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.”

Monica – 2.10.2

Monica was eating breakfast with Howard and Angelica when a servant ran up to her with a calling card. 

Lady Clarissa Janson

Woman of the gentry and unicorn of the Seelie court

Monica handed the card back to the servant. “See her in. I’ll meet her in the front parlor.”

“Janson?” Howard asked. “I know that name.”

“He’s an important duke from England,” said Angelica.

He was also the demon Mephastophilis, which put Monica on edge. However, Clarissa Janson claimed to be a faerie, and no faerie who was allowed to refer to themself as such would align themself with anyone who worshipped or honored any kind of superior force. That was sometimes the only way to tell faerie from werewolf: the werewolves honored the Things. The faeries honored nothing and held nothing sacred.

So, hopefully, Mrs Clarissa Janson wouldn’t be serving Satan now. Hopefully.

Monica went to the front parlor, a small room with two sofas facing each other and a fireplace on the back wall, and sat down on the sofa facing the window that looked out onto the street. Caro wandered in a few minutes later and sat down on the sofa next to her. She had her doll Catherine, and was busily sticking pins into its arms.

“Aren’t you hurting her?”  Monica said.

Caro shrugged. “Wanna see something funny, Mama?”

“Alright.”

Catherine the doll had a hard head made of plaster and wood. Caro threw the doll across the room and laughed gleefully when its head thwocked on the hard wooden floor.

“Caro!” Monica said.

“What?”

“That wasn’t very nice to poor Catherine.”

“She’s only a doll.”

“But you threw her across the room!”

“So?”

“You wouldn’t like it if someone threw you across the room.”

“My head doesn’t make as funny a sound when it hits the floor.”

That was a relief to hear, at least. 

A servant opened the door. “Mrs Janson here to see you, ma’am.”

“Thank you, please let her in.”

“Do I have to leave, Mama?” Caro asked.

“No, you can stay, dear.”

The door opened again, and a young woman with platinum blonde hair came in. She was a handsome young woman, with a round face, button nose, and sparkling eyes. She wore a red dress in the latest fashion, which contrasted against her pale skin and hair.

“Mrs Carter,” Mrs Janson said. “Good morning to you, and to your… daughter?”

“Yes, Caro is my adopted daughter. Say good morning to Mrs Janson, Caro.”

“Good morning, Mrs Janson!”

Mrs Janson smiled. “Good morning, Caro. How are you today?”

“Very good! Do you want to see something funny?”

“Alright.”

Monica knew exactly what she was going to do, but Mrs Janson presumably didn’t, which was probably why she had such a horrified look on her face when Caro threw her doll across the room again.

“You mustn’t be so cruel to your doll,” Mrs Janson said. “They have eyes and ears, you know. You should be careful or it might just take you away while you’re sleeping.”

What kind of a comment was that? ‘Be careful with your doll, little girl, or it might abduct you while you’re sleeping.’ Monica stood up and led Caro out of the room. “You go play with your siblings, alright? Go see what Charlotte is doing.”

Charlotte was her second youngest daughter, and Caro’s constant companion, especially during the summer months. Caro bounced off, and Monica went back into the room with Mrs Janson. “Sorry about that. Caro is a bit of a wild child.”

“Oh, no, it’s just alright. You’re Monica Carter, right?”

Monica sat down on the sofa, unsure why this Englishwoman would be so interested in who she was. “Yes, that’s my name.”

“Well, Mrs Carter, you see, I… erm…”

“If you’re about to say something related to the Seelie court, know that I, as an angel, am ready to believe you.”

Mrs Janson looked shocked, but relieved. “Oh. That’s good.”

“What did you want to tell me?”

“I was raised by King Oberon and Queen Titania on the border of the Unseelie court, but I am not their biological child.”

“No?”

“No. In fact, I am told that I belong to this family.”

That was unsurprising, given the faeries had a history of stealing babies from their cradles. Monica went and got the family Bible, with the family tree in it. It took her a moment to find anything promising, but then she spotted a baby girl named Clarissa who had ‘died’ just after being born in 1814. Monica handed the book to Mrs Janson and pointed to the child. “I think that this might be you.”

“Yes, that looks right.” Mrs Janson craned her neck to get a better view. “Oberon said that my father is Percy Carter Sr.”

“That’s my grandfather,” said Monica. He was also possibly the father of her adopted daughter, but she didn’t say that.

“It’s nice to meet you. Are any of my brothers and sisters still alive?”

“Yes, there’s my uncle Joseph and his wife Josephine, and my aunt Emily, and her husband my uncle Robert, but he’s bedridden and likely won’t be with us much longer.”

“I want to meet Robert before he goes,” Mrs Janson said.

“You will.” Monica stood up and rang for a servant. “Why don’t you come with me and I’ll get a bed prepared for you and your husband to sleep in tonight? It’ll be a lot better than a hotel.”

“I would like that.”

Monica led her upstairs. There was an empty bedroom with a double bed right by the staircase up to the third floor, which she didn’t have any plans for in the near future. It was a good sized room, with an adjoining closet and bathroom, that she figured Mr and Mrs Janson would find quite adequate for their needs.

“Thank you, Mrs Carter,” Mrs Janson said. 

“You’re very welcome, Mrs Janson.”

“Please… I know I’m older than you, but I still feel younger. Please call me Clara.”

She wasn’t older than her, since Monica was an angel who had existed since time itself was created, but it would have been rude to correct her there, so she didn’t. “Alright, Clara, I can call you whatever you want.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Would you and your husband like to dine with us tonight?”

“We would love to.”

Monica smiled at her. “Very good.” She took Clara’s hand and led her upstairs to the room where Addison lay abed. “Addi?”

He looked up from the whale book he was reading. “Mama?”

“This is Mrs Janson. Say hello to Mrs Janson, Addison.”

Addison smiled politely. “Hullo, Mrs Janson.”

“Hullo, Addison,” Clara said. She shook Addison’s hand. “What’s that you’re reading, there?”

“It’s a book about cetology.”

“Do you like cetology?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“What’s your favorite whale?”

“The right whale. It has all the right things.”

“That’s a good choice.”

“Thank you, Mrs Janson.”

 Monica felt Addison’s head to check for a fever. Luckily, he seemed like he was just fine. She kissed his forehead and led Clara down to James and Joseph’s room. 

Joseph was fiddling with something small and wooden rather than doing his schoolwork. Monica gently took the thing out of his hands and put it in her pocket. “Joseph, darling, you need to focus.”

He was obviously angry. “I’m sorry!”

“Joseph.”

He glared at her and pointed to the door. “Close it!”

“Say hullo to Mrs Janson first, Joseph.”

“Hullo, Mrs Janson.”

Monica closed the door and went downstairs. “There’s also James and Mildred, my eldest, and Charlotte, Joseph’s twin sister. They’ll be there at dinner tonight.”

“That’s nice to hear. I’m looking forward to meeting the rest of your family.”

Monica smiled. “I’m glad to hear it. I was going to go take a little nap. Do you mind if I do that?”

“Of course not.”

Monica left Clara with Angelica, and went upstairs to her bedroom. She slipped out of her dress and undid her hair, then climbed into bed and shut her eyes.

She wasn’t physically in her home in Heaven, but she could have information from there given to her when she dreamed. She saw an ancient library with a well that contained something terrible, watched over by a figure in a red monk’s outfit who had served as sentinel for ages beyond counting. He was reading when she arrived, but he was quick to talk.

“I would assume you know what the antichrist is?” the Man in Red asked.

“Yes, I know what that is.” 

“And you know what the Things Without Faces are?”

“…Yes.”

The Man in Red bookmarked what he was reading and closed the book. “Gods will have their prophets.”

“They are not gods.”

The Man in Red shrugged. “They might be.”

“They aren’t.”

“They have a prophet all the same.”

“Who is it?”

“Someone visited by one of them regularly.”

“That’s too vague.”

“Someone baptized by death in liquid. Seawater, maybe, or blood.”

“Does the person know?”

“They might. They might be a person who does and says odd things because they know. They might be someone who represses memories of their death in liquid. They might not have returned yet.” The Man in Red lit a candle. “They might be dissatisfied with their lot in life, or they may have a reason to live. In any case, they’ll be ready for change, and even if they don’t know it, they’re doing that by heralding the Things in.”

“It’s not Doctor Faust, is it?” Monica knew about that. Everyone who was anyone knew about that, and the ripples it had created. 

“It’s not. He’s still on his first life.”

“You’d love to see your kin back,” Monica said.

“Alas, I admit it.”

“I’ll bet you created the prophet yourself.”

“Maybe.”

Monica stood up. “You’re giving your enemy an advantage.”

The Man in Red laughed in a low voice. “Ah, angel. Don’t count your eggs before they hatch.”

Johann – 2.9.6

Johann woke up at an unholy hour of the morning the day after arriving in Nantucket, because someone was banging hard on his front door. He sat up in bed and stormed to the window, which faced the front of the house and looked down on the porch. There was someone in obnoxiously bright clothing sanding outside the front door, holding something in their hand and knocking violently on the door.

Johann left the room as quietly as he could, so as not to wake Deirdre. He threw open the door to the master bedroom and found Monty lying in bed smoking opium.

“It’s five in the hecking morning,” Monty said.

“What does ‘hecking’ mean?”

“I’m too lazy to curse for real.”

“There’s some clown outside.”

“Actually, you’re looking at the only clown in the house.”

“Yes, exactly. The second clown is out of the house.”

“I’m not moving. My joints feel like they’re about to explode.”

Johann glared at him. Monty didn’t move. After a few moments of this, Johann realized Monty wasn’t going to get the message, so he threw his hands up and went downstairs to see who was at the front door.

It was a man dressed in the obnoxiously bright multicolored clothing of a clown, with pale skin darkened by the sun and curly chestnut hair that didn’t quite touch his shoulders. He was of average height, and he had a wide, pearly white smile. 

Johann was not pleased to see a random clown showing up outside his house this early in the morning. “What do you want?”

The clown whipped a letter out from his pocket. “A letter for you, sir!” He spoke in German.

The letter was from his mother. Johann remembered how he had sent her a letter asking after the health of his brothers after having his first drug-induced hallucination beyond the void, and suddenly everything made sense. He still wasn’t sure why she had sent a clown to deliver it, but that was just a detail. “Thank you, sir.”

The clown bowed. “By the by, do you happen to know where Doctor Johann Faust lives?”

“I am him.”

“Oh! Doctor Faust, I have been sent by your family as a recent graduate of university to assist you in your studies. I will do whatever you say!”

A naive, excitable assistant was actually the last thing Johann needed at the moment, but his other options for a helper were slim, consisting of a secretive giant Frenchman, an extremely strange young woman, an opium addict, a painter, a resurrectionist, and Deirdre, who he did not want to drag into this mess. “What’s your name, then?”

“My name is Wilhelm Redd.”

“And what can you do, Mr Redd?”

“I have a university degree in medicine. I’m really very good at medicine. Oh, and I can play the pipe!”

“Which university did you graduate from?”

“Um…”

Johann rolled his eyes. “You’ve forgotten, have you?”

“It really was quite a while ago.”

“You said it was recent.”

“Oh, yeah.”

Johann rolled his eyes again. At least Wilhelm Redd seemed idiotic enough that he would do what he was told. “Come in, then. Take your muddy shoes off, please.”

Wilhelm took off his shoes and placed them by the door. “I am excited to work with you, Doctor Faust.”

“Good. I’ll need you to provide some kind of credentials, but otherwise-”

He was cut off by a scream from the kitchen. Sylvia had jumped up on the counter and was pointing a butcher knife at them. “Demon! Demon! Creature crawled from the depths of Hell! THERE’S A DAMN CLOWN IN THE HOUSE!”

Monty vaulted down the stairs. “Where is it?”

Fortunately, Jean was also there to stop him in his tracks and wrench the knife from Sylvia’s hands. “It’s only a clown.”

“Actually, this is Wilhelm Redd, a recent graduate from a medical school, the name of which he’s forgotten,” Johann said. “Everyone say hello.”

Monty shook Wilhelm’s hand violently. “Good morning sir, good morning! My name is Ishmael Samuel Carter, but only people I’m in love with can call me that. I’m Monty.”

Sylvia was next to smack Wilhelm on the back in greeting. “Good morning, I’m Sylvia. Where are you from, William?”

“It’s Wilhelm. I’m from around Hamelin, if you know where that is.”

“Don’t know, don’t really care.” Sylvia drank something out of a mug and gestured to Monty. “Get the man something to drink!”

Johann grabbed Wilhelm’s shoulder. “Actually, I think we’re going to go upstairs and talk about some things. Where’s Deirdre?”

Sylvia shrugged. “Still asleep.”

“Hey, Johann, aren’t I your assistant?” Monty asked.

“You’re not trustworthy enough,” said Johann.

“Ugh.” Monty tried to take an entire egg out of the cupboard and put it in the oven, but he dropped it halfway there. “Damn. I hate this.”

Johann dragged Wilhelm upstairs and showed him to the office, where he’d set up a small lab. Johann handed him a stack of newspaper clippings. “Fresh bodies.”

Wilhelm’s eyes were as large as quarters. “Do you need them?”

“Yes. Two of the people here, Richard and Alice, deal in them. I’m taking them, and you, and Monty to the Quaker graveyard tonight to find a body for our experiments.”

“Stealing a body?”

“Yes, Wilhelm, that’s what we’re doing.” Johann threw him a shovel. “Go out into one of the fields and practice digging as fast as you can. You need to be able to get that body out of the ground in less than six minutes, understand?”

Wilhelm grinned and nodded, then ran off with his shovel. Johann sat down at his desk and rubbed his temple. He was exhausted. What would be the problem with taking a few minutes of rest? Nothing, right? Johann leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. He was asleep in seconds.

A man watched vast armies from a platform of stone. A huge three headed red dragon stood by his side, roaring for blood. The same man was sitting on a throne, a cruel glint in his eyes. His head dissolved and was replaced  by a single all seeing eye, surrounded by writhing pale tentacles. There was an executioner’s platform. The sword fell, and the head of a dark-haired young woman was held above a roaring crowd. The eye-headed man lifted his hands to the sky and tore it open. He turned and looked right at Johann. When he spoke, his voice was the voice of the legion. 

Fifteen in the first hour.

Better than seeing eleven.

Eleven will burn

But hands will learn to ruin.

Across the country and at the sea

They are missing.

Eleven get angry with Him

However, eleven managed the poems themselves.

Eleven are stronger.

When you find something missing

Put the blood in the fire

Only nothing

The war destroyed the whole earth

The future is now in the hands of eleven.

There were eleven in the last hour

Eleven will come

Johann woke up in a cold sweat. Dammit! He was sick of hearing weird, ridiculous poems in his dreams. He groaned and turned his aching neck to the small window. It was getting dark outside. Had he slept the entire day away?

He checked his watch and saw that it was five in the afternoon. Apparently he had slept upright in his uncomfortable wooden chair for a full twelve hours straight.

Johann stood up and stretched, which made all of his bones crack. He walked downstairs and found that he was the only person left in the house. Johann pulled on his coat and boots and went out into the yard. “Deirdre? Sylvia? Richard? Jean? Monty? Alice? Wilhelm?”

There was no response, but there were some broken branches at the edge of the wood. Johann had his cane with him, which he used to smack aside the few plants that the previous group hadn’t broken. There wasn’t any kind of path, but he managed to find his way pretty well, at least until he missed a stone sticking out of the ground and went flying several feet. His cane spun out of his hand, but it wasn’t activated, so it was easy to pick it up again out of the foliage, cursing to himself. 

Johann leaned down to pick up the offending stone and hurl it off into the wood. Immediately, he realized that it was too big to dig out with just his fingers. It was covered in odd grooves. Was that writing? Johann switched his efforts to trying to clean off the stone. The writing was soon revealed to be yet another strange poem.

My mother, she knew things others didn’t know

Helped the village when plague brought them low

But they burned her body and threw her in a ditch

They yelled and cursed and called her a witch

And they buried her here

Under the witches’ tree.

Oh no. Had he just disturbed a witch’s grave?

“I’m so sorry,” Johann said. “Really, I am. So sorry.”

The grave gave no response.

He remembered seeing a blackberry bush some ways back. Johann stood up and raced back to collect a sprig of the plant. He wrapped it and a random yellow flower around a pair of sticks he’d found, one hawthorne and one elder, and ran back to the witch’s grave. 

Johann looked up at the tree. He saw ancient knotted rope among the branches, and a chill went down his spine. 

Suddenly, the stupidity of the situation hit him. He was trying to appease a gravestone. His friends easily could have put this out here just to scare him. Why was he actually believing it? He was too nervous, and overworked. He would have to take a rest tomorrow, or the next day, or whenever he’d finished with the body he was going to get tonight. Johann dropped the bundle of sticks and flowers on the ground, picked up his cane, and continued on his way.

There was a clearing in the woods up ahead. Johann walked into it, and immediately nearly fell into a dry river. He stumbled back, heart racing, and stood well away from the river to reassess the situation. 

There was the dry river, about six feet deep and maybe ten feet wide. It clearly hadn’t had water in it for a while, and Johann could probably climb down into it if he worked at it. There was a bit of a rock staircase on the other side that would be useful, too. There was also a bridge a few meters away from him, too, but it was overgrown and the wood looked rotten. 

On the other side of the river was a ruined mill. It wasn’t too big, and was built out of solid cobblestone that had lasted the years, but the roof had caved in and most of the wood had rotted away. How long had this been here? Surely since the 1700s, at least.

Johann carefully climbed into the dry river, and back up again on the other side. He didn’t see any more evidence of anyone passing this way before, which meant he was probably off track, but he pressed forward anyway. What else might he discover in these woods?

Soon, the tree line ended and revealed a large clearing of maybe an acre, filled with long grass that came up to Johann’s knees. It also was filled with thorny bushes, but he didn’t discover that until he waded in and felt the first stinging on his calves. Still, he pressed on, because in the center of the clearing was what looked like an abandoned church, and that was too interesting to not explore.

The church was probably Catholic. It was a typical church – a one-story building with a sloped roof and a steeple with a cross on the top, but it also had three stained glass windows on each side. The first two windows on the right side were the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ on the cross, and the last one was probably Saint Jerome, judging from the lion at his feet. On the right side stood Saint Francis, as shown by the animals flocking around him, Saint Sebastian, who had been impaled by hundreds of meticulously done arrows, and someone who might have been any of the core apostles, but was probably Saint Peter, judging from the fact that he hung upside down on a cross. There was a very small graveyard out to that side of the church, framed by a stone fence in disrepair and shadowed by the branches of a hawthorn tree. 

Johann went inside the church, and was immediately struck by the creepiness of it. The pulpit and altar were on a raised platform at the back, which had a door behind it that presumably led to the sanctuary. There was a staircase right next to the door that led to a walkway just under the rafters, presumably to accommodate a choir. The pews were all still there, as well as most of the other furniture. The church was eerily silent, but that wasn’t the most uncanny thing about the entire place. Instead, it was the fact that the stone basin for holy water was still full, despite not being fed by any apparent source. Johann crossed himself as he entered, even though the water seemed to irritate his skin where it touched him.

There was an old bible under the pulpit, still marked on the last page that must have been read there. It was the story of Jonah, which was random but allowed Johann to calculate when the church might have been abandoned. 

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

Johann slammed the book shut. He’d spent enough time reading the Bible when he was younger. It was dark outside, and he needed to get back home.

As he was about to leave, he spotted another book under the pulpit. It was much thinner than the Bible, but he almost dropped it when he brought it into the light, not because of the weight but because it had the same eye he’d seen in his dream printed on the cheap paper cover. 

Johann flipped to the first page.

Faceless Messengers

Second edition

Authored by Daisy Pickman

Printed AD 1754

He thought that he knew Daisy Pickman. How was it possible that she’d published a book some time before 1754?

It looked like it was just a discussion of the thoughts and motivations of the Faceless group, the people who wanted the Things back. Johann knew he’d gone to one of their meetings, but he barely remembered it beyond seeing Jean and Camilla there.

There was a sound like someone walking along the upper walkway. Johann shoved the Faceless book in his pocket, leaving the Bible open on the pulpit, and ran. He thought he heard someone running after him, but he didn’t look back, and they never caught him.

Notes:

There really are fields in Nantucket that look like a great place to take your dog to run around but are actually full of stinging thorn bushes. I had to rescue my brother from the middle of one when we were kids. It wasn’t a fun experience.

Also, I have now decided that the story is going to be put on hold for the holidays, which for me means October 30th – January 6th. However, new content will still be published, in the form of short stories, artwork, and a few posts on the lore and inner workings of the world. New chapter images will also be added at some point during this time, or possibly sooner, because not only are the old ones not very good they also aren’t on every chapter. Of course, October 30th isn’t for a while, but I thought it would be best to announce this far in advance.

Thank you for reading!

Richard – 2.8.5

Richard settled down into his blankets. This was his first night in Nantucket, and his first night in this new house. 

Well, he called it new because this was his first night in it. Otherwise, the house was older than anything around it, save maybe the stones in the deep forest. It had seen tragedy, this house, and it had a great many ghosts. When everyone was asleep and the house was silent, Richard could hear a person with grating nails making their rounds through the hallways. He was scared out of his mind when they walked past his door, but that paled in comparison to when he got up to use the restroom and saw the wet footprints along the carpet.

Richard looked up, and saw a figure standing motionless at the end of the hallway. He squeezed his eyes shut and blindly felt his way to the restroom, locking the door once he was in there to make sure that that thing couldn’t get him.

Once he was finished, Richard went back to his room, making sure to keep his eyes closed until he had locked the door. When he turned around, he nearly jumped out of his skin, because Monty was sitting on his bed.

“Monty?” Richard asked. He really did look familiar. Where had Richard seen him before?

“Hullo, Richard.”

“What is it?”

“I’m doing badly, Richard.”

“…What do you mean?”

“I’m in a really dark place tonight.”

“Oh.” Monty was coming to him for help, then. Very well, he could help this young man. Richard sat down on the bed next to him. “Do you need to talk about it?”

“I think so.”

“Alright, what do you need to talk about?”

“Well, Richard, you see, I, um,” Monty swallowed and popped his fingers nervously. His voice started to crack. “It’s just hard.”

“What’s hard?”

“Being here again. In this house.”

“Why?”

“Because my mother died here, a- and, my father, too. Several years apart.”

Richard sighed. “Grief can be hard.”

“But it’s not just grief, Richard, it’s also other things. You know when you’re just so depressed all of the time that you can’t even remember what it was like to be happy?”

“Yes?”

“Yes.”

“You’re there right now?”

Monty wiped his face. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. There’s no reason to freak out like this. No reason to be so depressed. God, I need to get a grip. I’m sorry, Richard, I shouldn’t be bothering you.” He moved to get up, but Richard touched his arm to stop him. 

“You can’t control how your mind is telling you to feel. Sometimes, you just… you get depressed like this. I understand. Do you want to tell me anything else? I’m listening.”

Monty looked like he was considering actually taking his offer, but instead he stood up and shook his head. “No, I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m sorry, Richard. Goodnight.” When he went to leave the room, his face was highlighted in profile by moonlight coming in through the window, and suddenly it clicked. Richard remembered where he had seen him before.

“Did you by any chance go to Yale between 1855 and 1857?”

“Actually, I did.”

“I think I saw you there. A few times. Under an assumed name.”

Monty smiled tentatively. “Yes, I have quite a few of those.” He reached for the doorknob again.

“Goodnight,” Richard said.

“Goodnight.” As he opened the door, he slipped something out of his pocket and put it on the dresser. Richard was confused, but he didn’t ask about it or tell Monty to take the thing back.

After Monty left, Richard was unable to sleep for a while. He didn’t understand it, but he’d felt the same instant connection with Monty that he’d felt with Leonard, and Barrorah, and his old partner Cesare. It was a different kind of connection than the one he felt with Deirdre, who was more like a sister, and Alice, who was just a best friend. Even with Camilla, Daiyu, Enoch Carter, and the rest of his writer friends, the people he felt most comfortable around, it was the same distinctly other kind. 

In the middle of overthinking and wondering if this was going to be like how it had been with Cesare, Richard fell asleep and dove right into a nightmare.

He was in a wide, open field at the base of a hill. Richard knew where he was, because he’d actually had this exact dream repeatedly when going to a new place, as many times as times he’d slept in a new place. Every time it was the same: he would dream this, and trek through the mountains to the shrine, where he would say a prayer that seemed to pop into his head at that moment. After that, he usually slept soundly and dreamlessly for several nights. Richard did not expect this time to be any different, nor did he expect to hear voices in his head before he reached the shrine.

Turn around, said the first voice. Richard shook his head, dismissing it as just part of the dream, and kept walking.

You go on a fool’s errand, the voice insisted.

Richard wasn’t sure why this dream was different from every other, but he tried not to let the creation of his unconscious mind get to him. The shrine was only a few minute’s walk away, under the trees there. He wanted to bask in the presence of his God again, and he wanted to do it alone.

Do not approach the shrine, a second voice said.

Richard stopped. One voice was strange enough, but two was bothersome. He shook his head violently, as if to knock them out of his ears.

You must not go there, said the first voice. Think of your home, of your peaceful life. If you value this at all, you will not go to the shrine today.

“Please just let me get this over with,” Richard said. “It’s just a dream.”

You will stop, or a storm will come to wash you away, the second voice said. A storm will come, and take away your friends, your home, even the land itself. The storms will come, and your God will not save you.

“Please, shut up,” said Richard. “I’m not going to listen to you. You’re just a weird blasphemous dream. Besides, whatever you’re going to do, God can stop it.”

Oh, no he can’t. He put us away. Should he save you from one of equal power to himself? I think not, young ghoul.

Richard did not immediately reply. Instead he continued to walk, fixating his eyes and mind on that shrine that had always worked before. The voices fell silent, and Richard could see the small shrine right over the ridge. He smiled, and felt as if he had triumphed over the strange dream voices. They could not keep him from doing anything.

It was then that he felt a strange tugging sensation at the bottom of his waistcoat. Richard looked down, but there was no one there. He dismissed the feeling as a breeze, put his cane down in front of him, and tried to take another step.

His foot was stuck in place. After several minutes of struggling, he managed to wrench it free, and plant it down in front of him. Now the other foot was stuck, and there were invisible hands pulling at the back of Richard’s waistcoat, pulling him down.

He fell, and landed on his back.

Do not go to the shrine, the voices chorused.

Richard stood. “This is a dream!”

Do not go.

Richard’s cane was wrenched from his hand, and thrown down the hill. He went to fetch it, and as he ran was pushed forward by some force, so that he fell again. He slid several feet, and landed in a pool of mud at a stream’s bank. Richard sat up, and stared at his reflection in the water. His dark hair was knotted with dirt, and his entire outfit – a simple waistcoat over suspenders – was covered in mud.

“Why are you doing this?” Richard asked. “Why do you care what I do in my dreams? None of this is even happening in reality.”

The voices choresed in laughter. The first one had something else to say after that. It is a better fate than going to the shrine, 

Richard would have been angry with the voice, if he hadn’t known this was a dream. Instead, he retrieved his cane from the bottom of the stream, and turned to dash up the hill. The voices would not keep him from getting to the shrine. They would not.

Turn back, turn back, do not go to the shrine, the voices chanted. Turn back, turn back or the storms will come, they will come.

The trees themselves were hindering him. Richard tripped on a root as he ran, and when he tried to stand he found that the branches were much lower than they should have been. He could see the shrine, it was only a few feet away from where he’d fallen. Richard reached out and gripped the sides of the shrine, which consisted of a stone image of a tall, cloaked man leading a sheep. The image was protected by a small half-circle, which made sure that no rain would hit the statue. Both the statue and its protection sat on a block of carved stone, which had strange writing on it. Richard didn’t know what kind of shrine it was, only that when he prayed to it he got a few nights of undisturbed sleep.

Richard began his prayers, at first whispering them under his breath, but slowly his voice increased to a shout. He prayed for sleep, thanked God for his life, for everything he had, and he prayed against the strange voices and their malicious influence over nature.

A clap of thunder sounded in the sky, and Richard saw lightning at the edges of his vision. The voices in his head were chanting in a wild frenzy, speaking a language Richard did not recognize. He was certain, however, of their intent. They were calling the storm down upon him, calling the storm to stop his prayers.

Richard finished his prayer, and tried to stand up. There were tendrils of smoke pulling him down, dragging him away from the shrine. The voices were screaming with anticipation of the coming storm, the coming sacrifice for whatever force they served. Richard screamed, and tried to claw his way back to the shrine. Smoke obscured his vision, and the tendrils pulling him were too strong to resist. He was going to die here, in this dream.

“Lord, please!” Richard said. “Please, I beg of you, spare me.”

The land fell around away around him. Richard couldn’t keep hold. He fell until he was gripping the edge of a clif with both hands, being pulled down by slimy black tentacles, and the only person above him was Dr Faust.

“Doctor Faust!” Richard shouted. “Doctor Faust, please!”

Instead, he watched as Faust turned around and injected himself with a thick black liquid, before laughing and tearing the sky in two. A pair of long, pale arms with fingers of all the same length reached through that tear, and started to pull itself through.

Faust ran up and stomped on Richard’s fingers, causing him to fall. He fell and he fell, down, down, down, until he hit Earth, and was at the bottom of a well. There were stars above him, and he watched them move until the same pale arms that had come out of the sky dove down into the well and made everything go black.

Richard awoke in a cold sweat. He rubbed the back of his neck, making sure that his head was still attached. It was just a dream. Just a dream.

Laughter sounded from the dresser. There was a doll sitting there, sewn of mismatched fabrics and no doubt stuffed with rags. Its tin button eyes shone in the feeble moonlight, and the stitched mouth was dissonantly cheerful. That must have been what Monty put on the dresser.

“Hello?” Richard asked.

The doll laughed again. “All just a dream, is it?” It was the first voice from his dream.

“I think so.”

“Maybe a premonition?”

“I’m not the prophet here.”

“Would I be talking if it was just a dream?”

“I think I’m hallucinating you.”

“All of me?”

“I don’t know if you as a doll exist, but I sure as Hell know you aren’t talking right now.”

“Am I? Am I not? If you’re real, why shouldn’t I be?”

This had gone on long enough. Richard was going to stand up and put it on one of the shelves in his closet. He hesitated, and looked at its happy burlap face, and the tin button eyes that some child had probably loved, once. This was only a doll. Why would he throw it away?

“I think you can imagine who put me here,” the doll said. 

“My dreams,” said Richard. 

“If I’m only a dream, what will you see when you wake up?”

That was it. Richard went to get out of bed, but was horrified to find that he couldn’t move. He tried and tried to move his legs, his arms, anything, but his body wouldn’t respond to even the simplest command. 

The doll laughed and laughed. “You think you have such control, don’t you. Everyone does, until they realize they don’t. Is this your realization, Richard?”

He’d always known that thanks to his skin condition, he probably wouldn’t make it much past thirty, or forty at the most. He’d never had any control over that. But he’d always thought that up until that point, his life was his own. Richard suddenly realized how ridiculous this entire thing was. A doll, telling him that he had no control, and he was believing it?

“I don’t have control either,” the doll continued. “I’m a puppet for children to play with. They move my limp limbs around and play that I’m a living thing with feelings and control over myself, even though they know I’m not. I think that’s the only difference between me and the children that play with me, Richard. I know that I’m an unconscious being who exists only as a plaything of more powerful beings. They don’t.”

The doll was soaking wet, drenched in seawater. “Humans have never realized. They don’t know what’s right on the other side of their mirrors. But they’re about to, Richard, mark my words, they’re about to.”

Suddenly, Richard was able to push himself up in bed. He shot upwards, rocking all the way forward from the inertia. The doll had fallen silent, but the first thing Richard did was stand up, pick up his cane, and go over to throw it in his closet. When he picked it up, it was wet to the touch.

Notes:

Anybody read Haita the Shepherd by Ambrose Bierce? It’s a very short but very good story, and Richard’s nightmare was heavily inspired by it.

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.

Leonard 2.6.5

Leonard had gotten exactly no sleep while in Hell. Tecualt had found him almost immediately, and had given him a full report of the chaos and rebellion in his dukedom. Leonard felt like an awful person for not realizing just how bad things were down here, but in his defense, Lavinia Avnas exaggerated a lot, and how was he supposed to know that she wasn’t just exaggerating more?

In any case, Leonard was getting out of Hell as fast as possible to get away from the chaos of his dukedom. He’d come down by obligation for Albert Janson’s funeral, not to put down a whole rebellion. 

“But, sir,” Tecualt said as Leonard threw his clothes into a travel trunk. “You can’t just leave.

“Tecualt. You have never let anyone who broke the law in any way get away from you, have you?”

“No, sir.”

“Then you won’t let these revolutionaries get away with it, either, will you?”

“No, sir.”

“Then I see no problem. Is the rebellion serious? Have they taken over much?”

“No, sir, but…”

“What?”
“Their complaints are legitimate, for the most part.”

Leonard grimaced. He’d expected something like this. “How so?”

“Can you blame them for wanting, I don’t know, more?”

“They sinned in life, they don’t get to go to paradise after death. There’s nothing I can do about their current situation, Tecualt. I would love them to be able to have some kind of better life, but I’m tied up in legal ramifications that won’t let me do anything. Besides, these are the scum of the Earth. Unrepentant murders, serial killers, rapists, terrorists, pedophiles…”

“Pagans,” Tecualt said.

Leonard scoffed. “No good person ever went to Hell, Tecualt, Christian or otherwise.”

“So you say I’m part of the scum of the Earth.”

“You were… but you’re one of the very few people here who are willing to change. Anyone in Hell can redeem themselves and be bumped up to purgatory, Tecualt, but very few choose to.”

“So what you’re saying is, I just happen to be one of the very few good people in this accursed place?”

“Yes, I suppose I am.”

“Well, I think I can be proud of that.”

“Pride is a sin, Tecualt.”

“He says, while he packs his bags to run away out of pride.”

Leonard rolled his eyes, but that remark cut deeper than it should have. Deep down, Leonard knew that that was true, but he would do anything to avoid admitting it. Maybe him and Johann Faust weren’t so different after all, in that regard. Maybe they were both just overly prideful pigheaded men doomed to Hell forever.

Someone knocked on the door. “Come in!” Leonard said.

It was Serena, lugging her own suitcase. “Nantucket Island, huh?” She opened her dresser and started throwing clothes into her trunk. 

“No sarcastic comments, please,” said Leonard.

“Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’ve actually always wanted to see New England. Do you remember when you courted me, and I told you about my mother? She was trapped by a whaler in Massachusetts.” Serana stopped for a moment to ponder this point, then resumed. “Speaking of, have you seen my coat?”

“Yes, it’s under the bed.”

Serana dropped what she was doing and crawled under their bed. A few minutes later, she reappeared with her selkie’s coat in hand. It appeared as a regular pale leather frock coat, spotted like a seal’s skin, but in reality it was the thing that allowed Serana to go between the sea and land, between her human self and her true self as a seal woman. 

Leonard smiled to see her with it. When he had first fallen in love with a selkie, some of his friends had advised him to steal her coat so that she would have to stay with him forever, but the idea of trapping someone who would never love him in an unhappy relationship like that disgusted him. Instead, he had courted Serana normally, and five years later, they had married. Even after two hundred years, he still almost never touched that coat – and in the case of Serana herself, there was no almost – without her consent. 

“Sir,” Tecualt said.

Leonard had forgotten he was there. “Oh, yes?”

“I would like permission to ask Stolas for help.”

“Fine by me. Talk to Harriet about it before you make any major decisions, she’s the steward.”

“Sir?”

“Something else?”

“Yes, sir. I would suggest that you call a meeting of your officials.”

“Call your own meeting. I have a ship to catch.” Leonard sat on his suitcase to latch the bulging thing shut. Serana finished her packing, and shouted for someone to come take her bags.

A young woman sailed into the room from down the hall. Leonard was immediately bothered by her extreme resemblance to Dominic Sapping, with the same skin and hair color, and an almost identical face. There was something wild and fey in the young woman’s face that set her apart from Dominic, though, something that made Leonard think that she had a considerable amount of fey blood in her. 

The young woman tossed Seranas bags out into the hallway with remarkable strength, then turned to Leonard’s and dragged them out beside Serana’s. She was about to walk off, but Leonard caught her arm before she could.

“Excuse me,” he said.

“You are excused,” said the young woman.

“Are you perhaps related to Dominic Sapping?”

“Yeah, he’s my dad, why?”

“You look very much like him.”

“Thank you.” 

“What’s your name?”

“Why?”

“I was only wondering.”

“Sylvia Sapping.”

“Have a good day, Sylvia.”

“You too, Duke Mephisto.”

Tecualt followed her out. Leonard pulled on his coat and hat, and offered Serana his arm. She took it, and they walked down the stairs and to the door together.

Sinners from all over the city had turned out to see the whole crowd of people getting on the ship. They lined the streets around the carriages waiting for Leonard, Serana, and the others, dressed as medieval peasants and eagerly waiting to catch a glimpse of their overlords.

Leonard’s demonic valet, Wilbur, announced them at the door. “His grace, Mephistopheles, Grand Duke of Hell, Commander of twenty-thousand legions of demons, Watchman at the West, commander of the Order, The Red Anointed One, the Dealmaker, Son of Lies, Oathbreaker, Son of the West Wind and the Eyes of the North, Banisher of the Faceless Ones, Knight of the Broken One, Knight of the Liar, Prime among the Devils, and Lord to the Father Below.

“Her grace, Serana, Grand Duchess of Hell, Commander of twenty-thousand legions of demons, Lady of Salt and Sea, One with Blindsight, the Rock Watcher, Selkie of New Bedford, Massachusetts, Daughter of Brine and Dark Water, Eyes that Face Westward, Spawn of the Faceless Ones, Keeper of the Dark Waves, Prime among the Others, and Lady to the Father Below.”

They followed Wilbur down to where there was a carriage waiting for them, and climbed inside.

Of course, they then had to wait for Duke Janson to be announced.

“His Grace, Mephastophilis, Grand Duke of Hell, commander of forty-thousand legions of demons, Father of the Fallen, commander of the Order, The One who Watches Silently, the Tempter, Son of Lies, Oathbreaker, Son of the Scream of the North and the Red Eyes of Glory, Banisher of the Faceless Ones, Knight of the Broken One, Knight of the Liar, Prime among the Devils, and Lord to the Father Below.”

After that, Leonard blocked out everyone else’s overly long titles. Why couldn’t they simply be introduced as ‘Duke Mephisto’ and ‘Duke Janson?’ 

Wilbur finished with Richard’s party. “Mr Richard Golson, Ghoul Duke of the Decayed, of London, England. 

“Deirdre, Soul-in-Limbo, of Ireland. 

“Jean Gévaudan, Bastard Prince of Fey, the Changeling’s Cub, Wolf among Faeries, and Beast of Gévaudan. 

“Doctor Johann Wolfgang Von Faust, son of Wolfgang Paul Von Faust and Juliane Eva Von Faust, Dealmaker, the Bargainer, and Soul-entrusted-to-Hell.

“Sylvia Mary Sapping, Bastard Princess of the Fey, Daughter of Queen Titania and Dominic Sapping, of London, England and Gévaudan, France.

“Ishmael Samuel Carter of Nantucket, Monty, Son of Salt and Sea, harpooner aboard the Essex, St Jerome, Redwood, and Black Galley, and High Priest of the Faceless Ones.”

At that last title, Leonard felt a jolt in his stomach. The Things without Faces, also known as the Faceless Ones, were undefinable monstrosities that simply didn’t make sense in this reality, but seeked to consume it all the same. They were things of darkness whose only driving force was fathomless hunger, and who would sink their teeth into anything they could find to consume and warp and make impure. They had normal Priests, also known as vampires, but Leonard had never once heard of a High Priest of the Faceless Ones. He looked up at Ishmael Samuel Carter again, and saw that this was no more than a fresh-faced boy who was unremarkable in every way. There was nothing sinister about him, or any of the unnatural hunger. He just seemed… normal. That simple fact, that this unremarkable young man was a High Priest of the Faceless Ones, frightened Leonard more than anything in Heaven or Hell ever could.

Could such things be? Was this young man what Wilbur claimed he was? Leonard went over the few facts he knew about Ishmael Samuel Carter from Richard. He was young, had been a whaler… and he was an opium addict. Suddenly Leonard realized that Wilbur would have asked him for those titles, and that an opium addict was not exactly the most reliable source on his own credibility. That was reassuring, and Leonard decided that since opium could sometimes transport people’s minds accidently into… other places… Ishmael Samuel Carter had probably somehow seen something he shouldn’t have and  decided that he was High Priest of the Things. Either that, or he was a vampire, which didn’t really bother Leonard, a Grand Duke of Hell.

Johann Faust, Deirdre, and Ishmael Samuel Carter climbed into the carriage and sat down across from Serana and Leonard.

“Hello,” Serana said. She was resting against the cushions, perfectly at home. “Mr Carter’s to ride with the servants and Sylvia.”

Ishmael Samuel Carter left to join them, and Deirdre laid against Johann’s shoulder and closed her eyes. Johann looked much the same as he had the last time Leonard had seen him up close, at the duel. After the fire, he’d searched and searched, but hadn’t been able to find a trace of Johann until he turned up at Albert’s funeral after following Richard there.

“How have you been?” Serana asked.

Deirdre shrugged and muttered something about how she was fine. Serana obviously picked up on how untrue that statement was, because she proceeded to keep a steady discourse going about the unfair price of certain scientific ingredients which had to be imported from the US, and the fact that someone had been using up all of her chemicals. 

“I don’t know who the thief is,” Serana said, “but when I find out I’ll smash their kneecaps in.”

She talked like that most of the way to the docks, describing things that were missing and the various violent things she was going to do to the person who’d stolen them when she found them. Leonard listened intently until it became clear that she was just talking to make noise and ease the tension, though he wasn’t sure that voicing her desire to smash a hypothetical thief into a pulp was the best way to do that. Either way, it seemed to calm Deirdre down, and Johann was at least slightly interested in it. Leonard focused on his surroundings instead. 

The harbor was always hot, but today Leonard felt like he was being boiled alive. He wore a crimson suit, and under that a waistcoat, shirt and underclothes, all of which felt like they were sticking to him like a second skin, and he longed to peel the thing off. His hair was so wet with sweat it felt like he’d dunked her head in the sea, and he could feel sweat running down his back. Hell, being what it was, was known for its high temperatures, but this was pushing the limits of what Leonard was willing to put up with. There was a reason he was trying so hard to avoid going to his dukedom. He remembered how once, when he was a little boy, he’d cracked an egg on the street just outside his house, and it had fried to a crisp in about thirty minutes. He also remembered the beating he’d gotten from his rotten tutor for wasting an egg.

Leonard sighed at the memory. Today he could no doubt fry an egg in the same manner if he had one. 

Duke Janson and the rest of the passengers arrived slowly, and when everyone was present they all stood at the docks awaiting the ship. Leonard had heard that it was due in any minute, so they all had to wait for it here, outside, in the boiling heat. It was nearly unbearable, and Leonard wanted nothing more than to cannonball off the dock into the ocean. Unfortunately, being dripping wet was not the best way to greet a group of sailors he would be spending months with.

Just when Leonard had decided he would jump into the harbor, since a Grand Duke of Hell could do whatever he wanted, white sails appeared on the horizon. As they drew closer, he could see the American flag flying above the ship, slightly darkened and askew, clearly an imitation of the real thing. So it was one of those ships. The souls of sailors, especially whalers, who had died at sea, were doomed forever to sail under the flags of the Shaw-Captains, strange shadow men no one could explain. 

The ship coasted up to the dock, and one of the sailors threw down a gangplank. The Shaw-Captain of this ship, a tall figure wrapped all in dark fabric, stepped down onto the dock and bowed to Duke Janson, who had apparently decided he was the leader of this group.

The Shaw-Captain didn’t say anything, but instead merely stood there while the Jansons, the Mephistos, the faeries, and Richard’s party walked across the deck and onto the boat. After that the Shaw-Captain followed them back up and disappeared down into what was presumably the captain’s cabin. A bored-looking demon who was probably the first mate came up out of the bowels of the ship to bark orders at the ghostly sailors. 

“Good morning, Duke and Duchess Janson, Duke and Duchess Mephisto, King Oberon and Queen Titania, Doctor Faust, and others.” The demon wore a white-collered shirt, which meant he was probably in middle-management. “This voyage is bound for Nantucket Harbor, in Massachusetts, USA. If this is the wrong boat, get off now.”

No one moved, so the demon, who had probably had this job for years beyond count, gave a long-suffering sigh, and continued. “Thank you all for choosing to travel on this ship. The Captain hopes that your voyage will be pleasant, and requests that you report any and all problems to him.”

The demon bowed, turned, and walked toward the side. He kept walking until he couldn’t any more because he had fallen in the water. Johann flinched, and Sylvia obviously repressed a laugh, but no one else batted an eye. Hell was a strange place.

“Is anyone here interested in hearing about whales?” Ishmael Samuel Carter asked. “They’re the most evil of fish.”

Leonard leaned down against the rail, folding his arms under him. This was going to be a long voyage.

Clarissa – 2.5.4

Content warning: Themes of death and grief

Clarissa had recovered from her illness and immediately been drafted into tending Albert’s. As soon as the doctors were sure she was no longer ill, whatever their definition of that was, she’d been told to go help Albert with his fever. Of course, when she first entered his room, she was instantly told by the patient himself that it was not a fever, but that he had the consumption, and he was dying of it. 

“And have you verified this?” Clara asked.

Albert shrugged, and coughed. He was deathly pale and very thin, though he’d been refusing food for the past few days. He claimed to not be hungry.

“Well, if you haven’t verified these claims, how can you know them to be true?”

“I know.”

“Well, that’s helpful.”

“It really is.”

Albert continued to grow thinner, and hack up more and more blood. At one point so much filled his mouth that he swallowed it down the wrong pipe and couldn’t breathe, so Clara had had to smack him on the back and give him salt water both to wash out his mouth and hopefully unclog his throat. It didn’t really help, but Albert didn’t die, and instead leaned back against the cushions of his bed and said that he wished he had.

“Does your stomach hurt?” Clara asked him one day.

Albert threw a pillow at her. She took that as a yes.

Clara wasn’t the only one taking care of Albert; Emma, Hugh, Ernest, and even Mr Holland sometimes did as well, but as a young married woman with no occupation, children, or house to keep Clara was the only one who was almost always free. Emma had to look for a husband and help take care of the missing Sarah’s children, Hugh was in the navy, Ernest was dragged about by his father now that Albert was ill, and Mr Holland had all sorts of concerns of his own, but Clara’s only cares were for Ernest, who liked to do most of his book-keeping and chores himself. So, Clara had been automatically assigned to taking care of Albert, which wasn’t as thankless a job as it could have been.

When he’d been sick for a while, Albert demanded opium. Clara’s response was an immediate no, even though she knew he was in tremendous pain. She didn’t have authority to administer drugs to him, being someone who knew absolutely nothing about medicine.

“Call for the doctor,” Albert said.

Clara did, and when the doctor arrived an hour later, the man administered Albert painkillers that left him in a semi-sleep for hours afterward. 

“Give him a few drops of this every morning,” the doctor said.

Clara did, but they didn’t really seem to help beyond putting Albert in an almost comatose state. A month or two into the use of the painkillers their effectiveness declined dramatically. He coughed blood almost constantly now, and Clara could see the bones poking out through his skin.

It was the fifteenth of October when Clara entered Albert’s sickroom and found him cold. She shook him once or twice, but already knew what had happened. A few hours later, the doctor made it official: Albert Janson had died during the night, stolen from his youth by consumption. 

Clara felt numb. She watched as they took Albert’s body out of the house for it to be quarantined, and burned everything in his room. A doctor asked her all kinds of questions about if she’d caught it or not. Clara did her best to answer them, but she was in such a state of shock talking with anyone was nearly impossible. 

The Janson household mourned. Albert’s body was carried back to his father’s dukedom, where his funeral was held. It was hard for Clara to get out of bed in the mornings, and all the more harder for her to go to the funeral of the young man she’d tended to for so long. She didn’t even cry anymore, she just felt hollow and sad, like this death had left a hole in her. A point was driven into Clara’s mind: she would die. Sure, she’d known that before, but it was always just an idea, expressed by the vague feeling that she might die at some point. Now it was a piece of sobering knowledge that she carried around with her, a sentiment that one day, she and everyone else she knew would have the consciousness stolen in an instant, with no idea what to expect beyond.

Few people attended Albert’s funeral. There was the Janson family, all except for the missing Sarah, but including her children and husband. John Amon, his wife, and daughter were present, as well as Duke Mephisto, his wife, and Lavinia Avnas and her husband. Albert’s friends Camilla, Cesare, Daiyu, and Richard were there too, but off to one side. Most sickeningly, Dr Faust was there, looking pristine and well-groomed. Clara wanted to scream and throw out this man who practiced such a perverted art related to death. Why was he here at a funeral?

A demon took the pulpit that was set up to the side of the hole Albert would be lowered into. “Dear friends. We are here today because this young man has been stolen from the prime of his life by a vicious human disease. He was a good young man, a kind young man, who will be missed dearly by his friends and family alike.” 

Apparently that was the eulogy. The demon stepped down, and went over to stand next to Duke Janson.

Someone else stepped up to give a rite of some sort, which Clara couldn’t focus on. Instead, she focused on the other details of the funeral, trying to soak it all up so she could remember it forever.

It was raining, and water dusted Clara’s hair and coated the land in a fine layer of precipitation. Everyone else was distant, like they’d withdrawn within themselves and shut everyone out. She could sympathize. Looking around, she couldn’t help but wonder if it was her fault. Had she not nursed Albert well enough? Had she done better, would he still be alive today?”

Dr Faust approached her, and Clara’s stomach did flips. How was she to react to this? She hated and feared the man, but she could hardly say that here. 

“It wasn’t your fault,” Dr Faust said with a grim smile.

“I know,” said Clara, though she didn’t mean it. “I just feel bad. I mean, who wouldn’t? And we’re going away tomorrow, so I won’t have time to be here with his grave.”

“I know how you feel. I had to leave for seminary right after my father died. I didn’t even get to go to the funeral.”

Clara was silent. This man brought people back from the dead, which Albert Janson was. Perhaps…

No. No, absolutely not. How could she even think that? Clara bit her lip as hard as she could. “Dr Faust,” she said. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Hm?.”

“H- have you brought any more humans back to life?”

“Yes, of course. Dominic Sapping is one.”

That was like being told that the sky was blue.
They didn’t talk any more for the rest of the service, except when Clara went up to pay her respects to the corpse. Albert lay there in the casket, his arms crossed over his chest, hands clenched together. His dark brown hair had lost its luster, his skin was pale and drawn, and his eyes were sunken into his head. He was a shadow of himself.

After that Clara couldn’t handle it any more. She had to leave, and luckily Oberon had just made his appearance at the funeral.

“Father?” Clara asked. She was still getting comfortable calling him that, in the same way she was still getting comfortable with the revelation that her entire identity was wrong.

“Yes?”

“I don’t think I can stay much longer.”

“Oh?”

“I need to get out of here.”

“I was going to take you with Titania to meet your relations in Nantucket.”

“Oh, thank God. When?”

“Whenever. Bring Ernest, will you?”

“I don’t know if he’ll want that.”

“Try to convince him.”

Clara stuck with Oberon for the rest of the service, then wandered off on her own until dinner, after which she went straight to bed. She wanted to cry, she should have cried, but she felt that she’d already drained her tear ducts, so instead Clara just lay there silently until Ernest came in and laid down next to her.

“I’m going to Nantucket with Oberon,” she said.

“I’m coming with you.”

“You don’t have to. I know your family-”

“As if any of them are even grieving. I just need some time away, Clara. Please.”

“Oberon told me specifically to get you to come.”

“Did he?”

“Yes, he did.”

“I’m glad.”

Somewhere in the ensuing silence Clara fell into sleep. She had a series of nightmares, all of which involved blood and doctors in some way. In the middle of the night, she woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep for the longest time because of the constant oppressive heat in Hell. When she did get back to sleep, it was just in time for another nightmare about a man who projectile vomited blood into her bed. 

In the morning, a commotion downstairs woke her. Clara sat up, incredibly irritated, and opened the door to give whoever it was a piece of her mind. 

A young man in a tricorn hat and a woman with hair that reached to her waist were at least partially the cause of the commotion, because they were tossing pieces of luggage downstairs while loudly singing a French children’s song about a lark. 

Alouette, gentille alouette,

Alouette, je te plumerai.

Je te plumerai la tête.

Je te plumerai la tête.

Et la tête!

Et la tête!

Alouette!

Alouette!  

A-a-a-ah

Alouette, gentille alouette,

Alouette, je te plumerai.

Clara stepped out into the hallway and slammed her door. “Hey, hat and hair!”

The two of them stopped what they were doing.

“Shut up and let me sleep.”

“Apologies, mademe,” said the girl, tipping a pretend hat.

The boy put on a thick New England accent for no discernible reason. “Aye, apologizes to ye, ma’am, but ye better thinketh before insultin’ me hat again.” He swept his hat off his head and scowled at her, lurching forward in an exaggerated manner. 

“Let me sleep,” Clara said. “Or you’ll regret it, I swear.”

“Oh?”

Clara groped around behind the door until her hand curled around her sword. It was a long bastard sword, with a blade of pale metal and a handle carved from white horn. She drew it and brandished it in the boy’s face. “Listen here.”

The boy didn’t budge. His face grew into a grin, and he opened his mouth to sing again. “Alouette-”

Clara swiped her sword at him, and he slid backwards. The grin never left his face.

The girl came up to him and stood in front of the sword. She went to touch the blade, so Clara yanked it out of her reach. The girl shrugged and, to Clara’s neverending shock, did a flip over the blade, landing on her feet on the other side. The boy took her arm, and they walked off in the direction of a group of servants bringing luggage down from the upper levels.

“I’m sorry, are more people going to Nantucket than I thought?” Clara asked.

“The whole Janson family,” the girl said. “Oberon was smoking opium last night, and he got high and told Duke Janson that he was taking Mrs Clarissa Janson and Mr Ernest Janson to Nantucket to meet her ‘mother’ there. Duke Janson’s coming along, and Richard Golson, mostly because he’s hitching a ride, I think, so we’re coming along with him, too.”

“And I suppose Duke Mephisto’s coming, as well.”

“Wow, how’d you guess?”

Clara rolled her eyes. “Guess I’d better pack, then. You, who are you?”

“Sylvia Sapping, at your service.” Sylvia made an elaborate bow.

The boy swung around the corner and jumped up in the air, sliding a meter or two when he landed. He swung his hat off with a flourish. “Ishmael Samuel Carter, of Nantucket. Call me Monty.”

“Carter?” That was the name of the people Clara was related to. Could this boy be one of her nephews, or nieces?

“That’s right, I’m a scion of that family.”

“Really? Who are your parents?”

Monty Carter looked nervous all of the sudden. “Dorothy Carter, daughter of Henry Carter.”

Those names meant nothing to Clara. She had been told that her father was Percy Carter Sr. “Did you know a Percy Carter Sr?”

Monty laughed. “Percy Carter Jr, sure. Not Sr.”

“Oh.” Presumably, that was the son of her father. He would be middle aged by now, wouldn’t he? “Son of Percy Carter Sr?”

“Son of James Carter III.”

“Oh. and was he the son of Percy Carter Sr?”

“I think so. I met him a few years back on a whaleship.”

“Oh, he’s a whaler?”

“No, an academic who was studying the stars while on our voyage.”Clara frowned. Having an academic as a relative wouldn’t be so bad, would it? She wondered what the rest of her family would be like. With luck, they would all be peaceful academics and whalers.

Notes:

I’m going to go back on what I promised again by not releasing the promised short stories until November 1st. This is because I’m going to be going on a hiatus with for all of November, but I’ll still be releasing content in the form of art and short stories on Wednesdays and Saturdays. After November, the schedule will resume as normal.

Thank you for reading!

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.