Five Weeks Earlier…
Late Night Scare
The wind rattled the windows something terrible, filling the house with a chattering chorus. Anne held the candle out before her as if it were an impenetrable shield. The professor often chastised her overly cautious nature, but she had heard stories. Her mother always said ‘there is truth even in the wildest of tales’. She liked to think her mother was telling a truth as well, even if it was a small one.
Turning around a corner in the hallway Anne stumbled, tripped by a fold in the carpet. She spat out a small curse. If the professor would let her turn the lights on at night…but he was a thrifty man and would often cite his profession as a lamentable source of income. Nevertheless, she had to accept the professor’s wishes. She pressed on, carefully prodding the ground with her foot as she moved to prevent a tumble.
As she neared the double oak doors of the professor’s study, she paused, certain she heard something from within. She approached the doors and pressed her ear against them. A thin, sharp voice was spouting contemptful speech. Who could the professor be seeing at this hour? She hadn’t let anyone in, and the professor was hardly one to lift his finger if someone else could instead.
“Professor?” she called softly, knocking on the door. “Professor, are you alright?”
At first there was no reply, only the muffled scuffing of loafers against hardwood floor. Anne took hold of the doorknob and began to turn it when the door suddenly lurched open. Professor Langford shielded his eyes from the gentle glow of the candle.
“Anne? What is it? Is something the matter?” He rubbed the scruff on his chin. He sounded strained.
“I’m sorry to…I’m sorry professor, I just thought I heard…” She tried to look past him, but the room was completely dark, only a sliver of light from lamps outside sneaking in through the window. For a moment she worried that she had woken him.
“Is the storm frightening you?” The professor looked back over his shoulder, his hand flying up to the base of his neck and scratching furiously. “I admit, I had some trouble sleeping, but everything is fine otherwise.” He shielded his eyes again and offered a kindly smile, the same he always offered to his guests and colleagues. “Please, don’t worry about me.”
Anne backed out, bowing slightly to the professor. “Yes. It must have just been the storm rattling your window.” Just the wind. “I’ll return to my quarters.”
“Have a good night,” he said, closing the door behind him and locking it.
Unable to completely shake the feeling that something was amiss, Anne knelt on one knee and peered through the keyhole, hoping that she might see something despite the lack of any real light. At first she could only catch the faintest image of the professor walking back and forth across the window. Just when she was about to give up and return to her quarters, comforted by the idea that her imagination was just being carried away on the winds of the storm, the professor began to grunt.
The professor was saying something, but even this close to the door she could not make out what it was. With jerky motions the professor started dragging something across the floor, and when the light finally fell on him again Anne could not help but gasp. She covered her mouth quickly, but it was too late.
Before she could gather her wits and move, the door flew open, the professor towering over Anne.
“You should have just gone back to bed, Anne.” His voice had lost any honey and comfort. In fact, it had lost any resemblance to the professor at all. “You should have gone to bed.”
On the Road
The carriage bounded along the dirt road, keeping a steady pace ahead of a school of grey-clouds that loomed ominously in the sky. While the world outside roared, the cabin was silent, save for the distant rumble of thunder that would intermittently ripple the tranquility. Harris Lesley shifted uncomfortably in his seat, watching the distant forest crawl along the countryside as the carriage made its journey. Even against the oppressive sky it seemed to burst with the promise of life, which was more than he could say about his travel companion.
“You shouldn’t be concerned,” he said at one point, breaking the tension as awkwardly as he could. “The doctor was a good friend of your grandfather. I was not aware of Grodin trusting anyone really, so we should consider this the highest of recommendations.”
Mariella did not stir. She had been staring listlessly out the window since the journey began, and Harris could swear she had not even blinked. He was disturbed by her very presence, although she was not unpleasant to look at. Her olive skin seemed perfectly toned to compliment her emerald eyes, and Harris could only imagine her hair, which was neatly pulled back under her hat, would provide a lovely frame for her slim face.
Harris decided to leave the matter. Nothing seemed to matter much to her.
“I am not concerned, Mr. Lesley, merely bored. How much longer until we reach Calverton?” She asked, a thin French accent stretched over her words. She certainly didn’t seem concerned. In fact, she didn’t seem much of anything. A shiver ran up Harris’ back.
Fumbling with the folder that was sitting in his lap, Harris pulled out a map of Nottinghamshire, unfolding it on the seat beside him. “We just passed Nottingham only a few minutes ago. I should think we’ll be arriving in Calverton shortly.” Scribbling a small note on the corner of the map, he tore it off and held it out for Mariella. “This is the address of the telegraph office in Calverton. You have my details, so should you need anything just send a message and I will do whatever I can.”
“Comforting,” Mariella said, taking the scrap and stuffing it in her brazier.
“Strange,” Harris said, putting the matter out of mind. “We seem to be slowing down. We shouldn’t be that close.”
After the carriage had come to a stop, Harris unlatched the door and stepped out, the door flying out of his grasp under a gust of wind. He struggled to keep his bowler on his head and his jacket about his person.
Down the road he saw three men on horseback sporting some variation of the uniform found on any officer in the country. One of them dismounted and walked up to meet Harris. The officer did not betray any emotion, although compared to Mariella he might as well be singing the hallelujah and skipping over.
“Good day, sir!” Harris called out.
The officer tipped his hat as best he could. He was a square-jawed young man with sandy blonde hair and a thick moustache. “Good day indeed. Do you have business in Calverton?”
The moustache completely covered his lips, and if not for his surprisingly deep voice you would never be able to tell he had spoken.
“I do indeed,” Harris replied when he recovered himself. “My name is Harris Lesley, esquire. I am escorting the young woman in the carriage to meet her new warden.”
“Warden, eh?” The moustache spread out in a phantom grin. “Do you have any documents proving this?”
“I have the last transmissions between my employer and the girl’s warden, all from the last month as you can see.” Harris pulled a few small slips of paper out from the folder, a number of them torn from his grasp and sent spiraling into the distance. The officer took the remaining slips and turned away, reading through them until he seemed to freeze.
Looking back over his shoulder, the officer’s face was a mask of terror. His eyes were unflinching and wide, and for a moment Harris glimpsed the bottom of the man’s mouth as it sat slack-jawed.
“You mean…not with…with him?” The officer checked the transmissions again. “You obviously do not know who he is…”
“I do not care to know him, from what I have heard. All I know is what my employer wanted.” Harris bowed slightly, but he could not say he wasn’t perturbed by the officer’s reaction. Just what kind of man was he handing this girl off to?
“I see.” The officer handed the slips back, pulling on his collar and straightening his posture. “In any event, access to the town is restricted. Mayor’s orders.”
“Mayor’s orders? For what purpose?”
“I’m sorry, but I am not at liberty to say.” He coughed. “Mayor’s orders.”
“Are you sure there is no way for us to enter?”
“Oh, the young lady may enter. You may not.” He coughed again. “Business or no. I will need to check with her… warden, to verify the story. If he doesn’t confirm what you’ve said, I will return her to you.”
Harris could barely contain his shock. “You expect me to just hand her over to you? I’ve heard about your sordid little town, and that man you let run it!”
“Mr. Lesley, would you change your mind if I told you who that man was?”
“I’m not sure it would. I know he’s a doctor of some -”
The officer’s face was pulled into a snide smirk. His eyes darted down to the transmissions Harris had been holding, now awhirl behind him. Harris’ hat tumbled off his head.
“I see. Well then, I suppose I should take your advice. Can’t argue with a man of authority now, can I?” Harris bowed, his hands clapped together as if he were praying to heaven. He turned around and briskly walked back to the carriage.
Pulling the door open a little, and letting the wind do the rest of the work, he poked his head in. “Frightfully sorry, my dear. It seems that there’s some big to-do up ahead and I am not allowed to go in. You however, as a new resident, will be escorted in by the local constabulary.”
“Is that so?” Mariella stood up and stepped out, hair being tossed wildly, though she didn’t seem to care. As far as Harris was concerned, he was rid of any real problem. Really, he should be worrying about the girl. She had no idea what was in store for her. As soon as he handed her off to the officers, Harris was back in the carriage, urging the driver to put as much distance between them and the town as possible.
Mariella had never cared for horses. When she was younger, her grandfather had tried to find something that interested her, but he had trouble. He always called her “the immovable object,” which she never fully understood. After the traditional “womanly arts” failed to make even a dent, he began to resort to his own past-times.
“Obviously,” he said once, “it would be a terrible idea to give you a gun.”
Three days. That’s how long she had spent on a horse as he tried to smuggle a few activities into one, taking Mariella into the nearby countryside to camp out under the stars. Her saddle-sore ass would be the only reminder of that weekend she had to suffer.
“Do you enjoy riding?” Officer Hawthorne asked. His moustache disturbed her. Her grandfather had one just like it, as did her father, but he was shamed into shaving it before Mariella was born. Both men would have been sporting bare lips after meeting Hawthorne.
He was a strange man, his head constantly swiveling, as if he were always on the lookout for trouble. Her rode an admittedly magnificent breed, not overly large but powerfully muscular with a short, black coat, a single white patch standing alone on its forehead. The officers had given her the smallest of their horses and it was barely a pony. A shaggy, brown pony.
The town did not so much loom in the distance as much as it seemed to slowly grow out of the ground. Walls surrounded the town at certain points, as if one had been built around it but time had made some corrections to the design. The few people that they had met on the road in were kind, nothing more than farmers going about their chores, but it was comforting to know that for all intents and purposes, the town was like any other.
The first thing Mariella noticed, once they entered the town, was the lines that ran overhead. Large, wooden poles dotted the sides of the street, connected by the thin black lines, dozens of them streaming out in all directions: some ran into homes; some connected into street lights; others just connected to another pole. The air was filled with a low hum that seemed to come from everywhere at once.
Hawthorne, with his constant vigilance, glanced back at her.
“Interesting buggers, aren’t they? They’re called ‘power lines’. They were installed all over the town by your new guardian.” He chuckled. “Lazarus…a guardian!”
To her left, Mariella saw a pub, a small building wedged between two houses. Compared to the ridged, gray structures flanking it, the pub was thatched and covered in dust, not a single cobble to be found on the street. A small trio of men stood by the door, smoke erupting from their pipes like chimney stacks. The men noticed her and tipped their pipes, though they paid her no other mind.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“Nothing, pay no attention to me,” he said, waving his hand flippantly.
Another officer on horseback raced down the street, flying past pedestrians by a hair’s width. His horse was a more bizarre looking creature, covered in splotches of white and brown without any rhyme or reason. The rider was younger than Hawthorne, fresh-faced with a thin, sharp jaw.
“Hawthorne!” he shouted as the horse came to a short stop, kicking up a cloud of dust. His blonde curls settled out after bouncing for a moment, and Mariella could not look away. “The sergeant said to – oh. I didn’t realize you would be entertaining a guest, sir!” He made a salute, his horse sidling back and forth awkwardly.
The elder officer harrumphed. “Very funny, lad. What did the Sergeant want?” He seemed to straighten up, puff his chest out. His moustache twitched side to side periodically.
“He wants you to collect Lazarus. Professor Langford has be found dead in his home.”
“No!” Hawthorne nearly shrieked. “How!”
“I suppose if I could tell you, we wouldn’t need Lazarus.” The officer reared back his horse and turned it around. “Should I tell him you’re on it or should I fulfill the request myself?”
“Not at all. Tell the Sergeant ‘will do’, Williams.” Hawthorne tipped his hat as he pulled the horse around. “Come on, Mariella. This way.”
She followed him, a little back the way they came and turning abruptly eastward. The buildings began to seem less and less maintained. No curtains were drawn, giving view to perfectly empty rooms. Mariella counted some hundred or so odd yards since she could assume habitation.
“Did we make a wrong turn?” She asked.
“Not at all. We’re headed to Lazarus’ home. I won’t lie to you, I don’t enjoy visiting him. He’s a genius, by all accounts.” Hawthorne nodded towards the street lights. “That’s not a gaslight. He wired the city up and ran electricity all over the place. Every building on every street. I would almost call him a magician! But, he’s a mad. Deeply so. I haven’t known anyone to use these buildings for years.”
To drive away people like this…
“All but this one here. His sanitorium.”
The line of buildings gave way to a long, tall wall, higher than even she could see from horseback. The wall was broken by an iron double gate, speckled with rust and lying slightly ajar. Hawthorne dismounted and pushed the gates open, struggling to get them moving and stopping when he was able to walk his horse clean through. Mariella rode through and followed him to a front of the building. Two stories high, covered in white spackle aside from the wood-covered corners, each one topped by a dome made from dark glass. A smaller brick building had been built to the right, lined sporadically by broken columns and a lawn on all sides.
After tying the horses to one of the columns, he helped Mariella to the ground. The horses bent down and chewed on what little lawn there truly was. The courtyard beneath her feet was otherwise covered in tightly packed bricks, no seams visible aside from the edges themselves. His heels clicked as he strode across the pavement, echoing strangely against the walls.
The front door was a deep cherry, lined by a golden-chord trim. Even the door handles were gold, if splotchy. A golden lion-head door-knocker gleaned at the center of each door. Instead of using them, Hawthorne reached to the left side of the door, pushing a small white button that Mariella hadn’t even noticed. A loud dzzzt rang out, ceasing when Hawthorne released the button and stood with his hands behind his back.
One of the doors creaked open, and a man emerged. He bolted upright at the site of Hawthorne and ran a hand quickly through his tangle of black hair, a smile forcing itself onto his face. “Hawthorne! How good to see you!” He said, slightly breathless. His smile was not unpleasant, but it was all he had really. Most of his face was covered by goggles, huge, deep cerulean lenses that did not leave even his eyebrows visible. “I’m sorry – you seem to have caught me in the middle of some work. If you would be so kind, I’d like to get back to it.”
Hawthorne’s brow jumped and settled back down immediately. “I’m afraid I have to be a bit of a bastard then.” He motioned to Mariella. “First, I have this young lady here.”
“She’s a lovely girl, you’ve done well for yourself,” Lazarus said.
“Her name is Mariella,” Hawthorne continued, undeterred. “I believe you were told of her arrival?”
“Mariella?” Lazarus perked up and stepped out. She could see now that he was wearing a pink shirt beneath a brown vest with a red tie hung loosely about his neck. His pants were red as well, topping a pair of chalk-white knee-highs. Extending a gloved hand, he said, “You’re Mariella Laurent?”
She took his hand and he pulled her closer, his goggles hovering right in front of her face. She was unsettled by the blinking of her own eyes as they stared back at her.
“You have fascinating eyes.”
“I’m sure,” Mariella said.
“Pale emerald in a wide corona around a small pupil. I’d dare say they’re more interesting than Hawthorne’s.”
Hawthorne let out a cough. “That’s a fine compliment indeed then.”
In a single fluid motion, Lazarus slipped his arm around Hawthorne’s shoulder, leaning on the officer. “Don’t worry Hawthorne; you’re still number one in my book.”
“The second matter, doctor, is of a more serious nature.”
Lazarus backed away, shaking his head. “I hate doing your work. Hate it. Please don’t sour my day. I re-animated a corpse today. Do not ruin this for me.”
“Professor Langford was found murdered in his home. You’ve been requested. I hear that the crime is most peculiar.”
“That’s what Whitcomb said about the ‘rat man’. He was a tramp living in a sewer. A tramp, Hawthorne!”
“You might have mentioned.”
Lazarus sighed, sagging a few inches. “This had better be damn good.” He returned inside the building. Mariella peered through the open door and saw a white marble staircase and an ebony railing, but could not see more as Lazarus re-emerged moments later. He had put on a crimson coat and cloak. In one hand held a long, chestnut cane, in the other a crimson top hat. “Mariella, it seems I cannot welcome you home just yet. Here,” he said, reaching into coat with his cane-hand. When he reached out again he was holding a small leather pouch. “take my wallet. Go into town and buy yourself some clothes, unless you’re satisfied with that black sack you’re wearing.”
“I have my clothes on the horse,” she said, pointing to the suitcase that was tied atop its rump.
“That doesn’t look very big.”
“I didn’t bring many clothes,” she said.
“My, you’re a bundle of joy.” Lazarus forced the wallet into her hand. “Then buy whatever you need. I’m sure you need food or something.”
“Sure thing, boss.”
“Boss!” Lazarus chirped. He stroked his chin; pale, clean-shaven flesh. “Boss. Boss. No. Boss. No, absolutely not. None of that. Come on Hawthorne, let’s get going.”
Lazarus whistled, summoning a grey mare from around the side of the building. He put the hat on, his dark locks shifting around as he found the perfect place for it to sit. Slinging himself onto the saddle, he took up the reins and dug in his heel. “Kt kt,” he clicked.
The doctor and the officer trotted out through the gates, Mariella following them down the road by some distance and counting the money Lazarus had given her.