Darkness on Cold

Boston Occult Society: Field Operative's Journal

(Summer, 1929)

Recorded by Walter Ashleigh

Wednesday, August 7th, 1929

    According to Charlie, I should be keeping notes.  I'll submit a full report later, of course, but this journal too should be part of the BOS files.

    The expedition seems to be an eclectic mix.  Members of note appear to be:

    It is distinctly possible that many of these, like myself, are not what they claim to be.  Unfortunately I've already forgotten what stupid Boston paper I'm supposed to be writing for, was it the Boston Science Monitor or something?  Maybe if I've forgotten they will too.

    Activities for the day were planned to be to talk to the locals about their legends, and then go to see the footprints themselves.

    Fortunately two of the local experts are in town, but unfortunately the first person -- Tlingit -- is in a "coffee house" bar that is rather unfriendly.  Gary and Larry act like total morons and soon get us run out of there under threat of violence.

    The second person is a couple of blocks away in a lodge house.  Gary knocks, says "Hello" in Inuit, and we wait.  Apparently this was a good plan in the Northwest Territories, where their previous expedition was.

    While we were waiting, I managed to pump them for some information about that previous expedition.  It was a joint U.S.-Canadian scientific expedition to study stuff in northern Canada.  LeMans' brother Maurice was on it, as well as Decker, while Larry flew resupply operations and was stuck there for a while when his plane failed (as I understand it, it's a Fokker).  With native "help" (you have to wonder what they mean by that) they encountered a Gnoph-Keh, and defeated it with the help of the Red Caribou tribe.  Bo's brother got some sort of night visions.  Several folks were wounded, and an icy wind blew across their soul.  (I know this is vague, but they seemed to be rather unsure about it, as if they didn't believe what happened, or have blocked it out.)  Anyway, Dr. Barrow heard of a Gnoph-Keh here, and so came looking for it.  There's a photo of its footprints, but the Mountie is convinced the prints are not from a G-K but from some big bipedal thing that they all refuse to name.

    Eventually, the door to the lodge opened and we entered, leaving our weapons at the door.  The doorman implied strongly that donations were welcome, and we coughed up about $50 between us, whereupon we were lead through the lodge to a chamber, where an elderly man sat on a padded chair.  He bade us sit, and we did so.  On the floor.

    (Unfortunately the whole conversation was in the Inuit language.  Gary translated, but I'm sure he exercised editorial powers.)
    Larry explained why we are here and where we're from.
    The Elder said it would take a long time to give us all the information on legends.  Just what we need, a smart-ass eskimo.
    Larry explained we wanted information on Gnoph-Keh.
    Elder said he's never heard of one.
    Larry explained about the tracks, and that the keeper of the Gnoph-Keh may be about.
    Elder said it's dangerous and we should drop it, just go home and take all the white men with us.  Just what we need, a bigoted smart-ass eskimo.
    Larry explained the legend, and that we'd heard of Gnoph-Keh as stories handed down to frighten children, and asked what sort of legends there are here.
    Elder suggested that the local Gnoph-Keh is a Tupelac, an effigy of a creature brought to life by magic.  He added that even though the stories might not be true, there are many who believe in them and would defend it.  He said that we needed to be careful those folks don't hurt us.  The followers of Silla are dangerous.
    Jason interjects and says that "Silla" is the name we're not supposed to mention.  So everyone does, of course.  Gary adds that Silla is sort of a demigod.

    Now no matter what the actual words were, I could tell this Elder was on the level.  He might not have his head screwed on right, but he's giving us what he thinks is good advice.

    On the way back to the hotel, Larry said that the creature that left the prints is very powerful, but the cult is more powerful.

    Back in the hotel, we retired to the salon that Barrow had reserved for our expedition.  We ordered drinks, and the others opened up some.
    The Gnoph-Keh is six-legged and furry.
    Silla is web-footed.
    The latter brings death and destruction, and seems to have a penchant for stomping on things and people.  3000 miles to the east of here, Gary saw flattened things in a footprint much like that in the photo.  Larry is confused as to whether he saw Silla or not (but then Larry seems confused, period); Gary thinks he might have seen it, but just can't believe it (no surprise there, either).

    I did manage to get a description of the incident out of them.  There was a biting cold wind.  The creature was 40 feet tall, or taller; Maurice apparently kept talking about the "eyes."  A blizzard descended on them, and Larry passed out.  They were shooting the Gnoph-Keh in the face and it just kept coming -- which is why Gary brought an elephant gun this time (he's not a total fool, I guess).  Then Silla arrived, 40 feet tall, thin, long arms, gangly, wide spindly fingers and cold hands, a numbing cold (apparently the stories say it controls winds and storms).  The Shamen stopped the chant that was supposed to banish the Gnoph-Keh and pointed his "soul-stick" at the big thing instead and concentrated on it, with a higher-pitched chant and a howl.  It was like attacking the Gnoph-Keh summoned the Silla.  The shamen increased the chant to a fever pitch and it warmed up and Silla left.  Later I found out that this was near Prince William Island, and that the tribes involved were the Red Caribou and the Blue Seal.

    Charlie, I have to say that I think we're onto something big, something the BOS should get involved in officially.  This cult of Silla is apparently a threat from the east coast to the west, and even if it's only affecting the natives, it's still a powerful force.  It's not like winter doesn't engulf the upper US and all of Canada, so we could be looking at something serious.

Thursday August 8th, 1929

    We breakfasted before dawn and set out to visit the local shamen.

    Looks like the cult of Silla is already onto us.  We were tailed on the way to pick up the horses, and also followed to the edge of town.  Once we left town, Gary and I scouted back to see if they were still with us, but they apparently only followed us in the town.

    It was mid-late morning when we rode into a small Inuit camp.  The shamen's camp is separate from the main village.

    This time Gary did the talking.  (I really wish someone else here spoke Inuit.  I don't trust the Gary and Larry Show to do it properly.)  First he talked to an old woman, then an old man in a hut.  He's apparently the shamen.  He said he's never heard of a Gnoph-Keh, and while he at first denied that he had heard of a Tupelac, he's clearly lying and comes clean.  Not that we managed to get much information here, mind you, but Gary did at least ask about a "soul-stick", and this shamen guy showed us one.  Gary told him there's a Gnoph-Keh in the area, and then paid him $20 for the privilege of wasting our time.

    The next camp, which we reached in mid-afternoon, had an English-speaking guy who seemed a regular working shamen.  Magic is his job, not something he tells stories about, but we paid him for some irrelevant stories anyway.  I wonder what the Inuit is for "loser?"  I bet they're smirking at us every time we do that.  Anyway, this person didn't have a soul stick, just used powders and feathers and rocks and stuff.  Definitely a second-grade shamen.  He even sold me a bag of stuff to keep away the "cold", and while I didn't catch one for the next week or so, neither did anyone else.  In fact rather than putting it together, he went to sleep until the old woman woke him up with "such-and-such boy is here," whereupon he woke up and sent us away.

    We returned to the hotel.  We were not followed.

    At dinner, Barrow announced that he was ready to go to the town near the footprints.  We would start on the ten-day trip to Endurance tomorrow.

Friday August 9th, 1929

    The expedition left as planned.  We were not followed.

    Half-way through the trip, we sensed that there were some people travelling behind us, in a manner which seemed like they didn't want to be noticed.  I brought this to Barrow's attention, and suggested we set up camp early and see if they caught us up -- if not, they were deliberately avoiding our attention.

    McBain circled back to check on this other group, and returned an hour later to tell us that there were some Inuit camped back there.  Now while they might just be avoiding us because we weren't Inuit, I was wary enough to suggest that we offer to travel together with them.  Gary, Larry, and Carter McBain conveyed the offer, and it was accepted.

    The group appeared to be a regular Inuit group travelling with supplies and so on.  It turned out that they actually live in Endurance.

    We travelled together without incident to Endurance.

Sunday, August 18th, 1929

    We arrived in Endurance in late evening.  It's nothing but a trading post (run by a French Canadian) and a bunch of shacks.  The only good thing was that an ample supply of gin was available.

    We set up camp not too far out of town, and planned the next day's expedition to the footprints.

Monday, August 19th, 1929

    After stocking back up on gin, we left the camp intact and walked out to the site.  Gary and Jason actually rode, and we brought a pack mule as well.  It took us most of the morning to find the place, which turned out to be a clearing free of rocks and trees.  There was no sign of the footprints, but this clearly was the correct spot.  Jason suggested waiting until sunset to use the long shadows to help pick up on depressions in the ground, but it being too late for that tonight, we returned to Endurance and planned to come back with a full camp the next day.

Tuesday, August 20th, 1929

    Today we moved the full camp to the footprint site.  Plans for the next day included mapping out any downed trees in the area.

    There was no sign of anything under dusk shadows, but some of the team experienced a sense of foreboding, and insisted on standing watches overnight.  Those would be the same people who would say that the night didn't pass quietly, but too quietly.

Wednesday, August 21st, 1929

    The archaeologists performed a full search quadrant by quadrant, but more a quick survey than full scientific data-gathering.  Nevertheless they did find a spot in front of a large rock where there was a slight mound, as if a footprint had been filled in afterwards.

    Meanwhile, Larry's mapping project revealed a pattern of downed trees, but not in a line as we had expected.  The fallen trees were all in a circle, as if making a circle around the clearing rather than going to or from it.  Some of the team suggested it might be from a circle of cold wind as that which heralds Silla's presence, but that seemed a little over-speculative at this stage.

    I suddenly thought that this large rock might be some sort of altar to Silla, in front of which the creature stood while a priest of the cult stood on the top.  So I made great effort to climb the rock to look for evidence, but succeeded only in spraining my ankle rather badly.  Gary did manage to ascend without incident, but not only couldn't he see anything interesting from up there, but also it was clear no-one had been up there.  Bird droppings was all there was.

    The excavation of the footprint was planned for tomorrow.  Unfortunately my ankle precludes me from assisting -- perhaps I can use the time to come up with some more theories.

Thursday, August 22nd, 1929

    No-one slept well.

    Barrow's people were early on the job, starting on the digging.

    Gary and Bo also made an early start, spiralling out to search the area.  I consider it suspicious that the two police officers are heading out together, but I'll take it at face value for the time.  When they returned they reported that they had come across the tracks of a large bear near here last night.  Decker joined them in tracking it for a while.

    A stranger arrived in the morning.  He was dressed well, in practical clothing, and introduced himself as Reinhold Blair, from Endurance.  He said he hunts, fishes, and draws prints.  He displayed an unhealthy interest in our expedition.  Despite this, he seemed straightforward.
    I told him that I'm a journalist.  Larry piped up and said that we were digging up tracks.  I immediately kicked him -- hard, of course, as the moron deserved -- under the table.  Larry tried to cover by saying he was a pilot and wouldn't know what tracks, and asked Mr. Blair what might be here.  Mr. Blair responded that nothing was there.
    I asked RB what he was doing here, and he said he was here to see us.  Apparently (according to him) he had gone to Endurance for a vacation, and liked it so much he stayed.  Now if that isn't suspicious, I don't know what is.

    We walked over to the dig.  Rather hard to hide a dig from this unwelcome visitor, but we did distract him somewhat with conversation.  RB was originally from the miedwest, and grew up in Washington state.  Larry asked him about interesting legends, whereupon RB invited us back to his house sometime.  RB then revealed that he owns the trading post in Endurance.
    We were now alongside the dig.  Barrow et al. looked up, and RB introduced himself.  Barrow said we were hunting a Gnoph-Keh, a new kind of creature.
    Unfortunately Barrow was very forthcoming about his intentions.  When RB asked what he was excavating, Barrow said that there was a report of huge footprints here.
    "Were the footprints left by a Gnoph-Keh?" asked RB.
    Barrow replied that he didn't know, but they were certainly left by something big.
    When RB asked for a description of the beast, Barrow cheerfully complied -- furry, 6-legged, rather like a clawed rhinocerous thing.
    RB said there was nothing like that around here.
    Barrow said they were very rare, but that he had some evidence and he will find it.
    They shook hands, and RB said that if the expedition were to need anything, to come to his trading post.
    I suggested that he might like to get in some good brandy.
    Larry, subservient as ever to our potential foes, asked if there was a good or bad time to visit.
    RB replied that he had a trip planned in three days, so either before then, or we could check at the trading post after.

    Reinhold Blair then left, and not before time.

    Larry took a short walk to the little stream that was nearby, and returned saying there were no footprints in that direction.

    In the late afternoon, Gary, Bo, and Decker came back into the camp dragging a dead bear.  Bo credits Gary for shooting it -- he says that he himself couldn't shoot well enough to hit a thrashing bear.
    While Charlie dressed the bear, Larry told Gary and Bo about Mr. Blair's visit.
    Dinner was bear stew.

    Late in the evening, Warren and Barrow were overheard to have a private heated discussion.  Bo sneaked over to listen, and told us later that Warren seemed more annoyed, while Barrow was calmer.  They had been arguing whether they were wasting their time.
    Whatever the outcome, Barrow came over and asked the two cops to keep watch tonight.  Being lazy, they immediately assigned everyone else to watches as well: Bo and I were to have the graveyard watch, while Gary and McBain took the first watch, and Larry and Charlie the third.  At least I have the best companion for a boring night.

Friday, August 23rd, 1929

    We all slept badly last night.  Tiredness was evident in the manner of the whole expedition.

    At breakfast, Warren and Barrow again broke into argument, and this time Warren stalked off in a huff for the day.  Larry and Gary hiked after him, to make sure he came to no harm, and apparently Warren went up the mountain, away from the direction of Endurance.

    Barrow came up with an interesting discovery.  Someone had clearly buried the footprints.  With this revelation, Bo and I told him about Silla, the Gnoph-Keh, and so on.  Barrow expressed a desire to talk to our sources, with which I wholeheartedly agreed; the Larry and Gary show is entertaining, but not very useful.

    Everyone returned safely to camp.

    Dr. Payne has told me that I need to stay of my ankle for a few days.

Saturday, August 24th, 1929

    Sleep was bad again.  Nerves around the camp are frayed.

    Larry and Bo head out to visit Reinhold Blair; they'll probably be gone for a couple of days.

    I watched, rested my ankle, and occupied myself with my personal supply of gin.

    In a fit of boredom, Gary climbed the rock.

Sunday, August 25th, 1929

    Everyone is cranky and tense.

    Larry and Bo returned to camp.  Larry told us that Mr. Blair had told stories of Tupelac bears, that were used to protect and to attack villages.  The coffee was uncommonly good, and they had slept well.
    I asked them if they had been followed, but the nitwits had no idea.

    Sleep is clearly a problem here.  I suggested that we rotate the team on R&R to get good sleep.  Charlie said this is just a Bad Place.  Gary suggested drugging folks to sleep -- I am certainly not going to subject myself to that!

    Jason added to our knowledge of the footprint cover-up; apparently the imprints had been dug up before being buried.

    If we could just find a Gnoph-Keh, we could go home.  Well, no matter what made the footprints, it's better to find a G-K that to find Silla!

    I suggested summoning a GK, but the concept is beyond Larry's comprehension.  I explained that all we had to do was say, "Silla, Silla, Silla," and it should come.  Larry was clearly worried and believed it.

    At dinner, Barrow announced that it was time to return to Anchorage and try a different line of research.  I suggested finding another site, and Barrow conceded that we could investigate at Endurance for leads, and then go.

    Payne put together a powder to help us to sleep.  I said whisky would be better, but Warren and Payne resort to the drugs.

    We keep watch again.  During our watch, Bo checks on Gary several times, and finds he is indeed awake some of the time.

Monday, August 26th, 1929

    I tried to call Silla overnight, but nothing happened.

    So we packed up the camp, breakfasted, and left.  We were not followed.

    We arrived back in Endurance before dark.  I convinced Barrow to stay here an extra day if I got dome more leads tonight.  Still, we all desperately needed sleep.  We maintained watches, just in case, while sleeping the sleep of the truly exhausted.  The night passed quietly.

Tuesday, August 27th, 1929

    I spent the day investigating in the town.  I found nothing about GK or mystery sites.  When I asked about Silla, it was clear that all knew the name, but no-one would talk -- they all changed the subject immediately.
    Even so, I did find out that Sillas is the name of an ancient god that danced on the wind.  Somebody is doing rituals for Silla, but not around here.  Where is the center of Silla worship?  Why is it bad luck to talk about it?
    I even talked to Reinhold, but as I had expected I got nothing much from him.
    I tried pushing another native as hard as I could, but just got the same answers and the same sense of unwillingness to talk.

    I informed Barrow of my findings.

Wednesday, August 28th, 1929

    It is clear that there is nothing to be gained here in Endurance, at least not at this time.  We left for Anchorage.

Saturday, September 7th, 1929

    Today we arrived back in Anchorage at last.

Sunday, September 8th, 1929

    Barrow called a meeting to summarize what we've found so far.
    Larry explains to Warren that Silla is a god of death, destruction, and storms.  The locals won't mention the name.  There are a few who worship evil...

    The photo of the Gnoph-Keh was taken by Alexander Dutton from the Anchorage Times.  The location was about halfway between here and Fairbanks.  The story is that he had a flat tire, and had a feeling of being watched.  That's when he took the photo.  He clearly believed that it was not something normal, definitely not a bear.
    Fairbanks is northeast of here, and northwest from Endurance.

    I will mail out the journal so far tomorrow morning.