Episode Eight- NAIVE:
Hello and welcome to the Mistholme Museum of Mystery, Morbidity and Mortality. This audio tour guide will be your constant companion in your journey through the unknown and surreal.
As you approach our exhibits, the audio tour guide will provide you with information and insights into their nature and history.
Do not attempt to interact or communicate with the exhibits.
Do not attempt to interact or communicate with the audio tour guide. If you believe that the audio tour guide may be deviating from the intended tour program, please deposit your audio device in the nearest incinerator.
While the staff here at Mistholme Museum of Mystery Morbidity and Mortality do their absolute best to ensure the safety of all visitors, accidents can happen. The museum is not liable for any injury, death, or defenestration that may occur during your visit.
Enjoy your tour.
And good luck.
A Replica Alternatural Event Shelter
Well isn’t this apt? Behind this door with the weird symbol on it is is a perfect replica of one of the Alternatural Event Shelters in which the rest of the Museum’s Staff and Patrons are currently tucked away safe and sound probably. It was built for use in Staff training exercises, but has been placed in a publicly accessible area so that the existence of these shelters can be normalised in the minds of our patrons. In the event that a guest to the museum is forced to make use of one of these shelters for an extended period of time- for example, 3 months and counting- it can be highly beneficial to their state of mind if they can have some knowledge of these facilities beforehand. Why don’t we take a look around the shelter so we can get some idea of what the folks currently trapped in the real thing are going through, hmm?
Now, if this was a real shelter you would probably have tasted copper as you crossed the threshold, but that wasn’t the case here. That’s because this replica doesn’t have any of the real shelter’s many protective layers built into the walls which would keep out any unwanted Alternatural beings or items. If you were an alternatural being and you tried getting into one of the real shelters you would have felt more than just a bit of copper on your tongue I’ll tell you what. Now, as we move into the main area of the shelter you can see that the designers of these shelters had economic use of space in mind right from the start. Some might called it cramped, but others might prefer “cozy”. The people who designed it would definitely say “efficient” though. The table in the common room is big enough to eat at or perhaps play a nice game of solitaire, if you thought to bring a pack with you, and if the occupants are patient and take turns there’s enough space for everyone! If you’ll turn your head to the right slightly, you’ll see the kitchen: a microwave oven and a freezer full of ready meals, enough to last a full year at maximum capacity.
Moving on to the sleeping quarters, each shelter has bunks for 50 people. Moving on to the bathroom facilities, we have a pretty standard setup. A toilet, a shower, and a mirror in which the occupants can stare at their own reflections to remind themselves who they are, that they really exist, and that the experience they are going through is real and not some sort of unending waking nightmare.
Hmm. Maybe I’m already starting to break down, but I can’t help but feel… bad for the people trapped in these things? Is that strange? I wonder at what point the human mind just snaps in here, and the occupants start trying to escape, Alternatural Event or no Alternatural Event. Unfortunately for anyone who tries it, there is no way to open the Shelters from the inside: all Shelters in the Museum are controlled and monitored remotely from the Patronage Department.
Of course, if all the staff are gone or trapped inside the Shelters…
Maybe we could pay a visit to the Patronage Department at some point. Just to check on things.
This exhibit is a classic example of the old adage “Looks can be deceiving”. Before you, you will see a small cast iron cooking pot, with little to no interesting or distinguishing features. It appears well-used, but well-maintained, and is currently empty. However, if you would be so kind as to step onto the footprint markers on the floor in front of you and to the right… Oh, go on. There! Now as you can see, the pot looks somewhat different from this angle- in fact, it could hardly even be called a pot. “Cauldron” feels a far more apt descriptor. Where the pot was small and unremarkable, the Cauldron is huge- big enough, say, to fit a person inside- and positively covered in a history of the things that have been cooked inside. While the Cauldron itself is not an Alternatural Item, it has most certainly had some inside of it, and may have been instrumental in the creation of more. It is safe to say that the cauldron has never been washed- at least, not thoroughly- and the stench is, I’m told, almost overwhelming, though you probably already noticed that. All in all, it’s precisely what you might see bubbling away on a hearth, if you were to stumble into the home of a witch.
The story of how the Cauldron came to be on display here in the Museum does not begin in that witch's darkened hut, however, but in the home of a young woman named Amina. Or, more accurately, her family’s home. You see, Amina was a woman somewhat lacking in direction, and purpose, in life. Not that she would have said so- she was perfectly happy not paying rent and generally living stress-free- but on that matter she didn’t exactly see eye to eye with her parents. Amina was the third of four siblings: her elder sister was a neurosurgeon, her brother was a pilot in the Air Force, and her younger sister was well on her way to having a degree in law, and all three of them had naturally moved out of home almost as early as they were physically able. Amina, meanwhile, had little more than half of an abandoned social services degree, a casual retail job, and a string of on-again-off-again girlfriends to her name. It wasn’t so much that she was lazy, and there were certainly times when she felt bad for taking advantage of her parents, but the fact of the matter was that she simply wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do with her life. She’d tried a hundred different things, but she had never truly felt drawn to any of them in the long run.
Her parents were supportive, but they had their limits, and eventually their gentle pushes became firmer as they grew tired of waiting for Amina to grow up. Amina was clever- too clever for her own good, as her father would say- and was fully aware that her parents resented her lifestyle. But, whenever they sat her down to give her some quote tough talk unquote tears would spring to her eyes, and her mother would envelop her in a warm hug and her father would uncomfortably clear his throat and leave the room, and all would be forgotten for a little while. But Amina knew that trick would only work for so long, and one morning- after seeing her parent’s cold stares at the breakfast table as she chugged orange juice to overcome a hangover- she decided that it was time for a change. If only a temporary one. She had fond memories from her youth of her Aunty, with whom the family hadn’t had much to do in many years. Amina didn’t know the woman’s name- she’d always been referred to simply as Aunty- and she wasn’t fully aware of the details why her mother and Aunty had fallen out, but she suspected it was to do with a difference in lifestyle: Amina’s mother was a very straight-laced woman who married a lawyer and kept an orderly home, whereas her memories of Aunty were of an energetic and wild-haired woman who always brought the strangest gifts when she visited. Amina figured that if she could get in touch with Aunty and convince her to let her stay at her home, she could continue coasting for a while longer. And, if things didn’t work out at Aunty’s, Amina was quite certain that her parent’s disdain for Aunty would make them almost eager to welcome her back, out of some twisted sense of pride.
When Amina broached the subject to her parents, she could sense the conflict in their hearts. On the one hand, she would finally be gone from their home. On the other, they shuddered to think of what terrible habits she might pick up from her Aunt. In the end, though, they agreed it was a fine enough idea, and Amina’s mother dug around until she turned up Aunty’s address. Amina couldn’t help but feel a little dismayed at the realisation that Aunty’s unusual lifestyle included being so detached from modern life that she didn’t even have a phone, and could only be contacted by post. Too far in to turn back now, Amina composed a letter and sent it off, and received a reply somewhat sooner than she’d expected. It simply said “I would be delighted to have you, sweetie.” With that, it was settled, and a few days later Amina’s parents bid her a tearful farewell as she set off on the long drive to her Aunty’s home in the woods.
Amina’s initial misgivings were deepened when she got her first look at Aunty’s house. Shack may have been a more apt description, or perhaps hut. As she drove up the narrow path, she saw no signs of other vehicles, or indeed any form of modern technology whatsoever; it was as if she had stepped back in time. She pulled up in an open spot near the wooden fence that surrounded the hut- carefully avoiding a slightly overgrown herb garden as she did- and got out of her car. She eyed the hut warily: it was small, and made entirely of wood, with windows so scuffed and old she couldn’t see through them. The roof had clearly seen a number of amateur repair-jobs in its time, and Amina worried if it was even waterproof. Smoke rose steadily from the chimney, drifting away on the breeze and quickly disappearing into the thick foliage above. Amina had half a mind to get back in her car right that second, but she was committed now. She walked up the gravel path to the door and knocked.
There was no response. She knocked again, harder. The door swung open slowly, and Amina peered inside. The interior of the hut matched the outside, cramped and damp and filled with cobwebs. In the centre of the far wall, above a cold hearth, was a small cast iron pot. Amina cleared her throat, nervous for perhaps the first time in her life, and called out a hello. A voice answered, higher and scratchier than she had expected from her Aunty, asking who was there. Amina apologised for entering without permission, and introduced herself. “Ahh”, said the strange voice, “come in, come in.” Amina pushed the door open all the way and stepped over the threshold, searching for the source of the voice in the gloom. Her gaze fell on a bed tucked away in the corner of the hut, where she could just make out a shape huddled under a mouldy blanket, covers pulled over its head. “Aunty?” Amina asked, and the blanket twitched suddenly, before the voice spoke up again. “Yes. Hello Amina. I’ve expected you.” Amina’s memories of her Aunty were far from perfect, but she knew that something wasn’t right about the voice. She remembered Aunty’s voice oas distinctly deep and boisterous, whereas the one she heard now was more of a high pitched rasp. Amina stopped walking and squinted at the bed. “Why are you in bed, Aunty?” she asked, trying to conceal the suspicion in her voice. “It’s the middle of the day. Are you sick?” The shape in the bed twitched again, and the voice said “Oh no, deary. Not sick at all. Just taking a nap, you need to from time to time at my age.” Amina stayed where she was. “Why do you have the covers over your head, Aunty?” The blanket stopped moving, then slowly started shifting down as the figure in the bed emerged. “Well, it gets very cold in here deary. Sometimes you need to cover up a little to get comfortable”.
By this point Amina was already quite certain the person in the bed was not her Aunty. But as the blanket was pulled away and she saw the face of the person impersonating her, she became even more certain that it wasn’t a person at all. First to emerge were the ears, far too long and pointy to belong to a human even if they’d been attached to the right part of the head. Then, the eyes, too wide and bulging with slitted pupils. Finally, a mouth with too many teeth in too many row, far far too sharp, that contorted in ways that didn’t seem possible to form the words “Well, deary, why are you standing all the way over there. Come and give Aunty a hug”. Amina did the opposite, stepping away and bumping against a shelf on the wall opposite. She cleared her throat again. Something in the demeanour of the creature made her think that it didn’t realise she thought it was a threat. Perhaps it would be best if she played along for a moment, she could keep it from… killing her. Her throat threatened to close up from the terror as she stammered for a moment, asking “Aunty” if she was sure she wasn’t sick, as she looked a little off colour. She turned and began rummaging in the shelves, calling over her shoulder that she would try and find some medicine for her. Behind her the creature made a sound approximating a chuckle and insisted it was fine as she pulled down bottles of strange liquid and jars of herbs she didn’t recognise. She spied a satchel on the ground and leapt on it, panic beginning to grip her heart as she pulled out more herbs, more strange parcels, more knick-knacks that would be absolutely no help at all in defending her against what she now heard approaching her, getting closer and closer as she searched for something, anything, to save herself. Her hand found something in the satchel just as another hand fell heavily on her shoulder.
She turned slowly, hand still in the satchel. The creature that had replaced her Aunty, or perhaps even was her Aunty, stood above her, its limbs unnaturally long and covered in shaggy patchy fur. It was so massive it had to stoop low to fit under the hut’s roof, its head leaning down towards Amina’s face, breath hot on her cheeks. They locked eyes, and the creature chuckled again. “What’s the matter, Deary?” it asked. “See something scary?”. And it pounced. Acting on reflex, Amina’s hand whipped out of the satchel still clutching the thing she had found: a small wooden branch. She plunged it into the creature’s chest and it howled in agony and fell away, rolling about on the ground as blood and smoke poured from the wound. As Amina watched, gobsmacked, the creature’s skin seemed to grow tighter and tighter, then withered away until it was nothing but a pile of bones, then a pile of ash, the screams continuing far longer than should have seemed possible. Finally, they stopped, and Amina was left alone in the cold, dark, silent hut.
Amina stood, panting, for several seconds after the creature’s death. Part of her still expected to wake up in her bed in her parent’s house and find it had all been a bizarre and terrible dream. Then, the silence was broken by a faint tapping sound. Amina looked around for its source, but saw nothing. The sound came again; this time, she realised it was coming from the direction of the hearth, though she could still see no source. The tapping came again, and she stepped toward the hearth; and in an instant, the small cast iron pot that had been sitting there was gone, and in its place was a huge cauldron, lid firmly in place. The tapping came again, clearer now, and she pulled away the lid to reveal the cauldron’s contents: a wild-haired elderly woman, dressed in patchwork robes, bound and gagged, easily recognisable as her Aunty.
That afternoon, after she had recovered from her ordeal, Aunty explained to Amina that the creature who had come so close to killing them both had been drawn to the hut by Aunty’s magic, hungry to devour her and gain her power. It was sheer chance- or perhaps something more- that had brought Amina to her door just in time to intervene, and it was no mere chance that she had been able to. Most people would have seen and heard nothing unusual about the creature that had stolen Aunty’s identity, as it was capable of powerful illusions. Furthermore, it could be no mere stroke of luck that Amina’s hand had fallen on a branch of a willow tree, one of the few things capable of killing such a creature. Amina, who was still somewhat baffled by the whole experience, asked Aunty what exactly she was getting at, and Aunty smiled warmly. With a wave of her hand, the hut transformed around them: gone was the dampness and the mould and the cobwebs, replaced by a warm, comfortable, and surprisingly roomy home that didn’t at all match the outside appearance of the hut. Amina turned to her Aunty with a look of wonderment on her face, and Aunty met her gaze with a mixture of pride and excitement in her eyes.
From that day forward, Amina became her Aunty’s apprentice in the ways of witchcraft. She learned of spells and potions and magical creatures that most folk only thought of as fairy tales. She met the rest of her Aunty’s coven, all wild women like herself, and for the first time she found a place where she truly felt that she fit in, and a path she truly felt she wanted to walk. In time, she became a highly respected witch in her own right. At the end of her apprenticeship, Aunty and the rest of the coven granted her her very own cauldron, with which she could brew her own magic potions; and, some years later, when Aunty died peacefully in her sleep from old age, it was the unanimous decision of the coven that her Cauldron should be retired from use, out of respect for the woman who had once used it. It was donated to the Museum, so that Aunty’s memory could live on and her wild spirit could continue to nurture the spark of potential in the hearts of young women in years to come. If even one person who isn’t sure where they want life to lead them can find the path because of this exhibit, that will be enough to make Aunty smile, wherever she is now.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Blood
Coming up, we have the most popular area of the Museum with children: The Stables. Now, technically it’s more of a series of segregated enclosures like an indoor zoo or aquarium, but at some point someone started calling it “The Stables” and it stuck. This is where we keep the majority of our more… lively exhibits- that is to say, the ones that are, for want of a better word, alive. Some of these are animals of one kind or another, either alternatural in and of themselves or connected to a historical Alternatural Event. Others are more… unique, but generally speaking, the exhibits that get placed in The Stables are done so without much hesitation or controversy. If an exhibit has any ability to move of its own volition: it goes to The Stables. If an exhibit poses an immediate, active threat to those in their immediate vicinity: it goes to the stables. If an exhibit generally requires a more specialised containment setup than the average, it goes to The Stables.
In short, The Stables is where we put exhibits that need that extra bit of attention and care, and a place where they can feel comfortable and safe, and also where our patrons feel comfortable and safe around them. As such, this is one of the more high-security public areas of the Museum, with guards posted outside at all times. A manifest of all patrons currently inside is kept, with names taken at the entrance. As you can see however, due to the lockdown the guards are not present, though there is quite a volume of… blood, around the entrance. Ahh. Would… would you mind taking a look inside? Just so we know what the situation is here.
On your left as you enter is a large glass enclosure where we keep a herd of monkeys who have the ability to change their appearance to mimic any person they see. Their enclosure is right by the door, as a nice little surprise for guests as they enter, to ease them into the experience. Of course, as you can see, their enclosure is… quite empty. The door that is supposed to grant Museum Staff access to their enclosure is wide open so I guess we can’t blame them for not sticking around. Still, it’s going to be a real pain to round them up, it’s a PR disaster waiting to happen if we accidentally capture a child thinking it’s one of them. That’s happened before. Further in, we have an exhibit featuring a fearsome ore: The head of a human, the body of a lion, the wings of an eagle, and a live snake for a tail. Now, don’t go thinking that this is an example of the mythological creature you may have seen in fantasy novels or films: there is not, in nature, such a creature as a Manticore. What we have here is more of a Hybrid, which is to say that it is a genetic amalgam of multiple separate creatures. It is believed that the creature who lives in this enclosure is nothing more than the offspring of a Lion Man and a Winged Serpent. Or, at least it wasn’t. The door to its enclosure also appears to be open… who knew that thing could fit through a door that small. Moving on, we-
Can see another empty enclosure with an open door. Do you know what, I think a pattern is starting to emerge here, and also there are some… noises of indeterminate origin coming from deeper into The Stables so it may be wise to quietly go back the way we came. Good work. Nice and slow. Ignore the blood, good work. Ok, now just seal the exit and… done. Ok, so it’s safe to say that more than a few of the exhibits that are supposed to be in there are… not. Not much to be done about that except try to keep an ear out and stay out of their way. Right! Well, now is probably as good a time as any to say thank you for visiting the Mistholme Museum of Mystery, Morbidity, and Mortality. We hope that- did you hear that? Ok, how about we just head for an elevator.