1963-10-06 - Stone Cold Leads
Summary: Sinjin investigates a sinkhole in Westchester County and gets more than he bargained for when things get a little tight.
Related: Undermining the Economy
Theme Song: M. Ward - Deep, Dark Well
sinjin rogue 


The Park Royal Farm has a grand name, and several acres set back in the southeast side of Westchester County. Despite the fanciful name, it boasts very little that would make it appear any different from any other apple orchard in the vicinity. Rows on rows of netted trees stand above the leaf- and fruit-strewn dirt, while behind those lengthy aisles, the fields are divided for pastureland and very sad looking corn turned brown and yellow, crisped by the recent downturn in temperature. It is by no means a pretty morning when St. John Allerdyce sets forth. Stony skies linger low to the ground under a flotilla of fat clouds, spilling regular showers onto the land. Puddles accumulate everywhere, and bring a sombre tone to the landscape.

Beyond the white sign with a friendly painting of a horse and buggy — no relation to it being an apple farm in the least — the lonely gravel drive leads up to a single story house with adjacent garages (two), silo (one), and pile of forgettable equipment probably part of a 'Allies Septic Company' business that seems to have sprouted up like a very stinky mushroom downwind. Albeit no wind is blowing today, so mostly it smells damp and septic-like.

Supposedly this is the place, and given it's around 10 AM, it should be more active than it is. People are in the farmhouse, clearly, but no one is making a go of turning muddy fields into muddier fields. It's hard to make out any signs of a sinkhole, either.

*

Log EDIT: AN* 'Allies'….

*

It is better to seek forgiveness than ask permission. That philosophy has never steered Sinjin wrong, of course. He's after the site of that impressive photograph from the Bugle so, in fine journalistic fashion, he grills his friends, borrows a car, and drives out to Westchester where he passes the farm entirely before doubling back and parking off the road.

Sinjin also had the good sense to put on some fairly nondescript fatigues from the surplus store, under a battered leather jacket. His hair is tucked up under a cadet cap and, of course, he's wearing sensible boots. If it weren't for the satchel and the camera, he'd look like a day labourer after work out here.

Sinjin takes stock of the scene before hopping the fence to look over the equipment. If someone was digging or draining a septic tank, they could have hit something that resulted in that hole. He's after anything that links this to the mess — it'd be embarrassing to start up a story that turned out to involve a series of unrelated septic tank and sewage accidents.

*

Good man to wear a good coat, fatigues being marginally helpful in farm country. There may be many shades of green, but gold and bronze have a far more prominent place than they would anywhere else. He's going to be tramping about looking somewhat conspicuous, though not so badly as he might in the middle of the Nebraska corn and wheat belt. However, the miseries compounded upon him will come from mud and rain. Rain down his boots, mud over his boots, slushy, sucking goop that wants to swallow him whole. Such is the nature of autumn, so often welcoming and then at others, it drains your soul. (Inside joke, to be sure.)

The septic equipment is a mishmash of tanks and plastic tubes, hoses and rather fetid containers one is wise to give a wide berth. They well and truly stink. If he has any sort of olfactory sensitivity, the poor man is bound to be sneezing and gagging his way halfway to Baltimore. Not even a fly bothers hanging about there. Lights in the windows shine where the family no doubt is trying to be productive, or the ma'am of the house bakes and cleans while her husband goes out to muck around.

The gravel drive forms a rather sinuous line, and dirt tracks speckled by puddles lead into the back nine, as it were. No septic equipment looks particularly freshly excavated, for what it's worth. The brown stuff caked on is probably not earth… Right?

Only one way to know…

*

Years in the jungle and, yeah, this still stinks. Sinjin isn't hanging around longer than necessary. He makes sure his camera is well-covered, not for the first time, and slumps off in the direction of those dirt tracks. There's no unusual activity around the house, nothing that suggests the hole is up that way — or that anything is untoward at all.

Sinjin doesn't light a cigarette but he is toying somewhat anxiously with a lighter as he walks. The rain here is cold, not like the rain of, not home but what passed for it for a long time. It's not whatever's making the hole that worries him, it's being back on the job. It ended so well last time, after all.

He slogs through the muck with skill as well as resignation. He's used to it. Smart enough not to walk in the tracks, at least, trying to stick to knots of grass and anything that looks like it won't devour his boots.

*

The rolling slopes leading into the back acreage behind the orchard, following the naturally folded terrain serving as a rumpled platform for the farming activities. Several fence lines hint at the patchwork divisions; here a field, there pasture, and yonder, maybe the remnant of a stump.

Sinjin's march isn't easy or pleasant, but he passes all those apples harvested mostly by the peck. Fallen and windblown fruit are blushed red, some already attacked by birds and squirrels, others left to rot while a crop awaits harvesting. Beyond the long orchard, there's a gate intended to keep the dirt road from being readily accessed. Nothing to stop him from hopping over it. He'll be down the slope and on the backside of the hill before he can see the blight: a hole torn into the landscape, bit bigger than a pair of VW buses stuck together. Someone has stuffed a fine fringe of sticks around it, jammed into the ground, and festooned that spot with white or dingy strips of rags. These float in place rather than flying, given the lack of a breeze.

The jumbled up pile of dirt and rock looks like a fresh wound, and sinks down out of sight below ground level. The earth looks like it humped up and fell in a hole to China.

*

Sinjin stops a respectful distance away, surveying for any outlying disturbances — trees, grass, soil that looks out of place. He shuffles to higher ground to take a few pictures, then he takes a slow, spiraling approach toward the hole. After a moment, he stops to listen for any strange sounds. He's also looking for any other tracks or markings on his way in. He's not a bad tracker. He knows how to find animal tracks and footprints, so long as they ground is wet and there's foliage. He'd be lost in the city but, out here, he's got a shot at picking anything up.

*

Not a sound out here stands out from what should be here: the plinking rain, the splash of drops into the puddles, and the distant drone of a bird. Certainly he isn't making out the sound of an engine or a conversation over the hill on the next rounded flank. Clearly not a few people have been here taking a look at the blight, and there are rutted tracks of at least four different vehicles. They don't churn too close to the mucky mass of stones and dirt and a bit of dead grass, a tuft of dead corn sticking out where the stalk was crushed by boulders. Clearly none were willing to risk to getting too close for fear of falling in. There are footprints galore and many little puddles gathered there, hinting they haven't shown up in the last half hour to an hour perhaps.

No animals here, save maybe one dog at the fringes. It's much more interesting that the great hole is spun and spilled down into the heart of the world. Or rather, chunks of stone and such seem to turn and twist down, the heap depressed in the middle.

*

ROLL: Sinjin +rolls 3d10 for a result of: 19 [4 7 8]

*

Well. Sinjin crouches at the edge of the hole. He prods the roots around the outside of the hole, looking for any signs of rot that might indicate the hole was here earlier. Then he snaps some photographs, getting detailed shots of the stones and the way they're arranged and distressed.

This is how he gets in trouble. Sinjin tucks his sunglasses in his jacket pocket, takes a breath, then goes up over the rim, then down in. It's not smart, it's not easy, but he manages to get down with only a few scrapes — and he doesn't end up on his ass at least.

*

Tumbledown stones and thick smears of earth suggest that the ground just arbitrarily decided to go the way of a washing machine. Churn left, churn right, or spin down in a whirligig straight to the core of the earth. The rainfall makes it pretty treacherous for handholds, and the fresh soil laid down is a great way to ruin his clothes. Someone is going to need a bath, honestly, because climbing over and under and around — okay, little under — puts him square on some not very safe or solid material. The footing is uneven, and several skittering falls of sand and gravel accompany him.

At least he reaches the bottom just fine, right? There aren't any signs of large plants being mixed up, only hints of the surrounding cornfield being sucked down. He might even feel a bit dwarfed, peering up at the miserable sky.

And right after twenty-five, thirty seconds, the floor drops out from under him, so to speak; the ground shifts and caves in on itself. Whee!

*

Sinjin never learns — he isn't going to learn from this, either. As he falls, he tries to grab something to slow his descent, and all he's thinking is: "So, this is where it goes." Falling in a hole isn't supposed to bring satisfaction.

*

This is where it goes: a shaft between rocks that isn't wide enough for a man to slither down straight, but he has to wedge and bounce himself through anyways. Then he will unfortunately end up in a gapped chamber without much light, full of a bit of water trickling down, and several irregular boulders, a slab of broken bedrock the size of a kitchen table, and evidence of the whirlwind boring even deeper. But those stratified layers are hard to see, and there aren't any helpful things like writing on the blocks, radiators, or such.

*

With a flick of his lighter, Sinjin has a sphere of fire in his hand. That brings light to look around and — if he must — it'll provide a flare. He's wary of accumulated gas but he needs to see.

Sinjin licks blood off a scrape on his lip, of all places, settles his hat back in place. He explores in the light of his flame. The only way out seems to be through. Or down. He takes a few pictures of the area, then starts after whatever's made this mess.

*

He's in a bubble of shadow, one that becomes a series of irregular, jagged contours formed where the larger chunks of stone and stratified debris basically create a hollow that hasn't fallen in on itself. A bit of dust trickles over the edge where the uneven 'eye' of the downward facing whirlpool, frozen in time, came to a point. It's not there anymore, and he can stretch out his arms fully in the space. Standing up completely straight isn't possible, given the uneven ceiling, but he has a space about as large as an average office cubicle to move about unmolested before he gets to a big stone. Of course, it might be interesting to see the contrast: shattered bedrock, the 'table' made of bits of schist, whereas the gneiss boulder is a bit different in texture and sparkles slightly. Then there are two block blocks of rounded, bulging stone hewn from another source entirely, not covered in flecks of mica but more like roughened red sandstone for one, and the other is smoother, probably more of a sedimentary rather than igneous kind of stone.

Mind, that's all relative when the latter one untucks itself from a rolled up position and starts to creak into motion, shifting as arms slip away, and if it has legs, they're certainly not immediately visible. On the other hand, that doesn't stop it from pulling itself on its fists towards Sinjin.

*

"Oh, motherfucker," Sinjin says clearly. He's never tried to get his fire hot enough to affect stone. He gets up on that 'table' and starts pouring focus into the fireball he was using as a light, shrinking it and heating it at the same time. This is not remotely unnerving.

*

ROLL: Rogue +rolls 1d6 for a result of: 2

*

What is disturbing, being ten feet or so underground in a tenuously stopped whirlpool of living earth, or the /living boulder/ crawling over the ground to him? The other boulders aren't precisely moving, but this one definitely is. Its huge fists, each the size of a telephone set, land and display relatively humanoid fingers in a blocky, much wider and longer shape than a man would have. Those are connected to articulated arms well chiseled with muscles despite being apparently welded together from composite rocks. Moreover, the streaks and veins covering its back and torso are indicative of inclusions of some other kind of stone, like quartz. It looks up—and undoubtedly it looks, for its eyes are pits of coal, and its mouth opens to reveal a number of very blocky, large teeth. Worse still, that thing can make noise, though how is up to science to not figure out this moment.

It rumbles, and the ground seems to vibrate, the walls, the very ceiling. Loose stones tumble down, speckling Sinjin, and now adding dust to his problems. The bedrock slab he's on isn't very stable, either, but it gives some advantage. The clearance over his head isn't very high, though, and he will have to bend; the ceiling doesn't get more than six feet in this bubble. Which is hardly an issue for the rock that lurches back into a crouching position… and there are the legs, thickly hewn, fair to put a Scotsman to complete, total shame. (Seriously, he'd go throw himself in a well, the proverbial Dougal seeing those *fine* thighs.) It utters another clashing sound of syllables, and points an accusing finger at him.

*

"I didn't do it," Sinjin says, putting his hands up defensively. He glances up, squinting against the dust, to see if he can work his way back out the way he came, between the stones. "I'm just a reporter. Just looking." His first move is rarely offensive — it's hard to get information out of someone you just pissed off or incinerated.

*

Another of those replies carves a resonant frequency through his body, vibrating along his bones, pouring through his marrow in waves. It's like standing next to a speaker, the sound waves pouring through the soil and very well liquefying whatever solidity this whole house of terrestrial cards is built upon. It is a man, though, like he just somehow found the goddamned golem of Prague or worse in the middle of a hole. Slinking out is going to take a lot of shimmying and squirming, in addition to the fact it's wet and he hasn't got the greatest handholds out of there. The schist, by the way, also has eyes peering over the fissured crevasse of where its face previously hid by its arms. It… rumbles. The ground shakes. The bubble seems to be deflating.

The smooth one grits out: «Far»th«ut».

*

"Look, if you want to get a message out, I'm your man." The sound waves are tooth-rattling, nauseating, and that's before Sinjin actually thinks about what's happening to the ground around him. "Far-th-ut? What's that?" Sinjin is considering whether or not he can do that thing he did once where he used his fire to shove a tree over without burning it — only this time using it as a thing to stand on. Sometimes, with focus, he can make it have a kind of solidity and not set himself on fire at the same time.

*

The shaky sound repeated from human vocal chords, for which those syllables were barely made, only seems to irritate the thing more. The stone man thrusts its finger up at the opening and stalks forward, not at all concerned to prove it can shuffle on its knees. And yes, it's very much a stone man, not a stone lady. Even if the stony wrappings around it are carved well, they do not quite make up for that fact. The shifting plates reveal little. If Sinjin doesn't show any signs of moving, he may well be tossed from the hole.

*

There's a point in these situations wherein Sinjin stops running roughshod over his phobias and, finally, remembers that he has them. Or, perhaps, they just become so loud he can't ignore them anymore. He invests a huge amount of energy in being fine. Following the story.

More stone and dirt shifts above, the last of the daylight — the way out — gets smaller. That's the tipping point at which Sinjin is actually more afraid of being trapped here than being trapped here with something, more afraid of that than acknowledging his fear.

There's a grinding and a single stone pings off his shoulder and that's it. Everything explodes in white as his fireball unravels and… the next thing he knows, he's in the broken ground at the surface, and everything hurts, and he's on fire just for a second before he pulls it back.

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