Chapter 2 - A Modern Curse
Illustrations by Lucas Marra
Written by Mackenzie O'Rear
Edited by Brien BigelowI
Francis Blake was nobleman by birth. He had spent his entire life in high society, being groomed for greatness since he could first walk. The word “no” had never had the audacity to be uttered in his presence until very recently.
Blake had been part of the society for a little over a year, treating it as little more than a distraction in his everyday life. An amusement he allowed himself on occasion. It was entertaining for him to rub elbows with those he considered mad in their conquests of the supposedly supernatural, until one day he had heard something that made him rethink everything.
Immortality. He was captivated by the very idea a man of his stature could live until one day he might wear the crown. But when he approached the good doctor and the Baron, they had said no.
‘Surely you must need time to think it over?’ he asked them.
‘No,’ Marlowe replied. ‘I’m afraid our research requires a more delicate touch.’
Blake was infuriated. ‘How dare they?’ He repeated to himself, over and over again until the phrase was embedded into his very soul. He would show them. He would tear up the very Earth itself if it meant he could beat those two arrogant peasants…but how?
The answer lay in the northern part of Africa, in a country called Egypt. The people there had once believed in immortality of the soul after death, and that they could transcend the ultimate equalizer based on that alone. Blake had been to various unraveling parties, and had even purchased a few relics from the pilfered tombs of the pharaohs.
He then spent a small fortune on everything he would need. He bought gold he would smelt down to create his own sarcophagus and linen used for wrapping. He had the proper tools for mummification freshly made from a local blacksmith, paid for anonymously, of course. He had even dedicated the last few months to learning Sanskrit and hieroglyphics purely for the sake of authenticity. But what about his would-be mummy?
He could’t do it himself, of course. What if the ritual had gone wrong? And he didn’t trust anyone to bring him back in the first place. No…the answer was simple and solved another problem of his. Francis Blake had a housemaid he kept close and nearly hidden from the world, save for the few occasions they needed a serving girl.
Nothing was better than London at night. The sights and sounds of all the naughty little people out doing whatever they weren’t supposed to be doing. That was what Jack the most it the most about it. So many opportunities for mischief and chaos, and some of it wasn’t even caused by him. He had been gone for nearly a decade, but now he was back.
They thought ol’ Spring Heel was phantom. A story to tell children and the occasional woman of age to scare them into behaving. That he’ll descend from the shadows and snatch you away into the night. The stuff of Penny Dreadfuls and late night seances.
‘How little they know,’ he thought to himself. ‘How little they remember.’ Remembering was always a little tricky for Jack. Something about the incident didn’t sit well with his memory for whatever reason. Perhaps it was too traumatic? Perhaps he made it up and forgot? All he knew was one day he was a normal human. ‘Some noble or some such,’ he assured himself. And then he wasn’t.
He wasn’t even certain where the name ‘Spring Heeled Jack’ had come from. He certainly hadn’t thought of it. After all, he didn’t even jump. It was, in Jack’s words: ‘Swimming through the dreams one always forgot,’ whatever that meant. In any case, if he wanted to be somewhere close, usually high up, he would simply find himself there. The silly people of London thought it was some great physical feat, but their silly little minds were just making it easy for them to understand.
‘Why don’t more people simply try being where they’re going?’ he asked himself. ‘It would save them so much time in their short little lives.’ It was no concern of his, but it was always fun to wonder.
Jack stood high above the London rooftops, dressed in black and gold as he admired the view. He smiled, letting loose a thin plume of blue smoke escape the corner of his mouth. Truly, there was no place like London at night…except it was a little boring. Jack wanted a proper welcome-back-how-do-you-do for his return to his favorite city, and that was exactly what he was going to get.
The mouse scampered up to his waiting hand, almost eager for what would be its demise. Vincent lifted the creature, eyes locked. He studied it closely.
‘A lab mouse. You must have escaped from across the way,’ he told his furry companion. ‘You’re far too clean to be the usual mouse.’ As he said this, the glow in his eyes dimmed as the mouse began to animate in his hands, either unaware of the predator that now held him, or uncaring.
‘I won’t eat you,’ Vincent assured. ‘Not today.’ He placed the mouse onto the floor as a spider descended from the supports on a single thread. Vincent had known it had been there for some time and had no intention of eating it either, but if one was going to present itself as a free meal, free of guilt on his part then…
In a fluid motion, faster than the naked eye could see, the spider had been snatched and eaten by him. He closed his eyes as he chewed, feeling the life drain from the arachnid. ‘Almost as good as one of Maria’s Apple Charlottes,’ he said to himself. ‘Small. But tasty.’ Rats had tasted better, of course, and that got him thinking that if such small things could be so wonderful, what could something bigger taste like?
‘Perhaps sheep’s blood would taste of lamb chops?’ he asked the mouse, now gnawing on a thread from his tattered pants. ‘Or wild boar? Or chicken? Or…’ He had stopped himself before he could say it. The one thing the refused to eat. The thing that carried so much blood and tempted him every day, as hundreds of them walked just outside the abbey. Walking containers, filled to the brim with crimson life, begging to be punctured and sucked dry.
The rushing of blood had filled his ears again, but this time it was like a beautiful melody only he could hear. He was entranced by it, swaying his head back and forth, taking it in. If he listened closely, he could even hear the very beating of a heart, pumping away and promising him his fill.
He might have finally given in to that temptation too, if it had not been for a particular heartbeat walking down the street that night. It had snapped him out of his trance and caused him to sit upright, startling the little mouse into fleeing. He knew that heartbeat better than any other person’s. Flighty and excited, like a hummingbird beating its wings. Yet it was a strong heart, beating like a drum, echoing in his ears.
In a smooth motion, he stood and ran up the cellar door. With superhuman speed, he traversed the derelict abbey as if were nothing. Leaping over large holes in the floor and steps up the bell tower, silent as the grave. No one would have heard a thing as his instincts took over and told him where to step.
He had reached the trap door at the top of the tower and pushed through, taking in the cold London air as the sun was setting, filling him with strength that had baffled him every time the event occurred. Vincent slid into the shadows of the housing for the ancient bell, green with age, and its clapper embedded in the soil far below. He scanned the street, quickly like a hawk seeking prey.
He didn’t have to look long until he saw her, practically skipping down the street. Her flaming red curls, tucked neatly under her hat, face flushed with exhaustion, drowning out her freckles and yet somehow bringing out the exquisiteness of her deep, hazel eyes.
‘Maria,’ Vincent whispered to himself as he watched her run into the asylum. He followed her heartbeat as she raced upstairs to the top office that belonged to her father. R leaned outward a little, focusing on the window to that very room where an elderly man sat at his desk, filling out paperwork, and occasionally sneaking a sip from a flask of brandy he had hid in his desk when Maria burst through the door.
Vincent could hear every word they were saying: Maria. Father. Lovely to see you, and the like. The usual pleasantries between a loving father and daughter.
‘Have you heard anything?’ she asked. Vincent perked up his ears, curious.
‘I’m afraid not, my dear,’ he father, Doctor Bellefonde replied, saddened. ‘I’m afraid he’s still missing.’
Maria looked away, trying to hide the tears that were welling in her eyes. Vincent could smell the salt in them as he furrowed his brow, though it gave him some comfort to have confirmed Richard’s lies.
Her father stood and walked over to her. There, there,’ he said. ‘We’ll find him.’ He lifted her chin in his wrinkled hand, staring into her eyes.
‘No tears. Not when we’re so close to your special day.’ Vincent spat. Of all the things he could have brought up, why did it have to be that?
‘I know, father,’ she said, forcing a smile. ‘I just wish he were here.’
Maria looked away. He wanted to tell her so badly he was here. Right here across the way. All he would have to do is stand in the entrance of the abbey and she’d see him…No…Not him. The man with no shadow or reflection. The man with fangs, dripping with blood. Not Vincent. Just the monster that had taken his place.
He sat down, looking away from the window, leaning agains one of the supports. Leaning his head back against the cool stone, closing his eyes, all the while trying to focus on the random conversations below. If he could only drown out her voice.
He shot up when he heard it. The creek of a floorboard inside the abbey.
‘It can’t be,’ he said to himself. He had worked so hard to hide here. He had made a spectacle of himself all around London, eating rats and lifting carriages over his head, all so people could see and spread the word he was miles away from his current place of hiding. How had he been found so fast? He closed his eyes and listened.
‘Look at this place!’ said a voice. ‘It’s huge!’ Vincent let out a sigh of relief. The voice was high pitched and appeared belong to that of a young boy.
‘Think there’s anything in the till?’ aid the boy’s companion. A little younger…a brother perhaps? It didn’t matter. Vincent stood and dusted himself off.
He knew he needed to scare them off,. After all, there was evidence it was being lived in all around, not to mention the growing collection of animal carcasses in the cellar, or even his stolen collection of books he kept close to his roost.
Vincent jumped down the trap door all the way to the bottom, landing with barely even a sound. He peeked around the corner and saw them, two boys no older than twelve, attempting to pry open the ancient metal lock of the collection box.
‘There’s something in there,’ said the older boy. ‘I can hear it rattling around.’
‘I’m scared, George,’ said the younger boy. ‘I think we should go.’
‘It was your idea to check the till, Jackie.’ The younger boy looked away, scanning the dark for signs of monsters, or worse, an adult. ‘Can’t we just go?’
‘You should listen to your companion,’ said Vincent, making sure his voice echoed around the abbey. The boys dropped the collection box with a clatter.
‘Who’s there?’ asked William, as his brother hid closely behind him. ‘You know you’re not supposed to be here either!’
Vincent walked out from the shadows and faced the boys. ‘I live here. Now leave.’ He pointed to the door and stared them down, moonlight shining across his eyes.
‘We’ll tell people you’re here,”’squeaked Jackie. ‘And our parents know we’re gone. They’ll come looking.’
‘You will tell no one of this place or of me, do you understand?’ echoed Vincent.
George apparently had an issue with authority as he straightened himself up and looked into Vincent’s eyes. ‘Oh yeah? You gonna make us?’
Vincent smiled. ‘Yes. I am,’ and in one fluid motion he lifted a pew over his head and threw it across the room where it came crashing down. The boys jumped and made for the door, but Vincent had beat them too it. He loomed over them and stared with his now glowing eyes as the froze.
‘Listen to my voice. Look into my eyes,’ he said as they stared at him, eyes glazed over. ‘You are to forget you ever saw me and go straight home. Do you understand?’ They both nodded. ‘I said…DO YOU UNDERSTAND?’
‘Yes, Master,’ they said in unison.
‘Good,’ Vincent said. He was about to let them go when he spotted something in Jackie’s pocket. He pointed at it. ‘What is that?’
‘It’s the day’s paper, Master’ answered the boy.
‘Give it to me.’ Vincent motioned to Jackie, who obliged and handed it over. ‘Now go.’
The boys shot off like arrows into the night, as Vincent focused on the paper, the headline reading:
VAMPIRES, LEGEND STALKS LONDON STREETS
Vincent saw a crude rendition of himself, preying on some woman, had been placed below the headline.
‘Is that what I am?’ he asked himself. He flipped though the paper, his face contorted with confusion. The article had gotten the symptoms right, but what amused him most was that this vampire that had his face not only had a different name, but a title as well.
He threw the paper in disgust, not having to wonder who had made the article happen. But that was only a minor concern, as he smiled to himself. The article had provided him with useful information. It had given the monster a name, and things with names can be researched. Vincent looked up and headed back down to his impromptu library, for he had much to do.
Frederick had arrived at the train station early that morning, not wanting to waste any time in picking up his house guest. He was scribbling furiously in his notebook, writing down equations in between observations and theories, as the trains came and went, their steam billowing from their tops.
He had experimented with steam early in his career as a researcher and scientist, but found the potential for it lacking. It could make things move, but not without some human element to guide it, and even then it usually took so much manpower he found it nearly useless. Frederick had submitted various ideas and designs to streamline what he called the “outdated”mode of transportation several years ago, but it was rejected.
‘Stick to cadavers and books,’he had been told. ‘Trains work just fine as they are.’ They had failed to recognize, as was most often the case, a mentality like that was what held back progress. If one could not improve what worked, how could there be progress? He didn’t linger on it, though. He never lingered much on anything; there was always some new research or invention or idea that would take a hold of him. It was almost like drowning, and he simply couldn’t breathe until he either realized his idea to its fullest or moved on to the next one without a second thought. That is, until Marlowe had provided him with a certain manuscript. One that had given him quite a bit of trouble translating as of late.
That was what his guest, Father Grigori, was supposed to help with. A rather new member to their little club, all the way from the frozen wasteland of Siberia. A mystic, according to Marlowe, who was well versed in his craft. Frederick had no such belief in magic, but the Flamel Notes had caused him so much anguish he was willing to try anything.
‘Who knows?’ he asked himself. ‘Perhaps a debate is just what I need.’
At half past ten, a black train pulled into the station bearing a tarnished number 16 on the front. Frederick stood and waited as the passengers began to disembark in droves. He had thought his guest might be hard to spot. Little had been known about him personally, but the moment he stepped off the train he made himself known.
Father Grigori was a tall man, with thick black hair going down to his shoulders that matched his dark and rugged beard. His skin was sallow and framed a pair of sunken eyes. Despite being somewhere in his late twenties, he had the look of a man in his forties who had seen no end of atrocities. The kind of atrocities that scarred not your body, but your mind and showed with every expression. He wore a simple black frock and carried what appeared to be a doctor’s handbag, adjusting it as he scanned the crowd.
Frederick stood and signaled to him to come over. Father Grigori moved like a ghost despite his size, weaving in between the people without them ever realizing the Siberian giant had ever been behind them. He soon stood before Frederick and stared at him with his heavy eyes.
‘Father Grigori?’ asked Fredrick. He wasn’t sure if this was an intimidation tactic, but it didn’t matter. Nothing had phased him since being desensitized at medical school.
‘Yes,’ replied Father Grigori, in a heavy Russian accent. ‘You must be the Baron Frederick Blanc.’
‘Doctor,’ replied Frederick. ‘If you would.’
‘Does it matter what I call you?’ asked Father Grigori.
‘One title was given to me,’ replied Frederick. ‘The other was earned.’ Father Grigori stared again, taking in his host for the first time. He almost seemed impressed.
‘Very well,’he said. ‘It matters not to me. Do you have the notes?’
‘Right here,’ said Frederick, patting his own brief case.
‘Let me see them,’ asked Father Grigori. He reached for them, but before he could grasp the case, Frederick pulled it away.
‘Not here,’ warned Fredrick in a hushed voice. ‘You never know who might be listening. You can see them at my laboratory.’
‘Very well,’ sad Father Grigori. ‘Then let’s go.’
Frederick led him to the street, where they hailed a cabby and soon they were off. Father Grigori stayed on the side, staring out the window and taking in the city of London. Frederick pulled out his notebook and began to write feverishly, stopping every time the buggy hit a bump. Father Grigori tilted his head at this.
‘You have a question?’ asked Frederick, not looking up from his notebook.
‘Most people…they are intimidated by me,’ replied Father Grigori. ‘They usually just sit in silence.’
‘I have too much work to be intimidated,’ said Frederick. He looked up from his notes. ‘You didn’t want to stop off at my home for lunch did you? I had assumed…’
‘No,’ responded Father Grigori. ‘Work first. Food after.’
‘Very well,’ said his host. ‘Onward then.’
It was’t long until they reached a large building that saddled the river. Most of the windows had been purposely blacked out to keep out prying eyes. There was a large stone tower that shot up from the center of the facility that was capped with a large copper dome. They got out of the carriage and stood before it.
‘This way,’ said Frederick, after paying the driver and led Father Grigori to the front of the building. He pulled out an old key ring with a single, large iron key on it and fed it into the matching lock. There was loud click as the door opened.
Sarah was that housemaid, and unknown even to her, she was Blake’s daughter. Born from a tryst with an African woman some time ago on an expedition, Blake had unknowingly fathered the young girl. A bastard by every right, and a blight on his noble heritage. When the woman showed up the young girl, she was barely four years old and already had the distinguishing features of his house. From then on, she was a serving girl held in contempt by the rest of the family, even though she never knew why.
Eighteen years old and of considerable beauty, now was the time for her to remove the stain he viewed her as. It was quick and painless. One long cut across the throat with a sharp knife and the deed was done, and Blake had his mummy. He had even had the burial mask and sarcophagus molded into her image.
That was where they were now, deep in his cellar under the family estate. Dark and dingy, lined with racks of wine on either side of him, candles illuminating his work. The hearts of others were carefully, almost loving, removed. The brain had given him some trouble, but ultimately gave way in a thick paste from the nose. One by one he had removed the organs from the poor girl and placed them into his own canopy jars, each bearing an animal-headed god from Egypt. He lined them all up and admired his handwork.
Next was the embalming stage. He had carefully concocted the formula according to the ancient Egyptians. A mixture of honey and other such things that had to be applied carefully followed by the linen wraps.
By the end of it, she looked like a proper mummy, arms crossed and face covered with her burial mask. He leaned over her in her sarcophagus and placed a hand on her golden cheek.
‘My dear, sweet child,’ he said. ‘Though you were a burden in life, you will truly be my daughter in death.’
With a great heave, he pushed the heavy lid over his Sarah’s body. He then went to the head of the sarcophagus, where a table had been set up with an ancient book placed upon it. He opened it to reveal the hieroglyphics of the ancients, running his hand over the nearly forgotten language. When he found the correct passage, he began to read from it.
Using his most prized possession, a tome more ancient than anything previously discovered, he prayed to Anubis, guardian of the dead so that he may keep her soul safe. He prayed to Osiris so that he may stay his judgement. And finally he prayed to Amon-Ra, that his experiment would be a success.
When he was done, he closed the book and leaned over the sarcophagus, placing a single kiss on the depiction of his daughter’s forehead.
‘One year,’ he whispered to her. ‘One year and I’ll return for you.’ One by one he turned out the lights and headed out of the cellar, leaving his only daughter to mummify, as her spirit watched him with rage. In one year she would awaken, and she would bring the wrath of Egypt as well as a daughter spurned upon him.
‘Time for a merry chase,’ he whispered to himself, and suddenly he was on a different rooftop, closer to the streets, hidden on a roof. He turned his long, twice broken nose downward and watched. It wasn’t long before a carriage pulled up across the street when he saw his favorite prey. A couple of ‘strumpets,’ as Jack liked to call them and their elderly escort. Gorgeous, affluent, well endowed. They were always ready to scream bloody murder and raise the alarm at a moment’s notice. Londoners in particular always kept everything so in check, so perfectly in order, that a little upset would make them improper. Of course, they always went back to normal, and carried on like nothing ever happened. And he was the one they thought was strange.
‘Perfect!’ he exclaimed as the carriage drove off and the ladies entered. ‘Time for a bit of fun.’ He pulled his cap over his head just enough to cover his eyes, as it was necessary to hide something that bright red when moving in on the unsuspecting, and suddenly he was at the very door he needed to be at. He straightened himself, making sure to clear away any blue smoke, followed by a good clearing of the throat. Jack had a knack, as it were, for mimicking the voices of others. Tonight, it would some bobbie he had overheard getting drunk the other night. He knocked at the door and listened.
‘Hello?’ asked a soft voice. ‘Who is it?’ Jack smiled to himself. He had snagged one of the ladies.
‘Pardon me, miss,’ he said in his false voice. ‘Scotland Yard. There have been some sightings of rather unsavory characters in the area, and I was hoping to ask a few questions.’ He had to stifle a laugh as he set the bait.
‘Of course,’ answered the girl. ‘Just a moment.’ He could hear her undoing the large locks on the other side. He adjusted his cap over his eyes once again and waited as the door slid open and there she was. A beautiful creature, as pure as the driven snow. Oh what a story he was going to give her.
‘Evening, miss,’ said Jack. ‘Mind if I come in?’
‘Of course,’ she replied politely, just as every proper young English lady would. ‘Come right in.’
‘Thank you,’ he said, and looked up.
She froze, eyes going wide.
Not a screamer, he thought. No worries. Just need a proper push. He opened his mouth wide, letting loose a large stream of blue flame.
That did it. She screamed so loud Jack could swear he heard Old Scratch himself wishing for silence. Her eyes rolled back into her head as she fell.
Jack caught her before she reached the ground and cradled her in his arms. ‘Thats a good girl,’ he whispered. ‘Take a good long rest.’ He held her not only because he was gentleman, mind you, but because it always looked better for when the rest of the family showed up.
He heard footsteps on the landing above rise into action. ‘Right on time,’ he said to himself as the older gentleman came rushing down the stairs. He paused when he saw Jack holding his precious little girl before raising an accusing finger.
‘Who are you?!’ he yelled. ‘What have you done to her?’
‘Wasn’t expecting company,’ lied Jack with vigor. ‘I must be going then.’ He laid the girl down as the man advanced, raising his voice to Jack.
‘Get out, foul demon, be gone!’ he screamed.
‘That is no way to treat a guest,’ laughed Jack. ‘But if you insist.’ He bowed low as the man advanced, and just as he was within striking distance, Jack let another plume of blue fire escape his mouth, pushing the man back.
Jack fled to the middle of the street and waited for the man to regain his composure. It was time for the real fun to begin.
Sure enough, the man came running out after him, screaming at the top of his lungs about the phantom before him. Doors began to open up all around the street, as Londoners began to pile out. Lights began to illuminate the windows high above, as head after head shot out to observe the commotion.
‘Demon!’ the man yelled, pointing to Jack. ‘He has bewitched my daughter! Phantom!’ The crowd all turned towards Jack, who smiled broadly to expose his rows of shiny teeth. He turned around and appeared on a nearby rooftop. The crowd murmured in surprise as they tried to find him.
‘Excuse me!’ he yelled down to the crowd, gaining their attention. ‘It has been a lovely evening, but I am afraid I must be off!’ He gave them a deep bow as he waited for the magic words.
‘After him!’ someone yelled, and the chase was on.
He led them all over London. Rooftop to rooftop. Alleyway to alleyway. Always staying just out of their reach. He had to give them a fighting chance, after all, or it would be no fun. Occasionally, he would stop and taunt them with a grate, hearts, flame-spewing laugh. From the Thames to the Parliament he took them, many dropping off from exhaustion.
He made his way to a dead end somewhere in Whitechapel, pausing to make sure they caught up. Jack feigned being out of breath as he leaned against the back wall and waited. A man stepped forward.
‘You’re cornered,’ he said. ‘Quick! Someone fetch Scotland Yard!’
‘Oh, how quickly you forget,’Jack said, smiling before vanishing to a shadowy rooftop high above the mob who erupted with anger and fear. He watched as they tried so desperately to find him, only to find their efforts in vain. They soon dispersed, absolutely sure he had been seen a few blocks down. Jack laughed.
‘What fun! What fun!’ he congratulated himself, lying down on the roof. ‘I so ever did miss London!’ He took a deep breath before exhaling a blue smoke ring.
‘The night was young, that there should still be more fun to be had, he thought. ‘Where to next?’ He sprang to his feet in a fluid motion, and began to appear and disappear among the city’s rooftops.
Up and down, back and forth, Jack looked for someone he could spook or a biggie he could send off-kilter, but it seems the town had gone quiet. He found himself sitting atop a gargoyle of a cathedral as he pondered why this could be.
’t never use to be so quiet so early,’ he said aloud. ‘What has happened to my city?’ He sat and thought about his predicament when his nose twitched. He stood and scanned the street below for movement.
One of Jack’s little talents was being able to sniff out the strange and unusual. The odd and out of place, and even the downright supernatural. This time he had smelt something that was a man, but also wasn’t. There was a particular odor on top of this man’s that had sent Jack’s imagination into blaze.
‘Where are you?’ he whispered into the darkness. ‘Don’t be shy. Come and out and play.’
A figure emerged from an alleyway, apparently in a hurry. Jack saw it was a man with long, think black hair and a rather large trench coat. He was running while checking over his shoulder. ‘Perhaps I am not the only one being chased tonight?’ Jack asked himself, and appeared above a rooftop above this mysterious stranger.
What happened next, surprised Jack, which was by no means a small feat. The stranger went still and scanned his surroundings, sniffing the air. Just as he looked up to where Jack had been, he had vanished to another roof further away.
Remarkable! Could this man actually smell him? Spring Heeled Jack? Jack had officially become intrigued.
The stranger finished his check of his surroundings and, deciding it was safe, began to move again with Jack keeping safe distance as he followed. Jack followed him through the city, appreciating the irony of being the pursuer for once, as he observed the odd man who began to growl. Occasionally he would bend over, as if he were in great pain before moving on again.
They soon came to the edge of the city where it met a large forest. The strange man ran inside as Jack caught the sound of what appeared to be a bone breaking. Quietly he followed the man as they got deeper and deeper into the greenery. The strange man eventually came to a halt and fell to his knees, fighting the pain with all his breath.
Jack’s face lit up when he saw the moonlight fall over his quarry. ‘Yes,’ he thought to himself. ‘Beautiful! Absolutely beautiful!’ Jack watched as the stranger changed, shedding his clothes save for a crude loin cloth. What sat there now was a beast like nothing he had ever seen.
Before Jack could think anything else, the monster turned to him and snarled. It lunged for Jack who disappeared and reappeared atop a large building somewhere in the heart of London. Jack looked up as a long and angry howl echoed through the night.
Why had he not caught these new fragrances before? Now that he was aware, he could tell something was brewing in London. Something fantastical and amazing and chaotic and beautiful and destructive and mystical. And he wasn’t going to miss a thing.
‘London!’ he called. ‘My sweet and beautiful London! What mysteries do you have for me!’
Jack gestured to the city he loved so much and laughed deep into the moonlit night.
‘Welcome to my laboratory,’ said Frederick.
They stepped inside to reveal the interior of the laboratory. It had been mostly hollowed out to create a large room that resembled an operating theatre. Large, wooden supports held up other floors that all opened up to observe the centre where the tower was. Shelves upon shelves of chemicals and specimens of unknown origins lined the wall. A strong smell of embalming fluid permeated the air. If any of it had bothered Father Grigori, he wasn’t letting it show.
‘Impressive,’ said Father Grigori. ‘Paid for by your family fortune, I would assume.’ Frederick looked away, trying to hide the spite in his eyes.
‘It helped,’ he spat. ‘But this was all me. I paid for the renovations and supplies out of pocket.’
‘Very well,’ said Father Grigori. ‘Shall we begin?’ Frederick looked back at him and nodded.
‘Let me call my assistant first,’ he replied. He cupped his hands around his mouth and called out: ‘Duo!’
‘You have an assistant?’ asked Father Grigori. ‘I was unaware of this.’
‘We can trust Duo,’ smiled Frederick. ‘You’ll see why in a moment.’
There was a scrambling from above, as soft footsteps soon made their way to the edge of the walkways. A small figure swung over the rails and landed in front of the pair. Father Grigori furrowed his brow. What stood before them was what appeared to be a deformed child. It had a large hump on its back that forced it to lean over as it walked on misshapen legs whose feet jutted out at odd angles. It had on its right a seemingly adult and fully grown arm, while on its left there appeared not only to be one, but two short and shriveled appendages. But it was its face that had caught Father Grigori off guard. It looked up with a pair of mismatched eyes, one being a bright and vibrant green, and the other being pure black. A crooked nose and mouthful of misshapen and jagged teeth completed the picture for this creature.
‘M-m-master,’ said the thing known as Duo with a pronounced stutter. ‘W-w-welcome home.’ Frederick smiled at it as if he were the creature’s father.
‘Good to see you, Duo,’ said Frederick. ‘Keeping well?’
‘Y-y-yes, m-m-master,’ he replied. ‘Been doing v-v-very well.’
‘I’m glad to hear it,’ said Frederick, turning to Father Grigori. ‘This is Father Grigori. He’s the one I told you about. He will be helping us with our experiments.’ Duo flashed his jagged smiles as he offered Father Grigori is larger hand. Father Grigori stared at him.
‘You’ll have to excuse him, Duo,’interrupted Frederick upon noticing the expression. ‘He doesn’t know what that means. Perhaps you should go get the generator started?’ Duo smiled again and bounded off with surprising speed, winging from various supports.
‘That was very rude,’ chided Frederick.
‘What is it?’ asked Father Grigori.
‘His name is Duo. He was my first and only success of the original fifteen using Aggripa’s notebook.’
‘Why does he look like that?’
‘He is imperfect, made from both dead body parts and artificially grown ones. As such, it created complications. Dwarfism and hermaphroditism and the like.’
‘Artificial?’Asked Father Grigori. ‘As in a homunculus?’
‘Yes,’ replied Frederick. ‘But my stubbornness in reanimating dead tissue spoiled the batch. Duo was the only survivor.’
‘I see,’ said Father Grigori as he stroked his beard. ‘Then perhaps he will be useful.’
‘Excellent!’ Said Frederick, clapping his hands together. ‘Then let us begin.’ Frederick led his guest to the large table in the centre of the room, where various apparatus lay in disarray. Frederick plopped down his case and pulled out an ancient tome that depicted a sun and moon in a celestial dance among the stars, faded from the long decades. Father Grigori stared at it, hungrily as Frederick flipped through the pages.
‘Here,’ he said, finger pointing to a picture of a yellow and grey snake intertwined. ‘This is where I began to start having trouble.’ Father Grigori leaned over his shoulder, drinking in the picture as Frederick pulled out his own notebook.
‘I assume you’re familiar with the stubbornness of alchemists?’ asked Frederick. Father Grigori nodded. ‘They’re paranoia has led to this use of fascinating pictures, but I only understand half of them. Take for instance the snakes. The yellow represents gold, and the grey silver. But the wreath-!’
‘Mercury,’ interrupted Father Grigori. ‘The grey snake represents quicksilver.’ Frederick starred at him in disbelief before shaking his head.
‘No,’ said Fredrick. ‘It’s silver. In an Agrippa’s notes, it’s silver.’
‘That was Agrippa,’ said Father Grigori sternly. ‘This is Flamel.’
‘I don’t understand,’ replied Fredrick. ‘They should be the same.’
‘You said it yourself,’ smiled father Grigori.’They were paranoid. Symbols will mean different things to different Alchemists. If you are to understand this formula then you must know Flamel.’
‘I…I never thought of it that way,’ said Frederick. ‘I must start over right away.’
‘We must start over,’ said Father Grigori. ‘I have spent my life studying the arcane arts, and half of the notes refer to the use of them in your formulas.’ Frederick laughed.
‘I don’t know what people believe in your country,’ said Frederick. ‘But this is a scientific text.’
‘Would you believe me if you saw it? Magic?’asked father Grigori.
‘As a scientist I would have no choice,’replied Frederick.
‘Good,’ said Father Grigori, smiling and revealing his yellow teeth. ‘Then let us begin.’
Edited by Brien Bigelow
Illustrations by Lucas Marra
Story Editor Chuck Marra
Presented by Lake Arrowhead Repertory Theatre Company
Victorian Nightmares 2018
All Rights Reserved