Episode Twenty-Three: UNSEEN
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 Scarlet Letter Fever that may occur during your visit.
Enjoy your tour.
And good luck.
A Mural Depicting The Sun
CONTENT WARNINGS: Loss of Sanity, Unreality, Cosmic Horror
Oh, isn’t this pretty? This is kind of more of an art installation than an exhibit, although it is based around a true event. The mosaic built into the floor of this room depicts the sun, with glorious rays of light extending outward from the centre of the room to each of its edges.. All the colours and shades of light you’d expect to see are present, as well as a few you wouldn’t have expected but seem right now that you see them. It’s a lovely piece of work, elegant in its simplicity, depicting something that most people see every day in such a way that gives a renewed appreciation for the mundane and normal. The part where this mural doubles as an exhibit is that, at a random point during the day, it disappears, leaving behind a dull, bare, black tiled floor. The timing is random and unpredictable, but it will always happen once per day, without exception: the pattern will slowly fade, over the course of precisely eight minutes, until no trace of it remains. Then, the tiles will be cold and black for precisely eight minutes. Then, the colour will return, again, over the course of eight minutes.
This might seem odd- although, actually, if you’ve spent any great amount of time in the museum or around artists this sort of thing might not really stand out. But there is a significance behind this, and as I alluded to already, it is a depiction of a true event- however, there are very few in the world who remember it happening. Which is curious, because it happened only a handful of years ago. It occurred much as it is depicted in the mural: one day, without warning, the sun simply faded from the sky over the course of eight minutes. For those who were awake, it was the single most terrifying event they had ever experienced: the sun, giver of life on Earth, simply dimmed and then winked out of existence before their very eyes. And then this most terrifying of events was immediately surpassed, as the people of Earth looked up at a sky that was suddenly dark and empty, a black maw that seemed to loom above them with terrible, unknowable intent. The nagging fear that lurks in the back of every human mind grew until it took up every inch of space and crowded out all more rational thoughts: we truly are alone in the universe, a universe that is cold and empty and utterly uncaring about our petty lives.
As the world plunged into darkness, the temperatures plunged too, as the ceaseless warmth of the sun simply went away. Birds spontaneously went to sleep, as they were so baffled by the whole thing that they assumed it must have been night; dogs took to barking and howling, as if they could collectively intimidate the sun into coming back; cats appear to have largely not noticed the event. But it was humans who took the sun’s disappearance the hardest. There was a wide range of emotions at play across the world, but by far the most common was simple despair. There was such a deep, primal wrongness to what was happening that people just couldn’t handle it, dropping to their knees and gazing up at the great empty that stretched out above them to eternity.
Then, slowly, the sky began to grow brighter again. The warmth returned to the breeze. The birds resumed their chirping as though nothing had happened; the dogs ceased barking and proudly huffed at a job well done; the cats noses twitched slightly in their sleep. But the people remained as they had been. Even as eight minutes passed and the sun reached its prior brightness and warmth and the world around them returned to normal, billions of Earth’s people found themselves staring up at the bright blue sky with a sense of deep, irrevocable betrayal: not at the sun for disappearing, but at the universe at large, for not working in the way they thought that it did.
Things did eventually return to normal for the portion of humanity who were awake when the sun went away. As the people of Earth go about their daily lives today, it never even crosses their minds that the sun that gives their world light and warmth could just go away without warning. Because they forgot. They chose to forget. It was never discussed, or planned. It was simply the only way that anyone could possibly move on: to decide that there was nothing from which to move on. No scientists studied the phenomenon. No news reports were written. None of those who had slept through the whole thing were woken and told what they had missed. Humanity had seen, in the most stark manner imaginable, that their existence was nothing more than a cosmic joke that could be snuffed out with no warning, and for no reason. And they simply chose to ignore it.
I don’t usually get to tell people about this exhibit, Mother. It causes… well, let’s just say it’s a good thing there’s an infirmary nearby. I just keep quiet as we pass through here, and the few who pay attention to the mosaic usually don’t comment on it. Although, they do quicken their step a little, as if they’ve been reminded of something they’d sooner forget.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Death (Supernatural), Disappearance
We’re just now passing through the caboose from an old 20th century freight train. The Caboose was the car at the back of the train, where the train’s crew would reside during journeys, using it as a base of operations from which they would conduct their various duties such as braking, track switching, monitoring the train’s load, and guarding the train from potential attacks. This model has what is called a cupola, an elevated platform in the middle of the Caboose, from which crewmen could see the rest of the train and the terrain around it and make sure all was well. For more than a century, Cabooses were standard on all freight trains, before being discontinued in the late 20th century. This particular Caboose was affectionately known by her operators as Anna, and it operated for close to a century before finally being retired as newer designs left the concept of a Caboose behind, having served a long and blessedly unremarkable career. Uneventful, save for one incident, during a journey of several thousand kilometres, which remains a mystery to this day.
Due to poor record-keeping- or perhaps intentional obfuscation on the part of certain government officials, the names of those involved have been lost to time. As such, for the purposes of this tour, the three men this story revolves around will be referred to as “Nikolai, Vlad, and Boris”, which I think you’ll agree are nice, nondescript, anonymous names. There were other workers aboard the train, but they don’t matter. These three had worked together for some time, and as they departed from the station, train laden with goods and farming equipment for their distant destination, all signs pointed to this being a perfectly normal job. And it was, for the first couple of days. The train trundled along over hills, through valleys, and through tunnels. The three men went about their duties, tending to the train, hopping off from time to time to hit switches or clear debris from the track, and sheltering from the elements in the Caboose with a cup of something hot. A large part of their journey took them through snowy regions, and so they stuck to the Caboose whenever possible, especially as they entered more mountainous regions a couple of days in. The crew took turns sitting in the cupola, keeping an eye on the train’s load, as if their cargo became unbalanced or the brakes began to fail, it could spell disaster. As they passed into a lengthy tunnel that bored directly through a mountain, Boris was sitting in the cupola, while Nikolai fixed a meal on the Caboose’s small stove and Vlad checked some of their equipment. As they passed into the tunnel, the world around them suddenly went pitch black, the small oil lamps in the Caboose the only light in all the world. Vlad cursed, as he fumbled with something in the dim light; above, Boris flicked on a torch and pointed it out into the black tunnel, keeping a watchful eye on the train ahead. Nikolai did his best to continue cooking in the dark, but after a moment he turned down the stove and waited for the light to return. The train rocked and rattled beneath him, and in the confined space the rattling of the train was almost deafening. Then, suddenly, the silence was almost deafening. Nikolai shouted in alarm, as the sound of the train’s powerful engine suddenly vanished, replaced with… nothing at all. He looked up at the cupola, a question for Boris already forming on his lips, but Boris’s light was gone, and Nikolai couldn’t see him in the dark. He pulled out his own torch and flicked it on.
Boris was gone. The Cupola seat was empty, no trace of the man who had been there mere seconds ago to be found. Nikolai heard an exclamation, and turned to see Vlad- still there- staring out the window that led to the rest of the train. Or rather, that should have led to the rest of the train. Because by the dim lamp next to the door, the pair could quite clearly see that the train was no longer there. Nothing was there, whatsoever. Just endless, unrelenting darkness, as far as the eye could see. Vlad stumbled back over to the radio and spent a moment tuning it, trying to get a signal. There was only static. Nikolai continued staring out the window. The rails upon which the train should have been moving were gone, replaced by a darkness so dark it almost hurt to look at. It was more than just the darkness of the tunnel. It was as though the air around the Caboose was absorbing the light from the oil lamps. He pointed his torch through the window; it made no difference. As far as Nikolai could see, there was nothing out there for the the light to reflect off of. He gripped the door handle, but paused before opening it, suddenly uncertain that there was even air outside of their carriage. He slid it open, the rumble cutting through the eerie silence. The air outside the cabin was breathable. Fresher, even, than it should have been in the wake of a train engine. Nikolai looked over his shoulder at Vlad, who was in the process of checking all the radio’s connections. After another moment of hesitation, Nikolai laid down on his belly and leaned as far out over the edge as he could, reaching out with his hand for a ground that should have- must have- been there somewhere. Yet more nothing. Sitting back up, he grabbed a pencil from the desk nearby, and tossed it out into the black. It disappeared into the darkness almost immediately, and he never heard it make an impact as it fell away into the darkness in which the Caboose now found itself.
Some hours passed as Nikolai and Vlad tried to make sense of their situation. They still seemed to be moving, whatever that meant when there were no landmarks or destinations to be found. There was a gentle rocking motion, a vibration in the walls and floor of the carriage, that felt identical to how it felt when the train was in motion. More curious still was the sound. If Nikolai focused with all his might, he could just barely make out the unmistakable sound of the engine, the rattling of the other carriages, the grinding of the rails. But it seemed to come and go, depending on where he was standing, where he was facing, how hard he strained his ears. It was like something that could only be seen from the corner of one’s eye, but in sound. Vlad claimed that he couldn’t hear anything at all, and Nikolai didn’t fail to notice the insinuation that he was making it up. It had quickly become apparent that the two men were taking their impossible situation rather differently. Nikolai was curious about what exactly was going on, whereas Vlad was more than keen for their situation to end.
Several days later, their situation appeared no closer to ending. Nikolai had run out of observations to make about their environment, Vlad had run out of patience, and their already meagre rations were close to running out. The crew’s supplies were supposed to be restocked along with the train’s coal and water at stops along the journey. And, regardless of whether or not the Caboose was in motion, they had not stopped for those supplies. They would be out of water in a matter of days, for all the meaning time had in their still black world. Nikolai was in the middle of explaining to Vlad his theory that they were still technically in the tunnel, that they had somehow become unstuck from reality, when Vlad stood up and walked over to the rear door of the train, pulling it open. Nikolai covered his ears as the door screeched along its tracks, the loudest sound he’d heard in days. He and Vlad locked eyes, and he realised what Vlad was about to do. Before he could protest, Vlad stepped out onto the platform at the rear of the train. He called back to Nikolai, instinctively raising his voice over the sounds of the train and wind that weren’t there. If they really were still in the tunnel, then all he had to do was jump off and he’d be fine. He’d run as long as it took to escape the darkness, then go for help. The train wouldn’t be going fast enough in the tunnel for him to be injured. He’d be ok. Nikolai could tell that Vlad was trying to convince himself as much as he was Nikolai, but before he could protest Vlad turned and leapt from the train. Nikolai ran to the door and shouted Vlad’s name out into the darkness. He’d already disappeared from view. Nikolai waited, straining his eyes for any sight of his companion, any sound. There was nothing.
Several more days passed in the black, timeless void. Nikolai used up all the paper in the Caboose, first writing down everything that had happened since the train had entered the tunnel. Then, his observations and theories. Then, a simple goodbye note to his family. The water was all gone. The oil for the lamps was running out. It was time. Nikolai stood in the doorway at the rear of the Caboose, and closed his eyes. He held his foot out over the edge of the train, and began to tip forward. Then the world around him seemed to lurch, and he fell backwards, landing hard on the floor of the caboose. He opened his eyes, and was almost blinded by the light of the midday sun, the brightest thing he’d seen in at least a week. There was a cacophony of voices and rattling and footsteps. His senses were instantly overloaded, and he curled up into a ball in the middle of the carriage, wondering if this was hell. Then he heard someone saying his name, and he looked up to see Boris standing over him, a mixture of concern and relief on his face.
About a week ago, the train had entered a tunnel. From his spot in the cupola, Boris had watched as the train and its cargo safely made its way through the darkness. But at about the halfway mark, he’d glanced down and found himself alone. He’d called an emergency halt, and he and the crew from the engine had searched the surrounding area for as long as they could afford, desperately looking for their missing colleagues. As the train sat idle in the tunnel for days on end, a search party from their next stop had arrived and assisted with the search, but eventually they had to give up. The remaining crew, along with their helpers from the next town, had then had to readjust the load, as the sudden stop in the tunnel had knocked a number of pieces of cargo from their places. It had taken some time, but eventually they had managed it, and the train had finally emerged from the tunnel into the daylight after more than a week. And as soon as it had, Nikolai- assumed dead by all- had suddenly reappeared in the middle of the Caboose, flat on his back. Vlad was nowhere to be found.
The incident aboard Anna was reported, analysed, dismissed, reopened, and dismissed again over the coming years. Boris was punished severely for the delay to the train’s arrival, as well as for some light damage to the cargo, while Nikolai simply disappeared one day, when he went to testify about what had happened to him in the tunnel. For some time after the incident, Boris had insisted that what had happened was due to some sort of experimental military cargo the train had been hauling, but nobody believed him. They quietly believed him a little more when he, too, disappeared without a word one day, although people were generally smart enough to simply never speak of him again. The story of the men who vanished from the caboose of a train was harder to stamp out, as it was the sort of thing that got passed around trainyards quite a bit.
Vlad was never found, officially. In fact, as far as official documentation is concerned, he never existed, just like Boris and Nikolai. But many decades later, the tunnel where his disappearance took place was expanded, to accommodate larger loads for a nearby industrial project. And, though the reports were once again swiftly quashed by higher-ups, it was hard to dispel the rumours that a body had been discovered in the tunnel. Embedded 10 feet down, in solid stone. Wearing a railway uniform.
A Hot Air Balloon
I guess we’ll just keep wandering until the Head Of Restoration calls back so we can tell her we haven’t found anyone. Could have saved us all a lot of time if she’d just taken my word for it but I guess that’s too much to- oh wow, this is a big room isn’t it! I can’t even see the ceiling! Wow, I think this is the biggest room I’ve seen in the whole museum, what’s all this for- oh! Look over there, Mother! Do you know what that is? Oh, sorry that’s condescending. Uh, well, it’s a Hot Air Balloon! A wicker basket that you stand in while the big balloon overhead carries you high up into the air while you look at the view. And looking at things for fun is something I can relate to! Of course, this Balloon in particular does have some unique properties. First of all, as you can see, the balloon is not rising into the air, despite the fact that there is nothing tying it down! Additionally, the balloon is inflated already, despite the fact that there is no burner to inflate it. And, due to said lack of a burner, as you can hear, the balloon is completely silent. Trust me, Hot Air Balloons are usually quite loud. Don’t worry, though! For purposes of immersion, I have been equipped with a suite of sound effects to make sure you feel all of the exhilaration of a standard Hot Air Balloon, without even leaving the Museum!
[Soundscape begins, wind, birds, hot air balloon etc]
Go on, hop in the basket! That’s right, we’re going for a ride. Don’t worry, this is a perfectly normal part of the tour, we encourage people to ride the Balloon! It would be a bit of a tease to have a huge room with a Hot Air Balloon in it and not let anyone ride it. Go on, hop in! There we go, just hop into the basket. Ok, and… up we go! Woah! That’s a rush, isn’t it. See, as you might have guessed, this Balloon is an Alternatural Item. Instead of using a burner to rise into the air, the Balloon just… goes up when you get in! It’s remarkable, isn’t it. It rises up up into the sky, and you can gaze out at the countryside below you. What a wonderful way to get a new appreciation for the people around you. Of course, we’re getting a view of a large empty room, but… well, use your imagination ok?
Now, unfortunately we don’t know exactly what caused this particular Balloon to become Alternatural. It operated as a perfectly normal Hot Air Balloon for a number of years, carrying tourists high into the sky before bringing them safely down to earth when their flight was done. Until one day, it wasn’t. During a perfectly normal flight, the pilot realised that the Balloon was getting a little higher than they’d intended. They eased off on the burner… and the balloon continued rising. They shut the burner off completely… and it kept rising. The Balloon and its trapped passengers rose higher and higher into the air, all the way into the cold atmosphere. The passengers began to succumb to the cold and the thinning air, and as they continued to rise they lost consciousness one by one, until there was only one left awake, curled up and shivering in the corner of the basket, sobbing with terror. With the last of her energy, she whispered a simple string of words: “I want to go down”.
And with that, the balloon began to rapidly descend. Dropping back to earth as if it had a mind of its own. Through tears of relief, as her fellow passengers began to regain consciousness, the woman who had spoken the seemingly magic words could swear the balloon was moving out of the way of birds and power lines, until they eventually touched gently down in the field from which they had taken off. All the passengers made full recoveries and, once an investigation into what had happened led only to some confused air incident investigators, the Balloon was brought to the Museum.
You know, some people have complained that that’s a bit of a distressing story to hear while flying through the air in the Hot Air Balloon from that same story, but I’ve never understood that. The whole point of the story is that the Balloon does what you tell it to do, so if you want to go down, you just tell it to go down! So, whenever you’re ready Mother, just say so and we’ll go down. The view up here isn’t actually very good and we’re… we’re getting a bit high up for my tastes. Whenever you’re ready. Just say, that you want to… go down. Oh.
Oh you can’t speak.
Uh, uhh, Mother, maybe try signing? See if the Balloon reacts to… OK that hasn’t worked. Oh dear. We’re getting REALLY high up now. Hold on, I’ll try… I’ll try to see if I can tap into the PA system and get my voice to broadcast over the speaker system. I- oh, look! You can see the roof from here! We’re- getting a bit close now. I’ll just really really try hard to tap into those speakers, don’t worry, ANY SECOND NOW, I- wait, Mother, what are you doing? Mother- Mother wait, don’t!
Oh. Oh that… that wasn’t so bad, I don’t- oh. Right. The Bracelet. Well, at least we know it works! Let’s just… try not to put ourselves in any more situations where we need to use it again. You know, situations like, jumping out of a Hot Air Balloon indoors. This is a weird place. Let’s get out of here, don’t worry about the Balloon. Now that it’s empty it’ll drift back down. Frankly, I’m a bit less keen on it now.
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.