This story was found published as part of a serial in a London Magazine dating to 1873; it has entered Foundation archives due to the references to SCP-1867, who has confirmed the occurrence of these events. It has been edited only to standardize spelling and grammar. Censorship in this document is simply to remove non-crucial plot elements for the sake of brevity. This document can be viewed in full by all personnel with Level-2 clearance or higher.
Before this time, I, Jordan DiMarche, born a citizen of England to French parentage, have considered myself a man of science. A man of rationality and reason. I recently re-read The Origin of the Species and The Descent of Man, published this past year, and agree wholeheartedly with Darwin's findings. But my standing has been shaken by the events of this past month. Let it be known that this testimony is entirely factual.
It was the year 1872; July, to be exact. The past month had been, in large, a blur to me, but I believe it was on a Sunday that I was approached by the man. He was tall wearing… a stovepipe hat. I distinctly remember that, for some reason. His face was nothing special; not entirely homely, but not overtly handsome, although I suppose some lady would enjoy his company. He had his black hair slicked back, and had not recently shaved, or if he had, had not done so carefully. I also noticed that he had a rather odd scar, running down the side of his face, and continuing down to his shirtsleeve.
I had met him waiting for a lecture to be given by Darwin himself; it was cancelled at the last moment due to his carriage having a wheel break, delaying him indefinitely in the next town. The man introduced himself as Lord Theodore Thomas Blackwood, as the crowds dispersed. We went down to the local tavern, a hole-in-the-wall known as The King George Inn. He began a rather odd conversation in a rather boisterous voice.
"How good are are you with a rifle, Jordan?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"A rifle. Any type of rifle. Hunting or musket? Or perhaps a pistol? Maybe the bow? Or the throwing knife? Perhaps the "shuriken" that they use in the Orient? Or perhaps know any individual who's good with any of those? Or any wide-bore atomic guns? Or perhaps firebombs, even?" I stared at him for a spell, and admitted to him that I had practiced with a firearm up until six months ago, when I was injured due to a misfire from a Colt revolver, and had not fired any form of gun since."Wonderful. You're hired. Meet me here tomorrow morning, no later than eight. Your pay shall be 500 pounds a day, plus traveling expenses and board."
"Hired, sir? Hired for what?"
"For a hunt! I am on a case, Mister DiMarche! I shall fill you in on the details during our ride!" And with that, the eccentric man left me with a genuine gold coin to pay for our drinks, but not before I stopped him to inquire further. "I suggest you consult the papers on that matter. The village of Renard's Hollow, near the border of Kent, has been plagued by a rather intriguing problem of late, and have hired me to take care of it. Again, inquire in the papers;" The eccentric man handed me a copy of the Sunday Times, with the 9th page earmarked; for brevity's sake, I shall not include the article here, but instead explain its details later in my account, at a more appropriate time. Before he headed out the door, I asked why he hired me. He replied:
"Because, sir, I have no-where else to turn to. The Crown and Parliament both refuse to give me any assistance, saying that the matter is too… inconsequential for them to give me aid. All of my contacts agree. I only have my funds and my loyal Mr. Deeds. Now, then, Mr. DiMarche: will you help me?"
I could not refuse an plea such as that. I went back to my home that night, wondering exactly what I had gotten myself into.
[DATA EXPUNGED FOR IRRELEVANCE]
I stepped out of Lord Blackwood's automated carriage, still reeling from the ride. "My lord, man! That must be the fastest vehicle on this earth!"
"Sadly, it is only the third-fastest that I own, and I have yet to purchase a train!" Lord Blackwood had an expectant look on his face as he stepped out, giving a nod to his driver. "Park it somewhere out of sight of the village, Deeds; these are conservative types here, and may not be overly thrilled by a horseless carriage." He adjusted his hat and offered me his cane to balance on. "You'll get used to traveling in it eventually. It took me a fortnight of driving it once a day to even get out of it without vomiting; you're doing rather admirably, DiMarche." I nodded in thanks, and started walking towards the village.
It was a quaint place, with perhaps only 10 buildings on the main street; an inn, a doctor, a courthouse, what looked to be a boarded-up general store, and so on. Towards the far end of the street was a small, stagnant pond filled with duckweed and algae, standing in front of what I suspected served as the town hall. Not a soul was out on the dirt street; curiously, the square at the end was cobbled, indicating that they intended to pave the entire avenue before some unknown occurrence. "Lord Blackwood-" He stopped me and insisted I called him Theodore. "Very well. I read that article you showed me last night. It was… rather odd. Vanishing children is a tragedy, I must concede, but shouldn't the proper authorities be called in for this? Scotland Yard, perhaps?"
"Good sir, I am the Proper Authorities! Whatever scoundrels are taking these children shall have to deal with me, either by bullet or blade or bomb or any other means I have available! I am Lord Theodore Thomas Blackwood, and I shall find them!" I sensed that he had a personal reason for taking this case; however, before I could inquire (and I now realize it would be rude to do so) the doors of the city hall flew open, and a large crowd of people spilled out. Many of them were farmers, tall and stocky with chiseled jaws, or milkmaids, with cowpox blisters on their hands.
A man, the mayor of the town, stepped out to greet us, and presented Lord Blackwood with a small sack of money. "That is all we have in the town coffers, milord. We are so poor. We want our children back. Please. Please…"
Lord Blackwood gave an expressionless nod to the mayor, and turned to face me. "You heard the man. Look around town and see if you can find any clues about the children. I will be discussing the matter with the mayor and his council."
[DATA EXPUNGED FOR IRRELEVANCE]
It was dark by the time I exited the cobbler's shop. As I did so, I looked at the pictures his son, David, had drawn. Though barely ten years of age, David had significant, if disturbing, artistic talent. David had given me a depiction of what resembled the result of a mastiff breeding with a dragon. It was looking in through a window, which, through my search through the man's shop, I recognized to be on the first floor, overlooking the field behind the shop. Several other similar creatures were in the field below, looking up at the window. It looked to be drawn from the perspective of the boy's bed, and surely must have simply been a fever dream; the boy was quite ill, and confined to bed. Nonetheless, the picture perturbed me for some reason…
I spun around at this; it was Lord Blackwood's voice, ringing clearly throughout the night. The source of the noise had come from a back alley, between the abandoned general store and the remnants of a burned-down building, which I now understood was formerly a bookstore. "Jordan, come over here!" There was an odd inflection to his voice as he said the word "come"; and again as he said "here". It was almost as if he had said it as part of a different sentence entirely. Suspicious, I reached for a small, unloaded flintlock that Blackwood had given me before the carriage ride; he assured me it "didn't need bullets", and I assumed that it was unloaded and lacked powder.
"Lord Blackwood? I'm coming over."
I started for the alley, pistol drawn, and again heard Lord Blackwood's voice calling "Come quickly!" I frowned at this. At every time I had addressed him as Lord Blackwood, the man had insisted I address him as "Theodore". This train of thought was interrupted as a child's scream pierced the night, from the direction of the alley. Several windows came open and lamps came on on the street; some even stepped out of their shops to observe the commotion. It was then that I was assaulted from behind, being knocked to the ground. I looked up at my attacker, to find that it was none other than Lord Theodore Thomas Blackwood.
"What in d—nation? I just heard you from that alley over there!"Lord Blackwood replied that he had heard my voice coming from an alley down the street, but had rushed over to my location once he heard the scream. He stood up, and noticed the now-crumpled drawing in my hand. "What do you have there?" I recounted to him my findings in the cobbler's house, and he took on a look of grim fascination.
"It seems I have another special case of the para-natural on my hands… splendid!" I tried to explain to him that it was only a drawing, that there was nothing "para-natural" about this incident, and that perhaps we had simply heard some wild animal, but was cut off by a speech. "It is never just a drawing, just as it is never just a fairy tale or just a bump in the night or a shadow cast by the moon or raindrops on the rooftop. It is never just a wild animal making sounds, or just an odd stone disc, or just an escaped ape running amok in the woods." He turned away from me, looking almost giddy. "If there is one thing I have learned about the world in fifty-one years of my life, it's that it is never "just"!" He went off to the bar and bought me a drink before heading off to our room; when I arrived, he was cleaning his pistol, and had a look on his face as if he were a boy preparing for a safari with his father.
Rather appropriate, as Lord Blackwood was preparing for a hunt.
This exciting tale will be continued in next month's installment of Lord Blackwood and the Changelings, on sale August 2nd!