Johann woke up at an unholy hour of the morning the day after arriving in Nantucket, because someone was banging hard on his front door. He sat up in bed and stormed to the window, which faced the front of the house and looked down on the porch. There was someone in obnoxiously bright clothing sanding outside the front door, holding something in their hand and knocking violently on the door.
Johann left the room as quietly as he could, so as not to wake Deirdre. He threw open the door to the master bedroom and found Monty lying in bed smoking opium.
“It’s five in the hecking morning,” Monty said.
“What does ‘hecking’ mean?”
“I’m too lazy to curse for real.”
“There’s some clown outside.”
“Actually, you’re looking at the only clown in the house.”
“Yes, exactly. The second clown is out of the house.”
“I’m not moving. My joints feel like they’re about to explode.”
Johann glared at him. Monty didn’t move. After a few moments of this, Johann realized Monty wasn’t going to get the message, so he threw his hands up and went downstairs to see who was at the front door.
It was a man dressed in the obnoxiously bright multicolored clothing of a clown, with pale skin darkened by the sun and curly chestnut hair that didn’t quite touch his shoulders. He was of average height, and he had a wide, pearly white smile.
Johann was not pleased to see a random clown showing up outside his house this early in the morning. “What do you want?”
The clown whipped a letter out from his pocket. “A letter for you, sir!” He spoke in German.
The letter was from his mother. Johann remembered how he had sent her a letter asking after the health of his brothers after having his first drug-induced hallucination beyond the void, and suddenly everything made sense. He still wasn’t sure why she had sent a clown to deliver it, but that was just a detail. “Thank you, sir.”
The clown bowed. “By the by, do you happen to know where Doctor Johann Faust lives?”
“I am him.”
“Oh! Doctor Faust, I have been sent by your family as a recent graduate of university to assist you in your studies. I will do whatever you say!”
A naive, excitable assistant was actually the last thing Johann needed at the moment, but his other options for a helper were slim, consisting of a secretive giant Frenchman, an extremely strange young woman, an opium addict, a painter, a resurrectionist, and Deirdre, who he did not want to drag into this mess. “What’s your name, then?”
“My name is Wilhelm Redd.”
“And what can you do, Mr Redd?”
“I have a university degree in medicine. I’m really very good at medicine. Oh, and I can play the pipe!”
“Which university did you graduate from?”
Johann rolled his eyes. “You’ve forgotten, have you?”
“It really was quite a while ago.”
“You said it was recent.”
Johann rolled his eyes again. At least Wilhelm Redd seemed idiotic enough that he would do what he was told. “Come in, then. Take your muddy shoes off, please.”
Wilhelm took off his shoes and placed them by the door. “I am excited to work with you, Doctor Faust.”
“Good. I’ll need you to provide some kind of credentials, but otherwise-”
He was cut off by a scream from the kitchen. Sylvia had jumped up on the counter and was pointing a butcher knife at them. “Demon! Demon! Creature crawled from the depths of Hell! THERE’S A DAMN CLOWN IN THE HOUSE!”
Monty vaulted down the stairs. “Where is it?”
Fortunately, Jean was also there to stop him in his tracks and wrench the knife from Sylvia’s hands. “It’s only a clown.”
“Actually, this is Wilhelm Redd, a recent graduate from a medical school, the name of which he’s forgotten,” Johann said. “Everyone say hello.”
Monty shook Wilhelm’s hand violently. “Good morning sir, good morning! My name is Ishmael Samuel Carter, but only people I’m in love with can call me that. I’m Monty.”
Sylvia was next to smack Wilhelm on the back in greeting. “Good morning, I’m Sylvia. Where are you from, William?”
“It’s Wilhelm. I’m from around Hamelin, if you know where that is.”
“Don’t know, don’t really care.” Sylvia drank something out of a mug and gestured to Monty. “Get the man something to drink!”
Johann grabbed Wilhelm’s shoulder. “Actually, I think we’re going to go upstairs and talk about some things. Where’s Deirdre?”
Sylvia shrugged. “Still asleep.”
“Hey, Johann, aren’t I your assistant?” Monty asked.
“You’re not trustworthy enough,” said Johann.
“Ugh.” Monty tried to take an entire egg out of the cupboard and put it in the oven, but he dropped it halfway there. “Damn. I hate this.”
Johann dragged Wilhelm upstairs and showed him to the office, where he’d set up a small lab. Johann handed him a stack of newspaper clippings. “Fresh bodies.”
Wilhelm’s eyes were as large as quarters. “Do you need them?”
“Yes. Two of the people here, Richard and Alice, deal in them. I’m taking them, and you, and Monty to the Quaker graveyard tonight to find a body for our experiments.”
“Stealing a body?”
“Yes, Wilhelm, that’s what we’re doing.” Johann threw him a shovel. “Go out into one of the fields and practice digging as fast as you can. You need to be able to get that body out of the ground in less than six minutes, understand?”
Wilhelm grinned and nodded, then ran off with his shovel. Johann sat down at his desk and rubbed his temple. He was exhausted. What would be the problem with taking a few minutes of rest? Nothing, right? Johann leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. He was asleep in seconds.
A man watched vast armies from a platform of stone. A huge three headed red dragon stood by his side, roaring for blood. The same man was sitting on a throne, a cruel glint in his eyes. His head dissolved and was replaced by a single all seeing eye, surrounded by writhing pale tentacles. There was an executioner’s platform. The sword fell, and the head of a dark-haired young woman was held above a roaring crowd. The eye-headed man lifted his hands to the sky and tore it open. He turned and looked right at Johann. When he spoke, his voice was the voice of the legion.
Fifteen in the first hour.
Better than seeing eleven.
Eleven will burn
But hands will learn to ruin.
Across the country and at the sea
They are missing.
Eleven get angry with Him
However, eleven managed the poems themselves.
Eleven are stronger.
When you find something missing
Put the blood in the fire
The war destroyed the whole earth
The future is now in the hands of eleven.
There were eleven in the last hour
Eleven will come
Johann woke up in a cold sweat. Dammit! He was sick of hearing weird, ridiculous poems in his dreams. He groaned and turned his aching neck to the small window. It was getting dark outside. Had he slept the entire day away?
He checked his watch and saw that it was five in the afternoon. Apparently he had slept upright in his uncomfortable wooden chair for a full twelve hours straight.
Johann stood up and stretched, which made all of his bones crack. He walked downstairs and found that he was the only person left in the house. Johann pulled on his coat and boots and went out into the yard. “Deirdre? Sylvia? Richard? Jean? Monty? Alice? Wilhelm?”
There was no response, but there were some broken branches at the edge of the wood. Johann had his cane with him, which he used to smack aside the few plants that the previous group hadn’t broken. There wasn’t any kind of path, but he managed to find his way pretty well, at least until he missed a stone sticking out of the ground and went flying several feet. His cane spun out of his hand, but it wasn’t activated, so it was easy to pick it up again out of the foliage, cursing to himself.
Johann leaned down to pick up the offending stone and hurl it off into the wood. Immediately, he realized that it was too big to dig out with just his fingers. It was covered in odd grooves. Was that writing? Johann switched his efforts to trying to clean off the stone. The writing was soon revealed to be yet another strange poem.
My mother, she knew things others didn’t know
Helped the village when plague brought them low
But they burned her body and threw her in a ditch
They yelled and cursed and called her a witch
And they buried her here
Under the witches’ tree.
Oh no. Had he just disturbed a witch’s grave?
“I’m so sorry,” Johann said. “Really, I am. So sorry.”
The grave gave no response.
He remembered seeing a blackberry bush some ways back. Johann stood up and raced back to collect a sprig of the plant. He wrapped it and a random yellow flower around a pair of sticks he’d found, one hawthorne and one elder, and ran back to the witch’s grave.
Johann looked up at the tree. He saw ancient knotted rope among the branches, and a chill went down his spine.
Suddenly, the stupidity of the situation hit him. He was trying to appease a gravestone. His friends easily could have put this out here just to scare him. Why was he actually believing it? He was too nervous, and overworked. He would have to take a rest tomorrow, or the next day, or whenever he’d finished with the body he was going to get tonight. Johann dropped the bundle of sticks and flowers on the ground, picked up his cane, and continued on his way.
There was a clearing in the woods up ahead. Johann walked into it, and immediately nearly fell into a dry river. He stumbled back, heart racing, and stood well away from the river to reassess the situation.
There was the dry river, about six feet deep and maybe ten feet wide. It clearly hadn’t had water in it for a while, and Johann could probably climb down into it if he worked at it. There was a bit of a rock staircase on the other side that would be useful, too. There was also a bridge a few meters away from him, too, but it was overgrown and the wood looked rotten.
On the other side of the river was a ruined mill. It wasn’t too big, and was built out of solid cobblestone that had lasted the years, but the roof had caved in and most of the wood had rotted away. How long had this been here? Surely since the 1700s, at least.
Johann carefully climbed into the dry river, and back up again on the other side. He didn’t see any more evidence of anyone passing this way before, which meant he was probably off track, but he pressed forward anyway. What else might he discover in these woods?
Soon, the tree line ended and revealed a large clearing of maybe an acre, filled with long grass that came up to Johann’s knees. It also was filled with thorny bushes, but he didn’t discover that until he waded in and felt the first stinging on his calves. Still, he pressed on, because in the center of the clearing was what looked like an abandoned church, and that was too interesting to not explore.
The church was probably Catholic. It was a typical church – a one-story building with a sloped roof and a steeple with a cross on the top, but it also had three stained glass windows on each side. The first two windows on the right side were the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ on the cross, and the last one was probably Saint Jerome, judging from the lion at his feet. On the right side stood Saint Francis, as shown by the animals flocking around him, Saint Sebastian, who had been impaled by hundreds of meticulously done arrows, and someone who might have been any of the core apostles, but was probably Saint Peter, judging from the fact that he hung upside down on a cross. There was a very small graveyard out to that side of the church, framed by a stone fence in disrepair and shadowed by the branches of a hawthorn tree.
Johann went inside the church, and was immediately struck by the creepiness of it. The pulpit and altar were on a raised platform at the back, which had a door behind it that presumably led to the sanctuary. There was a staircase right next to the door that led to a walkway just under the rafters, presumably to accommodate a choir. The pews were all still there, as well as most of the other furniture. The church was eerily silent, but that wasn’t the most uncanny thing about the entire place. Instead, it was the fact that the stone basin for holy water was still full, despite not being fed by any apparent source. Johann crossed himself as he entered, even though the water seemed to irritate his skin where it touched him.
There was an old bible under the pulpit, still marked on the last page that must have been read there. It was the story of Jonah, which was random but allowed Johann to calculate when the church might have been abandoned.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.
But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
Johann slammed the book shut. He’d spent enough time reading the Bible when he was younger. It was dark outside, and he needed to get back home.
As he was about to leave, he spotted another book under the pulpit. It was much thinner than the Bible, but he almost dropped it when he brought it into the light, not because of the weight but because it had the same eye he’d seen in his dream printed on the cheap paper cover.
Johann flipped to the first page.
Authored by Daisy Pickman
Printed AD 1754
He thought that he knew Daisy Pickman. How was it possible that she’d published a book some time before 1754?
It looked like it was just a discussion of the thoughts and motivations of the Faceless group, the people who wanted the Things back. Johann knew he’d gone to one of their meetings, but he barely remembered it beyond seeing Jean and Camilla there.
There was a sound like someone walking along the upper walkway. Johann shoved the Faceless book in his pocket, leaving the Bible open on the pulpit, and ran. He thought he heard someone running after him, but he didn’t look back, and they never caught him.
There really are fields in Nantucket that look like a great place to take your dog to run around but are actually full of stinging thorn bushes. I had to rescue my brother from the middle of one when we were kids. It wasn’t a fun experience.
Also, I have now decided that the story is going to be put on hold for the holidays, which for me means October 30th – January 6th. However, new content will still be published, in the form of short stories, artwork, and a few posts on the lore and inner workings of the world. New chapter images will also be added at some point during this time, or possibly sooner, because not only are the old ones not very good they also aren’t on every chapter. Of course, October 30th isn’t for a while, but I thought it would be best to announce this far in advance.
Thank you for reading!