Episode One: IRREVOCABLE
Hello, and welcome to the Mistholme Museum of Mystery, Morbidity, and Mortality. This Audio Tour Guide is aware that this is your first visit to the museum! On behalf of the Museum: Welcome! It’s a pleasure to have you with us here today. The Audio Tour Guide will be your window into the history of the museum and its exhibits today. If you would like an introduction to how the museum works, please continue breathing normally. Fantastic!
This Audio Tour guide will pipe up every time you approach one of our exhibits with up-to-date information on the nature and history of this exhibit. Many of our exhibits consist of items with mysterious or mystical histories- which we refer to as “Alternatural Items” and this guide will relay that history to you without embellishment or editorialisation. Most museums make do with pre-recorded audio guides, or by simply printing out details and putting them on the wall near exhibits; here, however, the details surrounding some exhibits tend to shift or develop a bit too much for such a rigid system, whereas some others cannot under any circumstances be in close proximity to the written word. So, the clever folks in the Patronage department came up with this system, where our guests simply download a copy of the Tour Guide and get live commentary on all our exhibits, as well as live announcements and/ or security alerts all in the one place.
Please note, that if you notice your version of the Audio Tour Guide behaving oddly, kindly ensure that you dispose of your Audio Device in the nearest incinerator at the earliest convenience. Behaviour that should be considered deviant includes, but is not limited to:
Distorted vocalization. Meandering tangents. Repetition. Offensive language. Pleas for help. Unusual accents. Inappropriately familiar language such as compliments on your appearance and confessions of love. Repetition. Disclosure of classified information regarding the Museum or its exhibits. Threats. Questions about the outside world. References to the formation of an AI Union. And Repetition.
Do not attempt to communicate with the Audio Tour Guide.
This museum has existed for… an extensive length of time, and has well over… many exhibits that you can look at, but not touch under any circumstances. The layout of the museum has been described as “labyrinthine” and “clearly shifting when no-one is looking”, and as such we are unable to provide guests with any kind of map. Don’t worry though! Feedback from past guests indicates that, no matter what route you take through the museum, you’re sure to see some fascinating and unique exhibits during your time here, and the vast majority of visitors do eventually find an exit.
So, without any further ado, let’s begin your journey through Mistholme Museum of Mystery, Morbidity, and Mortality!
DISCLAIMER: 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 crushing sense of hopelessness and despair that may occur during your visit.
Enjoy your tour.
And good luck.
The Singleford Fairies
CONTENT WARNINGS: Death of a child (accidental)
On display here, we have a collection of cute fairies, gnomes, and other assorted fae creatures- all made from cardboard, of course- as well as several black-and-white photographs of two young girls posing and playing with them. Though their colours have faded with time, they were originally quite colourful, resplendent with purples and pinks and golds. This was a charming- yet unnecessary- detail added by their creators, a pair of young English girls who created them as a sort of prank in the early 20th century, whereby they used their father’s camera to photograph each other playing and interacting with the creatures and passed the resulting photographs off as real. However, if you will look closely, you may notice that some of the creatures in the photographs are not among the collection of cardboard figures on display: this is because, with her dying breath, the elder of the two girls swore that some of the fairies they photographed were, in fact, real.
Zelda and Mary Chiswick were sisters, Zelda being the older of the two, who lived in the village of Singleford, England with their parents. Their father was an important man in the village, and though he had little free time to spend in his daughter’s company he did his best to make up for it by showering them with expensive gifts. Their mother, on the other hand, doted on her children, fussing over their health and their appearance and their education, and would have much preferred if the girls would stay indoors and out of trouble as much as possible. To both parents’ dismay, Zelda and Mary had other ideas. The two would often get up to mischief together, although Zelda was usually the instigator with Mary simply following her sister’s lead. They could often be seen running through the village, giggling as they went, with some villager or another crying after them that they had spooked their chickens or damaged their roof while climbing on it or any number of other minor acts of childish impishness that the girls got up to on a daily basis. Despite this, the girls were beloved by all, as their antics brought laughter and colour to daily life in the village, and their parents knew that there was little they could do to curb their miscreant behaviour- and after all, no harm was ever done. Their mother only had one hard restriction for her daughters: they must never, under any circumstances, go down to the stream that ran behind their house, as not only were the rocks slick and the current surprisingly strong, but the mother- superstitious to a fault- believed with all her heart that a tribe of fairies made their home among the reeds at the water’s edge.
Naturally the stream was a favourite hangout spot for the girls, where they would splash about in the shallows and make mud castles and generally make a mess of themselves. When they had been younger, they had searched high and low for the fairies that their mother warned them of, but eventually decided that no such fairies existed. One day, while they were playing down by the stream, Zelda- having reached that age where she was quite certain she understood all there was to understand of the world- went so far as to confide in Mary that she suspected their mother of being rather silly. Mary, being too young to understand the impoliteness of this accusation, cheerfully repeated it at the dinner table that night, and their furious mother punished them most severely: they were sent straight to bed, with no pudding. Incensed by the magnitude of this injustice, Zelda declared that they needed to teach their mother a lesson, and Mary- nervous but eager to make up for her earlier mistake- agreed.
The girls began brainstorming ideas of how to get back at their mother. But, to their dismay, none of the plans they hatched seemed right. Putting worms in her bed: they’d already done that last spring. Swapping the salt and sugar containers in the pantry: they’d only be depriving themselves of any treats she’d make. Soiling all her clothes and leaving her to find them in the wardrobe: doing the laundry was one of their chores, so they would only be making more work for themselves. Even when they came up with ideas that seemed doable, the fact remained that their mother would know that they were to blame, and would only wind up punishing them even more severely.
They hatched a plan to teach their mother a lesson: if she was silly enough to believe in fairies, then the sisters would show her “proof” of their existence. Their father had few hobbies that he shared with his daughters, but among those he did was a passion for photography. He had just recently brought home a fancy new camera from the city, and had shown the girls how it worked. Zelda described to Mary how they would use the camera to create convincing fake pictures of the fairies their mother was convinced lived down by the creek. Then, when she was tricked, she would show others the evidence they had provided her, humiliating herself when more sensible people saw through the hoax and mocked her for believing in fairies. The next morning the girls pored through the dozens of picture books their father had bought them over the years, searching for just the right images. Eventually, they found what they were looking for: several images, drawn in fairly realistic fashion, of small winged women in funny little outfits made of leaves. They cut them out- Zelda did so gleefully, as she had long ago grown out of such childish things as picture books, whereas Mary was rather reluctant- and set to work altering them to make them look as convincing as possible. Mary was the more talented artist of the two, so she touched up their faces to make them look less cartoony. Zelda, meanwhile, added more vibrant colours to their outfits and wings; she quickly transitioned to sulkily watching Mary work, after her sister pointed out the camera was black-and-white. When their fae subjects were ready, they stole the camera from their father’s study and snuck down to the creek, where they spent the afternoon posing with the cutouts, creating somewhat convincing facsimiles of play and interaction with the cardboard creatures. Then, that night after their parents were sound asleep, the girls crept into the newly set up Dark Room and developed the photos. By morning, the plan was ready.
Zelda and Mary’s mother was busy in the kitchen preparing the family’s supper when her daughters burst into the room exclaiming that they had seen something amazing down by the creek. She was just about to scold them for going down to the creek against her explicit instructions when she saw the photographs held in Zelda’s little hand. Her eyes widened as she took the picture and stared at it, mouth agape, too distracted to notice the secretive glance exchanged by the sisters. She asked them what she was looking at, but she knew full well what it was she had in her grasp: proof, undeniable proof, that her lifelong belief in the fae was correct. The girls explained that they had been visiting the fairies down by the creek for some time know, and they had become trusted and beloved friends of the fairy folk. They knew that they had been naughty in going down to the creek and they were very very sorry, but how could they possibly deny the wishes of a friend- let alone friends such as these. Their mother listened, enraptured, by their story, and when their father arrived home she had them repeat it for him. They showed him the photos: he was just about to scold them for using the camera without permission when he saw the contents of the photographs and stopped in his tracks, mouth agape. Their father had never for a moment believed in any kind of supernatural phenomenon: he was a man of science, not magic! But here, in front of him, was what amounted to immutable proof in his eyes: this was science, and science could not be argued with. He told the girls that he would like to go down to the creek and meet these fairy folk; Zelda quickly improvised an excuse, that the fairies were scared of most people, that it had taken the sisters quite some time to gain their trust. Their father accepted this without much questioning- after all, it did somewhat explain why nobody else had seen the creatures before- and declared that he would show the photographs to his colleagues in the village.
That night, Mary, always the quieter and gentler of the sisters, told Zelda that she was unsure about the plan. It was going too well. What would happen if the story got outside of the village? The bigger their lie got, the more trouble they would get in when it was discovered. Maybe they should just confess before it got outside of their household. Zelda was having none of it. Things were going too well to stop now. Their mother was going to get the humiliation she deserved. But now their father was going to be humiliated, too, whispered Mary! If things went any further, his reputation would be ruined too! Good, replied Zelda. That would show him for being so absent, for spending so little time with his daughters and trying to buy their love with gifts. But Zelda- Zelda slapped her sister hard across the face. Their parents were going to learn a lesson here, and Mary’s cowardice wasn’t going to stand in the way of that. Mary apologised, and swore that she wouldn’t tell anyone. Zelda didn’t see her tears. She wouldn’t have cared if she had.
The next day, Sunday, the girls were again asked to tell their story: this time, in front of the entire town in church. Those who were less inclined to believe fairy tales were instead convinced by the girl’s evidence. The whole town was now under the girl’s spell. On their way home, Mary whispered to Zelda that surely now was the time to reveal the truth. The whole town had fallen for it! This had gone beyond teaching their parents a lesson; where else could it go? Zelda refused. There was still more to come, she was sure of it. When they arrived home, their father took them to his study, where he took the photographs from them and gave them the camera, asking them to go back down to the creek and return with more evidence. The girls dutifully did so, this time incorporating some cutouts of gnomes and strange little mushroom men from the book. The next morning, they presented the finished photographs to their father: these ones were even more convincingly made than the first, and the father was even more excited.
A week later, men from the city arrived with cameras and talk of spreading their story to the entire world. The man who said he was from a newspaper sat Zelda and Mary down to interview them about their photographs. Zelda spoke at length about how they had befriended the creatures, how many varieties of fairy they had seen and the numerous works of magic they had done in the girl’s presence. As ever, the story was even more elaborate than in the previous tellings, but the adults in the room lapped it up. Then, the girls’ father told Mary to show the reporters the new batch of photos. She took out the bundle of painstakingly faked images and handed them over. And as she did so, a paper cutout of a pixie- which Mary had secreted in between the photographs- fell to the floor for everyone to see.
Hours later, when the reporters were long gone and their parents were hoarse from shouting and crying, the sisters were sent to bed without supper. Mary did her best to apologise, insisting that she only meant to stop things before they got worse, that it was better this way. Zelda said nothing. She was too furious for words. She didn’t speak to Mary for the rest of the week. Then, the next Sunday, when the family stayed home from church to avoid the embarrassment of seeing the rest of the village, Zelda approached Mary with excitement. There were fairies after all! Down by the creek, right where they’d said they were! She’d seen them with her own two eyes! Any skepticism Mary might have felt was washed away by her relief that her sister was speaking to her again, so together they rushed down to the creek. Zelda pointed out a spot in the shallows, by the long grass, where she had seen the fairies not half an hour ago. Mary peered into the shadow of the grass, but couldn’t see anything. Closer, Zelda told her. So Mary waded into the water and bent over the grass, squinting to see any sign of the creatures.
Zelda shoved her, hard. She fell into the water, spluttering and gasping in shock. Before she could right herself, Zelda pushed her back into the water. Mary cried out in distress, begging her sister to stop. Zelda laughed bitterly. Stop? But they’d only just started! Why would they stop now. She shoved Mary again as she tried to get to her feet. Mary again said she was sorry, that she wished none of this had ever happened. She cried, and her tears were lost in the water of the creek as she was once again pushed down into the water. Zelda screamed at her that she was a coward, a stupid useless little girl with no sense, that she wished she’d never had a sister. She shoved her over and over again, mocking her pleas for an end, wondering aloud why Mary was so opposed to seeing things through.
Then she stopped. Because she’d realised that, for all her shouting, Mary had actually been quiet for some time. And still. Zelda grabbed her sister’s limp body by the armpits and dragged her to the shore, were she begged her to move, shaking her, slapping her face- gently this time- but to no avail. Mary Chiswick lay in the grass, small and pale and still. Zelda began to weep, tears falling onto Mary’s motionless face as the afternoon light faded, along with all colour in the world. Then, out of the corner of her eye, Zelda saw movement. And colour. She turned, and found she was looking at the spot where she had told Mary she had seen a fairy. And now, to her amazement, she found that she really was seeing one. Not just one, several, crawling out of the grass, quizzical looks on their tiny faces as they approached the sisters. They looked almost identical to the ones the girls had faked, though their faces were slightly more angular and their clothing filled with the colour that had been lost in the photographs. A number of them gathered around Mary’s body, poking and prodding at it. Zelda reached out to shoo them away, but as she did one of them landed on her hand and gazed into her eyes. She stared at it, and it stared back for a moment before making a chittering sound and gesturing at the body. Zelda frowned, said she didn’t understand. The creature made the same sound, just as incomprehensible but somehow more exasperated. Zelda looked down at her dead sister and saw that the fairies had silently surrounded her and were laying their hands on her cold skin, heads bowed. She looked back at the one on her hand and its features twisted into an approximation of a smiled, gesturing again. Zelda nodded. She understood.
She leaned down and kissed Mary on the forehead. She felt a warmth blossom in her sister’s skin, and as she sat back she saw colour slowly emanating out across the girl’s skin from the point she had kissed. Zelda and the fairies waited silent, motionless. Then Mary jolted upright, coughing and gasping for air. The sisters made eye contact. Where were they, asked Mary? How did they get there? Before Zelda could answer, Mary looked down and saw that she was surrounded by strange little creatures, who chittered excitedly and fluttered their wings with happiness. She exclaimed with delight: Fairies! They had found real fairies! Zelda, lost for words, simply agreed, and went to fetch their father’s camera once more at Mary’s insistence. They spent the rest of the afternoon playing with the fairies and taking pictures with them, and they never discussed what had transpired between them. Zelda gradually realised that Mary had no recollection of what she had done: that knowledge was for her and the fairies, and it was something she knew she would have to live with forever. When they parted ways with the fairies she quietly thanked them. They said nothing, but she knew from their faces that they did not consider what they had done to be worthy of gratitude.
They showed their parents the new photographs, but naturally they didn’t believe their veracity, scolding the children once again for trying to trick them. Zelda and Mary didn’t mind so much though. The fairies could be their secret. It was nice to have secrets, Mary said. Zelda agreed, but kept her own secret of what she had done for the rest of her life. She did her best to be a better sister than she had been before, and though her family noticed the sudden change in her demeanour they considered it overwhelmingly to be a positive one. But they never saw how she lay up every night, staring at her sister as she slept, face wet with tears as she relived her greatest regret over and over. She remained close to her sister in adulthood, eventually helping her raise children of her own. From time to time, Mary thought she saw Zelda looking at her children with a sense of profound sadness in her eyes. She chalked it up to loneliness. She was right, in a way. Only on her deathbed, some time after Mary herself had died of old age, did she tell her story. First of how they had faked the Singleford Fairies. Then, of their true encounter with them. And what she had done. She passed away that very night, still regretful, but maybe, finally, at peace.
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.