Richard – 2.20.8

Content warnings: Death, near drowning, thalassophobia

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

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

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

“Richard?” Alice asked.

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

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

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

“Johann!” Richard said. 

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

“Great. What is it?”

“Mrs Fuller won’t die.”

“You mean, she hasn’t died yet?”

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll come. Alice?”

Alice shrugged. “Whatever.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yea, whatever,” said Alice.

“When are we doing this?” Richard asked.

Johann gave him a confused look. “Now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard pushed it left.

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

Oops. Richard jammed the tiller right.

“Less right!” 

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

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

“Tack,” Monty said.

“What?” Richard asked.

“Tiller towards the sail hard.”

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

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

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

“Sheet in,” Monty said.

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

“Tack!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you alright?” Monty asked.

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

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

“Erm, Monty…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bail,” was apparently all Monty could say.

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

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

“Sheet in!” Monty said.

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

“Tack,” said Monty.

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

“Hey! We have to switch jobs!”

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

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

“TACK, RICHARD!” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can’t climb.”

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

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

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

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

“Well?” Monty asked.

Richard smiled. “Hold your nose.”

Notes:

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

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

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

As always, thank you for reading!

Johann – 2.18.7

Content warning: Something kind of like drowning

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

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

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

“I’m serious!”

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

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

“It’s not a fish,” Johann said.

“Yes it is! I hate you!”

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

“Why would a fish treat a concussion?”

“It is not a fish, Leonard.”

“You’re a quack German fish doctor.”

“I am not, and this is not a fish.”

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

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

“Damn you!”

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

“Get the fish off my eyes first!”

“Leonard.”

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

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

“Where is Serena?” Leonard asked.

“Serena?”

“Yes, my wife. Where is she?”

“I don’t know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nah,” the man said.

“Alright, thanks anyway.”

“Any time, my friend.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The girls looked at each other and shook their heads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What brings you here today, Dr Faust?”

“Your husband.”

“Aye, my husband?”

“He has a bad concussion.”

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

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

“Take me to him. Please.”

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

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

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

“Sorry,” said Johann.

“Go upstairs and change your clothes immediately.”

“That’s what I’ll do.”

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

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

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

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

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

“Oh. Carry on, then.”

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

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

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

“That’s not a fish,” said Serena.

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

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

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

Serena laughed. “I do.”

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

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

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

“What?” Alice asked.

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

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

“We are stealing a body.”

“That’s nice.”

“You’re expected to help with this.”

“And so I will.”

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

“Asphsyibfhifvjnbhsuj.”

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

Sylvia groaned. “It’s already happening.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

Just some random fun facts!

Thank you for reading!

Leonard – 2.16.6

Leonard was good at taking care of people when they were ill. In fact, when he’d been a small boy, he’d had to take care of Lavinia for five weeks after she’d nearly died of pneumonia because her caretakers were gone. He would take care of Richard, too, until Richard’s concussion had healed and he was back on his feet, even if that mostly meant sitting in a dark room reading by the light of a candle or simply being alone with his thoughts, while Richard slept off the medicines he was given for most of the day.

By November 22, which the Americans celebrated as Thanksgiving, Richard was much better, sitting up in bed with the windows open. He and all the other victims of the wagon crash were staying in the home of Monica Carter, the angel, because she was trained as a nurse. Leonard had also been staying over, though he avoided Clarissa and Ernest Janson like the plague. Serena came to call sometimes, but Leonard knew that she was spending most of her time in the sea, which was her natural home. He didn’t hold it against her at all, in fact, he was happy that she was getting to be in the place she loved so much.

On November 22, Leonard had been sleeping on top of the covers of Richard’s bed – with his permission, of course, having a pleasant but bizarre dream that somehow involved the French Revolution, which he had been reading  about before bed. He was torn from this dream by Mrs Carter practically breaking down the door and kicking him awake. 

“What the hell?” Leonard asked. He immediately winced, because making any reference to Hell or damnation on an angel’s property was physically painful, similar to the way that making any references to the Bible or prayer was on a demon’s. He had also sworn in front of Mrs Carter, who was a woman, but he figured she wouldn’t mind.

“That probably hurt,” Mrs Carter said.

“It did.” 

“Look at the paper.”

Leonard skimmed the first section of the newspaper that had been shoved under his nose. His eyes caught a few words in particular – Lincoln, President’s Message, Congress, secession, Union, compromise, Cabinet, and dissolution. A stone of dread hit the pit of his stomach. “Oh, no.”

Mrs Carter slapped the paper with the back of her hand. “Nothing’s happened yet, but I see foreshadowing for what’s about to happen. I think the South is about to secede.”

Leonard sat up and cracked as many of his aching joints as he could. He yawned, and looked out Richard’s window into the gray evening. His sleep schedule had suffered greatly, as evidenced by the fact that he had evidently slept the day away. “You can’t possibly be sure of that.”

“Do- do you remember what happened just before the Fall?”

He glared at her. “This is nothing like that.”

“I disagree.”

“They’re humans.”

“Which means they will kill each other.”

“But-”

“Do you follow American politics, Duke Mephisto?”

“Not really.”

“Slavery has been a debate since this country was formed. Some people think it’s great, some view it as a necessary evil, some people – myself and everyone on this island included – think it’s just evil, and some people don’t care. However, I’m sure you can imagine the friction between people who love slavery and people who hate it.”

“Yes, I was there to witness it in England,” Leonard said. “I was a staunch abolitionist, myself.”

“That’s good, you’ll fit right in here.” Mrs Carter paused. “Did you pay attention to the election?”

“I paid as much attention as I could without leaving this room.”

“That’s good.” Mrs Carter sat down next to him on the bed. “Who did you support?”

“Lincoln, I suppose. I want slavery gone worldwide, and I follow anyone who has that as their goal.”

“Us too.” Mrs Carter handed him a piece of paper with a lot of numbers on it. “The election results. Lincoln united the Republicans and won most of the North, though his win was mostly through the electoral college. It’s odd that he didn’t get any votes from several Southern states – Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, or Tennessee. He only got one percent of the votes in Virginia, as well. Do you know how the electoral college works?”

“No,” Leonard said.

“It’s a thing that’s a big part of the election. No time to explain further. In any case, these are the states that have been supremely angry about slavery, and now that Lincoln’s president, they’re even angrier. I think they’re going to secede over it. Though, Texas might not join in if they do secede, because their governor, Samuel Houston, says that it’s folly to leave the Union or, God forbid, start a war over it.”

Leonard looked at her paper of election results for a moment longer, then looked back up at her. “I’m glad to know all this, but why are you telling me this now?”

“Because you’re in America at present, and it’s a big deal. You need to know about it.” Mrs Carter sucked in a breath. “If the South does secede… it’s going to impact everyone. Think about how much of England buys cotton from them, and how important their ports are to international trade. Or, think about what’s going to happen if America fights a civil war. Think about how that might impact politics.”

“The Shaw-Captains buy cotton from the South,” Leonard said. “But Hell is for the most part self-sufficient. We have sinners to do our work.” 

“A kind of slavery in itself,” said Mrs Carter. 

“They put themselves there, and they could leave at any time. Besides, they do get paid for it. And we have straight feudalism, unlike America.”

“It’s still slavery.”

“We pay the sinners, and we don’t own them.”

“We can agree to disagree, but we still need to talk about how this might impact both of us, Above and Below. One of the Shaw-Captains sent a Speaker to talk to us about how they’re dealing with the high cotton prices and the possibility of the industrial production in the North being halted for the war. We also need to talk about… um…”

Leonard knew what she was about to say. He had had this exact conversation with Harriet and Tecualt through letters, and he knew how they were handling it. “The possibility of an influx of souls in the case of a war.”

Mrs Carter nodded. “Yes, that. What are you doing about it?”

“Tecualt has mobilized a force specifically for escorting the souls through to my land, and taking them to Heaven if they manage to redeem themselves. He has another force ready to keep things under control in the case of the soldier souls making trouble when they get down there. Other than that, Tecualt is fighting off the rebellion, which the possibility of a war up top should quench entirely.” Leonard ticked things off on his fingers as he spoke. “Harriet has families lined up to adopt any dead children who might need to spend time being punished in purgatory, or, unfortunately, children who might have to be condemned to Hell. She also somehow managed to find people to help soldiers with any psychological problems they might have gained. She’s offering extra food and days off work for anyone who stops their usual work to build new housing for the soldiers and anyone else who might have died. She’s rearranging who gets what jobs so that the slave owners are punished more harshly, and the people who died as young soldiers or civilians get easier jobs. She has people ready to train said soldiers for multiple of these jobs depending on what they did in life. She’s also asked people to open their homes to the possibility of new souls needing housing.”

Mrs Carter nodded along with him. “Good. We’re not expecting as many new arrivals in Heaven, but we’ve still prepared in much of the same ways you have, building new housing, mostly high towers into the clouds, finding positions for new arrivals, getting together psychiatric help for the people sent to their deaths by the war, mobilizing a militia of souls who were soldiers to get people from Hell and Purgatory if they’re sent there mistakenly in the chaos, buying the few things we can’t instantly make from the Shaw-Captains in bulk, getting people together to adopt dead children, building new schools for the education of anyone who didn’t get it in life – especially the children. The democratic assembly has issued multiple statements on what it’s probably going to be like, so that the souls are generally prepared for the chaos and know the protocol to deal with it. Some of them are also prepared for new additions to their families should a soul with no family arrive, and a lot of souls are pooling resources for the souls that will go to purgatory.”

“I should buy up what I need from the Shaw-Captains,” Leonard said. “That’s a good idea that I hadn’t thought of.”

They fell silent for a moment, before Leonard said, “What if there isn’t a  war?”

Mrs Carter sighed. “At this point, I can’t see there not being one. Besides, our orders to prepare for the war came from on high – literally.”

“Oh. Everyone in Hell is mostly just doing it out of panic.”

Mrs Carter laughed.

Richard sat up. “Mrs Carter. Good morning. I see I missed a party.”

“Not quite,” Leonard said. “We were just talking about the possibility of an American Civil War.”

“Oh. Is it very likely?”

“It would seem so,” Mrs Carter said.

Richard pulled his legs close to his chest. “Well, I suppose it’s a good thing I can’t be drafted, then.”

There was a heavy knock at the front door. Mrs Carter stood up. “That’s the Speaker. I’m sorry, Richard, but we really do need to go talk to this person.”

“It’s alright. I hope you enjoy yourselves.”

Leonard laughed at how dark that now-humorous statement was. He followed Mrs Carter downstairs and into her parlor, where the Speaker waited for them.

Notes:

Sorry that this chapter is basically just another infodump! The action picks back up again soon, I swear. In the meantime, there’s a new drawing of Monty on the art page that you can go look at! Fun fact: That needle-like thing on his jacket that you’ll see is called a chockpin, and it’s something used on a ship. Harpooners would wear them to mark themselves as having killed a whale, which was a major and laudable feat back before humans realized that whaling is really, just, not good at all. And, I mean, if I killed an enormous animal with a bit of iron from a fragile wooden boat, I too would probably want to brag about it. You can see them having chockpins to mark themselves as harpooners in In the Heart of the Sea (2015), a very good movie about the Essex, the real life tragedy that inspired Moby-Dick.

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!

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.”

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.

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.

Johann – 2.3.5

Content warning: On-page drug use

Johann Faust slammed his hands on the table, and screamed, because the table was metal and it hurt. Ishmael Carter, who liked to be called Monty for some reason, looked up from where he was pinning up a sheet to close off part of the basement they lived in now, and grinned.

“That hurt, didn’t it?” Monty said.

Johann snarled at him, and he grinned and shrugged. Johann turned back to his makeshift table, where his medical tools were spread out. He was taking inventory, making sure that he had plenty of clean, usable tools, chemicals to last him through any problem that might come up, bandages, and any store-bought medicines that he had deemed safe to use. There wasn’t enough of anything, of course, and he didn’t currently have the money to buy more. He should have asked Duke Mephisto for money!

Monty looked around the sheet he was pinning up, and went to the door. Johann heard him open it and start talking with someone, but he was too focused on ways to make quick money for medical supplies to try to identify who it was. He was already selling his services as a doctor, but he could start charging more, or even get a job as an actual doctor, at a hospital. That seemed like a good idea until he thought about the \ time Mr Lister was having getting hospitals to institute hand washing. Johann would never work for an establishment like that. What other skills did he have? He’d been in seminary for a long time when he was younger, and his father had been a pastor, so he still knew how to give sermons and speeches. Could he do something with that? There were a lot of illicit operations he could perform that he hadn’t been, and he could charge more for those. He could get a factory job, but the mere idea of a man such as him, who was destined for so much more, working as a simple factory worker, made his blood boil.

“My good doctor,” Monty said. “There’s someone here to see you.”

“Did they send a calling card ahead?” Johann’s words dripped with sarcasm.

“I don’t think so. Oh, there’s a few people, actually. Say, sir, where did you get that cane? I could use one.”

“At a shop down the street from a drugstore near my house,” Richard Golson said. “Here, let me write down the address for you.”

Johann put down the instruments he was fiddling with and stepped out from behind the curtain. He wasn’t sure if Richard, also known as the Ghoul, also known as the man who delivered him bodies to operate on, would recognize him these days. Johann had grown a neat beard and had started styling his hair differently, not brushing it at all so that it gave him a wild but intelligent look. He had also found his old spectacles, and he wore them now even though Duke Mephisto had fixed his eyes. It made him look more learned.

“Ah, Dr Faust,” Richard Golson said. “That’s you, isn’t it? You look different.”

“Yes,” said Johann. “I’m aware.”

“I’m so sorry that your building burnt down. Truly. If there’s anything I can do to help you, you need only ask.”

Johann hesitated. “I need connections.”

“Connections of what kind?”

“Connections to criminals. Do you know anyone who needs illicit surgeries performed? Anyone who might need the services of a man who knows all there is to know about medicine?”

Golson shook his head. “No one can know all there is to know about anything.” He sat down at the small table.

“Actually, that’s where you’re wrong. I do know everything there is to know about medicine.” Johann sat down next to him.

“Oh? Well, do you know anything about drowned ghosts, Dr Faust?”

Johann laughed, and remembered how he’d declined to go to the afterlife. “No, I don’t.”

Golson looked disappointed. “What about people who give apocalyptic tidings? People I’ve known from a long time ago, some people who are already dead. They tell me that you have to stop whatever it is you’re doing, and that there’s some kind of god up there that’s sleeping and wants to wake up. They say you’re waking it up.”

A chill went through Johann’s body. Richard Golson didn’t know what he was saying. He couldn’t. This had to be a coincidence. Golson was mad, he had to be, he had to be a madman who had in his madness accidentally made connections that most sane people couldn’t. Johann smiled nervously, and reassured himself that whatever Golson might think, he was wrong, he was stupid, he had no idea what he was talking about. Nothing that Johann did would have lasting consequences for the human race. In fact, it was progress, and progress was always a good thing. “No, Mr Golson, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Are you feeling alright? You know, if you’re seeing things you should-”

Golson sighed and rubbed his temple. “You know, maybe you’re right.”

There was his chance to get Golson to leave. “As a doctor, I know I am.”

“Alright, thank you. I’m sorry for bothering you, Dr Faust, it looks like you have quite a lot of work to do today.” He took a wad of money out of his pocket and put it on the table. “Here, take this. It’s to find somewhere better to live. I’ll contact you in a few days with news about connections, alright?”

Johann was staring at the money. That was an obscene amount for Golson to be simply carrying around. He managed to tear himself away from looking at it, and look Golson in the eyes. “Yes, that’s alright. Do get some more sleep, Mr Golson, I think it would be beneficial to stop your hallucinations.”

Golson tipped his hat and left through the front door. Johann let out a shaky sigh, and stood up. “Monty.”

Monty bounced out from behind the curtain. “Right here!”

“I’m going to inject myself with something.”

“Oh! Morphine?”

“No, not morphine. It’s… erm… something else.”

“What is it? Can I try it, too?”

Johann paused. Should he let someone else come to the place beyond death with him? Was that a good idea, or a bad one? Monty looked hopeful and excited, and Johann felt a little bad telling him that he wasn’t allowed to try the drug that took him beyond. He sighed, and took out the bottle that held the drug itself. There was probably enough in there for two doses. “Alright, fine.”

“Oh boy! What drug?”

How to answer that question? “Um… it’s something I developed myself.”

“Very well. Hand it over.”

Johann prepared the syringes, and handed one to Monty. He took a moment to unwind the bandages around his arm which didn’t seem to cover any visible wound.

Johann disinfected his arm, and would have done Monty’s as well, had he not shied away from the cloth. He then sat down in a chair at the table and injected himself. Johann closed his eyes, but not before seeing Monty doing the same across the room.

When he opened his eyes he was sitting on a golden throne in a cavernous medieval throne room. The roof was of glass, and the walls of gilded tan stone that were painted with murals of great battles. The wooden floor was carpeted with red silk leading up to the throne. Bells rang a pleasant music, the seat was very comfortable, and the air smelled of rose petals. A heavy crown rested on Johann’s head, and he held a scepter. His throne was on a raised dais with stairs leading up to it, and Monty, dressed as a fool in motley, sat on the steps.

There were mobs of people standing all around the room, from the guards that stood next to the dias, to the courtiers crowded on either side of the carpet, to the servants who scattered rose petals on the floor. Johann shifted in his seat, feeling like something important was about to happen.

Two women blew a pair of trumpets in unison, drowning out all the other commotion with the thunderous noise of their instruments. Monty stood up and danced over to the carpet in front of Johann.

“My good king,” Monty said. “Hark, a visitor at the door, announced by trumpets and fanfare! Do you care to let them in? They come bearing gifts and change!”

“Should I let them in?” Johann asked. “Would that be wise?”
Monty’s smile was more sinister than it should have been. “Why, a man is no one to curse and deny them.”

Well, if they came bringing gifts, that was a good thing, right? An advisor with Leonard’s face tapped his cane. “My good King. Remember when I gave you the throne, and you promised to listen to me? Do not let these visitors in.”

Johann pointed at the man. “You can’t control me now. Off with his head!”
Leonard screamed and struggled as a group of guards pulled him to his knees and took his head off right then and there. His black blood pooled on the ground and soaked through the carpet, but no one seemed to care.

“What kind of methods did he use to get you on the throne?” The question was asked by a child with Richard Golson’s voice. “Perhaps if you don’t know their nature, or the nature of the visitors, don’t let them in.”

“I say go ahead and do it,” said another advisor, with the face of Duke Janson. “Let them in. This power is yours to wield.”

“You monster,” said his daughter, Clarissa Janson. “You can only ever make the situation worse.”

“Quiet, woman,” Duke Janson snarled.

Deirdre walked out of the crowd, Sylvia trailing behind her. “Don’t do it, Johann, please. I know that this is a bad idea because- well, because-” she wrung her hands and disappeared back into the crowd.

Sylvia shrugged and chugged a bottle of laudanum. “Whatever.”

Johann surveyed the crowd, and saw a smirking Jean Gévaudan standing next to an equally smug Albert Janson. Edmond Oberon and Helen Titania glared at him, vines twisting threateningly under their feet. An emotionless little ghost girl he vaguely recognized from a trip to Nantucket many years earlier grinned at him, then up at her fierce, defiant mother. A woman he knew as Camilla Chambers was nodding eagerly for him to let them in. 

It was a hard decision on who to listen to, but eventually Johann stood up and pointed his scepter at the door. “Let the visitors in!”

The doors opened, and the hall instantly became black and white. The throne dias disappeared beneath his feet, and Johann fell backwards into an inky void. He struggled to breathe, clawing at his throat desperately to try to escape the horror he had just willingly let in. It wasn’t his fault, was it? He had been led into it by Leonard and Monty and Camilla, right? Right?

Right?

Johann fell without an answer, and when he looked up he realized he could see stars above him. He reflected on his choices in the past year. He had gambled away his soul, he had reversed death, he had gone beyond and talked to incomprehensible godlike beings… and he had ruined a marvelous dreamland by his own bad decisions. Hopefully this wasn’t a premonition of anything. He wouldn’t make any decision so blatantly bad in real life, would he? He’d be able to see the signs there, right?

There were no answers here. Johann reached up, and realized he could scoop the stars from the sky in the palm of his hand. He smiled. That was some relief, at least, that was some beauty.

And then he was still falling, but this time out of his chair and onto the ground of his basement home, onto the hard packed-dirt floor. Johann hit his nose when he hit the ground, and it started bleeding almost instantly. He pressed a handkerchief to his face and eased his aching body back into his chair. That seemed like it had been a lot less time than before, but when Johann went to the door he saw that it was dark outside. If he had taken the drug at noon, then hours and hours must have slipped through his fingers.

Monty was lying on the floor with his distinctive hat pulled over his face, either still in a trance or fast asleep. Johann went to his workbench and started cleaning his scalpels again. They didn’t need cleaning, but he did it anyway, if only to get his hands moving. He thought about the marvellous court he’d ruined and told himself over and over that it wasn’t really his fault. He’d been pushed into it, he told himself. He hadn’t known the consequences.

There was a knock at the door that startled Johann out of his frantic cleaning. He went to see who it was, and was horrified to see Camilla Chambers.

“Where’s Monty?” She asked.

“Monty?” Johann gestured to where the man was in a heap on the floor. 

Camilla pushed past him, another woman he’d seen but never been introduced to trailing behind her. Granted, he’d only ever met Camilla once, at the dinner where Leonard had challenged Duke Janson, but after the dream he felt like he’d known her his whole life.

Camilla and the other woman pulled Monty to his feet. He groaned, and they shoved him forward so that he had to support himself. 

“Really?” Monty asked. He was standing on his own now, but hunched over significantly, and rubbing his arms like they were sore. “Couldn’t you have waited? Let me sleep just a little little bit more?”

“You’re going to be late to the meeting,” Camilla said.

“I don’t care. Let me sleep.”

“No, you have to come with us. We need you there for support.”

“What would you need me there to support? What can I do?”

“You’re good at public speaking and making things up on the fly. Come on, Monty, we need to get to the meeting or we’ll be late.”

Johann tapped her shoulder. “Excuse me, but what kind of meeting?”

“A meeting of the Faceless.”

Johann had heard that name whispered before in the shadows. It was some kind of society of people who wanted to radically change the world, how, he didn’t know. They were dangerous, he’d heard, and would bring about the downfall of society. Those facts only intrigued Johann more, and made him want to find out more about them, even join them if he could. He nodded excitedly when Camilla mentioned them, and said, “ah, the Faceless. You’re part of this group?”

“Yes…”

“Would you let me come to your meeting? Please? I’ve been so curious for so long.”

Camilla looked at the other woman, who shrugged. She looked back at Johann. “Listen, you come to this meeting, you don’t repeat a word of what you hear there. Do you understand?”

“Yes, yes, I understand.”

“Good.” She hauled Monty out the door, Daisy trailing behind. Johann followed them more slowly, so that he could lock the door behind him. They went down an alleyway, across a street, into another alley, over a wall, out onto another street, down that street, made several more turns, and finally went into a club called The Winded Bird.

The club was dimly lit and smelled of smoke. Johann followed Camilla into a back room, where a group of people were clustered around a large oval table.

Johann was surprised by how many of the people he recognized. There was Jean Gévaudan, and Emma Janson, sitting next to Tate Johnson and Hai Daiyu. There were more people who he didn’t recognize, too, such as a tall African man with sharp, intelligent features and yellow eyes, and a young woman with blonde hair and big, watery blue eyes.

Camilla took her place at the head of the table, with Monty and Daisy on each side of her. Johann sat next to Monty, fascinated and ready for anything.

“People in attendance?” Camilla asked.

Daisy read off a list. “Camilla Chambers, Daisy Pickman, Alice Egerton, Jean Gévaudan, Emma Janson, Tate Johnson, Hai Daiyu, Barrorah, Johann Faust, and Ishmael Carter.”

“My name is Monty, not Ishmael!” Monty shouted.

“It’s for official records,” said Daisy.

“Yeah, a secret anarchist meeting in the back of a club, really official.”

“Ishmael Carter-”

Monty shot out of his chair. “My name is Monty!” 

“God, sorry. Calm down and sit, Monty.”

Monty slowly sank back down into his seat. 

Daisy looked around for any more dissenters, and saw none. “Good, now, can someone tell Faust what we’re doing here? I don’t think he knows.”

Johann was glad they were finally paying attention to him again. “I’m content to sit and watch.”

Daisy ignored him. “This is a meeting of Faceless, the underground society who seek the radical change of society and government at the current day… as well as the return of the Things Without Faces. Do you know what those are, Dr Faust?”

“Not really.” Something in the back of his mind told him that he had met them before, in some place that he had forgotten, but he wasn’t sure how to tell her that without sounding like a lunatic.

Daisy smiled. “Would you like to learn?”

Johann shrugged. What could they teach him that he didn’t already know?

Camilla Chambers grabbed his arm and straightened it out. Daisy approached with a needle. Johann sighed and let her inject him for the second time today. He closed his  eyes and sat back in his chair, waiting to slip away.

“Just relax.” Camilla’s voice sounded distant and hollow. “You’ll see something eventually.”

Johann opened his eyes, despite them still being closed in real life, and saw that he was standing in the middle of a pitch black void. There was something here, something dark that knew his name. He swallowed hard and boldly reached his hand into the void, absolutely sure that nothing could hurt him in this dream. He smiled triumphantly, and held his hand up to see the black gunk dripping off it. Johann flicked his fingers, and some of the stuff splashed into his eyes.

There was no describing what he saw next, and no remembering it. It was gone in an instant, but it was the most terrifying thing he had ever seen in his life. 

Johann tried to open his real eyes, but found it impossible. He was trapped here, inside his mind or in whatever place he was at the moment. There was no escape until he had learned what they wanted him to.

Notes:

I accidentally published this on Monday because I thought that Monday was Tuesday (it wasn’t, unfortunately). The publication schedule will stay the same.

Richard – 1.9.2

Richard’s group of writer friends were the only people he had ever been truly comfortable around. He’d never had many friends, thanks to his skin condition, and his only sibling had died in the cradle after taking his mother with her. His father was distant, to say the least, often shutting himself up for long periods of time to avoid talking with his sister, son, or his own aging father. The sister, Jane Redmond, was a widow whose husband had died of typhus just after she’d given birth to her twins, Elizabeth and Owen. Jane had raised him, and Richard had played with her children in his youth, until Owen was sent away to be an officer in the army and Elizabeth eloped with a woman. Richard’s grandfather had died when he was thirteen, and Aunt Jane had helped him get into painting as a way to cope with the isolation and grief. She’d died, too, in a shipwreck with Richard’s ever-distant father when he was seventeen. After that he’d gone to study at university for two years, before returning to London.

He had met Duke Leonard at university when he was twenty, and through him he’d met Leonard’s wife Serena, Camilla Chambers, Cesare Sabia, Elijah Wade, Hai Daiyu, Veronika – Vera to close friends – Nikitovna, and the ever-mysterious friend he’d only met in person once, a few years ago in Italy, Enoch Carter. 

All of them were writers in some fashion, except for Leonard, who tagged along because he was such a dear friend and because he had obscene amounts of money. Richard wrote horror, Camilla wrote romance (and horror, apparently), Cesare was a poet, Elijah a poet and philosopher, Daiyu wrote science fiction, Serena studied fish and wrote papers on them, Vera was a playwright and poet, and Enoch wrote mysteries.

Apparently, his outing to draw dancers and quick conversation with Serena and Cesare had transitioned into a full get-together. Once the opera ended, he was swept up by the rest of the group into a carriage, then to Leonard and Serena’s house for dinner. 

“I’ve composed another poem,” Cesare said.

“Congratulations,” said Camilla. “I wish I had the motivation to write anything.”

“You’ll find it. Did you finish that last novel about the man falling in love with the fish?”

“Excuse me?” Serena asked. “You wrote about what?”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Camilla. “I finished it, but I haven’t published it yet.”

“What exactly was that about a fish?” 

Camilla shrugged. “Really, it doesn’t matter.”

“I study fish. I want to know if you wrote a book about one.”

“Oh, I did.”

A servant arrived with drinks. Richard took out a pencil and started idly sketching the bizarre hat a man in one of the paintings on the wall was wearing. 

“And the fish was…”

“The love interest,” Camilla said.

“I’m afraid I don’t quite understand,” said Serena.

“He fell in love with the fish woman.”

“Was she more of a mermaid?”

“Sort of. She had a fish upper half.”

“This sounds more like surreal horror than romance.”

“I suppose it could be considered such. The man does die at the end. Falls off his balcony after giving a long soliloquy.”

“That makes no sense.”

“You don’t have context.”

Serena sniffed. “Well, I can say with scientific authority that fish people are impossible.”

“That you know of.” Camilla rejected silverware a servant tried to put down in front of her. “I don’t eat.”

Richard finished his drawing and stuck it in the pocket of his coat. Hopefully, Deirdre wouldn’t come looking for him tonight, because gatherings like this often ran quite late.

A few minutes later, Vera, Daiyu, and Elijah showed up in quick succession. Richard was already between Leonard and Camilla, so he wasn’t sitting next to any of them.

They were a diverse group, in both appearance and personality. Nearly none of them came from the same place. Leonard and Richard himself were English, Serena was Scottish, Camilla was a Native American, Elijah an African-American, Cesare was Italian, Vera was Russian, Daiyu was Chinese, and the never-present Enoch a New Englander. Their various personalities often led to conflict, specifically between Cesare’s arrogant hedonism and Camilla’s intrinsic need to make fun of everything on the face of the Earth. It was all in good fun, though. Probably. Hopefully. 

Vera was Russian, a woman who had been born a lucky peasant and was now somehow engaged to the rich American philosopher Elijah Wade. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, and a round, nearly perfectly symmetrical face. Richard had done a portrait of her a few months past, which, come to think, he needed to have framed. It was still leaning against the wall in his studio.

Elijah was African-American, a philosopher who had made his money with his radical ideas and utterly nihilistic worldview. He’d written lots of books, most of them philosophical but some composed of poetry. He had dark brown skin, curly black hair cut close to his head, a short beard, a blocky face, and inky eyes. Elijah was rather handsome, at least in the sense that classical artists understood the word. He would not have been out of place as a statue in a ruined Greek graveyard. 

The last of the newcomers, Daiyu, was a science fiction writer who wrote mostly about aliens and the unknown. She was Chinese, and had short dark brown hair, brown eyes, and round face, which Richard thought was just average enough in terms of classical beauty that she might have been painted in as a background character by some great Renaissance artist. Not ugly, per se, but not a great beauty, either. Just rather average. 

Leonard and Serena stood to greet each of the three as they arrived. They took their seats, and conversation started anew.

“I mislike Duke Janson’s new laws,” Elijah said. “Workhouses and prisons are not my idea of a solution to poverty.”

I mislike politics,” Daiyu said. “They make me feel sick. Let’s talk about something else. Did you know that in America they’re developing-”

“A war?” Camilla suggested.

Elijah gave a long, suffering sigh. “I’ve heard quite enough about the war in America for an entire lifetime.”

“And to think, it hasn’t even started yet!” said Cesare.

“It’s all just war this, war that, I heard you’re American, can you tell us anything? As if I’ve been home in the last year.”

“Didn’t you take a vacation there?” Serena asked.

“I am sad to say that the trip to Italy soured me to vacations forever, my friends.” Elijah paused for a moment. “And, let me add, all of you are to blame. I don’t divide between individuals. When a group does nothing to stop troublesome individuals the entire group is held guilty.”

Richard sighed. The whole group of them had gone to Italy a few years ago, only to be promptly quarantined in their house for much longer than anticipated due to an unexpected outbreak of typhoid in the small town they’d stayed in. Richard had spent nearly the entire trip indoors, except for when he went down to the beach at night. That had been the only thing keeping him sane, mostly due to his housemates at the time.

Enoch had been there. He was in his thirties, with brown hair flecked with early gray. His face was thin, his skin pale, and he had a very serious disposition. He had talked at length of his family, especially his younger brother, Percy. 

“Very profound,” Camilla said, draining her glass of what was presumably red wine in a single swallow. “What do you think of the war?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“You don’t care?” Richard was indecorous. How could someone simply not care about something so terrible as war?

Elijah scoffed. “Of course not. Why should I? Does it affect me at all? Does it interrupt my way of life? Render anything impossible for me? I’ll answer my question for you: no, no it doesn’t. I care little about anything that does trouble me, and even less for things that do not.”

“You’d be saying differently if the war was here,” Serena said.

“I highly doubt that. If there was a war here, I would simply survive for as long as I could on nothing and then die. What else do humans do, anyway, but that?”

“You’re speaking hypothetically,” said Richard, who was desperate for a reason to believe that this philosophy was a simple front. “If there really was a war here, or a war breaking out in America-”

“My philosophy wouldn’t change,” Camilla said. “It’s much the same as Elijah, here.”

“What would you know about war?” Cesare asked. Richard was wondering the same thing.

“Plenty, my good friend. I know enough to have developed a philosophy like Elijah’s. It’s like this: Everything dies. People, animals, plants, buildings, philosophies, even words, sometimes. Everything dies, and once it dies, it can’t come back. Ever. So, if everything dies, and doesn’t come back, then nothing you do can ever matter, because it will all be forgotten and rendered pointless someday. However, consider this. If nothing you do can ever matter, because it will all be forgotten and rendered pointless someday, then there’s no reason to do anything good with your time alive. Anything considered good will be torn down someday, anyhow. It’s all for naught, so you might as well enjoy it. And, if nothing good matters, then logically nothing bad matters, either. If anything considered ‘good’ will be torn down someday, then so will anything ‘bad.’” Camilla smiled and drank more of her wine. “It’s a game with no rules, Richard. Why do you still try to play the good guy?”

Richard stood as fast as his weak feet would allow him. “Because being bad makes me feel terrible.” How could they consider basic morals to be pointless? He grabbed his cane, turned on his heel, and left the room. 

He was only going to the toilet, but it was a good dramatic exit if he did say so himself. His blood still boiled as he entered the toilet. It’s a pointless game with no rules, Richard. Why do you still try to play the good guy? He bit his lip. There was a reason he could come up with beyond ‘it makes me feel bad,’ and it was the fact that he had had instilled in him from a young age a deathly fear of being a ‘bad person.’ To be a bad person was to fail someone else even once, to not sacrifice everything you had for your fellow man. To not put yourself second always. Richard clenched his fist around his cane. 

After he was done, he came out to find Serena standing in the hallway.

“Richard-”

“It’s alright, I’m coming back,” he said. “I was just a bit angry in the moment, that’s all.”

Serena put her hand on his shoulder. “Camilla’s drunk, Richard. She probably didn’t mean any of what she said, and even if she did, she hasn’t the courage to act any of it out.”

Richard made no response. Why do you still try to play the good guy? He played the good guy because he had to. It was how he covered everything up, neatly in a bow, with kindness and compassion and empathy. Without that, he would have to face everything inside him, and that wasn’t something he ever wanted to do. 

“Elijah said he apologizes. He didn’t mean to upset anyone, he was only trying to answer Camilla’s questions. Well, he claims. It isn’t difficult to tell that he’s not only lying, but also a godawful liar.” Serena patted him on the back. “I don’t think it was you he was trying to upset. I think he just wanted a reaction out of Camilla.”

Well, he had gotten one. “I know he did. And really, it isn’t bothering me anymore.” What a lie. Richard smiled, but it came out looking more like he was about to cry.

Serena raised an eyebrow, clearly seeing right through him, but she didn’t say anything further. They reentered the dining room and took their seats.

“I would be completely willing to eat an entire meal fit for hundreds just now,” Cesare said. 

“Or, you could just eat a horse,” said Camilla. “That, too, is an option.”

“I detest horse meat,” Leonard said. “I’ve had to eat it involuntarily many times before, and… eurgh. Never again.”

“Why did you have to involuntarily eat horse meat?” Richard asked, eager to participate in the conversation. He had to act like he didn’t care about what had just happened. He had to act like it didn’t bother him deeply. 

“Putting down another damned rebellion,” said Leonard. “Tecualt was late with the supply train, so we ate the dead horses. I very nearly fired the man.” He left something unsaid at the end of that sentence, Richard could tell. 

“My husband is a very brave warrior,” Serena said. “He puts down a lot of rebellions in his dukedom.” She twisted his wrist under the table as she said this.

Leonard looked supremely uncomfortable. “Why, look, it’s the food. Why don’t we eat?”

The subjects of war and rebellion were not brought up again for the rest of the dinner, nor when they went into the parlor to continue their conversation. Richard was not the last to leave; Camilla and Cesare were still there when he did, but it was late when he began his trek back home.

Some strange urge compelled him to take a detour through the docks. He didn’t like them very much, at least not on most days, when the cold and wet would sometimes seep through his shoes and make his feet hurt, and his cane would occasionally slip on the wet wood. It had been hot, though, so maybe the walking areas would be a little drier. 

They weren’t. In fact, they seemed even more damp, and slippery, almost as if it had poured rain for days without letting up. Richard made an irritated noise and did his best.

A piece of paper flew through the air, carried on a chill night wind. Richard caught it before it went into the water and held it up to read it:

Someone here to see you, sir.

Perhaps it was a fragment of a message? Part of a letter that had been lost? Richard shook his head and tossed it away.

Only a few seconds later it flew back into his face. He glared down at it again.

Someone here to see you, sir.

Had it been underlined before? He didn’t think so. Richard turned around, looking for a young ruffian who might have thrown it back at him, and that was when he saw them.

There were four figures, standing at the end of a dock. The first one was a woman with dark skin and black hair, wearing a white nightgown soaked through with blood at waist-level. She held the hand of a child, a sickly looking little boy whose entire front was also bloody. Richard didn’t recognize either of them, though there was an odd familiarity in their eyes. The little boy swayed back and forth, a nasty, bloody grin on his face, and Richard realized he could hear his ragged, shallow breathing from several meters away.

The other two had their faces obscured. The first was probably a woman, judging by the fact that she appeared to have breasts. She was dressed in dark clothing made darker by the fact that it was soaking wet. The clothing seemed to be for travelling; her dress buttoned up the front, it was devoid of frills, and she had a white shawl instead of a collar. Her bonnet was pulled down to obscure her face, but her mouth was slightly visible, and Richard could see a small trickle of water coming down from the side of it. The last figure stood beside her, illuminating the whole group with a lantern. It was probably a man, since he didn’t have breasts, dressed in a soaked suit of dark fabric. He had hidden his face with a tricorn hat, but the lantern shone down to show that water flowed freely from his mouth, as well.

There was a disturbing sense of familiarity here. Richard wanted to run, he wanted to leave the unnatural wraiths at the docks, but something seemed to compel his feet forward.

“D- Do I know you?” Richard asked.

The man looked up and gave a rattling cough, causing salt water to spray from his mouth. His eyes were still hidden. “Barely.”

“What?”

“Barely, I said. Who am I to judge your memory? I can say that you may have known me, once, but you hardly know what’s left of me.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You sure are thick, for a writer.”

“How do you know that?”

“I know everything about you.” The cough came again, and Richard realized why he couldn’t see the man’s eyes: they were gone. There was a strip of canvas fabric where they should have been, splotchy with blood and salt.

“You can’t,” Richard said.

“Maybe not.”

“Are you a sailor?”

“Hah! Hardly. I wouldn’t be here if I had been.”

“I still don’t understand.”

The man laughed, drawing his hands up as if he was grasping at something, then coughed into his lantern-less fist. “You’re a blind idiot.”

“What?”

The man pointed to the sneering boy. “Henry, the son of my body. Eldest. He caught the consumption when he was three, he lived with it until he was five.” He gestured with his lantern towards the blood-soaked woman. “Cathy, show him the baby.”

She moved her arm to reveal that she had been carrying a bundle Richard had taken for another part of her bloody dress. Richard shook his head and stepped back. “I don’t want to look at it.”

“Look at it or don’t, makes no difference to me,” the lantern man said. “Jane, after her aunt.”

Jane was the aunt that had raised him. Richard’s palms were clammy with sweat, and his head began to ache. He felt dizzy, and he felt outside of his body, like none of this was real. He hoped it wasn’t.

“My sister,” the lantern man continued, gesturing to the woman beside him. “Her name’s Jane, she’s the one I should have listened to. ‘Don’t go on that ship,’ she said. ‘It’s a bad idea to leave the boy.’ Yes, at least I might have taken him with me. With us.” The man coughed again, and fell to one  knee. When Richard ran forward to help him up, he realized that the man was as pale as a statue, and as cold as a corpse. Surely there should have been some redness, somewhere on his body? Some redness to prove that blood still flowed through his veins?

The man looked up, and his hat blew away, taking the eye covering with it. Those two bloody, empty sockets were a pair of twin voids, and the sneer fixed on the lantern man’s face matched to them perfectly. 

“Not such a blind idiot now, huh?” The lantern man said.

“Oh, Christ,” said Richard.

“My name is Peter Henry Golson,” his father said. “I’m not such a blind idiot now, either. I didn’t believe in God, you know that? Of course you do. I never took you to church, that was her responsibility. Well, I can tell you, son, that I was only half right. There’s something up there, that’s for sure. Something that craves worship and wants followers. But you know what? It’s asleep, son. It’s asleep and it wants to wake up.”

Richard was stumbling back. He had lost his cane. Had his father always been so tall? The world was spinning. He wasn’t in his body. This was fake, it was a dream, it was something he would see inside his head. His head was about to explode with built up pressure. Peter Henry Golson’s face twisted into something that was threatening and inhuman. He drew back his arm and threw the lantern. It hit Richard square in the chest, and he knew nothing more.