Night of the Haunter

Part Two: Providence

They arrived in Providence a little before dusk. As a first order of business, they sought a place to stay. Bobby rolled down his window and asked a local for directions to a nice hotel, in a respectable part of town, and they arrived at the Providence Radisson just at dark. While Jonathan secured a room at the front desk, Bobby browsed the rack of pamphlets like any good tourist, grabbing ones that looked like they could be relevant—either to help them get a better understanding of the city’s history, its geography, or otherwise. Before getting ready for bed, they agreed on a plan of action: the following morning, they would visit the historical society of Providence’s local history museum, as well as the Providence County Records Office to see what information they could dig up on the Church of Starry Wisdom.

The following morning, as Bobby and Vanessa headed off to the museum, Jonathan went to County Records. There, he asked for access to public records pertaining to the Church of Starry Wisdom. When asked his purpose, he explained that he was visiting Providence with some fellow students from Arkham, working together on a school project for a theology class, pertaining to forgotten fringe religions. The records didn’t shed much additional light on the group; however, he did uncover the address for their old church site, on Federal Hill. Digging deeper, he learned the site had remained unoccupied since 1877, and the property had changed hands numerous times, between one real estate holding company after another, though no one ever did anything to redevelop the property. Presently, a holding company somewhere in Europe seemed to own the site, though, like those who came before them, they seemed content to let the property rot.

While Jonathan conducted his business at County Records, Bobby and Vanessa arrived at the local history museum. Before attempting to speak with a member of the historical society, they decided to go through the exhibit. It was a lengthy journey through years of the city’s history, all the way back to its establishment. It surprised both Vanessa and Bobby to see not a single reference to the Church of Starry Wisdom anywhere in the exhibit, though there were numerous references to its founder, Enoch Bowen. Apparently, Bowen had been a very active and respected member in the Providence community until his death in 1865.

By the time they exited the exhibit, Jonathan had arrived at the museum. Together, they made their way to the office of the Providence Historical Society. Sticking to the same story he had fabricated at the county records office, Jonathan asked if they could speak with someone. They waited for nearly half an hour before an older gentleman finally came out to greet them, and invited them back to his office. He cautioned that he could spare no more than ten minutes, because he had to head over to the civic center for a seminar. Bobby wasted no time cutting straight to the point—if the Starry Wisdom church existed, and if such a respected member of the community had been involved in its founding, how could there be no reference to its existence anywhere in the official town lore.

“That’s a good question,” the historical society representative began. “Enoch Bowen has quite a storied history in the Providence community. He’s something of a local celebrity. You see, Enoch Bowen was an archaeologist—quite a respected one, in fact. He was born and raised in Providence, so of course the town wishes to claim him. Doctor Bowen is best known for his discovery, in 1843, of the tomb of the forgotten Egyptian pharaoh, Nephren-Ka. A year later, he returned to Providence. It is at this time that he founded the Starry Wisdom church. In light of his fame, and also his ample contributions to the community upon his return, the city can’t deny him. But, you must also understand that this city, especially in Bowen’s day and time, was a very religious community. You had your Protestants and your Catholics at odds with one another, of course. But such a battle is one of god against god, not of god against godlessness—which is exactly what the people of Providence perceived their conflict with Starry Wisdom to be. Upon Bowen’s return to Providence, he’d adopted some of the pagan practices and philosophies he made contact with in his time in the Middle East. It is the best of my understanding that his incorporation of these pagan sensibilities into his religious practices, and which was no doubt central to his Starry Wisdom church, that so put off the townspeople—such that, as you are well aware from your own research no doubt, in 1877, twelve years after Bowen’s death, his congregation found Providence a less than ideal place to practice their religion, and so moved on to greener pastures.” He smiled and laughed, “In short, Providence loves to claim the man, but they consider his personal moral and religious beliefs best forgotten. It better suits their heroification of him, I suppose.”

“Well,” Bobby asked, “what did he believe?”

“Who knows?” The man shrugged. “Thanks to a lack of preservation, as well as a number of fires that occurred in a citywide blackout of 1936, most of the documentation about the church and its practices has been wholly lost. Providence lost a lot it had to care about at that time,” he sighed. “Not least of which the life of Robert Blake.”

“Who?” Jonathan asked.

Vanessa answered, “He was a horror writer. He lived here in Providence. He probably would have had a long running career if looters in the Providence blackout of 1936 hadn’t broken into his home and killed him. They never caught the people who did it.”

“She’s right,” the historical society representative confirmed. “His body was found by some college students who could see his apartment from their dorm room. When they noticed he had been sitting by his window for several days straight without moving, they called the police. His body was found cold, bloated, and with his eyes cut from his skull. Gruesome, really.”

After the interview concluded, they decided to head to the Providence library to see if they could find any further information on Starry Wisdom or Enoch Bowen in the microfiche collection. There, they discovered an interesting assortment of newspaper, editorial, and journal fragments. With these fragments, the story of the scandal involving Starry Wisdom became a little clearer. Upon Enoch Bowen’s return from Egypt in May of 1944, he bought the old Free-Will Church on Federal Hill. There, his Church of Starry Wisdom was born. In December of the same year, Doctor Drowne, the head of Providence 4th Baptist Church, began to speak out, both in sermon and in newspaper editorials, against the “pagan practices” of the Starry Wisdom Church, warning that the people of Providence should not be seduced by Bowen’s fame and instead stand against his “godless” ways. However, the controversy seemed only to fuel interest in Bowen’s secretive sect, whose congregation had grown to ninety seven members by the end of 1845. Things seemed to calm down, until three people mysteriously disappeared in 1846, their vanishing never solved. Seven more people disappeared in 1848, and Doctor Drowne publicly accused the Starry Wisdom Church of being behind the disappearances. Despite any proof, the mysterious practices of the church were enough to fuel the rumor, and soon the people of Providence had begun to hypothesize the Starry Wisdom “cultists” must be engaging in blood sacrifices. By 1863, the Starry Wisdom church grew, amidst the controversy, to a two hundred plus person membership, its influence threatening to match that of the Protestant and Irish Catholic churches which dominated the community at that time. In 1869, when a young Irish boy named Patrick Reagan disappeared, the people of Providence once again accused the Starry Wisdom church of being behind it, and a group of Irish Catholics vandalized the church in retaliation. Following six more disappearances in 1876, the mayor of Providence called together a special committee to investigate the murders and the possibility of the church’s involvement, in hopes of culling the paranoia once and for all. By 1877, the investigations had brought up no conclusive evidence against the church, and it was believed the issue would be put to rest. Despite this apparent exoneration, a group of concerned citizens expressed in February of 1877 that action would be taken against the church. In the midst of this turmoil, the Starry Wisdom church closed its doors in 1877 and the congregation, in its apparent entirety, left the city to continue their religious practices elsewhere.

Vanessa, Bobby, and Jonathan felt the pangs of hunger, from a long day’s work of research, and left the library to grab lunch at a local McDonald’s. After finishing their meal, they made their way back into the parking lot, toward their car. At this time, they noticed two men get out of a Corvette Stingray and head in their direction, as two more men climbed out of a pickup truck and also approached from the opposite direction. The four men completed their approach by placing themselves between the three friends and their van.

“So,” one of the men began, “we heard you’re going around town asking questions better left alone.” He pulled a chain out from under his jacket. The others followed suit with a pipe, a switchblade, and a crowbar. “I guess no one ever taught you kids to keep your mouths shut growing up. Time you learned.”

The chain flew toward Bobby, striking him in the shoulder as he stepped back and grabbed a car’s antenna, ripping it off and raking it across the man’s face, drawing blood from his cheek. The man with the lead pipe lunged forward, striking Vanessa in the stomach. Jonathan lunged to her defense, but the man with the crowbar swung at his back, causing him to stumble a few step away.

Jonathan righted himself, turning to face the group, and drew, from the small of his back, a revolver. Cocking the hammer back, he leveled it at the attackers and said, “Back off, now!”

The four attackers backed away.

Next came the sound of sirens. Everyone looked to see a sheriff’s car, gunning it across the street from the Dunkin Donuts parking lot on the opposite side. It whipped into the McDonald’s lot, near the fight, and came to a stop as both doors opened and deputies stepped out, donuts in one hand and batons in the other. “What in the hell do you kids think you’re doing? Everyone drop your weapons, now!”

About an hour later, the three friends and their assailants all sat, separated, in the booking room of the Providence County Sheriff’s office. Eventually Vanessa, Bobby, and Jonathan were taken to a separate room, where deputies removed their handcuffs and told them to wait. After a few minutes, a man entered and identified himself as Sherriff Bowen. “What brings you kids to Providence?”

Jonathan did most of the talking, sticking to their original story. When Enoch Bowen’s name came up, Bobby chimed in, “Out of curiosity, are you related?”

“No,” the Sherriff said. “I get that question a lot, though.” He went on to explain that as far as he was concerned, the situation was a clear cut one of self defense. “I’m not surprised,” he added. “There are still people in this town whose families pass down stories of the old conflict with Starry Wisdom here, and a lot like the Germans and the Nazis people here don’t take too kindly to the past being brought up, let alone dug through by a bunch of outsiders. So, do you want to let bygones be bygones here, or do you intend to press charges?”

After charges were pressed, Bobby, Vanessa, and Jonathan headed back to the hotel to get a night’s rest. A little after ten o’clock, a call from the front desk came up to their room, and the clerk told them Sherriff Bowen had come to the hotel to have a word with them. “He’s waiting in the lounge.”

They dressed quickly and made their way down to see him. The Sheriff was no longer in uniform, but a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, denim jacket, and boots. He bought all three of them a drink, and made small talk through a good bit of his own before getting down to business. “This report you’re writing, what do you intend to do with it?”

After Vanessa’s journalistic ambitions with the Boston Globe were mentioned, Bowen said, “I haven’t been entirely up front with you. I am Enoch Bowen’s great grandson. I wasn’t raised in Providence, because my grandmother was taken from Providence shortly after the Starry Wisdom church dissolved in 1877. I’m going to tell you the truth about what happened to Starry Wisdom, because I prefer truth, and I’m tired of everyone wearing masks and running from their demons around here. The truth of the matter is no one ever figured out conclusively if Starry Wisdom was behind all those disappearances. The mayor’s exoneration of the church wasn’t enough for the townspeople, though. History says the Starry Wisdom church left Providence. It didn’t leave Providence. One night, while they were worshipping in their church, a unified force of the Catholic and Protestant churches in the town surrounded the building. They broke in and murdered every one of the congregation. Men, women, children—it didn’t matter.” He finished his drink, and stood to leave. “Tell it like it is, kids. Someone needs to.” With that, he left.

The following morning, they made their way to Federal Hill, and stopped to stand in front of a church that looked exactly like the one from their shared dream. Together they made their way through the front door and up the aisle to the altar. But when they reached it, they did not find the strange artifact waiting for them, to offer any revelations. They did, however, hear a man clear his throat behind them. When they turned to look, they saw none other than Laszlo Pendergast sitting in the darkness of the pews, his face downcast.

The first thing they thought was they had been caught in the act and would have to confess to their treachery. Bobby and Jonathan instinctively stepped between Pendergast and Vanessa. But the professor seemed entirely unconcerned with them. Instead, he merely began to whisper, “I used to wake up every morning, staring out my window. I prayed for… something, anything different than what I had seen the day before. Anything but the same horizon, the same blue skies. Then I found Starry Wisdom. Starry Wisdom holds open the window. It shows us sights unseen. Its reward is to see. Starry Wisdom can show you the truth. It can show you all the forgotten gods and forgotten places that man refuses to see.” He looked right at them then, eyes wild, and snarled, “Let me show it to you,” lifting high into view the impossibly shaped artifact all three friends had gazed upon in their shared dream.

A black cloud began to ooze from it, much like ink might ooze from the puncture wound in a great squid, spreading out in the air, growing wider and thicker. The three friends found themselves suddenly gripped with terror and panic, hearts beating in their chests as though they might explode, and screaming at the very top of their lungs even as Pendergast howled with laughter. Bobby was the first to move, running toward one of the stained glass windows. He lunged for it, placing his duffle bag between it and himself. The glass shattered as he tumbled through it, landing in the church lawn. Vanessa and Jonathan followed, running as fast as they could as the dark cloud moved after them with something like bloodthirsty sentience, as though it sought only to devour them. When they tumbled through the window, into the light of the day, it did not give chase, but lurked, seeming to watch them, from within the darkness of the church.

They did not waste time studying it, but ran as far as they could from the church on Federal Hill, until they were so winded that they could run no more and had no choice left but to calm down. Only when the calm returned to them did they realize the strange creature was not the only thing their eyes had seen. Each had seen within the artifact exactly what Pendergast had described. It was as though a window had opened in his hands to a place beyond space and time, and as they looked around themselves now and saw the mundane world which surrounded them, it paled in comparison to even that slight, momentary glimpse of the fantastic, horrific world of non-Euclidean spaces and cyclopean cities waiting on the other side. Their desire to see it one more time overcame them, and they made their way back to the Starry Wisdom church.

But Pendergast was already gone, and all that waited for them was the structure’s mundane, vacuous emptiness.

“New York,” Vanessa whispered, longingly. “When I interviewed Pendergast, he said he was going to New York. It’s next on his itinerary.”

“We have to go,” Bobby moaned.

“Yes,” Jonathan said through quickening breath. “We have to.”

“We have to find him,” Vanessa agreed.

Bobby whispered, “I need to—”

“Yes,” from Jonathan.

And Vanessa, “We need to see it again.”

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Wintermancer

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