The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness


The Old Man, West Coast, Clachantyre
Saturday 8 February 1997, 12:05 pm

"Highlands and Islands Development Agency, I presume," Brian murmurs. He looks at his companions and says: "I'm going to get this on film."

Jake lies down at the cliff edge, intending to observe the divers without being seen. But John is already on the move.

"Well, fellas, let's go see what the wetboys are doing," he says, and starts to look for some way of getting down to the beach. Brian follows him.

"Yes, you boys go and have a look at the helicopter if you like," Miss Prism says, absently. "It'll be the oil people, I expect. I'd rather follow the walk we found in this little booklet. Looks fascinating..."

While John and Brian walk back round the headland trying to find a safe way down onto the beach, Jake keeps a watch on the divers. They are too far away for him to see their faces properly, but they seem to be carrying some sort of fancy looking camera as they emerge from the sea, and when they reach the helicopter they take something out that might be a map. They start pointing at it and discussing something in an animated manner. Jake makes a careful mental note of the helicopter's registration number.

Having negotiated a safe way down the cliff, John jumps onto the beach. Realizing it would be impossible to conceal himself now, Brian follows him with the camera. John calls to the two divers: "So, what are you fellas doin'?"

The divers look up with a start then exchange wary glances. "Who wants to know?" the older one asks.

John takes a step back and starts to reach inside his coat. Noticing John's reaction, Brian prepares to intervene. But the younger diver, apparently unaware of the danger he just faced, defuses the situation with a friendly smile.

"We're with the Highlands and Islands Development Agency," he says. "Are you two, er... tourists?" He notices Brian filming him and adds. "That's a fancy camcorder you've got there."

"We are filming a documentary about this island," Brian answers quietly, but firmly. "Anything your company is doing here, especially if it is not above board, we are interested in."

The diver gives him a dubious look. "You don't want to believe everything those islanders tell you, Mr..." He pauses expectantly but gets no reply. "Some of these people are very resistant to change. Understandably, of course!" he adds quickly, with a glance at Brian's camera.

"Yeah, but I asked you what you're doin' here," John persists.

"We're conducting a survey," the diver says, in a manner that suggests he thinks this should be obvious. "To assess the possible impact of the Western Isles oil field development on coastal sea-life habitats. We're biologists."

"Yeah," the older diver agrees.

"So you see," his companion continues, "despite what some locals may say, the Highlands and Islands Development Agency does take preservation of the environment seriously. As seriously as we take the preservation of local ways of life. If you're staying awhile, why don't you come along to next week's public meeting in the church hall in Harriestown? There'll be people from the HIDA present who will be only too pleased to answer any questions you may have."

The older diver nudges him. "We've got to get going."

"Yes, of course. Sorry to dash away, gentlemen," he says to John and Brian. "I hope to see you at the meeting. Steve Morris is the name. Goodbye."

And with that they jump into the helicopter and take it up and away eastwards, leaving John and Brian standing on the beach.

Jake scrambles rather unsteadily down the rock face to join them and makes a search of the area to see if the divers left anything behind.

"No Scooby Snacks," he says, a little disappointed. "But what's this?"

Near the place where he saw the divers looking at the map, he spots a fish lying gasping on the sand. He wonders whether he should throw it back, but looking more closely it is plain that the animal is not much longer for this world; its body is hideously swollen and its skin is covered with suppurating lumps and pustules.

"Hmm," Jake muses. "Jelly baby, anyone?"

Up on the clifftop, Miss Prism holds her hat firmly on her head to save it being blown off as the helicopter passes overhead. Then she examines the Old Man. There are no inscriptions or markings, but the lichen has been rubbed away from a patch on the seaward side about five to six feet above the ground where the rock has been recently cleaned. As far as she can tell, the dolmen is made from granite, and it probably didn't come far – from what she can see of the beach, there must be dozens of similar rocks down there. Still, raising something the size, shape and weight of the Old Man up the cliff would have been a prodigious enterprise nevertheless.

Looking more closely at the ground around the Old Man, she notices that the dolmen is surrounded by a series of small holes that form a ring about twelve feet in diameter. These are most definitely not ancient remains, though – her best guess is that the holes might have been made for a fence. Perhaps this was where the minister's body was found and roped-off by the police? She shivers at the thought. With a sudden impulse, she reaches out to touch the cold stone – and has an abrupt and disturbing experience. The rock is screaming – or so it seems. Somewhere in her head, almost beyond the limits of her consciousness, she can hear someone... something crying out unintelligibly – no pattern to it, no rise or fall, just a miasma of inexpressible anguish that goes on and on and on...

She pulls her hand away swiftly, as if burned. The screaming stops. Disturbed and upset, she moves inland, towards what 'A Walk Round Clachantyre' describes as the remains of St Aoradh's church. She studies the leaflet intently, to take her mind off what just happened. It seems that St Aoradh reputedly saved the islanders from a demon hundreds of years ago; this demon had possessed all sorts of things – people, houses, boats, sheep – and had resisted being cast out until, in a mighty battle, St Aoradh flung it into the sky. Miss Prism frowns to herself. It is an interesting tale, but it seems a little odd that he demon was flung into the sky – into heaven – rather than into the ground as one might expect in such a legend.

Meanwhile, back in Harriestown, Vul leaves Sampson and Lucy to it.

"You got the broad, Sampson," he declares, "so here's my bar tab to go along with her. When you get daddy's shotgun waved in your face, I don't know ya."

He walks over to Jock and Fergus, who are again playing dominoes in what is apparently their customary place by the fire.

"Hey, pal," Vul says. "I heard you tellin' that old woman you found a license plate. I got a cousin, Guido T Petrucci. GTP. He needs a vanity plate on his Cadillac but he got reasons why he don't want to do much business with the Department of Motor Vehicles, see what I mean? So you sell me that plate. Whadda you want for it?"

"Twenty pounds!" Jock barks. "Ouch!" he gasps, rubbing his ankle under the table and glowering at Fergus.

"He meant two hundred and twenty," Fergus says, giving Vul an ingratiating smile.

Vul stifles a laugh. "I'll give you the twenty."

"Ach, you drive a hard bargain," Fergus complains. "Twenty it is."

Reckoning he is on to a good thing here, Vul pays up. Jock produces the plate from a sack beneath the table. "Your cousin is a lucky man, Mr Dragnet," he says. "I wish a cousin of mine would buy such a fine gift for me."

"You ain't got a cousin," Fergus says. "And I should know."

Sick of the Drummonds' meaningless chatter, Vul makes to go. But first he leans over them menacingly and lowers his voice. "If anybody else from the film outfit comes asking about that plate," he says, "you tell 'em I bought it for my cousin, Guido, got it?"

While Vul transacts business with Jock and Fergus, Sampson grabs Lucy by the hand and leads her to the table furthest from the bar.

"Well, there really ain't much to tell," he says. "I ain't really a star, but I do know some. Now what's a petite young thing like you drinking a 'cider and black' for? I don't even know what that is!"

"Cider and blackcurrant," Lucy explains. "Me and my mates always used to drink it in Coventry."

"Well, I'm gonna go up to that bar and ask for a nice Tequila Sunrise. It's a beautiful drink for beautiful people. I'll put it right in the middle of the table and when you want a drink you just take a sip."

Lucy scowls again. "Don't bother," she says. "Donnie won't serve you – he's too scared of my Dad. You must've met him – he owns this place. He always goes by the book does my Dad, and in this country you're not allowed to drink 'til you're eighteen. Anyway," she adds. "Donnie wouldn't know what a Tequila Sunrise is."

Sampson gets a drink for himself, nevertheless. On the way to the bar, he winks at Vul and says, under his breath: "Unless she's got religion, this is gonna be too easy." He orders his drink, grinning. The barman, Donnie, seems annoyed for some reason, and takes Sampson's order with bad grace.

Back at the table, Sampson turns his charm on Lucy. "Now, I'm in the business, but I don't usually work with big stars, just little projects like this. I go to the fights a lot, though. Seen Jack Nicholson enough in Vegas, where he knows my name now!" he says, proudly.

Lucy looks genuinely impressed. "I can't go the pictures these days – only sometimes when Dad lets me go back to visit my mates and that's hardly ever. He says he can't afford the fare. Have you ever met Tom Cruise? He's fit."

And so she chatters on. Sampson listens avidly, answering her questions about Hollywood and America ("It must be great to live somewhere exciting. Nothing ever happens here. I'm going to die of boredom soon."). She doesn't seem to be interested in boxing, though, or sport in general – her great loves seem to be various groups Sampson has never heard of. She seems particularly keen on something called Toxic Megacolon, all the members of which are 'fit' – "I used to go out with the drummer's brother!" she says, her eyes wide as though Sampson should be impressed by this. "They're the best band in Coventry!" Sampson soon learns more about Coventry than he might ever want to know – it is all too clear that Lucy misses her home, hates life on Clachantyre and would dearly love to escape to somewhere else. At one point she mentions something about the Reverend's youth club, and Sampson takes the opportunity to turn the conversation towards the strange events on the island. But Lucy doesn't seem interested.

"We don't go to church," she says dismissively, and with little sympathy. "Like I said, Dad used to make me go to the Reverend's club, but that's just for little kids. I've got better things to do on Saturday nights now." She gives Sampson an enigmatic smile.

Sampson looks at his watch – and is rather satisfied to see Lucy eyeing it, too, with some awe. "Well, I've only been here a little while and I still ain't got no idea what I should have the film crew shoot," he says. "Perhaps after the morning services tomorrow we could meet for lunch here and then you could show me around." Sampson grins. "My treat, of course."

Lucy's eyes light up. "Oooh," she says, "that would be great. Ta."

Vul takes the plate and goes upstairs to the party's rooms. He encounters Sid on the landing; the publican is perched unsteadily on a stool, changing the bulb in the ceiling light.

"Two doubles and two singles, that the way it is?" Vul greets him. "Who gets the doubles? I betcha ol' Brian and that old goat Miss Prism are gonna shack up in one of the doubles, ain't that right? Well, I'll tell you what, one of them singles is mine, unless somebody wants to share with me? I snore like a bad muffler and sometimes when I sleepwalk I start shootin'..."

"That used to happen to me, too. I saw the doctor about once and he said – " Sid blushes. "But you don't want to know about that. Your rooms have been cleaned and there's a fire in the grate – "

Vul ignores him and enters the single room he has allocated himself. He closes the door, takes out Tom Doonie's parcel, memorizes some of the names and details, then throws the parcel and its contents into the fire.

On returning from the 'Walk Round Clachantyre', Miss Prism takes a stroll around the village. She stops at the house where the woman and child hid from the party earlier, but there is no sign of life and no reply to her knock. She carries on towards the church.

The feeble warmth of the sun has dispelled the mist during the day, but the graveyard is still a gloomy and sinister place; although some of the plots are well-kept, with trimmed grass and bunches of flowers, most are overgrown. Many of the headstones are illegible. She spots a small, white headstone almost hidden in one corner. The inscription on it reads:

Hamish Doonie Aged 1 month Died 6 December 1996

Saddened by the sight of the tiny grave, Miss Prism heads back to the Old Man's Arms.

Finding that the rest of the party seem to have disappeared on errands of their own, Jake hurries through Harriestown back to the pub, wrapping his scarf around him for warmth – it really is quite bitingly cold now. Along the way, he comes across the Post Office. It is a small building – little more than a kiosk, really, but there is a light in the window and it looks so warm and inviting compared to the damp and chilly world outside that he cannot resist popping in. Inside he finds an elderly woman sitting in a rocking chair in front of the counter, knitting a blue baby bootee.

"Hello dearie," the woman says, putting down her knitting. "Are you from the television?"

"That's right," Jake replies. News obviously travels fast. He introduces himself. "I'm just taking a stroll round the village." He offers her a jelly baby.

"Oooh, lovely – thank you! I'm Mrs Drummond. I look after things here in the Post Office – when I'm not looking after those two men of mine! I used to enjoy a good stroll myself, but my legs are bad these days," she adds, a far-away look on her face. "Sit down, why don't you, and take the weight off your feet. Would you like some tea?"

"I was just admiring your fine old church," Jake says, positioning himself close to the stove in the corner. "I was so sorry to hear what happened to the minister."

"It is a terrible shame, for the Reverend was a good man. They're burying him on Monday – will you be going to the funeral? I love a good funeral. I shall miss this one, though – because of my legs, you see."

"Did you know the Reverend well?" Jake asks.

"Aye, he always had a friendly word, was never too busy to pass the time of day with an old woman. In here most weeks, he was, picking up his magazines." She smiles fondly. "And he was popular with the young folk, too – did you know, he runs a club for them in the church hall?"

"Oh really? What sort of club?"

Mrs Drummond giggles. "Oh, I would not know, dearie. I'm too old for joining clubs. But it keeps the youngsters off the streets. The Reverend has quite a way with them, I hear. Friendly, but firm. He will not take no nonsense." She resumes her knitting.

"So there's been some trouble?" Jake prompts.

"Oh, not what you'd call trouble!" Mrs Drummond exclaims, with emphasis on the 'you', "but I heard they had a scene just a few days before our poor Reverend moved on." She leans forward, her eyes bright. "Jamie – that's my great nephew – says young Tom Doonie burst into the church hall in the middle of a table tennis game – imagine! – cursing and blinding, and swearing that he'd tear the place down to the ground. What he wanted, Jamie could not say, but wild he was, as though the devil himself were in him! But the Reverend stood his ground and took him outside for a talking-to, and young Tom was as meek as a lamb after that. For a day or two. Mind you," she adds, "no doubt he rued his words when he found the Reverend dead on the cliff."

"You mean Tom found the Reverend's body?"

"That's right. And a terrible sight it was, I hear." The old lady shudders. "Though young Tom is most likely used to such things – I've seen what's in those parcels of his."

Jake's eyes wander to the large kettle on top of the stove. Mrs Drummond catches the direction of his gaze, and seems to realize she has let something slip. She coughs dramatically and thumps her chest.

"Now there's me chattering – it's no good for my chest." She coughs again, and Jake starts to get rather concerned. Then she recovers herself. "I will put the kettle on and we can have a nice cup of tea and a chatter. It's nice to have company now and again..."

Back in Harriestown, John pays a visit to the vicarage, intending to search it for clues – and is surprised to find it still inhabited. There is a light on in the porch, and when he goes round the back of the house, he finds a cardboard box by the door, crammed full of empty whisky bottles. He can hear someone weeping inside.

He looks through the window. The room beyond is a very untidy kitchen – the waste bin is overflowing, the work surfaces probably haven't been cleaned in days, and there is a stack of washing-up in the sink and a broken glass in the middle of the floor. On the table stands another glass containing a few dregs of what looks like whisky.

A pale and drawn face appears suddenly at the window, then just as quickly disappears. The door opens. "Can I help you?" the elderly woman asks, pushing some straying strands of hair away from her face. John can smell alcohol on her breath. "Would you like some tea?"

When he has finished with Lucy, Sampson tries the Police Station again. This time, MacDuff is on duty; a dark-haired, unremarkable looking man of about 35 years of age, he is sitting at the desk inside, tapping laboriously with one finger on the ancient manual typewriter. He looks up as Sampson enters, clears his throat and straightens his tie. He looks tired, and there is a large, crusted bruise on his forehead.

"May I help you?" he asks.

Sampson introduces himself as a member of the Acorn Productions team.

"Ah, yes," MacDuff says. "Pleased to meet you. I was told we had a film crew coming to the island. Of course, I'll be happy to help in any way I can."

"Maybe you can help," Sampson replies. "We heard about some crazy shit happenin' here. My momma would be pretty mad at you if you let her boy get killed by some devil worshippers. Now what exactly is going on?"

"I think – if you do not mind me saying, sir – you may have been watching too many films. I too have seen the one with Edward Woodward, and Britt Ekland and her..." He clears his throat again. "But let me assure that we here on Clachantyre have never shut a visitor inside a giant laundry basket then burned him alive for the twisted pleasure of strange gods. Oh no no no."

Sampson points at the poster. "But 10,000 pounds sure is a lot of money. That kinda money would look real good in my bank account. How far along is your investigation into this Old Man's fingers or whatever it is?"

"The museum theft, you mean, sir?" MacDuff frowns. "I put it down to a prank at first, but it's been some time now and the damn things haven't turned up yet, so I suppose we're dealing with a serious thief. Though what anyone would want with some old bits of rock I cannot imagine. The investigation, as they say, continues. But do not worry yourself, sir," he adds, "you'll be perfectly safe on Clachantyre. Mostly..."


He points to the bruise on his forehead with a rueful smile. "They may not carry knives and guns like your American hoodlums, but our sheep can deal a nasty kick."

Brian decides to take some film of Hawkcraig House before meeting up with the rest of the party. Following the map on the back of one of the leaflets, he starts the trek across the island. It is now a bright, if cold, afternoon, but he could swear that the sky gets darker as he takes the rough track that leads from the main 'road'. The land is well kept but lifeless, somehow, as though all the vitality had been leached out of it a long time ago.

When Hawkcraig House comes into view, he is surprised to see that it is not ruined (though it is very dilapidated), and it appears to be inhabited. When in good repair, the house must have been quite impressive, and it is clearly built on the site of an even larger dwelling. A silent gloom hangs over the place, though, and Brian feels strangely subdued. He thinks he sees a face at an upstairs window, but maybe it is just the reflection of a cloud passing over the sun.

He cuts across a field to find a good angle from which to film. As he is setting up the camera, two men he recognizes come walking down the track: Vul and Sampson.

At long last, Vul (who hadn't realized that the Doonie house was so far out of town) and Sampson (who seemed keen to tag along with Vul) reach Hawkcraig House. Vul raps loudly on the front door. There is no reply. He raps louder. Eventually, the door opens a few inches and a pale, weary-looking woman in her early twenties peers out.

"Get Tom Doonie out here, oatmeal," Vul says. "Me and him, we got business. And no, I ain't waitin' here on your porch; look back there, see 'em? Eyes. Business I got with Tom, it don't need no publicity. So close the damn door..."

The woman gapes at him, her eyes wide in horror. Her mouth open and closes a few times but no words emerge. She is quite clearly terrified. Vul hears a baby cry.

"I - I - I - " the woman stammers.

Then a man appears behind her. He glowers at the visitors.

"I'm Hamish Doonie. Tom is my brother," he says. "Now who are you and what do you want with him?"

Vul and Sampson – Hawkcraig House, Clachantyre
Brian – A field near Hawkcraig House
Jake – The Post Office, Harriestown
Miss Prism – The Old Man's Arms, Harriestown
John – The Vicarage, Harriestown
Saturday 8 February 1997, 4:30 pm

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