Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Chapter 5.1 (For previous chapters, please see links at right)

I watched from the window of my small upstairs room for Mrs. Northe's fine carriage and magnificent mare. When they came around the corner of my block, I darted out to the door. Bessie asked nothing of my business—Mrs. Northe's wealth and high social status offered us that privilege—so I hurried down to the street and hopped in as soon as she opened the door from inside. Before the driver could climb down to assist me, I had already clambered up in a swish of skirts far less fine than those opposite me. I threw myself into the seat a bit like Brinkman had the day prior. It was an impressive skill I wanted to practice.

She opened her mouth as if she were about to reprimand me, likely ready to remind me that wasn't how Lady Denbury should behave, yet she only chortled.

"This is the first moment we've had in a while to just catch up, you and I," I began. "I do hope you'll be less cryptic about Chicago and many other things you've been cagy about."

She chuckled again and looked out the window as the carriage sped downtown down an oddly clear Second Avenue. I could tell the chuckle masked grief. I could tell she didn't want me to see the pain in her expression. She kept her voice impressively steady. "My friend was dying, that was no lie. She was a woman of visions. When she bid me come see her onward onto the Undiscovered Country, she told me that she'd seen things I needed to know about. I confess, I wasn't eager to hear them."

There was a pause. The clatter of horse hooves and wheels upon cobblestones was a lulling pattern of sound for several blocks. I patiently waited, but I kept my eyes trained on her so that she knew I was expecting more out of her.

"Every mentor has to step out of the way, Natalie," she added finally. "And allow her protégés to fight their own battles."

I caught my breath, trying to let that declaration and all it may portend sink in. "That's why you went to Chicago, when Jonathon and I, with the help of friends, had to deal with Doctor Preston's reanimated madness on our own? I confess, I didn't like feeling abandoned."

"And I remain torn," she countered. "What my friend saw predicts dark futures ahead. I was hoping she'd reassure me that I would, as I like to do, play the role of guardian angel effortlessly, flawlessly. I can't promise that will be the case, Natalie. So look sharp. Stay safe. And don't look to me as the answer for everything," she said, her tone terribly sad. She kept her gaze trained out the window.

This wasn't something I wanted to hear out of a woman I'd once thought invincible, infallible. But she was human. Just like the rest of us imperfect creatures that fate had bound together against a dark force we still struggled to comprehend. I hope at least fate knew what it was doing even if we didn't.

I opened my mouth to ask about Maggie, for last I’d heard a doctor had been tending her at the Hathorne residence, but I doubted life would simply continue on for the misguided girl—a young woman who was my peer in age, though I was not her peer in wealth—without some sort of judgment, punishment, or internment. I wasn’t sure what stopped me this time. But the overwhelming task of what we were up against had me at a loss for words, my occasional difficulty with speech notwithstanding.

A lack of confidence is what had me often fall back into my old patterns of silence. I decided to focus on the task at hand. One task at a time, this day was for information gathering, else I'd lose my mind with worry and wondering. When we disembarked for the small steam ferry and I saw the dreary round island ahead, positioned amid the East River, a place I'd thankfully never had cause to go, there was nothing to do but wrestle with the pit of dread in my stomach. While boarding the small boat, we had to brace our hats—Mrs. Northe's feathered piece far more elaborate than my felt and tulle one—against the river winds, feeling the boat struggle against strong currents as if it didn't want to cross either...

Good God, what a miserable place. A long, sprawling castle of dark brick out on Wards Island that picked up the howls of patients upon the East River winds. I glanced at Mrs. Northe as I first spied the long, rounded edifice, curving in like a vast crescent. Any hope of getting honest information paled. I wondered if the man we sought would even be recognizable in this gargantuan estate of insanity.

Crenfall, the broker who had seen to the transfer of Lord Denbury’s portrait from England to New York—with his soul trapped inside—was an odious man, leering and unseemly. But I couldn’t imagine that even the most deserving of creatures would fare very well in this purgatory, just one step away from hell. I couldn't imagine that anyone with a shred of sanity would keep it in a place like this; from the cries and screams I heard the moment the scowling ferryman mounted a rickety calash to drive us up the long winding path to the front doors, it seemed no one had.

“I have to utterly shut down any of my heightened senses, any ability to pick up on another person's thoughts or emotions. It's too painful, scattered, and raw,” Mrs. Northe murmured to me as we stepped down from the creaking calash that was all too happy to tear away again, the driver not looking back. I stared up at the towering, formidable building before us as she continued: “I know that Crenfall was an accessory to murder and justice must be served. Still, I feel a pang of pity for those confined here.”

An attendant in a dreary gray uniform, a solemn-looking man strained around the eyes, opened the door before Mrs. Northe had even lifted the knocker. He stared past us, out into the wide, vacant lawn, as if ready to run. We stepped inside the daunting doors, and the sounds were far worse within than without. I could not blame the man for yearning for that free open space behind us, in such contrast from the overwhelming weight and gloom of the place.

The warden, a stern, broad man dressed in the same somber gray as everyone that could be seen anywhere in the vast open foyer and halls leading off in either direction, looked up in surprise at our arrival. A large ring of keys clinked at his side as he approached. "Can I...help you...ladies?"

"I seek an interview with one of your patients," Mrs. Northe said.

"An interview?" The man's eyebrows seemed ready to launch off his skull.

"Yes. Someone who was recently convicted and placed here in confinement, a Mr. Crenfall."

The warden chuckled. "You want information out of him? Because all you'll get is some babbling murmurs about a Master."

I fought back the urge to shudder at that word.

Mrs. Northe was swift to answer. "I'll take what I can get," she replied, her tone not to be trifled with. "It's to do with an investigation."

The man sneered, and I distinctly didn't like him. "Since when did the police let women do their work?"

"They don't," Mrs. Northe replied crisply. "And yet we do. Sir. Do their work. Every day. It just isn't our job. But we do, in our way. Now please be so kind as to do yours in turn and show me to the prisoner. An attendant guard would be kindly appreciated."

That I wanted to grow up to be just like the woman at my side was hardly lost on me in moments like this. I fought back a haughty look I wanted to give to the man.

"I've got to ask the boss. As this is hardly custom," he said with an exaggerated bow, flashing jagged teeth first at Mrs. Northe, then at me. I quelled another urge to shudder and had to keep it still at bay when I saw the Alienist in charge approach; he was a towering, sour-faced, balding man in an ill-fitting brown suit, the sort of character who looked more like someone the Master's Society would choose as a lackey than the kind I'd like to see tending the mentally ill. The warden was speaking to him quietly as they approached us, and then he walked off, leaving us there in the cold, drafty hall with the head of the place.

"You wish to...interrogate Crenfall?" the man asked with blatant skepticism.

"I realize his lucidity may be limited," Mrs. Northe replied, "but if he's speaking in puzzles, even they, sensible or not, may be of use."

"May I ask what you're working on, and why you've a young..." He turned to me and fumbled for words. "What are you, miss? An...apprentice?"

That the world seemed so baffled by a woman of agency such as Mrs. Northe was far more irritating to me than a man being baffled by my presence. I typically ought not to be in the situations I'd been finding myself since encountering Jonathon's haunted portrait, but with every new situation, I felt more and more entitled to my purposes and would stand strong, haughty, even, against the withering stare of the disapproving who wanted me to be seen and not heard, home and not out, soft and not strong.

"I wish I could explain our positions and duties, but I'm under orders not to say," Mrs. Northe said with a kindness to her voice that made her less threatening, a good tactic, one that appeared to placate but was unapologetic. "If you've any concerns, I've government contacts to vouch for me, men who will most certainly appreciate your efforts to both allow us to complete an interview whilst ensuring our safety."

I was fairly sure she meant Senator Bishop; he seemed a very useful man to know, and one that was on our paranormal side, a side few seemed brave or open-minded enough to entertain. The doctor shrugged and gestured we follow him into the heart of the gray maze laden with bars and wailing voices.

Dank halls, dirty linens... the men within the cells seemed creatures, not humans. It was a brick building of long, caged hallways. It was a prison, yet worse; they weren't merely being held, they were being worked on. Whatever efforts had gone forward since the Civil War to make sanitariums seem more amenable must not have affected this place for the better.

The doctor seemed to be deploying a host of new advancements, operations, serums, and "therapies" upon his patients that seemed more like abuse from the looks of it as I passed cell after cell of misery. One man was strapped to a chair while attendants dunked him face down into a vast basin of water. I opened my mouth to ask what the point there could possibly be in such treatment when the doctor supplied:

"One has to employ every possible tactic if one is to get anything out of the mad. One never knows what will break them open, what will lead us to another discovery in the great uncharted territory of the human mind. You never know what will lead to progress."

I could see both Mrs. Northe and myself fighting back the urge to argue with the man, but we truly couldn't afford to make any enemies in so miserable a place. Through a metal door was a small rectangular window, and through that smudged frame I saw Crenfall leaning up against the stone wall of his cell in a baggy gray shift, looking up to the tiny rectangular window that let in a sliver of wan light. The Alienist motioned an attendant to open the door and enter with us, standing to the side but between us and the madman. I noticed then that Crenfall was counting the flies hovering about the window, murmuring numbers.

Crenfall looked up sharply at the sound of the metal door, his beady eyes focusing right upon me, like an animal. A sudden, complicated rush of emotions hit me;  if Jonathon hadn't been so strong, if he'd have been more weak-willed, more easily influenced and manipulated, I could be staring at him right now. Thinking of Jonathon, of his inherent worth, how strong he'd been through his own attack, internment, and onslaught of dark magic steeled me, calmed me, and allowed me to focus in on this tragic creature.

"Mister Crenfall, I've some questions for you," Mrs. Northe finally began.


(End of Chapter 5.1 -- Copyright 2013 Leanna Renee Hieber, The Magic Most Foul saga - If you like what you see, please share this link with friends! Tweet it, FB, + it! The Magic Most Foul team really hopes the audience will continue to grow and it can only do so with YOUR help! If you haven't already, do pick up a copy of Magic Most Foul books 1 and 2: Darker Still and The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and/or donate to the cause! Donations directly support the editorial staff.
Cheers! Happy haunting! See you next Tuesday!)

1 comment:

houndstooth said...

Well, I'm awfully curious to see how that interview turns out!