Outside, there is a slight chill in the air. Somewhere, costumed children flicker from house to house, squealing with the anticipation of a potent, yearly sugar rush. Candles gutter in the wind from behind carved faces. The bars are full of the sloppy, intoxicated, and underdressed, a casualty of the marketing genius who had first decided that Halloween could be an excuse for nominal adults to dress like streetwalkers. Some festive soul had even hung a bucket of candy on the automated chain gun emplacements out front; it was a juxtaposition of the light-hearted and lethal that made my skin crawl. Before this was Halloween, it was a holiday where it was said the dead would walk, where the veil between the world and the underworld gave way like a haunted-house cobweb.
For me, this was never a fun-filled holiday. It was serious work – one of the more serious nights of work that I had every year, serving the Foundation.
My name is immaterial. They call me ‘Padre’, which is fine with me; there is a certain forced jocularity to it, reminiscent of bluff country folk and bad cop shows. I am – was – a priest, though I’ve left my Orders for a more important mission. I was one of the ones affected when SCP—oh, the number doesn’t matter, it’s long since neutralized. But I was recruited rather than made to forget; I found myself wanting to help, as if I’d been waiting all my life for an enemy I could name, a threat to souls that I could see and touch and protect humanity from. In another age, perhaps I’d have been a Templar or a crusader, a saint or a martyr; instead, I found myself in charge of SCP Task Force Psi-11, “The Gods Squad”. Our technical responsibility reads, in part: “an ad hoc team to deal with any religious or religion-related crisis or issue in the Foundation, either external or internal”. What it means in plain language: if the Foundation has a chaplaincy corps, I suppose we’re it.
And that is why, on a chilly night in October, I am alone with a million faces.
Object Class: Safe
Special Containment Procedures: SCP-1446 is only active once per calendar year. Originally part of Sector-38 (located in an unmapped cave complex under the Texas Hill Country), it is now considered an immobile SCP in containment at Sector-38. During its inactive phase, SCP-1446’s only point of entry is to be locked with a dual complement of locks equal to or exceeding Class Six. During its active phase, the locked doors are to be opened, and the following additional procedures are to be initiated: SAMHAIN-026 (including salt, powdered cold iron, and running water) and TOCSIN-003.
1446 is an underground chamber, so the temperature is an even 18 degrees. This part of the system is dead, dry, so it is an excellent place to preserve things. Things like photographs – which is perhaps why someone or something, in the first few months of 2000, started posting photographs on the strangely smooth walls. Each photograph was of a Foundation operative killed in the line of duty; each shot a candid picture of one human life given in service to the greater part of humanity. Perhaps more to the point, each photograph just – appeared on the limestone walls of the chamber. Cameras showed nothing, audio showed nothing. There would just be more photos, every day – a mute testimony to lives cut short.
The lab coats moved in, of course. There was nothing unusual about the photos, nothing unusual about the cave. Tests were inconclusive, unresponsive, mute. Summer came and went, and after the 116C Incident in August, Sector-38 was short on personnel. Somehow, the wall of photos didn’t seem as important.
Description: SCP-1446 is a stone wall 8.2 meters high and 37.8 meters long, the south wall of a dead cave located at [EXPUNGED], part of Sector-38. ██% of the wall is covered with a mosaic of identical, 5-cm square photographs of individuals identified as Foundation personnel killed in the line of duty. New photos appear irregularly, within [EXPUNGED] of the individual’s death. Pictures only appear for those personnel killed; natural deaths do not result in manifest.
I am not wearing any priestly garb tonight – it’s tank top, running shorts, good shoes, and a pair of heavy canvas gardening gloves. I check my watch – 9:36 pm. The trick-or-treaters will be retreating now, returning to their homes with their mask-gotten booty, just ahead of the darkness that will finger its way quietly down the streets as porch lights are extinguished. It will be the day before the new moon tonight; the spook squad says that 1446’s yearly activity cycle is made more or less active by moon phase. A waning moon, just before new, means that only ice and Oxycontin will let me raise my arms tomorrow morning.
This is the sixth time I have done this. The bell above my head gleams in the dim light; I can see the old seal of the city of Glasgow on its side, lettering below spelling out ‘St Mungo’s’ and ‘1641’. It was rung for two hundred years and more at funerals; it kept the evil spirits away and helped the dead rest easy. I grimace at that thought, a humorless smile that does little to cheer me. For the sixth time, I check the great hemp rope; it will hold through the four hours.
INCIDENT REPORT, SECTOR-38, 10/31/2000:
Precisely at 2200 hours, standard security audio reported activity in the hallway outside Chamber 091, colloquially known as the ‘Photo Room’. Security Detachment Gamma responded per protocols, and failed to check in at the required five-minute mark. Detachment Epsilon was dispatched, and found the five members of Gamma [REDACTED], along with an estimated twenty-three liters of human blood. At that point, Epsilon was attacked by [REDACTED] and was forced to retreat with casualties.
In the next four hours, ██% of the staff at Sector-38 were killed in the same manner as the members of Team Gamma. This included nine staff members who took refuge in a standard Foundation Class Three panic room. All activity ceased at 0200 hours on November 1.
So does a photograph trap a mortal soul?
I can’t answer that, any more than I can tell you why a Scottish ‘dede bell’, rung constantly during the four hours of SCP-1446’s active phase, keeps the monsters at bay, keeps the dead operatives – or something that looks like them – trapped in their photographs. I try not to think about why – why is for the lab coats and the Overseers. What I do is pray, shut up and listen, and do my job. And tonight, that means I will ring a bell, once every five seconds, for four hours.
But, in the shadows of Halloween night, in a cave lit by pitiless electric light, I can’t help wondering – is this an illusion? An anomaly, a random interlocking weave of energy and time and human belief? A phenomenon with a rational, scientific answer – even if we don’t know what it is?
Or are the souls of those killed in the line of Foundation duty not allowed to rest, even in death?