16th of Tenth Month, 280th Year of the Triumvirate
Sleep has been difficult the last couple of days. In addition to the heavy blanket of humidity that hangs over this place, the state of Lelina and its denizens unnerve me. Two years ago this place was considered a boom town. Now, half of the town itself is gone, swallowed by a sinkhole six months back I am told. I can’t help but lay awake at night wondering when the ground beneath us will open up and swallow us whole.
Other things have gone wrong. We were supposed to leave two days ago, but procuring the supplies we need, as well as a guide to take us out to Professor Croshaw, has proven difficult. Mister Mackay’s ability to scrounge up resources has supplied us with what we need, but in at least two cases we ended up supplying the funds needed for people to quit themselves of this place.
We are still without a guide, however. None here are willing to take us. When asked face to face, they express a fear of more sink holes, venomous snakes, and other mundane horrors. But when I turn around I hear whispers of something else stalking the swamps, something elemental and very, very old.
It seems we will have to make due without a guide, as Doctor Trenum has begun to grow anxious and wants to get to the site. We’ve talked to the man who discovered the ruins, Daniel Tomlinson. He pointed us in the right direction. He seemed very distraught, and disconnected.
“It’s like this place just saps the life out of you, yes it does,” he said when I asked if he was okay. I then asked if he had plans to leave. “No. No, I can’t leave. It’s my son, Jack, you see. He’s here, and he don’t have a mom. Just me. I have to wait for him. I have to stay with him, yes I do.”
I hadn’t seen or heard any sign of children around the house, but I didn’t say anything. The man was obviously grieving.
Mister Mackay corroborated Tomlinson’s account of where the ruins were with several other townsfolk who had seen the site. We will set off on our own in the morning.
18th of Tenth Month, 280th Year of the Triumvirate
We arrived at the site early this afternoon, only to discover that it has been abandoned. We’ve found no sign that Croshaw and his team was ever here, except for a single scrap of torn canvas, likely from one of their tents.
Doctor Trenum is livid at this development. She’s been cursing under her breath all day, decrying Croshaw’s short comings as an archaeologist. Underneath her frustration, however, is a hint of concern for the well-being of her colleagues. I’ve seen her glancing toward Meriam and Nico, who have taken up a spot on the root of a nearby tree while Mackay and his men work to set up our own campsite; not the easiest process, considering that we’re in a swamp.
Rothery and Babin have taken to examining the five stones, which they say aren’t stones at all, but some sort of metal alloy. They also say that the pillars appear to be just the upper most part of a much larger structure, underground.
With the camp finally set up, Mackay began handing out rations. Gator jerky, he told us. He promised to take his men out on a hunt in the morning. I’ve asked to go with them, and though Mackay seemed hesitant, he agreed.
21st of Tenth Month
It’s been an arduous few days, but we are mostly in good spirits. Meriam has come out of whatever fright she’d succumbed to upon our discovery that Croshaw was missing and begun assisting Doctors Rothery and Babin. She tried assisting Doctor Trenum, but Doctor Trenum would have none of it.
Her mood has grown extremely dark the past few days, and she hasn’t been sleeping. None of us have. On the odd occasion when she isn’t studying the heavy door and whispering under her breath about what may be contained within, she and Mister Mackay wander off and don’t come back for several hours. They don’t come back smiling, however, as they did in the ports and aboard the steam boat over the course of our journey here. They come back looking more exhausted than before. At least their moods are better, for the most part.
The hunt I accompanied mister Mackay on the day after our arrival turned up naught but a single rabbit, which we gave to Nico and Meriam. I was offered a portion as well, but turned it down so that it could be given to one of the younger men on Mackay’s team. He’s a nice fellow, named Gustavo. He tells me this is his first expedition with Mackay.
“An opportunity, I thought,” Gustavo told me over that portion of rabbit. “I’ll get to work with one of the greatest hunters west of the Miskaton River, learn some of the greatest secrets of the colonial frontier. And it has been, and I have. But Brick isn’t entirely what I expected.”
He didn’t elaborate, and when I pushed he withdrew, thanking me for giving him the rabbit. I’ve tried speaking with him since, not for information or interview, but for companionship. I suppose he just sees me as a reporter, though, and is guarded.
Enough on that, though. Something else occurred during the hunt, something I haven’t discussed with anyone else. I’m not even sure I saw it myself, and I fear what the others might think should I tell them.
We were on our way back, with that single rabbit dangling from a stick, when I once again heard that same rhythmic sound of machinery in the distance. It had the same cadence as before, that of footsteps. When I stopped to listen, it ceased. Almost as though it were the audio equivalent of a shadow that appears in your peripheral vision only to vanish when you look straight at it.
It began again as I started to walk, and to my unease it sounded much louder. One of the others even expressed that they heard something odd. Mackay ceased our procession and we listened.
“I don’t hear anything,” Mackay said, and he was right, but to a much more frightening degree. The swamp around us was dead silent; I could hear no sound of frogs croaking or birds chirping. The waters around us were still. Where before I had seen the constant flickering of schools of tiny fish, I saw nothing but green murk. I scanned the trees around us. The swamp spread out in every direction, a tangle of vines and moss. Nothing seemed overly peculiar, except for one tree, far in the distance.
The branches didn’t seem quite right, their geometry too symmetrical and their surface too smooth. And they were moving slightly, despite a lack of wind. I stared more intently, squinting my eyes, following those strange symmetrical branches down to their source, a small white clump protruding from the backside of the tree. Its shape was lean and narrow and riddled with deep hollows that looked almost like the eyes sockets of a skull…
“Let’s get moving,” Mckay said, calling my attention away. When I looked back, I could not locate those branches again. I searched for a moment longer before following the others. Once again I heard the sound of steady machinery, like footsteps. It was further away now.
Eventually, it just faded away.