Carrying on with this little series on houses that packed a surprise for the new owner, we now move our attention to Greenville, South Carolina. There, the Brown family bought an old mill home that, like our previous example, harboured a secret, but this time it was one that posed a very real danger to them.
Shortly after moving in, they discovered that behind a bookcase was a “secret room”:
and what was inside was a nightmare beyond their wildest dreams.
"This can't be happening. This can't be true. It terrified me," Kerri Brown told News 4's Tim Waller.
The secret room … contained a handwritten letter from the previous owner titled, "You Found It!"
"Hello. If you're reading this, then you found the secret room. I owned this house for a short while and it was discovered to have a serious mold problem. One that actually made my children very sick to the point that we had to move out,"
The Browns later learned the home contained the worst types of mold including Stachybotrys, the so-called Toxic Black Mold.
[from the news report on the story]
Moulds like Stachybotrys can cause a variety of lung problems, from asthma attacks to bleeding in the lungs. The previous owners had learned about the mould problems the hard way: their kids became so sick that their doctors told them to leave the house. Realising that nobody would buy the house with this problem (fixing it would cost almost as much as the house did itself), they hid it as best they could and put it on the market. But then their conscience pricks up and says, “no, this is not cool”; not strongly enough, it seems to actually own up to the problem, but enough to put in a note saying what the problem was.
This story strikes me as being tremendously creepy; although the problem was found quickly, there was certainly the possibility that they could have missed this message and lived there for years with the mould multiplying behind the makeshift wall. Over time, they grow sicker and sicker, perhaps only later discovering the source of their problems and the letter (itself now covered in mould). That reminds me of Lovecraft’s The color out of space.
Using this device in a game seems a little tricky, as it is a protracted process. Perhaps it would need to involve an NPC, somebody that the players interact with regularly and that goes through a steady decline over time. At first, he is wheezy and mentions that he can’t shift his cold, but his wife tells him to stop his whining and says he’s always been a complainer, so it just seems to be part of his “flavour text”. He gets a little worse and becomes bed-ridden, but he’s still being a little theatrical about it. Gradually, it becomes clear that this is no hypochondriac and he is genuinely declining. Would the players find what the cause was? If they didn’t find it in time to save their friend, when they do find it what do they do next, seek revenge?
Alternatively, for a Cthulhu setting, some of the players take up some lodging in a large house, renting a room there. The owner is a sickly chap with a rasping wheeze, and another tenant is sick too. Perhaps they learn that most tenants don’t hang around too long, and more than one has died (which wouldn’t be so strange in the classic era; back then, TB still has no cure and it’s only a short time after the 1918 flu pandemic). Eventually they might find the secret room with its infected walls; in the Lovecraft world, I suppose that it could do with some kind of shrine or something too. Now, who put this there: a previous owner? a previous tenant? or a current one?