Content warning: Themes of death and grief
Clarissa had recovered from her illness and immediately been drafted into tending Albert’s. As soon as the doctors were sure she was no longer ill, whatever their definition of that was, she’d been told to go help Albert with his fever. Of course, when she first entered his room, she was instantly told by the patient himself that it was not a fever, but that he had the consumption, and he was dying of it.
“And have you verified this?” Clara asked.
Albert shrugged, and coughed. He was deathly pale and very thin, though he’d been refusing food for the past few days. He claimed to not be hungry.
“Well, if you haven’t verified these claims, how can you know them to be true?”
“Well, that’s helpful.”
“It really is.”
Albert continued to grow thinner, and hack up more and more blood. At one point so much filled his mouth that he swallowed it down the wrong pipe and couldn’t breathe, so Clara had had to smack him on the back and give him salt water both to wash out his mouth and hopefully unclog his throat. It didn’t really help, but Albert didn’t die, and instead leaned back against the cushions of his bed and said that he wished he had.
“Does your stomach hurt?” Clara asked him one day.
Albert threw a pillow at her. She took that as a yes.
Clara wasn’t the only one taking care of Albert; Emma, Hugh, Ernest, and even Mr Holland sometimes did as well, but as a young married woman with no occupation, children, or house to keep Clara was the only one who was almost always free. Emma had to look for a husband and help take care of the missing Sarah’s children, Hugh was in the navy, Ernest was dragged about by his father now that Albert was ill, and Mr Holland had all sorts of concerns of his own, but Clara’s only cares were for Ernest, who liked to do most of his book-keeping and chores himself. So, Clara had been automatically assigned to taking care of Albert, which wasn’t as thankless a job as it could have been.
When he’d been sick for a while, Albert demanded opium. Clara’s response was an immediate no, even though she knew he was in tremendous pain. She didn’t have authority to administer drugs to him, being someone who knew absolutely nothing about medicine.
“Call for the doctor,” Albert said.
Clara did, and when the doctor arrived an hour later, the man administered Albert painkillers that left him in a semi-sleep for hours afterward.
“Give him a few drops of this every morning,” the doctor said.
Clara did, but they didn’t really seem to help beyond putting Albert in an almost comatose state. A month or two into the use of the painkillers their effectiveness declined dramatically. He coughed blood almost constantly now, and Clara could see the bones poking out through his skin.
It was the fifteenth of October when Clara entered Albert’s sickroom and found him cold. She shook him once or twice, but already knew what had happened. A few hours later, the doctor made it official: Albert Janson had died during the night, stolen from his youth by consumption.
Clara felt numb. She watched as they took Albert’s body out of the house for it to be quarantined, and burned everything in his room. A doctor asked her all kinds of questions about if she’d caught it or not. Clara did her best to answer them, but she was in such a state of shock talking with anyone was nearly impossible.
The Janson household mourned. Albert’s body was carried back to his father’s dukedom, where his funeral was held. It was hard for Clara to get out of bed in the mornings, and all the more harder for her to go to the funeral of the young man she’d tended to for so long. She didn’t even cry anymore, she just felt hollow and sad, like this death had left a hole in her. A point was driven into Clara’s mind: she would die. Sure, she’d known that before, but it was always just an idea, expressed by the vague feeling that she might die at some point. Now it was a piece of sobering knowledge that she carried around with her, a sentiment that one day, she and everyone else she knew would have the consciousness stolen in an instant, with no idea what to expect beyond.
Few people attended Albert’s funeral. There was the Janson family, all except for the missing Sarah, but including her children and husband. John Amon, his wife, and daughter were present, as well as Duke Mephisto, his wife, and Lavinia Avnas and her husband. Albert’s friends Camilla, Cesare, Daiyu, and Richard were there too, but off to one side. Most sickeningly, Dr Faust was there, looking pristine and well-groomed. Clara wanted to scream and throw out this man who practiced such a perverted art related to death. Why was he here at a funeral?
A demon took the pulpit that was set up to the side of the hole Albert would be lowered into. “Dear friends. We are here today because this young man has been stolen from the prime of his life by a vicious human disease. He was a good young man, a kind young man, who will be missed dearly by his friends and family alike.”
Apparently that was the eulogy. The demon stepped down, and went over to stand next to Duke Janson.
Someone else stepped up to give a rite of some sort, which Clara couldn’t focus on. Instead, she focused on the other details of the funeral, trying to soak it all up so she could remember it forever.
It was raining, and water dusted Clara’s hair and coated the land in a fine layer of precipitation. Everyone else was distant, like they’d withdrawn within themselves and shut everyone out. She could sympathize. Looking around, she couldn’t help but wonder if it was her fault. Had she not nursed Albert well enough? Had she done better, would he still be alive today?”
Dr Faust approached her, and Clara’s stomach did flips. How was she to react to this? She hated and feared the man, but she could hardly say that here.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Dr Faust said with a grim smile.
“I know,” said Clara, though she didn’t mean it. “I just feel bad. I mean, who wouldn’t? And we’re going away tomorrow, so I won’t have time to be here with his grave.”
“I know how you feel. I had to leave for seminary right after my father died. I didn’t even get to go to the funeral.”
Clara was silent. This man brought people back from the dead, which Albert Janson was. Perhaps…
No. No, absolutely not. How could she even think that? Clara bit her lip as hard as she could. “Dr Faust,” she said. “Can I ask you a question?”
“H- have you brought any more humans back to life?”
“Yes, of course. Dominic Sapping is one.”
That was like being told that the sky was blue.
They didn’t talk any more for the rest of the service, except when Clara went up to pay her respects to the corpse. Albert lay there in the casket, his arms crossed over his chest, hands clenched together. His dark brown hair had lost its luster, his skin was pale and drawn, and his eyes were sunken into his head. He was a shadow of himself.
After that Clara couldn’t handle it any more. She had to leave, and luckily Oberon had just made his appearance at the funeral.
“Father?” Clara asked. She was still getting comfortable calling him that, in the same way she was still getting comfortable with the revelation that her entire identity was wrong.
“I don’t think I can stay much longer.”
“I need to get out of here.”
“I was going to take you with Titania to meet your relations in Nantucket.”
“Oh, thank God. When?”
“Whenever. Bring Ernest, will you?”
“I don’t know if he’ll want that.”
“Try to convince him.”
Clara stuck with Oberon for the rest of the service, then wandered off on her own until dinner, after which she went straight to bed. She wanted to cry, she should have cried, but she felt that she’d already drained her tear ducts, so instead Clara just lay there silently until Ernest came in and laid down next to her.
“I’m going to Nantucket with Oberon,” she said.
“I’m coming with you.”
“You don’t have to. I know your family-”
“As if any of them are even grieving. I just need some time away, Clara. Please.”
“Oberon told me specifically to get you to come.”
“Yes, he did.”
Somewhere in the ensuing silence Clara fell into sleep. She had a series of nightmares, all of which involved blood and doctors in some way. In the middle of the night, she woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep for the longest time because of the constant oppressive heat in Hell. When she did get back to sleep, it was just in time for another nightmare about a man who projectile vomited blood into her bed.
In the morning, a commotion downstairs woke her. Clara sat up, incredibly irritated, and opened the door to give whoever it was a piece of her mind.
A young man in a tricorn hat and a woman with hair that reached to her waist were at least partially the cause of the commotion, because they were tossing pieces of luggage downstairs while loudly singing a French children’s song about a lark.
Alouette, gentille alouette,
Alouette, je te plumerai.
Je te plumerai la tête.
Je te plumerai la tête.
Et la tête!
Et la tête!
Alouette, gentille alouette,
Alouette, je te plumerai.
Clara stepped out into the hallway and slammed her door. “Hey, hat and hair!”
The two of them stopped what they were doing.
“Shut up and let me sleep.”
“Apologies, mademe,” said the girl, tipping a pretend hat.
The boy put on a thick New England accent for no discernible reason. “Aye, apologizes to ye, ma’am, but ye better thinketh before insultin’ me hat again.” He swept his hat off his head and scowled at her, lurching forward in an exaggerated manner.
“Let me sleep,” Clara said. “Or you’ll regret it, I swear.”
Clara groped around behind the door until her hand curled around her sword. It was a long bastard sword, with a blade of pale metal and a handle carved from white horn. She drew it and brandished it in the boy’s face. “Listen here.”
The boy didn’t budge. His face grew into a grin, and he opened his mouth to sing again. “Alouette-”
Clara swiped her sword at him, and he slid backwards. The grin never left his face.
The girl came up to him and stood in front of the sword. She went to touch the blade, so Clara yanked it out of her reach. The girl shrugged and, to Clara’s neverending shock, did a flip over the blade, landing on her feet on the other side. The boy took her arm, and they walked off in the direction of a group of servants bringing luggage down from the upper levels.
“I’m sorry, are more people going to Nantucket than I thought?” Clara asked.
“The whole Janson family,” the girl said. “Oberon was smoking opium last night, and he got high and told Duke Janson that he was taking Mrs Clarissa Janson and Mr Ernest Janson to Nantucket to meet her ‘mother’ there. Duke Janson’s coming along, and Richard Golson, mostly because he’s hitching a ride, I think, so we’re coming along with him, too.”
“And I suppose Duke Mephisto’s coming, as well.”
“Wow, how’d you guess?”
Clara rolled her eyes. “Guess I’d better pack, then. You, who are you?”
“Sylvia Sapping, at your service.” Sylvia made an elaborate bow.
The boy swung around the corner and jumped up in the air, sliding a meter or two when he landed. He swung his hat off with a flourish. “Ishmael Samuel Carter, of Nantucket. Call me Monty.”
“Carter?” That was the name of the people Clara was related to. Could this boy be one of her nephews, or nieces?
“That’s right, I’m a scion of that family.”
“Really? Who are your parents?”
Monty Carter looked nervous all of the sudden. “Dorothy Carter, daughter of Henry Carter.”
Those names meant nothing to Clara. She had been told that her father was Percy Carter Sr. “Did you know a Percy Carter Sr?”
Monty laughed. “Percy Carter Jr, sure. Not Sr.”
“Oh.” Presumably, that was the son of her father. He would be middle aged by now, wouldn’t he? “Son of Percy Carter Sr?”
“Son of James Carter III.”
“Oh. and was he the son of Percy Carter Sr?”
“I think so. I met him a few years back on a whaleship.”
“Oh, he’s a whaler?”
“No, an academic who was studying the stars while on our voyage.”Clara frowned. Having an academic as a relative wouldn’t be so bad, would it? She wondered what the rest of her family would be like. With luck, they would all be peaceful academics and whalers.
I’m going to go back on what I promised again by not releasing the promised short stories until November 1st. This is because I’m going to be going on a hiatus with for all of November, but I’ll still be releasing content in the form of art and short stories on Wednesdays and Saturdays. After November, the schedule will resume as normal.
Thank you for reading!