posted, not always alas in chronological order, all the correspondence I have managed to find about the campaign.
In a few words, Mark pitched the idea of an European sourcebook to Lynn Willis at Chaosium, and from this, in increments, the campaign was born. This was long before the Internet, and so ideas and scenarios and corrections had to be faxed or mailed over long distances. In France, my main mission was to contact the Compagnie des Wagons-Lits and obtain permission to make fictional use of the famous train-line.
-Bonjour, this is Docteur Lehmann calling from Poissy. A few fellow-writers and I would like permission to use the name and logo of the Compagnie des Wagons Lits and the Orient-Express for a game of investigations…
-Think of it as a new version of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient-Express”
-Ah, I see. That seems fine. As long as there is no train-wreck in the story. That would reflect badly on the pristine history of the line.
-Oh, no, don’t worry. There are spontaneous combustions, beheadings, losses of life and limb, people driven mad salivating in the dark recesses of Charenton Asylum where they fall prey to the perverse nocturnal habits of members of the staff, but, on my doctor’s honor, NO TRAIN WRECK
-Guess that’s OK, then. Good day, Docteur.
As it happens, one of my wife’s ancestors had crafted wood-work in the fine furniture on the Orient Express…The train took on many other writers, and in the end I was left standing on the platform in Paris “having been delayed at Charenton Asylum” as Mark put it 😉
My second novel was being filmed as the deadline for my scenario approached, and there was no way I could deliver on time. So mixing my ideas and script with great input from Richard Watts, Geoff Gillan and Nick Hagger, the Paris and Poissy chapters were crafted, and when I received the finished product, I had the surprise of discovering that in a very touching and slightly unnerving gesture, Mark and his brethren from down under had incorporated our small family into the arc of the story. ( Previewing this chapter, Mark tells me something I never knew: it was Nick Hagger, whom I’d never met but who had inherited my notes and knew why I was unable to write the story, who used Mark’s memories of us to include the Lorien family into the Poissy chapter)
Years later, when the Kickstarter for “HOTOE reloaded” succeeded in such amazing fashion, I told Mark I was ready to go back over those chapters in France and enhance them a little if I could. Part of the chase for a mysterious artefact brings investigators to Paris and then onto Poissy, a smallish historical city 30 kms West of the capital, in which I have worked as a general practitioner for thirty years.
Mark and Richard and I had crafted a tale for the loss of this artifact around the time of the French Revolution, but I had glossed over details at the time.
Now I was going back over terrain that was so familiar I did not usually give it a second glance, and things began to get strange. Very strange. I searched for old photographs, old postcards, to get an accurate picture of the town around 1923 at the time of the campaign. An elderly woman patient who had lived all her life in Poissy lent me her personal collection of photos, reminisced, and a whole sector of town, the forgotten and hidden “Enclos de l’Abbaye”, a recluse priory in the center of town next to a great wooded park, came to life for me. As in any good CoC campaign, I then contacted the Cercle d’Etudes Historiques et Archéologiques de Poissy, where kindly protectors of the past let me peruse old documents, old maps, some of which I scanned for the new edition.
I work on what was in 1923 the Place de la Gare, and as train-stations, arrivals, etc… are a big part of such a campaign, I looked specifically for photographs of the time, and paid close attention to the remaining buildings around, with their beautiful old stone-masonry. The day after that, a block of masonry as big as a small suitcase cracked and fell on the pavement just in front of my office.
Poissy is the birthplace of King Louis IX of France, Saint-Louis as he is better known, ( and this being Europe, my wife’s family can trace their ancestry up to the King…) In the church where we married I found his baptismal font, as well as strange and gruesome hints about his death during a Crusade and the way his body was disposed off, gruesome hints with obvious links to the central theme of the campaign.
And looking around the enclosure of the Abbaye, I walked up cobbled paths between old houses, relics, stone fragments, searching for the site of the Historical Society, and trying to pick a suitable address for the house of Dr Lorien and his wife. I knew from the original campaign what the house should look like from the outside, and one house picked my fancy, in the old photographs from the turn of the century as well as in real-life, as it hadn’t changed much.
Looking through the documents in the vaults of the Historical Society, I found photographs of passageways and hidden doors deep under the basements of the houses, and learned that most of the inhabitants of the Abbaye had been Protestants and must have used these passages from house to house as safeguards in case religious mistrust flared again.
Some of these passages looked uncannily like those Nick had invented all those years ago…
I wanted to tell my friends of this weird example of serendipity, when, turning a page, I found a photograph of what I had chosen as the Lorien’s house. And there, scrawled in the left hand corner or the photograph, were clearly legible these few words: “La maison du docteur”. “The doctor’s house”. I fled, screaming, the way one does when confronted with the malevolence of a twisted, uncaring universe.
PS: Serendipity means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it.
PPS: The photograph of Veronique Lorien is an actual photograph of my wife’s grand-mother circa 1923. The photograph of the playful child grimacing in the garden is also a family heirloom, an Instagram photograph of the 1920’s, I guess. The child’s father must have made the photo and used it as a postcard sent to friends.