Wednesday, July 31, 2013

In which John Ashton Smith makes his second report...

"Dear Dr. Armitage,

I am pleased (and relieved) to report that we have made some progress in our investigation, although the information I have uncovered is certainly troubling.

Persephone arrived today, as you promised. Miss Caroline and I briefed her on the situation here while Maddy was at Hudson picking up Miss Gardiner. She has been released into Maddy's care for the time being. Her recovery has been nothing short of remarkable.

She was more than willing to speak with Persephone at some length regarding why and how she came to be here. It appears that Mrs. Bishop has been in contact with a certain "Dr. West" (which I suspect may be a pseudonym) who has been purchasing dolls which, for various reasons, were never completed and/or sold. Mrs. Bishop believes that this Dr. West is purchasing these dolls to rehabilitate them as companions for children in a "church-run orphanage." Miss Gardiner fears the God(s) in question may not have anything to do with the one Mrs. Bishop believes. She mentioned that Mrs. Bishop had stated, in a befuddled way, that this Dr. West was using "salt" to fill the dolls, and wondered aloud why he didn't use pellets. Perhaps this is something you could question Mrs. Bishop about? Persephone also asked about the box and key, but Miss Gardiner had no knowledge of either one. For the moment, she will also remain here while she recuperates.

Talk of "salt" has me greatly concerned. I reviewed both the Herbert West and Randolph Carter files, as well as Maddy's Donald Tyson translation of the Necronomicon, but found nothing regarding using essential salts to animate (or reanimate) dolls. Perhaps you could cross-reference the Wormius version with the Tyson translation? The section I am referencing starts on page 143.

Percy has been using GIS, cross-referencing with Google Maps, to try to determine possible locations for Chester's Farm. As of tonight, she hasn't come up with anything promising. Maddy has some knowledge of local farms from a previous position, and this is proving invaluable in narrowing down prospective locations.

Speaking of books, Maddy and Miss Caroline were kind enough to bring me along to the local Barnes & Noble today so I could look for another book I needed. (I admit that I'm not accustomed to traveling in a handbag, however!)

Miss Caroline did offer me the use of her little studio flat (in a bookcase!) while I'm here, but I didn't want to put her out. Maddy has cleared a shelf of a nearby bookcase off for me. It's quite comfortable. I've not been made part of a family like this on any other assignment. It's quite pleasant.

I know I shouldn't say this, but I'm not looking forward to leaving.....


John Ashton Smith

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

In which I learn more about John, if not about what's going on....

"Oh dear..." John fretted, looking at his laptop in dismay. "It looks like Pete Riley is on another case. I was hoping Dr. Morgan would send him here."

"How many of you are there?" I said.

"Three who report to Dr. Armitage - myself, Rich and my sister, Persephone. I need to ask your person if it would be all right if my sister joined us."

"It will be," Maddy said, coming in. "Are you guys ready to go see how Sparrow's doing?"


As it turns out, not much has changed, although she's been upgraded to "fair." They do expect her to recover. At the moment, she's being kept sedated, so John couldn't really talk to her.

After we left Hudson, Maddy said she had to make a stop at that place with the garden center.

"Do you get to go everywhere with her?" John asked as we looked around.

"Pretty much," I said. "Every now and again she doesn't bring me. Don't you go places with your person?"

"Not really," he admitted, watching the fish in the indoor pond. "I'm sent places on my own, of course, but I don't really associate with Dr. Armitage outside of the university. He's told me on more than one occasion that his wife finds dolls to be quite - disturbing - and doesn't wish for him to bring any of us to his home."

"Where do you stay, then?"

"I live in his office. He's got an old cardboard box up on one of his file cabinets that I've turned into a bed. I've got Rich and Percy with me, of course, but it does get a bit lonely sometimes."

It doesn't sound like much of a life, to be honest. Before I could say as much, though, Maddy came back.

"Hey you, smile!" she said, snapping John's picture before he could really react. I don't think he minded, though.


"My sister will be here tomorrrow," he was saying a bit later.

"Great. You did ask her," Maddy said, coming back from making a phone call. "They said they're bringing Sparrow out of sedation tomorrow. If all goes well, she might be released by the end of the week."

"That's good news," I said.

"Very," Maddy agreed, looking at John. "I see you never go anywhere without your towel."

"It's actually my blanket," he admitted. "Sometimes it's a good idea to bring your own. You can never be certain of where you'll be sleeping."

Not the highest-quality washcloth I've ever seen, I thought, but didn't say as much.


"You know he sleeps in a cardboard box on a file cabinet?" I said to Maddy when he was out of hearing range.

"He doesn't live with the Armitages?" She sounded surprised.

"No." I told her what he'd told me at the garden center.

"That's no life for anyone," she said, then looked thoughtful. "I wonder if we could convince him to stay here when this is all over?"

That is exactly what I was thinking, too....

Monday, July 29, 2013

In which John Ashton Smith makes his first report....

"Dear Dr. Armitage,

I fear I am no closer to finding my friend and colleague Richard Morris; if anything, my investigation has taken a strange and troubling turn. But let me explain....

The lead that we had been given in Amenia, NY, led to nothing but a facility housing the offices of an organization that rescues unwanted dogs. An entirely legitimate and quite honorable organization, quite unlike the entity we're looking for.

However, I did talk to another doll in the area who directed me a bit further south, to the area around Poughkeepsie. Here I have found yet another incident which may or may not be related to our investigation. I have also made the acquaintance of the lovely Miss Hitty Caroline and her friends. (I should add that I won't be submitting hotel receipts for this part of the trip, as Miss Caroline's person, Maddy, has kindly offered me a place to stay. Perhaps the University could find some way of reimbursing her?)

I should also add that despite the claims of Mrs. Sally Bishop, I have seen no evidence that the so-called "Hitty Cult" is anything but a "cult" in the most affectionate sense of the word. Although they share a common philosophy and heritage, they do not participate in the bizarre "treelove" rituals she alleged in her last letter. Miss Caroline and her sisters are quite delightful company - Miss Caroline in particular.

Speaking of Mrs. Bishop, I believe I have also  debunked her allegations of one of her recent dolls "turning evil." The doll in question, Sheldon Dean Baylor, was in fact disowned when it came to light that he was gay - this after he was badly injured in a domestic dispute with his then-boyfriend. After escaping the broker he'd been consigned to, he was rescued and adopted by Miss Caroline's person, Maddy, in late September of last year. As you suspected, the claim was baseless and I believe we can close it as such.

However, this leads me to one of my new concerns. A day or so before my arrival, Maddy and one of the other dolls, a Miss Hitty Jade, discovered a female doll of about Shel's size, disoriented and semiconscious but apparently uninjured. Miss Jade reported that the unknown female was coherent enough to ask for Shel, saying something about "warning him," but subsequently lapsed into unconsciousness. Maddy took her to the nearby Hudson Doll Hospital, where she remains in serious but stable condition. I accompanied Maddy and Miss Caroline when they went to visit her today, and I believe that she is one of Mrs. Bishop's dolls. If I remember the adoption website correctly, I believe her name is Sparrow Gardiner. Perhaps you or Dr. Morgan could inquire about the whereabouts (or what she believes to be the whereabouts) of Miss Gardiner without arousing suspicion? I would not advise revealing her location, however. Given what we know about Mrs. Bishop's mindset and her baseless allegations regarding Sheldon Dean Baylor, I fear that we may endanger Miss Gardiner and possibly Sheldon as well.

This brings me to my other immediate concern. After we returned from Hudson, Maddy, Miss Caroline and I decided to make a thorough search of both her property and an adjacent lot. What we found was disturbing to say the least.

We were well out into the adjacent lot when my aether detector sounded. Following the signal, we found first an old key.

Maddy wondered aloud if it might have been Randolph Carter's, but I told her the University is in possession of that particular key. I am hoping you might be able to identify it from the photo included, It is old and quite heavy, with no markings or other clues as to why it set off the detector. For the moment, Maddy has the key in her safekeeping.

The other item is far more disturbing...

The detector was still sounding, and upon further investigation we found this small round silver box hidden in the undergrowth.

Despite my misgivings, we brought it back to the house. Miss Caroline was going to open it but I bade her not to. I fear it might hold a fragment of the Shining Trapzoidhedron. If that is so, then I fear what other forces are at work here....

I'm horribly worried at this point and fear I may in fact be well out of my depth. Perhaps Pete Riley or one of the others could be sent to assist me?

Maddy has reassured me that she can handle anything, but I fear for what might happen to her and the lovely Miss Caroline should, as I fear, my discoveries in fact be related to the situation with Richard and the Chester's Farm investigation.

Yours, concerned

John Ashton Smith
Miskatonic University Paranormal Incidents Team
Occult Studies - Doll and Toy Division
Arkham, MA 01914"

Sunday, July 28, 2013

In which the mystery deepens....

We're still not exactly sure what's going on....

Our mystery girl is currently in the hospital. They really don't know what's happened to her, but she's still in and out of consciousness and not able to tell us much of anything. Maddy has said that we'll take responsibility for her if they can't locate her person. We went to see her today, but there's not much to do. They'll call us if anything changes.


I didn't realize it had rained while we were in the hospital, and by the time I realized how wet the pavement was, the hem of my dress had gotten soaked. Maddy said to change when we got home and she'd wash it. While I was doing that....

"Hey Caroline, there's someone here to see you. He said his name was John..."

Terrific. Why does opportunity always have to knock when you're not really dressed for the occasion?

Good thing this Hitty can rock the underwear-as-outerwear look.....

Anyway, like I said, his name is (freaking pinch me here) John Ashton Smith. He's a paranormal investigator from up near Arkham, MA. Maddy and I thought he was here because of our mystery girl, but he's actually looking for a his friend and colleague Richard, who vanished while investigating a lead about some goings-on at a place called Chester's Farm. This area was apparently Rich's last known location.

 "I'm really worried about him. Chester's Farm has been under investigation for quite some time. It's supposed to be a breeding operation for a better kind of beef cow, but there have been all kinds of strange stories about genetic engineering and who knows what all. I'm afraid these people may be dangerous - and they may have Richard."

"I've never heard of it," Maddy said, looking puzzled. "Of course, it may be out of the watershed area we worked in back at my old job."

"They wouldn't have been involved with anything like that," John said. "They wouldn't want anyone coming on-site to see things."

"Where is this place?" I said.

"I'm not sure. That's the other problem. The address that was given to us turned out to be a dead-end road up near Amenia," John said. "From some of what Rich said and the locations of some photos he sent me, I think he was down in this area when he vanished."

"Well, you can certainly stay here while you;re looking for him," I said,

"That's very kind of you, Miss, uh---"

"Caroline. Call me Caroline." I knew Maddy wouldn't mind.

Maddy, in fact, told him about our mystery girl and he was intrigued. He asked me to take him out to where we'd found her. Not that there were a lot of clues to go on.

"I have no idea if this is related or not," he said. "Could I come with you when you go to see her again?"

"Of course," I said.

"Do you know anything about Shel's previous person?"

"No, just that he has an abusive ex-boyfriend there and it was somewhere down in lower Manhattan, He said they were down where Sandy hit so bad."

John looked thoughtful. "I think I need to talk to him next."

Something had just occurred to me. "Richard's not your boyfriend, is he?"

John laughed. "Oh heavens no. We've just known each other for years."

Okay, whew.....

So anyway, he's cute, single, as it turns out, has a British accent and he's going to hang around for at least awhile.

I could get to like this....

*Maddy's note - and here I thought it was hard making clothes for John-John and Shel. Man, I had no idea....

Friday, July 26, 2013

In which we meet John-John's sister and a mystery girl...

This week started out fun and ended strange. First the fun part....

Meet Brigitte Kilburne, John-John's big sister. She got here yesterday, after staying in London long enough to photograph the royal baby (who as it turns out, shares part of his name with Shel after all; Shel's middle name is Alexander.) She's a freelance photographer who's starting to make a name for herself.

Is it just me, or does there seem to be a Kilburne family nose?

She says Will and Kate really are "that much in love," at least from what she's observed, and that they're both super nice.

Brigitte's not one of those paparazzi types - she mostly does fashion shoots and the occasional news story or event. She said she's far too lazy to chase people, anyway. "If I'm there and it looks interesting, I'll take a few pictures. I try to stay out of people's faces, though. I still get plenty of great shots."

John-John has a younger brother named Fletcher, who's seventeen and still in the Brit equivalent of high school.  His mom, Ashley, is a former child star/pop singer who's now a judge on Britain's Got Talent. His late father, who was, from what I understand, a good twenty-five years older than his mom, managed a band called London Zero. Everyone thought Louden and Ashely's marriage would last less than a year, but it lasted for twenty - until his father passed away, that is.

That was the fun part. Now the strange....

Maddy treated Jade to a dress from Gail Wilson. It came in today and they went outside to take a couple of pictures. Jade said she was climbing down from the tree root when she caught a glimpse of something in the old garden, just behind the Everest rock. She and Maddy went to investigate...

It was another doll.

She was too exhausted to be very coherent. She said something about looking for Shel before she passed out. They brought her inside, of course, but Shel has no idea who she is. Jade thought for a moment that she might have been Abigail, the doll he was partnered with, but he said she wasn't. Abigail was about his height and had short blonde hair. This girl is much shorter.

All we can do is wait for her to wake up and see what she remembers...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In which John-John talks a little more about his fear of storms....

(Maddy's note - I didn't actually take any pictures during the week leading up to Sandy nor after the storm itself. My camera wasn't working (I'd lost my charging cable) and it was also about the last thing on my mind. I also know that, compared to others, we were incredibly, amazingly lucky - but that didn't make it any less scary when it was happening. At the time we didn't know we were going to come through the storm as well as we did. (And yes, we're well inland and a good sixty miles north of NYC here.)

"The darkness drops again, but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?" 
William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming"


"Hmm. According to this, phobias are caused by a triggering event." I was doing some research on phobias this afternoon.

"Oh, I know what did it, all right," John-John said with a shudder. "Sandy."

"The hurricane?" I looked around.

He nodded.

"That was really scary," Shel said. "It was just about a month after I found my way here." He shivered a bit, too. "I used to live down in Manhattan where they got hit so hard. I was doubly grateful to be up here."

"Wow..." I've seen a couple of TV specials on the storm and how bad it was. The Weather Channel is still running "Life After Sandy" updates. And now they're tracking it on "Hurricane Hunters." Maddy said it gave her chills when they announced "They've named it based on our findings. This one's - Sandy."

"What was it like?" I said.

"Bad," John-John said.....

"A week and a half before it hit, they started saying that the long-range forecast models were developing something that might come up the east coast. We didn't think anything of it, though. Maddy told me and Shel that we've had hurricanes before and always gotten through them. She said we usually got  a lot of rain, but not so much wind - although with Irene, they got both.

"The whole week before it hit was weird. It was really warm for the end of October, but really dark and unsettled. We hadn't seen the sun since something like the Thursday before. Little did we know that the cold front that was stalled right on top of us was part of what was bringing the storm up the coast. All I knew was that the forecast kept getting scarier and scarier and all I wanted was to see the sun before it happened, but it just stayed cloudy and damp. Maddy kept trying to reassure us that everything was going to be okay. She was having a strange week, too. Some guy from an online college kept calling her trying to convince her to enroll. She had so many questions, but she said he just kept telling her "Let's get you onboarded and in-program, then we can deal with the minutiae later." She said the question of "How the ^%#?! am I going to pay for this?!" was hardly minutiae. She finally emailed him and told him she wasn't interested. Then she was trying to get her other car - that little black one that still isn't running right - back working, or at least working enough to pass inspection, whatever that means. She'd made an appointment to have it towed in for repairs on what turned out to be the day the storm hit.

"That morning, October 29th, dawned like the others - dark and cloudy with rain spitting from the sky. The wind was already starting to pick up. The tow truck came before 9 AM and fetched the car. Then - we waited. And watched. And waited. I kept hoping they were wrong. Surely it had to go out to sea? There didn't seem to be any way it could turn like that. turn around and come straight at us. I didn't know much about storms, but I knew they just couldn't do that. Except - this one was. It had turned around and it was coming right at us. I was so scared. The wind kept getting stronger and it wasn't blowing in gusts anymore with a lull in between; it was just blowing and blowing and getting stronger by the hour. I begged Maddy to just put us in the car and take us somewhere, anywhere so we could get away from it. but she said there wasn't any place. It was too big. And she couldn't leave the birds and Zaphod. I thought we could take them with us. But she said we'd have to drive somewhere out past Michigan to get away from it, and we couldn't. There wasn't enough time...."

Maddy gave him a hug. "Baby, believe me, I wanted to. If we could have gotten away from it. I would have gone."

"I know," he said. "Then, about three PM, we lost the cable. Right after that, we lost the phone and with it, the DSL. Then the weather radio lost its signal. We had no way of knowing what was about to happen. We still had the lights, but they were flickering like crazy and kept going on and off, and they were out on the other street - the cross street down there. I knew if we lost power we'd be out for days or even weeks. That scared me even more. I didn't want to be in the dark with all that wind and no way of knowing what was happening. And it was already getting dark at four in the afternoon.....

"Then, we got the phone back and with it, the DSL. Maddy told us that the storm was just about to make landfall in New Jersey. Shel said that hurricanes always fall apart when they make landfall, so I thought maybe the worst was just about over. I hoped, anyway.

"About five-thirty, Shel said there was a truck down at the cross street, working on something. Moments later, the cable came back on. Maddy came to look and told us it was a Central Hudson truck. They were out working in the middle of the storm, trying to fix the power lines. They drove off, but came back about an hour or so later - just as all the lights came back on the other street. I thought for sure that we were out of the worst of it by then if they were fixing the lines. But Maddy was worried. She was looking at the Upton, NY forecast discussion on NOAA's website and they were talking about a huge convective band coming across Long Island Sound, into Connecticut and across the Hudson Valley...."

"It was one of the massive bands of storms that had been around the eyewall of the hurricane," Maddy said. "It had eighty to 100 mile an hour winds in it. And it was coming straight at us. I could see it on the radar - this huge red band about to come right across us."

"I had just watched the power company bloke get down off the cherry picker and drive off and I was so relieved thinking it was all over," John-John said, shivering. "And then - it was like a jet or something coming right at us. Just this scream. And the house started shaking...."

"It was the wind from the squall," Shel said. "It just hit all at once. And it didn't let up. It was just going between a roar and a scream and it wouldn't stop."

"You couldn't hear anything over it, it was so loud. The whole house was just shaking. Something slammed into the end window and I thought for sure it was broken," Maddy said. "Right after that, we heard a tree come down somewhere very close by, but it was dark and we had no idea where it was. I thought for sure we were going to end up with a tree in the house. The lights were flickering like a candle in the wind, but somehow, they didn't go off. I don't know how, but they didn't. This went on for almost an hour and a half. Then - it just died. The wind scaled back to a little less than it had been before the squall, although it was still blowing."

"I just wanted it to be over, but it wasn't..." John-John said. "There were all these terrible things happening, most of Manhattan was dark, they said, there was that whole neighborhood burning down and nobody could do anything and the tide was coming in and they said it wasn't over, this wasn't even the worst..."

"The worst was over for us up here, though," Shel said. "The wind was starting to die down a bit, although it was still really gusty - and the moon came out."

"Even though that full moon caused at least part of the destruction, I was never so glad to see it in all my life," Maddy said. "That was when I knew the worst was past us. We had branches everywhere, two trees down in back and one huge tree down in the neighbor's yard across the street, our garbage cans were in the woods out back despite being moved under the back porch before the storm hit, most of the back gutter was blown down, the drainpipe was gone along with some room shingles, the cap was gone off the chimney and we still had gas lines and road closures and all to deal with - but we'd made it through in one piece and with the power still on. We were so lucky."

"And then the next morning - the sun was finally out," Shel said. 

I really hope that was indeed a once-in-a-thousand-years storm. I know I don't want to see one like it.....


If you want some scary reading, check this out. NOAA Briefings Archive.

Monday, July 22, 2013

In which John-John gives us all a scare....

"I'm putting the air conditioner back in. It's humid all of a sudden..." Maddy had the vent back in and was turning on the A/C.


This probably explains the humidity.

"Was that thunder?" Maddy hurried to unplug the router as Shel unplugged her laptop for her.

Seconds later....


That was waaaaaay too freaking close.....

Maddy came back in. "Just in time. I got everything unplugged just before that happened. Hey, where's John-John?"

"I thought he was with you." Shel looked guilty. "Ohmigod..."

"Shel, calm down. I'm sure he's right here. John-John?"


He wasn't in the computer/everything else room...


Not in the living room....

"Where did he go?" Shel was starting to freak out. I think Maddy was, too, but she didn't show it.

"I looked in here." she said.

"What if he ran outside?" Shel looked around fearfully. It was still pouring.

"He didn't leave the house. We'll find him," Maddy reassured him. 

He wasn't in the other bedroom....

Still, it was a good forty-five minutes before Maddy finally opened the hall closet to look for a flashlight...

"John-John?! Baby, ohmigod, we were looking all over for you!" 

I have no idea how he got in there without us hearing the door open and close. 

I'd make a bad joke about getting him out of the closet, but we were all too glad to see him. He was still absolutely terrified and crying. 

"Baby, ohmigod, I was so scared!" Shel hugged him tight. It took a few minutes before he really started to calm down.

"I'm sorry...." John-John finally sniffled. "I just got so scared..."

"How did you even get in there?" Maddy said.

"It was open a little," he said. "I'm sorry. Please don't be mad at me..."

"Baby, it's okay. Nobody's mad. Just please don't hide like that again," Shel said, hugging him.

Poor baby. I wonder if there are phobia therapists for dolls...

(Maddy's note - the lightning bolt photo is from the Weather Channel's site. I didn't get a photo of this evening's epic lightning bolt.)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

In which it's a quiet Saturday evening...

This is what the morning a heatwave breaks looks like....

The sky isn't as ominous as it looks - it was just murky and hazy. This is out in the back by the bead store. Usually on Saturdays it's kind of crowded with the library and all, but today there were almost no cars in the lot at all. It was still as still could be and rather eerie.

On a nicer day, the steps would have been a cool place to hang out, but not when the air quality is so bad that it probably doesn't even qualify as "air" anymore.

We did get some storms today, but nothing severe. I don't think the front is actually through, although it's cooler than it's been for the past couple of nights.

I thought we'd be able to take the air conditioner out for the night and enjoy some actual fresh air, but it looks like that will have to wait until tomorrow night....

And Superman and Batman together on-screen? Holy blockbuster, Batman....

Friday, July 19, 2013

In which it's the hottest day of the year and - are you SERIOUS?!!!?

Well, we've made it through the Long Hot Insane Week! Now all we have to do is get through the cold front that's due to blast through tomorrow in one piece....

Maddy was still a little antsy and restless after she got back from today's interview. She suggested that, despite the heat, we should go check out Hobby Lobby.

And what to our wondering eyes should appear....
Yes, this is what it looks like.

Four aisles and several freestanding displays worth of Christmas in July....

To be fair, a lot of it was really nice stuff. And yes, we did look. Maddy said that she bought Shel and John-John a little tree last year, so we looked for some small ornaments for it, but we didn't see anything. She said we could look for a little tree for me as it got closer to the actual season, but I think I'd rather find some pink ornaments for John-John and Shel's - if they don't mind sharing, that is.

Maddy found some awesome 80s-inspired earring hoops, though, and I found a pink remnant that will make an awesome dress.


Until the heat wave breaks, we have a special guest staying in the bedroom (and taking up about 90% of the available floor space.) Zaphod can't handle heat very well. Maddy was worried about him for awhile this afternoon because he was just stretched out on the top level, not moving. He's fine, though. At the moment he's stretched out under his wheel, snoring. Yes, snoring. He has two settings - "Off" and "High."

 John-John is still on Royal Baby Watch.

When Shel lets him concentrate, that is....

I posted this one to prove that yes, he does have eyes under all that hair. (For the record, Maddy gets asked the same question about herself....)

We might get to meet John-John's mom, sister and brother soon. They're coming over from England to visit, he said....