This is the first of what I hope will be a short series of short excerpts from the upcoming Ghouls sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu from Sixtystone Press. Spoiler warnings for the “Paper Chase” scenario.
If you’re a long-time CoC player, you might have run across the scenario “The Paper Chase,” which features a man who loves to read. He encounters ghouls and eventually joins their underground world, occasionally returning to steal books from his house. The lucky investigator tracks him down and speaks with him before he returns to the underworld.
I always loved that scenario and I wanted to incorporate it into the Ghouls book somehow. When re-reading it, I happened across a statement from Kimball that he wanted to write a book about that experience. That made me speculate. How was he going to manage that? He lives in a hole, after all. How would he get it published? Would it be any good? How would he negotiate the boundary between reading books and writing them (something that all writers have had to do on some level)? All of that led to the following creation.
I’d also like to credit Bret Kramer for the format of the tome as given below. Bret, who’s wrapping up his Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion, developed a wonderful in-depth and useful way of describing tomes for his book that I quickly took for my own use.
Life in a New America
Upon opening the package with the scrawled address, most editors throw up their hands and send it back in the enclosed self-addressed, stamped envelope with far too much postage. The paper is yellowing, the writing is a thick scrawl, and the manuscript bears the marks of countless red pens bearing editorial annotations, expressions of consternation and disbelief, and invectives as to the author’s inhumanity and lack of proper style. Numerous rejection letters are kept within the manuscript, most as further sheets of writing paper upon which expansions, additions, and heated responses to the editorial comments have been written. Some pages are crumpled, and others stained with coffee, ink, and less mentionable substances.
Kimball is a ghoul who has been circulating his manuscript for many years. The return address, usually in small-town Michigan (or another locale of the Keeper’s choice), is typically that of an isolated elderly person who rarely checks his or her mail, so Kimball can retrieve the manuscript with little trouble. The surrounding area has experienced a small rash of break-ins in which the only items taken are envelopes, pens, paper, and ink.
Despite his forgetfulness regarding details of human life and poor writing ability, Kimball nonetheless is quite efficient at sending his screeds out to publishers. Those setting up an ambush for him must be particularly vigilant; a successful Scent roll alerts him to the presence of any strangers and causes him to immediately flee. Nonetheless, a careful effort at outreach could eventually lead to an exchange of letters and possibly a meeting, for Kimball is starved for conversation and lonely among the uneducated ghouls. If his fellow ghouls knew of any of this, however, his life would be forfeit.
Research reveals: This manuscript has been making the rounds of practically every publisher in the United States (halved Know roll for an author, editor, or other book trade employee to recognize the title).
Skimming reveals: The author of Life, one “D. Kimball of Michigann”, discusses a strange and wondrous subterranean world in which he dwells with his “friends,” including all its wonders and terrors. The exact nature of his “friends” remains uncertain. Kimball’s stated reason for writing this book is to recruit others to live in what he calls a “New American Utopia.” He gives no real method for contacting his “friends,” however, and his grasp of US culture boils down to vague notions of freedom and the ability to read whenever he so chooses.
(In the final manuscript, I’ll go on to discuss the contents, benefits, and statistics for the book.)