The Inquiry Group, led by Dr Armitage of Miskatonic University, discovers two mysterious documents, apparently written in Armitage’s own hand, that point to a failed investigation that leads to the apocalypse.
Associates to the Inquiry Group are summoned by Prof. Albert Wilmarth to the Orne Library:
- Lt. John Dewey (Paul StJohn Mackintosh), of the US Coast Guard Investigative Service,
- Jeremy Griffin (Simon Brake), Arkham dilettante and driving enthusiast,
- Prof. Margaret Hollister (Paul Baldowski), anthropologist at Clark University, Mass.
- Roy Spencer (Adam Gauntlett), perpetual student, book thief and recent magician
There, Wilmarth reveals the documents, their strange arrival and the Inquiry Group’s decision to step back from the investigation and have different people lead it.
The following day, Hollister and Griffin, with Spencer’s assistance, use the university’s laboratories to test the documents more thoroughly. They discover:
- the envelope of the first is badly scorched and stuck down with homemade glue made from flour and water,
- the rusty splotches include human blood from two separate people, and rat blood, as well as unidentifiable substance like blood but with cellular material of no known animal phylum,
- the strange dust is a mix of soot, volcanic ash, soil, and pulverized concrete. In 1, the ink was suffused with these inorganics, while in 2 it overlay the ink, implying that 2 was written first, prior to whatever filled atmosphere with particulates.
- Both had a slightly elevated level of radiation.
Having studied the various leads the group decide to investigate the circus. Dewey makes some enquiries with local law enforcement and discovers it is likely to be Merriweather’s Circus, currently wintering in New England and now in Biddeford, Maine four hours drive to the north.
He also discovers that there have been a series of bloody and unsolved murders in the trail of the circus.
Preparing to leave to catch the evening show, Spencer prepares a travel forensics kits and arranges for photocopies of the documents to be made, allowing the originals to be safely secured at the university.
With Griffin driving a tad too fast for comfort, the group arrive in Biddeford, a coastal manufacturing town, home to University of New England, textile mills, quarries, brickyards, lumber and grain, and many Irish, Albanian and French Canadians from Quebec workers.
After checking into a guest house, the group head to the circus just as the mill workers also arrive with their families. Charmed at the games and attractions they head to the freak show and find Gorgo the Man Ape, a simple man that Prof. Hollister realises has unnatural anatomy. They are interrogating this friendly, is misshapen, soul when the circus strongman, Vladimir Krotka, arrives and demands to know what they’re doing loitering, and forces them to leave.
Spencer then tries to sneak into the carnie-only section of the circus, while the others cause a distraction. He finds Krotka’s travel trailer, but nothing notable within, then the trailer of the owner and ringmaster – Benjamin Hancock. Inside, he discovers a notebook that suggests Hancock has been paying bribes to various police officers where they travel.
Leaving the carnie section, a pile of metal poles collapses on top of him, but he manages to roll out of the way in time. Outside the fencing, Prof. Hollister sees a man run from where the poles were and drop down amongst the trucks. Using the collapse as a distraction, she darts inside and using nearby clothing to disguise herself as a fortune teller, discovers the man believes them to be federal investigators for some reason.
Meanwhile, outside, Krotka is seen carrying the beautiful trapeze artist, Letty O’Fearna, to draw people into the start of the big top show. Some drunken locals throw peanuts at them and suggest Letty is also a prostitute. Spencer draws them away with the promise of beer and proceeds to pickpocket them.
Prof Hollister then heads into the big top to wait for the show, and the others join her. After the show, as people are leaving, there is a scream as the stall operators outside discover the brutally murdered corpse of one of the drunken locals from before. When questioned, one woman says she turned around for just a moment and the next the man was torn apart.