The Dubious Apotheosis of Baskin Gough, Part Two
by Patrick McGinnity
(Read part one in Issue #1: Metempsychosis)
[Unsigned fragment of letter, presumably penned by Ms. Morden]
I have this recurring dream, Camille. One that I’ve hoped (so far in vain) working would help rid me of. There is a woman in it I must assume to be Reliene, since the dream began the very night of her disappearance.
Somehow I know beyond doubt (the way we do in dreams) that she has been through something truly horrific. In the dream she comes creeping up the cellar stairs. I’m terrified, but everyone else in the house is totally oblivious—they can’t seem to hear or see me. It takes so very long for her to reach the top, and the waiting is so terrible. I can’t help opening the door. Every time I do it, and every time it’s the same ghastly spectacle waiting there.
What could Reliene have done to cost her her very skin? The gruesome sight has branded itself upon my memory, and I thought at first that putting it on a canvas would let me be rid of it. It was sickeningly easy to achieve the perfect flayed red for the exposed muscle tissue. Cobalt and a hint of Venetian Red rendered the blood vessels in painful detail. I paint her not as I see her every night standing in the cellar door, but instead reclining, somehow at ease on the fainting couch in my studio. All from memory and imagination, of course, but having the musculature so lewdly exposed makes it easy to achieve a lifelike posture. I suppose I thought to alter the memory by changing details, somehow making it all less horrific.
I cannot, in truth, be certain that it even is Reliene. If only I could forget the terrible blankness of that face—all expression, identity, and humanity peeled away as easily as one might peel a ripe tangerine. How profoundly naked we are without the soft shell we wear—how utterly terrible is the beauty beneath. Stripped of all our delicate armor we are just us, bone and muscle, skeletons dressed up in so much meat.
Enough. Camille, when we parted you said I was never to contact you again, but I find myself unable to help it. For a distraction from all of this, I reach back sometimes to an August morning in the gardens at home, the buzzing of bees and the green-gold scent of honey and sunshine in our hair. The dancing reflections of the day-lit sky fractured by a thousand oak leaves in your eyes, so like my own that they could be. We shared a womb, Camille—surely we were never meant to be separated by something so petty (I’m sorry, Reliene, but it was). So I write to you, for myself, hoping these letters never find their way to your hands. With all that I am, I wish you anything but this existence.
[Water-damaged fragment from Dr. Templesmith’s journal, date unknown]
[MS. torn]thout a microscope. I have sketched them below. As can be seen, the cilia have rooted themselves quite deeply into his flesh. It appears that the base of each of the tiny organisms acts like a vine, creeping beneath the epidermis, attaching itself to blood vessels, muscle tissue, etc. [MS. blotted] vigorous as ivy roots, [MS. blotted] eerie and beautiful, really.
[MS. blotted] out of this house and back to the world [MS. blotted] furor in the scientific [MS. blotted] I present [MS. blotted] exotic new parasitic organism. [MS. torn]
[Dr. Templesmith’s journal]
-26 May 1863-
Looking back, I see that I wrote previously that Roderick had been lost. I was mistaken. He was merely transfigured. Now, however, he is truly gone.
The night after the hatch of the cilia, I returned from fetching an evening snack to find the hallway runner soaked with seawater. As I feared, the tub was empty but for a foot or so of fluid that remained, still sloshing with the echo of his departure. The water trail led down the hall to an open window on what had been the house’s west wall. The sill was soaked, as was the wall below it, but there was no sign of anything unusual in the water two stories below. In the near-dark, however, it was impossible to see more than a dozen feet from the house.
Why he’d gone all the way down the hall, though, instead of simply opening one of the tall parlor windows remains unclear. I do know for a fact that the hall window had been open, for I’d noted the cool breeze on my way down to the kitchen. Perhaps he was, for some reason, unable to open the windows in the parlor. The lack of water on the rug near them, however, suggests he hadn’t even tried.
Is it possible he didn’t leave the house on his own? If someone (or something) had come for him from outside, wouldn’t the intruder have been forced to enter through an already open window or door, even if it did happen to be some way from the parlor? If the organisms do indeed share a collective consciousness, might it extend even beyond an individual host? The possibility is nearly more than I can stomach. And yet, strange as he has become, I don’t know whether to pity poor Roderick or envy him the opportunity to see what he will see, learn what he will learn.
[Water-damaged fragment from Dr. Templesmith’s journal, date unknown]
With Roderick gone, The samples of biopsie[MS. blotted] I have to study. They are unchanged—the cilia appear unharmed by their isolation from each other, or from their distance from [MS. blotted] continue to undulate and wave with a singular mind (a disconcerting sight in their seven jars).
Theorizing that the creatures may be present in the seawater, we have taken to boiling it before bathing in it. Curious that no one else became infected before Roderick. [MS. blotted] missing flesh allowed the organism to get a toe-hold within him. If only I had a test subject, a rat, even a dog [MS. blotted] could help pin down the route of infection. [MS. blotted] not yet prepared to mutilate myse[MS. blotted] wait and watch.
[Unsigned fragment, possibly authored by Mme Tessier.]
[MS. torn] above the wainscoting already. Baskin organized a detail to move anything useful from the kitchen to the second floor parlor. I was not involved, of course, but it was quite the undertaking. It suits me in a perverse sort of way that this three-story mansion with all its blasted stairs is now reduced to only two stories, with most of the truly important rooms here on the second floor. Now we take our meals in a guest suite converted into a passable dining room. The setting, I must say, is far more exciting than the fare itself. It seems that beans, rice, cornmeal, and salted meat are virtually all that remain, and our cook has long since exhausted the creative possibilities of such staples.
The main stairway and the narrow servant’s stairs are under constant guard. When the waves began to break over the porch, the beautiful front doors warped terribly and could not be closed. The men jammed them shut and piled a heavy bureau and several dressers against them. The next morning, the furniture was gone, and the doors were wide open, the sea having exceeded the height of the threshold overnight. Now it covers the floor by at least a foot, miniature swells rolling right across the entranceway to lap at the lower stairs. And it is not only water that has invaded the ground floor. That first morning, the men found something in the kitchen, a fish of some sort, I suppose, which they shot. It was not added to our menu, though, and they refuse to speak of it in any detail.
There are noises down there. Sometimes a soft crooning, like a mother to a restless child—it goes on and on, changing pitches here and there, then ceasing altogether. The times when it is silent are almost worse, because the soggy thunks and bumps sound all the louder, not to mention the occasional thrashing, as of a large fish trapped in shallow water. The guards are armed, and take the duty in shifts, one to a stairway, while one goes back and forth to ensure that neither of the others falls asleep. With only five able-bodied men remaining, they can not be getting much sleep, but then, none of us are.
There! Splashing, punctuated by a crunch: a table or a shelf being crushed or torn apart. Now silence—not even the lullaby humming. It is not right, whatever is happening here—a blasphemy of the highest order.
[Loose page from Dr. Templesmith’s journal, date unknown]
Danica Morden returned this morning, after three days missing. We’d all assumed the worst, though out here, the worst possible fate, it seems, isn’t necessarily death.
She’s been flayed just as Roderick’s leg was. Danica’s injuries, however, have a more serpentine aspect, a bare strip a handbreadth wide running down over each shoulder, across one breast, around the opposite hip, and then coiling twice around her leg to disappear at the ankle. It is painful to look upon, yet almost beautiful, [MS. blotted] scarlet tattoo.
Margeaux Penderghast was bringing tea to the actor, Christov, who had been posted at the servants’ stair. Remarkable how quickly she turned to the handsome Russian for solace following her husband’s death in the ill-fated hi-jacking of The Lavinia. At any rate, according to the pair of them, they had been talking for a few moments before they were silenced by a splash from the bottom of the dark, narrow stairway. Christov raised his gun and they waited [MS. blotted] into the lamplight.
When nothing more transpired, they returned to their conversation. It wasn’t unt[MS. blotted] filtered through the narrow window at the landing that Ostraander, who had come to take over the watch, noticed the naked girl huddled there where the water meets the steps.
She must have been down there on the flooded ground floor all along. To think of her there, terrified and in agony, so close to help, yet a world away. There are always noises from below, and I find myself wondering how many of the eerie cries that we heard over the past few days might have been hers. Even worse, what if the others are down there: Roderick, Chas Blanc, Raeline, Tarquin, Derrick Pen[MS. blotted]
[MS. blotted] comatose. A mercy. Shock, I shouldn’t wonder, and maybe something more. She has lost a significant amount of blood, though the bleeding seems to have stopped for the moment. We have wrapped her in clean bed linens. There is little I can do. The ether is nearly gone. I doubt very muc[MS. torn]
[Unsigned fragment, but reference to the author’s wheelchair suggests Mme Tessier]
Last night, there was a narwhal in the foyer. The water has swallowed several more steps, but still, it should not be so deep as that. I was on my way to the makeshift kitchen for a bedtime snack, and I had just rolled onto the landing where the guard watches over the main stairway, when the pale gray shape slipped through the gaping doorway. Longer than a carriage, and big around as a draft horse, the creature glided serenely to the foot of the stairs and paused, as if deciding whether or not to climb.
I must have cried out, because Gerick Ostraander, who had looked perfectly awake in his chair, jumped to his feet, his rifle falling to the carpet. The doctor arrived a moment later, just as Gerick took aim.
“Stop!” shouted the doctor, forcing the barrel up.
“The bloody hell I will,” Gerick said, fighting to free the weapon. “It’s a whale, man! Inside the house,” he continued through gritted teeth, “Besides, it’s meat!”
“Don’t you see,” the doctor began, “it’s the first thing we’ve seen that says we’re where we belong—the world we know.” He released the gun as Gerick stopped struggling. “It’s a sign...” he trailed off, glancing suddenly up at me before going on, “a sign that things might be getting better.”
“You may be right, Doctor,” Baskin Gough said softly, coming up behind me. “It may signal some change. But our Danish friend is also correct.” He started down the stairs. “This is indeed the first creature we’ve encountered that I wouldn’t hesitate to eat. We have no idea how long it will be before help arrives. We can’t afford to pass up this opportunity.” He stopped midway down the stairs. The whale eased away, its spiraling horn gouging the wainscoting as it turned.
“Gough, look—” began the doctor.
“The rifle, Gerick.”
I desperately wanted the whale to make good its escape before he had time to shoot. Why, I don’t know. I’ve never been one to romanticize my food, but there was something noble about the beast, something almost mythical. I imagined that the house was somehow safer, that we were safer, as long as that beautiful whale was there. That elegantly fluted horn might be a beacon pointing us homeward.
Gerick came down several steps, his eyes locked on the whale, which drifted unhurriedly toward the darkly gaping doorway. The light of the oil lamps glinted on its rubbery skin, and on the ripples in the water. Baskin took the weapon, and smoothly tucked its butt against his right shoulder as he sighted down the barrel.
The doctor started to say something more, but the rifle’s thunderous boom obliterated all else. I was so shocked by the blast that, for an instant, I didn’t think to look where all that terrible force had been directed. The whale spun suddenly, its powerful tail tearing one of the double doors halfway off its hinges with a single slap. Its body arched up, and as its glistening body rolled through the air as if through a thick syrup—time gone viscous and dense—the bloody wound showed itself lewdly for an instant and was gone. The careening whale seemed to take flight as its tail snapped up and out of the water. And then it was gone.
Not through the door, not down the flooded hall—it dove and disappeared. As if the water in the entryway were not a mere two feet deep, it plunged, horn first, down, down, down, and was gone. As if there were no floor there at all. As if the walls ended where they met the water, and below was only water and more water on down to the end of light and beyond. It was beautiful—and terrible.
The gunshot brought the others, who found the four of us, gaping down at the flooded entryway like fish drowning in the air. Baskin said not a word, but handed the smoking rifle back to the Dane and stalked away, pushing through the throng. Gerick and the doctor looked at each other, and then up at me where I sat in my wheelchair at the banister. There was nothing to be said. The others asked about the shot, the blood sprayed across the walls of the entryway below, the shattered door. If either of the men answered, I didn’t hear.
I wheeled myself away, sickened, though I can’t say if it was from the violence I’d witnessed, or from the dawning realization of what the whale’s escape might mean for we who remain trapped here. Dun Leah House has become altogether too small to contain all this—these secrets, these obsessions, these fears.
“You cannot seriously mean to go through with this!” Ostraander’s usually florid face was dark red in the dimming sunset of another unnatural day. The sun could not have been above the horizon for more than forty-five minutes; it had risen clear to its apogee and descended to the western horizon as quickly as the minute hand of a clock made the trip from nine to three.
“This is none of your concern,” Gough murmured.
“We’re all on this damned house together, like it or not,” Ostraander snapped back. “She was a guest, just like the rest of us.” Except that wasn’t true. The artist, Ostraander knew, had been Gough’s prey, while everything else—the commission, the séance, the guests, everything—had made up the web he’d woven to lure her to him.
The doctor, who had been scribbling in a notebook when Ostraander had entered the study, opened his mouth, but their host’s icy reply cut him short. “True. And look where it has gotten her.”
Gough stood stiffly at the window bathed in the dying light from across the featureless sea. Arms akimbo and in stark silhouette, he might have been some erstwhile king surveying his realm, except this sovereign’s dominion encompassed only a sinking house and a waste of unstable and unknowable water. “Please understand, Gerick, I have to do something.”
Doctor Templesmith gripped Gough’s shoulder in an awkward gesture of sympathy or solidarity, Ostraander couldn’t be sure which. “Her... situation is no fault of yours, Baskin.” His hand trembled as it slipped back to his side, and he turned to Ostraander, his face composed as for mourning, though the gleam in his watery eyes betrayed a certain eager anticipation. “We have before us the opportunity to help the girl. My studies of this organism indicate it may well offer hope where otherwise hope is dead. Surely you’d not waste this chance, purely out of some petty ethical squeamishness—she is, after all, very nearly dead. How much longer do you propose we prolong her agonies by waiting?”
“It isn’t right. Better to give her an easy death than gamble on some bloody parasite saving her.”
“How exactly could it be any worse for the poor woman, Gerick?” Templesmith demanded. “How?”
Ostraander didn’t answer. He was making no headway with his friend, and arguing with the doctor, he knew, would only make it worse. Over Gough’s shoulder, the twilit water gleamed a sickly green-orange. After its precipitous plunge below the horizon, the sun seemed to have stalled, prolonging the gloaming beyond all reason. It was like everything else here, wrong on some level below understanding. “Gough, she deserves better than this.”
“I must know if there is a chance, any chance,” Gough whispered. “And I can’t bear the thought that those things out there might have her.”
“Yes, Gerick, if she dies out here, we’ll have no choice but to sink the body.” Templesmith sounded reasonable enough, but reason wasn’t how the doctor had persuaded Gough in the first place, and Ostraander ground his teeth to stop from shouting at him. “You heard Madame Tessier: Ms. Morden, believed that the waters, and whatever the hell is down there, were her doom. She was terrified. Surely you’d not—”
“This isn’t some medical school cadaver for you to experiment on; she was a guest in this house—has that become sufficient consent to have one’s body used in some fool experiment? We may be rather out of touch with society here, but that’s madness!”
“I won’t surrender her to them,” said Gough as if he hadn’t even heard their exchange.
“Let her go. The doctor can no more promise to save her than I can.” Ostraander paused, groping for a new tact. Gough seemed to be listening, though his posture had not softened. “Did he save Roderick? Is he back to his old self again? No, they took him. And now Templesmith would infect her with the same organism? How does he propose it will help her?”
“It is her only chance.” Gough didn’t sound so sure anymore.
“Quite true,” Templesmith said. “It is remarkable she’s even lived this long, what with the extent of her injuries. She has no other options.”
“She’s gone, man!” Ostraander took Gough by the arm, half-turning him away from the window. “He just wants to study these damned parasites and happens to need a body to do it. Don’t put stock in his lies!”
“If there is any chance, any chance at all—”
“Can’t you see, you fool?” Templesmith demanded. “We have no way of knowing what possibilities this organism might present for medicine. Can I save the girl? Heal her? Not with what I know at this point, and certainly not with the limited supplies and facilities at my disposal, but if we don’t try, if we don’t glean all that we can from these things, we’ll never know what might be achievable.”
Templesmith was playing Gough like a school boy plays a recorder, and whatever Ostraander said was only twisted to strengthen the doctor’s case and Gough’s resolve. He would not give up, though. Not on this.
“How many failures will it take to learn?” His voice shook. “We’re in serious trouble here, but torturing some poor girl in her last hours will not save anyone, least of all her.”
Gough shook his head as if to rid himself of a pesky insect.
There comes a point for a man of action when he simply runs out of words. Ostraander’s right cross caught Templesmith by surprise, and he crumpled like a marionette with snipped strings. The doctor curled up on the floor to protect himself from further attack, though none was forthcoming. Ostraander’s hand stung where several knuckles had split open. It was a welcome pain—the feel of action and reaction, untempered by reason or restraint. It took him back to simpler days.
“What do this cold-hearted bastard’s observations of these things hold but a warning? When does this bloody end?” He crossed the room in three strides, and only paused when Gough spoke, his voice unchanged, as if the momentary violence had gone entirely unnoticed. Perhaps it had.
“I have to know, Gerick,” Gough said, turning at last. His eyes glittered, perhaps with unshed tears or something less rational. “Please,” he said, softly, but with an undercurrent of urgency. “Understand that. If there is a way, I must try it. I have to know.”
[Unsigned letter, presumably from Ms. Morden]
Did I ever tell you, Camille, how I first met Baskin Gough? It was in Chicago, of course. Reliene had spent the night elsewhere after a silly row at a party. I was pouring a cup of tea when I heard the bells on the studio door. I barely had time to fluff my pillow-flattened hair and take my place at my easel before the footsteps on the stairs reached the door.
Clean-shaven, he looked more like a boy than I suspect he liked, but I suspected a neat beard would give him more of an air of dignity. His gaze darted around, taking in the whole of the high-ceilinged flat before settling on me like a skittish bird.
He stammered something about having seen my Nocturne, Rive Gauche while dining downtown at Chez Louise. I continued touching up the highlights in the cityscape on my easel. I treat all potential customers as if they are imposing on my time and should be grateful for any attention I can spare. A petty ruse, I know, but it sells more than bootlicking and pandering ever have.
He said he very much liked my work, and wanted to purchase something. Stepping across the room to where several canvases were drying, he glanced over each, but moved on too quickly to be a true appreciator of art.
We went back and forth, and it became clear that what he wanted was whatever I thought was the most valuable piece I had. I showed him The Loss of Midsummer, if you remember it, which I’d only ever tried to sell halfheartedly before. He was convinced as soon as I explained it was overpriced because I didn’t really want to part with it. He wrote a check for more than eight months’ rent of the flat—almost twice what I’d quoted, and asked me to hold the painting until the end of the week.
When I saw him next, he was unshaven, and indeed did look older, and I wondered if he’d read my mind. He seemed more interested in talking than in concluding our business, though—indeed, he might almost have forgotten about the painting. He was from Michigan, he said. A copper baron’s son. As we spoke, it came out that he wanted to commission me to paint a series of his home, Dun Leah House. He would pay for my travel, and I would have whatever I needed for the duration of my stay. I was flattered, of course, but concerned, too.
He knew nothing of Reliene, I presumed (she had not come home the previous night either), and it seemed he had a mistaken idea of me. Still, his overt interest was in my work, and he’d already paid me more than I’d ever gotten for a piece. A commission would be highly profitable, even more so if it could be parlayed into a long-term patronage.
It wasn’t until I got here though, that I began to see the depths of his obsession. He has imagined an elaborate future (perhaps even a past) for the two of us, and what he says and does is perfectly acceptable in that context. Of course, the reality is there is nothing between us, nor will there ever be. It scares me sometimes, the intensity with which he watches me. At the beginning I didn’t discourage him, for fear of losing his patronage, and now, of course, it’s too late to make an escape.
Gough’s leering makes me more and more uncomfortable. Surely he knows that Reliene and I are—or rather were—lovers. I should never have come here. I’ve lost her and, though it’s true I’ve gained myself, I cannot stand this house anymore. I have a terrible feeling that we’re utterly doomed, though Gough hardly seems worried about the fact that we’re floating off to god-knows-what-end, just so long as he has me here.
In her third-floor studio, a study repurposed when she’d come to work on her commission, the Artist lay motionless in the beaten copper tub, almost entirely submerged in cool saltwater. The seeping blood had long since ceased, leaving the water as clear as aquarium glass. It was very like observing some exquisite sea creature at rest, though a less romantic viewer might have compared it to a pickled specimen in a jar.
She still breathed, though shallowly and with a wet sound. The ether the doctor periodically administered kept her unconscious, but it was all they could do for her. Except wait.
Gough slouched in a wingback chair, one ankle carelessly propped on the opposite thigh. It had to have been more than twenty-four hours already, and yet nothing had changed. Of course, with the clocks misbehaving there was no way to know for sure how much time had passed, and the glaring white eye of the sun had hung motionless two thirds of the way up the silver-blue dome of the sky today for what seemed an eternity, but Gough was sure at least a day had passed. The remaining cilia samples the doctor had taken from Roderick—those that they had retained in case this didn’t work—were as active and hardy looking as ever, but even a close examination of the incision sites on the Artist’s body showed no change.
How much longer could she hold on? If this was her only chance, something would have to happen soon. Templesmith had been vague as to the timeline for implantation, but Gough had hoped for more dramatic results. But then, hope had ever been his adversary.
Hadn’t the whole idea of bringing her to Dun Leah House for the commission, of trying to impress her with the eclectic collection of guests at the séance—hadn’t all of that elaborate framework been built upon the shaky foundation of hope? Hope that she might see something in him that would cause her to fall as deeply in love with him as he had fallen for her—first through her art, and then in person. Hope that by bringing her to his Camelot, she would become his Guinevere. But would that make him Arthur, the good king cuckold, or Lancelot, the one the queen truly loved? It had turned out that the Artist’s damned Bohemian friend had played the latter role, while Gough found himself more a butler or jester than a king.
[Dr. Templesmith’s Journal]
[MS. Illegible] 1863--
When the first cilia emerged around the site of the incision, I almost could not believe it. I’d nearly given up hope of success. The water in the tub had assumed a degree of opacity, reminiscent of the milkiness I witnessed when Roderick’s blisters had burst, though to a far lesser degree. It seems the organism has bypassed the blister stage, which may, in fact, point to some evolutionary advantage to be had from infecting a host from whom large swaths of skin have been removed, so long as the body is kept submerged throughout the gestation period of the cilia. Perhaps the blisters are actually a type of ovum or egg sack. It certainly bears more investigation, when time permits.
The wormlike cilia sway with the house’ motion as if in an undersea current. The other four sites (the opposite shoulder, the abdomen, and the one on each thigh) show no change. Only the graft on the right shoulder seems to have taken. Will it be enough?
Thinking that perhaps a bit of fresh seawater would help, I made the trek down the hall to the back stairs, and thence to the largely deserted second floor. At the top of the main stairway, I met Cristov, who stood guard with the elephant gun. He asked how she was, and I murmured something about improvement as I slung the pail over the banister and played out the line. I am fairly certain he knows there is no hope for her—they all do, even those who didn’t see her when she emerged from the flooded first floor. Perhaps he was just fishing for information—fodder for the rumor mill. Since Gough sank into his depression, he has not been much of a leader to the guests. Ostraander may be the closest thing they have to leadership now—who would have thought such a thing? Since our confrontation, he has spoken not a word to me, though I sense that he regrets losing his temper. Still, he has yet to organize the other guests against us, for which I am thankful.
The water had risen since my last trip downstairs—or rather, the house had sunk further. Now scarcely a handful of carpeted steps are dry above the water’s inky surface. Soon the second floor will be inundated, and we will be left like rats on a sinking ship, clambering over each other until the weakest are trampled or pushed under. Though I paid little enough heed at the time, what with Roderick’s rapidly changing health, the loss of Ostraander’s airship may well have been the death of hope in Dun Leah House.
Alone in the Artist’s studio, Gough sat surrounded by her sketches and studies, bathed in the dirty yellow light of a single lamp, the oil seiching softly in the reservoir with the rocking of the house, the unperturbed flame casting stark shadows on the wainscoting and shelves lined with books he’d never read. Echoing the oil’s motion was the fluid—a lie of omission to call it water anymore—in the claw foot bath at the center of the room. Outside, another cloudless night of strange stars and the even stranger cries of the sirens, as Ostraander had dubbed the crooning things (and why not? The calls were grotesquely alluring).
He sat alone in the lamplight, the doctor’s notebook open to a blank page, a pen hanging forgotten in his hand. He had intended to write what had happened, to give closure to the doctor’s story, as it were. Having gotten ready, however, he could not imagine what he might write—where he might begin. Battered from Gough’s constant rereading, most of which had proven a waste of time, the notebook lay like some dead thing in his lap. He wondered fleetingly if whatever madness had claimed the doctor might not be catching.
The Artist’s disappearance had been devastating, of course. Just as they had seemed to be making progress of a sort, she was suddenly gone. Templesmith vanishing the same night was just one more reason for despair. Just what had happened was unclear.
Ostraander guessed that the doctor, having finally thought better of their experimentation, had carried the Artist’s body to the window to release it to the waters, only to stumble and fall in himself. Gough, however, had a more disconcerting scenario in mind, though he kept it to himself. It was, in part, the final pages of notes in the doctor’s journal, nearly illegible and almost entirely nonsensical, that made him suspect something else had happened to Templesmith. The resonances between the Artist’s disappearance and Roderick’s were undeniable, except Roderick had not been supervised at the time.
Gough finished his absinthe—nearly the last of Ostraander’s guest gift. He’d sat like this for an interminable span, the lamp’s barely perceptible hiss sounding as if someone whispered in a dark corner or just beyond the locked door. At last, he sighed deeply, stretched, and crossed to the window. Outside, and a floor and a half below, the water reflected a warbly star field. The house drifted on, long since having forgotten from whence it came, and with no clearer notion of where it was headed.
When his feet grew sore he turned his back to the night and wandered in the intermittent shadow and glare of the studio. At last, he stopped his pacing, and stood, head cocked like some curious spaniel, almost sure he’d heard something. There. At the window.
He hurried across the room, his heart drumming against his ribs. Almost he went for the rifle over the mantle, but then he recalled that it was in use by Ellis Enoch at watch on the servants’ stair. Peering warily from the window, he saw only the same dark water and the same reflected stars. He squeezed his eyes shut at the realization of how much he had hoped.
Hoped for what? A miracle? A fairy-tale ending? The Artist to return to him, healed and whole again? A miraculous rescue at this, their darkest hour? But he was supposed to be the lead actor, the protagonist in this miscarriage of a romance. He had called them: the medium, the pretentious scions of ancient families, the young priest, the war hero, the Russian actor—all of them, here to Dun Leah House. He had gathered the most remarkable cast of characters his extensive connections could yield up, all for the paltry goal of impressing her.
But then, when everything had descended into utter madness, and the time had come for him to step forward and save them—and most importantly her—Gough had found himself impotent against the inexorable waters and the fathomless mysteries they at once embodied and concealed. His nails dug into the windowsill, and a wordless growl of despair escaped his lips. The sound startled him, and his eyes snapped open, just as he felt his mind caressed by the first ethereal wisp of a nascent insight. He spun on his heel, suddenly out of breath. Of course!
The noise again. Very like a curious cat.
And again. Closer now.
Then a movement he could sense through the vibration of the fluid enveloping him. It was akin to hearing, but rather than his eardrums, it was as if every inch of him was drawn tight and tuned to detect vibration. It’s working, he thought. It had to be.
Someone pounded at the door, rattled the knob. There was a shout, the knob jiggled again, and then something heavy slammed against the stout oak. He thought someone called his name.
He watched a hand, fine boned and webbed, slip over the edge of the windowsill—an artist’s hand, to be sure—groping like a nimble starfish, seeking purchase. A slender arm followed, and a second hand, then the rest of the figure, dripping as it came. She dropped to the floor and out of view.
She had come back to him. She had returned—whether for revenge or reunion, he hardly cared. Lost to and reborn from the weird depths of the waters that bore Dun Leah House along on its never-ending journey. His savior. His fate. His love. His life in more ways than he could enumerate.
A profound transformation was taking place within him, and she... she was his destiny, his future, and his doom. She had been since that chill March morning when, as if guided by the fates, he had found his way into her dusty studio above the printer’s shop. Everything since had been no more than a protracted denouement.
More noise from the door now, someone trying to batter it down. Ostraander. His only true friend in Dun Leah House. Almost Gough wished he could go to him, open the door, and thank him. Thank him for staying with them when he could so easily have left, for trying to stop their mad meddling for the Artist’s sake, for not abandoning him, even now.
Her hands scaled the rim of the tub, and a moment later her face hove into view, furred with minute silken cilia that glistened wetly and writhed in the lamplight like blind inchworms. She was beautiful and terrible beyond reason, and he sobbed despite himself. It was the only way, he tried to explain. He hadn’t expected to be so afraid.
Shining chlorophyll green, her eyes fixed on his—inscrutable and unspeakably alien. Through the buzzing terror that threatened to overmaster him stabbed a thought, glass sharp and colder than ice: maybe it wasn’t her at all. Maybe whatever intelligence illumined those eyes wasn’t hers, wasn’t anything he could ever hope to understand. He tried to speak, to tell her... something, but his jaw locked, from terror or the creeping paralysis that accompanied the transformation. I had no choice, he whispered into the vast silence of his mind. It was the only way I could have you.
She might have smiled (or was it only a trick of light and shadow?) as she took hold of his face almost tenderly and forced his head down into the inky brine. Everything in Gough strove against the cold water and her colder hands, but his limbs would not obey.
His lungs burned, and white and green flashed behind his eyes with every heartbeat. Between the flashes of color, which became more and more sporadic, he thought he glimpsed something that might have been a future: murky water, deeper than night, a light that wasn’t light, a wall, a reef rising like a mountain from the benthic slime; closer, the structure’s irregular surface was motile with tiny, pale tentacles swaying sluggishly in a deep current; the bodies stacked a hundred thousand high, green eyes glowering—colonized, incorporated, belonging at last to something greater; the tower reaching ever toward the poison air, narrowing as it climbed, and at the top, the newest additions to the over-body circumscribed a dark orifice, a fell mouth with a hunger deeper than the world. There, upon the lip of the behemoth, Baskin Gough glimpsed the place reserved for him from the beginning, at the very feet of the Artist.
Issue #2 Contents
The Heart of the Labyrinth
Where I Choose to Wake
They Don’t Move Like They Used To
The Dubious Apotheosis of Baskin Gough, Part Two
Patrick S. McGinnity
Lazarus Walks, Part Two
Patrick S. McGinnity lives with his wife and three boys on a remote island in northern Lake Michigan where he is the director of the public library. He holds an MFA from Hollins University, and his work has appeared in Arcane II, Word River, The Truth About the Fact, Temenos, and Paradigm, and online at Ad Hominem, The Harrow, and The Fourth River. Patrick blogs (very) sporadically athttp://keltickarnival.blogspot.com/.