Doctor Johann Faust smiled at the cage, and at the monkey inside. The birdcage, entirely inadequate for holding a monkey, was perched on top of a stack of boxes labeled Salted nuts, right next to the register. The monkey itself scratched at its ears, and sniffed at the box beneath it.
Johann withdrew a handful of peanuts from his pocket and held one out to the monkey. How cruel of the shopkeeper to place the monkey on top of boxes of its food.
“Is this creature for sale?” Johann asked.
The shopkeeper turned back from where he was fetching Johann a bottle of cough medicine. “Huh?”
Johann cleared his throat and did his best to lessen his accent. “Is this creature for sale?”
“Oh, the monkey? I guess you can buy it, if you really want to. I don’t understand why you would want something that eats so much in your house, but to each his own.” The shopkeeper placed the cough medicine on the counter. “This, and the bandages, and the scissors, and the monkey?”
“Can I buy the nuts, too? And-” Johann peered around his head to see what the box on the top shelf was labeled. “Can I have that mortar and pestle, please? I also have a list of a few more items I’ll need weighed.”
The shopkeeper got down the mortar and pestle, and went over to the scales. “What’s on your list?”
Johann read it off to him. “Arsenic, whale oil, purgatives, strychnine, lavender, tobacco, lye soap, oil of earthworm, opium, salt, lamp oil, and chloroform.” He handed his measurements of how much he wanted of each to the shopkeeper, who set about his work.
Johann poked at the monkey a bit more while the shopkeeper measured off the ingredients, and spent a while looking at a set of shiny scalpels he couldn’t afford. The shopkeeper wrapped up the bottles of ingredients and placed them in a tightly sealed wooden box, which he handed to Johann.
“You want the monkey, too, huh?”
“Yes, the monkey, too.”
The shopkeeper went to grab the cage, but stopped. “How much are you willing to pay for this?”
“The monkey? Well, I’m not going to spend all of my money on it. How much are you selling it for?”
The shopkeeper shook his head. “Not for sale.”
“Really?” Johann had his hand in his pocket to get out money for it. “You said I could buy it.”
Johann ground his jaw.
The shopkeeper pushed forward the box full of supplies. “Take this or leave this, but the monkey isn’t for sale.”
Johann ground his jaw more, and pushed forward a few bills. Why wouldn’t he sell the monkey? Why would he imply that it was for sale if it wasn’t? It was simply a dreadful way to run a business, and shameful thing to do to a customer. This man would lose Johann’s business, and lose much more later, after he finally met Duke M-.
He tucked the box under his arm, and stood outside of the shop for a few moments, observing. There were all kinds of people wandering around, even now, in the early morning. It was only eleven o’clock, and he had half an hour before he needed to report to the address in Duke M- ‘s last letter, where he would at last be able to meet his mysterious patron. A wealthy redheaded man with a thick beard covering the lower half of his face stopped to talk with a paperboy, took a paper, and turned down an alley. Johann waited until he was sure the wealthy man was gone, then bought a paper.
Unsurprisingly, the top article was about Dominic Sapping, the man who had died the previous night. Johann skimmed the article as he walked towards the general store. They considered him an ‘unidentified man,’ and thought that he had deliberately tried to murder the railworker.
“Well,” Johann said aloud. “Perhaps I did lie to him.”
That had been in an effort to make sure the man would actually get the bag for him. No sane person would knowingly handle the chemicals in that bag with his bare hands, nor retrieve them if they knew what Johann meant to do with them. Books, however, books were harmless, and not to be objected to. What person would refuse to retrieve a man’s books for him? Johann hadn’t known the man would die, and he hadn’t known the train would come just then.
Well, he could fix the problem easily now. Easily, simply, without a thought. He could very well revive the body under a sheet on his table within the hour, if he so wished, without much hassle to him. It certainly hadn’t been much hassle with the little girl he’d revived, or the outlaw.
All the power of life and death was at his fingertips, and all for a signature on a paper. Johann still had the contract in his pocket, he practically had the words memorized. There was a lot in there about how it was unnatural, and how he was surrendering his soul to dark forces if he agreed to the contract, and how he would never be able to see God, and whatnot, but he didn’t believe a word of it. Hell was more of a metaphor, in his opinion, something that was good to force people into better lives, and exemplary of what might happen to a person if they didn’t live a better life, not a real place. Never a real place. The simple idea of a realm filled with demons and devils and endless torture was almost laughable, and the idea that by writing Doctor Johann Faust on a piece of paper he would be damning himself forever was equally preposterous.
By signing that paper, he had gained everything and lost nothing. Mortality troubled him no longer, as it would never trouble anyone again. He was younger than he should have been, courtesy of Duke M-, who had stripped away the years he had spent in seminary as a youth. You don’t need to know that anymore, do you? Johann was twenty-three where he should have been in his thirties, and he had been assured that stripping the years from anyone else was nearly as easy. He could bring back the dead, take years off someone’s life, conjure wealth at the mere snap of his fingers, cure any sickness or wound that he came across, and make any scientific discovery he wished at will. In fact, it was from that last ability that he had discovered that there was so much poison in so many everyday objects, and had therefore decided to mix his own medicines from now on.
And for all that, for the ability to reshape the world, for the sheer extent of the knowledge he had been granted, for the fact that he was now the most knowledgeable scientist on the face of the Earth, he had given a signature.
Johann chuckled, and turned the page of the paper. The death of the rail worker was a correctable mistake, one that he could fix quite easily later today, and he had bigger fish to fry.
His day was rather busy, for instance. He had to go and meet Duke M-, pick up some heavy equipment from the train station, sneak back to the pharmacy he had just come out of to root through their trash for empty bottles, meet and pay his new landlord, buy various necessities for his new lodgings, and raise Dominic Sapping from the dead.
It was too busy a day to dwell on meaningless moral debates. Johann folded the paper and turned to go down the street. He had his folio of drawings and studies tucked into his jacket, and a bag slung over his shoulder that contained his instruments, so he didn’t need to go back to his apartment before going to meet Duke M-. Instead, he decided to go into a shady pawn shop down the street from the pharmacy. There was a good chance he’d be able to find something of use in his experiments here, such as an iron rod that could be repurposed, or a box of batteries.
Johann waved to the man at the counter as he entered the shop. The shop was dark, and there were things piled all around. The first thing of interest Johann spied was a painting of what he assumed to be the arctic, depicting a mountain much taller than anything expeditions had found there. The second was a small idol of a strange winged figure with a tentacled face and bumpy skin. There was some kind of malignant aspect coming off of it, something that made Johann shy away from it. He picked a cane out of an umbrella stand that was filled with similar canes and umbrellas, and swung it around dramatically.
He must have pushed a hidden latch, or something, because the instant he swung it too hard a sword came flying out the other end, arching across the room to impale itself in the top of a novelty padded cushion.
The shopkeeper looked up, and Johann pretended to be innocent. He hid the cane behind his back and smiled, which only got him an irritated look from the shopkeeper. Johann went over to the cushion and plucked the sword out, passing his hand over the hole it had made as he did. It mended itself instantly, and several other broken threads around it mended as well.
All for a signature on a page. Johann smiled.
He sheathed the sword, which had the uppermost part of the cane as its hilt. The trigger to unsheathe it was just under the top of the cane, which was a blood red ruby as large as Johann’s fist. The cane was shockingly cheap, so Johann tucked it under his arm to buy. Surely a disguised sword would come in useful at some point.
The next thing worth buying he found was a mostly functioning pistol, and a box of bullets that went with it. There was a cracked silver pocket watch as well, and a large box of unused candles that each had an image of a man showing his bare butt stamped on the side. It wasn’t too difficult to puzzle out why those had wound up in a pawn shop, but they would light his attic room well enough.
When he took his assortment of things to the register, the shopkeeper glared over at the cushion Johann had hit, but didn’t say anything about it. Johann walked out without having to pay for it and knowing that he had done no damage.
He whistled as he walked away, tapping his new cane against the pavement. Yes, signing that document had been the best thing he’d ever done.