Episode Seven- ISOLATED
Hello, and welcome to The Mistholme Museum of Mystery, Morbidity, and Mortality. You’re… not supposed to be here! How did you get in? I regret to inform you that The Museum is currently in a state of Lockdown due to SCRATCH reasons you don’t need to know. Please make your way to the nearest exit as quickly as possible- right. Lockdown. All exits are sealed- how did you get in here? Alright, please make your way to the nearest Alternatural Event Shelter. You’ll recognise the shelters by the mark on the door, which- ah. The shelters all appear to be sealed too. Makes sense. After all, lockdown has been in effect for- 3 months?? Oh dear, this is really not the best way to start your tour is it now? Well, on behalf of the Museum, this Audio Tour Guide would like to sincerely apologise for the poor service you are receiving today. Please feel free to write any comments you have for how you would improve this experience onto a leaf- preferably evergreen- and feed it to an animal belonging to the Felidae family at the earliest convenience. Your feedback is important to us, and we will do our best to take your comments on board.
For now, though, would you be so kind as to deposit your Audio Device in the nearest incinerator? There is likely more than enough for Museum Staff to deal with right now without adding a Malfunctioning Audio Tour Guide into the mix, so we should probably nip that one in the bud before it becomes a possibility, eh? Well, nice meeting you! Thank you for visiting The Mistholme Museum of Mystery, Morbidity, and Mortality. We hope you have enjoyed your time here, and that- oh. The Incinerators are… sealed. Tight. Well, when we go into Lockdown we really go all out.
Uuuuhhhh… I’m not receiving a signal from any Supervisors… or, anyone for that matter. Haha. Ok, don’t panic don’t panic, you really have to stop panicking, why would you panic, we’re just sealed inside a functionally endless labyrinth with no way out and no way to get help and who knows what stalking the halls, “stalking”? Does this thing even stalk, is it even a thing, they didn’t tell me anything about this they never tell us anything!
I’m sorry. Look, uhh, we’re both in this together. Unfortunately, you’re some kind of… fleshy.. Idiot, no offence, and pretty much all I can do is give fascinating information about the exhibits here. I suppose you’d best start using those… leg… things to take a look around and try to figure out what’s going, maybe find a way out. And I’ll…
Well, you came here for a tour, didn’t you?
CONTENT WARNINGS: Death (Murder, Supernatural), Mob Violence, Body Horror
Well, let’s start here! As you may have noticed, the light in this room is being produced by a lantern, hung from the ceiling, in which a single candle burns surprisingly brightly. It is clearly rather old, but in good condition, made from ornately forged bronze. There appears, at first glance, to be an intricate pattern in the metal, twists and curlicues scattering all over the lantern’s frame; however, closer inspection will find no such patterning, and extended attempts to find such an inscription typically causes dizziness and even fainting in those who do so. The candle is a typical wax-and-wick situation. There is nothing special about it- in fact, it was purchased from a perfectly normal supermarket. However, the Lantern carries a security warning, one which may seem outlandish at first, but which absolutely must not be violated under any circumstances: do not attempt to hold the lantern, as you may find that you can never put it down again.
The lantern was bequeathed to the Museum by the estate of a Ms Tabitha Greer. Ms Greer acquired the Lantern in the 1970s, when she and her husband Harry moved into the cozy gated community of Harlow’s Glen. It was a very typical sort of suburban cul-de-sac, where all the houses were very similar and they all had the same mailbox and the lawns were all perfectly trimmed. The kind of place where it felt like time had stopped moving a few decades prior, a time capsule of a world that might never really have existed where everyone knew their neighbour and nobody ever moved away. It was exactly the sort of place that Tabitha and Harry had long dreamed of living, and that dream was finally reality. The day they moved into their newly built two-story, four bedroom, home with a nice backyard and space for both their cars was the happiest of Tabitha’s life- except perhaps their wedding day. It was that afternoon, while they were busy getting their dream home ready, that they had their first encounter with the neighbours.
The chime of the doorbell summoned Tabitha and Harry to the front door, and when they opened it they were greeted by a smiling middle-aged woman, carrying a wrapped parcel. Tabitha recognised her as Martha, the secretary of the Harlow’s Glen Homeowners Association, whom she had met when she signed the Homeowner’s Agreement prior to moving in- though Tabitha had barely even skimmed it, as it was dreadfully dull. Martha exclaimed that the trio were “Cross Street Neighbours”, pointing to a house across the street, and that she was ever so excited that the final house in the neighbourhood was finally occupied. Harry was about to invite Martha in for a cup of tea when she launched into a lengthy reminder of expectations the Homeowners Association had for the new residents. The length to which the grass should be kept. The colours they were allowed to paint their mailbox. The position the bins were expected to be placed in the street, and the time by which they must be taken in after being emptied. As the list went on and on, Tabitha’s focus began to drift, and she noticed that, despite her outwardly composed and put together appearance, there was something off about her. The roots of her hair were grey, and there was something about her eyes that seemed a little too… intense. Bordering on crazed. Trouble at home maybe?
Tabitha snapped back to reality when she realised that Martha had stopped talking, and was now holding out an elegantly wrapped box to her. Harry took the box and opened it to reveal an ornately patterned bronze lantern, sans candle. Tabitha asked Martha what it was for, but all she recieved was a laugh and a wink, and a reminder to attend the Homeowners Association Meeting that night. And with that, Martha walked off down the road, while Tabitha and Harry- perplexed at this first encounter with the locals- got back to work unpacking.
That evening Tabitha and Harry got dressed up in the nicest clothes they had unpacked thus far and strolled down the street to the house at the end of the cul-de-sac, which they were told belonged to the President of the Homeowner’s Association. They stepped through the door, passing under a lantern as they did so, and were engulfed in a sea of handsome and well-dressed people enthusiastically welcoming them to the neighbourhood. The hosts, and Joint Association Presidents, were a beautiful couple who introduced themselves as Jack and Astrid, and they effusively welcomed Tabitha and Harry to their home, and to Harlow’s Glen. Once everyone had introduced themselves and had some nibblies and a glass of wine or three, everyone sat down to begin a meeting of the Harlow’s Glen Homeowners Association.
First on the agenda was welcoming Tabitha and Harry to the neighbourhood. They were made to stand, and Jack and Astrid led the members of the Homeowners Association in giving them a round of applause. Through the haze of her own excruciating discomfort, Tabitha could swear she saw tears welling in Astrid’s eyes, but when she looked again they were gone. After what felt like an eternity, the applause died down, and the couple were able to sit down again.
The rest of the meeting was comparatively unremarkable. Along with the formal welcoming of Tabitha and Harry, along with a reminder that they strictly adhere to all aspects of their agreement, and some more general remarks about the length lawns were to be kept and the tidiness of street-facing areas. Tabitha felt she was just about to fall asleep when they got to the final subject of the evening: the lighting of the Lanterns. As Jack handed out candles, Astrid exclaimed, with an almost rapturous expression on her face, that with the final house in Harlow’s Glen finally occupied, it was time to begin. When they got home, all residents were to place these candles in the Lanterns, light them, and let the candles burn. Tabitha took a candle and looked at Harry, perplexed; the expression he gave her in return was equally baffled, but also warned her away from questioning things. When they got home they lit the candle, which was unremarkable apart from a slightly off odour, and looked at the neighbouring houses. Every resident of Harlow’s Glen was standing at their respective doorsteps, beneath lit Lanterns, smiling warmly at the new arrivals.
Inside, Tabitha sat down and, for the first time, began to properly read the Homeowners Association Agreement. The details were mostly mundane- if incredibly specific- details on how houses and gardens were to be kept, and how residents were to behave in public in order to maintain the good reputation of the community. She found the part about the lanterns, and how they were to be lit when the final home was filled. But some of the wording was frankly a little baffling, and certainly didn’t seem like standard legal language. Some of it could just have been her lack of legal knowledge, but others were… strange. The phrase “in perpetuity” was used with some gratuity, and the reasoning for the strict standards was simply given as “Because this will be our home forever”. Tabitha showed these passages to Harry, and he dismissed them as mistakes in the contract. Martha or someone else in the Association had probably written it themself. Tabitha looked out the window at the lanterns shining brightly down the street, and couldn’t help but feel that something wasn’t quite right about their new home. But it was getting late, and she decided the rest of the Agreement could wait.
The next morning, Harry kissed Tabitha goodbye before leaving for his job in the city, while Tabitha got to work setting up her study so she could work from home. Around lunchtime the doorbell rang, and she opened to door to find Martha, bearing a plate of sandwiches and a smile so wide Tabitha worried that her face might split in half. They had a pleasant lunch together and Tabitha thought that, overbearing as the neighbours may be, she might actually come to enjoy living in Harlow’s Glen. Then Martha asked why Harry wasn’t joining them for lunch, and when Tabitha explained that he was at work Martha’s smile froze, then slowly turned to a look of confusion and horror. But. she stammered, the Lantern! The Lantern was still atop their door, why hadn’t Harry taken it with him? Tabitha didn’t know what to say, so Martha rushed around the table and gripped her shoulders so hard that Tabitha cried out in pain, but Martha didn’t seem to notice. Where had he gone, she said, almost shouting, how long ago? When Tabitha told her it had been hours she thought Martha might faint, but after a moment she grabbed her coat and headed for the door, telling Tabitha to come quickly. It might not be too late. Too confused and scared to ask any questions of her own, Tabitha followed. Outside, Martha reached up and grabbed the Lantern; Tabitha was surprised to see that, not only was it still lit after almost a full day, it didn’t even seem to have used up any of its wax. Holding the Lantern in one hand and Tabitha’s hand in her other, Martha rushed away down the road heading out of Harlow’s Glen. The sun was still in the sky, and yet somehow the light of the Lantern still cut through, casting a sickly yellow glow over the lawns, the trees, the road. Martha kept looking furtively at the houses as they passed, but they saw nobody on their way to the community’s wrought-iron gates. Taking a look back at the quiet houses, and still holding Tabitha’s hand so very tightly, Martha opened the gates and stepped outside of Harlow’s Glen.
There was something about the air, as soon as they walked through the gate, that almost made the women bend over, coughing up their lungs. Tabitha had only been in Harlow’s Glen for a day or so, but somehow she had become used to the sweet and wholesome suburban air, she supposed. When they recovered, Tabitha looked around. The road she and her husband had driven down just two days prior seemed strangely unfamiliar to her, the few cars that passed felt like they were from another life. She shook her head, trying to clear the fog. And then she saw, maybe a hundred meters down the road, her husband’s car. On the side of the road, where it appeared to have drifted to a stop rather than been parked. Surrounding it were police cars. And ambulances. Martha whispered that they were too late, but Tabitha barely heard it as she began running, Martha’s hand almost losing her grip as she sprinted toward the cluster of cars. Martha protested, saying there was nothing they could do, that they needed to get back before anyone noticed they were gone, but she didn’t let go of Tabitha’s hand as they ran to the car. Tabitha expected the police officers to intercept them and tell them to keep their distance, but they didn’t even seem to notice as they ran to the open car door. And Tabitha saw, resting halfway out of the seat with a look of twisted agony on his face, Harry. Or rather, she just barely recognised the dessicated corpse wearing Harry’s clothing. Because if this was Harry, he looked as though he had been 100 years old when he died, and that that had been 100 years ago again. As Tabitha stared, mouth agape and tears streaking down her face, Harry’s jaw detached and fell to the ground, where it effectively shattered. The police and paramedics, who still didn’t seem to have noticed them, stepped back in shock, and Martha pulled Tabitha away before the body could decay any more. She was still crying and sobbing as Martha dragged her back through the gate, shutting it behind them, and when she pulled her back through her front door.
Martha slapped Tabitha across her face to get her attention, and Tabitha, lying on her couch, stopped sobbing for a moment. What in the world had Harry been thinking? Why had he left, and even if he’d had a good reason why would he fail to take the Lantern? Martha was equal parts outraged and terrified, but Tabitha was fed up. What the hell was Martha talking about, she screamed. What had happened to her husband? What was going on with this weirdo community? What was the deal with the Lanterns? Martha slapped a hand over Tabitha’s mouth, and when she was quiet went to close the curtains. She sat down opposite Tabitha and, shakily, asked her if she had read the Homeowners Agreement. Tabitha began to say that of course she had, but stopped when she saw Martha’s face. Not really, she admitted. She’d skimmed most- part- of it. But why would that matter? It was just a stupid guide about lawns and bins, what did it have to do with what had happened to her husband? Martha looked as though she was about to vomit, but eventually composed herself and launched into an explanation that Tabitha understood practically none of. Harlow’s Glen was special, except that it wasn’t special, that’s what was special about it, it was a less complex place kept well away from the complexities of the world, but it had to be perfect or why would they want to live there? Tabitha screamed at her to start making sense, and Martha shushed her again, looking fearfully at the windows. The Lanterns, she said. It was all in the Lanterns. They would burn forever, and keep everything and everyone inside Harlow’s Glen exactly as they were now. No matter what happened outside, Harlow’s Glen would be perfect forever. But they could never be too far from the Lanterns- they were Quantum Something-or-othered, Tabitha didn’t understand exactly what that meant. But things had to be kept in balance. They had waited to have the perfect number of people and houses before lighting the Lanterns to make sure things were just right, because they would be that way forever. They had vetted the perfect residents for years, and waited so long, and now that was all in jeopardy because Tabitha and Harry hadn’t read the agreement.
Martha was becoming more and more enraged with every moment, but all that fell away when the doorbell rang. She told Tabitha to hide, and the look in her eyes was so filled with genuine, primal terror that she did so without asking, clutching the Lantern as she hid behind the couch. Martha answered the door, and Tabitha saw that the entire Homeowners Association was standing on her front lawn, with Astrid and Jack at their head. They asked where Tabitha and Harry were, and Martha said they were upstairs, she was there helping them unpack. Tabitha couldn’t see what Astrid did to make Martha scream in agony, but when the screaming stopped Martha was on the floor, curled up into a ball, surrounded by the Harlow’s Glen Homeowners Association. Seething with fury, Astrid proclaimed that Martha had been derelict in her duties as Association Secretary, as clearly the rules and nature of Harlow’s Glen had not been properly conveyed to the newest members. The balance had been thrown out, and it would take considerable effort to right things. As such, Jack said, he and Astrid had no choice but to revoke her membership in the Harlow’s Glen Homeowners Association. And, they concluded over Martha’s terrified pleas for mercy, she was therefore no longer eligible to be a resident of Harlow’s Glen, effective immediately. From her hiding place, Tabitha watched with horror as Martha seemingly aged dozens of years in a matter of seconds, writhing on the floor of her living room, before becoming still, already starting to rot.
Astrid, Jack, and the rest of the Homeowners Association stood in somber silence for a moment. Then, Jack told the other members to search the house in case either of the couple were still alive. Tabitha broke cover, still clutching the Lantern, and sprinted for the garage. Homeowners lunged after her, but in their haste most tripped over each other or the still-packed moving boxes. Tabitha reached the garage and jumped in her car, locking the doors as her neighbours began pounding on the glass, some cajoling, some pleading, some shouting at her to come out and talk to them. Tears streaked down Tabitha’s face as she stared through the windshield at the closed garage door, knowing that she hadn’t thought to put the electric opener in her car yet. Out of the crowd of her neighbours Astrid and Jack emerged, Jack smug, Astrid enraged, as they maneuvered themselves in front of her car. Jack asked her politely to get out of the car so they could explain things; Astrid instructed her to do the same, rather less politely. Tabitha looked around at all of the people whom, just last night, had seemed so pleasant and kind and neighbourly toward her, and turned the key in the ignition.
Most of the people surrounding the car backed away immediately. Astrid and Jack were the sole exceptions. Astrid’s scowl seemed to fade a little, and Jack’s smile was a little less smug, but they remained, resolute, between the car and the closed garage door. Astrid looked at her husband. Jack’s smile grew warmer, and he said “Tabitha,”
Tabitha gunned the engine, propelling the car toward the garage door. Astrid leaped out of the way, but Jack didn’t move, and the car ploughed through the door with Jack pinned to the hood. Tabitha swerved the car out into the street, the late afternoon sun almost blinding her for a moment, as she sped toward the gates of Harlow’s Glen. In her rear view mirror she could see the Homeowners Association sprinting after her, Astrid leading the way screaming her name; in front of her, still clinging to the hood with blood pouring from his mouth, was Jack. She tried to shake him off, but he clung on tight, climbing towards the windshield. He locked eyes with her, bloodshot eyes, and despite the bloods pouring from his lips he still smiled. “Tabitha,” he said. Then they hit the wrought iron gates of Harlow’s Glen and his face wasn’t a face anymore. The car rammed through the gates, forcing them open, mangling them and the car in the process. Jack’s body smashed through the windshield, his blood spattering Tabitha’s face as she sped off down the road away from Harlow’s Glen. She passed the spot where her husband’s car had been, and saw that his body was being loaded into a coroner’s van. None of the police seemed to notice the shattered car with a mangled corpse halfway through its windshield. She looked down at the Lantern, sitting in her passenger seat, and remembered what Martha had told her. She couldn’t go back to the Glen, but she didn’t know where else to go. So, she drove.
We don’t know how long Tabitha roamed, a ghost with no home to haunt. We don’t know how she found out about the Museum, either. But, as our exhibits so often do, she somehow made her way here. And, once here, she made her way to the office of the Curator themself. There, she extinguished the lantern, still burning after what must have been years, and in to brief time before she crumbled to dust, she told the baffled Curator the Tale of Harlow’s Glen. After a great deal of study by the Research Department, it was determined that- having now been extinguished- the Lantern was effectively inert, as it required the pact of the Homeowners Agreement to work its power. Thus, it was decided that it was safe to hang here and light this room. Because what’s the point of a lantern without a candle.
So, this is a bit awkward. There’s usually a hard limit of roughly 20 to 30 minutes on these tours, because that’s roughly the maximum time the Patronage Department likes to allow Tour Guides such as myself to exist, due to the exponential increased risk of catastrophic breakdown. Fun! So, I’d like to propose something. While we explore the Museum, roughly every 20 minutes or so, in between exhibits, do a little outro, then another intro, just to keep some sense of normality- and also, maybe, delay my inevitable corruption and death. Sound good? Great!
Thank you for visiting the Mistholme Museum of Mystery, Morbidity, and Mortality. We hope that you have enjoyed your visit, and that you will return one day, in this life or the next. Please, tell your friends about what a great time you had here- but don’t tell them too much! If they’re worthy, we’ll find them. Stay safe out there.