Content warnings: Beheading, death, panic attacks
Deirdre woke up at two in the morning because she heard noise and was certain something was crawling through her window. She stayed completely still, heart racing. Don’t move. Don’t move. Don’t even breathe.
After what felt like an eternity in a state of utter panic, Deirdre realized that it was probably not someone climbing through the window to kill her, because if it was, they would have done it by now. She opened her eyes and sat up slowly. The room was indeed empty except for her and Johann. She stood up, feeling the coolness of the floor against her feet, which were hot from being under the blankets.
There was the noise again! Deirdre jumped and tried to stop herself from running back to bed like a frightened child. She tiptoed to the door and out into the hallway, where she stood frozen for several minutes, until she was absolutely sure that it was safe to go downstairs.
When she did creep down the stairs, she was startled by the sound of a child playing. Deirdre considered what that might be and arrived at the conclusion that it was probably a ghost.
That was hilarious because she was technically a member of the undead, and it made her laugh so hard she had to stop for a moment so that she wouldn’t fall down the stairs.
After Deirdre was finished laughing, she climbed down the stairs and went into the parlor, where she was doubly surprised to find Caro sitting on the ground playing with her dolls.
“Caro?” Deirdre asked. “I thought you were a ghost.”
Caro giggled. “Not entirely wrong.”
“Oh?” Deirdre sat down on the floor next to her. Was it possible she was like her? “Why?”
“I was dead for a long time. But Dr Faust brought me back.”
“Oh.” She’d have to be displeased with Johann later.
“I think I might have been brought back for a reason.”
“Really?” Deirdre had always had a nagging suspicion of that as well. Sometimes, she had dreams about things she was supposed to do. In fact, lately, she was having dreams about the abandoned church in the woods.
“Yeah, I think so. I think maybe I’m a prophet.”
“Sure, that’s what the people in the walls said. I trust them.”
‘I trust the people in the walls’ was a funny thing to say, but Deirdre trusted the Man in Red entirely, and she wasn’t going to judge if Caro had her own Man in Red. “I have a man who I trust as well, but he doesn’t live in the walls.”
Caro walked one of the dolls, a man dressed in a powdered wig and cravat with glasses, across the floor. She looked down at it and very suddenly threw it across the room. Deirdre jumped as it crashed into the grate in front of the fire.
“Do you hate that doll?” Deirdre asked.
Caro shrugged and picked up another of the dolls. “Can you get something for me?”
“A little blade from the kitchen.”
Deirdre shrugged. “I guess. Why?”
“Because I want to play with it with my dolls.”
“You want to cut your dolls?”
“I have this little doll of Robespierre and I want to be able to behead him if I want.”
Deirdre looked over at the doll she’d just thrown across the room. “Was that him?”
“Why do you want to behead one of your dolls?”
“Because I do hate that doll. His head is hard so he’s bad to cuddle but he’s too big to play with properly. If I had another doll his size I might like him more, but I don’t. And it’s what happened to him in real life, and I want my dolls to be just like real life.”
Deirdre got up and went into the kitchen. She located the knife rack immediately and went through it until she found a small, sort of dull knife. After that, she went back to where Caro was and presented her with the knife.
Caro ran the blade along her hand. “It’s a little bit dull, you know.”
“I don’t think Monica would want me to take a sharper one.”
Caro shrugged and picked up a featureless cloth doll. She held the doll’s legs down and cut the head off with a sudden and frightening chop. Seeing that it worked, Caro seemed pleased with what she had, and pocketed the knife.
Deirdre stood up. “I think I might go back to bed, Caro.”
“That’s alright.” Caro pointed. “Will you get Robespierre for me, please?”
Deirdre went to pick up Robespierre from behind the grate, and found that there was an eye etched in the stone of the fireplace. A chill went through her and she remembered Johann’s description of the dream with the eye and the weird poem. Eleven will come…
“Well?” Caro asked.
Deirdre threw Robespierre at her. “I’m going to bed.”
“Alright, suit yourself.” Caro paused for a moment, then picked up a small doll of mismatched fabrics and rag stuffing and handed it to Deirdre. Its tin button eyes shone in the light, and its mouth was stitched into a cheerful smile. “This is for you.”
The doll was strangely wet to the touch, which disgusted Deirdre, but she took it anyway out of politeness. “Thank you, Caro.”
“It might talk to you. It talked to Ishmael. That’s why he gave it to me.”
“Ishmael? You mean Monty?”
“We call him Ishmael, dummy, because he’s related to us.”
“Oh, right. Well, I’m going to bed now. Goodnight.”
Deirdre slid the wet doll into the pocket of her nightgown and slunk very slowly back upstairs. She stopped dead in the hallway, mostly because she heard someone crying very softly somewhere in the house. Her immediate instinct was to find the person and help them calm down, so she went up to the first bedroom door and cracked it open.
Sylvia was lying awake on the bed. “Deirdre? I’m glad you’re here. I have something to tell you.”
She wasn’t the one crying, but she seemed distressed all the same. Deirdre shut the door and went to sit on the bed with her.
Sylvia shifted and wrung her hands. “Em… well… you know how most people, most people are, well, they’re attracted to people who are… the opposite of what they are?”
Deirdre felt a jolt of anticipation. Was Sylvia about to reveal something very important to her? “Yes?”
“Well, I, um, I don’t.”
“You like girls,” Deirdre said.
“Well… I mean, I like girls and boys as friends. And I do like being romantic with both girls and boys. Just romance, though. I just… don’t really feel any need for it to go any further.”
Deirdre was a little confused. “You don’t want sex?”
Sylvia sighed. “No, I don’t.”
Deirdre paused to try to understand. She certainly didn’t know what that felt like – her activities with Johann were proof enough of that – but she understood not wanting something that everyone else seemed to, like physical contact from everyone. Would it be so different to not want sex? Deirdre thought about how she felt at the moment in regards to that. Was that how Sylvia felt all of the time?
Sylvia looked anxious, and Deirdre suddenly felt bad for putting her on edge by being silent for so long.
Deirdre reached out and touched Sylvia’s arm. “I don’t see any problem with that. Everyone wants something different. If that’s how you feel, it’s just… how you feel. You can’t change that.”
Sylvia tackled her with a hug. “Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou.”
Deirdre smiled and squeezed her. Sylvia was her oldest friend. They had known each other ever since the Man in Red had brought her out from under that stone. There was no way Deirdre could not love Sylvia, no matter how she felt in regards to sex an romance.
“You should go check on Johann,” Sylvia said. “I think maybe I heard him crying.”
Deirdre stood up and left the room. She stood in the hallway for a moment before going into their bedroom. “Johann?”
He was sitting at the end of the bed, eyes obviously red from crying. “My brother is dead, Deirdre.”
She felt something like a stone hitting the bottom of her stomach. “What?”
Johann handed her a letter.
“I can’t speak German,” said Deirdre.
Johann sighed. “I wrote it out in English on the dresser. I didn’t believe it until I wrote it with my own hand.”
Deirdre went over to the dresser and started to read what he’d written on a scrap of paper.
My dearest son, Johann Faust,
I am writing to you with regret. Only days before we received your letter asking after Wilhelm, we had received another, more shocking letter. Wilhelm was serving as a priest in a small church in France, when he was brutally attacked by a doglike creature said to be as big as a horse. He hung on for a few days afterwards, but his wounds were infected by the poor conditions, and there was nothing they could do save-
Deirdre had to stop reading, because she was close to throwing the paper in the fire. There was only one huge canine from France she knew of, and he had disappeared for several weeks with Oberon and Titania, before returning.
“Well?” Johann asked.
Deirdre wanted to say, Jean Gévaudan killed your brother, but she didn’t. Instead, she said, “I… don’t know what to say.”
“Some goddamn monster killed my brother.”
“I don’t know what to say, Johann.”
“Don’t say anything at all, then. I need to be alone right now, please.” Johann rubbed his temple. “My head is killing me.”
“Cold water,” Deirdre said.
“I want to be alone.”
“I’ll go into Sylvia’s room.”
Deirdre nodded to him and went back to Sylvia’s room. Before Sylvia could even get anything out of her mouth, Deirdre said, “Jean killed his brother.”
“Jean said that he killed a man in France,” said Sylvia. “A priest.”
“Johann’s brother Wilhelm.”
“I’ll kill him.” Sylvia paused. “Jean, not Johann or his brother Wilhelm.”
Deirdre wanted to scream and throw something, but she restrained herself and simply asked, “so, can I sleep here, now?”
“I guess. I won’t go to bed for a long time, and I might get up to kill Jean.”
“We should think more about it in the morning.”
“Yea, okay.” Sylvia moved over to create more space for Deirdre. Her room was small, and her single bed was against the wall, under a small, single window. It was covered in a soft and colorful quilt, which seemed to cradle Deirdre when she slid under it.
Sylvia put her arm over Deirdre, so that she could curl up against her. Deirdre closed her eyes and imagined how good it would feel to sleep here, in this bed, with her friend right there to protect her. She was beginning to feel a little less anxious facing away from the door, especially with Sylvia awake and able to see if anyone came in.
Just then, a tap-tap at the window began. Deirdre clamped her hands over her ears and tried to tune it out. She went spiralling backwards into the past, and felt as afraid as she had when her father had hunted her in the woods of 15th century Ireland. She was sweating, and shaking badly, and probably whimpering, because her mouth was open, but she didn’t know what was coming out.
She had to stop this. It wasn’t really happening. She wasn’t back there. She wasn’t back there and it wasn’t really happening. She was on Nantucket Island in the year 1860. Nantucket Island in the year 1860. Nantucket Island in the year 1860. Nantucket Island in the year 1860.
Deirdre was watching herself from above, she was watching herself freaking out in that bed, and Sylvia cradling her and speaking softly and saying that everything would be alright. It wouldn’t be, though, because she was- she was on Nantucket Island in the year 1860. That was where she was. Deirdre pulled herself back into her body, felt the shaking and the sweating subside, and slowly went still.
“Calm down,” Sylvia said softly. “Just calm down. Everything’s going to be alright. See? You’re already feeling better.”
Deirdre shifted. Her mouth was dry. She swallowed hard and reached out for the glass of water on Sylvia’s nightstand. “Can- can I drink this?”
Deirdre drained the glass of water. She felt shaky and weak. “Sylvia-”
“It’s alright. You got through it, right? Just lie back down and try to fall asleep.”
Deirdre curled back up like she had before, only this time, she was certain to pull a blanket over her head so that she couldn’t hear that accursed thing at the window.
Three more posts until I go on a hiatus for November and December! I have several short stories lined up to publish, as well as a lot of art, (particularly some art of the major romantic pairings in the story) and I’ll be redoing pretty much the whole website when I have more free time in late December over the holidays. The archives will still be open, and I’ll still be publishing twice a week, but on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and they won’t be chapters. The first chapter after the hiatus will be at some point in early January, which I’ll have the exact date for later this month, hopefully.
Thank you for reading!