The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness


The Church Hall, Harriestown
Monday 10 February 1997, 6:50 pm

Miss Prism immediately takes command of the situation.

"Oh dear me, no, I'm sorry my dear, but that will not be possible. Oh no," she says, firmly. "Now, my sister is a good friend of the Lord Chancellor's sister."

Sarah St. John raises her eyebrows. "Is she, indeed?" she says, a coldly amused look on her face.

"I'm sure James (Lord Mackay, I mean) will be delighted to assist with your, er, legal action," Miss Prism continues with a sweet but intractable smile. "Tell me, my dear, what will you do and where will you go when the truth of your activities is made known? So young, so clever, so pretty, it would be such a shame if your career was ruined. Think of that, Miss St. John."

"Mrs." She gives Miss Prism a withering stare, but is clearly rattled by something.

Miss Prism turns to Brian and Jake, who are a little taken aback by this menacing speech from their usually kindly colleague. "Do you have the camera ready?" she asks, and waves at St. John's companions. "I say, how about a picture? Say cheese..."

"There'll be no need for that!" St. John steps between the camera and the HIDA men.

"What are you frightened of, Mrs St. John?" Jake asks, looking her in the eyes. He removes his hat and pauses dramatically. "If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear. Though you could tell us what you're doing at the monolith."

She curls her lip unpleasantly. "I have no idea what you are talking about, Mr Carter."

"Last I checked, this is the free world," Brian adds. "We can take footage of whatever we want that the law doesn't prevent. I'll keep the pictures and film, thank you. I'll have you know, the police have copies of these."

Yet again, St. John's composure wavers.

"And if necessary, so will the media," Brian continues, sensing victory. "As the man says, the truth will set you free. Or not. Now, shall we take our seats and get on with the meeting? I think these people are waiting to hear the 'truth' from you."

There is a moment's icy silence. Then Cameron Frazer appears. Realizing something is amiss, he clears his throat. "Mrs St. John – I'm pleased to meet you again. I think we can begin the meeting now, if you're ready."

St. John gives the party a deadly smile and joins Cameron on the stage. One of her companions sets up a flip-chart, while another takes a seat at the back of the hall. The party sit further along the same row.

"Never trust a woman who doesn't like jelly-babies," Jake mutters.

As Brian takes out his notepad, he hears hushed voices from a couple of rows in front. He looks up to see two islanders staring at him. They look away quickly.

"What are they doing here?" one of them whispers to the other. "They are part of the problem for goodness sake! Why aren't they in prison with the rest? What do those mainland police think – "

Cameron raps the knuckles of his uninjured hand on the desk to bring the meeting to order. "Mrs Sarah St. John of the Highlands and Island Development Agency has very kindly agreed to speak to us this evening, and I'm sure she will be more than pleased here to answer any questions you may have."

Very quickly it is depressingly clear (to the party at least) that this 'public meeting' is little more than a public relations exercise as far as the HIDA people are concerned. Sarah St. John's speech contains much in the way of slogans and bluster but only vague generalizations concerning her plans for Clachantyre. Her assistant illustrates the talk with a large number of brightly-coloured, simple graphs showing the increases in wealth, decreases in unemployment and other benefits that oil development has brought to various areas of Scotland, and posters showing happy, smiling people reaping the rewards of HIDA's efforts.

"So remember," she concludes, smiling brilliantly, "the Highlands and Islands Development Agency is working for you." She pauses. There is some scattered applause. "Are there any questions?"

"Yes, er, what about that explosion a few weeks ago?" someone calls. "It made a fearful noise. It caused a lot of consternation, you know. We thought it was an earthquake. Some folk thought it was the end of the world!"

"You have nothing to fear, Mr..."

Cameron whispers in her ear.

"You have nothing to fear, Mr Wilkie. "The explosion you heard – and felt! – was standard procedure and posed no danger whatsoever to anyone. We are of course aware of your concerns, however," she adds, "and though it will cause us some inconvenience, there will be no further blasts. That is a promise."

"Sometimes at night, I hear a humming noise from deep within the ground," says someone else.

"Again, standard procedure and nothing to be afraid of. The humming problem should not recur. If it does, please speak to any HIDA representative."

Jake speaks up. "Mrs St. John, may I ask what business the DTI has with an Iron Age dolmen, and what possible reason it could have for fencing it off and attaching devices to it?"

A surprised murmur goes round the hall. On the stage, Cameron Frazer frowns.

St. John smiles sweetly. "Mr Carter, I'm sure the people of Clachantyre will thank you for showing such an interest in their island. HIDA is not just concerned with working for a brighter future – we also strive to preserve the past. Those devices are seismological monitors which our geologists have been using to monitor the effects of our blasts on the integrity of the dolmen. The risk of damage is, of course, minuscule," she adds, quickly, "but I think everyone will agree that this is just another illustration of how deeply HIDA cares about the people and the culture of Clachantyre."

Several islanders nod in approval.

Disgruntled, Jake sits back. He hears a rustling noise from the back of the room, and turns to see Chief Inspector Stewart leaning against the door, carefully unwrapping a Fox's Glacier Mint. Stewart gives him a friendly grin.

Miss Prism can stand this blatant white-washing exercise no longer. She rises to her feet and describes the deformed sealife on the beach. "Could not HIDA fund a study of what is going on in the bay?"

St. John gives her a tight smile. "As the residents of Clachantyre are aware, Miss Prism, we are already doing just that. For some time now, two HIDA-funded biologists have been making a meticulous survey to assess the possible impact of oil field development on coastal sealife habitats. Their results will be published shortly, but I can assure you now that there is nothing to be concerned about."

"But maybe some unscrupulous company, oilers or waste dealers, is already polluting the area?" Miss Prism persists. "Shocking. Such a lovely island, with its charming people, should not have to put up with such things. Oh no." This gets a few murmurs of approval from the audience. "Does HIDA have any knowledge of illegal activities?"

St. John is saved from this one by a shout from Jock Drummond. "But what about my Daisy? She's very sensitive, you know, and she has not been the same since you arrived with your rady-ashun."

St. John gives him a reassuring smile. "That was a routine test, Mr Drummond. Nothing to do with radiation, I assure you. And as for Daisy – would this be the famous chick-balancing sheep of Clachantyre?"

Jock beams with pride. "Aye, that's the one."

"Well, let me reassure you that if your family – or anyone else here – feels that your animals – or indeed yourselves – have been affected in any way by our activities, I will personally ensure that the matter is given the most serious attention. After all," she adds, "Daisy is a national treasure, and we wouldn't want to upset her, would we?"

This earns a round of applause from Jock, Fergus, Mrs Drummond and quite a few others. And from that moment on, Sarah St. John has clearly won the crowd over. By the end of the meeting, the islanders are thanking her for the wealth an oil find might bring to Clachantyre, for the job opportunities it would bring to their children, and for the respect for the islanders' way of life with which all work would be undertaken. Only Cameron seems to be less than impressed, and his manner is noticeably cold as he closes the meeting and thanks St. John and the other HIDA people for their time.

As they leave the Church Hall, the party see Chief Inspector Stewart walk over to the HIDA people and speak to them quietly. Sarah St. John clearly has to fight to keep her feelings under control. She looks at first amazed, then utterly furious...

As the crowd files outside, Brian hangs back to speak to Cameron Frazer about the proposed diving trip.

"Yes, of course, I'm looking forward to it!" Cameron says. "I'll be at home tomorrow afternoon – why don't you call round when you're ready?"

Meanwhile, Miss Prism falls in step with Fergus Drummond.

"Well, maybe they are not so bad after all," Fergus says, reflectively. "Did you hear what the lassie said about our Daisy? A national treasure..."

Miss Prism does not argue the matter. Though Fergus and the other islanders may have been won over, HIDA – though unpleasant – is a worldly menace, she decides, and thus easily thwarted.

"Maybe you can help me, Fergus," she says, briskly, "I'm most interested in that dolmen on the cliff, the one called the Old Man. I've been hearing all sorts of strange stories about it but they don't make much sense. I wonder – what do you know about it?"

Fergus shrugs. "Just the tales the old women used to tell. It's said that many years ago, before any people lived here, Clachantyre was visited by strangers. No one knows where they came from, just that they came from far away, over the sea. They could not stay here, though, and so they all went away except one. That one is the Old Man, and he is waiting to this day for his people to come back for him. I've heard it said that the Old Man sings. Maybe he is calling to them..."

Back at the pub, Jake takes up Brian's offer of a game of chess. He is a competent player and demonstrates, with some relish, a couple of unusual openings.

"There's the Grob for you. Works every time. Now I'll show you the Orang-Utan..."

Miss Prism sits by, half her attention on the game, the other half on her knitting. "I have been trying to piece together what we have learned so far on this investigation," she announces. "First, the unfortunate Reverend McMillan commits suicide in such an unpleasant way. Then just a few days later there is a burglary at the museum – the same museum where we know the Reverend was putting together an exhibition on rockpool life; Cameron Frazer said he used to work late into the night. The Fingers are later found in the Reverend's house. Mrs Craig..." She sighs sadly. "Poor Mrs Craig believed that he stole them. But why would he do that? Mr Frazer says he wasn't interested in archaeology. And the replica Fingers are missing, too. And why did the Reverend argue with Tom Doonie? You would expect them to get along well, both being concerned about the environment."

She knits away, now quite oblivious to Brian and Jake. "Are the Doonies the key to this? What would happen if the Old Man was to be dug up and let loose, and the Doonie's house razed to the ground and salted over as the Romans did to Carthage, to prevent them ever rising again...?"

"We should go to Hawkcraig House and try to gain Mary's confidence," Jake says. He studies the chessboard, his eyes staring widely. "And Miss Prism, why don't you talk to Cameron about his wife, and try to find out what happened between him and MacDuff? He seemed rather secretive about what happened to his hand..."

After dinner, Jake and Brian visit Dr Fitzallen. They find her cottage beside the surgery, where a police officer still stands on guard. As she opens the door, they are greeted enthusiastically by a small West Highlands terrier.

"Did you attend the HIDA meeting?" Dr Fitzallen asks, showing them into the sitting room without further introduction. "I did not – because I knew what they were going to say. Or rather, were not going to say. Those so-called developers are covering something up – and that's why I asked you here."

"We're interested to hear what you have to tell us," Brian says.

"The more people know about this, the better. Drink, anyone?" She lifts the terrier off the sofa and gestures that Brian and Jake sit down. "There's only so much an individual can do – I've tried writing to the council, the newspapers, our MP, even the Queen, but had no response at all. It's almost as though – " She pauses for dramatic effect. " – as though my letters are being blocked. You know what I mean? There is something going on here – something certain people don't want anyone asking questions about. I called someone in to ask those questions, but he got nowhere."

"Who was that?" Brian asks.

"A man called Clive Stokes – " Dr Fitzallen catches the look on his face. "Do you know him?"

"We know of him," Jake says, recalling Vul's conversation with Tom Doonie. "He's some sort of journalist."

"He writes for Lobster magazine, a fine publication dedicated to the exposing of conspiracies and cover-ups such as this HIDA atrocity. Few people have heard of the journal, unfortunately – those in certain positions of power realize how dangerous such a publication could be and make it difficult to get hold of. I could lend you a copy of mine."

"So what exactly do you think the developers are doing?" Brian asks.

Dr Fitzallen shakes her head. "To be honest, I do not know – but whatever it is, it can not be good for the island. It was my dear friend Reverend McMillan who alerted me to the problem." She sighs sadly. "We shared a love of nature, you see, and we were concerned enough when we heard that they were searching for oil off Clachantyre. Then Andrew began to find deformed fish and other animals dead on the beach, and we wondered if the whole oil-prospecting business was simply a cover-up for a chemical spill or a nuclear accident or goodness knows what. But that wouldn't explain this."

She produces a photograph; it is apparently of the headland taken from the beach, but it is quite difficult to tell exactly what it shows because of the streaks of light that obscure most of the view.

"There are dozens more, all showing exactly the same thing," she continues. "I don't know what it might be, but I do know it is unnatural – and dangerous, too. And it is not just the animals that have been affected by it."

Brian studies the photograph. The streaks of light look similar to those on the videotapes. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that whatever created those deformed fish is having a similar effect on humans."

Jake guesses what she means. "You're talking about Mary Doonie's baby, I presume?"

Again Dr Fitzallen looks surprised. "You're not just film-makers, are you? I suspected it after that terrible business yesterday... Don't worry – I'm not going to pry. We all want the truth, and who exactly you are is of no consequence to me. But yes, Mr Carter, you are right. The Doonie baby is just the beginning, I'm certain" She pauses. "You understand that what I am telling you is confidential and should go no further?"

"Yes," says Jake, "please go on."

"Poor Mary had a difficult pregnancy and a harder birth. I would never have known about it – old Mrs Doonie had appointed herself midwife and would not let strangers get involved – except young Hamish saw sense and called me. And a good thing too – we would have lost all three of them had he not."

"All three?"

"Mary, and her two babies. Twins. The first-born – the monster – died before it took its first breath."


"I can see you're shocked, Mr Carter – and I know we are not supposed to use such terms these days. But when I saw that... child appear, 'monster' was the only word I could find – I could not believe it had ever been human. Thank the Lord young Mary has no idea what was happening by then."

Jake spins his scarf through the air, nervously. "I understand the surviving baby is unwell, too."

Dr Fitzallen nods. "When I last saw him, the infant seemed to be suffering some form of seizure – epilepsy, or a symptom of some other condition like cerebral palsy or hydrocephalus. I'm afraid I can not make a diagnosis without performing the appropriate tests, however, and in these days of informed consent I'm unlikely to have the opportunity. Mary was always a reclusive type and I'm afraid this tragedy has pushed her over the edge. She locked herself away at Hawkcraig House after the birth and has rarely set foot outside since. And Hamish blames himself."

She pauses again, then passes Jake and Brian another photograph. "I don't know what caused all this," she says. "But I know it has happened before – and will happen again if nothing is done."

This second photograph is old, and shows an almost identical view of the headland from the beach. The picture is yellowing and faded, but the streaks of light are clearly visible.

"This was taken by one of my predecessors in 1910," she says. There is fear in her voice.

Before retiring to bed for an early night, Miss Prism knocks on Lucy's door. After several minutes of scuffling and rustling noises inside, the door opens and Lucy peers out.

"Oh!" she says, surprised. "I thought it was my dad. What do you want?"

"I've been thinking," Miss Prism says, "that we haven't had much opportunity to get to know each other. So how about a nice chat and a quiet game of piquet?"

Lucy's face goes completely blank at the mention of 'piquet'. "Er, I don't think I know the rules..." she says, then brightens. "But we could do some tarot reading, if you like."

She stands back to let Miss Prism into her room. It is as untidy as any teenager's bedroom, and dimly lit by a bedside lamp covered with a red scarf and candles on the mantelpiece. A dreadful racket plays on the stereo, though thankfully not too loudly ("Dad won't let me make a noise up here – he says it disturbs the guests," Lucy explains. "It's Toxic Megacolon." Miss Prism wonders whether she is talking about the popular music group or the condition they are suffering from.)

She lowers herself with some difficulty onto a beanbag in the corner, while Lucy produces her tarot cards.

"Why don't I teach you how to play piquet?" Miss Prism suggests, nervously. "It is such a ladylike game."

Lucy pouts petulantly. "Oh, go on. It'll be a laugh."

Miss Prism sighs. "Very well. What do you do – just pull one out of the deck, like this...?"

"It's not quite as simple as that – " Lucy starts to protest, but Miss Prism has already drawn a card.

"That's the High Priestess, signifying an elderly woman," Lucy says. "She could be you, or someone else." She lays out more cards. "Here's the Hierophant, badly placed. This card means superstition and intolerance. The Wheel of Fortune... endlessly revolving cycles. The Hanged Man – "

"Oh dear!" Miss Prism exclaims weakly.

"The Hanged Man," Lucy continues, in a tone that suggests she is simply reciting something she read in a book, "through self-abnegation, achieves clairvoyance – telepathy, you might say – but on a material plane his life is suspended, blocked off, and pleasure is rare – " She pauses and laughs. "He must live on Clachantyre! I'm not surprised he hung himself."

She draws another card, and reveals it with a sly smile. "The Lovers. You see, there really is something to this..."

Unsure whether she should be encouraging such dabblings in the supernatural, Miss Prism tries to draw Lucy's attention elsewhere. She points to a magazine on the floor.

"That's a pretty frock," she says. "Of course, I don't know much about you youngsters and your fashion – "

"Do you think so? I wanted to go shopping on the mainland, but Dad wouldn't let me." She stares at the magazine and sighs loudly. "I need to go on a diet before I'd fit into that, though."

"A diet!" Miss Prism is aghast. "A healthy girl like you doesn't need to diet! You shouldn't believe everything you read in those magazines, you know."

"But I want to look my best on the beach this summer."

"Are you going on holiday?"

"It'll be more than a holiday." Lucy opens her eyes wide and giggles. She looks as though she would love Miss Prism to ask what she means, if only for the fun of evading the question.

Miss Prism yawns. "Is that the time? I must get to bed. I have a busy day tomorrow."

Lucy covers her mouth, looking as though she is about to burst.

"I've got to tell someone or I'll burst!" she whispers from behind her hand. "Do you swear, on your life, that you'll never tell a soul?"

Miss Prism does not reply, but Lucy continues anyway.

"I've been seeing – you know, seeing – someone," she hisses, her eyes bright. "I can't say who, though, I really can't. But we're saving up, and when we've got enough money together we're going to run away! To Spain! It's true! The sooner we get off this dump the better..."

After leaving Dr Fitzallen's cottage, Jake decides to sabotage the devices attached to the Old Man.

He treks through the darkness to the cliff. It is windy and very cold, and he is lashed by sheets of icy rain as he approaches the dolmen. Before going further, he puts plastic bags over his boots to mask his footprints.

The devices are still in place, but it takes just a few minutes to uproot the poles and remove the strange black box from the stone. Jake studies the box carefully, but he has seen nothing like it before. When he breaks it open on a rock, he finds a tangle of cables and electronics inside and, more mysteriously, a single dark crystal, about half an inch in diameter, amid a nest of wires.

Jake pulls the crystal free, then throws the rest of the box and the poles over the edge of the cliff into the sea. His teeth chattering, he sets off back to Harriestown.

Next morning, Jake phones Derek Lang at the Institute of Scandinavian Studies. The call is answered by Derek's assistant, Liz Howett.

"Derek? No, I haven't seen him. No one's seen him since yesterday. It's strange – he's usually so punctual, and he always phones the office if he's sick. But he's left a message for you... Here it is. Shall I read it out?"

"Go ahead."

"It says: 'Very strange and ancient script... only a few fragments of complete text – have to fill in gaps. Seems inscription is warning not to take anything from the cave. Runes appear to tell the story of a man who was brave enough to enter the cave – writer refers this as the tomb, or sleeping place, of the Sea People – but foolish enough to steal something. It seems he and all his kin regretted the theft: 'madness fell upon us', 'the voice of devils issued from his mouth'. Writer describes some sort of strange experience he had himself when in contact with the thing that was stolen – still working on that line...'"

Liz pauses. "Derek's writing is all over the place here... hang on, there's more. 'Seems they got so fed up, they returned to the island, killed the thief and buried him on the cliff. They erected a dolmen there, as a warning to anyone who might sail by not to land there.' That's it. Oh no, wait, there's a message at the end: 'This is fascinating, Jake – where on earth did you find it? Have to go out – will call.'"

Jake thanks Liz for her help and rings off. As he puts the receiver down, he is sure he hears a faint, unintelligible whispering on the line...

As Jake heads for the door, Chief Inspector Stewart enters the bar. Stewart's attire (not to say his panting) suggests he has just returned from a morning jog. He greets Jake in a friendly manner, but seems annoyed about something.

"I picked up these for you," Jake says, handing him the bag of toffees he bought in the Post Office yesterday (and keeping a firm grip on his own bag of jelly babies).

"Why, thank you. I shall save these for after breakfast."

This seems to cheer Stewart up a bit, but he still looks distracted. Jake tries to engage him in conversation about the island and local events, but when he mentions the HIDA Stewart grimaces.

"Don't mention that quango to me. My Chief Superintendent wants to see me about something me this afternoon – and from the half-baked threats that St. John woman made yesterday, I think it has something to do with her..."

When Jake has finished on the phone, the party set off for Hawkcraig House. The track, which was poor before, has turned into a quagmire after last night's rain, and before long their feet and legs are covered in mud.

"Thank goodness for sensible shoes," Miss Prism comments.

Jake looks at his watch. "Mid-morning. Hopefully all the men will be out..."

As they approach the house, they see Mary Doonie near an out-building, throwing grain to a flock of skinny chickens. When she sees them, she drops her basket in fright and the grain spills everywhere. The chickens go wild.

"What – what – what are you doing here?" she squeaks, her hands over her mouth.

"I'm sorry for what Vul Dragna did to you and your family," Brian says, softly. "I don't know why my employers included a guy like that on this team. But he's in custody now, along with two others. He won't threaten you again."

But Mary seems to have other concerns. She glances nervously back at the house, and out into the fields.

"What were you thinking of, coming here?" she hisses. "Hamish and Tom were all for marching into Harriestown and lynching every one of you – and they would have done it, too, if Dougal had not stopped them. And if Ma sees you here..." She looks at the house again.

"But what happened with Vul and the others was nothing to do with us," Jake protests.

"You are all the same to Hamish and Tom! Come here, where she cannot see you." She ushers them round the side of the chicken-house.

"Please," Brian says, "can you tell us what happened here?"

She stares at him, wringing her hands in her apron. "What do you mean?"

"Is this something to do with your child?" Miss Prism asks gently. "I understand it wasn't christened?"

"Ma doesn't believe in christenings... is what to do with my child? What are you talking about?"

"Why, my dear," Miss Prism continues, "this reminds me of young Tommy Gringe in my village. A little tyke and a sore trouble to his dear mother. One day, he broke a window in the vicarage and that was the final straw. His mother came to see me and revealed that he had in fact been an orphan she adopted. It seemed that the real parents had been suffering from some sort of instability, mentally speaking I mean, and this had rubbed off on young Tommy. The only thing to do was to confront the problem, so we had him sent to a special school in the West Indies where, away from all the old influences, he recovered well. Today, he's grown up into a nice young man, a poet in fact. Oh, a bit dotty, but aren't we all?"

Mary listens to this speech with a look of dazed horror on her face. Then slowly some sort of comprehension dawns. "No, you don't understand," she whimpers. "The twins were not adopted. I brought them into this world, but they were not mine. How could they be? Monsters – that's what the doctor called them! I heard her say it! They were not children, they were evil spirits..." She begins to weep in despair. "Ma knew it would happen. She made us spend our wedding night on the cliff beside the Old Man. She said it was a family tradition. I thought it was romantic, me and Hamish together with the sound of the sea and the starlight above... But that was when the evil spirits began to grow inside me..." She hugs herself and starts to rock to and fro.

Miss Prism puts a calming hand on her shoulder. "I can arrange to have you leave this dreadful place," she says. "Take a boat with Mr Murdo, I will come with you, and you can take the train south. My sister Agatha – a kind soul but a bit noisy for my taste – has a nice little place (well, seven bedrooms) in Sussex, and would be delighted to see you. You must make a fresh start."

Mary gazes at her. For a moment, hope seems to flicker in her eyes, then just as quickly it dies.

"No." She shakes her head. "It will not work. You don't know Ma. You can't cross her. Reverend McMillan tried that, and look what happened to him!"

"What do you mean?" Brian demands.

Mary turns on him, her face wild with fear. "They said he did away with himself, but I know better. Ma did it. She killed the Reverend and she will do the same to me. And to you, too, if you stay on the island much longer..."

Hawkcraig House, Clachantyre
Tuesday 11 February 1997, 11:05 pm

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