Richard – 2.20.8

Content warnings: Death, near drowning, thalassophobia

Richard was apparently a source of curiosity in his sun-proof suit. Every person on Nantucket Island was eager to see him, and were apparently disappointed now that he only went out at dusk. At least, that was what Alice told him as they walked down Main Street to the pharmacy on the evening of December first. 

“I saw a kid today who wanted to know when you would be back out in that ‘funny black suit.’ I told him he was being rude and that you would be back out when you were back out.”

Richard smiled. The shops on Main Street were already decorating for Christmas, and he could hear some people singing in the streets, “Angels we have heard on high…”

“Richard?” Alice asked.

“Sorry,” he said. “Wow, look at that doll in the window, Alice. I should buy that for Caro for Christmas.” It was the third time he’d been out of the house in months, because of his concussion, and though his head still hurt, Richard was glad he’d finally taken the initiative to go out a few days ago. He very much liked Christmas, and it made him feel good to see everyone preparing to celebrate it.

The doll in question was an expensive china doll imported from England. Richard opened the door to go into the store it was in.

Johann yanked him back. Richard shouted, especially because the shock made him stumble and drop his cane.

“Johann!” Richard said. 

“Sorry,” said Johann. “I have to say something important.”

“Great. What is it?”

“Mrs Fuller won’t die.”

“You mean, she hasn’t died yet?”

“Why are you so nonchalant? This is your profession.”

“Just because I deal in the dead does not mean I wish death upon the living,” said Richard, reaching down to pick up his cane. “Look around, Johann. Isn’t the atmosphere amazing? It’s Advent for real now!”

Johann shrugged. “I don’t care. We’re going to sail to Hell and steal the body of Albert Janson.”

The shock of the statement almost made Richard drop his cane again. “You’re doing what?”

We are going to sail to Hell and steal the only other moderately fresh body I know of.” Johann pulled the sleeves on his ill-fitting coat down. “Are you coming or not?”

“I’ll come. Alice?”

Alice shrugged. “Whatever.”

Johann pointed down the street. “Monty is at some dock with a boat.”

“I don’t want some high kid driving my boat.”

“He isn’t high, and he’s older than you will ever be. He was born in the 1600s, for God’s sake.”

Alice shrugged. “He acts like a kid, so he is one.”

Johann shook his head. “Say whatever you want, but Monty’s still going to ferry Richard over the river tonight. You, me, Sylvia, and Deirdre are going on another boat that Duke Janson’s been using to go back and forth from Hell every day. He’s leaving in-” Johann checked his watch, “twenty minutes. We’re going to stow away in the hold. You and Monty will meet us in the graveyard and use your small skip to transport the body back afterwards, got it?”

“Yea, whatever,” said Alice.

“When are we doing this?” Richard asked.

Johann gave him a confused look. “Now?”

“Don’t you think you had better, I don’t know, plan a little more?”

“No time,” said Johann. “Go join Monty. Now, Richard!”

Even though he still thought it was an atrocious idea, Richard went.

Monty and Richard stood on a lonely dock, holding a line that seemed to lead off into the fog. It seemed that as soon as they’d managed to find the boat, the weather had immediately turned against them. Clouds and fog covered Nantucket, and the fact that the sun had just gone down didn’t help visibility.

But this was the only boat they were allowed to use, and this was apparently how they would get to Hell. The fisherman they’d bribed to let them use their boat had come and gone, and now they were standing on this dock, holding a rope that seemed to lead nowhere.

Monty hauled in the boat, and they found that it was even worse than Richard, at least, had expected. The fisherman had been sketchy enough, but his boat was just too much. The bottom half was covered in barnacles, and all the planks were covered in slimy green gunk. The ropes looked rotted away, the sails were patched, and there was water sloshing around inside it. 

Richard turned green at the sight of it, and white at the thought of his father’s ghost. “I’m not getting into that thing.”

“Why?” Monty asked, climbing in and sitting on the side, near the mast. “It won’t bite.”

“It’s not the biting I’m worried about,” Richard said nervously, putting his hand on the side and putting both his cane and one foot in the bottom of the boat. He put his other foot in, and let go of the side, propping himself into the same position that Monty was in. “I’m just nervous, and my father-”

“Your father drowned,” said Monty in a very matter-of-fact voice.

Richard stared at him. “How could you possibly know that?”

“Oh, I just do. And, don’t worry, I’ve been sailing out of Nantucket since I was about six, and I worked on a whaleship for years and years. The only problem is that it takes two people to sail this thing, so you have to help me.”

Richard wasn’t sure he could help sail this boat, but Monty launched right into his sailing instructions. He grabbed the rod at the back of the boat. “This is called the tiller. It’s used for steering, and it’s connected to the rudder, which is underwater.” He touched a rope hanging off the sail. “This is called the mainsheet. It controls the sails, which is very important. When I say sheet in, pull on it. When I say sheet out, feed it through this pulley here, and be sure to stop when I say so. When we tack, put the tiller toward the sail and duck the boom, this pole holding up the sail here. Then we’ll switch jobs. I have no idea what the wind is like out there, so just do what I tell you and we should be fine.” 

Apparently, that was all he was willing to say before the voyage, because he grabbed the mainsheet and pulled it in. “Keep us straight.”

Richard was still reeling from being on the boat in the first place, but he grabbed the tiller and held it straight, and, fortunately, they moved forward. 

Monty looked out over the water. “Tiller to the right.”

Richard pushed it left.

“Toward the right, not left,” Monty snapped.

Oops. Richard jammed the tiller right.

“Less right!” 

Richard straightened the tiller out, and felt a gust of wind hit his face.

Monty let the sail out a little, and grabbed the tiller away from Richard, moving them to the right just a tad.

“Tack,” Monty said.

“What?” Richard asked.

“Tiller towards the sail hard.”

Richard shoved tiller as hard as he could. Unfortunately, he didn’t know to duck the boom and it hit him in the head. 

“Dammit!” Richard took a hand off the tiller and rubbed his head.

“We have to switch jobs now,” said Monty. They traded, Richard with the mainsheet and Monty with the tiller. 

“Sheet in,” Monty said.

Richard yanked the rope, and actually managed to bring it into the right position. He smiled and allowed himself a little triumph.

“Tack!”

Richard ducked, but the boom still hit him in the back of the head. Now he had the tiller again, and sported a double headache. He kept the boat straight with one hand, and rubbed the back of his head with the other. 

“Rock!” Monty shouted. “Tiller towards the sail!”

Richard shoved the tiller to the left, but was so absorbed in rubbing his head that he did not see the boom coming right for him. It hit him in the stomach, and he was thrown to the bottom of the boat with an oof.

“Dammit, Richard,” Monty said. “Don’t move forward!”

Richard didn’t, but he did put his hands in the front of the boat in an attempt to push himself up, putting all his weight on his palms.

“Oh, for fu-” Monty was cut off by the sound of the boat crashing into the water and flipping over.

Richard was flung into the ice-cold sea, and plunged downward like a dead weight toward the dark ocean bottom. He began to panic, because he didn’t really know how to swim. Fortunately, his survival instincts kicked in, and his hooved feet weren’t totally useless in the water. He awkwardly propelled himself upward, and grabbed on to the boat as soon as he reached the surface. 

“Are you alright?” Monty asked.

“Fine, apart from being  in the water,” said Richard.

“Alright, well, we have to turn the boat back over. Swim under it and push the side up.”

“Erm, Monty…”

“You can’t swim. That’s just fine. I can do it myself. Monty took a deep breath and swam down to what would have been the top of the boat. He managed to get it on its side, and then had to come up for air. Then he dove back down and somehow got the boat upright again, before swimming to the back and pulling himself into their swamped sailboat.

Richard copied him and managed to get himself into the ship again, but not after feeling something like sandpaper on his leg.

“Erm… Monty? Are there sharks in the water? By any chance?” Richard had failed at not letting his nervousness slip into his speech.

Monty looked up sharply from where he was bailing the boat. “What? Sharks? I dunno. Why?”

“Because I just felt… something… in the water.”

Monty popped his head over the side. Richard copied him and went a shade paler. He could clearly see a dark grey form that was at least three feet in length. Then a dorsal fin cut through the water, and he was sure that the ‘something’ was indeed a shark.

Monty swung himself around the boat and counted aloud that there were eight total. Their mouths hung open as they swam, which might not have really been malicious, but scared Richard as bad as anything.

“Bail,” was apparently all Monty could say.

They threw water out of the boat twice as fast. It was now urgent that they got out of there, because the sharks hopefully wouldn’t follow them away from the site of their crash. At least, that was what Richard hoped, and he dared not think what would happen if that was wrong.

At last, the boat was empty of any water, and the two of them were sitting in their correct places again.

“Sheet in!” Monty said.

Richard pulled the sail in, and the boat shot forward, pitching him back. Monty put a hand on Richard’s shoulder to keep him from falling again. Why did his face feel so hot? Richard shook his head to dispel the feeling.

“Tack,” said Monty.

This time, both remembered to duck the boom, but Richard forgot to hand off the mainsheet.

“Hey! We have to switch jobs!”

Quickly, Richard handed the rope to Monty. There were no more mishaps for more than an hour, as they coasted through the calm water, sharks left far behind. There was something calming about sailing, without tacking and with the wind at their back. Then the calmness faded, and was replaced by a sudden feeling of fear and uncertainty. There was a splash to the left, and an ominous shadow passed under the boat. Richard looked around, but saw nothing. He peered into the fog and thought he saw something off to the right. Richard looked even closer, narrowing his eyes and leaning forward.

He sat there in that position for several tense moments, holding his breath and looking for any sign of what could have made those splashing noises.

“TACK, RICHARD!” 

Richard nearly jumped out of his skin. It was a demon from the deep, come to eat them! It was a siren, ready to lure them to their death! It was a sea serpent, jaws poised to bite their boat clean in half! He realized what it really was and jumped into action.

Fortunately, tacking had become easier by now, and they were able to avert the rock that had been right in front of them.

“That was too close,” Monty said. “I love you to death, Richard, but you have to focus.”

“I- You love me?” Why didn’t Richard mind this declaration, and why was his face hot? 

Monty looked like a boy caught with his hand caught in the cookie jar. “I- Uh- just focus on the tiller.”

Richard went back to keeping the tiller straight, trying to dispel the warm feeling inside him. 

Monty gasped and leaned far forward, so that his tricorn hat almost fell right off his head. Richard ignored him, thinking this was just another of Monty’s quirks. Seeing that he was being ignored, Monty punched Richard’s shoulder hard enough to almost knock him into the water. 

“Ow!” Richard rubbed his arm. “What’ve you spotted?”

Monty leaned forward onto the prow, apparently having forgotten that that was what turned them over before. “Look at this, Richard!”

Richard let go of the tiller and crept forward, peering out into the fog. There was a dark mass coming toward them, which Richard realized was land.

“Hey, I think you found our land,” Richard said, pulling himself back into his spot by the tiller. 

Monty grinned. “There’s probably a dock somewhere around here where we can tie off the boat.”

They looked around and tried to find a dock where they could leave their boat, and soon spotted a few nailed together planks sticking out into the sea. They were lopsided and covered in green slime, but this was better than trying to find the shore and possibly ripping holes in the bottom of their ship. 

Monty sheeted in, and they cruised slowly towards the dock.

“Tiller towards the sail hard, like we’re tacking,” he said.

Richard shoved the tiller right and they swung around, pulling smoothly up to the dock. Monty jumped out, grabbed a rope off the bow and tied the ship off, checking and double checking that his square knot was tight enough.

“Hey,” he said, helping Richard off the boat. “That was pretty good, you know? Let’s just hope we can do it again with somebody else in the boat.” Monty laughed hysterically for a moment, before saying, “alright, but seriously, now. How are we going to get the body back here?”

Richard looked up from where he was tightening his boots. “Leave that to me. I have some ideas.”

Monty nodded and took a few steps into the fog. “Any idea what this could be like?”

Richard wrapped a spare piece of fabric around a stick and dumped oil from a small canteen on it. He lit the makeshift torch and shone the light out into the fog. “Not really, no.”

They began to walk forward, Richard leading. The island had a strange rainforest climate, and they had to fight their way through ridiculous amounts of plant life to get anywhere. Mosquitoes buzzed all around and they had to keep moving to avoid getting eaten alive. The sound of croaking frogs and rustling leaves reached Richard’s ears, creating the feeling that even the rocks were alive here in this jungle.

Then, just as soon as the forest had begun, they were through. The two of them were on a rocky ledge overlooking one of Duke Janson’s fortresses, the place Albert had been buried. There were no windows in any of the towers save the arrow slits, and even those didn’t have glass. Ballista peeked out of the front, and there were stacks of rocks for ammunition. Guards patrolled the ramparts, holding torches and with wickedly curved swords at their belts. They wore typical helmets, curved into a point at the top, with chainmail armor and tunics bearing their coat of arms. The only strange thing was that the dramatic lighting made their faces look almost… white.

“How thin are you?” Richard asked, eyeing the towers.

“I can’t fit through those arrow holes, if that’s what you’re asking,” Monty said.

Richard chewed his bottom lip and flicked his eyes all around the fort. “We have to get in through the second curtain.”

“I suppose our best bet would be to just climb over the back wall.”

“I can’t climb.”

“Oh, right. Well, we could go under it. Through a sewage grate.”

Richard shrugged, and the two crept forward. They reached the back wall and pressed themselves against it. 

“There’s a grate right over there,” Richard said. “Open it and see how deep it goes.”

Monty hauled the grate open and revealed the sewer, which stank to high heaven but was deep enough to go under the wall and big enough to walk through.

“Well?” Monty asked.

Richard smiled. “Hold your nose.”

Notes:

The tiller is the only thing that’s straight here (:

Fun fact: the sailing scene is actually lifted from an old story I wrote when I was eleven or twelve about a group of children going to defeat an evil wizard (right after I read the Shannara Chronicles). It was one of the better scenes in the story, which was kind of a confusing mess (as are most stories written by eleven year olds who haven’t read anything but fantasy from the 80’s in over a year).

Johann is angry in this chapter that Mrs Fuller won’t die, and historically, she didn’t, she hung on for several more weeks, long enough to name her killer and eventually put her in prison for ten years. Captain Nathaniel Fitzgerald, who was mentioned in an earlier chapter, was the one to stay with her as she slipped in and out of consciousness during the time leading up to her death, and he was the one to insist upon investigating her death. Unfortunately, this is their last impact upon the story, which means I’ll have to find something else to share fun facts about!

As always, thank you for reading!

Johann – 2.18.7

Content warning: Something kind of like drowning

Johann laid a wet cloth across Leonard’s bruised forehead. 

“Get this goddamn fish off my eyes!” Leonard shouted.

Johann laid another wet cloth across Leonard’s bruised forehead.

“I’m serious!”

Johann laid a third wet cloth across Leonard’s bruised forehead.

“Damn you!” Leonard tried to struggle, but he had many heavy blankets on him, and he was as weak as a little baby right now.

“It’s not a fish,” Johann said.

“Yes it is! I hate you!”

“It’s a wet cloth, and it’s going to help your concussion.”

“Why would a fish treat a concussion?”

“It is not a fish, Leonard.”

“You’re a quack German fish doctor.”

“I am not, and this is not a fish.”

“Yes it is, and you’re only treating me because you’re irreparably attracted to me.”

“No- Well, yes, I kind of am, but that’s not why I’m treating you, and this is not a fish- stop struggling, dammit, I’m trying to help you!”

“Damn you!”

Johann held Leonard’s arms down. “Leonard, you have to stop struggling.”  

“Get the fish off my eyes first!”

“Leonard.”

Leonard fell silent for a moment, which disturbed Johann slightly. Still, it was nice to work in peace for once, especially since he had to turn around to get things several times. 

When he was done making Leonard as comfortable as he could be with his severe concussion, Johann sat down on the end of the bed. “Leonard?”

“Where is Serena?” Leonard asked.

“Serena?”

“Yes, my wife. Where is she?”

“I don’t know.”

“Can you ask her to come here? Please?”

Johann sighed and stood up. “I will try to find her.”

He went downstairs and pulled on boots and a raincoat. Rain was coming down in sheets outside, and enough fog had rolled in off the harbor with the storm that a ship carrying Enoch, who had left for the twenty-third and should have been back today, could not dock. Johann imagined Enoch grumbling and groaning on the ship, and smiled. He could be hilariously dour sometimes.

Johann stepped out the door, and his glasses were immediately both fogged up and covered in water droplets. He cursed and took them off. There was actually no reason to keep wearing them.

Upon taking several steps along the sidewalk and realizing that people would be able to see him, he took the glasses back out and put them on again. 

Johann walked down Broad Street first. He stopped a worker outside the Hadwen & Barney Oil and Candle Factory, because the man seemed to be headed in the same direction he was.

“Have you seen a woman named Serena somewhere around here?” Johann asked. “Long black hair, dark brown skin, on the shorter side in terms of her body?”

“Nah,” the man said.

“Alright, thanks anyway.”

“Any time, my friend.”

Johann tipped his hat to the man and continued walking. There were docks at the end of Broad Street that made him slightly nervous after the events of Thanksgiving day, but he figured that was where he was most likely to find Serena. 

A fisherman was calling out the daily catch of shellfish. “Clams! Lobsters! Crab! Bay Scallops!”

“Have you seen a woman named Serena?” Johann asked.

“I haven’t,” said the fisherman. “Are you going to buy anything?”

To appease him, Johann bought a clam, shucked it, and ate it raw right there. The fisherman went back to calling out his catch.

“Have you seen a woman named Serena?” he asked a pair of young girls playing in the street.

The girls looked at each other and shook their heads.

Johann walked out to where some people were jumping off the docks. It was still pouring rain, but they didn’t seem to have any fear, especially a petite dark-haired woman who was swimming further out than anyone else. Johann grinned and took off his hat and coat. He dove into the water and swam out to where the woman was. “Serena!”

The woman turned around, and Johann saw that she was distinctly not Serena. He immediately felt bad, and would have apologized, if he hadn’t instantly been pulled down into the dark water. 

Something was clamped around his leg. Johann tried to pry it off, but he dropped his hands away when he saw that it was some kind of seal… thing. He tried to swim for the surface, but it dragged him down, and down, and down, into a cave at the edge of the land. 

Fortunately, it then threw him up inside of the cave itself, which was above the water line. 

It was a small, featureless rock cave, with nothing in it except for an oil lamp which lit it. How had that gotten down here?

The seal-thing flew up out of the water, momentarily scaring Johann out of his skin. It landed on the rock on two human feet.

It was Serena, wearing only a sealskin frock coat. She grinned at Johann and tossed her wet hair back behind her back. “Dr Faust! How are you doing today?”

“Well, you might have taken three years of my life away just there. I didn’t know you were a selkie. I must confess, I thought you were just Scottish.”

“That’s right, a Scottish selkie I am, and a Scottish selkie I’ll always be.” 

Johann stood up and ruffled his wet hair. “Good to know.”

“What brings you here today, Dr Faust?”

“Your husband.”

“Aye, my husband?”

“He has a bad concussion.”

Serena instantly went from happy to concerned. “He does? How? Who? Where is he?”

Johann pointed. “He’s up there. In Monica Carter’s house.”

“Take me to him. Please.”

Johann dove back into the hole. She followed him, and when he poked his head up above the water he found that it was raining even harder, enough that the youths at the docks were no longer there. Johann climbed up onto the dock and put his raincoat, which was now soaked inside and out, back on.

Serena followed him, still wearing only her frock coat, back to Monica’s house. When Johann came inside, he was barely able to step over the threshold before Joseph, Monica’s son, screamed “Mama, someone’s coming inside all wet!”

“Sir, you are committing a crime,” Monica said from the study. 

“Sorry,” said Johann.

“Go upstairs and change your clothes immediately.”

“That’s what I’ll do.”

“Oh, and don’t get any mud on my hallway carpet.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“There’s some half-naked woman with him, Mama,” said Joseph.

“Johann, I don’t care if you want to fraternize with a woman, but please refrain from teaching my son the birds and the bees several years too early.”

“This is Leonard’s wife,” Johann said.

“Oh. Carry on, then.”

As Johann led Serena up the stairs, he heard Joseph ask, “Mama, what are the birds and the bees?”

Johann opened the door to Leonard’s room and let Serena inside. She went up to him and took his hand in hers, murmuring something too soft for Johann to hear.

“Tell that goddamned doctor to get this fish off my eyes,” Leonard said.

“That’s not a fish,” said Serena.

“Yes it- Oh, who cares. Thank you for coming to see me, dear.”

“Of course.” Serena kissed his cheek and smiled at Johann. “Would you mind giving us a few minutes alone?”

Johann shrugged. “Take as long as you need. Just don’t do anything too straining, if you know what I mean.”

Serena laughed. “I do.”

Johann closed the door and went up to the room he had been sharing with Deirdre. Monty had moved back into his old farmhouse, but otherwise, all of his other friends still lived with Monica full-time. Luckily, she didn’t seem to mind. Johann checked on Deirdre, who was passed out asleep in their bed, then went up to the attic.

He almost tripped over Sylvia, who was clearly high as a kite on laudanum again. Wilhelm and Alice were playing a dice game, and Richard reclined on a pile of blankets, reading by the gray light of a small, circular window. 

Johann sat himself down between Wilhelm and Alice, purposefully interrupting their dice game.

“What?” Alice asked.

“We’re going to steal the body of Mrs Fuller,” Johann said. He turned back to look at Richard. 

Richard turned the page of his book calmly. “Yes?”

“We are stealing a body.”

“That’s nice.”

“You’re expected to help with this.”

“And so I will.”

“Good.” Johann turned back to the others. “Sylvia-”

“Asphsyibfhifvjnbhsuj.”

“When you’re sober I’ll expect your help as well.”

Sylvia groaned. “It’s already happening.”

Johann turned to Wilhelm. “Wilhelm, you stay by me.”

“Okay, Dr Faust! I love working with you anyway.”

Right. He’d forgotten how irritatingly happy Wilhelm was. “Alice, Richard, you can-”

“I’ll do whatever,” Alice said. She unwrapped a candy and popped it in her mouth. “This candy is really good, by the way.”

“You’ll do whatever, and Richard will make the plan.”

Richard nodded and went back to his book. Johann took that as a sign of assent. 

Johann sighed and flopped back against the wall. “Nothing to do now but wait for Mrs Fuller to die.”

Notes:

Fun fact #1: the whaling museum that spoiled the entire plot of Moby Dick for me is in the Hadwen & Barney Oil and Candle Factory today. It’s an interesting place, if very spoiler-y.

Fun fact #2: This is completely unrelated, but:

  • The words homosexual and heterosexual were first used in a letter from Karl Maria Kertbeny to his fellow gay rights activist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, in 1868.
  • The word bisexual was first used by Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s in his book Psychopathia Sexualis in 1886. The book was translated into English in Charles Gilbert Chaddock’s translation in 1892.

Just some random fun facts!

Thank you for reading!

Monica – 2.14.3

Content warning: graphic description of injury

Monica had been trained as a nurse when she was little, which was probably why Caro woke her up in the middle of the night instead of someone else. 

“Mama, mama, mama,” Caro said, shaking her.

Monica groaned and sat up. “What is it, dear?”

“There’s some people who need you to nurse them.”

“Where?”

“Out there on the side of the road. I woke up Duke Mephisto, too.”

“Where are they?” Monica stood up and threw on a dress over her nightgown. “Why were you out on the road, Caro?” 

“I was getting water. Someone bought it from me and gave me money from England.”

Monica pulled on her boots and picked Caro up. She went out into the hallway, where Joseph and Millie were standing around looking confused.

“What’s going on?” Joseph asked.

“Some people are hurt,” Monica said. “Come with me if you have to.”

Joseph grinned and ran back into his room, presumably for proper clothes. Millie went more slowly, but she went all the same.

Duke Mephisto, a tall man with a flaming red beard and an angular face, was standing at the bottom of the stairs. “Mrs Carter. I apologize for waking you.”

“No, it’s fine. Where do I need to go?”

“Your girl told me they’re somewhere along ‘the road.’”

“That’ll be one of the roads out of town. I know where she goes to get water.” A servant handed Monica her bag of medical things, and her and Duke Mephisto set out walking, Caro in tow. They’d walked a ways when the other two children, Joseph and Millie, ran past them, evidently racing. After that it was uncomfortable silence the rest of the way, because Monica knew she was walking with a demon lord. What was she supposed to say to him? 

At last, Duke Mephisto broke the silence. “I can carry that bag for you, if you want.”

“No, it’s fine.”

“Your home is nice.”

“Thank you.”

They were silent again. There were things Monica wanted to say, like do you regret it and would you like to become an angel again and what is hell like, but she didn’t say any of them. How did she start that kind of a conversation?

“You know…” Duke Mephisto said. “I had a dream last night.”

“From the Man in Red.”

“Yes.”

“Who do you think the prophet is?”

“I have a few guesses. It could be anyone who’s died in any way related to liquid.”

“Which are your guesses?”

“Erm…”

Monica stopped walking. “Listen. If the Man in Red sends both angels and demons concerning messages, then…”

“You think he means for us to sort of… unite.”

“Maybe. I mean, neither of us want to utterly destroy creation, do we?”

“Negative.”

Monica held out her hand. “Then how about, if only you and me, call a truce?”

Duke Mephisto shook her hand without hesitation. “Yes.”

“Then tell me your guesses.”

“You tell me yours as well.”

“Deal.”

“Deirdre, the Irish girl Johann’s with. She drowned and she’s a dead banshee, but she might not know it.”

“This girl Caro, right here. She drowned, too, and came back as a ghost without explanation.” 

“Mama?” Caro asked.

“We’re talking about grown-up stuff, dear.”

Duke Mephisto smiled. “Well, Caro? Are you a herald of the apocalypse?”

Caro grinned. “Yes.”

Duke Mephisto laughed. Evidently, he had a very strange sense of humor.

“Any more guesses?” Monica asked.

“Ishmael Carter. He died at sea and has said he’s a prophet.”

“My opium addict relative?”

“…Yes.”

They had to stop the conversation there, because Monica heard commotion up ahead. They must have looked very strange coming down the road like they were. There was Duke Mephisto, impeccably dressed in a crimson waistcoat over a pressed, pale red shirt, black pants, and shoes that looked like they were made of polished coal. There was Caro, with her curly, messy, blonde hair, green dress, and giant pink bow adorning her head. There was Monica, black hair tied up into a loose bun, wearing a simple dress that was tied at the waist, and carrying a medical bag. They looked like all three of them were going to a different engagement: Duke Mephisto was going to a ball, Caro was going to a playdate, and Monica was going to a battlefield.

“Mama!” Joseph shouted from the ditch at the side of the road. “Look what I found!” 

Monica climbed down into the ditch, and saw an upturned wagon. A young woman with a broken piece of wood going straight through her calf lay half under it, unconscious. “Joseph, Millie, Duke Mephisto is going to lift the cart, then you’re going to pull her out gently. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mama,” Millie said.

Duke Mephisto was barely able to lift the cart, even with demonic strength, so it took the children a moment to get the young woman out. Joseph held her leg up, while Millie did most of the work.

When they had gotten the young woman out, Millie turned to her brother. “Can you do that?”

Joseph glared at her. “Maybe I can,  booty.”

“Booty.”

“Booty.”

“Booty.”

“Booty booty booty booty booty booty,” Joseph said. “Booty booty booty booty booty booty booty booty booty.”

Millie pushed him back. “Quit it.”

“You quit it,” Joseph said, shoving Millie.

Millie pushed him again. “You started it.”

Joseph ran forward, his head down like a battering ram. He crashed into his sister and she laughed. 

“Do you actually think you’re hurting me right now?”

Joseph roared, and backed up for another strike. 

“Children,” Monica said sharply.

They glared at her, but stopped fighting for the moment. Monica looked down at the young woman and did a quick analysis of what was wrong with her. She probably had several broken ribs, as well as a lot of surface lacerations that didn’t look very deep, and of course, the piece of wood going through her leg.

“I’m going to look for other survivors,” Duke Mephisto said.

“Wait. What’s her name?”

“The girl? Sylvia Sapping.”

“Alright, thank you. You may go. Children!”

Joseph and Millie came running. Monica took several bottles out from the medical bag, and began to pick at Sylvia Sapping’s leg wound. She pulled the cut open, probing it for complications or broken arteries that would be hard to repair. Luckily, she found none, and was now satisfied that she could safely remove the branch from the leg. 

“Millie, you get on that side,” Monica said, pointing to the other side of Sylvia Sapping. “Joseph, you get this side.”

The two of them got into position, each taking a part of Sylvia’s leg. “Lift on three,” Monica said. “One, two, three!”

They both pulled upward at once, lifting the leg and the stick in it off the ground. Monica saw that the stick didn’t actually go all the way through, just very very deep into the flesh. That was a relief. Monica slowly slid the stick out of Sylvia’s leg, then said, “Alright, every lower her leg to the ground. Gently.” 

Luckily, they listened to her. Joseph stood up and threw the offending stick into the tall grass at the side of the road.

“Bad stick. Bad.”

Millie had turned back to Sylvia. “Will she be okay, mama?”

Monica shrugged. “Sadly, I’m not sure yet. She may live, but I need to check her over and assess the damage before I tell you anything for sure. Why don’t you kids go home and get the real doctor? Take Caro with you.” She shouted to Duke Mephisto. “Is that quite alright with you?

“Whatever!”

Millie and Joseph went over to where Caro was twirling around in the grass clearing and singing nonsense words to her doll.

“Hey, Caro, we’re leaving now,” Millie said.

“Where is Mama?” Caro asked.

“Mama’s going to stay here to help the people you found,” said Joseph.

“Oh.” Caro paused. “I want to stay with Mama, thank you.”

Millie shook her head. “Come on, Caro, we need to go.”

“I want to stay with Mama,” Caro repeated.

“No, Caro, we need to go.”

“Yeah,” Joseph said. “It’ll be fun.” He grabbed her hand and tried to lead her off, but she yanked her hands away.

“I want. To stay. Here.” She smiled at him, then turned around and went back to playing with her doll. Monica applied antiseptic to Sylvia’s wounds.

Joseph jumped back, eyes wide. “Oh dear.”

“Caro, put your shoes back on,” Millie said, pointing to Caro’s abandoned pink boots, lying over in the shade of the silver birch tree. “We have to walk back.”

“No, I want to stay with Mama!”

Millie sighed, then went over and picked up Caro, throwing the girl over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes. 

“NO! Mama! Mama!”

Monica looked up. “Oh- Millie, would you put her down?”

Millie ignored her. “Get her shoes, will you, Joseph?” 

Joseph ran and grabbed Caro’s shoes. 

“I want to stay with Mama!” Caro shouted.

Millie,” Monica said sharply. “Put her down.”

Millie did not listen. Caro whacked and punched her sister’s back, to no avail. Apparently seeing that punching was futile, Caro went on to kicking, and eventually landed a solid kick in Millie’s stomach. She dropped her with an oof, and Caro ran over to where Monica was.

And then, the worst possible thing happened.

One of Caros’ obsessions was milk. She would often drink nothing but milk, and didn’t really care where it came from. So, when Monica poured milk from a flask into a bowl so that she could soak the iron instruments she was about to use on the faerie Sylvia in it, Caro suddenly forgot all about wanting Mama.

She crawled over to Monica, and looked up at her with large, innocent eyes. 

“That’s milk.”

Monica looked at her and smiled. “Not right now, sweetheart. I’m using this to help the girl here.”

“Hmph. Please, Mama?”

“Maybe later. You drank nearly an entire cow at breakfast.”

  So, Caro walked up to Millie.

“Can you ask Mama for some milk?”

Millie raised an eyebrow. “What did Mama say?”

“Mmm… Go ask her for milk?”

“No.”

“Ask!”

Lilia shook her head. 

“ASK!”

“Hey, Caaarrrooo! I have miiiilk,” Joseph said, sloshing around what was obviously water inside a canteen.

“MILK!”

Joseph was laughing as Caro went running after him, trying to get the ‘milk.’ He ran off down the road, sisters in hot pursuit.

Hopefully, they would find their way home, and hopefully, Millie would remember to get the real doctor. Monica focused back on Sylvia.

“Is there anything more you can do for her?” Duke Mephisto asked.

“I don’t think so, no. Not here. We have to wait for her to wake up.”

“I found another girl back along the road, but I think she’s dead.”

Monica followed him back to where a young woman with short, choppy blonde hair lay. Her throat and chest were badly scratched by some unknown blade, but she was still breathing. Barely. 

“What should we do?” Duke Mephisto asked.

Monica felt for a pulse and found the girl cold and clammy. Her pulse was slow and sluggish, and her breathing was slow and shallow. “Severe blood loss.”

“What do we do?”

“Stop the bleeding.”

“Right, I probably should have figured that out.”

Monica grinned. “Here, take some of the bandages from the bag. Do you know how to dress a wound?”

“Not really.”

“We need water.”

Duke Mephisto got up for a moment and returned with a heavy iron bucket full of water. “I have no idea what this was doing by the side of the road, but here it is.”

“I’d like to bless whoever put it there.” Monica dipped a rag in the water and showed Duke Mephisto how to wash a wound, add antiseptic, and place a gauze dressing over it.

“Seems simple enough,” Duke Mephisto said. “I can already bandage a wound.” 

“Good. There’s bandages in the medical bag. You work on her arms. I’ll do her throat and chest.”

They worked on the girl for a long time before she was all bandaged up, and the bleeding had stopped for the most part. When they were done, Monica went to attend to a young man with a broken collarbone, a young woman covered in dirt and scratches and bruises, a boy with a broken leg, and lastly, her relative Ishmael Carter, Monty. He had a broken shoulder, and the other young man he was laying next to had a head injury that would probably result in a concussion.All of the victims of the crash were covered in long, shallow scratches that seemed like they had been inflicted by an animal’s claws. What could have done this to them? Was it a demon, or a faerie, or a werewolf, or something else entirely? The thought of something else on an island that she had long ago claimed as under her protection made Monica angry. This was her home, and she would protect it.

Notes:

Sorry I forgot to update yesterday! Something came up and I unfortunately didn’t have time.

Fortunately, I had time to update today, and I have several edited versions of the first few chapters (which are… rough, to say the least) that will be released as part of the extra content released during November and December.

Richard – 2.13.7

Content warning: Violence, including a traumatic head injury

Richard heard the howls first. He was just about to get his cane out from under the seat and go out to see what was taking the others so long, when a noise like the scream of a soul suffering in Hell split the air, and made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. It also made him jump out of his skin and fall off the carriage seat to the ground, where he landed on his head. 

He blacked out for a split second, and when he opened his eyes Alice, extremely blurred, was standing over him. 

“I thought you had died,” Alice said.

“Sorry,” said Richard.

“Please don’t apologize.”

“Sorry.”

“What did I just-”

Sylvia came flying out of the wood, and slammed into Alice.

“What the f-”

“Shut up,” Sylvia hissed. “Get down.”

“What are we waiting for?” Richard asked. He was still seeing spots, and his voice sounded slurred and hollow.

Sylvia gave him an odd look. “You alright?”

He smiled deliriously at her for a few moments before he realized she had asked him a question. “Yeash, I’m just. Hit my ‘ead.” His tongue felt thick in his mouth and his ears rang. He felt like he was in a fog, with only the dull ache in his head to remind him that, oh, right, he had a human body. “What are we waiting for?”

“We got in trouble in the woods. The others are coming.”

“Oh.” The trees were blurry blobs of green and brown, even with his glasses on. Richard, still smiling, took off his glasses to see if that would help. It didn’t, and he still didn’t know what they were doing. “What are we waiting for?”

“I told you, we’re waiting for the others. You know, Johann and Deirdre and Monty and possibly Wilhelm?” Sylvia looked shifty, like there was something she didn’t want to say.

“Oh.”

Johann suddenly appeared. “Richard, your hair has blood in it. Did something happen?”

Richard watched mesmerized as the stars swayed back and forth.

“Richard?”

“I’m. Hit my head.”

“Richard, I think you have a concussion.”

Richard was incredibly dizzy. He groaned and put his head in his hands. What was all this sticky stuff coming off his head? He flicked his hands to get it off. He went to stand. Johann tried to help him up, but Richard threw him off and stood up on his own. He stumbled several feet, before almost falling on his face again.

“Richard, how do you feel?” Johann asked.

Richard furrowed his brow. How did he feel?

“Richard, I think you have a concussion.”

“Stup using. My name.”

“Richard, we have to get you home.”

Someone with a tricorne hat did a flying leap out of the bushes and landed on his back next to the girl with long brown hair whose name Richard couldn’t recall. 

“Ow,” said the person with the hat. 

Johann pulled him up. “Monty, you have to help me get Richard-”

Someone else, a young man with blonde hair, was next to Johann. “I can help you, Dr. Faust.”

“Right. Wait, Wilhelm?” Johann recoiled in shock.

“I ran away from the monster.”

“I thought you-”

“I crawled through the grass. I was almost struck by lightning!”

“We saw that,” said the long haired girl. “Only, it looked like you were struck.”

“I almost was!”

Richard struggled to count everyone there. He had a vague idea of how many people there were supposed to be, and he was pretty sure there was someone missing. 

“Deirdre,” he said. 

“She’s… um…” Sylvia wrung her hands. “She’s coming, Richard.”

Everyone went quiet. Monty whispered something to Alice, who looked immediately concerned. “Erm… Richard? Deirdre’s-”

“Don’t tell him the truth, he isn’t in his right mind,” said Sylvia.

“Deirdre’s leading the faerie in the woods away from us,” Johann said. “She volunteered.”

Richard tried to stand up again to go get Deirdre. She was in danger!

“Sit down, Richard,” said Johann. “Please.”

Suddenly, Deirdre was there, breathing hard, with flushed red cheeks, skin scraped by a thousand thorns, and wild eyes. 

Johann threw his arms around her, but he was only able to do that for a few seconds before the girl with the long hair shoved him aside and did the same. 

“We have to go,” Deirdre said, speaking between heavy breaths. “Go now!”

The man with the tricorn hat was surprisingly strong – he hefted Richard into the back of the wagon, where he was nestled among a few burlap sacks that were back there for some reason. Johann started the horses going, and the girl with the cap and short blonde hair that made her look like a boy perched on the back with a scythe to strike at something that might have been following them. 

The wagon took off, with Sylvia running after it. She did a flying leap and landed in a roll in the wagon bed, where she collapsed on her back.  

“How did you do that?” Deirdre asked.

“I used to be a circus performer, believe it or not.”

“What? When?”

“In the 1790s.”

“Are you telling me that you spent the French Revolution in the circus?”

“Yeah, basically. I met George Washington there.”

“Who?”

“George Washington, Deirdre.”

“Who?”

“The general of the continental army during the American Revolution?”

“The American what?”

The girl with long hair stared at her indecorously. “Have you been living under a rock?”

“Maybe. I was actually trapped in my grave from 1345 until 1850.”

“Jesus Christ. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“The Man in Red gave me an overview of what went on. I thought it was good enough. He didn’t tell me that America had a revolution, though. Pray tell, who did they revolt against?”

“Oh my God, Deirdre.”

The wagon jolted, and Johann screamed. A thing with black skin and long claws darted out of the forest, leaping onto the side of the wagon. It jolted again as the thing rocked it from side to side, screeching the whole time. In an instant, Johann was screaming, Sylvia was screaming, Monty was screaming, Deirdre was perfectly calm, Wilhelm was screaming, and Richard was screaming because he was busy hallucinating a horde of pink rats that his rational mind, which was being held captive by the other side of his mind, told him weren’t really there.

Alice stood up and jabbed at the monster with a scythe. It knocked one of its hands off, but didn’t do much otherwise, especially because the monster immediately launched itself over the side and into Alice. She went flying off and landed on the side of the road. 

The monster was back an instant later, crawling out from under the cart and jumping up on Johann’s lap. He screamed again, and dropped the reins. Sylvia dove to the side and grabbed them, but Richard’s head lolled back, and that distracted Deirdre, who went to pull his head back up by dangling her arms over the side, which hit Sylvia and made her overbalance. She fell backwards off the wagon, leaving the reins unattended, just as they were going around the curve, which completed the whole fiasco by flipping wagon, horses, and all off the road and into the ditch that ran alongside it. 

Richard must have hit his head again, or something like that, because the last thing he heard before he blacked out again was Deirdre screaming at someone passing by. “Go and get your mother! Hurry! Go!”

Notes:

Apologies for the short chapter today! I am, however, aiming to get two new (and much better) versions of the header drawings up by 10 pm today, which might hopefully help make up for this chapter being much shorter.

Thank you for reading!

Deirdre – 2.12.6

Deirdre was full of apprehensive energy that kept her going through the woods ever after she’d tripped repeatedly, torn her clothing, and had to scramble through so much foliage that she ached all over. They’d gone on a little walk through these woods yesterday, but they hadn’t gone too far, certainly not to the old mill, or the dry river that she’d done a header into.

“It’s much harder to navigate in the dark,” Johann said as he helped her up. “Are you quite alright?”

“I think so.” Her hands were scratched up, but she wiped them on her pants and trusted that the blood wouldn’t show through the dark fabric.

Johann went to check Monty, who was lying on his back in the dirt. Deirdre clambered back up to ground level and stood to look at the old mill. It was decrepit and rotting, and it felt like something that had been thrown aside casually by its owner when they got their hands on a shiny new one. Deirdre squeezed through the broken entrance, and found that there was still quite a lot of room in there. The ceiling, which formed the floor of the second story, looked like it was about to collapse any second, but Deirdre didn’t feel like she was in any danger. In fact, she felt a strange calm. Something half-buried in debris glinted in the slight moonlight, and attracted her eye. She went up to it and picked it up. It was a thick, heavy knife that might have been used for sawing rope or thick parts of plants. Deirdre tossed it from hand to hand and ran her finger along the blade. It was very dull, but she thought she could still do some damage from the sheer weight of the thing, or maybe use it to dig, or as a hammer. 

“Deirdre?” Johann called from outside. “Where are you?”

She slid the knife into her belt and squeezed back through the door. Sylvia and Wilhelm had the sacks, and they were making Monty drag the blades for cutting the grass. Johann clicked his fingers for everyone to follow him, so they did.

The trees began to thin, and soon ended altogether. They were in an open field of long grass, maybe an acre wide, that looked like a rippling sea in the moonlight. There was a church in the middle of the clearing, and it was silhouetted against the sky like something off a postcard. 

“It’s abandoned,” Johann said.

“Shame,” said Sylvia. “I would have loved to absolutely almost die in the woods every Sunday on my way to service.”

“Monty, where are the blades?” Johann asked.

Monty jumped back and threw a scythe at him in the same way he would hurl a harpoon. Johann leapt out of the way, and the scythe sailed through the air to land in the grass, which obscured it completely.

“Nice job, idiot,” Sylvia said.

Monty shrugged and held out another scythe for her to take.

Deirdre took a different scythe and started poking through the grass, looking for the missing one. Johann was busy verbally abusing Wilhelm, trying to teach him how to cut grass and shove it in one of their sacks. Deirdre swept her scythe to the side in front of her, moving it from one side to the other in one fluid motion. It did the trick, cutting the grass low enough that it looked convincingly like some kind of product.

Johann gave up on trying to teach Wilhelm to cut grass, and instructed him that he was to join Monty in getting the grass into the sacks. He then moved on to micromanaging that task. Deirdre lent half an ear to what he was saying, focusing mostly on her own work, and the satisfaction of cutting the grass so smoothly and so evenly. 

The wind rustled the trees, and blew Deirdre’s hair into her face. She took a moment to brush it away, but it had tangled in the chain her crucifix was on, so she had to take an even longer moment to untangle that. 

“Having some trouble?” Johann asked.

“No,” said Deirdre.

“Alright.” Johann reached down into the grass and came up with the missing scythe. “Look at that. Monty, do you want to help us with the blades now?”

Something about that set off alarm bells in Deirdre’s mind. Johann grinned and held the scythe out to Monty, not putting much pressure on his grip on the handle, acting like it was the most simple and natural thing in the world. He was just going to give Monty the scythe. There was nothing wrong with that. Still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong

She turned away from the exchange. It wasn’t her business what they did. Deirdre was close to the tree line now, so she turned around to go back to the field. As she did, she bonked into something with her head. Deirdre looked up, and an entire noose fell off the tree onto the ground in front of her.

“Hey, Monty?”

He looked up from what he was doing. “Yeah?”

“Did they hang witches in these woods?”

“Yeah. Why?”

The words stuck in Deirdre’s throat. “B- because-”

Johann scoffed. “As if witches really exist.”

“What is wrong with you?” Sylvia asked. “You’re still in denial that Heaven and Hell exist, even though you’ve seen them with your own two eyes.”

Johann shook his head. “I have seen a man who claims to be a demon, and I have seen the place beyond while under the influence of drugs. Neither of those offer conclusive proof on-”

A bloodcurdling howl split the air. Immediately, Deirdre’s instincts kicked in, and she ran for the holy ground of the church. She didn’t know if it would help, and she didn’t know what the danger she was running from was, but there was a foggy memory in the back of her mind that told her that holy ground would help.

Sylvia grabbed the back of Deirdre’s shirt so hard that it jerked her back and almost choked her. “The church isn’t going to help. C’mere, help me with this.” Sylvia bent down and picked up a stick. “Here, put this in your pocket.”

Deirdre shoved the stick in her pocket and continued her run for the church. Something burst out from the woods behind her, and gave an unsettlingly humanlike scream. Deirdre turned around, and saw a woman whose neck hung at a bad angle levitating at the edge of the wood. That was the witch, wasn’t it?

“That’s one ugly witch,” Monty, who had crawled on his stomach through the grass, said. 

“Oh, that’s not a witch,” Sylvia said. “Most witches are innocent women mistaken for what they are. Trust me, if they really had satanic powers, or the kind of faerie powers most witches have, they would not be able to be hanged.”

“What the hell is that thing, then?” Monty asked.

“An unseelie faerie.”

“Why?”

“Someone insulted her, I guess.”

Rot and dead grass spread from the faerie’s feet. Sylvia handed Monty a stick. Johann, Alice, and Wilhelm were missing. 

“Where are the others?” Deirdre asked. She slowly lowered herself to the ground, trying to calm down. 

“I don’t know,” said Sylvia.

“They’re just gonna get magically kidnapped, right?” Monty asked.

“That’s the seelie court. Unseelie faeries kill people.”

“Dammit.”

Someone tried to run away across the field. The faerie levitated over to her, and with a bolt of lightning, the unfortunate person was gone.

Deirdre turned around and saw that Johann had somehow snuck into the church. That must have been Wilhelm, then. 

Monty was crawling on his stomach like a snake through the undergrowth. Sylvia was running awkwardly in a crouched position, so that her head was beneath the grass. Deirdre went down to her hands and knees, which was uncomfortable and felt cowardly but did the trick.

The three of them managed to sneak in through the entrance to the church and join Johann behind the door. 

Sylvia smacked Johann in the face.

“Hey!” Deirdre said.

“It’s his fault,” Sylvia said.

“How do you know?”

“I can tell. Who else has been out far enough into the woods to annoy a faerie? What did you do? Did you drop hawthorn on a sacred spot?”

“Um… yes, I think I did.”

Sylvia smacked him again. 

“This is no time for fighting,” Deirdre said.

“Au contraire! Let’s beat the snot out of each other!” Monty snapped a stick over his knee and brandished the broken end like a knife.

Sylvia raised an eyebrow, apparently unimpressed.

Deirdre snatched the stick out of his hands. “We have to get out of here. Is there any way to barter with this thing?”

“Yes, let it hunt us for sport,” said Sylvia.

“That’s useful,” said Johann.

“What if we let it get its hooks in one of us, then that person led it on a wild goose chase away from all the others?” Monty asked. “Then that person could take an alternative route to safety. That’s what the whales did.”

“That’s a fine idea,” said Sylvia, “except for the fact that one of us has the suicidal task of leading the faerie away from the others.”

No one volunteered. Deirdre hesitated for a moment, then raised her hand. “I’m good at running and leading danger away from people that I care about.”

“You don’t have to,” Johann said. “Really, you don’t.”

“But I want to.” Deirdre took a deep breath. “I really do.”

Johann gave her a hug. “Please be careful.”

“Don’t worry.” She’d run from monsters in the forest a lot during her childhood. This was something she was prepared for.

The four of them crawled back out into the field. Deirdre got a good look at the faerie for the first time, and saw that she was female, but horribly ugly, with skin like ebony, empty eye sockets, long, sharp teeth, and claws as long as Deirdre’s arm. If it caught her, she would be dead.

“We’ll do it now,” Monty said.

“Good luck, Deirdre,” said Sylvia.

All four of them stood up at once. The faerie’s head turned around three hundred and sixty degrees to stare at them.

“Go!” Sylvia shouted.

Deirdre took off running.

Richard – 2.11.6

Richard sat on the front porch of Monty’s house, enjoying the feeling of the cold night air on his face. The farm had a certain smell about it, an old, musty smell that he liked more than he would have thought. Just ahead of him, on the road up to the farm, Johann and Wilhelm were fixing a wheel on the cart they were going to use to steal corpses. There was a lot of yelling and swearing in German, but it looked like they might have been making progress. Richard had tried to help them, but Johann insisted that they didn’t need any help. It made Richard feel worse with every passing minute.

However, he also had Monty leaning against his side, which he liked a great deal, and Deirdre, Sylvia, and Alice were having fun poking around the dilapidated stables to one side of the house.

Monty was quiet and slow in his movements tonight, for no discernible reason. Richard didn’t want to bring him because of that, but Johann insisted that he should come.

“The stars,” Monty said.

“They are beautiful tonight,” said Richard. 

Monty pulled something out of his pocket and placed it in Richard’s hand. He looked down and saw with a jolt that it was the strange doll who he’d conducted a conversation with. 

“I talked to this doll,” Richard said.

Monty smiled faintly. “Me too.”

“I don’t like what it has to say very much.”

“Me neither.” 

Johann approached and roughly pulled Monty to his feet. “Get in the damn wagon.”

Richard whistled to the girls, which sent them running to get in the wagon. He climbed up to the seat, beside Johann, and pulled the map of Nantucket out of his pocket. “We have to go down the road and around here to the graveyard. We’ll need to disguise ourselves as some more legitimate operation.”

Sylvia’s head popped up from the bed of the wagon. “We have all these old empty sacks in the stable. Seems a shame they should go to waste. Why don’t we fill ‘em with dead grass so they look like some kind of grain or something, and we can pour out half and then hide the bodies in with the grass? These are really big sacks I’m talking about here.”

Johann shrugged and looked to Richard. Apparently, he was by default in charge of this mission. 

“That’s a smart idea,” Richard said. “Wilhelm, go help Sylvia with getting those sacks. Alice, get some blades from the shed. Johann, look at the map and see where we can get dry grass. Monty, make sure we have enough shovels for everyone.”

Deirdre raised her hand. “I’m going to go inside and get oil and matches.”

That was slightly disturbing, considering they were going to be working with dry grass, but she might have wanted it for some reason other than setting the grass on fire. Richard waved his hand to signal that everyone should go off to do their separate tasks. 

Johann wasn’t looking at the map. “Richard?”

“Yes?”

“Through the woods there’s a huge clearing with a lot of long grass in it. According to this map, if we went there and continued through the woods we’d come out onto a graveyard for poor quaker farmers around this end of the island.”

Sylvia and Wilhelm returned with a wheelbarrow full of empty burlap sacks, which they dumped into the bed of the wagon. Sylvia jumped up on them and leaned back to lounge back on the pile. 

Richard had a feeling he knew what Johann was getting at. “Sylvia, are you completely comfortable with leading a group through the woods?” 

“I’m sorry? No.”

“Wilhelm, are you completely comfortable with leading a group through the woods?” 

Wilhelm shrugged. “I don’t know these woods.”

“Monty, are you-”

“For God’s sake, I’ll do it,” Johann said. 

Alice threw a selection of blades onto the wagon’s back and crouched on them so that no one would lie on top of them and cut themselves. Deirdre returned and held her cask of oil in her lap. 

“What are we doing?” Sylvia asked.

“Here’s the new plan,” said Richard. “I’m going to take Alice on this wagon to the target graveyard here.” He pointed to the place on the map. “Everyone else will follow Johann through the woods to a clearing full of long grass that you’re going to cut and fill these sacks with. You’ll then continue through the woods to the graveyard, where you’ll meet me. We’ll dig up the bodies there and hide them in the sacks of grass. Does everyone understand?”

“Isn’t the idea that the sacks will help to disguise us before and after?” Deirdre asked.

Oh, right. Richard took a moment to reconsider before speaking. He pointed to a new spot on the map. “Okay, we’ll meet you here, instead. That’s near enough to the clearing, and near enough to the graveyard. Is that better?”

Johann looked at what he was pointing to. “That’s sort of close to the clearing. Maybe to the right of the church.”

“Church?”

“There’s an old church in the clearing.”

Richard shivered. The concept of old churches lost to the woods scared him. “Alright, that’s where we’ll meet you.”

“Do I have to go?” Monty asked.

“You know this island the best,” said Richard. “You’re the guide.”

Monty groaned and rolled off the wagon, somehow landing on his feet before he hit the ground. Johann, Sylvia, Deirdre, and Wilhelm followed him as he walked back towards the woods. Richard watched them until they were all but out of sight, then he signaled to Alice that she should climb up on the seat. “Listen, Alice. You’re my maiden daughter who’s engaged to your dear sweetheart Wilhelm, and we’re going to meet him across the island.”

Alice pulled a bonnet out of her pocket and tied it around her neck. Richard put a top hat on his head and cracked the reins of the wagon. They had only a single horse, a big black stallion named Thistle, but he pulled the wagon well enough. 

The plan went off without a hitch until they had to take a detour through town past the local Catholic church, which the deacon was loitering outside of. He hailed their carriage to stop, which Richard reluctantly did. 

“Where are you going?” The man asked.

Richard opened his mouth to talk, but Alice cut him off. “We’re going to meet my dear sweetheart Wilhelm. He’s a right brave young man, and devout, too. I love him! Have you met him, good deacon?”

The deacon’s brow furrowed. “Not that I know of. What does he look like?”

“He goes to the broken church across the way, in the woods. Oh, love! I cannot wait for a moment of apprehension!”

Richard pushed her away, acting annoyed. His fake American accent was less good than hers. “Sir, we’re going to meet the young man she’s t’marry. Excuse us, if y’will.”

“Oh- Yes, sorry. Best of luck to you.”

Richard and Alice continued on their way, until they were stopped again by an old man.

“In my youth,” the old man said, “A pair of able-bodied young men like you would be out on the sea, catching whales for the glory of Nantucket, not hiding on a wagon dressed as a woman.”

“I’m a girl,” Alice said.

“Oh,” the old man said. “Well, you’re still nothing compared to people in my youth. A strong young man like your friend-”

“I use a cane,” said Richard. “I’m disabled.”

“They’d still find plenty’a use fer you on a whale ship. They don’t care if you got noodles fer legs, you go on that ship you’re put to work. I knew a young man once… Ishmael, he was called. That boy had some problems like you, but he didn’t let that stop him. He was a magnificent young man… we were together, fer a time. Y’know what I mean. Then he died on a whaleship. The noblest way to die!”

Richard nodded along with his story, wanting both to be polite and to get the story over with as soon as possible. “Seems correct.”

“The noblest way! No one has any respect for whaling any more, but what do they know? Anyway, where are you two boys headed?”

“I’m still a girl,” said Alice.

“Where is this boy and this girl headed?”

“To the little quaker graveyard on the other side of the island,” said Richard. “Not the main one. The one for farmers.”

“Good luck, boy and girl.”

Richard tipped his hat to the old man, and cracked the reins to get the cart going again. It wasn’t long before they were stopped a third time by a small girl with bouncy blonde curls who was carrying a heavy iron bucket along the road. 

“I got this water for my mama back in town,” the girl said. She had a strange, cruel smile. “Can I ride with you?”

“We aren’t going that way,” said Richard.

“Please?”

“We aren’t going towards town.”

“But could you turn around?”

“We have to meet someone.”

“Would you buy this water, then?” The girl asked.

“Why would I do that?”

“Because I won’t go away until you do.”

Richard didn’t have any American money, but he threw her a few pence as payment for the heavy bucket of water. This seemed satisfactory, because she put the coins in her pocket and bounced away. 

Alice put the bucket of water down by the side of the road, and they continued on their way.

When they got to the place beside the woods, they positioned  their wagon slightly out of sight so that they would be able to surreptitiously wait for the others. However, after half an hour of waiting, the others still hadn’t shown up. Richard began to feel uneasy. Where were they? 

“Is there some kind of problem, I wonder?” Alice asked.

Richard shook his head. “I don’t know. Nothing to do but wait, I guess.”

Deirdre – 2.7.5

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?”

“In 1793.”

“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?”

“I am.”

“Wonderful.”

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.”

“Oh- alright.”

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-”

“What?”

“Drugs are trouble.”
“Well, sorry.”

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.”

“You’re wrong.”

“But I talked to God once.”

“No you didn’t.”

“I did.”

“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?”

“Deadly so.”

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.”

“That’s good.”

“I do think you should slow down on the drugs.”

“Shut up.”

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?”

“Look there.”

“Where?”

“At the end of the bed.”

“Why?”

“Do you see it?”

“What?”
“The thing.”

“Deirdre-”

“What?”

“There’s nothing there.”

“There is. It’s a monster.”

“I can’t see it.”

“You can’t?”

“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.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright.”

“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.

“He can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Too rational.”

“What?”

“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?”

“Bad.”

“Right. Do you remember how he kept a room that you were never to go in?”

“Yes.”

“Do you remember going into that room?”

“No.”

“You did.”

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.”

“Killed me?”

“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.”

“You did?”

“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?”

“I’m sorry.”

“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.”

“A prophet.”

“Maybe in another life, a mad prophet.”

Deirdre stood up. “I want to see how bad this milk is.”

“You do that. Goodnight, Deirdre.”

“Goodnight.”

Notes:

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.

Richard – 2.4.4

Rain drummed down on Richard’s roof. He was in his living room, once again painting a study of the seashore. His father and mother were not there right now, but he had another guest in Alice Egerton, Scarecrow, a girl from his resurrectionist gang. She was real and alive, so she was more work than the ghosts, but she slept on a cot in the basement and she mostly kept to herself, except at mealtimes. Richard had been writing less, but he painted constantly, mostly to distract himself from the stress of the destruction of the building on Temptation.

Ransom Egerton, who Alice had confessed was her brother, had been arrested, which was good because he had been a violent young criminal who threatened Richard’s operations. He had attacked a young woman for speaking with Barrorah a few weeks ago, so Richard, consumed by guilt, had anonymously given the young woman money for a better life. Her and her brother had died in the fire, which made Richard feel even more horrendously guilty. Why hadn’t he been able to help them? Why did they have to die?

Richard needed someone else for his gang, and he might have found them in Doctor Johann Faust. The man was usually a customer, but Richard had nothing against actually bringing him into the gang. Better to have Dr Faust with his patronage and under his control than with his patronage but on his own as a wildcard.

A sudden, violent knock at the door startled Richard out of his reverie of guilt and anxiety. He stood up, taking hold of his cane, and started pulling on a long black coat to protect himself from the sun. He kept the glasses that hooked over his regular ones in his coat pocket now, so he could put them on quickly. It took him several minutes, but when he was finished with the assembly of his attire he went to the door and opened it.

Outside stood Deirdre and Dr Faust. Speak of the devil. Richard smiled as well as he could through the covering he had wrapped about his face. “To what do I owe this visit?”

“Well, sir,” said Dr Faust.

“It’s, um,” said Deirdre, “It’s complicated.”

Richard held the door open wider. “Why don’t you come in?”

They hurried inside and sat down on his sofa. Richard put on tea and sat down on the other sofa, perpendicular to them. He started taking off his protective clothing as surreptitiously as he could.

“Is there something wrong?” Richard asked.

Deirdre shrugged, and Dr Faust copied her. 

“Listen,” Richard said. “I know that your building burnt down. I’ve been meaning to ask you this for a while, but I live in this house alone – except for Alice, who’s been staying in my basement – and I have a lot of extra beds and rooms. If you and whoever lives with you now would like to come stay with me for however long you need, my door is always open.”

Dr Faust and Deirdre looked at each other, then Deirdre’s face broke into a nervous smile. “Y- yes, that’s actually what we came to ask you about. Can we stay here? Me and Johann and Sylvia and Jean and Monty?”

That was a lot of people. Richard mentally went through the beds he had in his house. On the second floor there was a room with a double bed right off the stairs, and another with two single beds. There was his room, of course, with a double bed, but he didn’t want to share that with anyone unless he absolutely had to. After that was a room with a single bed and a sofa, which could both be slept on if they needed to be. Dr Faust – Johann – and Deirdre could have the single beds, and Jean Gévaudan and whoever Monty was could share the double, while Sylvia Sapping could take the single bed in the room with the couch.

“I think I can take all of you,” Richard said. He briefly explained his idea for a sleeping arrangement and the situation with Alice, who was estranged from her family.

Deirdre looked again nervous to tell him something. Johann had his arm around her. “Actually, Mr Golson, we can take the double bed.”

Oh. Richard mentally kicked himself for not seeing their romantic involvement. He was terrible at that kind of thing. “Alright, well, how about Monty and Jean Gévaudan-”

“Monty likes boys, Mr Golson.”

“Then Jean Gévaudan and Sylvia, who are related, will share the room with two double beds, and Monty will have the room with one bed.”

Richard pulled a pen from his waistcoat pocket and wrote this down on his arm. “Alright, that’s what we’ll do. I have storage for whatever you need to bring with you. And, Dr Faust, I have a- a place in my basement. For your tools.”

“Thank you, Mr Golson.”

“Come back with Sylvia and Jean and… Monty?” Richard had never met him, and he couldn’t think of anyone he’d ever heard of with that name.

“We will,” Deirdre said. “Really Richard, this means so much. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You’re so selfless, you know? I need to find a way to repay you.”

“You’re welcome. Any time.” Oh, she had no idea how selfless he had to be. Richard was immediately embarrassed to have had a congratulating thought, and swatted it away. He was only doing what every decent person did. 

Deirdre smiled at him as she and Johann left. Richard tried to go back to painting, but it felt empty now. He didn’t find as much joy in it. An hour or two later, Deirdre and Johann were back banging on the door with a whole host of people behind them. Richard suited up and opened the door.

Deirdre was at the front, with her small frame, stringy red hair and round, pale, face. Johann followed her, a tall dark-skinned man with a bony, angular face and short, flat black hair. Sylvia, a young woman with olive skin, a sharp face, and long dark hair that came down to her waist was next. Richard could tell immediately that she took opium in some form or another. After her was Jean Gévaudan, a big, tall Frenchman with puffy auburn hair streaked with black and a toothy smile that set Richard on edge. The last person was the only one Richard had never met, a tall young man with brown hair and the most average face he had ever seen. The young man, presumably named Monty, also wore a weatherbeaten tricorn hat that made Richard do a double take because for an instant he was sure it was the same one his father had.

The group filed inside. Richard looked everyone over again, noticing the little details this time, the things that would have stood out to him in a painting. Deirdre had a silver cross around her neck that shone in the light, and calluses on her hands from her job as a maid. Johann kept squinting through his glasses, like he didn’t really need them, and the jacket he wore had a chemical stain on one arm that just barely blended in with the fabric. The dark circles under Sylvia’s eyes and the way her shoulders slumped looked like she hadn’t been sleeping much, but she had a sly smile that hid it. Jean’s eyes darted back and forth, like a predator assessing the situation, and he held his mouth slightly open so that Richard could see his teeth. Monty’s gaze was vacant, like he was lost in thought but also exhausted, and he wore both a cross and a St Benedict medal around his neck on a leather thong.

“Mr Golson,” Jean Gévaudan said. “Good evening.”

“Good evening,” said Richard. 

There was an awkward silence, before Monty held out his hand and said, “Good evening, Mr Golson, please call me Monty.”

“Good evening, Monty,” Richard said, shaking his hand. “Oh, wait a moment! I have met you before. It’s good to have a name to pin to your face. Did you ever get that cane?” There was something else familiar about this young man, but he couldn’t quite pin down what it was.

“No, I didn’t. I forgot.”

“Ah, that’s too bad! I have a few extra you can borrow.”

“Oh, good. Thank you, Mr Golson.”

“Call me Richard, we’re going to be living under the same roof.”

“Address me as Queen Sylvia Titania Sapping the first, you peasants,” Sylvia said.

Johann smirked and Deirdre cracked a small smile. Monty pretended to crown her, and Richard chuckled at that. “I should introduce you to Alice, as well. Alice? Where are you?”

The door to the basement opened, then shut, and Alice Egerton came up the stairs. She had the watery blue eyes, small stature, and short blonde hair shared by the entire family, including her young arsonist brother.

“Hullo,” Alice said.

Deirdre sucked in a breath, and Johann, who obviously tried to pretend to be unbothered, pressed closer against her. Richard realized that they might still have Ransom Egerton’s physical appearance fresh in their minds, and he inwardly kicked himself for how insensitive he had been to not warn them that Alice was Ransom’s sister. 

“This is Alice Egerton,” Richard said. “She’s part of my gang, as Scarecrow. She’s staying with me because, um, because her, well, you all know what happened with Ransom…”

Monty flourished his hands like he was wiping something from the air in front of him and approached Alice. “You’re not an arsonist, are you?”

“Me? No, no, of course not. I don’t burn things down. Don’t have a malicious bone in me, unless I’m working.”

“Well, I too become malicious when forced to work, so we have something in common. You won’t burn down the bed I sleep in?”

“I’ll try not to. How irritating are you?”

Very.”

“No promises, then.”

“Alright, I’m satisfied.” Monty hefted a sea-chest he’d been dragging behind him. “Can I put this down somewhere now?”

“Yes, let me show you to your rooms,” Richard said. He led everyone upstairs, and opened the door to the first room off the stairs to the right. It led to a room with a four-poster bed pressed against the back wall, a dresser across from the door, and a fireplace facing the end of the bed. “This is for Johann and Deirdre. There’s ample storage space in the dresser and under the bed.”

The room directly across the hall was his study, but the door next to it led to another bedroom. It contained two beds side by side against the back wall, each with a bedside table and a dresser at their end. There was a window between the heads of the two beds. “Sylvia and Jean will sleep here. I’ll leave it up to you to decide who gets which bed.”

The last room was on the right again, right next to the wall at the end of the hallway. It had a single bed against the left wall, with a dresser at its foot and a table at its side. On the right wall was a blue sofa with another end table at its arm. “This is Monty’s bedroom. If worst comes to worst, someone might have to sleep on this sofa.”

Monty dropped his sea-chest on the floor and jumped onto the bed. “Oh, a feather mattress. God, my joints hurt so bad.”

Richard’s curiosity was aroused. He knew leg pain, so maybe he could help alleviate Monty’s pain. “Do you have a medical condition?”

“Yes, arthritis, and my lungs are affected badly, I might have asthma, and my heart is affected somehow, and sometimes when I stand up I black out for a few seconds.”
“That means you have low iron,” Johann said.

“Really? Wow, I had no idea. Thanks, Johann, I’ll eat some coins and clear the problem right up.”

“Taking opium would be more likely to solve your problems. You’ll just choke on the coins.”

“Oh, boy, I have a doctor’s permission to do drugs! Move aside, everyone, I have to go out and buy laudanum.”

Johann smacked his palm against his head. “I was being sarcastic.”

“Damn it.”

“I wish doctors would tell me to do drugs,” Sylvia said.

“You can just go to the hospital for that,” said Richard, who had been repeatedly advised to take laudanum by all manner of people.

“Oh, really? Better break an arm. Who will beat me up so I have to go to the hospital?”

“You can buy laudanum at a drug store. Why would you go to the hospital first?” Alice asked.

“Why are we even having this conversation?” asked Johann.

“I’m hungry,” Deirdre said. “Richard, can we have dinner?”

“Yes!” Richard was happy to get away from this conversation. “Dinner’s all ready downstairs. It’s all-” There was a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder, and Alice just about jumped out of her skin.

“Scared of lightning?” Monty asked her as they went downstairs.

Richard was privy to the information that Alice was afraid of just about everything that wasn’t the sewers or his basement, from storms to crowds and especially the ocean. 

Alice laughed. “You’d be hard-pressed to find something I’m not afraid of, Ishmael.”

“Excuse me?” Richard said. “Ishmael?”

“My name is Ishmael Samuel Carter,” Monty said. “But, I would prefer to be called by my nickname.”

“How did you get Monty from Ishmael Samuel Carter?”

“It’s from when I was a whaler.”

“Monty was some kind of whaling nickname?”

“Let’s not talk about it, alright? Name’s Monty. End of story.”

Richard nodded, feeling bad for demanding an answer from him. “Alright, I won’t call you by anything other than your nickname.”

The dining room was off the back wall of the living room, with the door into it right next to the stairs. The others sat down at the table, while Richard stood up to get the food he’d prepared earlier. There was chicken and potatoes and an assortment of vegetables, which Richard piled onto plates in the kitchen and took into the dining room. Each person had a placemat, as well as real silverware, and they ate off of blue china plates. After he’d delivered the food, Richard himself sat down to eat.

“Wait,” Deirdre said. “We should say a prayer over the food.”

Richard wasn’t particularly religious, though he did go to church a few times each year, at Christmas and on Easter, and he prayed vehemently whenever his legs started to hurt badly. Deirdre was also Catholic, unlike him, but prayer was prayer no matter how it was said. He shrugged and bowed his head for the prayer.

Deirdre said a quick grace, after which she, Sylvia, Monty, Jean, and Johann all crossed themselves. Richard copied them, thinking it was probably the right thing to do.

“I thought you didn’t believe in God,” Monty said to Johann.

Johann shrugged. “I’ll still say the words. Besides, I’m not going to dissent when my girlfriend’s praying.”

“This food is really good,” Sylvia said. 

“Thank you,” said Richard.

“I haven’t eaten like this since I was out whaling last,” Monty said. “I remember someone shot down some bird once. It was delicious, even though we had to split it fifty ways.”

“Tell me it wasn’t an albatross,” said Alice.

“Wow, you’ve read a poem?” asked Monty.

“Yeah, I’m not stupid.”

“Good to know.”

Jean was looking around like he was confused. Richard cleared his throat. “Is there something you need, sir?”

“Salt,” Jean said.

Richard went to stand up to get the salt from the kitchen, but Deirdre, who was not only closer to the door but who didn’t use a cane, beat him to it. She put the pot of salt in front of Jean, who promptly poured most of it all over his chicken while Richard watched in horror.

“Can I have sugar?” Alice asked. Richard rolled his eyes because she would eat anything with sugar on it.

Deirdre got the bag of sugar, and looked disgusted as Alice poured sugar over everything on her plate. When she bit into the chicken Richard could hear the grinding sugar crystals from where he was sitting. Fortunately, he was used to this by now and was able to watch it without feeling sick to his stomach. The first night Alice had stayed at his house had been rough.

Monty barely ate anything at dinner, so he kept a running dialogue going, mostly with himself. It was remarkably entertaining to hear what he thought about every species of whale he could think up, and his personal retelling of the story of Jonah, and why whaling was an industry that had to be stopped. Clearly, the man had a single subject he wanted to talk about, and he wasn’t going to let the fact that the crowd he was talking to didn’t particularly care about whales stop him.

“Humanity should fear the ocean,” Alice said once Monty finally stopped for a breath.

“Why?” Monty asked. “It’s wondrous.”

“And also opaque and unfathomably deep and full of creatures we can’t even begin to imagine.”

Monty chuckled. “Oh, you have no idea.”

Alice glared at him. “And what do you mean by that?”

“The ocean is the reason I’m here today.”

“Oh?”

Richard thought he saw his father standing in the corner of his eye, and he started to feel intensely uncomfortable. He didn’t want to know how the sea had saved Monty, but he also didn’t want to be rude and ask him to stop talking, so Richard decided to suffer in silence.

“I was a whaler for a long time,” Monty said. The way his voice had gotten low, Richard could tell this was going to be a long story. “Hunting whales is no easy task, as I’m sure you know. We go out for years, all alone with your crew on a ship in the middle of the open ocean, trying to catch animals bigger than your ship and much bigger than you yourself. It’s not easy, not easy at all. Well, we did catch whales, usually sperm whales, and being a shrimpy boy with the lowest lay, I was often made to crawl into the headcase where the spermaceti is and bail it out. Have you ever done that? Ever been lowered into a small, dark space made of organic matter that reeks or blood so you can bail out golden liquid for the people up above? No, I wouldn’t think so. It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever done, and that’s saying a lot. You couldn’t pay me enough to do that again, and funnily enough, I wasn’t even really getting paid at the time. More like putting myself in more debt, but that’s not something to dwell on.

“In any case, I got away from that job as soon as I could, and I eventually learned how to become more or less handy with a harpoon. That’s right, I taught myself to be a harpooner, so I could get out of the whale’s head. I had muscles, once upon a time, and even though I lost the look I didn’t really lose the strength. It takes a lot of force to kill a whale, especially a sperm whale, and you gotta be strong as hell to take one out. I could do it, though.”

“So you were a whaler,” Deirdre said. “Was it fun?”

Monty laughed. “I hate those years with every scrap of my soul. They were the worst of my life. Every day I cursed the sea from morning till evening, but it never did any good. The sea didn’t understand me or heed me. At least, I didn’t think it did.”

“Until?” Deirdre asked.

“Until I killed a particular whale. How was I s’posed to know that that whale was special at all? It didn’t look like it, but maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. I don’t know. Either way, I killed it, and we tried to get it back to the mothership in a storm, and the storm knocked me over the side of my boat. I fell down, down, down, and when I was down there, I saw some of the things you should be afraid of down there in the ocean. They-”

Richard couldn’t take it any more, especially since his father was standing right behind Monty as he told his story, dripping seawater down his shirt and gripping his shoulders. Richard stood up. “Monty, please. I really can’t hear any more.”

“Alright, I won’t say any more, then.”

I want to hear the end to his story,” said Jean.

“Then you can. Anyone who doesn’t want to, it’s getting late, we’ll go to bed.”

Everyone except Jean stood up and ran upstairs. As Richard followed them at a slower pace, he heard Monty make a comment that shook him to the bone. “Now, Jean, if our lovely guest will just follow his son upstairs, we’ll continue with this story.”

Richard undressed quickly and picked up the first book that his hand touched. Emma by Jane Austen. Richard tried to slow his breathing down and focus on the love related shenanigans in the text, but he couldn’t get his mind off Monty and Jean downstairs. This was ridiculous. He was a horror author who painted the ocean for a living, and he couldn’t handle part of a superstitious whaler’s story? What kind of logic was that?

It was logic that prevented him from focusing on Emma. Richard put down the book and methodically put out the candles and gas lights that lit his room. He closed his eyes and crawled under the covers of his bed. 

He fell asleep quickly, and dreamed of a deep ocean abyss full of nameless things that had been put there long ago and desperately wanted to escape.