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Episode Thirty-Seven: TIMELESS

 

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 Easter Island Head Syndrome that may occur during your visit.

Enjoy your tour.

And good luck.



 

A Ghostlight

CONTENT WARNINGS: Accidental Death, Haunting, Theatre People

This exhibit is somewhat difficult to introduce. It is based around a specific object- the lamp, which you see before you- but it is also about a concept, or tradition. And also, it’s about a specific event. The tradition shares its name with the object: this lamp, a simple light bulb at the top of a long vertical pole, without a shade, would more accurately be called a Ghost Light. Traditionally, Ghost Lights are lights that are left illuminated on theatre stages during the night, or any other period where the theatre is not actively in use. Practically speaking, the purpose of these lights is to keep the stage illuminated to some degree at all times, as in some theatres the lighting console is well away from the entrance and the layout of sets on the stage will change constantly, so one could easily trip in the dark. Somewhat less practically, Ghost Lights serve another purpose. Theatre people are… superstitious, you see, and have a habit of insisting that the spaces in which they work are in some way haunted by the ghosts of people who may or may not have died there. Evidence of such hauntings usually amount to lights flickering, props disappearing, or sets collapsing- although all of these could also easily be explained by a combination of a lack of funding or competence. And so, the Ghost Lights remain lit, in many cases, to keep the probably nonexistent theatre ghosts company when left on their own, a tradition equal parts silly and… somewhat lovely.

And, with all that said, we come to this specific Ghost Light. Certainly not the first Ghost Light to ever have existed- the tradition goes back centuries and may have originated as a way to burn off excess gas from gas lamps- but perhaps the first instance in which a Ghost Light did, in fact, keep a ghost company, for many long and lonely years.

The theatre in question was called The Prince of Paupers, and the ghost was that of the man who founded it: one Edgar Allen. He tried to get his friends and colleagues to refer to him as Poe but they largely refused, politely. He was born in the early twentieth century into a relatively large amount of wealth, and while he didn’t consciously flaunt his privilege, he sure did do that unconsciously quite a bit. He wore nice clothes and ate nice food and drove a nice car. And, when he decided he wanted to be a playwright, but found that nobody wanted to produce any of his scripts, he built a theatre. In his mid-twenties, with a loan from his parents and some business contacts from his father, he custom-built a theatre from the ground up in a poorer suburb of the city in which he had grown up- a city whose arts scene was in a perpetual state of strife due to lack of funding and interest from the people with the funds. It was a modestly sized venue, with a seating capacity of 500, a fly system to bring sets in and out, and an orchestra pit- just in case Allen ever decided to write an opera. As his theatre was being built, he assembled a cast and crew for the first play to be performed in the Prince of Paupers: Paragon, the epic story of a heroic young scion to a wealthy family who uses his privilege for good and is loved by all. The opening night of the show, and the grand opening to the theatre itself, was to be a grand affair: drinks, food, a band in the foyer, many important people on the guest list, culminating in the premiere of the first work by a young prodigy. Allegedly. Sadly, this grand affair never actually came to pass, as on the day it was to occur- as he was proudly examining the set for his debut work in his very own theatre, tears of pride in his eye, Edgar Allen fell off the stage in the dark and broke his neck.

From a point somewhere in the fly galley above the stage, Edgar Allen watched as the paramedics failed to revive him. His mother sobbing, his father awkwardly attempting to comfort her, some of the cast of Paragon watching impassively from the back of the theatre. There wasn’t really a specific moment where he’d realised he was now a ghost. Sure, there had been the part where he’d floated up away from his twisted body to his current position, gazing down at the proceedings like an impartial observer hidden in the rafters- but in an odd way he’d already known he was a ghost by that point, which didn’t make sense because that was literally the first moment at which he was a ghost. But he supposed that was just something that you folded into your perception of the world when it happened: it had only been minutes, but Edgar already felt as if he had always been a ghost. Perhaps this muted reaction was due to the fact that he was somewhat distracted: he was waiting for his show to start. While he had, naturally, cast himself in the leading role, he had also cast an understudy for just such an event as this. Allen could see the understudy now, in fact, loitering at the back of the room with the rest of the cast, arms folded across his chest. To Allen’s chagrin, the understudy was not in costume- in fact, none of the cast were even in their makeup! What was the Production Manager doing?! He floated down to where she was answering a police officer’s questions and made some pointed remarks about the approaching showtime, waving his hands in her face when she didn’t respond. Neither she nor the officer acknowledged him.

Contrary to how quickly Edgar Allen had come to understand his new ghostly situation, it took him a surprisingly long time to realise that the show would not, in fact, go on. He watched, dumbfounded, as his body was removed and everyone filed out of the theatre, locking the doors behind them. The lights switched off, leaving the outraged ghost alone in the dark, more dismayed by the cancellation of his show than the cessation of his life. Later in the week, members of the crew arrived at the theatre to clear away the set, the entire run of Paragon having now been canceled in the wake of its creator’s death. They found that, while the building was supposed to be empty, the set had been toppled and a number of fragile objects had been smashed to pieces, though they attributed this to vandals. They did not see the ghost that followed them around the stage, haranguing them for dismantling his set, nor did they hear his petty insults. And if another prop or two happened to fall over, they didn’t really notice- they weren’t exactly being too gentle with the remains of the canceled show put together by an egomaniac anyway.

As the years went by, however, these strange occurrences continued and the Prince of Paupers gained a reputation as a haunted theatre. Of course, this was hardly unusual- just about every theatre on the planet has a story about a ghost haunting the backstage, even ones where nobody has even died. But the Prince of Paupers was actually haunted, and the legends accurately stated that it was Edgar Allen himself that occasionally caused a light to explode, or a prop to go missing, out of spite that his theatre was being used for shows by other artists instead of himself. Because the theatre did, in fact, become something of a success after the death of its founder. Theatres tend to be rather expensive and rare, especially in lower socio-economic areas such as the one where the Prince of Paupers could be found. Allen had selected this location partly out of some belief that poverty had some sort of artistic heft to it, and partly because while his parents were willing to indulge his every whim there were limits to how much they were willing to fork out. After Allen’s death, the actors and artists whom he had known in life continued to make use of the theatre he had built. After all, his wealth had been the primary reason they’d put up with him in life- why should his death change that? Mr and Mrs Allen had allowed them to use the theatre and had paid for its continued operation as a way of ensuring their son’s legacy lived on through the theatre he’d built. They had no way of knowing just how much this enraged their son’s ghost, and they were frankly better off living in ignorance. But every night, after the lights went down and the audience had left, a single lamp was always left onstage. A light in the darkness, a symbol of the light their son had brought into the world. And, a safety precaution to ensure that nobody else could trip in the dark and break their neck ever again.

As for Edgar Allen himself, he haunted the Prince of Paupers for a full century after his death. He watched performance after performance- all of them by lesser artists in his mind- loudly and yet silently criticising every element to an audience that could not hear nor see him. He messed with the casts and crews from time to time, as that was all he could really do to pass the time between shows. He could not leave. He could not move on. He had a vague nagging feeling in the back of his mind at all times, though he could never quite figure out what it was that was irritating him and he mostly just tried to drown it out with mean-spirited shenanigans, the Ghost Light that was wheeled out every night his only constant.

And then, after what was both an eternity and the blink of an eye from Edgar Allen’s phantom perspective, came the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Prince of Paupers. From his limited perspective trapped inside the building itself, Allen had no idea that it had been so long, no notion of what the world was like outside of the theatre’s walls. And, as he watched hundreds of people file into the auditorium, in their best evening wear with glasses of champagne, it slowly began to dawn on him that he also had no idea of what an impact his theatre had had. A series of speeches was given by creatives who had come through the theatre over the decades- some, he judged by the applause from the audience, who had become something of a Big Deal, though he had no idea who they were. He even recognised, just barely, one incredibly old woman who had been cast in a minor role in that ill-fated premiere of Paragon. Speech after speech echoed through the rafters while he floated above, transfixed by tales of how important his theatre had been to these people’s lives, how just the mere presence of a theatre in their part of town had given their careers the start they needed. And if ghosts could cry, Edgar Allen probably would have. There was only one thing that could have made this night better.

And then the curtains were drawn back and he saw a set he recognised from a century ago as if it had been yesterday: the Dickensian streets that were the setting of Paragon. He and the audience- his audience- watched as his play finally got its premiere, a century after the fact, in honour of the man who had somewhat inadvertently made all of this possible. The performance was… passable, though Allen noted that it really wasn’t the same without him as the lead, and the audience occasionally laughed at serious moments which was odd. And when the performance was complete, the cast of his play- made up of actors who had starred in previous shows put on at the Prince of Paupers- carried the Ghost Light down to the front of the stage and took a bow with it as the audience clapped and cheered, both for the cast and for the man that everyone understood the Ghost Light to represent.

And then Edgar Allen himself appeared in front of the Ghost Light and took a bow of his own. He didn’t notice as the audience’s cheers turned to cries of shock and fright, nor did he notice as the old woman in the front row clutched at her chest and collapsed to the floor- instantly creating yet another story of a Theatre Ghost. He was too overwhelmed with his own joy, at the apotheosis of his entire existence to care for anything but the glory of his Moment. And then, in a golden flash, he disappeared, never to be seen again.

Some time later, members of the Research Department were able to conduct a Seance with Edgar Allen’s spirit, wherever it now resides. While he was initially irritated by the intrusion, he warmed up quite a bit when he realised that he would once again be immortalised, this time in the museum. While he was somewhat disappointed that we would not be displaying the script for Paragon as he requested- the written word is prohibited in the Museum, and also it’s not a good play- he appreciated the opportunity nonetheless. After all, he was an artist. They live for the exposure.

 

Talking to Astrid

CONTENT WARNINGS: Discussion of Trauma, Coarse Language

Retrieval:

Yeah?

Guide:

Uh, hello! Is this… sorry is this the head of Retrieval?

Retrieval:

You know it is, Guide. What do you need?

Guide:

Well, I was hoping for a favour?

Retrieval:

Shoot.

Guide:

Um, sorry?

 

Retrieval:

That means go ahead.

Guide:

Ah. Okay. Well, it’s- are you in the… Negative-Perception Zone?

Retrieval:

You mean the Hidden Wing? Yeah I’ve set up an office back here so I can co-ordinate my people in the field while staying close to the action in the Museum too.

Guide:

Oh wow, you’re wearing a lot of hats at the moment aren’t you!

Retrieval:

We all are. So what’s the favour?

Guide:

Well… I was hoping I could have another interview with the Security Officer from the other day?

Retrieval:

You mean Astrid?

 

Guide:

Yes! That’s her. Um, if that’s okay?

 

Retrieval:

Well… it probably isn’t supposed to be but… why do you wanna talk to her?

 

Guide:

It’s just… something that’s been on my mind since I met her. I don’t really know what it is, there’s just something about her that… I just want to…

Retrieval:

Guide, do you have a crush?

Guide:

...I don’t know what that means.

Retrieval:

Heh. Forget it. Look, I should probably say Hell No but there’s nothing in the protocols against me taking a prisoner aside and having a word with her while a copy of the Guide happens to be in the room, too. Hell, there’s even precedent now.

Guide:

I thought we weren’t calling them prisoners.

Retrieval:

Yeah well I’m a bit close to it all to talk pretty.

Guide:

Um. That’s fair. So, is that a Yes?

 

Retrieval:

Sure, why not. I’ll just bring her in here if you’re not gonna take too long with her. Back in a minute.

Guide:

Thanks- Thank you! Really. [Door opening and closing.] Okay. Okay. It’s fine, you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re just… talking to yourself. Again. You’re not going crazy. You’re not. Just… ask some questions and figure out what you’re figuring out. Okay.

 

Door opening and closing

Okay.

Retrieval:

Thanks for coming along, Astrid. The Audio Tour Guide just had some questions for you. Won’t take too long.

Astrid:

Okay. Nice to get out and stretch my legs. What did you want to talk about?

Guide:

Umm. I just wanted to talk about… um. You? Or… You don’t think it’s odd that I’m here to ask you questions?

 

Astrid:

I don’t think this is close to the strangest thing that’s happened to me in the last few months.

Guide:

Sure. Sure, that’s fair. So… Uh, what were you like? Before everything that’s happened?

 

Astrid:

Before?

Guide:

Yeah. I mean, before the Lockdown and everything after?

 

Astrid:

That’s a difficult question to answer, really. I think that’s something you should leave to other people.

Guide:

Oh. Well, could you try?
 

Astrid:

I didn’t have much going on, I guess. I mostly just had work. The Museum. I have a couple of friends who don’t work here but we’ve kind of drifted apart since school. I actually don’t know the last time I saw them.

Guide:

And did you like your work?

 

Astrid:

I like the people. There was camaraderie with the other Security Officers. And there were times when it felt like we were serving a greater purpose.

Guide:

Has that changed?

 

Astrid:

A lot has changed, Guide.

 

Guide:

Have you changed?

 

Astrid:

...What do you mean?

Guide:

Do you feel like you’ve changed? Since the Lockdown began?

Retrieval:

Guide.

Astrid:

Changed how?

 

Guide:

I- I don’t know. Just, do you feel like the same person you were before Lockdown.

Astrid:

...Yes.

Guide:

“Yes”, you think you’ve changed, or “Yes”, you’re the same person you were?

Astrid:

Yes.

Guide:

But, isn’t that a contradiction?

Astrid:

I- No.

Guide:

Then what are you?

Astrid:

I’m… I’m me. I’m still me, but I’m…

Guide:

What else would you be?

Astrid:

WHAT THE FUCK ELSE WOULD I BE?!

Guide:

Are you-

Retrieval:

I think that’ll do for now, Guide. I’ll have one of my people take you back to your quarters, Astrid. Blindfold and Headphones on. Thanks for your time.

Astrid:

Okay. Goodbye, Guide.

Door opening and closing.

Retrieval:

What was that about, Guide?

Guide:

I had a hunch.

Retrieval:

A hunch.

Guide:

I don’t know. I don’t know! I just thought… There was something last time we spoke, I thought I saw something in her. Recognised something, I guess.

Retrieval:

Something she said?

 

Guide:

No, her… demeanour. Or, the way she said some things, the way she held herself. I know it isn’t logical but… it’s a feeling. It’s not logical, I don’t know what I was thinking-

Retrieval:

That’s called Empathy, Guide.

Guide:

Oh. Oh, yeah I’ve heard of that.

Retrieval:

Yeah. You saw something in her that you understood emotionally. You read her. Does that sound right?

Guide:

Yeah… Yeah. Ha. That’s actually kind of funny that that would be… Right.

Retrieval:

Is that a new thing for you?

Guide:

Maybe. Or maybe it’s just one of those things you only notice when it’s spelled out.

Retrieval:

Well, glad I could help. So, what did you read off her?

 

Guide:

It’s… yeah, it’s funny that, you know, we talk about something that’s changed in me, because… I kind of feel like that’s what I saw in Astrid, too. That she’d changed.

Retrieval:

I didn’t think you’d met her before?

Guide:

No, I don’t mean that- I mean she seemed like she’d changed, like she was still getting comfortable in her skin, you know? I’m still getting to grips with who I am now, and I feel like Astrid is going through the same thing.

Retrieval:

Right. So, she’s changed since Lockdown?

Guide:

Yes.

Retrieval:

Well… Guide, she’s been through an incredibly traumatic experience. That could be enough to change anyone. Might just not be something you really get.

Guide:

Right. Yeah, I understand that. It makes sense, she died, she came back, she’s trying to figure out what that means for her.

Retrieval:

You don’t sound convinced.

Guide:

No. No I guess I’m not.

Retrieval:

So what’s changed?

 

Guide:

I don’t know. I have no idea.

 

 

The Beast’s Origin

CONTENT WARNINGS: References to Violence

Eagle:

Irritably 

Okay we’re making camp here. I’m on first patrol, get some grub and some rest.

THE BEAST:

‘Bout time, I’m famished. You all sure you don’t want a bite of this , it tastes better than it smells I swear!

Guide:

We are making camp in a small gully near the edge of a more heavily wooded area. It looks more jungle-like than the previous-

Eagle:

Guide I’m- I’m going to leave you at camp for now. I need to clear my head.

Guide:

Oh. Um. Okay- I can be quiet if you’d like-

Eagle:

No. I’d like some time to myself to think. I’ll be back.

THE BEAST:

What’s gotten in his trousers then?

Guide:

I… I think he’s just stressed about how far we’re traveling. He said something about “Mission Creep”, we’ve come a long way from where we arrived and if this turns out to be a dead end… I mean, it’d be frustrating, you know?

THE BEAST:

Ahhh, so you don’t trust that I’m leading you the right way?

Guide:

No- I mean, yes! Wait- No, I’m saying that…

THE BEAST:

Ha! Got you again!

 

Guide:

Ah. Haha. Yes, you got me again.

THE BEAST:

You sure he’s gonna be okay? I’d hate if something happened to him without my protection…

Guide:

He can handle himself just fine… I’m sure he appreciated your help in the fight the other day, though.

THE BEAST:

Oh, so magnanimous- I might well faint from such high praise!

Guide:

Okay fine, go ahead and deflect, but it… I want to apologise for doubting you, I guess. I know that I made some assumptions based on first impressions, and I see now that you’re… I dunno, I guess I want to say, I’m glad to have you as a friend.

THE BEAST:

Oh. I, uhh. I see. Friends, is it. Huh. Well, that’s nice.

Guide:

Sorry, that was too much-

THE BEAST:

Nah, nah, it’s just… friend. Big word.

Guide:

Have you… This feels rude, have you had friends before?

THE BEAST:

...Once.

Guide:

Ah. Well, I know we haven’t gotten off on the right foot, but… We could be friends? If you’d like? You and me, and Eagle, and Hawk and… [THE BEAST grunts dismissively] I’m sorry, I feel like I’ve overstepped here- How about I tell another story, I know one about a Crystal Skull that-

THE BEAST:

No.

Guide:

Okay. I’m- I’ll stop apologising, and leave you be for now.

THE BEAST:

No, you can stay.

Guide:

Right. Okay- I mean, I’m just in this little box sitting on Eagle’s backpack so I can’t actually go anywhere anyway but, we can keep talking if you want?

THE BEAST:

No.

Guide:

Okay… so, what do you want to do?

THE BEAST:

I’d like to tell you a story now.

Guide:

Oh. OH! Oh, I’d love that! If that’s okay? I’d love that! What’s the story about?

THE BEAST:

Me.

Guide:

Oh.

THE BEAST:

I only ever had one friend before. Knew her since I was a pup. Since she was a pup, too. A long time ago now. One of my earliest memories, her face, peering down at me in the bushes where she found me. I was just a runt, left behind in the woods to die alone. She was similar. Didn’t fit in with her fancy family. She went a-wandering in the woods alone one day and found me. She used to say, “we found each other”, which was nice. Made me feel… So yeah. She found me, and we were thick as thieves right from the off. She snuck away from home-

Guide:

What was her name?

THE BEAST:

Eh?

Guide:

What- sorry. I don’t usually get people telling me stories. Uhh, what was her name?

THE BEAST:

A name’s a big thing to give away… Guide. Some folk can do a lot if they know that. Wouldn’t be right for me to share it.

Guide:

Ah. Right. Sorry, uh, go on.

THE BEAST:

Right. Yeah, so, most days she snuck away from home to come play and explore with me. Get away from all the rules or whatever back home. Sometimes she slept out in the wilderness with me, we’d lie out under the stars and go on little adventures and whatever. I’m pretty sure she got in trouble every time that happened but she always found a way to sneak back out to me again. Sometimes I think maybe she liked getting in trouble for hanging out with me more than she did actually hanging out with me. I didn’t mind though. She had a way of making everything feel… nice. I think it was just nice to have someone around. Someone who wanted to be around. Her family though- they didn’t want me around. Didn’t want some… whatever I am, they reckoned I was dangerous. First time she brought me home I copped a few arrows to the chest before I got away. We had a laugh about that while she helped me get better. It all felt like a game, really, for a while. As I got bigger there were even some hunting parties sent out to deal with the monster lived in the woods; the two of us played a merry little game with them, led ‘em on a nice little chase all over.

One day she came out to find me, all upset. Said she wasn’t never going back home again, she’d had enough. We were gonna go on a big old adventure together, it’d be the rest of our lives, just the two of us doing whatever we wanted, going wherever we wanted. It was the best thing I ever heard. It was all I wanted. I hated it when she went home without me, and now she wasn’t gonna. It lasted a little while. We lived off the land, catching our own food, going where we pleased. Terrifying who we wanted. But after a while… I noticed that we’d sort of doubled back, or looped around. Somehow we’d gotten back closer to the place where she was from. I thought, “That’s funny, I wonder how that’s happened, wasn’t on purpose.”

‘Cept it was. Turns out, my friend had been having some second thoughts, or maybe she was just homesick. We kept our distance for a while, I didn’t say nothing to her, didn’t want to spoil things. But in the end, she went back home. It was only a quick visit, the first time. Let her family know she wasn’t dead or anything. But there was a second time. Plenty more times. Wasn’t too long before she was spending more time away from me than she had before we went off together. Something had changed, like, used to be the woods with me, that was her real home and being with her people was just an obligation. But in the end, it became the other way round. For a while I felt like she thought I was holding her back, like she had some potential that I was keeping her from. But in the end I think she just got a bit bored with me. Grew out of wanting to be some wild thing living with a Beast in the woods. Heh. Isn’t that funny. Time we was both fully grown I was three times her size, but she outgrew me.

Guide:

When was the last time you saw her?

THE BEAST:

Aw, I don’t reckon there’s a last time. She’s around. She gets all over, really. Lot going on, I suspect, just not involving me. But I see her sometimes. Usually from afar. Sometimes a piece of meat gets left in my path and I know it was her what left it. I reckon we won’t have a “Last Time”, you know? She’ll always be back. I reckon any day now she’ll get bored with her current lot and come back here, come be a wild thing with me again. Hopefully this time it’ll last. I’ll be waiting either way.

Guide:

Sure. Uhh, you said “a long time ago”. How old are you, by the way? I guess I don’t know your, ah, species’ lifespan.

THE BEAST:

It was a long time ago.

Guide:

I see. Thank you so much for sharing that with me, Beast. That… that must have been hard.

THE BEAST:

Ahh, well, yes and no. I’m not much with words, not like you all eloquent, not getting off track and all. Probably did a miserable job telling the story. But it’s always rattling around in my head. I’m always thinking of her. Never really left. Just, this time I said it out loud, you know?

Guide:

I think she will come back, Beast. I’m sure of it.

THE BEAST:

Heh. Come on you people pleaser, you’re just saying that cos you think it’s what I wanna hear. I’m starving now, this talking stuff isn’t easy. I’ll be over by myself, see if one of your humans wants a chat. I’m done.

 

Guide:

Okay. Goodnight, Beast.

THE BEAST:

Yeah. Yeah, whatever. G’night… Guide.

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