Content warning: Implied abuse and cannibalism
They arrived in Nantucket on the Fifteenth of October – four months before they had left the harbor in Hell. Deirdre asked Duchess Mephisto about it, but was advised not to think about it too deeply.
Monty was there as they coasted into the harbor with a myriad of information about his birthplace.
“Nantucket, looked at from an aerial view, is in the shape of a whale, which is fitting considering its history. The harbor of Nantucket is worn out in curves, like the top of a scallop’s shell, and in this harbor is Great Point Lighthouse, which is the second oldest lighthouse in America. Think of that! Second-oldest! Built in 1769!
“Once upon a time, Nantucket was the booming center of the whaling industry. Once, it was a thriving gem, and a person hailing from it could conquer most of the world – or, at least the part where the whales were. Trust me, I was there. But, having been ravaged by a fire in 1846, and thanks to the gradual buildup of sandbars, it’s in decline. This talk of war seems like it’ll lead to the final blow on whaling in Nantucket, at least by my reckoning.”
“That’s very interesting, Monty,” Duke Mephisto said. “What’s all this smoke?”
“Whale oil refineries and candle factories. Whaling ain’t dead yet.”
“You were born here, right?”
“Right, right. How old are you, Monty?”
“Twenty, when I died.”
“You were born in 1840, then.”
“Impossible. I was born in 1793.”
“I’m not arguing with you about this.”
“That’s just alright, because you’re wrong.”
Deirdre stifled a laugh, and fortunately, Duke Mephisto chuckled.
Sylvia had been seasick for most of the voyage, but she was up on the deck now. She was much better than she had been, since she wasn’t throwing up anymore, but she maintained that she still felt ill most of the time and would spontaneously get much better when she set foot on land.
Monty pointed to a whaling ship in the harbor, the presence of which seemed to contradict what he’d been saying earlier. “I’ve whaled on that ship. She’s been retooled.”
“Why did you go whaling, Monty, if you have such a hatred of the sea?” Serana Mephisto asked. Deirdre rolled her eyes. They all knew much about Monty’s hatred of the sea.
“Precisely because I hate whales, and I wanted there to be less of them on this planet.”
“Are you being serious?”
The ship grated to a stop, and a sailor threw down the gangplank. It was cold, and the island seemed very desolate with the freezing fall wind blowing across it, stealing peoples’ hats and making skeletons of the trees lining the cobblestone streets. Deirdre shivered, and pulled the thick blanket she’d been carrying around her shoulders.
The Shaw-Captain, a tall shadowy figure wrapped in scraps of black fabric, came up from below deck to bid them all farewell. This was the first they’d seen of the Shaw-Captain, which did not bother Deirdre because of how much she’d been seeing the thing at the end of the bed, since setting off.
The ghostly sailors unloaded their luggage. Those Deirdre was afraid of, because of something deep in her memory that told her that she could have ended up like them, had she not been able to do something that she wasn’t able to consciously remember. She took her small bag when it was handed to her and then got away from them as fast as possible.
Duke Mephisto handed Johann a wad of money. “Get a hotel, or something like that.”
“Why can’t we stay with you?”
“You find a Carter who invites you, you can stay with Janson. You find an important person who invites you, you can stay with me.”
Monty hooked his arm around both Johann and Deirdre’s, putting himself between them. “I’ve got a house to my name somewhere around here. We can go stay there!”
Deirdre was nervous about going to a new house on this island, but maybe the sea all around would keep the thing that haunted her away. She put on a brave face, and followed Monty, Sylvia, Johann, Jean, Richard, and Alice down the street, hopefully to a warm house.
The house was not warm. It was furnished, but that was the only thing it had going for it: it had probably been a farm, once, but now vegetation covered the front, vines climbed the cobblestones of the house, and the fields had been overgrown with tall grasses and sharp, curling thorns. There were two fields, a large one off the side of the house, and a smaller one behind it. Both were overgrown into thorny nightmares. There was also a field of grass in front of the house that was not used for planting, and at its center was an oak tree that looked like it had been there since before the birth of Jesus. There was also a forest in the back, behind a back field and small lake, and the darkness of its trees unsettled Deirdre greatly.
The house itself was made of stone and brick, with two stories. The house was mainly a simple rectangle, but there was also an extension to the right side that was only on the first story, and a mirror one on the left that was exactly the same from the outside except for the fact that it went up to the second floor as well. The house and all the land around it gave off a general aura of great age, so that when Deirdre stepped onto the property she was immediately aware that this house had been there long before her and would be here long after her, too. It was unsettling, and made her uncomfortable even before she went inside.
Obviously, it hadn’t been cleaned for a long time, but all the furniture was there. The first room was a simple entryway, with doors going off to the cellar, the hallway to the kitchen in the right extension, the dining room, and the parlour, which was at the back of the first floor. Off the kitchen hallway was a room with a toilet and bathtub. There was also a set of stairs in the entryway, which had a door to the master bedroom at the top, another door to another bedroom at the right, and a hallway to the left. There were two more bedrooms along that hallway, another bathroom, and a last, larger bedroom at the end of it.
Last but not least, the house had a ladder to a widow’s walk. Deirdre and Johann climbed up there to survey the land, and realized they could see the sea from there.
Deirdre enjoyed herself up there until she saw a dripping figure in a tricorn hat standing in the back field. Then she started to sweat, and hurried down the ladder before she had a full-on panic attack.
“What did you see?” Johann asked.
“Someone standing out back.”
“I didn’t see it.”
“You can’t. Only I can.”
The back door slammed. “I fell in the damn lake!”
Oh, it was just Monty. Better safe than sorry.
Despite the fact that she and Johann got a beautiful front-facing bedroom with a double bed pressed up against a wall of windows, the house was still bad to be in because it was freezing cold. Jean lit a fire downstairs, and they dug up blankets to sit huddled in on the sofa, but it was still cold.
Sylvia was drinking laudanum to keep herself warm.
“Amen to that,” Monty said, accepting a bottle from her.
“Our host should not be getting high,” said Richard.
“Oh, I’m the host?”
“This is your house.”
“…Oh, right. I kind of thought you might continue with that role”
Richard looked annoyed for a moment, then he smiled. “Alright, I can do that, if it makes you feel better. I just think you should-”
“Drugs are trouble.”
Richard had a copy of the Bible, and Johann The Iliad, written in Ancient Greek. Deirdre couldn’t read that, so she read The Canterbury Tales instead, which she had found on a shelf upstairs. Sylvia and Monty were both too high to do anything else, but they seemed happy.
Monty broke the silence after it had gotten dark. “I’m a prophet, I think.”
“No one’s a prophet any more,” Richard said.
“But I think I am one.”
“But I talked to God once.”
“No you didn’t.”
“What did he say to you, then?”
“‘Can a man curse and deny a god?’”
“As if that makes sense out of context.”
“I’m a prophet.”
“Fine, then, you are. What do you say, O mighty prophet?”
“Whales are evil and we should avoid them at all costs.”
“I’m hungry,” Jean said.
“Starving,” said Deirdre. “Yet unwilling to move.”
“I’ll eat a bird, but not a whale,” Monty said.
“You’re in luck,” said Richard. “We haven’t got any whales.”
“Do you know my favorite food, Richard?”
“I don’t, but my curiosity is aroused.”
“Wigs. I mean eggs.”
“Wigs are really good, to be fair,” Sylvia said. “I eat wax.”
“Actually, I used to do that, too,” said Monty
“You what?” Richard asked.
“When I would find molten wax I would just… stick my hand in it and eat it.”
“Are you being serious?”
Richard shook his head and laughed. “You’re really strange, you know that?”
“In a good or bad way?”
Richard paused for a moment. “A good way, I think.”
“I do think you should slow down on the drugs.”
Jean stood up. “I can’t take it any more. I’m going out for food.”
Everyone else went back to reading, even though Deirdre was more on edge without the biggest, strongest person there. She tried to settle down and read her book or listen to Monty and Richard’s quiet conversations, but it wasn’t easy. She imagined she heard someone tapping on the window. Deirdre buried her head under the blankets and closed her eyes.
When she awoke, it was late at night, but Jean was giving out plates of meat. The meat looked like beef, but when Deirdre bit into it it tasted like pork. It was delicious all the same, and she ate it all up.
“I know what this is,” Monty said.
“Yeah, it’s pork,” said Jean.
“No, it isn’t.”
“Yes, it is.”
“No, it isn’t, this is human meat.”
Jean laughed. “You have quite the imagination while on drugs, my friend.”
“I highly doubt this is human meat,” Sylvia said.
Monty held his stance a moment more, but then shrugged and bit back into his steak. Deirdre hadn’t stopped eating even for a moment. Even if it was human meat, it was delicious all the same.
Deirdre managed to fall asleep almost immediately once her and Johann were in bed. Her dreams were strange, vivid visions of an endless sea, so mindbendingly incomprehensible that they woke her up on their own. Either that, or she’d been woken by the thing that sat at the end of her bed.
“Johann,” Deirdre whispered.
He groaned. The thing didn’t move.
“Johann, wake up.”
Johann sat up. “What?”
“At the end of the bed.”
“Do you see it?”
“There’s nothing there.”
“There is. It’s a monster.”
“I can’t see it.”
“No, I can’t.”
“You might be lying.”
“I swear I’m not. I just can’t see it.”
Deirdre was silent. Was she out of her mind? Probably so. Her father had convinced her that most of the things that she thought had happened in Ireland hadn’t really happened, so why should this be any more real? She was just crazy.
“Why don’t you go get some water?” Johann asked. “Come back and we can talk about this more. Maybe it’s just the light. Or maybe I can’t see it because it doesn’t want me to.”
That reassured Deirdre a little. She went downstairs and drank a cup of water, ate a slab of bread, and sat on the counter waiting for it to be alright to walk up the stairs again.
The Man in Red walked into the kitchen. “I don’t like the milk here.”
“Shut up,” said Deirdre. She didn’t know how or when he’d gotten in, but she decided to accept it.
“Are you alright?”
“Johann says that he can’t see it.” In fact, she was glad he was there. The Man in Red would know exactly what she was talking about.
“It’s a gap in reality, Deirdre. You have to be a little disconnected in some way to be able to see it. Johann has his head all full of science and math and heaven and hell. He’s too rational to see something right in front of his face because it doesn’t match up with any of that.”
Deirdre was silent for a moment. “You mean I’m too irrational to not see it?”
“No, you… um… Deirdre, how much do you remember about Ireland?”
“I don’t want to talk about that.”
“Then I can’t answer your question.”
She took a deep breath. Talking about it was good. Talking about it was healthy. She needed answers. “Fine. I want to know why. Why can I see these things?”
“Your father. Do you remember him?”
He had been tall, with iron muscles and flaming hair. “Yes.”
“Do you remember what he was like?”
“Right. Do you remember how he kept a room that you were never to go in?”
“Do you remember going into that room?”
Deirdre swallowed and tried to focus on where she was. “And after that?”
“You ran. He followed you. Him and his wife, the woman who wasn’t your mother.”
“Did they- did they catch me?”
“Yes, Deirdre, they caught you.”
“And they hurt me?”
“They didn’t just hurt you, Deirdre.”
“What else did they do?”
“They killed you, Deirdre.”
“Yes. They drowned you in the sea.”
Deirdre looked down at her hands, not fazed in the slightest. They were dead hands. Dead dead dead. “I knew that.”
“Yes, I knew that.”
“So I suppose you know that you’re alive because I stole your soul and put it back into your body? But, it took me a long time to find it so you were trapped in your gravestone for several hundred years?”
Deirdre sighed. “You’re the reason I can see them, are you?”
“But I saw them as a child.”
The Man in Red frowned. “I can’t explain that.”
“Didn’t think so.”
“I can explain everything else, though.”
“Is Monty a madman or a prophet?”
“Ishmael Carter is… hm… a very strange personage, I should say.”
“Maybe in another life, a mad prophet.”
Deirdre stood up. “I want to see how bad this milk is.”
“You do that. Goodnight, Deirdre.”
Fun fact: the thing about the lighthouse is true, and if you go to Nantucket today and happen to go past the lighthouse at all, people will tell you. Every single time, they will tell you. Every. Single. Time.
Whaling was also in steep decline in Nantucket even in the 1850s, (though it was stronger in New Bedford) which means that by the time Herman Melville published Moby-Dick in 1851, the height of whaling on Nantucket had more or less passed. It’s still a cool place, though, so expect for a few notes with random facts – like the thing about the lighthouse – over the next few weeks.