Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Little Stephie Earwick's Terrible No-Good Thoughts

"I am an ophtalmologist, precisely speaking. Which is to say, by day I oph, and by night I talm. Ophing I can do with my eyes closed, in fact I prefer it. But it's to talm that I need all the light that I can get."

- Earl T. Earwick, ophtalmologist, to his daughter Stephanie.

Stephanie Earwick, or Stephie if you're friendly, is a girl of ten-and-a-little. The youngest of three, she came after tall Violet and grouchy Evelyn. Her father is an eye surgeon and her mother is buried in the garden because the town cemetery is full.

Stephanie is also, as mister Earwick's contemporaries describe it so hamfistedly, 'sick with thought.' That is to say, Stephanie Erwick worries a lot. About everything. All the time. In fact, thanks to all these anxieties, Stephanie Earwick has built up so much pressure in her head that when she went to sleep one night, her thoughts blew out of her ears, slipped under her bedroom door and spread through the house like poison gas, creeping into the ears and noses and mouths of her sisters, her father, their maid, her mother. 

And so, the Earwick family was cursed.

Cursed so that ever since little Stephie went to sleep that night, her family was not to be her family. Instead they became the waking thoughts Stephie has about them, and Stephie Earwick is scared, terrified, of everything.

Art by Vasily Polenov, 1886

Whenever you (the players) arrive in town, this unfairness has already come to pass. It won't be any more fair to you. The best you can hope to do, perhaps, is to be fair to it. To them. However, they will try to kill you horribly, and you must survive.

You could always run and never return. You could.


Nerves. That's a strange remark but this is what's most remarkable about the town. It's full of nerves. White, wet, stringy and thin. Stepping on one makes your skin crawl, out of second-hand pain and discomfort. They cover the town like plant roots or a fungus. They smell of fish oil, preservative, and blood. They have labels on them too. Doctor's cursive has put names on the paper strips, and dates, and lengths and some markers you're not quite sure how to interpret. Conditions, maybe? Treatments? Every label has an 'O' or a 'T' on it too.

Sometimes, a long nerve will slither away suddenly. If you follow it, you'll find the slit under the door of the Earwick house slurping it up like a spaghetti string.

The town has an overfull graveyard, even from before the curse. There's an old factory. It made jars of mayonnaise sauce. The building has a flaky skin of posters about strike, about pay, about mayonnaise. Some of them suggest using the mayonnaise in recipes or substitutions that are downright awful. The inside is quite derelict. Stinks of rotting mayonnaise. You know how it gets all yellow? Acidic? Maybe a little tangy and brown? Like pus in a jar.

It looks like a place you could die in, that factory. Why the hell do you need a whole factory just to make mayonnaise anyway?

Chicken farms around the downtown area. They're quite large, muddy. They need the eggs, you'd guess. For the mayonnaise. They're still there alright, clucking away. You can hear them downtown, faintly.

There are no bodies, but many dragging marks. Abandoned newspapers, canes, shoes. Blood.


Once luxurious, perhaps. Although, no. There is a certain wealth there, but it's lean and thinly spread. It may have been more luxurious if the town had had more to give. If some had taken less. It's a large terraced house, with a simple garden surrounded by an iron fence. The garden hardly has any grass. It's long and it winds between skinny bushes and down some stone steps. There's a dead chicken in the front, and a gravestone. Open earth. It looks like someone was about to bury the chicken. Which is wrong, of course.

All doors and windows were barricaded. A black paint cross, like a headless man with raised arms, is splayed out across the front door. Wooden boards are torn, on the in- and outside. Windows smashed.

They came out.

Inside, it's like an intestine. A long corridor folded up in a cavity, that sometimes widens into a stomach or a kitchen. No house should be built like this. Probably wasn't. There are two empty mayonnaise jars in the kitchen. A third has a whole chicken crammed inside it.

There's so little light, even with all the broken windows. You quickly feel as though you're far, far away from the open air. There is more corridor, more intestine, than the house could possibly fit.

Thick bundles of the nerves you saw outside are laid out through the corridors. They're going somewhere.


The thing that sets the monsters of children apart from the monsters of adults, is not that they are less real, wicked, or terrible. They're plenty terrible. Some adults like to conceive that a childish imagination is, or should be, an innocent and harmless thing, because they themselves have lived blissful childhoods. This is false of course. In fact this assumption is a thought kissed by evil. After all, how can such a person treat the horrors of a young mind except with dismissal or revulsion?

The monsters of children are different from those of adults because they are less restrained. Most adults are excellent self-censors. Children, however, less so. Thus, their monsters do not need to make sense, or be decent, or explainable, or orthodox, or any such limitation that life experience may impose when the years come.

Bad Violet is ten feet tall and covered in spikes. She wears a dead dog wrung like a towel around her neck, her head is stuck in a bottle with her long black hair spilling out, and her hands are iron vises. She's accompanied by the Sod, a hulking muscular corpse of a man, whose head has been peeled halfway like an apple. He oozes mayonnaise, grease, oil and sweat in thick droplets. His skull is cracked open and instead of brains there is a stained life insurance form.

Bad Evelyn has long simian arms with bloodied knuckles. She's full of porcelain shards, and she's wrung out of shape by large swellings that ooze blood. Her bottom half is the head and front legs of a giant spider. She doesn't speak, only screams like a monkey. She has about the same behaviours.

Bad Mum is a skinless corpse that flies around the house, banging against the walls, like a high speed baseball that never slows down. Splat! Splat! Splat!

Bad Margery is soaked with water as if drowned, bloated, and smells strongly of grimy soap and urine. Her face is made entirely of long teeth making something that is a smile only in name. She can open like an iron maiden, and when someone is inside, boil them into paste while blowing steam like a kettle.

Then there's the last one...

The Bad Doctor, which was once Dr. Earl T. Earwick, is like a spider weaving its web with nerves. It is half-mechanical, made of amalgamations of surgery tools and other medical equipment, innervated by long strands of webbed branched-out spinal chord and spindly bundles of sinew. At its middle the flesh of Dr. Earwick is split along its limbs to reveal the nerves that weave across its mechanical body. It still wears its glasses, but also a fixated, strained grin that Dr. Earwick never wore a day in his life.

It lives in the heart of the house, an enormous cavity into which all hallways and nerves that ran through them emerge. This dark space is filled with the pale sinewous webbing and sporadic bodies, half-alive and hanging by their face which is opened to allow the nerves to exit and spread out. A great cluster of the bodies hangs suspended in the middle like a corpulent fly in a way. On it sits, disembodied, Stephie Earwick's bedroom. She has locked herself inside.

At any point while in the town, the Bad Doctor may attempt to abduct players, kill them and take them to its lair to add to its nauseating web cathedral. It will, however, retreat quickly if at all in danger or outnumbered. It is an ambush predator. Only in its lair will it fight to the death, at massive terrain advantage.

The Bad Doctor performs terrible experiments on the townspeople in his lair. They have no goal, no purpose. He simply practices aimless surgery, as seen through the eyes of a child who cannot rhyme its horrific appearance with its alleged purpose.

That is the dungeon of fear that traps a single terrified soul.

Will you brave it all, to save one child whose mind may have given out already?

Art by Jon Klassen