Sunday, 22 April 2018

Caveat Emptor

YSDC's adaptation of my scenario The Many Deaths of Edward Bigsby is going really well, and people seem to like it. In honor of that, here's a very skeletal scenario for you about a cursed French commode.

No, not that kind of commode.

It's based in part on Jules Michelet's book Witchcraft, Sorcery and Superstition. Michelet is a very clever French raconteur and scholar who makes the stories he tells come alive - even if he has to sacrifice detachment and accuracy to do so. If you have any interest in this topic I urge you to seek it out. I have the Citadel Press translation which is why the title's slightly different.

Caveat Emptor

The Hook

The investigators are asked to authenticate an allegedly cursed Louis Quinze commode, only to discover that the curse is all too real.

Louis Quinze: A term used by antique dealers and art historians, this means that the item was made during the reign of Louis XV of France, or 1715 to 1730. This is sometimes called the Regency period. The grand Rocaille stylings with their graceful curves and elements modeled on nature, an artistic rebellion against the heavy formal styles popular in Louis’ fathers time, are just beginning to come into fashion.

Commode: The meaning is derived from the French, meaning convenient, or suitable. A cabinet or chest of drawers, set low so as to be below the dado rail, or the midpoint of the wall.

The Awful Truth

In 1726 the notorious witch and false nun Madeline was brought by her confessor and captor Picart to a dungeon in his home at Rouen. There she was to be starved to death, but she proved remarkably difficult to kill. Over time Picart relented, but only because she was still useful – he could bring her to trials as a so-called expert witness to accuse other witches. All the while he and the staff of his house sexually abused and tormented her, thinking her less than human.

They grew so used to her that they seldom bothered locking her up. There was nowhere she could go. No family in Rouen would take her in, her family had renounced her, and to the wider world she was the notorious witch, baby-killer and false Bride of Christ. She had the run of Picart’s household.

Picart and his people failed to realize that whether or not she’d been a servant of dark powers before her incarceration she certainly was now. She had congress with strange creatures while locked in that cellar deep below ground, beings that advised her the best way to revenge herself on Picart. She scrawled her curses in blood on parchment stolen from Picart’s desk, and carefully concealed them in a false drawer of the commode. Then she waited for the curse to do its work.

She hadn’t long to wait. Before the month was out Picart had vanished, stolen into the void by the Dimensional Shambler her curse had summoned, but not bound. As it wasn’t bound the creature could return again and again, so long as it remained within a short distance of the commode. It did. Within another month, two of Picart’s servants disappeared, and people began talking about a curse.

Over the years the Shambler emerged from beyond our dimension again and again. Sometimes it didn’t take a victim, but allowed itself to be seen. On other occasions it merely wounded its target, or left bloodstains and other marks behind for people to wonder at. Often its victim would simply vanish without a trace.

These repeated visits began to damage the commode, in a dimensional sense. It no longer exists just in our world; it has a parallel existence across the void. It creates a hole in reality.

Holes allow passage in both directions.

The Cursed Commode

Date made: around 1710 to 1725

Artist/Maker: attributed to the workshop of Pierre Couchois, Rouen.

Medium: Oak and Fir veneered with amaranth, bloodwood and warama; gilt-bronze mounts; marble top.

Dimensions: 85.7 cm by 131.4 cm by 58.4 cm.

First known curse event: the disappearance and presumed death of Father Picart, Jesuit and witch-hunter, 1728.

Second known: The murder of banker Marius Harel and his entire family, eight people in all, 1789. Also known as the Night of Blood in some of the more lurid histories.

Third known: The disappearance of Deidra Van Stratten on her wedding night, leaving only her ring finger behind, 1865.

Fourth known: The strange decapitation of auctioneer Ralston Hayes, 1902.

There are several disappearances also blamed on the curse, but without evidence it’s impossible to link any disappearance with the commode.

Opening Scene

The investigators are asked to authenticate the commode by an important auctioneering firm.

Initial examination finds nothing untoward. The commode is authentic, and rather plain for the period. Its lurid history is its main attraction, otherwise an ordinary example of early Louis Quinze furnishing would attract little interest.

Clue:                     There are some signs of refurbishing, possibly in the early 18th Century, which warrant further investigation. Perhaps this isn’t an original piece; someone may have cobbled it together from period parts.

Confrontation: The Confession

Soon after the investigators start their examination they discover mysterious writing appearing in every notebook, newspaper or similar. The writing only appears if the item is left in the same room as the commode, for any length of time. It’s in archaic French.

The writing disappears after several hours, but if the paper was torn or damaged those marks remain.

Clue:                     If translated, the writing proves to be a series of confessions. Whoever wrote them was in a very disturbed state of mind. The person confesses to congress with the Devil, witchcraft, baby murder and a hundred different things. Often the writer is so disturbed that whatever they use to write with breaks or tears through the paper. The name Picart appears again and again.

Clue:                     Whatever it is, it’s not invisible ink. Despite every test, once the writing vanishes it’s as if it was never there.

Clue (hard):        The writer refers to herself as ‘unhappy Madeline’ once.

Confrontation: A Break-In – Or Is It?

The contents of the room the commode is in have been moved by person or persons unknown, and they weren’t too careful when they did it. Some things are damaged or smashed beyond repair. The commode is untouched, and remains exactly where it was left.

Clue:                     Judging by what might be a footprint in the dust, whoever did this was very large. Possibly more than seven foot tall. How does someone that huge break in, and nobody sees a thing?

Refurbished Or Not?

The refurbishment actually was a concealment. The commode had a secret compartment in one of its upper cabinets covered by a false bottom, and someone went to a great deal of trouble to seal and conceal that false bottom so it couldn’t be detected or opened. Inside is a parchment written in blood. It appears to be a magical curse.

Clue:                 Whoever went to all that trouble must have been a very clever artisan, probably someone in the mid to late 1700s. Nobody else would have had the skill, knowledge or materials.

Clue:                    The document is written in the same hand as the confessions.

Clue (hard):       The document curses Father Picart “to eternal and unending torment in the realm   beyond, where the Old Ones await.”

Soft Spot

The room where the commode is kept develops what can only be described as a soft spot. The walls feel spongy, the floor insubstantial, and if someone tilts their head at just the right angle they can see beyond the room to something, or somewhere, else. Potential Sanity/Stability loss.

Clue:                     The sensation never lasts very long. When it happens, any reflective surface in the immediate area glows with a faint blue aura.


The investigators may chase up the Father Picart angle, or poor Madeline.

Clue (Picart):     Father Picart was a confessor in a nunnery who fell in lust with one of the nuns. He wooed her and promised to marry her, and when she objected that they could not be wed in the sight of God he said they should be married with the Devil’s blessing. Later, when she was with child and the whole story was about to be revealed, to save his skin he portrayed himself as the heroic redeemer who discovered this witch nestled in the haven of Christ’s Brides. Her punishment, overseen by Picard himself, was starvation. She survived and he later used her as an expert witness to accuse other witches. He vanished, the first victim of the curse. The records don’t say what happened to her.

Clue (Mad):        Madeline de Poitiers was from a rich family that had too many daughters, and being the youngest she was sent to the nunnery at the age of 12. There she met Father Picart, who seduced her before her fourteenth birthday. Though the records don’t say what happened to her after his disappearance, some legends say she appeared again and again in his house, an angry spirit wanting revenge.

Dimension Hopping

The Shambler moves from its dimension to ours, but thanks to the curse the investigators can move to its realm.

There things fold in on each other like paper dolls made of string. The investigators see things that are familiar to them – streets, houses, towns – yet they constantly shift away, always out of reach. Everything is seen through a blue filter, as if the inside of the investigator’s eyeballs had been painted over. Always the things they see are torn apart and remade, never the worse for wear, only to be shredded again and a new thing made.

The one exception to this is the commode. It exists in every place they go in this new dimension. It’s not always the same size or shape, but it’s the same thing.

A woman shouts obscenities somewhere nearby, yet it’s impossible to hear exactly what she’s saying.


If the investigators want to end the curse, they need Madeline’s help. It’s thanks to her power that this all started, and being trapped in the alternate dimension has one big advantage: our time doesn’t exist there. For her, it’s still 1726. If she does something here, it affects our world in 1726. Theoretically the investigators could put a stop to the curse before it starts, saving many lives. All they need to do is persuade Madeline to rescind her curse.

This does mean that Father Picart will not die. The curse will end before he gets destroyed by the Shambler. The investigators will have to come up with a way in which Madeline can be persuaded to give up her vengeance.

If the investigators don’t do this, they might try to destroy the commode. The Shambler will intervene forcefully before that happens. Moreover since it exists in alternate dimensions even if they do destroy it the commode can be replaced. All the Shambler has to do is ‘borrow’ one from an alternate dimension and move it here. This further weakens an already unstable dimensional rift, but why should the Shambler care?

Killing the Shambler stops it from coming to our dimension, but only for one day. Time doesn’t exist in its dimension, and neither does death. It can reform a body and return. A day’s grace is all the investigators get, and that only because a day will make them think they might have won.

This concludes the scenario.

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