In response to the Jubilee giant crab attack last month, the sheriff’s department has received an increased budget and hired new deputies Claude Verniel, Danny Taggert, Thadius Cobb, and Virgil. Father Ezekiel Harkness agrees to act as their spiritual adviser.
One Saturday morning after the start of the new school year, a local school teacher comes into the sheriff’s office to report a missing student, Melanie Gorham. Melanie has not been seen since the cotillion at the end of the last school year.
The deputies on call question the teacher, getting the names of Melanie’s ex-boyfriend (Jessie Tompkins) and best friend (Lisa Brown) as well as some additional background information. Father Harkness rings up his church to question his daughters about Melanie. They inform him that Melanie plays the Devil’s Checkers (chess), her brother Krandall is a jerk who pulls girls’ hair, and her ex-boyfriend Jessie is promiscuous.
The deputies head to the school for yearbook photos and home addresses. Virgil and Claude heads off to question Jessie while Ezekiel, Thadius, and Danny drive off towards the Gorham home.
Deputies Claude and Virgil interrupt Jessie and a young lady, whose is embarrassed and frightened off. Virgil chases her down while Claude interrogates Jessie. Jessie tells Deputy Verniel that Melanie used to be a fun-loving, pants wearing active tomboy, but now she dresses in a conservative long dress and bonnet and doesn’t want to get intimate with Jessie, so he broke up with her and she ran off crying.
Virgil catches up with Jessie’s new girlfriend and calms her down. He makes sure she’s not involved, gives her some advice and a ride.
On their way through the dangerous Bayou to the Gorham residence, Danny, Ezekiel, and Thadius are attacked by an alligator. Father Harkness puts his snake handling skills to good use , flinging one of his poisonous snakes at the alligator’s open maw. The snake strikes, injecting it’s deadly venom directly into the roof of the alligator’s mouth. As the gator thrashes in pain, Ezekiel quickly retrieves the snake and the party moves on.
Virgil and Claude next head to the home of Lisa Brown. When she informs the pair her father is out in the shed, Virgil heads out to get him so he can be present during the interview. Lisa’s father is strangely dismissive, arousing Virgil’s suspicions. A quick whiff with his keen orcish nose reveals the familiar scent of moonshine. Mr Brown has a still in his shed and is eager to get rid of the deputy. Virgil is a former moonshiner himself and isn’t too concerned about the lawbreaking, but is concerned about the safety of the alcohol Mr. Brown may be about to sell to community and demands a taste test. Mr Brown reluctantly agrees. While the moonshine is poor quality, it doesn’t seem contaminated with anything especially dangerous so Virgil heads inside where Lisa has been making the deputies some sweet tea.
Lisa tells reinforces what Jessie told them about the change Melanie went through over the last few years. She also tells them about Melanie’s family. Nice but reclusive parents Kirby and Queenie, and older brothers Krandall and Billy. Billy is very active in his church, hoping to be pastor someday, but isn’t pushy about it. Krandall is a jerk who treats everyone else like he’s better than them.
With that, the half-orc and the halfling head out to the Gorham place.
Meanwhile, the human deputies have arrived at the Gorham place. They find the front yard overgrown and littered with statues of various animals. Ever paranoid Thadeus fears they may be some kind of security system and carefully searches a few stone animals. As it turns out, he is able to detect some kind of magic associated them, also he’s unable to pin down exactly what it is. The front porch has another of these statues, this one of an old man, his arm along the backrest of the porch swing.
The front door is locked and there is no answer. Danny Taggert and Thadeus Cobb head around back. They peak in a back window and see a kitchen full of shadowy, unmoving figures. Deputy Taggert breaks in the kitcken window and climbs inside and opens the door for Deputy Cobb. Father Harkness breaks both the front windows to get a good look at the living room and Billy’s bedroom.
Billy’s room is sparsely furnished, with just a cot, clothes, a cross, a Bible, and his Bible study notes. The living room has a large fireplace. The kitchen has a white and black checkerboard tiling, a table, sink, stove, and more stone statues. Two young men, a middle aged man and a middle aged woman. The group searched the rest of the house and finds a sealed stairway to the attic and two more bedrooms. They find nothing of interest in the parent’s bedroom, but Krandall’s room is dark and foul smelling. While searching the room, Thadeus puts his foot through a false floorboard, finding a stash of occult paraphernalia, including rotten chicken guts, a knife, and a poorly written book on curses, love potions, and such.
The trio are unable to get into the attic, so they head out to investigate the one remaining room, a shed on the porch.
On their way to the Gorham house, Claude and Virgil pass by the alligator bitten by Ezekiel’s snake. It’s dead.
Danny breaks into the shed, which turns out to be Melanie’s room. They find her dresses, chessboard, and a book of chess puzzles with an earmarked page, there are mate-in-one-move chess puzzles. Four of the chess pieces (white king, white queen, white bishop, and a black king on it’s side) have been placed on a shelf. Ezekiel the snake handler sends one of his snakes up into the attic, but the roof has collapsed, making it difficult and dangerous to navigate. Thadeus is convinced there is a Medusa and breaks the vanity mirror in the parents’ bedroom, taking the largest piece so he can look at it indirectly.
Virgil and Claude arrive and the group compares notes. They realize the statues in the kitchen are set up like a chess puzzle, with the kitchen tiles forming the board. Using what they have learned about the family, they decide Kirby is the white king, Queenie is the white queen, Billy is the while bishop, and Krandall is the black king. Father Harkness works a solution to the puzzle and the team moves Queenie into place, checkmating Krandall.
The attic unlocks and and there is a rumbling in fireplace. Thaddeus searches the fireplace, finding a hidden latch, while Danny checks out the attic. Ezekiel informs Deputy Taggert that the attic is full of red fish and spikes it shut, while Danny decides Deputy Cobb might not be so crazy after all and grabs a piece of mirror.
The hidden latch reveals a ladder to a underground seller. Virgil leads the way. At the other end of the cellar, he see’s a figure long white dress a big bonnet. It turns towards the group, moving with an unnatural bob. Danny cries out “We mean you no harm.” Melanie is scared but she keeps her eyes shut and parleys with the deputies. They question her and she tells them she began changing several years ago. It was gradual and she was able to hide it, but only by becoming more distant and covered. When Jessie broke up with her, she was devastated. She was so upset, she rushed home crying, and was unable to control herself, inadvertently turning her family to stone. Thadeus only looks at Melanie with his mirror, and checks for snakes coming out of her head, but sees only a bald dome.
The group promises to help Melanie and leads her upstairs. Ezekiel and Virgil head back to pick up exorcism supplies, Lisa Brown for moral support, and Virgil’s cousin Merl, an orc shaman. The rest stay to keep Melanie calm and contained.
Melanie Gorham starts nervously rubbing her head and complaining she needs a haircut. She asks someone to go back down and get her knife. Everyone is hesitant and Claude Verniel offers a knife of his instead, but Melanie insists it’s not the same. Reluctantly, someone is sent down to retrieve the knife. They find a bed of hay, another chessboard, other living accoutrements, the knife, and a number of dead snakes, missing their tales. When she gets the knife, Melanie uses it to begin picking away at the scabs on her head.
Lisa agrees to come, and when warned it might be strange, asks if it’s about the scales. She had noticed them before but kept quiet for Melanie’s sake. She cites a local legend that when girls grow up, some grow breasts and some grow scales.
Merl agrees to help, bringing along a cleaver, supplies, and a couple of live chickens. On the way back, Virgil asks Merl if he’s ever heard of anything like this. Merl tells Virgil about the snake-ladies who live out in wild. A popular orc prank is to trick another, more foolish orc into heading into their territory where they are turned to stone.
Upon arriving back at the Gorham residence, Father Ezekiel Harkness attempts an exorcism. But there is no demon to drive out. Instead, the divine healing energies regrow the snakes that Melanie had cut from her head. She despairs, but the Father tells her that clearly God has made her as he intended. The group decides take Melanie to the “snake-ladies” in the hopes that they can help. Merl leads them out into the wilds until they surrounded with stone orcs.
They hear hissing in the darkness and Danny Taggert bravely leads Melanie towards it, calling out for someone to come her. A voice hisses for Deputy Taggert to leave, and he does. Out slithers a man looking not unlike Melanie. He places a hand on a stone orc, and with a glow returns a bit it to flesh, tearing it away and offering it to Melanie. Everyone decides they really don’t need to see what follows and high tale it home to a celebratory barbeque for a job well done. Merl takes the poisoned gator.
A few weeks later, Billy is back is town good as new. Claude tells Billy to encourage his parents to integrated more with the community, now that they don’t have such a terrible secret, that it would be good for them. Billy thanks the party and informs them the Krandall the jerk is back to normal too, though he is mysteriously missing a nose.
“And that” Thadeus quips “is why you should never take your family for granite!”