The young woman opened her eyes to see she was now in a strange room. It was dim, but she could faintly make out the padded white walls, as well as a single door in the corner of the room. Along that same wall, there appeared to be a mirror. She stood and observed herself.
‘Hello,’ she said. ‘Is someone there?’ Her voice faded quickly in the room, letting silence linger in its place. ‘What is the meaning of this?’
There was still no response, but she seemed to be able to sense she was being watched from behind the mirror. If she listened closely and could hear the scratch on pencil on paper or the adjustment of clothes, faint enough to make her question if she was really hearing anything other than her own mind trying to rationalize.
‘How did she get here?’ she thought. Closing her eyes, she tried to remember what had happened before she found herself on the floor of this horrible place. She had been in Whitechapel, being driven home in her private carriage after a particularly dull party. The sun had been setting, making all of London seem as if it were on fire. There was always something about that time of day that had made her feel queasy, and the excess of wine had not helped matters.
She travelled along silently as she clutched her head, doing her best to drown out the sound of the carriage wheels clattering against the cobblestone. All she wanted to was to get home and lay her head on a cool pillow and sleep the night away. That was when…something happened.
There was a crash, and the carriage went tumbling, sending Christina flying into the side. When it had all stopped, she realized the carriage was on its side. She had been bruised but nothing seemed to be broken. Opening the door above her, she pulled herself through, only to realise her driver was now nowhere to be seen.
As Christina made her way off her toppled carriage, she was approached by three women of the evening.
‘Are you alright, miss?’ one of them had asked. ‘That was quite a tumble.’ Christina nodded.
‘Yes, it was.’ She looked up at them. ‘Do any of you know what happened?’ One of the women pointed a finger behind Christina, who followed it, only to gasp. The woman was pointing to another carriage, one that had seemingly hit hers. It had smashed into the wall and splintered everywhere, a sign it had been going much faster than it should have. The poor horse had died on impact, but what really drew their attention was the strange green liquid that seemed to be dripping from the inside.
‘What?’ asked Christina, shocked at the carnage. ‘How did this happen?’
‘I saw it, I did,’ said another of the women. ‘Came out of nowhere and smashed right into you.’ Christina turned to her.
‘Did you see what happened to my driver?’ she asked. ‘Is he okay?’ They all looked at one another.
‘He looked in to see if you were okay,’ said one of the women. ‘Then he went to check on the other driver. But…But…’
‘But what?’ asked Christina, annoyed.
‘He didn’t come back,’ finished the woman. Christina had furrowed her brow. She headed towards the smashed carriage, followed by the three women, when she stopped again. There was a sound, something resembling chewing.
That was all Christina had remembered. Everything went black after that.
‘There was an accident,’ she said to the mirror. ‘I think someone was hurt…’ Again, there was no reply, save for the phantom sounds of scribbling. There had to be someone there, watching her. Someone had to have brought her to this place that vaguely felt like a medical facility. But no one came to comfort her.
She wasn’t sure, but days seemed to drag on. It was so hard to tell because she never slept, which confused her. Christina should have felt exhausted, her eyelids should have been heavy, but all she felt was hunger.
It started so small. A rumbling here or a pang there. Surely someone would come to feed her in time, and then she might get some answers. But no one came, and the pain became unbearable.
She would spend endless hours, huddled on the floor, as she asked for something, anything to eat. After what felt like at least a week, she began to pray for death itself to take her. To end the pain as well as the endless consciousness that plagued her. There was no rest for her, and it was driving her mad.
‘Answer me!’ she would shout at the mirror. ‘Answer me you damn bastards!’ she screamed and cried, as her clothes grew filthier and her hair more ragged. Even pulling at the chain had lost its luster once she had tried to hang herself, only to find she did not die. ‘What did you do to me!?’ became her next question. Was she sick? Is that why she was here? Just when she thought madness would finally settle in, she heard the door click as it unlocked.
Christina stood, as a foul-smelling smoke filled the room. It made her wretch as it filled her lungs. It smelled like rancid meat to her. Slowly, a figure emerged from the door and Christina stared in confusion. Before her stood a medieval plague doctor, beaked mask and all, swinging a censer back and forth, and spreading that awful smoke.
‘Who are you?’ Christina asked, coughing into her hands. ‘What is that?’ The plague doctor remained silent as he watched her, making his way slowly to the centre of the room just in front of the mirror. She tried to ask more, but the smell overwhelmed her. ‘Please…stop.’
There was a tap from the other side of the mirror. The plague doctor nodded and began to seal the censer. She was being watched, but that was of little comfort to her now. The smoke began to dissipate, allowing her to regain her senses.
‘What am I doing here?’ she asked the plague doctor. ‘What is this place?’ The plague doctor tilted his head, as if he couldn’t understand her. He turned to the mirror once more, but as he did so, Christina blacked out again, as she had one final thought: I smell food.
Another plague doctor looked on from behind the mirror, as the subject tore its chains from the wall and attacked his colleague. She ripped bits of flesh and blood with her bare teeth, swelling it down, as his colleague screamed, before being silenced with a bite to the throat. The plague doctor scribbled furiously, as he observed the macabre feast, when a man walked up behind him.
‘Doctor Marlowe,’ said the plague doctor to the old man. His superior looked down at him with his sallow skin, pure white hair, and sunken eyes. They looked almost dead.
‘How is the test going?’ asked Marlowe. ‘Anything we can use?’ The plague doctor shook his head.
‘I’m afraid not,’ replied the plague doctor. ‘The disease is too uncontrollable. Once they smell fresh meat…see for yourself.’ As he said this, the test subject looked up from the corpse and ran towards the mirror. It began to pound away at it, seemingly staring at them with its milky white eyes.
‘Doesn’t even know what it is,’ said Marlowe. ‘Shame. Such raw strength.’
‘It appeared to be trying to communicate,’ replied the plague doctor. ‘Right up until he dissipated the smoke.
‘I see,’ said Marlowe, stroking his chin. ‘Terminate it. It’s useless to me.’
‘What about the other one?’ asked the plague doctor. ‘The one that got away.’
‘Richard is taking care of it,’ replied Marlowe. ‘Luckily, it at Whitechapel.’ The plague doctor did his best to hide the shiver that ran down his spine. Richard had always scared him with that manic smile of his. ‘One you are done here, report to the next test subject. Mr Harrow should be waking up soon.’ The plague doctor nodded as Marlowe disappeared down the dark hallway.
He looked back at the woman who used to be Christina Taylor, pounding away at the mirror, staring at him with her dead eyes.
Edited by Brien Bigelow
Illustrations by Lucas Marra
Presented by Lake Arrowhead Repertory Theatre Company
Victorian Nightmares 2018
All Rights Reserved