Content warning: A PTSD-type panic attack and implied abuse.
Even mere days after Dominick’s death, Deirdre’s life had changed enormously. She spent far more of her time working, taking more jobs than she had before. People asked after her talents, and she found herself lying more and more about what she could do. It didn’t help, but that was a bit of a relief because she was spared having to awkwardly explain that no, she couldn’t actually speak four languages, (only three, and not the ones she’d claimed to be able to speak) or sew new garments from scratch. Instead, she was employed much the same as she had been before, for the theater: as a washerwoman, this time for the household of Duke Janson.
Sylvia went off on a rant when she heard that, about reforms and other things Dom had once cared about. It ended in brooding silence, which was so unlike Sylvia that it unnerved Deirdre to the point she had to leave for a while.
They were going to be sharing the apartment now, Sylvia said, with someone whose name she wouldn’t divulge.
“Do you know the person?” Deirdre asked.
“Better than I should like,” Sylvia answered.
A few days before the person was due to arrive, Sylvia sat her down at the table and asked, “You haven’t got anything against dogs, do you?”
“You haven’t got any… bad… memories of dogs?”
Deirdre remembered a dog barking, far back in the parts of her memory that she’d so far repressed that they didn’t even seem real. It was probably right before it had happened, and she’d left Ireland, but she couldn’t for the life of her remember where. She had one solid memory of her father’s farm, clear as if it had happened yesterday, and she was completely certain there had been no dogs on his farm. The memories of it happening were flimsy, shoved down and locked up for so long that she couldn’t tell fact from fiction, but she was fairly sure there were no dogs. “I don’t think so.”
Sylvia nodded. “Just as well, then. He’ll be here in a few days, and he wanted me to tell you that he’s got a big dog that’s coming with him.”
Deirdre tapped her fingers against the table. “So it’s a he?”
“Will you be giving me a name? A place of origin? A way that you know him?”
Sylvia smirked, and for a moment was silent, before saying, “Gévaudan, France. I knew him when I lived there.”
“Oh- it’s called Lozère now. It was called Gévaudan up until the revolution, I think, and this man always called it that.”
Deirdre frowned. “Why would he use an antiquated term?”
“I don’t know. He’s a bit odd, I have to say.”
“Coming from you, that means a great deal.”
Sylvia laughed. “It does, it does, I confess.”
They cleaned up the apartment, moving their things out of the bedroom. The two beds looked out of place against the back wall, especially since they had to put the dining table between them, and they couldn’t find a good place for the dresser. In the end they had to take the drawers out and stow them under the beds, and leave the shell with a single intact drawer in the room for their guest. Somewhere, Sylvia had found the money to buy a bed for him, probably through her ‘night job.’ It had previously been her day job, but she’d found more respectable work during the day as a music teacher for a pair of rich girls. At night, however, all bets were off on being respectable, and Sylvia stayed out all night doing God knew what. It made money, so Deirdre wasn’t going to complain, but Sylvia was rather touchy about the subject.
The day on which their new roommate would be moving in finally arrived, and Deirdre and Sylvia went down to the train station to wait for him. His train was coming in at one o’clock, and he would be riding in car five.
“I suppose I should tell you his name while we’re here,” Sylvia said. “And how I know him.”
“His name is Jean Gévaudan, and he’s my cousin. My father and I lived with him and his late mother when I was a little girl.”
Deirdre had known that Sylvia had family in France, despite not being born there, and that she’d lived there long enough to develop an accent. “Is he much older than you?”
Sylvia counted on her fingers. “Well, I’m twenty now, same as you, and I remember he was fourteen the last time I saw him, so… yes, I suppose he’s seven years older than me.”
“He’s coming alone?”
“Not entirely. He’s bringing his… er… dog… with him.”
“Why the hesitation? Is it not a dog?”
Sylvia fidgeted with her fingers. Deirdre crossed her arms and sighed. “Come on, I know when you’re hiding things from me.”
“Well, you’ll see when he gets here.”
They waited silently on the platform, surrounded by the chaos of everyday life. A small brown-haired boy, no more than ten years old, ran out of the crowd and up to Deirdre.
“Mr. Mephisto said to give this to you,” he said.
“Duke Mephisto,” Deirdre said.
“Not to me,” said the boy. “I work for him, and he said I can call him mister.”
“Very well, then, you call him that. What’s in the letter?”
“I don’t know. Got any milk?”
“On me? No, sorry. Here, I can give you money to buy some. What’s your name?”
“Albert Brown, but everyone just calls me Brownie.”
“Have you got a brother named Boggart?” Deirdre handed Brownie a coin. “This is for milk.”
“Thank you, missus.” He tipped his cap, and ran off into the crowd.
Deirdre put the letter in her pocket, intending to open it later. She turned back to watch for the train.
It was twenty minutes past one when Deirdre said, “he should be here by now, shouldn’t he?”
“Yes…” Sylvia checked her watch. “This train has never been this late before. I don’t know what’s going on.” That was a lie, if the huge grin on her face was anything to go off of.
They waited for another half-hour before a man came running along the track, from the direction the train should have come. He was shouting something, something that was lost to the wind from where they were standing.
“What’s that?” Sylvia asked.
“An accident!” the man said, drawing closer. He wasn’t addressing them, but the foreman in charge of the station. “There’s been a horrific accident on the train, it’s crashed, horrifically crashed, thrown off the tracks – I think it crashed into… some kind of dog?”
“Oh God,” Sylvia said. “I’m going to kill him.”
“A dog?” The foreman laughed. “Dogs stopping trains, eh? Strange times indeed.”
“Not a dog,” the worker said. “Like a wolf, but not a wolf. Bigger, and its fur is black and red, and-”
“A hyena,” said a learned-looking man with angular features, dark hair combed over his forehead, and a German accent.
“What the hell would a hyena be doing in England?” somebody else said.
“It’s a wolf, stupid, it’s just covered in blood,” said her friend.
“Yes, because blood, the superior dye, can instantly turn black fur bright red,” the young man said.
Deirdre laughed at that, and the learned-looking young man smiled at her. His eyes were deep black, the kind of black she’d seen in her dreams of the void.
“Shut up! It can’t be a hyena, and it can’t be a wolf. It’s some kind of monster!”
The young man rolled his eyes, but Sylvia looked positively giddy. What had she done?
“We’ll send a few policemen after it, whatever it is,” the foreman said. “I highly doubt that we have a monster on our hands, but stranger things have happened, I suppose.”
A chuckle ran through the audience. The worker was dismissed, and the waiting resumed, albeit in a more anxious manner.
“My name is Dr Johannes Faust,” the man said. “You… you’re Sylvia, aren’t you? Sylvia Sapping? Whose father died?”
“Yes,” Sylvia said. Deirdre chewed her nail. Given her friend’s usual unpredictability at mentions of her father, this young man who lived above them was unknowingly putting himself in an area of great danger.
“I- I was with him.”
Sylvia was remarkably calm, at least outwardly. “Were you?”
“Yes, and I tried to save him. I tried, but I couldn’t.”
“Er… yes. Well, I wanted to ask you, if it doesn’t make you too uncomfortable, what they did with the body?”
Sylvia was silent for a moment, before saying, “I don’t know. It disappeared from the morgue, probably thanks to some med students.”
There was something shifty in Faust’s eyes that made Deirdre think that he had something to do with it. “Sylvia-”
Sylvia shook her head. “Don’t worry, Deirdre, I’m alright. Someone stole it, dear doctor. A robber.”
“A robber, truly?”
“Why not a scientist? Someone who needed it for scientific pursuits?”
“What on Earth would a scientist need with a body pulverized by a train?”
Faust rubbed his chin. “You have a point. But suppose the scientist was testing the limits of what they could do? What they could heal?”
“You cannot heal one already dead.”
Faust laughed. “Oh, you have no idea.”
People were shouting around them. Deirdre could see a wagon rumbling down the tracks, with a group of people riding in it. It stopped in front of the station, and the woman at the front stood up to shout out names.
“The passengers of the first car of the train: Thomas Brown! Dorian Mayberry! Alan Campbell! John Devine! Jean Gu – guv – uh – A Frenchman named Jean! Edward Hyde! William Sallos! Will Volac! Yet another Frenchman named Jean, and his daughter whose name I can’t pronounce! Louis and Constance Castaigne! Some crazy person in a mask! Randolph Carter! A lot of people named Bennett! A Russian prince! Come and claim, come and claim!”
Deirdre and Sylvia went forward to claim one of the two Frenchmen named Jean. Theirs was a tall, muscular man in the back of the wagon, with auburn hair streaked with black. His face was wolfish, with predatory eyes and a smile like bared teeth that was barely deserving of the title. He was dressed nicely enough, in a black coat and thick canvas pants, and he had a pair of suitcases under one arm.
“Where’s the dog?” Sylvia asked.
Jean Gévaudan pointed.
Behind them was a dog. Sort of. Not really. It was vaguely a hound, with reddish fur and a black stripe going down its back. Its ears were pointed like a wolf’s, much unlike a hound’s, and its fur was longer than a hound’s would have been.
Jean Gévaudan nodded.
There was a mild-looking man with glasses and neat brown hair sitting next to him. “Did you raise that from a pup?”
“Raised it and its mother.” Jean’s voice was grating, and gravelly. It made Deirdre’s skin crawl. “Bred them myself.”
“What did you breed it with to get it like that?”
The man gestured to it. “That.”
Someone came up and clapped the mild-looking man on the shoulder. “C’mon, Carter!”
Carter hopped nimbly off the wagon and followed him away. Jean watched him go, then clicked his fingers for the dog to come to him. A small girl with dirty blonde hair edged away from it as it jumped up beside him, and muttered something in French to her well-dressed father. He picked her up and carried her away from the wagon.
“What do you call it?” Deirdre asked. She didn’t want to talk to Jean, but she would be spending enough time with him that she would need to at some point.
“It’s a beast,” Jean said. “I don’t call it anything excepting that.”
The dog looked up at her.
“It’s smart,” Deirdre said.
“Smart enough, I guess. I’ve bred better.”
“Is that what you do?”
“Yes, I- hey, what do you want, boy?”
There was a small poor boy, dressed in rags, standing at his shoulder. “Do you know where I can find Mephistopheles?”
“The demon, stupid. The duke. Do you know where I can find him?”
“Are you thinking of Duke Mephisto?” Sylvia asked.
The boy pondered this for a moment. “I might be.”
“He has a mansion in the city.”
“Come here, I can give you directions.”
The boy hopped off the cart and followed her further into the crowd, presumably to listen to her directions. Deirdre turned back to Jean, who was rubbing the dog’s head.
“Shouldn’t we go home now?”
An old man dressed in a suit and trailed by six women of varying ages came up to Deirdre. “It seems we put more value on our possessions than I originally assumed. Are we going to be able to get what was lost in the crash back?”
“I don’t work here,” said Deirdre.
“Ah, forgive me, then. Come on, girls, we’ll find someone else to bother.”
Jean chuckled, and rubbed the dog’s head. “Masky, are you getting off, too?”
A man in a black mask shook his head vehemently and responded in French.
“You could come stay with us, you know.”
“Ah, I see. Goodbye, then.”
“Are you wanting to check up on everyone here before we leave?” Deirdre asked.
“Maybe I do. Maybe I’m just waiting for Sylvia.”
They watched a man greeted as Alan get off and walk away with a golden-haired youth and a lord who made the whole place smell of opium. None of the others were moving quickly, though a small, dark man in a top hat did convince the masked fellow to walk away with him. A trio of men left arm-in-arm. A young couple with American accents urgently wanted to know when the next train was coming in. A prince had a conversation with someone else in russian. Deirdre and Jean waited for Sylvia.
At last, she returned, and the three of them were able to leave the station with the dog trailing behind.
“We will get something to eat?” Jean asked.
“I think we had better not.”
“We have food at home.”
“Then we will get something to eat. A meat pie, perhaps?”
Sylvia shrugged. “I suppose. Deirdre, go home and help Jean get settled, while I get food.” She spun on her heel, her dark curls flipping as she did, and left them standing in the middle of the street.
Deirdre smiled nervously at Jean. “Our home is on the top floor of an apartment building. Well, not the top floor, there’s a scientist who lives in the attic above us, but we live on the technical top floor. The third floor.”
“Are dogs allowed in your building?”
“I don’t see why not.”
They didn’t get into any fights with the landlord as they entered, so Deirdre must have been correct. Jean went into his room, taking the dog with him, and locked the door.
Deirdre laid down on her bed, and closed her eyes. She had a pounding headache from the smoke at the station, and had to sleep, if only for half an hour.
Visions swam before her closed eyes. Her father’s farm in Ireland, situated at a crossroads that were frequently visited by strange figures in the dead of night. Her room there, small and dusty but warm when it needed to be. The man who tapped on the window when she was alone, tapped with his long, claw-like fingers. Only once had she ever caught a glimpse of his face, dark and featureless and without a mouth.
Deirdre’s eyes snapped open. She realized she was crying.
Almost of their own violation, her feet moved her to the window. Her hands opened it. It was late afternoon, and the sun was scorching, almost burning the smog over London away. Deirdre thought she heard his fingers there. Tap-tap-tap-tap.
Her breaths came quicker now, and the walls felt oppressive. She needed air. Desperately, Deirdre ran out the door and down the stairs. No one was staring, but she felt that if she looked up she would see a thousand eyes staring down at her from her window. She began to run, if only to get away from him. She imagined him leaping down from the window, and running after her on four long, pointed limbs. Deirdre ran faster.
She tripped on a rock, and fell to the ground. She’d be covered in dirt by now, but covered by dirt was better than covered in shadow. Her hands were bloody when she looked at them.
The man would catch her. He would be there before she could fight, with his claws out and his teeth ready, just as he had been before. She squeezed her eyes shut, and prayed.
But the man did not come, even after many moments of lying there. Slowly, Deirdre opened her eyes, and realized she was facedown in the middle of the street on a busy day. In a daze, she got up and walked to the side. The heat felt less oppressive, and she was breathing better. The day was beautiful, really, and not so bad now that she looked at it. Breathlessly, Deirdre laughed.
She couldn’t go back home like this, though, eyes puffy from crying and hands covered in dirt and blood. Richard lived around here, didn’t he? Deirdre stood, wiped her hands on her dress, and made for his house.