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From the Journals of Arabella Holmes and Henry Watson
By Brynn Chapman
Month9BooksCopyright © 2014 Brynn Chapman
All rights reserved.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Mutter Museum, 1910
The unfamiliar emotion brings a metallic taste to my mouth.
How did I miss the tell-tale signs?
The foreboding spreads; pumping its limb-numbing weakness from my heart to surge up and solidify into a ball of dread, lodging firmly in my throat.
My fingers grasp the lab bench behind me, cold, like his skin and the chill stealing into my bones.
My superior leans in close, much too close, shattering the great divide between student and mentor.
Forget propriety and society; we are beyond unchaperoned, we are utterly alone. The drop of a pin would clatter like thunder in the stillness of the dark, stone halls of the museum tonight.
"Miss Holmes, I have a proposition."
My heartbeat floods my ears.
How dare I call myself a Holmes? I missed every clue.
My mind thumbs through mental snapshots, disregarded. Lingering glances during my cadaver dissections; his eyes stealing across me as if my body was the anatomy lesson.
His hand, draped over mine, a heartbeat too long, demonstrating precisely how much solution to add to my bubbling concoction.
Inappropriate, unacceptable touches, which I foolishly reasoned away.
"You know of my high regard for you."
His long, tapered fingers reach over to encircle my wrist. His hands restrain like icy shackles and I fight to keep my countenance calm.
I swallow. "I." And clear my throat. "I was under the impression my presence at the Museum was ... off-putting."
My survival-brain wakes, analyzes, as my eyes perform reconnaissance around my lab. Two exits. My parasol lies across the room, useless.
It's past midnight — not a soul will be in the museum to hear my scream.
I stare up at Dr. Stygian. He towers well over six feet tall. I haven't a chance against him.
One word whispers, taunts.
Rape. Is he capable of it?
I do not know. He is overbearing and caustic, but rape...
He inches closer still, pinning me between the lab bench and his body.
"At first, I was put-upon, yes. But I've been watching, making a detailed study of you and your fastidious nature. I know of your ambitions — very lofty for a woman, wouldn't you say? I believe we could ... help one another."
He leans in and his lips brush mine and I recoil — my leg twitches, at the ready to knee the soft flesh of his groin.
I hear the familiar shuffle-step that I know to be Dr. Earnest, my other superior. Thank God for the old man's insomnia.
Stygian slides slowly away from me, as if savoring where our bodies touch. His eyes never leave mine.
Earnest shuffles into the doorway and his eyebrows rise when he spies Dr. Stygian's proximity.
Stygian grants him a nod and stoops to pick up his walking stick and his cape. "Miss Holmes requested I assist with her assignment."
From behind his back, I bite my lip and give a singular, negative shake of my head.
Earnest's eyebrows knit. "Well, I must insist you off to bed, my girl."
Stygian flips his crow-black hair from his forehead and spins on his boot heel to swoop past Dr. Earnest out into the hall, disappearing without a backwards glance.
As I walk to Earnest's side, I bend to pick up my journal and parasol and hope he does not perceive the tremble in my hands.
He guides me gently, his hand on the small of my back, and out the door.
"Dr. Watson warned me you were driven. But midnight? Work ethic be deuced, one must be reasonable, Arabella."
I shiver again and vow to leave the lab by nightfall from now on.
* * *
A few months later.
The Mutter's hallways are dim and the singular window, situated high near the cathedral ceiling, permits a paltry amount of illumination as the dreary drizzle of rain relentlessly pelts the pane.
The odd combination of candles and electric light give the shadows a treacle-like, stretched appearance. Father had related the Mutter preferred to spend its funds on antiquities, so the conversion from old light to new was painstaking.
The light was indeed dim, but I was still able to discern Father's bright blue eyes turning to goad and hasten my progress.
A blast rattles my jaw. I lurch backward with the force.
My father's eyes widen in shock, his left hand shooting out to ward off the unseen danger.
"What was that?"
This response is saying something, for the unflappable Dr. John Watson.
Another blast rings out; the laboratory door blows off its hinges and flies through the air, clattering against the opposite wall with a 'bang', narrowly missing the glass case of shrunken heads.
I pull out a handkerchief, plastering it across my nose. Black billows of smoke barrel out the doorframe to fill the hallway.
Footsteps echo behind us, and father and I turn in tandem. My soon to-be-superior, Dr. Earnest, rounds the corner, his waddle changing to an ungainly lope as he spies the smoke. His bushy white eyebrows bug to life, shooting up and under the untidy flop of grey hair hanging over his forehead.
"Arabella!" His face flushes, instantly furious. "Can she never act like a woman?"
"No, Alistair, she cannot. Which is precisely why she is here," my father strides toward the laboratory, "And not preparing for her coming-out party? What would you expect of a young woman raised by Sherlock Holmes?"
Dr. Earnest harrumphs, but follows obediently.
I am rooted.
Arabella. I haven't seen her since I was a gangly, love-sick eighteen year old.
I straighten my lapels. Much can change in four years' time.
"For heaven's sake, Henry, are you going to make yourself useful or stand there and choke to death?"
Father's head whips backward and his glare, a white-hot, visual cattle-prod, urges me into motion.
"Coming, father." Sweat breaks on my brow.
Stop it. He has no recollection of your feelings for her.
Dr. Earnest lowers his head, plunging headlong into the black smoke and is instantly swallowed.
I step to follow, but father restrains my forearm. "Do you see why you are here now, Henry?"
I struggle to keep my anger in check. "Why didn't you tell me she was here? All those months, battling over my future — you were dead-set against this appointment."
"I was. It was Holmes. Once he caught wind of your interest, there was no throwing him off — he was relentless.
You know how very disappointed I am that you've chosen ... antiquities —"
"It's more accurately forensic anthropology."
Father's eyes roll. "Such an elaborate name for dead things. Anyway, chosen it over medicine — but at least it's proving useful. Now that you're here Holmes will stop his incessant worrying about her safety. He's normally insufferable, but since she left, he's intolerable."
Even I know an idle Holmes to be a self-destructive Holmes.
I nod in agreement and step into the smoke, following the trail of barking coughs.
"Arabella, where are you, girl?" Father calls from behind me. His tone is almost jovial; as if we're headed to a bloody picnic rather than weaving our way through this acrid smelling smoke.
I step into the large laboratory; I squint and finally make out her small frame, barely visible through the dissipating black clouds.
She turns, and I marvel. Her face is a mask of calm; her dainty fingers circle a full flask of bubbling red elixir.
Bits of her hair have escaped its tidy bun and now freefall in shocking red waves about her face. One brazen, challenging eye peers out through the mess of hair.
Between the red shock of her mane and the black soot streaking her face, it's as if I am staring down a Bengal tiger.
I take a deep, steeling breath, and my chest sears — hitching into a coughing fit.
She clears her throat, blue eyes scrutinizing her superior. Her chin turns up in defiance. "Dr. Earnest. I was ... experimenting —"
"You —" Earnest sucks in, his chest bloating in outrage. The result is a similar hacking fit, racking his old body in half. "Arabella. You know b-better, ever since the last incident."
"Yes, I remember."
The smoke is thinning and my eyes tick up and down, analyzing Arabella's lab.
Although I won't join father in medicine or his adventures with Holmes, I cannot help my upbringing. I've been indoctrinated to drink in every minute detail of every place I've ever stepped foot.
Bones are everywhere, as if a graveyard platoon marched in and surrendered for display.
Patellas, femurs, ulnas, metacarpals...and skulls from both animal and humankind in various states of skeletal reconstruction, litter the walls and floor.
I look up. And the air.
A half-assembled, bony falcon hovers overhead, dangling from the ceiling.
All that's missing is a skeletal prey clutched in its beak.
A glass case, looking distinctly out of place among the dead, draws my attention to the room's center. Brilliant yellow, blue, orange and black bodies are strewn throughout.
It's crammed with butterflies; their vibrant black and blue wings contrast against the surrounding blanched-bones like a rainbow amidst a bleak thunderstorm.
Pins stick through their thoraxes, their wings spread in perfect display. Each one sports a label beneath in Arabella's untidy scrawl, proclaiming its genus.
Arabella's stare leaves Dr. Earnest's face, and she squints, finally registering our presence. Her eyes focus on my father and turn cautious.
Her lips twist up in a tentative smile.
He strides toward her, unflustered. Not unobserving, though, I am sure. My father misses nothing. He will have catalogued Arabella's response in his Dewey-Decimalized brain.
"My darling! It has been far too long." Father's arms wrap around Arabella, folding her in. She winces.
He pulls back, leaving his hands on her shoulders. His eyes rove quickly, evaluating her for injuries.
Her mouth twitches in amusement. Amazingly, she isn't fooled — she knows he's examining her. Knows my father better than I realized.
He can normally charm a nun out of her habit.
"John. So good of you to come. How is father?"
"Worried about you, but no longer retired, so tolerable."
They share a knowing laugh.
"Naturally, you remember my son, Henry?" Father raises his arm in presentation.
Arabella's blue eyes flick to mine. My stomach lurches.
"Of course. How could I ever forget Henry?"
For pity's sake. Control, man.
I nod stiffly. "Arabella. Pleasure to see you. You've ... grown."
She laughs, so loud and bawdy that Dr. Earnest squirms and drops his eyes.
"Yes, children do just that. The last time I saw you — you were headed for boarding school."
Her gaze drops with the mention of the school.
Father clears his throat. "Yes, well, your similar upbringing has bred two adventurers. Apparently Henry shares your interests. He will be working for the museum as well. Searching for medical oddities. An antiquarian."
"Will he?" Her expression molds into a most peculiar glare. Almost adversarial.
"Don't forget Henry's skills with the wax replicas," Earnest interjects, rubbing his hands together. "We were fortunate to secure him before the Smithsonian swooped in to claim him."
Arabella's eyebrows rise in interest, but the sound of someone approaching shifts her attention.
Footfalls echo through the smoke.
"What is the meaning of this?" a voice booms.
Everyone jumps in a communal start. Except father. He straightens up, muscles tightened, ever the soldier.
His knuckles whiten as he strangles the top of his cane.
Dr. Earnest is visibly flustered. "Dr. Stygian. Arabella had an experiment go awry. Again."
Dr. Stygian towers a head taller than every man in the room. The hair on the back of my neck prickles.
"This! This is what I mean, Earnest. "She —" he jabs an accusing finger at Arabella, "she is impulsive and arrogant and unnatural. She should not be considered for such an important expedition. A woman is much better suited for curation."
Father steps forward, staring Stygian full on despite the fact he's a head taller. "Sir. You've forgotten innovative and cunning and possesses her father's talent for problem solving. Is this expedition not about bones?"
"I dare venture no one on this eastern seaboard could match Miss Holmes's knowledge of bones."
"Arabella is a genius," I add helpfully.
I dare to glance her way. And promptly wish I hadn't.
Arabella's face is tinged purple with indignation.
She stomps forward, closing the distance in seconds.
With a toss of her head, the tumult of curls flips from her face. Her blue eyes are vicious. And beautiful.
"I am a better scientist at twenty than half your staff of port-swilling, armchair-philosophizing, smoking-jacketed morons. All debate, no action."
Earnest gasps behind me. My arms tense, Stygian's eyes go wild and bright.
Father puts a placating hand on her shoulder. "Arabella...."
She shrugs it off.
"John, you know it to be true."
His fingers land back on her shoulder and squeeze. "Arabella, decorum, remember? Surely all those lessons we taught in the parlor have not been forgotten?"
She averts her glare and her chest heaves, taking in huge, calming breaths.
Stygian's color rises to rival Arabella's; his black eyes murderous.
He speaks over her head, as if ignoring a naughty child's behavior. "Besides her obvious impulsive nature, she is a woman. Not all the men on board the steamship shall be museum employees, and I cannot vouch for their characters. She will be in danger."
Father's responding smile is wry. Arabella's head rises and their eyes lock in unspoken communication.
Father turns to Stygian. "You need not worry about her safety. Arabella is not like other girls."
"Yes, I am wholly aware," he spits, viper-like. His eyes narrow to slits as his stare bores onto her, dripping venom.
A protective surge flares in my chest and my teeth grind together.
Father interjects, "Henry will also be on the voyage. I know he would be willing to assume responsibility for her safety."
I nod, stand ramrod straight and square my shoulders. We're almost nose to nose as he unleashes the black look on me.
"Is this true, Mr. Henry Watson?"
Arabella's jaw pops open and snaps shut, as my father claws her shoulder.
"We will convene on this matter in a week's time. Put it to a vote with the museum council."
Stygian spins on his boot heel and exits the lab, eyeing the splintered door as he rounds the corner.
I exhale, relief flooding through me.
I turn, and smile at Arabella. "What went wrong? With your experiment?"
Arabella is not relieved. Arabella is trembling all over.
She whirls, heading for the hallway. Yelling over her shoulder, "I. Don't. Need. Protection. From any man."
She stomps out the door in the opposite direction as Stygian. And is gone.
The lingering black smoke is the only proof she was ever present.
All three of us stare at the spot she's vacated.
"Boldness, be my friend," father murmurs. I keep my gaze straight ahead, but can't help my smile. "It will have to be."CHAPTER 2
I stiffen as footsteps draw close, echoing down the hall. My eyes dart around the state of blackened, sooty chaos that was once my lab. Two hours later, at least the smoke has cleared.
I extract a tiny femur from the box of bones, spinning it round through my fingers and sigh. "At least the specimens were spared."
I force my eyes from the partially erected skeleton and toward the entry.
Footsteps echo off the hallway's high ceilings and stop, as if the visitor is pausing.
His tall form steps through the doorframe, overcoat drenched from the downpour lambasting my windows.
Henry. My heart does a strange little flip in my chest, resulting in a cartwheeling rhythm of beats.
I've never been apt with words. I think in pictures, as my father before me.
Since my unusual childhood, my mind visualizes my feelings as the organ of my heart, sequestered in a metal box. Its outside covered with countless locks and bolts.
To keep everyone out. To love is dangerous.
It now throbs against the confines of its chamber.
Henry removes his hat, spinning it in a self-conscious circle in his hands. His hair is darker than when we were children. It was almost white-blonde. And his eyes....
"Your eyes. I don't remember them being that color, Henry."
His eyebrows rise. "Still blue. Like my heart."
I roll my eyes. "Please, Henry. I know you, remember. Or at least I did. Your poetry will have no effect on me."
Excerpted from Boneseeker by Brynn Chapman. Copyright © 2014 Brynn Chapman. Excerpted by permission of Month9Books.
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