Monday, February 22, 2021

Syria and the Movies Part Five: April 6, 1926

CW: Mention of suicide. Inappropriate touching by Lovecraftian monsters. 

Mikhail at the Library

Mikhail finds a story in a book of Druze oral traditions/fables regarding a long-ago raid on a clan of Tahijuh the clan had captured some Druze camels, and attempted to sacrifice them to their various gods using mirrors, knives, and magical incantations. Mikhail copies this down and returns to the group.

Dr. Black and the Rerun

Dr. Black, Johnny, and Bill Simpson rig up von Varnstein’s lens so that the projector will project the film through it backward. It is quickly decided that Dr. Black will watch this film by himself while the other two men wait outside.

The film is slightly blurrier than before and still strongly tinted blue.  Otherwise, everything is normal, until Dr. Black gets to the three scenes that unnerved everyone before. It appears that, in this configuration, von Varnstein’s lens can make the invisible visible. Dr. Black sees:

  • In the desert fight scene, he sees several non-human fingers shambling around in the background.
  • In the closeup of James Raven, he sees a monstrous figure step out from behind a broken wall, look directly at the camera, and continue on its way.
  • In the last scene, he sees two of the creatures climb through the window into the room, where they harass Monica Anikova.

Dr. Black cries out, thoroughly unnerved at the site of these monsters. When Johnny and Bill rush in to see how he’s doing, he tries—with minimal success—to explain just what exactly he’s seen.

Johnny begins to suspect that he might be able to make the creatures visible with the Powder of Ibn-Ghazi.

Monica’s Apartment

Investigations continue at Monica’s apartment. The group discovers that a framed photograph of Monica, which is just above her writing desk in the bedroom, has had its glass cracked in the bottom left corner. Judge Putnam removes the back of the frame to see if something has been hidden inside. He finds nothing but the photograph, but does reveal two more things: a scrape on the side of the frame near the crack in the glass, and a hole in the wall directly behind where the picture was hung. The hole is roughly rectangular, perhaps an inch long and half that wide.

Judge Putnam descends to the lobby—and the address placards in the vestibule—to see who lives next door to Monica. It turns out that no one does—on either side. The group debates whether this is unusual or not, while Ron decides to break into the door into the apartment on the other side of the hole in the wall.

While he’s doing this, Vivian probes the hole with her finger and gets it stuck. Liam sees that she is trapped and tries to help free her. Hilarity ensues.

Ron, who is now in the apartment, sees Vivian’s trapped finger protruding through the wall. He does the sensible thing, which is to say he slips on his brass knuckles and smashes his fist against the wall right near Vivian’s hand. This shatters the horsehair plaster, widens the hole, and allows Vivian to withdraw her finger. She is also still able to play the violin.

The group convenes in the adjacent apartment. It is fitfully furnished. The group notes a small end table that is next to the now damaged wall. It appears that a vase containing fake flowers had been knocked off the table somehow and had dashed itself to pieces on the floor.

Initially, the group suspects that gunplay was involved in Monica’s death somehow, but, after not finding any bullets in either apartment, and realizing that the initial hole in the wall was the wrong size, they revise their theory. They suspect that the hole in the wall might have been made by something narrow and sharp. Like a knife. Or a sword.

Realizing that they have met one person recently who both knows Monica and wields a sword, the group decides that they need to have another chat with James Raven.

Back at Dr. Wakefield’s

Dr. Wakefield

The group decides that they may need to spirit James Raven out of the doctor’s custody. Ron tells the group not to worry—he has a plan.

On their way over to Dr. Wakefield’s office, the group reconvenes with Johnny, Dr. Black, and Mikhail. They take a moment to share what they have learned before entering the small surgery owned by Palm Tree Studios.

Dr. Wakefield is surprised, but happy to see them. The group explains that Judge Putnam, Dr. Black, and Mikhail have some background in psychiatry, and ask if they could try to get to the root of Mr. Raven’s madness. Dr. Wakefield agrees.

Mikhail makes some headway by talking to James Raven exclusively in quotes from The Count of Monte Christo. Mr. Raven continues to rave about the “friends” that he met in the desert, how they were angry at the studio, “and the others” for intruding in their domain, and how he had promised to help them protect their little valley. He further explains that he will be rewarded for his efforts by being taken to a paradise-like kingdom beyond “the gate.”

The group decide that, based on this information, they should have James Raven watch the outtake film reel. They give Ron the high sign.

Ron fakes a heart attack. Dr. Wakefield immediately escorts Ron to another gurney, located behind some privacy screens, and begins to diagnose him. While Ron tries to keep Dr. Wakefield busy with contradictory symptoms and dramatic acting, the rest of the group releases James Raven from his gurney.

At about this time, Dr. Wakefield realizes that Ron is not, in fact, having a heart attack. He provides Ron with some bismuth subsalicylate and is about to send him on his way. Vivian signals to Ron that the group needs a few more moments. Ron, in desperation, takes down his trousers and asks Dr. Wakefield about a strange rash he’s gotten.

Mikhail manages to keep James Raven calm and pliant with appropriate movie quotes. The group ushers Mr. Raven out into the street while Dr. Wakefield calmly explains to Ron that he has a heat rash. He gives Ron some talcum powder.

Dr. Wakefield washes his hands and returns to his patient notes as the group escort James Raven to the screening room.

An Encore Performance

Bill is still at the screening room and is very disturbed and surprised to see the group arrive with James Raven. The group convinces him that Mr. Raven is fine and completely harmless while in their custody. They ask him to rig up the lens on the projector, as before, and set up the outtakes reel so that they can play it one more time.

After seeing the “normal” version of the film and hearing Dr. Black’s report of what the lens reveals, Bill is in no hurry to sit through another screening of it. He tells the group that he will be outside should they need him. Johnny and Ron with him. Dr. Black and Vivian hide in the building’s small washroom, out of sight of the film, but in earshot in case the others need help handling Mr. Raven.

Mikhail remains in the screening room to keep an eye on James Raven, though he is mostly watching the room’s outer door. Judge Putnam decides to watch the film through his hand, squeezing his fingers shut if anything occurs on screen that is too “scary.”

James Raven becomes much more amiable and normal once the film reel starts playing. He tells the judge and Mikhail that, “Oh, this is a good one. I’m in this one,” and proceeds to watch the outtakes with some excitement.

The three “troublesome” scenes play out as before. Judge Putnam manages to avoid seeing closeups of the creatures in the latter two scenes, and assumes that the things in the background of the fight scene are “just camels.” Mikhail is deeply unnerved by seeing the creatures. James Raven, however, is delighted, and starts telling everyone that the creatures are, in fact, his oft-mentioned friends.

His demeanor changes rapidly when the final scene plays. Upon seeing the creatures “manhandle” Monica Anikova, Mr. Raven goes berserk, at first screaming at the screen and then pulling it down off of the wall with terrifying strength. Mikhail turns off the projector while Ron restrains Mr. Raven.

James Raven is inconsolable, and sobs something about, “she was promised to me. A queen in our new kingdom. They betrayed me! THEY BETRAYED ME!”

The group tries to calm James Raven down, with some success. They ask him about the last time he saw Monica and receive this disturbing reply. “She didn’t like it here. She was going away. She was going to go far away.”

“Where was she going the last time you saw her?”

 "Down, I think. Very far down.”

Regrouping at the Tulip Doree II

The group decides to bring James Raven back to the hotel while they plan their next move. In order to make sure that the studio doesn’t go on the hunt for Mr. Raven, Ron goes back to Dr. Wakefield’s. A frantic Wakefield is relieved, though baffled, that Mr. Raven is with the group. He refrains from asking follow up questions.

Back at the hotel, Dr. Black finds Brother Theodore and Turki Nazar playing chess in the lobby. He asks if Turki could take a walk while he talks to Brother Theodore privately. Turki agrees and says, with some self-deprecation, that he was losing the game anyway. As Turki bows, Dr. Black notes that he is wearing bright yellow socks. This deeply unnerves him.

Dr. Black assembles the group and passes on the color of Turki’s socks. This makes several members of the group, especially Ron, afraid that Turki is yet another form of the entity that was also Nathan Torpley, Nellie Thompson, and Lostalus Black. Mikhail proudly informs the group that he never trusted Turki anyway.

Johnny, who by now has had some private time to himself, has managed to translate the notes found in von Varnstein’s apartment. They describe von Varnstein’s suspicion that invisible monsters were plaguing his set, as well as his efforts to manufacture lenses to render them visible. These documents also, helpfully, include a diagram of von Varnstein’s latest efforts. Johnny and Dr. Black show these notes to Brother Theodore and ask him if he could perhaps go to the markets in As Suwayda and find a glass cutter to hire. Their plan is to either transform von Varnstein’s lenses into “opera glasses,” to make for easier use, or to make additional lenses just in case.

As Brother Theodore departs to scour the markets, one of the desk staff at the hotel informs Judge Putnam that the book he requested at the university library in Damascus has finally come in.

Members of the group split up at this point, attending to their own plans and personal intrigues.

No comments:

Post a Comment