~ SKELETON KEY ~
A secret history of those who occupy
certain strange and shadowy places ~
by Richard Sala
~ SKELETON KEY ~
A secret history of those who occupy
certain strange and shadowy places ~
by Richard Sala
If you are ever lucky enough to have your very own butler, you couldn’t hope for a better one than Ambrose. Ambrose is Peculia's butler, although she can't quite remember how that happened. He was just always there, living in his own private quarters in the big, secluded house she inherited when she was just a kid.
Peculia was always a curious child, especially when she was younger, but Ambrose, for the most part, demurely refused to discuss himself. All Peculia knows for certain about Ambrose is that he was loyal member of her family’s staff for many years ~ and that they had arranged for him to look after her when they were gone.
When she was a student at Reynardine, she spent most of her time there. But her final year at that school was an unhappy one so she was glad to return to the big old house and live on her own ~ all alone, except for Ambrose.
A good butler is discreet and never intrudes where he isn’t needed. But at the same time, he ought to be able to recognize when his mistress could use a helping hand. And in fact, Ambrose seems to have a sixth sense for knowing when his mistress might benefit from his presence.
For example, there was that time Peculia had wandered into a new grocery store called The Three Sisters ~ and before she knew it, she had been taken prisoner by the eponymous proprietors who planned to cut her up and eat her! Things looked pretty grim, because these three evil sisters practiced black magic and could not be killed in any ordinary way. They shared a single enchanted heart which was locked safely away in an iron box in some far off tower - and none of them could die as long as that heart was protected. Now, Peculia is clever and most likely could have extricated herself from the awful situation on her own. But she was glad nevertheless when Ambrose showed up unexpectedly and ~ well, he really is the perfect butler. (See: Peculia)
39. Quadrummando, The Undead Shaman
Quadrummando was once a scholarly explorer named Hector Cleeves. He became lost in the jungles of Ecuador and stumbled upon the ancient ruins of a lost civilization where, inside a ruined stone temple, he discovered the secrets of life after death.
Living for months on jungle fruit and hallucinogenic plants, he learned how to use astral projection to explore the unseen corridors of reality. On the astral plane, he encountered the wandering spirit of a malevolent shaman whose mummified body was entombed in the ruins. Their two spirits fused and were able to enter and reanimate the mummified body.
Eventually, a rescue party discovered the explorer in the jungle and he returned to civilization, bringing the mummy with him. Once back home, he used his ability to inhabit the mummy to seek revenge on those he felt had wronged him. His diabolical methods of murder included head-shrinking and the claw of a tropical jungle raven dipped in lethal curare.
He felt confident that no one would ever be able to discover his strange secrets and defeat him ~ but that was before he encountered Phillipa Knicely, the telekinetic teenager!
The self-dubbed “Master of Musical Malice,” Phantasmiac, is actually Forest Thursby, a former High School music teacher and failed violinist and composer.
Inspired by his (unrequited) love for drama teacher, Miss Valentina, he helped raise community support and money for a Performing Arts Center that would benefit students as well as provide a place to stage his own operettas. But jealous colleagues, the Principal and the Coach, frame him for embezzling the project’s funds. They also scheme to turn the Arts Center into a sports arena.
His dreams crushed, the disgraced and desperate teacher attempts to blow up the new building, but only succeeds in disfiguring himself when the bomb misfires.
Assumed to be dead, he stumbles into the underground labyrinths that wind under the town, connecting various buildings. These tunnels allow him to come and go in secret, and - his former good nature now twisted by madness - he becomes Phantasmiac, embarking on a campaign of terror and destruction, seeking revenge for all of his disappointments.
Many Prom Nights and Community Theater productions have been marred by murder and mayhem caused by ~ Phantasmiac!
37. Madame Masque
Three times a week, the trendy little dive Club Escapade features “The Mysterious Melodies of Madame Masque.” Advertised as being “too beautiful for human eyes”, the masked torch singer is actually Pandora Arkwright who is, in fact, “too hideous for human eyes,” having been disfigured in a tragic accident. Emotionally fragile and living in a childish dream world, her only solace is singing her haunting melodies.
Her husband is Ivor Arkwright, a lighthouse keeper and amateur oceanographer. Desperate to restore his wife’s former beauty, he makes an unholy pact with the nefarious Dr. Quintana, a villainous slice-happy quack who has recently escaped from prison. Arkwright, aware of the disgraced doctor’s illegal surgical experiments, hires Quintana to perform operations on Pandora’s face. Legitimate medical procedures have proven ineffective, so Quintana experiments with using skin grafts of living human tissue. For this living tissue, newly dead bodies are required, so Arkwright and Quintana set about finding suitable victims.
They use Arkwright’s discovery, a savage primordial sea creature he keeps locked up in the lighthouse, to kidnap go-go dancers from Club Escapade and similar establishments. Quintana then removes the faces of the hapless girls, hoping to find the perfect match - one that will adhere to Pandora’s scarred and boney visage. Unfortunatley, he has little success.
Troubled by the state of affairs, Pandora sends an anonymous note to enigmatic avenger, Mr. Murmur, hoping he will be able to help put an end to the madness.
In the meantime, Dr. Quintana’s faithful servant, Pepi, a subject of the doctor’s experimental animal organ transplant operations, accompanies Pandora on stage with his guitar.
(See: The Diabolical Doctor Q. in the book MANIAC KILLER STRIKES AGAIN)
36. The Gull Street Ghoul
The true identity of The Gull Street Ghoul, the Bay Area’s most notorious serial killer, has been a topic of lively debate among true crime scholars for many years.
Who was he? Why did he commit such appalling crimes? What did he do with the pieces of his victims he took with him - the hanks of hair and slices of skin? What could be the story behind his unusually-shaped murder knife? And what about the testimony of one surviving witness, who claimed The Ghoul wore a leather-like mask, possibly stitched together from human skin? These questions remain unanswered, since The Ghoul was never captured.
However, now, almost thirty years after he vanished, The Gull Street Ghoul seems to have returned for a series of new murders. Is it a “copycat killer” - or has the original Ghoul come out of retirement? And why on earth do the victims of the new Ghoul murders all seem to be local astrologers or writers of newspaper horoscope columns?
Curious true crime aficionados are urged to visit The Ghoul Appreciation Society Headquarters (or G.A.S.H.), to learn more. However, since G.A.S.H. happens to be located on a poorly lit, narrow street in the very neighborhood where the original killings took place, potential visitors are advised not to attempt to venture there after dark.
(See: The Chuckling Whatsit)
35. Abigail Aberdevine
On an assignment for the city’s leading newspaper, The Guardian, writer Arthur Broom meets Abigail when he finds her inside the apartment of murder victim Cyril Root, rifling through the dead man’s belongings.
Abigail convinces Broom not to report her illegal activities. She tells him that she is a student and research assistant at Lone Mountain College, and that she has been hired by a certain Professor Peeke to research the life of an “outsider artist” named Emile Jarnac. The late Cyril Root had written about Jarnac, and had been working on a book about him when he was murdered. Abigail is anxious to find Root’s unpublished manuscript, because her employer pays very generously for success. Broom agrees to help Abigail look for the manuscript.
But is Abigail telling Broom the whole truth? Or will Broom’s involvement with her put them both on a path leading down into some very dark territory, where an inhuman, sadistic killer known as The Gull Street Ghoul waits for them? (See: The Chuckling Whatsit)
34. The Cardinal
The Cardinal (aka SuperKiller DeathBird) began his career as a regular superhero, fighting evil, but he grew weary of protecting citizens who, to him, seemed rather ungrateful for all of his efforts. So he embarked instead on a never-ending spree of violent crime, without any apparent reason or goal other than destruction and murder.
The Cardinal is really Bob Beaker, the modern descendent of Leonardo DaVinci, who unknown to most scholars, was actually the world’s first costumed superhero, The Birdman. DaVinci’s famous quote, “The gods create so that man may destroy” becomes The Cardinal’s motto. Also known as SuperKiller DeathBird (while in Japan), he is rarely seen without his trusty machine gun, which he calls “Woodpecker.”
33. Mr. Warm and Miss Honeymoon
The hirsute gentleman named Mr. Warm is the director of a rather unusual club of aficionados dedicated to the study of the infamous Bay Area serial killer known as The Gull Street Ghoul.
The Ghoul Appreciation Society Headquarters (or G.A.S.H.) is located in an old Victorian house in the very neighborhood where The Ghoul once roamed the night streets and butchered a dozen victims. There, members hold monthly meetings to discuss and debate all things Ghoul-related. The G.A.S.H. library contains every book and article written about The Ghoul, who was never caught and whose identity has been a topic of lively debate among true crime scholars for many years.
Present at all meetings, and indeed present whenever the director speaks, is faithful secretary Miss Honeymoon, who records any and all discussions, and is rarely seen without her memo pad and pen.
It should be noted that certain crackpot types, particularly someone who may or may not be the proprietor of Dr. Erdling’s Crime Museum, another unique Bay Area landmark, have whispered some unsubstantiated and rather outlandish rumors about G.A.S.H. — for example, insisting that those initials actually stand for the Global Association for Sabotage and Homicide and that Mr. Warm, Miss Honeymoon and other members of the club are actually a pack of ruthless assassins for hire, hiding in plain sight. Luckily most average folks pay no attention to anything so ridiculous and get on with their lives and don’t do anything to stir up trouble and mind their own damn business. (See: The Chuckling Whatsit)
32. Miss Limbo
Although many of the local astrologers who gather for occasional meetings to share news and gossip have somewhat dubious talents, Miss Limbo is regarded by many as being “the real deal” - that is, she is thought to have an actual talent for reading the stars, and perhaps even possessing some true psychic abilities.
At one of the meetings, a local astrology columnist named Cyril Root, who writes under the name of “Venus”, tells the assembled group a bizarre story involving a deranged “outsider artist” named Emile Jarnac. Cyril is notably shaken by the story he tells, but most of the group laugh it off and move on to other topics.
But the tale disturbs Miss Limbo profoundly and she has nightmares and even what she thinks may be visions as a result.
Does she possess real psychic abilities? And if she does, will she be able to warn “Venus” before he is brutally murdered? And. more importantly, will she be able to foresee the looming threat to her own life as the killer comes creeping to her door?
(See: The Chuckling Whatsit)
31. Batricia Nocturna ~ Queen of the Bats
Doctor Batricia Nocturna, one of the youngest specialists in exotic wildlife, is on an expedition in a previously unexplored area of a rather dark and treacherous jungle, when she becomes separated from her companions. One of the other members of the expedition, jealous of Dr. Nocturna, reports that she saw the girl being devoured by a giant python. Consequently, the group stops searching and returns home, leaving Dr. Nocturna alone in the jungle.
She wanders for days and becomes sick and delirious with fever. Stumbling into a clearing she comes upon an ancient stone temple where she is suddenly attacked by a swarm of vicious vampire bats.
Some time later, she awakens to find herself inside the temple, being tended to by an old woman. The toothless old hag tells Batricia that since the bites of the bats did not kill her, she must be “the chosen one”. ”Long have I waited for my replacement as the guardian of this holy shrine”, the old woman says. ”Now that you are here, I may go on to my final rest.”
As time passes and Batricia slowly recovers, the old woman teaches Batricia how to communicate with and control the bats. But Batricia has no plans on staying in the jungle for the rest of her life. As soon as she has her health back and has figured out a way to escape, she flees and heads back to civilization. The old woman’s voice echoes in her ears” ” You cannot escape your destiny!”
When she returns home, she discovers to her surprise that she has been gone for twenty years! Time stood still in the jungle and she has not aged. She also learns that the other members of the expedition who abandoned her have gone on to successful careers, all based on research stolen from her! No one believes she is who she says she is and she is threatened with confinement in a lunatic asylum!
She goes into hiding and plots revenge on those who wronged her - and on society in general. In no time at all, she embarks on a career of criminal mischief and murder using her remarkable ability to communicate with and control an army of deadly vampire bats!
30. Professor Massimo Ibex
The once the venerable reputation of The College of Lone Mountain has recently been overshadowed by a grim notoriety ~ particularly regarding the cover-up of the shockingly high number of deaths and disappearances on and around campus over the years. The conspiracy of silence which involved many faculty members and other campus authorities, finally came to an end the same night that a fire destroyed part of the most famous building on campus, the clock tower.
The clock tower itself has an interesting history. The basic structure of the tower, which stands 307 feet (93.6 m), actually existed on that spot long before the campus was built. Legend has it that it was erected hundreds of years earlier by persons unknown - who had vanished long before it was discovered by settlers. For years, the more superstitious among the early settlers - believing it to be a place of witchcraft or evil - tried to have it knocked down, but the structure withstood those attempts. After the Civil War, Lone Mountain College was established and built around the structure, which was then converted into the famous campus landmark when a clock was installed, and people forgot all about its ancient origins.
After the fire, there were stories that one of the members of the Science Faculty, Professor Massimo Ibex, had what appeared to be a rather curious, unorthodox laboratory on the tower’s highest floor. Documents describing what authorities found there after the fire were ordered sealed until a thorough investigation could be completed, but have since been lost.
Although Professor Ibex was listed as a member of the Science Faculty for nearly a century, no one can quite remember ever seeing him. It is believed that he was allowed to live and work on campus, doing some kind of research and experiments involving human glandular fluids and their relation to aging.
Since his disappearance the night of the fire, many rumors and urban legends have emerged. One researcher claimed to have traced the origins of Ibex’s work back several hundred years and thousands of miles away to a sinister, nameless alchemist who had conducted experiments involving halting or even reversing the aging process and who wrote about the transference of the human life force - from one body to another.
Needless to say, these sorts of tall tales - inevitably involving black magic, mad scientists, blood sacrifice, forbidden experiments, deranged faculty members and serial killings - have somewhat lessened the once distinguished reputation of Lone Mountain College. Conspiracy buffs wonder if the entire Science Faculty, including student favorite Ms. Moss, may have participated in some sort of ritualistic mass murder. It has even been noted that “Massimo” is an anagram for “I am Moss”, although what that could mean, if anything, is anyone’s guess. Luckily, most people ignore such silliness.
And now, with news that the clock tower has finally been restored, campus officials are hoping to once again attract a fresh crop of students and restore the school’s former reputation as an ideal location for education and enlightenment - and not as some ghastly place haunted by the ghosts of slaughtered innocents and an ancient, deathless evil. (See: MAD NIGHT)
Bonnie Randell is a bright and enthusiastic student at Lone Mountain College, happy to have left her small town roots behind. She plans on getting a degree in education because she loves kids - although she thinks she might like to do something with animals, too.
One night she is invited by a group of fellow co-eds to attend a meeting for young ladies who wish to “get in touch with their inner pirate.” Though it seems a bit of harmless fun at first, the meeting is actually a sinister trap set by a rather peculiar individual named Aunt Azalea - the cunning mastermind of a secret criminal organization operating out of the old Pirate Museum, located just off campus. Before she knows whats happening, Bonnie finds herself locked up and facing various forms of psychological manipulation, mind-control, brain-washing and hypnosis. Bonnie is indoctrinated into becoming the latest member of Aunt Azalea’s pirate “crew,” and like all members, she learns to follow Aunt Azalea’s orders without question.
To her pirate crew, “Auntie”, is a loving but stern mother figure who promises to care for them and love them if they do as they are told. Aunt Azalea names all the girls after “the flowers in my garden” - so Bonnie becomes Daffodil - and Bonnie Randell is no more.
Daffodil proves to be a model member of the crew, and soon, because of her natural enthusiasm and other singular skills, she is promoted to “Captain”. However, although the crew has been conditioned to perceive Aunt Azalea as kind and benevolent, the truth is that the fiendish crook has very little patience for failure. And after Daffodil makes not one, but two errors on an assignment of extreme importance to Auntie, the unfortunate girl is lured into a dark room where, after “walking the plank,” she has a deadly encounter with "The Occupant of the Well."
(See: MAD NIGHT)
No one knows where he comes from or where he’ll show up next, but apparently he’s been around for a long time and is to blame for all manner of trouble and problems. Attempts to capture or kill him have been unsuccessful, so he remains on the loose and citizens are cautioned about approaching him or attempting to engage him in conversation.
It is considered an ill omen or “bad luck” to see him. If you catch a glimpse of him standing in your headlights on a lonely country road or if you turn the corner in an old abandoned building and can make out his figure standing at the end of the hall, smiling at you, it is advised that you, as a precaution, quickly turn around and go the other way.
Beware especially if he removes his gloves, revealing his bony hands. Anyone he touches will suddenly glow an unearthly shade of green, then burst into a ball of fire, leaving only scattered bones, ashes and shreds of clothing where a person used to be.
If the stories the old busybodies and gossips tell are true, and there really was once a “school for weird kids” called Reynardine, located just over the hills in a little village with an unpronounceable name that sits at the foot of Blackwoods Mountain — well, if that were true, then Justine probably went to school there. And if that school really did burn to the ground under mysterious circumstances, as some of the older and nosier townsfolk claim, then it’s possible Justine may know all about that, as well.
But few people in the any of the villages dotting the countryside know Justine very well. Although she appears now and then to give aid and assistance when needed, some folks grumble that she often leaves things worse than when she came. They say that if she is only going to complain and heave heavy sighs while supposedly lending a helping hand, why doesn’t she just mind her own business and let folks sort out their own problems? Some wager that she only does an occasional good deed to impress her boss, the elusive man of mystery known as Obscurus. It’s also been said that she is friends with the somewhat spooky waif named Peculia, although others claim they are the furtherest thing from friends and that Justine has been observed spying on the other girl and reporting her activities into her phone.
It must be said, that while it’s true that Justine is often seen idly wandering the hillside, chatting on her phone or napping under a tree, she has proved extremely resourceful and even brave in her encounters with some of the odder denizens of the outer villages, such as the Kensington Valley werewolves or Professor Bell’s army of zombies.