Sunday 21st January 1923

Dearest Diary, I am quickly writing down the events of the day before I finally go to sleep. The day has been full of incident and some have them have been so strange, so uncanny, that I am tempted to believe that I never returned from that dream world at all. Or that, perhaps, some of its madness has followed us back to the real world.  

After a couple of hours sleep I felt reinvigorated and met up with my travelling companions in the dining car. The food was, of course, first class and the view from the train, as we speed through the mountains towards Italy, was nothing short of magical. Unfortunately the whole experience was soured by the constant and boorish complaining of the worst sort of Englishman abroad He was a retired colonel with the rather comical name of Herring and he was a pig of the highest order. Colonel H complained about everything while the meal was being served from the food to the staff. Detective M rather bravely tried to trade barbed insults with the man but it was clear that Colonel H had skin thicker than a rhino. To be honest, if I thought that I could get away with it, I would have been tempted to push him off the train. I would probably be doing everyone a favour, especially his poor, quivering wife.

Reviewing our copious notes reminded us that one part of the Simulacrum had been purchased in Paris just after the Great War and that the buyer had come from Milan. That was not a lot to go on. 

We had a few hours before we were due to stop in Milan. I was reminded of the strange, sealed cabin during our time on the “dream train” earlier this morning. At the time we had speculated that it signified that there was something strange, and probably supernatural, about that room on the real train so I decided to pass the time by doing a little sleuthing. After a few clever questions with the staff I had learnt that the compartment was being used by an American by the name of Franklin Meyers but he had not emerged at all day, even taking his meals in the room.

With no really plan in mind I wandered down the passageway and lingered outside of the compartment door. There was no trace of the nasty smell that had emanated from the compartment while we were in the dream world (and, according to Detective M) he had smelt in the vicinity on our first night out of Paris). Double checking to make sure that there was no one about I put my ear to the compartment door and was rewarded by the sound of a man’s voice. It took me a moment or two to figure it out but the man was speaking in German. From the tone of voice I think that Mr Meyers, if it was indeed him, was reading a load rather than having a conversation. The words were hard to make out but I defiantly heard mention of a “protective stone” and then there was a world that was defiantly not German, or indeed any other language that I had ever heard before. “S-thogua” is the best approximation that I can make of it.

I intended to go back and talk to Darling Antonio when I spotted Detective M heading down the passage towards me. I was just about to wave him over when lighting and sound on the OE took on a different feel. We had entered the famous Simplon Tunnel; the interior of the train was now only illuminated by its gas lighting and the noise of the train, echoing back to us off the walls if the tunnel, was noticeably louder. Not so loud that I didn’t hear a gasp of surprise, or perhaps fear, from inside Mr. Meyers compartment.  Well you know me, Dear Diary, I had been looking for a pretext to knock on the compartment door ever since I had arrived and now one had landed in my lap. It took a few seconds of knocking before there was a response from inside. The voice was male and had an unmissable American twang. At the time I assumed it was Mr Myers but now I am not so sure. The voice assured me that everything was fine and that, despite my offer, he needed no aid. In fact, despite my best efforts, I could not get Mr Myers to leave his compartment or even open the door. Without resorting to drastic action there seemed nothing more that I could do and so gave in.

I was just letting Detective M know what had happened when things took a turn for the bizarre (and not the last time it would do so this day) as Albert entered the carriage from the direction of the baggage cart. He had a perplexed look on his face and was holding a broken chair leg in his hand. Albert had been paying a visit on the animals that were being transported in the baggage. He had noticed that the animal seemed to be on edge and, just after we had entered the tunnel, he became aware of furtive movement amongst the various trunks and cases. Investigating Albert had spotted what he described as a small green man and that the imp had tried to lure him deeper in to the darkness. Now this all sounded jolly exiting so I suggested that I round up Father P and Darling Antonio so we could go and investigate.

Off I went and in the time it took me to find my two travelling companions, and a couple of flashlights, the situation had changed yet again! Albert was no longer carrying his improvised club and Detective M had a firm and painful grasp of the ear of a young boy in a green blazer. It transpired that, while I had been getting the other, Albert and Detective M (who I suspect had only agreed to my plan to get little old me “safely” out of the way) had headed back in to the baggage cart. There they had discovered that Albert’s little green man was nothing more than a mischievous six-year old boy. Without belabouring the point it was hate at first sight between Detective M and the boy and they spent the rest of time till we reached Milan locked in their own personal battle of wills. Detective M trying to brow beat the little brat in to behaving and young Mr Jones (I forget his first name) alternating between throwing insults and hiding behind his mother’s skirts.

Crisis over I drifted off With Darling Antonio to share my discoveries about Mr Myers. Cleaver thing that he is Darling Antonio had heard of “S-thogua”; apparently he is some sort of demon worshiped by the more obscure practitioners of the occult.

It was probably only ten minutes after we had left The Simplon Tunnel when the EO began to slow down to a stop. We hadn’t reached our destination though, it was just a Customs check. While this was an irritation it did have a silver lining, it meant that Mr Myers would have to come out of his room so his papers could be checked. I scanned the small crown that was gathering but I could see no unfamiliar faces amongst it. Detective M, who was clearly thinking along the same lines as myself, pointed out that there were no American passports amongst the bundle being carried by the train staff. We spotted a hushed conversation between the customs officers and the strain staff and a group headed off in to the train. Since my papers had already been checked I drifted after them. As I hoped they made for Mr Meyer’s compartment. I spotted them unlock the door and head in. I wanted to get closer but there was a distinct lack of cover in the passageway of the rain.

Over the next forty minutes or so the police were summoned. From the train staff we learnt that Mr Meyers was nowhere to be found and it was suspected that he had absconded from the train. We noted a number of items being removed from the compartment, most notably a briefcase attached to a still closed handcuff.

It was over an hour before we were on our way again. An experience made even worse by Colonel Herring complaining the whole time.

Once we were on our way we had about an hour before we reached Milan and I for one was itching to have a look inside Mr Myers compartment. The door was, of course, locked but I knew that Darling Antonio knew his was around such things. Father P and Albert positioned themselves at either end of the passageway as lookout and Darling Antonio set to work on the lock. Unfortunately it proved far more stubborn then we had hoped to the point that Darling Antonio snapped one of his picks in the mechanism. Luckily Father P rose to the occasion. He slipped in to the room he shared with Detective M and returned a moment latter with a crowbar. It was a bit drastic but in a flash we had the door open. No sooner had we done so when we heard a member of the train staff heading down the passage way. Quick as a flash Father P disposed of the incriminating evidence by throwing the crowbar out of a window. And then went over to have a chat with the member of staff. The Father’s distraction gave Darling Antonio time to pull me in to a passionate kiss and we embrace to obscure the dame to the door.

Once it was all clear Darling Antonio and I slipped in to the compartment. Considering all the trouble it had taken to gain access it was rather of a let-down. An unpleasant odour hung in the air. There were a few red marks showing where blood had been cleared up in a hurry and, rather ghoulishly, Darling Antoni found a tiny chunk of what looked like human flesh. However we found nothing to tell us who Mr Meyers was or suggest what had happened to him.

BY now we were rapidly approaching Milan. The view from the train had changed dramatically and not for the better. Before the tunnel it had been all mountains and villages, like something out of a fairy tale, but now it had been replaced by a sprawling, industrial landscape painted in shades of black, grey and brown. The sky was thick with smoke and fumes through which a wintery sun was having trouble making its presence know.

Pulling in the station we found it almost devoid of life. There was no one to greet us and we had to hunt high and low to find even two porters. There were only a handful of other customers in the station and they seemed subdued and almost ghostly. While the others arranged taxis to take us to our hotel I headed off on a wasted journey to the telegraph office. When I returned it was clear that something was up with my travelling companions. Albert (who spoke Italian) had found a newsagents and purchased a paper. The front page was full of the disappearance of our friend Catarina Cavollaro. Apparently she had arrived on the OE yesterday but then seemed to have vanished in to thin air!

We headed immediately to our hotel in La Galleria Vittorio-Emanuele. As we were driven through the streets of Milan it seemed that its inhabitants shuffled about as if in a world weary daze. At the time I wondered if it was the disappearance of Caterina that had reduced the people of Milan to such a sorry state but in the last few hours I have come to believe that there is something very wrong with this city, a sort of collective madness.

At least our lodging was something to write home about Dear Diary.  In Paris and Lausanne I had to endure second best when it came to our hotels thanks to the penny pinching of my companions but La Galleria made amends. It was a fantastic building laid out in a cross shape and roofed with a soaring, ultra-modern dome of glass and steel. The walls were extensively decorated with Egyptian-themed pictures and statues.  It was marvellous. It also appeared that Caterina had been true to her word and wired ahead to reserve us rooms. We had also hoped that we might find word from her waiting for us but in that regard we were disappointed.

Once we had settled in to our rooms we had a little council of war. We seemed to have two goals; find the part of the Simulacrum and try to track down what had happened to Caterina. Caterina seemed the more pressing so we would concentrate on that. We split in to two groups; Darling Antonio and I would see if there was any news of the missing Opera Singer at the theatre while the rest would head back to the station and see if they could find any eyewitnesses to Caterina’s arrival.

A combination of the language barrier and a very surly stage hand meant that Darling Antonio and my own trip to the Teatro alla Scala (a rather bland building from the outside) was a total waste of time. We headed back to our hotel and soon found the other. They had been blessed with far more luck. They had found one of the porter who had been on duty yesterday. They had helped her with her luggage but when she exited the station a man in a black Alfa Romeo RL had caught her eye. Catarina had gone over to speak with the man and then, after waving off her entourage (including her manager), had driven off with the man. 

A return trip to Teatro alla Scala seemed to be in order. Perhaps we could speak to Caterina’s manager or at least find someone there who could point us in the right direction. Unfortunately once again, we could not even get past the door even with Albert there to translate.

Our search for Caterina had ground to a halt but we still had our second objective, the segment of the Simulacrum.

At Detective M’s suggestion we paid a visit on the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, home of the world famous painting of The Last Supper. AS we travelled through the city we were struck again and again by the sense of despair that enveloped its population. They all seemed to be struggling under the weight of some nameless angst that left them as grey and lifeless as the smog filled skies.

The Last Supper was certainly a stunning piece of art and what’s more there was a rather knowledgeable gentleman to hand who talked us through its subtle artistic treasures. We took the opportunity to ask if the gentleman’s expertise extended to statues and sculpture. I named-dropped The Sedefkar Simulacrum but he had not heard of it. However he was able to suggest places that we could look for answers; the castle, the cathedral, the library and amongst the intellectual café set (especially “Biffies” which just so happened to be in La Galleria).

We made our next stop Milan Cathedral and what an astonishing building it proved to be; a huge gothic master piece. Apparently it took six hundred years to complete and I could see why. We headed in to find quite a large mournful crowd inside that had come to pray for the safe return (or perhaps the mortal soul of) Caterina. There were numerous pictures of her leant against a shrine and dozens upon dozens of candles burning around them. As Detective M said it seemed that the people of Melan had given her up for dead already. We were greeted by a Father Angelico, a surprisingly muscular priest who spoke dreadful English. We accepted his invitation for a tour of the artistic treasures of the Cathedral.  To begin with Father Angelico was full of energy and enthusiasm for his subject but as the tour went on we could almost see the joy drain out of him and the poor made went to pieces before our eyes. Before long he was sitting on a pew and sobbing in despair at the spiritual malaise that reigned in Milan. Father P did his best to comfort his fellow man of the cloth. I had just decided to grab the bull by the horns and ask if Father Angelico knew anything about the Simulacrum when the strangest thing happened. It was so inexplicable that I still have trouble crediting that it really happened (and I was in a literal Dream World only this morning!). The cathedral started to echo to the sound of clucking. Looking around we saw a man, not far off, who had begun to act like a chicken; clucking, scratching his foot and pecking at the stone floor. Before our eyes his peeking became more vigorous causing a glass jar to tumble from his coat and shatter on the ground releasing its cargo of dead moths. Out of nowhere sprang a bug-eyed lizard that started to make a meal of the dead insects.

As we went over towards this clearly mad man he dashed out of the cathedral. Albert and Detective M ran after him but lost him in the streets outside. I had a similar lack of luck when I tried to catch the lizard as it gave me the slip by heading under the pews.

With nothing else to do we made to leave the Catherdral and it was then that we had pretty much our only lucky break since arriving in Milan. Almost on a whim Albert went to talk to three only crones who were praying for Caterina. It turned out that one of them had once worked at the theatre and advised Albert that, if he wanted to get past the doorman, he should invoke the name of the Teatro alla Scala’s director of music, Toscanini.

Evening was drawing in so we decided to delay our third trip to the theatre till tomorrow.

Darling Antonio was in one of his boring moods and decided to that he would spend the evening in our hotel room studying Edgar Wellington’s translation of the Sedefkar Scrolls. I was determined that I was going to let me hair down with or without him. I had heard mention of Biffies and decided to mix a little business with a lot of pleasure. I spent the evening surrounded by the rich and the handsome, just how I liked it. Once or twice I spotted Father P and Detective M having an intense discussion with a gentlemen about the relative merits of American, English and Italian cars but I kept my distance. I made subtle enquiries in to collectors or statues and sculpture and came away with the name of a Michael Catario, a seller of high-class statues, as well as his address. It sounded like a good lead to follow.

In the wee small hours I headed back to our hotel tired but happy. I caught a glimpse of Albert leading a young woman to his room. He had the right idea and I was delighted to find that Darling Antonio was still up. I was just about to drag him away from his studies to our bed when the day proved that it was not out of surprises yet. From outside we began to hear the sound of a woman singing. And not just any woman, it was unmistakably the voice of Caterina. We rushed to our room’s balcony to see if we could spot the missing Opera star. We were clearly not the only people who could hear the voice as people were crowding their balconies and coming out in to the streets trying to find Caterina. Her voice hand an unworldly quality about it, seeing to come from everywhere and nowhere at once. I glanced upwards, thinking that she might be up in the dome. Were my eyes deceiving me or had the pictures and statues subtly changed; taking on aggressive and haughty expressions that glared down at us with anger and contempt.

Darling Antonio and I dashed out of our room. In the hallway we ran in to Detective M, Father P and Albert. Together the five of us down through the lobby and out on to the streets. It appeared that the singing had lured out the entire population of Milan and they were haring back and forth in a confused and chaotic attempt to find Caterina. What else could we do but join in but I am certain that we were making more headway as we followed the music. It seemed to lead away from the main streets and down an alley way. Luckily Darling Antonio had grabbed a flashlight before he left our room. For a moment or two we lost the trail and then Father P called out for us to follow him as he had spotted, of all things, the lizard from the Cathedral. Following Father P took us down an even darker alley. The lizard seemed to have given us the slip but we soon realised that we were not alone when four sinister men stepped out of the darkness! Each one had a vicious looking hooked knife extending like a metal claw from between their second and third figure. Oddly enough they didn’t look like they were Turkish.

There were four of them and five of us. I had every confidence in Detective M’s ability to handle himself in a fight; he was a modern-day Sampson and handy with his fists. Despite having the muscular development of a bean pole I knew that Albert could acquit himself with honours when things got tough.  Unfortunately Father P was a man of peace and Darling Antonio punched like an old woman (honestly, it is lucky that he is so good looking!). As I drew my .22 I cursed myself, not for the first time since leaving London, for not packing a bigger handgun (Papa’s old service revolver perhaps). Ignoring the words of wisdom of my instructors I used up one of my six rounds firing a warning-shot over their heads. It turned out to be a waste of a bullet as the four knifemen rushed towards us. One of the attackers made a beeline straight for me and I dodged away from a disembowelling slash. Before he could recover I pressed my pistil against his ribs and pumped the trigger three times. As my attacker fell I glanced around for a new target. Two more of our would be assailants were down; there was blood on Albert’s knife but by the look of their injuries it was Detective M and his stout truncheon that had put them down. The forth attacker was only now realising that he was totally alone and he did the sensible thing and turned and fled. We would have followed by Caterina’s spectral singing was coming from another direction. I snatched up one of the dropped knives (after all I only had two bullets left) as we sped off in on the trail of Caterina. We had barely exited the alleyway where we had been ambushed when the singing simply ended, leaving us and what looked like most of the citizens of Milan standing around looking baffled. A scream from the alley when had only just left told us that someone had found the bodies of our attackers so we decided to slip away as unobtrusively as possible.

Tired and confused we returned to our hotel. The various pictures and statues that decorated La Galleria had returned to their original form. Had they ever really changed? Was it simply the result of my overwrought imagination?  

Darling Antonio and I headed back to our room where there was one final, unpleasant surprise in store for us. The signs were subtle but it was clear that someone had been through the room in our absence. Darling Antonio was certain that someone had moved the Sedefkar Scroll that he had been examining that evening. Then we noticed there was a strange lump under the covers of our bed. With a certain amount of trepidation we pulled back the covers to reveal a bloodless, severed human hand amongst the sheets. That was the last straw. All the madness of the day seemed to catch up with me and I swear that I would have fainted if Darling Antonio had not been there to support me. When I could finally bring myself to look at the hand we noticed that it seemed to have been arranged to point at the book shelf. With a certain morbid dread we went to the shelf to have a look and imminently spotted large book that had not been there before. It was not only its size that singled it out, the book was clearly very old. There was nothing on the spine to identify the time so we took it down and had a look at the cover. Even to my untrained eye the printing-style looked old. Written in German on the cover were two words “Unaussprechlichen Kulten” or Nameless Cults.


Emma

Topics: Horror on the Orient Express, Italy |

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