Tag Archives: Spoilers

The Simulacrum Lives!

Figures fill our worlds. Shop front dummies.  Statues in public places. Images on screens. What do these figures want? What do they mean? Do their eyes follow us when we’re not looking back at them?

When we visited the United States recently for GenCon Indy and Necronomicon Providence we were thinking of Horror on the Orient Express as it steamed inexorably towards its publication date. However we were not dwelling on a certain arcane artifact that features within it. My mind was running mainly on proof reading and header styles.  And on that note, if you plan to play in Horror on the Orient Express, please stop reading as I am about to offer certain insights into said artifact that may or may not be involved in the investigators’ continent-spanning quest.

In San Francisco I pointed out a shopfront dummy to Mark. ‘why, I said, gaily, ‘That looks just like You-Know-What.’  Chuckling at the coincidence we took a photograph.

The First Simulacrum

The First Simulacrum

Shortly afterwards we saw another figure. This time the coincidence seemed slightly less amusing. Was it because the figure was now, how can put this, unnervingly incomplete? Was it because that this was when we felt the first, haunting sense, of being followed? Nevertheless we were tourists. It was broad daylight. What could go wrong? We do what tourists do. We took a photograph.

The Second Simulacrum

The Second Simulacrum

We left San Francisco without further sightings of any mysterious figures. Surely, even if we were being – followed –  we could easily elude our follower in the crowds of GenCon Indy? So it proved, for the first few days.

On the third day I was fool enough to leave the convention, and venture down the quiet mall next door. It was a bright, sunny day. Little did I think to discover the horror…oh the horror…

The Third Simulacrum

The Third Simulacrum

Who as this good doctor, and why was he being threatened by a crowd of amputated legs? I looked closer.

The Right and Left Legs

The Right and Left Legs

I hurried back to the convention center and mingled gratefully with the happy, oblivious crowds. I hoped I might forget. But it was not to be.  We found nowhere to hide in New York. It tracked us down, even in broad daylight and amid the bustling crowds of Times Square. Look – up there! On the Times Square Screens!

The Fourth Simulacrum

The Fourth Simulacrum

It was too much. We fled New York for the peace of Providence, Rhode Island. Surely in this quiet university town we could lose this sense of being followed by an implacable and vindictive force?  What harm could come from browsing in the hallowed and venerable precincts of the Brown university bookshop?

The Fifth Simulacrum

The Fifth Simulacrum

Averting our eyes from that dreadful, insensate, blank visage we fled the bookshop, seeking the peace of the dreaming, pristine lawns of the university. Surely no horror would dare set foot upon this sacred turf – ARRRRGGGGHH!

The Sixth Simulacrum

The Sixth Simulacrum

Has anyone seen Mark? It’s been a few weeks now and I’m starting to get quite worried.

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Honoré Fragonard, Creepy Anatomist

Warning: This post contains a photograph of an 18th century anatomical specimen of a human and equine preserved corpse.

Coincidence is by its nature a startling thing. A historical character can be deemed too far-fetched if found in fiction. Very few of the horrific images we have summoned up in Horror on the Orient Express  can surpass those found in the grotesques of the 18th century French anatomist, Honoré Fragonard.

Honoré Fragonard was a careful craftsman, an expert technician, and in his own way a genius. He specialized in the preparation and preservation of anatomical models, called écorchés. This translates as “flayed figures”. Medical students found them essential in the 18th century because of the lack of bodies available for dissection. I am sure the Horror on the Orient Express enthusiast can see where this is heading.

Écorchés were models of bodies with the skin removed, exposing muscles, blood vessels and skeletons. They were made out of different materials, bronze, ivory, plaster, wax, and wood. Fragonard made his from corpses. He kept his methods of preservation secret.

When Louis XV founded Paris’s first veterinary school in 1765 Honoré Fragonard was appointed Professor of Anatomy. He kept his position for six years, during which time he prepared up to 700 pieces although today only 21 survive. Unfortunately, Fragonard’s pieces became too… theatrical. He was expelled from the school in 1771 as a madman. He continued to work, selling many of his later pieces to the jaded Parisian aristocracy. Looking at these dates, we realize that he was at work in Paris in the same years as a pivotal NPC in the campaign. Fragonard died at Charenton in April 1799. We don’t think he died in the asylum, but the proximity is alarming.  

His surviving works are on display today in the Musée Fragonard d’Alfort, a museum of anatomical oddities in the École Nationale Vétérinaire de Maisons-Alfort. In addition to animal skeletons and dissections, such as a piglet displayed in cross-section, the museum contains a collection of what are dryly called teratology. In layman’s terms this means monsters, including preserved Siamese twin lambs, a two-headed calf, a 10-legged sheep, and a colt with one huge eye.

The Fragonard Museum [Source: the museum website]

Honoré Fragonard’s exhibits are all found in the final room and include:

The Horseman of the Apocalypse: a man on a horse, both flayed, surrounded by a crowd of small human foetuses riding sheep and horse foetuses.
Monkeys: A small monkey, clapping, accompanied by another monkey holding a nut.
The Man with a Mandible: inspired by Samson attacking the Philistines with an ass’s jaw.
Human foetuses dancing a jig; three human foetuses, arteries injected with wax.
Goat chest: a goat’s dissected trunk and head.

Contemplating this list you start to get an idea of why the school dismissed Fragonard as mad.

Below is a photograph of the rider and horse. Look no further if you are squeamish.

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This is from centuries ago, but it it still a dead person.

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For reals.

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Okay then.

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Sanity loss (0/1):

Rider and horse [Source: Wikipedia]

Rider and horse [Source: Wikipedia]

We found out about  Honoré Fragonard and his eerie echoes to our own fictional history only recently, with thanks to the work of Darren, our Stalwart Historian.

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The Dreamlands Express II – The Bestiary of Dreams

When I was compiling the Dreamlands Express itinerary I thought about the fauna and flora of the Dreamlands and added it to the views from the train by way of local colour.

The fauna included Dreamlands fauna like magah birds, at least one animal of my own invention (from a dream in fact), and a smattering of real animals, mainly African. After all there are elephants and peacocks, yaks and zebras in the Dreamlands, so there must be a few other exotics tucked away. This had an unexpected side-effect. Just before Mark play-tested the Dreamlands Express scenario I found him leafing through the Dreamlands bestiary looking for quagga and okapi. I hadn’t realized it was possible to mistake these real world animals for dream beasts, but I guess their names do look kind of made up.

The okapi, a pleasingly defined “giraffid artiodactyl mammal”, is fortunately still with us:

What this okapi photograph doesn’t show you is that okapi tongues are so long  they can lick their own eyeballs  [Source: themagazine.ca August 2009]

The quagga, alas, is not.

A South African sub-species of zebra, it was hunted to extinction in the wild. The last quagga died in an Amsterdam zoo in 1883. I included the quagga in the Sona-Nyl description because one of the few things we now know about the quagga – the sound of its cry – was described in a poem. As Robert Silverberg notes dryly in The Dodo, The Auk and the Oryx, it is not a good poem, but it gives us today this one useful fact. I thought that any animal immortalized in poetry should have a chance to live on in Sona-Nyl, the Land of Fancy.

Quagga in the London Zoo, 1870 [Source: Wikipedia]

The other important Dreamlands animal is of course the cat. Lovecraft loved cats and the Dreamlands was one of the few areas of his fancy where he could give this affection full play. I had great fun with a cat sub-plot on the Dreamlands Express, where cats have their own compartment and are treated as full passengers. If the dreamers ask about this, they are given reasons taken straight from Lovecraft’s DreamQuest and The Cats of UltharFor the cat is cryptic and close to strange things that men cannot see; for the Sphinx is his cousin and he speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinx and remembers that which she hath forgotten.

So in closing, here are some cats of Istanbul. Remember, they are looking out for you in their dreams.

Cat of Istanbul enjoying a carpet

Cat of Istanbul, ready to take a nap on a carpet

Cat of Istanbul enjoying a windowsill

Cat of Istanbul enjoying a snooze on a windowsill

Cat of Istanbul enjoying a box of records outside Lale Plak music shop

Cat of Istanbul napping in a box of records outside Lale Plak music shop

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The Dreamlands Express I: The Geography of Dreams

Warning: Here be spoilers…

I cannot live up to the enchantment of Christian’s previous post about Poissy but this post is also concerned with coincidence and other odd ways in which a writer’s mind works.

A fragment found folded between the seat and the wall on the Orient Express:

Last night in my compartment of the Orient Express I dreamed of a train so marvelous that in the morning my pillow was wet with tears of joy. It was no creation of iron and steam but of airy palaces borne aloft on the backs of vast beasts. Yet when I woke my heart was sore, for someone on this marvelous train did kill a cat, and in that land this of all things was forbidden.

Istanbul Cat 1

This cat has just read the last paragraph and is not impressed.

So somehow a Dreamlands Express has shunted itself onto the back of the Orient Express, no mean feat for a dream world where technology has to be ‘fixed’ for at least 500 years in the waking world before it can exist.

This Express was born out of a discussion with Mark about a key issue with the plot of the Horror on the Orient Express. One particular enemy is simply too strong and can reduce unprepared parties to “one insane investigator, a 12-year old, and an NPC whose player has left to go to College”. Don’t laugh. That’s a near-direct quote.

Was there a way to provide  a weapon against this enemy for weaker parties while allowing stronger parties to tackle it on their own?  That was how the Dreamlands Express evolved, first with a fragment of an idea for the weapon, then an idea for a murder, then an idea for a mystery. Finally the train itself lumbered into view.

I don’t want to talk further about the scenario. I do want to talk about itineraries though. I compiled the train’s route  using the descriptions from an old copy of the H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands supplement and the haunting visions of Lovecraft’s stories. We then had to make some pretty strange decisions about some of these dream cities.

The city of Aira, for instance. It was the dream of the shepherd boy Iranon, in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Quest of Iranon. It was listed in both the text and the map of the early editions of H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, but has vanished from the latest edition (something we did not actually know until informed by Steff Worthington, resolute map artist). Did Aira actually ever exist, and if it did exist could it be visited?

The city of Zar in country of Zak posed a textual problem: was it the city of Zar in the Country of Zak, or the City of Zak in the country of Zar. Or was it just Zar. Or Zak. Lovecraft is no help as he contents himself with obscure hints; “no dreamer should set foot upon the sloping meadows of Zar, for it is told that he who treads them may nevermore return to his native shore.”

Finally, who or what is the eidolon Lathi that rules over the city of Thalarion? A definition I found spoke of Helen of Troy’s starring role in the Illiad, when ancient historians of Classical Greek world agreed that Helen was never in the city during the Trojan war. By placing her there Homer created an eidolon, a ghost of a woman who never existed in that time or place. How does that help us evoke Thalarion, whose ‘streets are white with the unburied bones of those that have looked upon the eidolon Lathi’? If they’re unlucky, your investigators will find out…

‘The Quest of Iranon’ by H.P. Lovecraft originally appeared in Weird Tales March 1939. [Source: FineBooks Magazine]

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The Priory, and what lurked within…

Beware, here be spoilers….

The train from Paris has just arrived

The train from Paris has just arrived

You’ve been warned…

You could just have a quick look-around and leave

You could just have a quick look-around and leave

Don’t say you haven’t…

Or take a horse-drawn cart back to Paris

Or take a horse-drawn cart back to Paris

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…

-Ah bon?

-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)

Madame Veronique Lorien

Madame Veronique Lorien

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.

Just before the French Revolution, a great evil lurked in the town

Just before the French Revolution, a great evil lurked in the town

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.

What evil lurks in the heart of Poissy? The gargoyle knows

What evil lurks in the heart of Poissy? The gargoyle knows

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 had passed the Enclos de l'Abbaye for years without going through that porch

I had passed the Enclos de l’Abbaye for years without going through that porch

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.

Place de la Gare, circa 1923

Place de la Gare, circa 1923

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.

The Church: Collégiale Notre Dame de Poissy

The Church: Collégiale Notre Dame de Poissy

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.

The house I chose for Docteur Lorien and his family

The house I chose for Docteur Lorien and his family

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.

The passage

The passage

Some of these passages looked uncannily like those Nick had invented all those years ago…

Forgotten for centuries...

Forgotten for centuries…

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.

Unnamed general practitioner of erstwhile good repute- Charenton Asylum-1923

Unnamed general practitioner of erstwhile good repute- Charenton Asylum-1923

Christian Lehmann

PS: Serendipity means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it.

Quitterie Lorien, a playful child, quickly forgot that night, and the "thing in the window"

Quitterie Lorien, a playful child, quickly forgot that night, and the “thing in the window”

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.

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