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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The thing with being the most famous fictional slot car club in the world is that you get a lot of ineresting mail. A lot of weird stuff included. We should have some sort of filtering system, but Coxie Cooper-Archer, our dedicated club secretary, reads it all. He's still enthusiastic, a keen racer, and not one to turn down any sort of invitation. His wife, Lil Cooper-Archer, encourages him in this. Back in the seventies she was known as a real 'people-person'- always outgoing, never one to miss the opportunities to meet new people and plumb their depths.

We should have had a clue on the night he brought the post in. It was dark and stormy. As he closed the club door behind him there was an unearthly scream from outside.
'Ow! Mind my nose!' Eric had been standing right behind it.
As Coxie dropped the mail on the bar, there was a huge peal of thunder, and a crack of lightning struck the club roof.
He picked up a large vellum letter, addressed by hand in gothic script and with a strange postmark in the corner as a spine-chilling howl rent the air. Someone had trodden on Derek's tail out in the kitchen.
'Hmm. Never seen a Transylvanian stamp before' muttered Coxie as he slit open the envelope.
As he unfolded the thick paper, the clubroom lights suddenly flickered and died briefly, then stuttered back to a half-dimmed gloom.
'Anyone got a candle or a torch or something?' Coxie called out.
'How about my Monte Carlo Rally Mk1 Escort with xenon lighting? It'll still work off the capacitor for a few minutes- here. Look- works fine' said Claudia.
'Excellent, excellent' Coxie continued. 'Now let me see.... It says;

Dear most excellent slot racers of esteemed Vest Hamley. Is my pleasure to invite to annual Slot Car and Electric Automobile Meeting. Zis year at mine own humble residency of Karrera Castle, Strombekva, Transylvania. Pliss to come viz all of your famous cars and drivers. All expenses paid. R.S.V.P.
Your wery humble and obedient servant,
Count Zlotski
P.S.
HAH Hah haaaar!

Well. We've never been to Transylvania, have we Lil. This sounds like a fine opportunity. I shall R.S.V.P. immediately, if that's alright with the rest of the committtee.'

As he spoke, a bat fluttered through the rafters of the club room, smashed into an upper window and continued it's fluttering flight unhindered out into the West Hamley Night. Outside, the shutters creaked noisily in the wind and slammed against the wall.

'No, no problems there at all' said Clint. 'Absolutely! Transylvania? Hmm. Sounds interesting. Wonder what the beer's like?' said Bruno, sparking off a long conversation about the relative attributes of obscure European lagers. No-one noticed that the club lights had returned to normal levels. The clouds had passed over and the storm had blown itself out. Anyone looking out of the club at the tranquil West Hamley night sky- although no-one did, everyone being either fully absorbed in the racing on the track or deep in taste-testing various bottled brews which Helix had brought up from the cellar- would have seen, silhouetted in the full moon, a large bat. Heading eastward.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
The next afternoon was clear and bright as the club members reconvened for a shakedown session. Many had new cars for the season, and much attention was focussed on Eric's new 'Death By Solder' multiflex chassis. Clint was intending to carry on with last season's Dome-Judd, but with a few refinements he'd been working on. He wanted to see how it would stand up to the new designs, especially Bruno's much fancied Aston DB9. Inspector Thumb's Bentley Speed 8 was rolling round as per usual, but everyone knew he was nursing a brand new Evo 20 Puma can in there. Argent's lolly-stick Citroen 2CV was surprisingly fast, and looked spectacular listing from side to side through the turns on it's extra loose body mounts. All the rest of the crew had new builds, and were deep in the pits, lubing, fettling and grinding new parts prior to their nervously anticipated track debuts.
The intense atmosphere had everyone in its grip. A roll of thunder passed unnoticed. So did a sudden darkening of the skies outside the clubroom windows. The crack of lighning was so loud and vivid though, that everyone looked up for an instant, involuntarily.
A torrent of rain burst like machine gun fire, masking a rumble of wheels on the driveway. But a squeal of brakes, a slew of big rubber tyres and a slamming door rose above the general din. The club lights flickered and dimmed again, and in the half-light the doors swung open.
Everyone blinked, squinted, readjusting to the light, and the tall, black cloaked figure framed in the entrance seemed literally to materialise bit by bit.
He was glistening from the rain. Black from the tip of his calf-length riding boots to the strangely incongruous full-face Bell helmet that covered his head. An equally black tinted visor hid his eyes from view. His black gauntlets creaked as he beckoned to the crowd gathered round the track.
'I am Igor. Come. Come vith me.' An impossibly deep dry voice issued from behind the visor.
'I beg your pardon?' said Coxie. 'Come? Where? Who are you exactly?'
The rain continued to lash the street behind the dark figure, bouncing and spitting back from the pavement. Creatures began to gather at the open doorway for shelter. A bedraggled squirrel ran in, followed by a stray cat, then a crippled raven hobbled in and looked squarely into Coxie's eyes. Finally a bat looped around the shining Bell helmet and settled on the stranger's shoulder.
'I am Igor!' the resonant voice repeated. 'Igor Blimey. Mine vather vas from Bradford. But in Strombekva, I am ze representative of... Ze Count!'
'The who?' stuttered Coxie.
'No. Zey haff never been ze same zince Moony died. I mean ze Count Zlotski. You haff had ze inwitation. Zo you vill all come. Vith me.' His enormous black leather sheathed finger beckoned once more.
'But I havn't even sent our reply! We're not ready! This is ridiculous! Some of us have work to do in the morning- Thumb and Argent in particular have a heavy caseload of slot-car felonies to deal with. We can't all come- just like that- to Transylvania! Don't be ridiculous man!'
The black figure was impassive. Suddenly the visor of his helmet flicked up, and an eerie light beamed on to everyone in the room.
'You vill all come vith me. Now!' The voice had a new and irresistable quality in it. Drained of all willpower, the West Hamley racers slumped into a blind and passive stupor. Except for Derek, who was sniffing suspiciously at the stray cat.
'Vun-two-Zthree! You're back in the room!' Intoned Igor, snapping his gloved fingers deftly. His black visor slid back down the helmet, and he turned on his heels.
The entire club membership silently packed away their pitboxes and followed him into the night. With glazed eyes and automatic movements they boarded an ancient old coach parked up in the driveway. Jet black, apart from a logo painted in silver gothic lettering along the side;
'The Tragic Bus. Count Zlotski's Overland to Transylvania. One way only.'
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Only Derek the slot-racing sheep dog seemed unaffected by Igor's hypnotic powers. He watched suspiciously from his little hide-out under the track, and furtively followed his club-mates onto the coach. As Igor started the engine, and the bat settled again upon his shoulder, Derek curled himself up at the back beneath Claudia's seat, and kept one beady eye open while he licked his nether regions- something he often did in moments of stress.
The coach flew down the lanes of West Hamley, onto the motorways and then into the Channel Tunnel at an almost incredible speed. Derek was not used to travelling by coach, but the blackness outside gave him no clue as to where they were. The coach emerged from the Tunnel, still under the cloak of night, Igor impassively at the wheel, and raced across the autoroutes of Europe.

Suddenly the coach swerved and screached to a halt. Without turning his head, Igor spoke, his resonant baritone voice slow and heavily accented.
'Rest stop. Tsrfski Services. Vun half hour only. Ve haff many more miles to trawel bifore zunrise. Anyvun not back on ze coach in prezisely half-an-hour vill be left behind!'
Igor pushed open the door, and with the bat fluttering beside him, headed for a little shed beside the main building where other coach drivers were congregating. Derek watched closely. They were a strangely mixed bunch. Shuffling giants, some trailing white bandages, hunch-backs and dwarves- one appeared to lack a head within the high-turned collar of an old-fashioned cloak.
This was Derek's chance. He jumped up and began snuffling at Claudia's ear. Nothing would shift her from the zombie-like trance which seemed to have everyone in its grip. Finally he dragged his slobbery tongue across her face, and with a slight shiver, Claudia woke abruptly.
'Ugh! Derek! Don't think I don't know where that tongue's been!- Wh-where am I' she said, imaginatively.
'Somewhere in western Transylvania, as far as I can tell. Quick. We've got less than half an hour to get off this bus and away from Igor. I don't like the cut of his jib.'
Derek ran up and down the aisle, licking everyone out of their stupor, while Claudia explained the situation. In the darkness, they collected their slot-boxes and sneaked off the coach. As Eric pulled the door closed behind him, Derek spotted Igor emerging from the driver's shed.
'Zo. No-vun iss here?' Igor glanced at his wrist watch and turned slowly to address the bat perched on his left shoulder. 'I varned zem. But zey vouldn't listen. Stupid tourists! Ve teach zem, eh, Squeaky?'
Igor turned the ignition and drove the empty bus away into the Transylvanian night.

Crouched behind another coach in the parking lot with the rest of the West Hamley slot racers, Claudia turned to Derek.
'What do we do now?' she said, predictably.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Coxie, as usual, took charge.
'We'd best start walking. We don't want to hang around here. I don't like the look of those other characters in the coach driver's rest rooms. Especially if they're friends of Igor.'
'You're right Coxie. Let's hit the road. It won't be long before we arrive at some isolated peasant village, I'm sure' said Clint. 'Then we can ask the locals for shelter for the night, and directions to Karrera Castle.'
'Ok' said everyone.

They were not so sure, several hours later, as the West Hamley team trudged through bleak mountain passes echoing to the howl of wolves. Derek scampered on ahead, keeping a beady eye out for the bears, whose presence he detected from their strong scent. Whole swarms of bats would suddenly wheel and swoop at them from the blackness, and huge clouds rolled across the face of the full moon, plunging the precipitous pathway into total darkness. Somewhere in the distance they could hear a soundtrack of high-pitched violins, sawing away at a nervous tremolo.
'See- we can't be far from civilisation. I can hear music!' said Coxie cheerfully.
'I'm hungry' said Eric, with conviction.
And as they turned the next corner, a faint light glimmered in the distance.
'Look! I bet it's a pub!' said Bruno.
The group quickened its pace, and as they drew nearer and the light got bigger and brighter, they saw to their astonishment that he was right.
'It's OK. I've seen the film, I think' Bruno added in explanation.
A great creaking board hung over the low oak door. Claudia, who was the most educated of the team, studied the hand-painted script for some time.
'The Vampire's Arms' she translated. 'Bar snacks. Beer Garden and Family Room. Best Rhesus Positive and Group O on draught'.
'Just what the doctor ordered!' whooped Lil.

Coxie pushed open the door, and the murmur of voices and the small string orchestra within fell silent. The West Hamley racers filed into a smoke filled, low-ceilinged room bedecked with garlic bouquets. Strange squinty eyes peered at them from the gloom. A large open fire held a spit, which was being turned by a dwarf. The dimly glowing embers in the grate did little but add to the discomfort of the large black cat which on the spit, whose tortured howls were briefly the only sound to be heard.
'Jerry! Stop that! Let Tom go!' called a voice from behind the bar.
The howls ceased, and the cat limped away across the rush-covered floor.
'Well, ladies and gentlemen. What can we do for you on this cold, dark night?'
'Aha! Well. We're- uh- lost and weary travellers..' said Coxie.
'Well that's obvious. We don't get much passing trade around here.'
'We're from West Hamley. In England. We're slot racers..'
'West Hamley! By the saints! You have come to Strombekva to race? Marvellous! We have not had any decent racing around here for years- not since the goverment dropped the mains current to 5 volts. You have brought your equipment? Quick! Tibor! Zoltan! Dust down the track. Boris! Bring food for our visitors! Elena! Dance! Tonight there will be slot racing again in Strombekva!'
The string orchestra struck up a strange loping peasant tune in 13/8 time, and various assymetrically-shaped folk began a clumping dance around the feeble light of the fireplace. A choir of bass voices began a clamorous chorus which seemed to consist of the words 'Hail West Hamley! Masters of the Slots! With grace they race with style and pace and knock from us the spots!
'Wonderful! Wonderful! Thank you so much' said Coxie. 'I can't tell you how much it means to get a friendly welcome. We've had a strange journey you know. But really, we would appreciate your help in finding Castle Karrera.'
The violins ground to a grating halt. The hobbled dancing stopped instantly. The choir silenced in mid-syllable.
'C-c-c-c-castle Karrera, did you say?' stuttered the barman.
'Um, Yes. We have an invitation from uh- wait, I have the letter here.'
Dozens of pairs of eyes followed Coxie's movements as he rifled self-conciously through his pockets. The sudden silence was oppressive. Each West Hamley member could feel and hear their heart thud against their chest. Not a breath was drawn in the Vampire's Arms.
'Yes. Here we are. Count Zlotski.'
The sudden exhalation of breath scoured the room like a typhoon. Scores of nervous voices started chattering at once, and long tremulous fingers pointed at the West Hamley team through the fug. The name Count Zlotski seemed to echo and re-echo around the walls. It was on everyone's lips.
The barman looked straight into Coxie's eyes, his own eyes wide and staring.
'Count Zlotski, eh? No-one has been up there for years! No-one has dared! The Castle Karrera is his private domain! Are you sure? Let me look at that letter!'
He seized the crumpled sheet from Coxie's hand. The room fell silent again as the barman scanned the letter.
'It's true!'
Again, the occupants of the tavern gasped audibly. The barman returned his gaze to Coxie.
'This can mean only one thing...' he said slowly.
'The Count is re-opening Castle Karrera Raceway!'
There was an immediate whoop of joy and exultation, the music and the dancing struck up again, and foaming tankards appeared out of no-where, to be thrust into the hands of the West Hamley team.
'We must delay you no longer! The Count awaits you! There will be racing again in Strombekva! The oppressed people of the village will be able to dust off their cars, warm up their soldering irons, flex their thumbs once more! Welcome, welcome, and good fortune to you, the legendary racers of West Hamley! You bring good fortune to Transylvania. Ahh..' the barman's face grew wistful and he sighed a long sigh. 'Maybe we can return again to the golden age when every village had a raceway, every child had a home set, every father could solder a chassis and every woman loved a slot racer!'
'Excellent, excellent ' said Coxie. 'Perhaps you could direct us to the Castle?'
'Yes yes yes of course.' replied the barman, who by now had tears streaming down his face. 'Let me see. Hmm. The Count refers to the Slot Car Racing Electrical Automobile Meeting. Yes, yes. A lot of the local castles have gone into Corporate Entertainment these days. Now let me think. If you go down the path towards the forest, you'll pass the sign for the Sour Cream Recipe Exhibition And Monument, then a bit further on, on the same side you'll see the Spinal Clamp Replacement Experience and Arm Manipulation corporation. Then it's Castle Karrera on your left immediately afterward. There'll be a big sign for the Slot Car Racing Electrical Automobile Meeting, I'm sure.'
'So it's down the forest path, and third S.C.R.E.A.M. on the left' said Coxie.
'That's it, sir. Third SCREAM on your left. May the gods go with you.'
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
The motley crew of the West Hamley Slot Car Club began it's tramp through the forests of Strombekva, fortified by copious drafts of the local 'Draculager' brew, and generous platefuls of particularly toothsome black pudding- apparently another local speciality. Lil had gratefully stuffed a couple of spares under her skirt in case of night starvation, as she said at the time.
Coxie led the way, Inspector Thumb close behind, the collar of his ever-practical Detective's trenchcoat turned up against the cold wind which howled around the rocks and trees with an oddly human tone. Bruno walked beside Claudia, Eric escorted Lil, stooping anxiously as black puddings occasionally fell from her undergarments. Derek the slot racing dog scampered alongside as Clint paced impassively, holding hard onto his precious pitbox, while Argent, as always, brought up the rear.
Inspector Thumb glanced at his wristwatch, consulted his Scotland Yard notebook and realised with alarm that they had now been in absolute darkness for 36 hours. Would the sun never come up? he wondered.
There was no sign of it. In fact, the skies were darkening even further as the forest path grew narrower, and the overhanging boughs eclipsed the faint light of the stars. Nervous twitterings and scamperings in the undergrowth gave way to heavier footfalls and lower growling noises. Thorny branches hung lower and lower, and lashed their faces as they penetrated further into the wood.
Bruno felt a chill run down his spine.
Clint felt a feathery hand pass over his lower back.
'Mmm. Nice.' said Argent.

Aiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

A hellish scream split the air ahead, followed by the crash of a falling body.
'What-who-where' called Coxie, trying to get his bearings in the darkness. A rhythmic creaking, and a faint flashing glint of light gave him his answer.
Lil was sprawled on the ground, a lump on her forehead the size of a traffic cone, and black puddings scattered and rolling around her feet. She groaned, and pointed upward with a limp finger.
A huge oak board was swaying in the wind above her, the imprint of her forehead on the lower edge.

'The Sour Cream Recipe Exhibition and Monument. 500 metres this way. The Dairy Marketing Board of Transylvania welcomes you to the Sour Cream Theme Park. An exciting once-in-a-lifetime experience the family will never forget. Come one, come all. Bring your own herring!'

Coxie read the board slowly. 'Great! We're on the right track, team! That's the first SCREAM on the left. C'mon Lil old girl. Get some of that black pudding inside you, and we'll be on our way. Everyone got their pitboxes safe? We'll be racing tonight at the Castle Karrera Raceway!'

It was the incentive the team needed. Eric and Coxie each looped an arm round Lil, and guided her trembling body through the undergrowth.
A sudden swoop of unusually large bats crashed through the trees, tearing locks of hair from Claudia's head. Red eyes flashed at them from the forest, and a stomach churning howl split the night air.
'Some poor wolf has just mislaid his lottery ticket' translated Derek.
Nevertheless, the team walked with ever more caution, forced to stoop lower as the trees crowded the path.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaieeeeeeeeeeeee!

For a second time the group came to a sudden blood-chilled halt. Everyone turned
and groped in the oppressive darkness for their colleagues and friends.

'It's me! I've been taken from behind!' Argent's familar call brought the friends back to where the Sergeant stood, aparently transfixed by a curious iron device which swung from a gnarled oak tree.

Coxie looked closely. 'Aha! Good news! We're still on the right track! Look at this!'
Squinting closely he read the sign nailed to the tree.

'Free spinal test! How rigid is your backbone? Does this hurt? If so, check out our
Spinal Clamp Replacement Experience and Arm Manipulation therapy course. All part of the Transylvanian Spinal Clamp Corporation Business Park. 500 metres this way. Families welcome, but special reduced rates for 18 year old single females and Werewolves.'

Having extricated Argent from the fearsomely medieval-looking iron clamps, the group continued. 'I think I'll need some ointment on that' were Argent's last words on the matter.
'Keep a good look out for the Slot Car Racing Electrical Automobile Meeting sign, lads! That's what we're looking for- the third SCREAM on the left' called Coxie, blissfully unaware of a sudden bolt of lightning which flashed from the coal-black sky and fortuitously felled the seven-foot bear poised with dagger-like claws extended, ready to sweep Coxie's head clean from his shoulders.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
The West Hamley team followed the overgrown path up the hill to the left, anxiously crouching behind Coxie as he battled his way through the undergrowth. After a while they caught sight of a large notice board attached to a ricketty fence, and Inspector Thumb peered closely at the scratched and peeling lettering.

'Welcome to Castle Karrera' he read.
'Home of Transylvanian Slot Racing and the Slot Car Racing and Electrical Automobile Meeting of Strombekva. Managed by the Transylvanian National Trust.
Entrance; Adults 10 zlotys. OAPs and children 5 zlotys. Virgins and bats free. Torture chamber and dungeon tour 6 zlotys extra, bank holidays only.
Families welcomed, but nubile young women preferred. Please visit Ye Olde Souvenir rip-off shop, Restaurant, and Blood Transfusion Unit. Leave all stakes, mirrors and crucifixes in the cloakroom. No Photography.'

'Sounds cool' said Clint. 'A raceway with a gimmick. Couldn't half do with a place to sit down after all this tramping.'
'Wait a minute' said Thumb. 'There appear to be nail holes across here... hmm.' He bent down and retrieved a narrow board that had fallen face down in the mud and leaf litter. He picked it up. 'Closed. By order of Count Zlotski' he read mournfully. Turning back, Coxie said 'we might as well go home,' but then Claudia pointed out a familiar shape in the coach park. 'Look! Igor!' she said.
Sure enough, the old black charabanc was parked up in the moonlight not a hundred yards away, a black helmetted figure motionless in the driver's seat. The party set off, Derek trotting and yelping by their sides, until Bruno grasped the passenger door handle and yanked.
The door came open, and Igor came with it. For an instant, the leather-clad figure lay sprawled in the dirt, but then a hissing sound came from the helmet, then a faint misty emanation, and all Igor's clothes wrinkled and collapsed into the ground, empty. Then Thumb noticed the silver spike protruding from his chest. He bent down and flipped open the visor of Igor's helmet. He shrank back quickly as a single bat emerged, frantically flapping it's wings until it gained altitude and began an erratic flight towards the towering spires of an ancient castle, suddenly revealed as the moon emerged from behind another black cloud.
'Ohh! There it is! There's the castle' yelped Lil. 'let's see if we can get a cup of tea.'
'Not so fast' said Thumb. 'I want to know what happened to Igor.'
'Oh you- you just can't stop being a policeman for five minutes, can you?' said Lil. 'We're on holiday, for goodness sake! I need a cup of tea. And a biscuit would be nice.'
She was already half-way to the immense oaken doors that stood beneath a crumbling stone gateway. Thumb hurried after her, but her hand was already on the huge black iron skull-shaped knocker.
'Lil! Wait! It could be dangerou...'
She had already dropped the iron skull back against the striker plate laid into the dark panelled timber.
As it struck, clouds of dust billowed around the hinges, through every gap in the warped and disintegrating gatehouse. A sound like the god of thunder waking up with a hangover reverberated through the mighty castle Karrera. Bats flew up in their thousands from the battlements, their leathery wings clattering against the air like a ripped sails in an ocean storm. Wolves began a pitiable wailing in the surrounding woods. Lighting flashed like Neptune's crooked trident spearing the heart of a volcano. Chains clanked and metal clashed. Mighty eagles wheeled in the sky, their keening cries echoing across the mountains.
'Oh? Really? Not to worry- they're probably still asleep in there. If we just shuffle away quietly...' Lil whispered against the cataclysmic caterwauling coming from inside and out of the towering castle.
'Too late, I think, dear' said Coxie.
A panel in the door was sliding slowly open, and a pair of red eyes flashed out at the trembling team from West Hamley.
'Hello my loves!'
A reedy voice issued from behind the doors.
'Such a long way you've come, dear hearts. And stupid, stupid Igor! He just could never be trusted! You must have walked all the way from Tsrfski! Come in! Come in... take the weight off your feet!'
With a huge and painful grating, like tectonic plates grinding deep below the ground, the huge oak doors pulled ponderously back. A slight and solitary figure, dressed as an eighteenth-century footman in tight white breeches and a white pommaded wig stood holding a flickering and guttering candelabra. His narrow face was thick with white powder, and his mouth glistened with blood-red lippy.
'Which one of you is Sergeant Argent? I've heard sooo much about you, chuck. Make yourselves comfy while I rouse the Count. He's just dying to see you all. Won't be a jiffy!' He blew a kiss and disappeared into the stygian gloom of a vast reception hall.
The West Hamley team looked around them in a state of panic, as the massive doors slammed shut behind them.
All except Sergeant Argent, who had a gleam in his eye and a smirk on his lips.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
They didn't have to wait long. In an instant, blood-red candles placed all around the walls spontaneously stuttered into light, casting a hellish glow around the hall. Ghastly portraits in gilt frames flickered in and out of view, as did stuffed bears rearing with claws extended, ancient suits of armour and great clusters of swords, lances and flails. The hall was too vast to see the furthest wall, but soon three figures emerged into the shallow pool of ruddy light. First was the footman- second and third were two weird figures who seemed to glide across the floor, almost as if they were hovering an inch or so above it. Billowing black cloaks trailed behind them, and pale, white faces emerged from the high collars. They stopped immediately in front of the cowering West Hamley team.
'Greetings, esteemed guests! Welcome to Castle Karrera! I am your humble host, Count Zlotski. And this is my sister, Likya.'
'Likya?' said Lil, slightly baffled. 'His sister? So you must be Likya Zlotski. Odd name, ain't it?'
'Not here in Strombekva, my dear' answered the woman. 'Likya Zlotski by name, and likya by nature, my dear!' The woman laughed softly and licked her ruby red lips slowly. 'You must be Lil- and you, yes! You are Claudia! I have heard so much about you darlings. Come, come with me and let's be girls together, while the men have all their tiresome discussions. I have a boudoir upstairs in the Taxidermy Turret, all prepared for you. I'm sure you need to bathe and rest after your journey. Please! You will come!' Likya Zlotski raised a finger from the folds of her black silken cloak and beckoned irresistably with a long purple fingernail. She turned and glided silently away, with Lil and Claudia following mutely.
'Good, good! Let the women folk do their feminine things. But it is too late for talk now- the sun will rise soon. Floristan here will guide you to your room, gentlemen. Rest! Sleep deeply after your travels! Tomorrow night- We race! Ha! Ha! Haaaaaaaar!' With that, the Count wrapped himself in his cloak, and turned slowly in a wide arc, and floated back the way he had come, with a slight hum.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
'So, my dear, dear friends! Time for your beauty sleep... not that you need it, Sergeant Argent. What a fine figure you are!'
Floristan ushered the remaining West Hamley racers through dark corridors, up steep stone stairways, deeper and further into the sinister Castle Karrera. Inspector Thumb's detective instincts kept him searching for clues, markers for their passage through the castle and a possible escape route. Ahead of him, Floristan and Argent were deep in conversation, the flickering light from Floristan's candelabra casting strange two-headed shadows across the cobweb strewn walls.
'Here we are my loves!' Floristan suddenly exclaimed with a flourish. 'Your suite!'
He pushed open a heavy arched door, and a disturbed fluttering sound echoed within. As he set the candles down on a dresser, Thumb noticed dark shapes escaping through the narrow mullioned window.
'Your beds for the night, dearies' said Floristan, indicating a row of bunk beds. 'Snuggle down comfy. Here, Mr Argent. I've left a little bell by your bed- if you need anything during the night.... I'll be ready for your tinkle!'
With that, Floristan took a single candle and left, closing the door behind him with a dusty thud.
'Well well well. I wonder who the opposition is?' said Coxie.
'Opposition? What do you mean?' said a rather nervous Eric.
'Who we're racing against tomorrow, of course. What a strange place.'
'You can say that again' said Thumb. 'Did you notice the Count's shoes?'
'Can't say I did' said Bruno. 'There's not a great deal of light to see by.'
'Hmm,' muttered Thumb. 'But I could. The count's shoes- looked remarkably like a pair of 1/24 Avus Mercedes. Odd.'
'Well, not really- this is the Castle Karrera after all.' Argent replied. ' Well. I don't know about you, but I'm going to get my beauty sleep as Floristan recommended. What a friendly fellow he is.'
The West Hamley racers suddenly realised just how tired they all were, and pulling their pit boxes onto the large mahogany dresser which seemed to be the only other furniture in the room, prepared themselves for their hard bunks and coarse blankets.
'Night night Sir!' whispered Argent.
'Get to sleep, Sergeant. Keep to your side of the bed. And don't you dare touch that bell.'

Thumb blew out the remaining candles. Within seconds it seemed as if every one in the room was fast asleep. Arrhythmic snoring echoed around the room like a misfiring Napier Railton. But Thumb was on the alert. Every fibre of his Scotland Yard trained body sensed danger. There was definitely something odd about this place and it's occupants. He lay down under the itchy coverlet, watching the door through the half-open slit of one eye, and the high, narrow window with the other.

He didn't have to wait long. The door began to inch open. Small clouds of dust trenbled in the air and the hinges creaked softly. A faint glow of moonlight shone through the high window, enough for Thumb's trained eyes to make out shapes and movement.
The door opened only a few inches and stopped. Thumb waited with baited breath, but no-one entered. He felt for the huge stiff truncheon which he always took with him to bed, only to have his hand grasped affectionately by the sleeping Argent.
Sergeant Argent sighed contentedly in his sleep and rolled happily toward Thumb, bringing the blanket with him, and pinning the Inspector in the bed.
Thumb waited anxiously a little longer, stifling his urge to scream and throw Argent as far across the room as he could. But then his keen eye detected a subtle movement. A hand was tampering with the team's pitboxes. He lifted his head gingerly above the blanket.
A hand. A hand for sure, but without a body.
Thumb's eagle eyes nearly popped from their sockets. A disembodied hand was working at the pitboxes with a pick-lock. Four fingers and an opposable digit, with nothing behind the wrist. The fingers flew with speed and accuracy, and soon had all the West Hamley boxes open. Dextrously, it removed the cars, one by one. His own Speed 8, the DB9, everything- even Argent's 2CV. The hand piled the cars up delicately in a small wooden trolley which Thumb now saw on the stone floor. When all the West Hamley team cars had been transferred to the little trolley, the hand scampered down the dresser like a disgustingly huge spider, took up the handle of the trolley, and pulled it from the room.
Thumb leapt from the bed, wrenching himself brutally free from Argent's grasp, and followed into the cold, dank and inky black corridors of Castle Karrera.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
It was dark. But the scurrying sound of the hand and the creaking wheels of the wagon led Thumb on while his eyes became accustomed to the gloom. The corridor seemed to bend constantly to the left, and the noises were always issuing from around the next corner. Slowly Thumb began to pick out details; evil loooking portraits staring down from the wall, shapeless masses of long-expired candle wax on black iron spikes, tiny arrow-slit windows giving glimpses of the moon, and strange glinting lines on the floor- for all the world like...
Then a piercing scream shattered his concentration. Up ahead, on the left- anguished wails, gasps of horror... Thumb hurried his pace and found himself outside another oak doorway on the left hand side, from behind which these tortured, inhuman cries were issuing.
Thumb steeled himself and felt for his truncheon, which was always a comfort in times of anxiety. The only other thing he had about him was his Scotland Yard issue handcuffs. He patted his back pocket where they lay to reassure himself, then with a sudden intake of breath, kicked the door open.
He was not prepared for the sight which met his eyes. It was a torture chamber, a prison cell, filled with...
He grasped his truncheon tighter.
Six near-naked women were shackled to the far wall. Pale-skinned, each one crowned with luxurious blonde hair, and wearing only the skimpiest of bikinis. Their long white thighs glowed in the dim light, their glinting eyes and bright white teeth illuminating the room for Thumb's astonished eyes. It was the girl third from the left who was screaming. With good reason.
A spider the size and shape of a wicket-keepering glove had descended from a vast web in the corner of the low ceiling, and was dangling menacingly before the poor girl's eyes. Thumb needed only a minute or two to tear his eyes away from the ghastly parade of bound and manacled bathing beauties and act.
He tore his trilby hat from his head and in one swift movement engulfed the spider within its worn and floppy crown. He slammed it on the stone floor, and even as the creature's ghastly needle like legs began to emerge and grope for freedom and vengeance from beneath the brim, Thumb raised his size twelve Scotland Yard boots, and jumped.
The groping legs continued to wave agonisingly from the sides of the flattened trilby for a sickeningly long time, but slowly, one by one, collapsed and lay flat on the cold dark floor.
'O my gaaahd!' said one of the women in a high pitched and heavily accented voice. 'Thank you thank you thank you kind sir! Jeez Louise! We've been here the longest time! You gotta help us!'
Thumb surveyed his crumpled and gooey hat. 'Well. I'll never wear that one again. But just a minute' His lightning mind refocussed on the other occupants of the room. 'Who are you? What are you doing here?'
'Well, allow me to introduce myself and my friends here. I'm BeaJay. We're the Venice Beach California Ladies Outdoor Slot Racing Team. Established 1960. Dedicated to beach slot racing and swimwear fashion. Count Zlotski invited us here for the Slot Car Racing Electric Automobile Meeting five years ago. But as soon as we arrived in this creepy place, the Count swiped all our cars, and his sister Lickya, locked us away in here. Since then...'
The woman turned her face aside slightly, unwilling to go on.
The girl on her left took up the story. 'We've been kept here as her- her playthings! Her slaves! Yes- she feeds us well, keeps us fit and strong- we're even allowed a sun-lamp to keep our tans toned, but we've been locked in this dungeon for five years! I wanna see California again! I wanna race my car again! I wanna see this year's swimwear fashions... Thongs? Or one-piece with cutaways?'
She began to sob.
'There there my dear. It's alright now. My name is Inspector Thumb. Of Scotland Yard.'
He stopped, waiting for his resonant words to have their effect.
'OK' said the girl on the far left. 'Scotland Yard? I know! Ain't that where the guys wear little dresses and no panties? Y'know- near Edinburgh?'
Thumb recovered his composure. 'Don't worry about that' he said, grasping the iron shackles in a feeble attempt to work them free from the stone wall.
'It's no good. I'll go and get help. The entire West Hamley Slot Racing Team is close at hand. We'll have you all out of here in a jiffy.'
'Oh thank you thank you thank you kind sir! Please hurry!'
The girl's cries echoed in the Inspector's ears as he regained the corridor. He turned to his right, where the sliver trails in the floor would lead him back to the dormitory where Argent and his West Hamley friends lay asleep. But then, as the girl's clamorous voices began to subside, he heard another familiar noise over to his distant left.
The creaking of the wagon wheels. The hand was still scurrying onwards in the other direction. Thumb thought quickly. The Californian beach girls, or the West Hamley Slot Racing Team cars? He could only save one.
'Hmm' he thought. 'They've been hanging around in there for five years. Another half-hour won't hurt them.'
Inspector Thumb set off briskly to his left, following the squeaking, creaking, scuttling sound of the kidnapped slot cars of West Hamley.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Inspector Thumb was just getting used to following the constant squeaking of the wagon wheels, which always seemed to be a little beyond his vision, around the constantly curving and darkened corridor of Castle Karrera. He picked up the silver lines on the floor to help him guide his way long before he realised what they were. Suddenly a flash of inspiration hit him and he bent down further to feel the lines with his fingers. They were slots. The whole of the Castle was lined with slots; the whole of the Castle was in fact nothing but a gigantic slot track!
Just then, something ahead of him caught his eye- a billowing of a shiny black cloak, followed swiftly by another scream from another of the rooms on the left side of the passage.
He hurried forward. Just in time to hear a crash, a thump, and see a door fly open. Likya Zlotski came hurtling out backwards, a startled expression on her face, thudded into the opposite wall, and slid downward into a crumpled and motionless heap at Inspector Thumb's feet.
The Inspector peered anxiously into the small room which Likya had just left with such speed.
In a bed, the covers pulled nervously up to her chin, lay Claudia. Standing over her her was Lil Cooper-Archer, in her old pink nylon nightie, wielding her last black pudding like a baseball bat.
'That sort of thing might be fashionable in these parts, girl, but back home in West Hamley we're quite happy with our fellas. And if you are going to do that sort of thing to respectable young girls, I would suggest you trim your fingernails!'
'You OK Lil?' asked Thumb.
'We can take care of ourselves, Inspector. What are you doing creeping around ladies' boudoirs in the middle of the night anyway? Poor Claudia here in her smalls. Get off with you!'
'I was following a disembodied hand which has taken all our slot cars away in a handcart....' Thumb tried to explain, but all of a sudden it sounded rather lame.
'I've heard better ones. Now off you go back to your own bed, you naughty boy.'
Lil swung her black pudding, and Thumb realised any further attempt at explanation would be futile. Besides, he could still hear the creaking wheels away to his left, still following the slot tracks embedded in the floor of Castle Karrera. He had a mystery to solve!
And right then, a third scream shattered the night.
Not a scream of terror this time, but a scream of hellish delight.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Thumb hurried along the dark corridor, following the silver trails in the floor. Around the next bend he saw light coming from behind another huge wooden door as it closed slowly on the bizarre disembodied hand and its slot car cargo. From inside the room came a maniacal cackling noise that froze him to the marrow.
'I have him at last!' thought Thumb. Clutching firmly onto his Scotland Yard truncheon and his silver chrome handcuffs, he barged open the door with his shoulder.
And saw a sight that chilled him beyond his bone marrow- to his very soul.
He was in some sort of mad laboratory. Huge machines towered up to the vaulted ceiling, and through distant skylights he saw the crackling lightning of a violent storm in the night-sky beyond. Mighty Van der Graff Generators, the like of which he hadn't seen since their last album bombed, lined the walls, fizzing and crackling. Great lathes and pulley systems, vast leather belt-drives slung across empty space, huge millstones spinning, clashing and grinding, sending showers of metal sparks across the grey flagstones.
But these things registered only briefly with Inspector Thumb. The sight which unsettled his mind and his stomach to an almost fatal degree was the scores and scores of dismembered, dissembled, hideously sawn and grotesquely spliced slot cars piled high in every direction.
It was not just a scrap yard of some of the most famously collectible and beautiful slot cars of history- no, he could have coped with that. No- it was far worse. Some warped and hideous mind had been performing hideous grafting experiments. Looking around with staring eyes that could hardly believe the enormity of what they were seeing, he recognised a 1/32 Cox Cheetah front end bolted to the rear end of the official world record holding wing car. Two Scalextric Auto Unions siamesed together to make a bizarre four-wheel drive. Everywhere he turned there was madness on an unimaginable scale. A beautiful Russkit 906 sat sadly on
skateboard wheels, the body cut away with terrible, uncontrolled ferocity. A truly wonderful 1/24 plumber-chassied anglewinder lexan M8A sat twisted and warped, its Mura motor wrenched out and replaced with a clockwork giro. Two Fly Ferrari 512s seemed to be bolted together in the form of a double-decker bus- and over beyond it, a noble old 50s rail racing W196, apparently fed through a mangle and reduced to a five mil thick pancake with wheels projecting from the edges at strange, drunken angles. A bright pink Monogram Lotus 38 with a Chaparral wing, a BZ Banshee with two extra axles fitted vertically through the cockpit. On and on it went. With a cry of pain, he noticed the final obscenity; a row of Vanquish Can-Am cars in mint condition. Then his thoughts flew to the West Hamley cars- their own cars that had just been delivered by the sinister hand to this hellish laboratory of slot-car vivesection. He saw the little hand-cart, his own Bentley Speed-8 balanced precariously on top, trundling slowly toward a bench in the far corner, over which hovered the unmistakable figure of Count Zlotski- with a screaming Dremel in his hand.
'Come to me my lovelies' he hissed. 'Come to the Count! One of you will provide the vital spark! The world-famous cars of West Hamley will surely reveal to me the secret of the extra speed that will help me beat Count Tsrfski at last! Ha! Ha! Haaaar!'
With that, he hit a pedal with his foot, and a great leather belt above his head flapped into movement, spinning and activating a large, flashing cross-cut saw above the bench. He bent down and lifted Inspector Thumb's Bentley from the wagon, and rising, placed it on a cradle on his bench. The whining, flashing saw began to descend slowly, remorselessly towards it.
'Stop!' cried Thumb, unable to help himself. He ran to the Count, waving his truncheon. 'That's my car!'
'Curses!' said the Count. 'How did you get here? Madame Palm? You were followed! Deal with the intruder!'
The ghastly little hand scuttled toward Thumb, and he felt a tug at his trouser cuffs. It wasn't much, but it was enough to unbalance him on his charge. He felt his feet go from under him, and with a lung-deflating slam he found himself on his back, his beloved truncheon skittering away across the floor. Defenceless. He felt a hand that wasn't his own pressed beneath his lower back- an experience he hadn't felt since Argent approached him at he last Scotland Yard Slot car Division Dinner Dance, but at least he knew that the fearful 'Madame Palm' was out of action.
But there was more, and graver trouble approaching. Count Zlotski was gliding towards him in that strange motionless way, holding his dremel screaming at full revs and thrust forward- coming for Thumb's throat.
'You meddling fool! Breathe your last! But remember in your eternal rest that your famous Bentley, and Clint and Eric's and all your other West Hamley cars- will all combine to make the monster I have dreamed of! I will tonight give life to the fastest slot car ever built! After all these failed experiments'- the Count briefly brandished the spinning Dremel tool at the vandalised slot-car masterpieces all around him- 'Tonight the auspices are good! The car that will finally snatch the Transylvanian all-time Blue King lap record from the snivelling Count Tsrfski will be born! But now prepare yourself for the great slot track in the sky, Inspector!'
 
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