Characterization – D. Marshall Snow

Written by . Posted at 8:41 am on May 11th, 2012

This is a character profile that I wrote up for a recent Trail of Cthulhu game. It’s not really polished, but it was a fun writing exercise. Marshall really wasn’t based on anyone in particular, but Celeste’s character was based on a friend of mine that I used to hang out with in the ’90’s. I should mention that those similarities are only in appearance and personality, and not events.

Dwight Marshall Snow was born in Provo, Utah but raised in Las Vegas, Nevada after his father got a job there.

He was an average 21-year old Freshman at BYU in fall of 1993. He had returned home from a mission for his church—the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—to Rome, Italy in early 1993. He was majoring in Psychology with a minor in English. It was during the end of his first semester, at a combined singles ward activity that he saw her. Celeste Moody was probably the most beautiful woman Dwight had ever laid eyes on. She stood about 5’3”, had chin-length deep red hair, pale skin, a flannel jacket tied around her waist, and rocking Dr. Marten boots. The sight of her caused him to feel things that he’d tried to suppress for two years on his religious sabbatical.

He didn’t normally consider himself shy, but it took him a few moments to find his courage to go talk to her. Her voice was the melody of an angel, but her personality was rebellious. She kept the rules, he reasoned to himself, but like many of their generation, she prided herself on challenging preconceived notions. Celeste was from Houston, Texas, majoring in Anthropology with a minor in History. She was excited about a class she was taking the next semester on Comparative Anthropologies of Central America, with an emphasis on Mayan culture. The class included a trip to Belize to assist in a newly found archaeological dig. Dwight wasn’t sure if the class would count towards his major—they were both in the Social Sciences category—and he hadn’t told a lie in a very long time, but suddenly he found himself telling her that he had signed up for the same class.

The next day, he was outside the Registrar’s Office door before they opened. Dwight’s stomach dropped when the woman behind the desk told him the class was full, but there was a audit list that had preference if anyone dropped. In addition, the class might not count towards his program, and normally it was reserved for Juniors and Seniors. Since he already completed several introduction classes in the Social Studies area, she could allow him to sign up, but warned it might be a difficult class since it wasn’t directly in his field. Dwight didn’t care, and added his name to the list anyway.

As Christmas break approached, Dwight checked in with the Registrar’s Office at least once per week, but no one had dropped. He went home to Las Vegas and celebrated the holiday with his family. He’d missed them during the first year he’d been in Italy, in 1991. As he spent more time away from home, however, he was beginning to get used to the idea of being his own person with his own identity. He told his parents about the Anthropology class. Then he told them why he was suddenly interested in Anthropology. They were a little surprised he was trying to sign up. Dwight wasn’t typically impulsive, and they just hoped that this new girl wouldn’t be his undoing. If he was willing to go to such great lengths just to have a class with her, what else would he be willing to compromise to please this girl he barely knew? They took solace in the fact that he had a slim chance of getting in.

The five hour drive back to Provo seemed longer than normal. Dwight felt ashamed that he’d lied to Celeste. If he saw her again, which he’d like to, he would have to lie again about why he wasn’t in the class. He spent part of the drive thinking up excuses, and the other part thinking of ways to spend more time with her without coming across as a total stalker.

He walked in the door to his small apartment in Helaman Halls, one of the student housing buildings. His roommate Jeremy was sitting on the couch reading a comic. As Dwight walked down the hall to put his bags in his room, he heard Jeremy calling to him. “Hey Dwight! There’s a message on the answering machine for you. Something about your class schedule, sounded important. I’m pretty sure I didn’t delete it.”

Dwight tossed his bags in his room unceremoniously and ran unabashedly down the hall to the kitchen, where the answering machine rested on the counter. He re-played the messages, skipping them until he found the one he was looking for.

“Yes, this message is for Dwight Snow.” She overemphasized his first name. They always did. “I have some news for you regarding Comparative Anthropology 3205. It seems that one of the students enrolled in the class was forced to drop after an Honor Code violation. Its too bad, but I suppose you can still be happy about it. You’re in the class, which starts tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. We’ll drop Algebra 2010 from your schedule for now like we talked about, since it would conflict. Thank you, hope you had a good Christmas break!”

Excited was not the right word. Dwight was elated.

The next day, Dwight traded in his Algebra book for the Anthropology book. He felt like he was floating on clouds as he walked into the lecture hall. It was smaller than the lecture halls he had for his Freshman-level courses, but there were still at least 75 students. Dwight looked around the room for Celeste, but he didn’t see her. He was a little worried, not to mention disappointed, but he wondered if she’d been held up at home and wasn’t able to make it back right away.

It wasn’t that Dwight was slow in a mental sense, but it took him a few days to realize Celeste wasn’t showing up. He knew a few girls she was friends with from the other ward, so he checked with them. She had moved out after Christmas break. They didn’t know where, and they didn’t care. She had violated the Honor Code, so “she deserves whatever she gets. It’s her own fault,” one told him as she rolled her eyes.

Dwight was crushed. He’d worked very hard to get into that class to spend some time with the girl of his dreams. Now, not only was she no longer in the class, he had taken her spot because she’d been kicked out of the school. The likelihood that he would see her again was slim. He called his parents that night.

“You worked pretty hard to get in that class, son,” his father had told him. “I could tell you ‘We Snows aren’t quitters,’ but it wouldn’t do much good. Still, you aren’t really a quitter. You’ve accomplished great things. Your motivations to get in the class might not have been correct, but for some reason, you’re in it. You called me; you get my advice. Stick with it. Find out what that reason is.”

So he did. Dwight put his nose into the books and studied hard for the class. He re-read the syllabus and realized that the trip to Belize was only for the top half of the class. He was determined to be on that list. He was going to go do what Celeste could not.

As the semester wound down to a close, he was walking through the Wilkinson Center one day on his way to the bookstore. Passing by the cafeteria, he saw a familiar face and came to a dead halt. Celeste sat at a table, sitting alone, reading a book. She looked miserable and heavenly at the same time.

He wasn’t sure what to say, but he approached her anyway and tried to act casual. “Celeste, right? Didn’t we meet last semester?”

She studied his face for a moment. Her eyes were bloodshot and puffy, like she had been crying. After a moment, she nodded. “Oh yeah, I remember you. Psychology, right? Sorry, what was your name?”

“Dwight. Dwight Snow.”

One of her eyebrows went up while the other went down, an inquisitive look. “Do you have a middle name, Dwight?”

“It’s Marshall, after my grandfather.”

“Marshall. I like that. You should go by that.”

He’d never been a fan of his first name. It was another family name from some relative. It sounded sort of geeky. “Thanks, I’ll consider it.” There was an awkward silence for a moment before he finally spoke again. “I’m in a Comparative Anthropology class this semester. Doing pretty well actually, I have an A minus so far. Fascinating topic. If I recall, didn’t you say you were taking that class?”

She blushed. “Yeah, well, I had to take a little hiatus. I’ve been at Utah Valley State College this semester, in Orem. Working a few things out. I don’t really want to talk about it, but ‘the Zoo’ agreed to take me back as long as I would re-commit to the Honor Code. I’m here to get my schedule arranged for next semester. They aren’t offering that same class, but I’ll keep my eyes open. So are you headed to Belize?”

Dwight sat down. So it was true, she was the one he’d replaced. “Yeah, I still have the final to do but its looking pretty good. I’m sorry to hear about…things. I know you don’t want to talk about it, but you seem like a good person. I guess I don’t really care what you’ve done, we all deserve another chance.”

Celeste burst into tears, burying her face in her arms. It was not what he’d expected. Dwight was studying Psychology because he wanted to help people with their problems, but at that moment as a Freshman with only introduction classes out of the way, he felt completely helpless.

“I—I’m sorry,” he apologized lamely. He gingerly brushed her elbow with his hand. “You probably need some alone time. I need to go pick up something from the bookstore, so…” He wanted to hold her in his arms, brush her hair with his hand, soothe her tears away. But he couldn’t. He decided to try the next best thing. “Look, I know its a bad time, but I was wondering if you had any plans on Saturday? They’re showing ‘Beauty and the Beast’ on the wall outside my friend’s building, and…”

“Yes.” Celeste answered so quickly and firmly that Dwight was taken off guard. “Yes, I’d love to do something Saturday night. Not here, though. Do you have a car? I’d love to go do something up in Salt Lake, away from all of this.”

“Okay, sure. What time should I pick you up?”

“The earlier the better. How about noon?”

Unusual, but Dwight already had the feeling that nothing with this girl was “usual.” “Noon it is. We’ll grab lunch on our way up.”

“Deal. And Dwight?” she paused, wiping the tears from her face with a napkin. “Thank you.”

Dwight smiled. “Call me Marshall.”

And that’s how it began. Dwight and Celeste had a great time in Salt Lake City. He’d expected her to want to do the Mormon Tourist things: visit Temple Square and the Tabernacle, take a tour of the Brigham Young Lion House, and see the construction site of the new Joseph Smith Memorial building. She didn’t. She wanted to visit an art museum, go to the zoo, or just spend time watching people at the park. She was as intelligent as she was energetic, and she was exactly what Dwight needed.
Well, maybe not Dwight. She was exactly what Marshall needed.

They continued to see each other, and one day she surprised him by telling him that the reason she’d broken down that day in the Cafeteria was because most of her friends refused to speak to her anymore. She had violated the Honor Code, she still wouldn’t say why and Marshall didn’t think he wanted to know. They were appalled and didn’t want to even associate with her anymore.

Dwight, now going by Marshall, passed the cumulative final for his Comparative Anthropology course. It was one of the most difficult classes he had taken in his life, and yet he really did find the subject material fascinating.

Celeste surprised him one day by showing up at his apartment. His roommate let her in, where she waited dutifully in the living room. Honor Code said no members of the opposite sex were allowed back in the bedroom area.

“Hey Celeste. What’s going on?”

“Marshall! I have some great news! Can we go somewhere a little more private?”

Jeremy continued eating his cereal on the couch, watching Ren and Stimpy. He didn’t seem to even notice they were there, but Marshall complied anyway. She was very excited about something.

Once they had found a corner of the park where there weren’t a lot of people around, Marshall spread a blanket from his trunk on the grass and they laid down to watch the clouds. “So what’s this news you’re talking about?”

Celeste rolled onto her side, her smile splitting her face. “I’ve been arranging my classes and I went to ask Professor Griffith if he would be teaching the Comparative Anthropology course again.”

“So he’s teaching it next year?”

“Well, yes,” she continued, “but I explained the situation of why I had to drop out. Mostly explained. Anyway, he felt bad and he asked if I wanted a crash-course in Mayan culture.”

Marshall smiled. “Nice, so is that a summer class?”

Celeste smiled devilishly. It was amazing how fast she could swap between almost innocent and completely devious. “Something like that.” She closed her mouth and looked at Marshall intently, challenging him to figure out what she meant.

Women were an enigma. After a few uncomfortable seconds, he finally spoke up. “Something like…what?”

She sprang up, grabbing Marshall’s hand. “He said that if I could get the money together, I could come on the Belize trip with your class!”

Marshall felt a flood of sensations, a certain closeness to her. They had hugged after some of their most recent dates, but it was the most physically intimate they had been. She was holding his hand, and had just told him he was going to spend his time down in Central America with her. Suddenly self conscious, he sat up cross-legged and put the jacket he’d been using as a pillow over his lap.

Belize was amazing. Thick rain forest covered the land like a carpet. Professor Griffith had told them it was green, but having lived most of his life in a desert, Marshall didn’t quite comprehend what that meant. Heavy plant killers were flown in via helicopter and dumped on dig sites to help keep the jungle off, and then had to be maintained while the dig was active. If they didn’t, nature would quickly overrun the dig site again and it would be lost once more.

In accordance with BYU’s Honor Code, the men and women were separated at night, but Marshall and Celeste spent as much time working together as possible. Despite her often defensive attitude, he found her to be as much fun to work with as she was to hang out with, and their relationship grew.

A week into the dig, they had been reinforcing some old stone hallways in a ruin to keep it from collapsing, working by electric light. It was hot, it was sweaty, but Marshall was happy. He was the happiest he had been since coming home from Italy, he reflected. It was too bad that it couldn’t last.

While he was busy putting the last screw into a tie bracket, he looked around and noticed that Celeste was missing. Putting down the drill, he looked around.

“Celeste?”

He walked further into the ruins, just starting to get out of the light from the hanging bulb, before he called again. “Celeste?”

It was deathly quiet for a moment, and then he heard her laugh. “Marshall, you need to come and see this.”

“Where are you?”

“Just follow the sound of my voice,” she replied coyly.

He took a moment to go back to his toolbox and grab a flashlight, then he cautiously ventured toward the sound of Celete’s voice, singing a song they’d heard on the radio. He believed it was by The Cranberries.

A few feet beyond the light, he found a narrow passage that suddenly ran off to the left, angled slightly down. They had been warned to not venture deeper than what had already been enforced, in case of collapse, but he reasoned that it had stood there for over a thousand years. It wasn’t likely to come down in the next few minutes.

Drawn forward by his siren, Marshall followed the path down. The air got heavier and heavier, and it seemed that even the light from his flashlight was struggling to cut the darkness this far in. A burst of cool air hit him, and he shone the flashlight around him. He realized the singing had stopped. “Celes—”?

His words were cut off as a figure grabbed him from behind. Marshall screamed.

“Oh, you big wuss, who did you think it was? It’s just me.” Celeste punched him gently in the shoulder. He was a little embarrassed, but shining his light around the room, he quickly forgot.
The chamber was larger than he’d realized. Carvings and symbols he didn’t recognize adorned the walls. While he couldn’t read Mayan, he had looked at enough of their ruins, through photos and now in person, to recognize that these were different.

“What is this place?” he breathed.

“I’m not sure. I’m not certain how I even found it,” Celeste said softly. “I just felt…drawn to it.”

He suddenly realized her hand was in his and she was pressed up against his side. He felt his face flush, and was grateful for the darkness.

“Can you feel it?” she whispered after a moment.

“I, ah…I feel–”

“No, can you feel it. The room.”

Marshall paused. His heart was beating hard, but after a moment he could feel it. It was a slight rumble, a vibrating. A few more moments, and he could hear it as well.

“What is that?” he asked. “Maybe we shouldn’t be here.”

Celeste let go of his hand and punched him again. “I thought I was dating Marshall the man. Not his mom.”

Marshall gritted his teeth. He wanted to be a little more adventurous, but he was worried about her safety. Their safety. “Okay, just a few minutes, then we need to head back.”

“Deal.”

Celeste grabbed his hand again, leading him further into the chamber. The flashlight barely cut a path in the darkness in front of them, perhaps 10 feet. Columns could be seen in glimpses off to the side. The echo of their voices told them the room was a good size. The strange markings were everywhere. They could barely make out a ceiling, it was just beyond the reach of their light. Looking at the carvings in the stones of the floor, they began to notice a pattern, like it was pointing toward the center of the room. They followed the symbols, which ended at a large pedestal with a stone slab on it.

“It looks like…” Marshall’s words trailed off. The slab had an indentation carved into it, like a shallow bowl. The bottom was stained darkly.

“An altar?” Celeste smiled, that devious smile again.

“Yes, but normally these were put on the tops of temples for public display. I don’t remember them ever being buried so deeply.”

“Well, Dr. Snow,” Celeste said with a fake British accent, “it appears that we are on the verge of a great discovery.”

The buzzing had gotten louder. What could that be? Marshall was getting a worse feeling about this. Celeste didn’t seem to have the same reservation. She brushed her hand through the basin, then rubbed her fingers together.

“It’s plenty dry.”

Marshall cringed as she hopped up onto the altar. “Don’t do that, you’ll—”

“Disturb something? I’m pretty sure it will be okay.”

She laid down in the basin.

“I offer myself up to you, Dr. Snow. I am your willing sacrifice,” she said in her accent.

Marshall leaned over her, gazing into her eyes. They burned with a blue intensity in the flashlight. He closed his own eyes, bending over further, and they kissed.

Fireworks seemed to explode. It was magical, the moment Marshall had been waiting a long time for.

It lasted a few seconds, seeming to last forever yet was over too soon, when Marshall realized that the fireworks weren’t just behind his eyes.

The room was flooded with a light from a mysterious source. His eyes popped open, meeting Celeste’s eyes. Her hand grabbed his arm tightly.

“Marshall?”

A wave of energy rolled over the alter, sending Marshall sprawling backwards onto the floor, knocking the wind out of him. He looked up and noticed that symbols glowed in the ceiling. Shaking his head to clear it, he realized they were constellations. He knew the Mayans had considerable knowledge of astronomy, but there were constellations he didn’t recognize.

“Marshall!”

The intensity of Celeste’s voice brought him back to his senses, slowly getting up. “Celeste, get off of there!”

“I can’t!”

The humming was much louder. Dust came down from columns around the room. Marshall was struggling to take in what he was seeing. An eerie greenish light had begun to glow at the head of the alter. Standing up, Marshall ran to Celeste’s side. He put his hands under her shoulder and around her waist, and lifted. She wouldn’t budge.

“Marshall? I’m scared, sweetie.”

“Hang on, I’ll get you out of here. Don’t worry Celeste, I’m not leaving you. This is all just an illusion.”

He looked around the area. There was a lot of writing in that strange language, but nothing that he could decipher. He squared his hips again. Celeste couldn’t have weighed much over 100 lbs., but she felt like she weighed a ton. He strained, the veins popping out on his forehead and hands. She gritted her teeth against the pressure of his arms and hands trying so hard. It would bruise for sure, but it was a small price to pay at that moment.
“Dammit, how is this possible?” Marshall shouted. He didn’t curse often, but he was angry. Tears silently rolled down Celeste’s cheeks.

Moments dragged on, and Marshall was getting tired. The green light was bright and had taken an oval shape that shimmered in a disconcerting way. Marshall prayed, silently at first but then out loud to make sure his God heard him. “Please, God! Don’t let this happen! Please let it all be okay! Take me instead!”

The light in the room wavered, and for a moment Marshall had a glimmer of hope. “God! Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no–”

Silence.

The voice cut through Marshall’s mind and soul. An unintelligible growl came through the light, but the meaning was translated clearly into words he could understand.

Your God has no place here.

“No!” Marshall screamed, jumping onto the alter. He wrapped his arms around Celeste as tightly as he could. Their faces were close together. He kissed her on the forehead.

Celeste gazed up at him, her eyes wide.

“I’ll protect you, I swear.” He now realized that he was crying. “I’m not going to let it get to you. We’ll get out of this.”

“Marshall.”

A murmuring in that odd language resonated outward from the portal of light.

“We’ll get out of this, God will save us, and we’ll get back to Professor Griffith. He can tell us more about this. He’s going to be mad that we came in here alone, but at this point who cares?”

“Marshall,” Celeste repeated with more force.

He looked down at her, wiping the tears from her eyes. She was no longer crying. “Marshall, it’s okay. I’ll be okay.”

He chuckled slightly, a hint of madness in his voice. “That’s what I’m saying, it’s going to be okay! You’re going to be okay.”

“No, Marshall. You need to let me go. Its time for you to let me go.”

“I can’t. I can’t do that, we just found each other, I’m still getting to know you. I can’t lose you now, I won’t.”

“I don’t think its up to you any more, Marshall. Don’t worry, I’ll be waiting for you. You’ll move on, I want you to, but I’ll check in, so be good.”

He kissed her again on the forehead. “I’ll be right with you, if you’re going to go, I’m going to go with you.”

“No. I don’t think it works like that.” Celeste closed her eyes tightly. The voice had grown louder and more intense. “It’s…it’s speaking to me. I have to go. I want you to kiss me, and then you need to leave.”

Marshall leaned in, kissing her with passion and respect. He didn’t know what love was, really, but if he had ever felt it, this was the closest he’d ever had. He was willing to give his life for her, he had felt that from the first time he’s seen her, but now he was willing to prove it, to actually do it.

Enough.

Another forceful blast hurled Marshall backwards through the air, knocking him into a column. He fell on the floor in a crumpled heap.

Celeste screamed.

Marshall’s head was splitting, and he felt like he’d been run over by a semi truck, but he managed to look up.

The portal of green light was roaring now, and a creature emerged like he’d never seen before. Marshall’s mind struggled to make symbolic associations. Later, he reflected that it had the flat head of a toad, covered in matted fur, with large bat-like ears, and a grotesque, hairy body. It was considerably larger than a man, and each of its several arms was topped by three large claws and an opposing thumb. It looked down at Celeste’s form on the altar, now wide-eyed in shock, and then glanced at Marshall.

Her soul is mine.

It wasn’t a command or a question, it was merely a statement. The hands of the creature waved over her body, emitting a darkness. Light flowed from Celete’s chest as her mouth dropped in a silent scream. Instead, blood poured from her mouth, nose, and ears, her fingers dug into her palms until they bled as well.

Marshall struggled to get up. He would fight this thing. He didn’t care. It might kill him, but he would be back with her again.

*************

Marshall woke up in a bed he didn’t recognize. Glancing around, he recognized it as a hospital room. A woman in a white dress and shirt walked past the door.

“¿Uno momento, por favor? ¿Dónde estoy?”

He had asked where he was. The woman paused and came back in. She began speaking to him in fast, clipped Spanish. He had learned some phrases and could make out a few words that were close to
Italian, but his head hurt and he still couldn’t make out what she was saying. He was apparently in a hospital, which he had already guessed, in Belize.

“Lo siento, ¿hay alguien que habla Inglés en esta lista?” He asked her if there was anyone there who spoke English. He understood her response.

“Sí, sí!”

A few moments later, a man in a white blazer and jeans with a stethoscope around his neck walked into the room. His accent was thick, but he spoke English.

“Mr. Snow, you are awake. I am Doctor Alvarez. How do you feel?”

“My head hurts, but I think I’m okay. Where is Celeste?”

“Celeste, es tu novia?”

“Sort of.”

Doctor Alvarez sat down and talked to him, asking what he remembered. It was sporadic, but he remembered the altar, the strange voice, and the light. After that, it got fuzzy.

“Mr. Snow, we don’t know what happened. Celeste was sent back to the United States for study.”

“So she’s alive?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Snow. She is not. There are some who wanted to accuse you of foul play, but the shape that her body was in, and how we found you, it seemed impossible. You were no where near her when she…passed away.”

He went on to talk about mild radiation poisoning and checking for fluids, but Marshall wasn’t listening. Celeste was gone. He could have talked her out of going down there, he could have brought her back before she got on that alter, but he hadn’t. He had thought it made him look brave, and it had gotten her killed.

He would never forgive himself.

************

A few years later, D. Marshall Snow proudly sat at commencement exercises. Not only had he gotten his bachelor degree, he had gone on to get his Doctorate’s of Psychology like he had originally wanted. There were some who whispered that it was inappropriate for a guy who had spent a semester at the state mental hospital as a patient to be getting an advanced degree in Psychology, but in his mind, he was the best candidate there. Not only had he learned it from the side of the researcher and practitioner, he had seen the “other side of the couch.”

When he had come back, he had transferred to the University of Utah to finish his education. He had nothing against BYU, but he didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of attending a religious-based institution when his very ideas of God were turned on their head, in the form of a nameless monstrosity that had stolen his spiritual innocence and killed his girlfriend in a single strike.

The other rumors that had circulated cast doubt on his “extracurricular activities.” Some of his classmates found out about his interest in research of the “weird,” of his reading books on supernatural and parapsychological subjects. He didn’t much care.

During his time in the hospital, his doctor had prescribed hypnosis. His shattered memories suddenly filled in the gaps, and he wished they had stayed hidden. He was forced to remember those last memories of Celeste’s life, and face them. He was forced to deal with the guilt and the grief. It was those memories that drove him into the research that made his classmates question his authenticity, his sanity.

He didn’t much care what they said, as long as called him “Dr. Marshall Snow” and left him alone.

2 comments.

  1. Niels Adair

    Nice work Chris! I enjoyed reading that.


  2. Thank you Niels!


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