Années Folles: Crazy Years and Crazy Cults on the Continent

Horror on the Orient Express: London

Dancers in an Evening Fog and the Doom Train

January 5, 1923: A year after their encounter with the mysterious and horrible in Norway, Professor Smith contacts his friends in London, Pendragon and Bullwinkle to be present at an exclusive event to be held in Kensington Gardens, the Challenger Lecture. Smith himself is slated to give a lecture. The professor also invited along his two foreign friends Ragnar, Norwegian soldier, and Marijan Zganec, a young Croatian fencer, eager to show off the best of English society. Introducing the four at the lavish banquet, Smith chatted with them before going to the podium to speak about his recent studies in “epiphenomena,” providing evidence to back his theory that so-called “hauntings” may represent transportations through time and space, including slides. The presentation was well received by the London audience. Chatting with Smith after the presentation, Pendragon and Bullwinkle expressing doubts, the four friends noted a strange, foreign gentleman watching them, but after nodding apologetically, the man disappeared. Asking around, they discovered that the mysterious man, they found that his name was Makryat, and had an invitation, but no one really knew him or how he was invited. The banquet over for the night, the four parted company.

January 6, 1923: A leisurely morning for the four, beginning with a perusal of the Times was interrupted the next day when each noticed an upsetting article. Prof. Smith’s house had been burned down and he was missing; also, a strange triple murder involving Makryat attracted Pendragon’s attention. The journalist immediately called upon his contacts in the police department to find out more about this; the detective told him that each body had a telegraph asking them to meet their signed by an “M.” That night, all four received cryptic messages from Smith, asking them to meet him in a poor section of London and advising discretion; each arriving at the destination soon after the other, they were invited by Beddows into a run down bed-sit where a hideously burned Smith (his luxurious mustache singed away) tasked them with a dark quest. Smith had been on the track of an ancient artifact of terrible power and evil, called the Sedefkar Simulacrum, which was also being sought by a cult of Turkish madmen. He had been attacked by members of this cult and forced into hiding, mandating his friends take his research into this vital matter and see it through to the end for him while he and his manservant Beddows fled. In order to fund the expedition, Beddows passed the group a valise containing one thousand pounds sterling to pay for their passage on the Simplon-Orient Express to follow the train of the Simulacrum. Accepting the money, they agreed to take on the task, wished Smith and Beddows luck, and left them to prepare for their escape.

January 7, 1923: The next day Bullwinkle researched the background of the Sedefkar Simulacrum in the British Museum Library while Pendragon followed up on police matters with the Norwegian and Marijan saw to travel arrangements. Bullwinkle found that the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris had information on the Simulacrum, while Pendragon was informed that the Makryats were not simply murdered but skinned. He also received the address of Makryat’s shop. Meeting up for lunch, the group went together to Islington to search Makryat’s shop. The Norwegian kicked down the back door of the antique shop and a search of the establishment turned up only one odd item; Makryat had sold a toy train once owned by occultist Randolph Alexis to one Henry Stanely several days previously, a man who just happened to have turned up missing the day before. Making their way to Stanley’s home, they were given a tour (for 6 pence) by landlady Mrs. Atkins, where they found odd streaks and a sheen of soot. Mrs. Atkins told them that the police had taken the train as evidence. Because it was growing late, the group opted to continue their researches the next morning.

January 8, 1923: Bullwinkle began by continuing his research at the British Library, looking up Randolph Alexis and finding some odd things about the occultist and his family; Alexis himself was killed in a terrible 1897 train disaster near Liverpool while his son disappeared under suspicious circumstances years later. Much to his horror, Bullwinkle’s research was interrupted when he stumbled upon the skinless corpse of a man who appeared to be sleeping at the desk directly behind his, completely dressed and positioned seemingly without notice. Before the police could arrive the aristocrat pocketed a piece of leather upon which a cryptic Turkish message had been written. Meanwhile, Pendragon spoke to the police about the missing Stanely and his ill-fated train, and was told that it had been loaned to the London Train Spotter’s Association for “expert” evaluation, before their interview was cut short by the discovery of the corpse at the British Museum. Trailing the police to the scene of the crime, the police finally identified the man as James Beddows, Smith’s manservant and main suspect in his disappearance, to which Marijan reasoned they “must not have recognized him without his skin on,” causing Pendragon to laugh uncomfortably. Leaving the museum before the police could bring them further into question about their involvement, the group headed to the Train Spotters, where Arthur Butter warmly welcomed them. Butter, worried about his friend Stanley’s strange vanishing invited them to the next meeting of the association and allowed them to inspect the model train, which he confirmed was an accurate reconstruction of the train which had killed Alexis in 1897. However, the occultist had put strange magics into it and once Marijan switched it on and the train went around its convoluted track for several minutes, it summoned into existence a spectral locomotive which passed through the solid walls of the basement, expelling steam, smoke, and passengers dressed in Victorian fashion. The spirits dragged Marijan aboard the train, while Stanley called for help from aboard. The Norwegian too leapt aboard before it pulled away from the “station” leaving nothing but the smell of coal smoke in its wake. Butter, Pendragon, and Bullwinkle were struck dumb and could do nothing but wait to see if their colleagues ever returned.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian and Marijan found themselves beset by ghostly passengers who attempted to overpower them and who seemed immune to the blows from their swords. Fortunately, one passenger retained his free will and drew them into another carriage which was barricaded against the dead. Introducing himself as Randolph Alexis himself, he had aged nothing since 1897 and explained that a failed spell he had cast and separated the train from time. Surviving through the cannibalism (he had devoured his son who had constructed the train in an attempt to rescue his father), the crazed occultist calculated the year to be 1911. No one bothered to correct him. Stanley just wanted to be free of the terrifying place, stating that he no longer had any love for trains. Alexis mentioned that he had nearly figured out how to escape but was still missing something, showing them a tableau of horrors, a pile of organs and viscera laid out to resemble a train. Marijan realized what Alexis had been missing in his design, certain elevation to portions of the track, and the occultist yelled with triumph, comprehending his mistake. Tossing a few bone fragments under the organs, he asked Marijan to push a heart across the design whilst he chanted his spell in order to break the spell that had created the Doom Train. Amazingly, the plan worked and the four living people (as well as the train itself were returned to reality on the track from which it had disappeared twenty six years before. Sadly, the 1897 to Liverpool reappeared directly in front of the 1923 line returning to London, and the two, along with a terrified Stanley and a greatly aged Alexis, leaped from the train to safety before history repeated itself in a tragic and disastrous train crash. Aiding Stanley, who had broken his leg in the crash, the group walked to a nearby village, and, sending a telegram to their comrades in London, they rented a car and returned.

January 9, 1923: Ragnar and Marijan return from the countryside and later attend the Train Spotter’s Banquet, where Butter is happy to hear that Stanley made it out of the odd experience mostly unharmed, though he is saddened to hear of his new dislike of trains. Butter, and the rest of the train spotters speak enthusiastically of the Simplon-Orient Express and the luxury the group will expect on the journey. They even mention one of their members, Walter Partridge, will be riding the line this year as well. The trip to Paris awaits.

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