Uncle Teddy was always a strange old man. It's one of those kind of things that you don't think about when you're a kid, and you still believe that knights and pirates and wizards are things that could co-exist in the world you live in. But as I got older and older, and I realized that people in the real world don't live the way he does, I got to thinking more and more about it, and the more I thought about it, the less sense any of it made. I asked my dad once when I was a teenager if Uncle Teddy was crazy. He said to me, "He might be crazy, Charlie, but he's still your uncle, and he's the best crazy uncle anyone could ever hope for."
He wasn't technically my uncle, really. He was far too old to be my dad's brother. He wasn't my dad's uncle, either. Best I can figure out, he was my great-great-great-grandpa's brother. Not that that makes much sense, either, considering that my great-great-great-grandpa died in 1896. Uncle Teddy doesn't look a day over seventy or so, and he hasn't changed in all the years I've known him. I found an old black-and-white picture of him that was dated 1907, and he looked exactly the same then as he does now. If all the things he says are true, then he'd have to be at least 200 years old, but every time I asked him how old he was, he'd only answer "I suppose I have been forty-nine for quite awhile now." I guess calling him "uncle" was just easier for everyone.
Uncle Teddy lived in Cornwall, in a huge manor house in the country that he said he inherited from his father. It's an ancient place, at least a couple hundred years old, and it doesn't look like it's changed in over a hundred years. See, when I say Uncle Teddy is strange, it's not who he is so much as how he behaves. There isn't a thing in that house that was built after the end of the 19th century. No running water, no lights, no phone, no TV, no radio, no computer, no heat, no cars, not a thing. The place is like a museum, and that's how he lives his life. It's like he doesn't even know the rest of the world exists - he never goes into town, writes all his letters by hand, and every time we came to visit he'd ask if we sailed across the Atlantic or took one of the new steamships or zeppelins he'd heard so much about. I never could tell if he actually didn't know the world had moved on, or if he just preferred the "good old days" to the world outside his little slice of it.
He was an unbelievably wealthy man. "Old money," dad always said. He was generous with it, too - every couple years he'd pay for our whole family to come out and visit him for a few weeks or so. He always said he loved to keep up with what the rest of his family was up to. The first time I met him was when I was six. It was just around Christmas. Imagine how surreal it must have been for me to come all the way to England on a plane, only to get dressed up in an old-fashioned little suit and put on a horse-drawn sleigh in the snow up to the gate of his manor. The first time I saw him standing in the door, tall, wrapped in furs, with his long white beard stretching down his chest, I thought he was Santa Claus. He just laughed when I asked him if he was, then reached into my ear and "pulled out" a coin, an old silver sixpence with Queen Victoria's face on it, and gave it to me. I was amazed.
Going back in time from the 1980s to the 1880s is quite an experience for a boy that age - imagine how grossed out I was when I learned about the chamberpot! - but it was an adventure all the same. Back at home, half the kids would call me a liar and the other half would be jealous. I didn't care - I'd already be looking forward to the next trip. I could spend hours just sitting at his knee, listening to his stories about how he'd acquired one or another of the curios that hung all around the place, his adventures in far-off corners of the world, his war stories, so on. As I grew older he taught me how to hunt, how to ride a horse, how to dress a wound, pan for gold, read Morse code, and all kinds of other things most boys only read about in books. Once, when I was fifteen, he pulled me aside after everyone else had gone to bed and gave me a lecture about how to kill a dragon should I ever find myself in a fight with one. I can't say the opportunity has ever arisen to test his suggestion, but if it ever does, I'll make sure to go for the femoral artery.
I didn't get to see him as much once I was grown up, but we kept writing letters back and forth. When I told him I was joining the Army to pay for college, he went on and on about his time in the Second Opium War. When I told him I was getting married, he insisted on inviting Amy and I out to get married at the manor. When I got my MBA, he told me never to accept a job offer from something called "Marshall, Carter & Dark" or he'd disown me. But it was the letter I got about six months ago that turned everything upside down;
My dearest nephew,
I have never in my life begged another man for succor, but I find that I must now ask for help, and I know of none I can turn to in my hour of need but you. I have been taken prisoner by a group of rogues and confidence men who play at science, calling themselves 'the SCP Foundation'. They have seized our ancestral lands and my entire lifetime's worth of works and collections, and imprisoned me in a tiny cell like an animal. I held out hope at first that I could free myself, or convince them to release me, but I fear there is now no hope of that. Lest I live out the rest of my days in this place, I shall have to be rescued.
You shall have to come at once. The current place of my captivity is in London, off Marylebone Road in Westminister, this much I have determined from the loose talk of my jailers. On the back of this page I have sketched a map of what parts of the prison I have been allowed to see. I shall not be here forever, for they have moved me several times. Take the fastest ship you can. If you can, pay a visit to the manor, in secret of course, for I am sure they keep it under guard. From the clearing in the woods where I taught you how to shoot, walk half a mile northwest into the forest and you will find a cave hidden in the brush. There is a hidden chamber within containing some of my old 'tools of the trade', as it were, that you may find indispensable in achieving your mission. The signet ring I gave you when you were twelve is the key.
Please hurry, for I know not what grim fate these mountebanks have in store for me.
Yours in Christ,
My wife thought I'd lost my mind when I told her all about it. She thought he was a crazy old man who'd finally snapped, and that I was crazy for believing him. I'll admit I had my doubts as well. But as far-fetched and ludicrous as everything about Uncle Teddy seemed to be, I never in my entire life felt like he had been lying to me. I told her I had to do this for his sake and mine, so that when next Christmas came and they were old enough I could take our kids to visit Uncle Teddy and they could experience what I had. She told me I'd better keep that promise. I had some vacation time saved up and some money in the bank, so I told my boss there'd been a death in the family, and the next morning I was on a flight to London.
I rented a car and drove out to the town close by Uncle Teddy's manor, and right away I could see he'd been telling the truth. There were lots more cars in town than usual, and lots of people with American accents in the pub. Something was amiss. I didn't even try to take the main road up to the house - I crept into the brush and made my way through the woods, careful not to so much as step on a twig, just like he taught me. I sneaked a peek towards the front gate - there were two men dressed all in black, with SMGs in hand. Their uniforms definitely weren't Army-issue, and they didn't look like the kind to ask questions. The chill winter air was still and silent that afternoon, and it took me forever to find the cave the letter mentioned as I worked my way through the thick of the woods.
It was a good thing I'd always held on to that old ring he gave me - it fit right into the "keyhole" I found in the cave he mentioned, and the rock wall slid away effortlessly. I shone my flashlight around and saw dozens of artifacts, the purpose of which I could only guess at. Between the multiple suits of armor, and the rolled-up Persian rug with a tag on it that read "A.C. Chakrasangupta of Bombay, Fine Retailer of Magic Carpets", and oil lamps that looked like they probably had genies living in them, I obviously couldn't grab all of it and stuff it in my backpack and hope it'd turn out useful. I settled on three things, things I saw that I recognized from some of the stories he'd told me years ago.
The first was a gun - a massive thing that looked like a blunderbuss, kicked like a mule, and had more stopping power than an elephant gun. A "particle destabilizer", he'd called it when he let me shoot it a few times years ago. The second was a huge old "skeleton key" which looked like something out of a video game. The third, an old Metropolitan Police badge which, according to his stories, would make sure that anyone who looked at me thought I was supposed to be there. I tested it out as I made my exit from the grounds, stepping out of the woods into clear sight of the guards at the front gate. I was ready to use the gun if I had to, but the two of them took a look at me and went on with their business without saying a word.
It wasn't until a day later that I stood in the middle of London, Madame Tussaud's to my back, gun in one hand, key in the other, badge on my chest, that I realized I had absolutely no idea what to do next. There are hundreds of buildings along the road. How was I supposed to figure out which one hid the secret prison Uncle Teddy been taken to? This was always the point in his stories where he'd have some genius flash of inspiration and know right away what to do - but then, Uncle Teddy had never explored any place as strange as 21st century London. I found myself walking up and down the street for hours looking for any sign of something unusual. (Fortunately for me, the badge I was wearing meant that nobody thought the man walking up and down the street carrying a large firearm was unusual.) After three or four hours I found myself sitting at a table in front of a Starbucks, despondently sipping on a latte, wondering what to do, when I heard a faint voice in the distance.
"Pardon me, my good man, but do you suppose we could have something different for luncheon tomorrow? I grow weary of these scraps. Perhaps some sausages, or a bit of roast?"
It was Uncle Teddy's voice, clear as day! I couldn't hear who he was talking to, but I could hear him. I craned my neck all around looking for the spot it could be coming from. Not above me, not behind me… I heard him again as I spun around and realized his voice was coming from below, echoing out of a sewer grate. The prison was underground! Perfect place to hide in a city like this. But how to get in? Was there a secret elevator in one of the nearby buildings? I sat back, surveying the area around me for any hint. I saw a man walk up to an old restored blue police box on a corner. I hadn't thought much of it before - I figured it was either a historical monument or some sort of promo for Doctor Who. I watched him unlock the door, step in, and close it behind him. A minute passed and he didn't come out. Then five. Then ten. Then half an hour. Could this be it? A hidden entrance, in plain sight?
I waited until after nightfall before I got up and walked over to the box myself. I took the skeleton key out of my pocket and held it up to the lock - and just like that, the lock turned, the door opened, and I discovered an elevator box on the other side, waiting. Taking a deep breath, I stepped in, closed the door, and pressed the only button I saw as the elevator began to slide downward. In less than ten seconds, I was in.
There were armed guards at the front and a secretary at a desk. I walked right past them and none of them said a word. Following the hand-drawn map on the back of Uncle Teddy's letter, I made my way through a maze of corridors, past doors with cryptic warnings on them - "LEVEL 4 ACCESS REQUIRED", "COGNITOHAZARD", "D-CLASS ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT". There was barely anyone around, and I did my best to avoid the few people I saw. Soon I found myself alone facing a door that had been marked on the map with an X. A small plaque read "SCP-1867 CONTAINMENT AREA". I wondered if that was what they were calling Uncle Teddy - like he was just a number or something. The skeleton key opened the locks on the door, I opened it, and there he was.
Lying on a cot in one corner of a bare and tiny cell, his finery replaced with an orange jumpsuit, his hands folded over his beard on his chest. His eyes were wide with disbelief as he turned to look at me. "Charlie?" he sputtered. "What in blazes are you doing here? Don't tell me you've become part of this vile order!"
"I'm here to get you out, Uncle Teddy!" I responded. "Come on. They won't notice me as long as I've got your badge on. If they ask, I'll say I'm moving you to another cell."
I had never seen Uncle Teddy so utterly confused as I saw him then, as he slowly came to his feet and made his way to the door. "My badge…" he muttered as he reached out and ran his fingers over it. "And you have my gun, too?"
"In the cave, just like you said," I reassured him. "We can talk once you're out of here! Let's go!"
"This is impossible!" he protested. "How did you find me here? How did you know about the cave?"
"It was in the letter you sent me."
"I sent you no letter!"
"What do you mean? I have it right here." I pulled it out of my pocket and handed it to him.
"Oh, my dear boy," Uncle Teddy moaned as he pointed to the first sentence. "An Englishman always spells 'succour' with a U."
No sooner did I realize what he meant than an alarm klaxon started sounding. The letter was a forgery - meant to lure me to this place and capture me as well! What they wanted with me, I had no time to wonder about as a harsh, synthesized voice sounded over the loudspeakers: "INTRUDER ALERT. SCP-1867 HAS BREACHED CONTAINMENT."
"What now?" I asked as I looked to Uncle Teddy.
"What else, boy? We run!"
I took off down the hallway, Uncle Teddy following me. Two soldiers, dressed in the same black body armor as the ones at the manor house, came around a corner brandishing their guns. I leveled the gun and fired. It nearly knocked me off my feet, but it sent the two men flying. Uncle Teddy pulled me off in another direction, urging me to make for the stairs rather than the "lift". Men with guns seemed to pop up from behind every corner. At his insistence I had it on the lowest setting, merely stunning the men in our way. The stairs were heavily guarded, but with a couple more volleys from the gun (and a little help from a flashbang Uncle Teddy had picked off one of the soldiers), the way was clear. We bounded up the steps two at a time, up to a door to one of the London Underground's service tunnels. If we were where I thought we were, it was only half a block to the nearest station - and from there, freedom for Uncle Teddy. I unlocked the door with the key and swung it wide to find dozens of soldiers, gathered around the door in a semicircle. I raised my gun as they raised theirs, flicking the little switch by the trigger from its lowest setting to its highest.
"Stand down!" shouted an American voice from behind the group. The soldiers lowered their rifles as a man in a lab coat pushed his way to the front of the crowd. He made his way toward me. I aimed the gun right at him and he stopped in his tracks. "There, there, don't do anything foolish. I'm not here to hurt you or SCP-1867." He looked at the badge I was wearing. "Intriguing piece of jewelry you've been dragging around. Must be a variant form of SCP-1339. I assume you got it from that cave we were never able to break into. Thanks for opening it, by the way. Tell me, what's your name?"
"My name is Charlie Blackwood," I said as I did my best to suppress the rage in my voice, "and you'd better all get out of my way. I've just set this thing to kill, and I'm not leaving here without my Uncle Teddy."
I don't know why what he said next made me drop the gun and surrender. I don't know why they set such an elaborate trap to capture anyone related to Uncle Teddy. I don't know why they're interested in me, or what they want from me. I don't know if my wife and kids are safe, but so help me I'm not saying a word about them until I get some answers. It's just… those nine words that that strange scientist said to me there. They don't make any sense, and yet every time I hear one of the guards or one of the interrogators repeat them, I feel paralyzed as if by some sudden realization, like some missing piece of a puzzle has fallen into place and a mystery has been solved. And yet, it doesn't answer any questions. It's nonsense, it's a playground taunt. It's…
"You do realize that you're a sea slug, right?"