rating: 0+x


Black & White illustrations, like the one above, made by SunnyClockworkSunnyClockwork



Stuart sat in the chair facing the window for what seemed like an hour. He intended to read the book that he went through so much trouble to get, but the weather seemed far more interesting. The narrator, who was also the main character, droned on and on about insignificant details or events that, if cut out, would have trimmed the book to half of what it was. The characters may have been interesting, but their personalities were flavored by the narrator's point of view.
He pondered the feedback the book received, which was the whole reason he even bothered stealing it. Why are people kicking up such a storm over this book? It's not that great. Am I just too young? Stuart thought as he shook his head and threw the book on the loveseat across the room. He wasted a trip, which was a shame, because he felt the town was becoming aware of his presence in the shop, and visiting twice in the same week was far more risky than he would like.
He slumped in his chair and continued to stare out the window. The rain was pleasant, giving the grounds around the estate a thin sheet of fog, turning the vibrant green of the trees into a calming olive. Perfect weather for when he'd like to relax. Not so much when he'd rather be running errands.
It wasn't long before he started getting tired of the view, and left to care for his grandmother Acacia; God knew if the servants ever did. Maybe the rain would lighten up by the time he finished. Legally, Acacia was supposed to be taking care of Stuart, but that was presumably before she was less 'eccentric' and more senile. Once her dementia became severe enough, and she became too weak, it seemed like Stuart was the one taking care of her.
He grabbed his supplies, crept as quietly as he could up to the door, and opened it just enough so he could see his grandmother. After confirming she was asleep, he proceeded with his routine. First, he would gather the drawings she drew during her episodes. The drawings were always the same; a combination of various sketches of either dead animals, usually wolves, cats, and rabbits, or other common animals, or a girl in a cage.
The animal drawings were the most grotesque, but they were also the most common. They involved the animals with an eye or two removed, or deep wounds, large enough to see the bone, but the girl in the cage was more… somber. The cage was iron-barred, and looked like something more becoming of a large dog, with the girl positioned either on her knees or in a fetal position. Her hair had covered her face, but she looked like she was Stuart's age.
Her dementia was getting worse, so Acacia would always forget that she ever drew the paintings, which would scare her if she ever woke up to them. Stuart always feared that Acacia might suffer a stroke if she ever saw her own art again, so he had to remove them.


Afterwards, he'd restock the desk with paper and ink. It was surprisingly important to keep her stocked with both, otherwise she'd resort to other, messy materials and canvasses. The remaining tasks were almost self-explanatory: empty the bedpan, dust the room, and prepare her breakfast for when she woke up. The real challenge was doing all of this without waking her up.
Admittedly, a good part of how Stuart learned how and why he needed to do all of this was from trial and error, but mainly, the knowledge came from the books he acquired. He used to take medical journals on the subject of bedside manner and the like until he felt he had a proper system to follow.
Once finished, he looked outside the window, and realized the sun would begin to rise soon; he needed to finish up. He set Acacia's breakfast down on her nightstand, left, locked her room, grabbed fifty-five pounds, and made his way to the front door to wait for Dr. Unsworth.
No matter how smart he was, Stuart was just a child, and he knew it. He could not maintain this house on his own, so he kept the same dealings his grandmother had set up exactly the way she had them. He had a grocer who would provide both him and Acacia with food, farmers who would rent Acacia's property, and then, Dr. Unsworth, currently knocking at the door.
"Hello? Mr. Hayward? Are you awake?"
He always assumed Stuart was in his tower. Maybe he thought that since Stuart was so groggy, he was just waking up. However, Stuart would be just now going to bed, since doing things were so much simpler when everyone else was asleep. Stuart usually let Dr. Unsworth wait a little, if only because he thought it was a tad humorous. Sometimes, the doctor would resort to throwing pebbles at his window, or say silly lines like:
"Hoy there, Stuart! Time to greet the day!"
Stuart greeted the large man at his doorstep. He was always full of energy whenever he came by; clearly a morning person. He was a rather portly man, which complimented his older age and snow white hair and mustache rather well. He was always dressed professionally, with a dress shirt, tie, and fittingly enough, both suspenders and a belt.
"Good morning Doctor."
"And to you as well! May I come in?"
Stuart nodded, stepped aside to allow the man to enter, and escorted him down the hall.
"So, how are you today?"
"I'm fine. How's the wife and grandkids?"
"Ah, they're great! We've just started laying out plans for a tree fort over the summer. Planning on getting the supplies once they have finished their studies. Do you have any plans?"
"Oh, no. I'm afraid not. My schedule remains the same regardless of the season, so I must stay here. I must care for Acacia: you understand."
"Yes, about that. Stuart, we need to discus your grandmoth-"
"Fifty-five pounds, correct?"
Stuart pulled out a cigarette and a tinder box, and began to light. "Fifty-five pounds. That's how much you charge for your services, is it not?"
"… Yes, it is, but y-"
"Then if it's all the same to you, I would prefer to leave it at that in regards to her."
"Stuart, this is serious. She could cause serious harm to herself if she continues on like-"
"I already know what you are going to say, and the answer is no. You suggest putting her in a home, yes? You don't think I've considered that option already? I assure you, my care is far superior than what those… institutions could possibly provide. Have you ever seen those places? How miserable everyone is there? Because I have. She won't be happy there. That's enough cause to keep her here. Besides, if she goes, then I would have to too."
"She isn't safe here."
Stuart fell silent for a moment. He was going to correct him, but he realized that if he did, it likely would have been seen as hostile.
"This must end, Stuart; you are hardly older than twelve. I'm afraid that if her condition does not improve by our next appointment, I simply must have her relocated. It wouldn't be right any other way."
Stuart approached and unlocked her door.
"Fine. But for now, would you kindly just do your job?"
"Fine." The doctor sighed.
Stuart opened the door and closed it behind the doctor. He had other things to attend to, and he knew that the more he got involved, the worse the situation would be. He picked up his grandmother's drawings, and made his way over to the parlor to sit by the fireplace.


He never enjoyed this process. Despite the rather grim subjects of the pieces, they were beautiful and quite different from most other styles he knew. Most painters were concerned with a more naturalist style, but Acacia was more simplistic. Despite having only the colors black and white to work with, her shapes and figures were surprisingly vibrant on their own.
Stuart always wished that he could save them all, but she never tired. There would never be any room in the house to hold every one of them, but that never stopped Stuart from preserving the ones he loved the most. As he looked through today's work, he found one that called out to him; a girl in a formal dress.
It struck Stuart as different from the others, so he saved it. He didn't quite know why, but he found it more… settling than the majority of her works.
"I suppose we are done here."
Stuart looked behind him to see the doctor standing in the middle of the doorway. He was in no mood to argue, so he simply agreed. "I suppose so."
"Remember what I said Stuart: next appointment."
"I got it. Thank you," Stuart replied harshly.
The doctor gave a pause, an exasperated sigh, and left. Stuart stared at the fire for a minute before the clock rang out. 10 o'clock; it was time for bed.

Chapter 1
He couldn't sleep that day. Stuart may as well have been staring at the ceiling for the past nine hours. As the threat of being forced out of his home loomed over him, he began thinking of what might become of him. He thought about packing up his belongings and running away, leaving Acacia with Dr. Unsworth. At the age of fifty-three, Acacia was far older than most women. She'd had her life, but he hadn't. Acacia would rest, get her doses of heroine, surely better treatment… Stuart thought.
Maybe she actually would be better off there. Maybe Stuart was simply more concerned with himself and the orphanage. Even so, he would rather live on the streets than go to that war zone. He was far too old for any potential parents to consider him, what few there would be, and he wouldn't be the most well-respected there. In all likelihood, he would be one of the preferred victims of some gang of cretins, fighting for the sake of compensation.
Perhaps he should have just left. He had enough money. Maybe… But where would he go? The circus?… Maybe he would have to wing it, but he'd have to leave town. It wouldn't be that hard, he'd have maybe a day or two to do it… Unsworth would find Acacia, and bring her to the home, so it wasn't like he'd be leaving her for dead.


It was something that might have to happen.

Stuart looked at the clock; 6:00PM. He was an hour early, but it wasn't as if he was getting any sleep to begin with. Perhaps it was for the best; at least now, he might be able to spend more time with Acacia. Getting out of bed, Stuart reached for the tobacco and pamphlet of cigarette paper on his dresser.
Stuart always felt a certain satisfaction to rolling his own cigarettes, even if it was more time-consuming. Assuming he couldn't find a complementary stack anywhere, the general store sold booklets for one cent. Much cheaper than buying an entire box of cigarettes, considering that a large part of the property was dedicated to tobacco. Five a day was the usual, but he decided to make seven this time, due to the recent news.

It was around this time that Acacia would finish her drawings for a while, so he made his way to her room to check up on her. Stuart approached her door, and opened it just enough to peer inside.
"Grandmother? May I come in?"
She didn't respond, most likely distracted with her drawings. He came in regardless.
"Grandmother? I was wondering if you wanted me to pick up some dinner for us; I could pick up that tomato bisque you love so much…"
"… Fredrick? Is that you?"
Stuart had no idea who Fredrick was, or why she kept confusing him with him, but this wasn't the first time this had happened. Maybe it his brother or father?
"No Acacia, it's me… Stuart?"
"… Acacia, I wanted to see if you wanted to take a walk with me. Maybe we could get some of that tomato bisque you like so much?"
There was no response.
"Acacia, you need to eat…"


There was no response.
"… Listen, I'm… not entirely certain that we can continue to live here anymore. We might have to… well, part ways…"
"… Where's my cat?"
She was always distracted like this, regardless of what was put in front of her. She never took anything in or reacted to anything meaningfully. It was as if she'd already died, but her mind was still spinning its wheels, waiting for the moment they give out. Stuart had never seen the cat before, or known its actual name. He had been able to confirm that she had owned a cat at one point from photographs and conversations with neighbors, but it must have died or ran away around the time Stuart was born.
"It's… not here."
"Oh… There's my bunny outside. I see her every day."
If only out of reflex, Stuart looked outside, but saw nothing.
"She's hiding right now… sometimes she climbs up the side of the tower, and looks through the windows. "
Behavior like this is expected from her in these stages, but this struck Stuart in particular. The tower is where Stuart lived. And rabbits don't climb. It was somewhat unnerving… but it was also nonsense. She was most likely imaginating events that she's just perceiving as real… but what if she was watching someone break in?
"Uh… did it ever get inside?"
"I… I don't remember."
Stuart was suspicious of this. It wasn't unlikely that she could have associated an actual rabbit she saw with a burglar.
"Excuse me, I have to check on something. I'll be back."
She didn't seem to care. Stuart ran to check every valuable possession he could think of; silverware, heirlooms, caches hidden inside of wardrobes and, floor boards. Everything seemed to be accounted for. Stuart thought for a second.
This is silly. If a burglar came in, they would've taken whatever they could carry. That aside, wouldn't they have come at night? I would have seen them… I suppose it's also not unlikely that she confused a squirrel or some other rodent with a rabbit. Why am I acting so paranoid?
Stuart took a long drag on his cigarette and made his way back to Acacia's room; this stress was going to kill him one day. He shouldn't be worrying about this. It wasn't as if it would matter if something was stolen; he was being evicted regardless.
Stuart entered her room again, to see her still staring out of her window; most likely watching for her rabbits.


"Acacia? I wanted to know if you would like to go out for a walk? It's a gorgeous night."
She looked up at him. "Are we going to see the garden?
"Yes, I think that could be arranged," Stuart replied, preparing to set up her wheelchair. Fresh air might do her well after being cooped up in that stuffy old bedroom. And after all, it had been quite a while since the two spent any more time than absolutely necessary.
Acacia had always been a frail woman. Stuart, lifting her onto the chair, could feel just how light she was; she couldn't have weighed more than a few ounces. He carried her past the slightly worn stairs, and pushed her chair out the door, and across the dirt path. The two didn't talk; they didn't need to. Stuart was just happy to be in someone's company, and the silence allowed them to fully appreciate the garden in front of them.
Most of the land had been converted to farmland, but Stuart had had this part of the land preserved. Acacia had used to take immense pride in her gardening; she had used to do it all herself, but now, with no one to oversee it, it had become overrun with overgrowth.
Still, even in its current state, it did still have its charms; the vines growing freely over the masonry, the rusted fountains; long since been drained of water. It was the type of place that made Stuart want to explore in, as if he was playing in ancient ruins, long since forgotten… Though sadly, with no one to play with, he did less adventuring, and more reading while sitting under a nearby tree or pillar.


He knew she most likely would not remember this, but what he did know was that in this very moment, she was happy. He also knew that this was most likely the last time he would be seeing her. He should be enjoying her company while he had it, but he just couldn't get his mind off of losing everything; the house, the garden, Acacia, his books. Before he knew of it, an hour had passed. He looked over to the old woman; asleep.
He chuckled briefly, almost like he had expected it, and grasped her chair. Remembering his shortage of proper literature, he realized that this might be the last time he would be able to hit the bookstore before he would have to move out himself. He made his way back to the house, aided Acacia in putting herself to bed, and prepared himself for the trip, fetching his old books, his tool bag, and sneakers.
After all, if he was going to make his escape from hell, he'd want more things to read.

Chapter 2


The word around town was that a ghost haunted this little book shop. The story changed every time it was told, but the general consensus was that an older couple had built the store from the ground up before the town settled its roots. The two lived happily together until one night, they were visited by a demon, which supposedly tore their soul from their bodies, and trapped them inside the shop.
They said that when the clock striked 3:33 in the morning, the demon made its rounds, checking on those poor souls who fell prey to its horrible clutches… or, the far more likely version, Stuart was swapping out his old books for ones he hadn't read yet around that time. The locals were quite superstitious about ghosts and demons and whatnot. You could hardly throw a stick without it hitting a building with some history of a curse put on it.
Truly the wicked had claimed this old town for their own.
Stuart placed his hand against the store's back door. He remembered his first few times coming here, and how he had to crawl through the basement window and fall into the pitch-black storage cellar.
He was fortunate that the lock to the back door was easy to bypass. Now, he simply slipped his pocket knife in between the backdoor's bolt and the face-plate; comparatively easier than crawling through the mud every time he wanted a change in literature. Ever since he discovered it, Stuart had visited this shop as often as he ran out of books to read; it was like a second home to him at this point.
He must have read over half the books in the tiny little shop; it was such a shame to see that the books would go on without ever being read. Most of the authors put so much effort and thought into their work, and now this might be the last time he would visit.


Despite its abandonment, the building appeared very well-kept. Each table free of dust, each bookshelf bearing no cobwebs, and yet, each room was absent of people. If there truly was a demon or spirit possessing this place, it was surely more interested in the general upkeep of the house than harvesting souls. Stuart asked those living near the shop if anyone stopped by every now and then, but they couldn't say anything particularly useful.
Regardless, Stuart treated the shop as if he was a guest in a library. He only picked up three books at a time, made sure to return the books he borrowed from where he originally picked them up, and cleaned any mess that he could have created. He simply felt it was the right thing to do.
並べられた品物を見繕い、彼は割と気に入っていたジョリス=カルル・ユイスマンスのさかしま(Against Nature)を、アメリカの著者であるマーク・トウェインの作で、巷説より度々耳にし始めていたハックルベリー・フィンの冒険と取り換えた。
Looking through the available works, he replaced his copy of Against Nature by Joris-Karl Huysmans, a piece he rather liked, with a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, an American author that Stuart was beginning to hear regularly while overhearing various gossip around the town.
He was about to grab another one of his old books to replace when he noticed a bright-red envelope blatantly sticking out from the bookshelf. Stuart had been to this area of the shop multiple times; it definitely was not there before. That's when he noticed that it had his name on it.
He knew that he probably should have left it there, grabbed his books, and never returned, but his curiosity was piqued; who could have possibly left this here? And how did they know his name? He opened the letter. It wouldn't be something from someone who wanted to harm him, would it? After all, it would have been much easier to approach Stuart from behind and bag or knock him out, compared to warning him with a letter.
It was unnerving regardless.


Mr. Stuart Hayward,

Would you please accompany me upstairs? We have some things to discuss regarding your inheritance and plans for the future.

Excuse my appearance.

-A friend of Acacia

The more Stuart dug into this, the more curious he became. He was unaware of any plans Acacia had for him. Actually, he was unaware that Acacia had any 'friends' outside of her business partners. She never left the estate much, even before Stuart moved in.
彼は隣の机に本を置き、階段へ向かうと、声が聞こえた。初めは微かながら、二階へ近づくにつれ、それが歌声であることが顕わになった。音の源へさらに近づくと、その曲と、端麗な声質が認められた。屋根裏の老女中(the Old Maid In the Garret)を歌い上げるその声を、スチュアートは天使のようだと形容する他なかった。それが誰であれ、才能の有無は明白だった。
He placed his books on the table, and as he approached the stairs, he began to hear a voice, faint at first, but as Stuart approached the second floor, it became more clear that this voice was singing. As he approached the source, Stuart began to recognize both what the song was, and the sublime quality of the singer's voice; the Old Maid In the Garret, sang under a quality that Stuart could only describe as angelic. Whoever this person was, she was definitely very talented.
Careful not to alert the singer to his presence, he followed the song down the hall, and towards the master bedroom. This proved to be very easy, since she was obviously already preoccupied. He put his weight up against the wall and slowly creaked the door open. Stuart looked inside to see a young woman; older than himself, but scarcely looking sixteen.
The girl was wearing a bathrobe that seemed to be ten sizes too big for her, and a red bow on the left side of her head, with long black hair that reached down to her upper back. She was facing the window opposite of the entrance, and appeared distracted. On top of her singing, she was preparing what smelled like chamomile tea… at least until Stuart opened the door further.

The creak emitting from the door appeared almost deafening; loud enough to wake the dead. As the noise reached her, two long, bone-like protrusions rose above her head, as if she were an alert rabbit.
"Mr. Hayward?" she said with a slight Irish accent, turning her head enough to glance at the door, and revealed that the lower half of her face was covered by a doctor's face mask.
"Oh, good, you received my note; I was worried I might have to run out after you for a bit. Please, sit, make yourself comfy," she continued, motioning towards a coffee table and set of chairs. "I was just preparing some tea. You like chamomile, yes?"
Stuart loved chamomile.
"Uh, it's fine," he replied, making his way to a seat, knowing full well that he should be having the urge to run by now. Perhaps it was the woman's soothing voice or polite demeanor, but Stuart had the overwhelming impression that she was not going to cause any harm.
After pouring a cup for each of them, she made her way to the table and set Stuart's glass out in front of him before sitting down at the chair adjourning his. As she made herself comfortable, Stuart could clearly see her red, inhuman eyes. Her right produced a white glow in the dimly lit room, but her left seemed almost clouded, and while it did seem to give off a slight red glow, it did not seem as prominent as her other.
"I-I'm sorry, who are you exactly?" Stuart sputtered.
"Oh, how rude of me; I didn't even put my name on that card, did I? My name is Clovis. You can think of me as a sort of… personal servant to Acacia. It's a pleasure to finally be speaking to you."
"Wait, you're her servant? How come I haven't seen you before?"
"She specified that she didn't want you to know of me until it was necessary, and you have inherited my services: my apologies, I realize how off-putting this might sound to you. It's not exactly how I would have liked to have been introduced either."
She took a sip of her tea, and continued. "Mmm. You have truly great taste. This was one of Acacia's blends, wasn't it?"
Stuart hadn't even picked up his cup yet. He was too taken aback to appreciate it.
He started to regain his composure "Oh, maybe; I haven't started on it yet. Clovis, was it? May I ask what you are? Aside from a servant?"
Clovis paused. "An angel."
"I haven't heard of many angels offering their 'services' to people, and Acacia doesn't strike me as particularly religious. But those… ears of yours, along with those eyes, lead me to believe you aren't particularly lying either. Forgive me if I'm jumping to conclusions, but I'm inclined to believe you are instead the opposite."
Clovis set her tea in her lap. "You are a smart boy, Mr. Hayward. I call myself an angel because 'a devil' has too many negative connotations to it. It always gives the impression that I mean to deceive or hurt you." She began to chuckle slightly. "And rightly so if you have ever taken a look at me. But I can assure you, I only have your best interest in mind."
"Which is why you wanted to offer me something in exchange for 'my soul' or something of that nature, is that correct?"
"Well, no," said the woman, her happy demeanor suddenly vanishing. "Unfortunately, for now, I've come to tell you that Acacia will—… she's—… I'm sorry, I saw her earlier today and… she doesn't look like she's fairing well."
"Her sickness is getting the best of her. She will survive the night, but by dawn, I'm not so sure."
"… How do you know? How do you know she will die this morning?"


"It's… something I was born with. I knew her well; Twenty-three years of service, and there's not a single moment I regret," she continued. "She hasn't passed yet. We should see her."
Clovis offered her sleeved hand to the boy, but he could not bring himself to accept it. He stood up from his seat, and made his way to the door. "If you want to follow me home, you're welcome to."
And, of course, she did. As the two walked home, Clovis occasionally spoke out to Stuart if only to break the silence, but she received no response in turn. He skipped his chores, and did not go to bed at the right time, but instead stayed up to sit at the foot of Acacia's bed as Clovis stood silent next to them.
Stuart could not recall the exact moment when he saw Acacia die that morning; all he could recall was seeing Clovis seemingly whisper something into Acacia's ear before she carried him off to his bed, and tucked him carefully under his blanket.

屋根裏の老女中(The Old Maid In the Garret)

Chapter 3


He would have thought the events of last morning were only a dream if he didn't wake up to the breakfast set on the table. The sudden discovery of warm flapjacks and bacon was somewhat unsettling at first, but the realization of the cook's identity now made it even more so.
朝食は少しだけ後回しにして、スチュアートは彼の…客人の相手をしに階段を下りた。彼女は今日もOld Maid in the Garretを歌っていたので、すぐに見つかった。昨日と違って若干遅く悲しげな声色で、最初にあった時のように彼に背を向けていた。
Choosing not to partake in his breakfast just yet, Stuart made his way downstairs to entertain his… guest. She was not hard to find, as she was still singing the Old Maid in the Garret, albeit in a slightly slower, sadder tone, with her back turned to him like when they first met.
"You seem to really enjoy that song."
"Gah, Lord!" She exclaimed, quickly turning around, clutching the space where her heart would be as she composed herself "… Forgive me, it's been a while since I stayed with someone. Good evening Mr. Hayward; how are you feeling?"
"As best as one could, given the circumstances."
"… Yes. Again, I want to offer my condolences. I lo-"
"Don't," Stuart said, raising his palm. "I want to ask you something; why are you still here?"
"Why are you still here? I just woke up to flapjacks in my room. Did you want something from me?"
Clovis sighed. "Well, I'm here partly because of a deal I made with Acacia, but mostly because I care about you, Mr. Hayward. I would like to extend my terms of employment to you, not only as a servant, but a friend. Perhaps as a tutor or counselor."
"What's the catch?" Stuart replied, nearly baffled. This creature, whose ilk is infamous in their lies and deceit, is offering her hand in friendship?
"… Pardon?"
"Why would you be doing this for free? There has to be a reason as to why you're doing this; if this is going to loop back to handing over my soul to you, I'm afraid the answer is no."
"Ugh, no thank you. I failed to mention this before, but I'm not in the business of going through any kind of disgusting… Faustian bargains," said Clovis, making a sort of 'shoo'ing motion with the sleeves of her robe. "Have you ever seen a soul? Probably not, I don't blame you, but they're absolutely foul. They would serve no purpose to me anyway. No, they're better off sitting in your skull, fulfilling whatever purpose it set out for itself, thank you very much… Besides, yours is not for sale," she said, taking in another sip of her tea.


"So… So if you don't want my soul, what do you want?"
"Well, a roof over my head would be lovely, but I'm mainly after one thing."
"And what would that be?"
"You must have me to follow you, and only you for as long as you live."
"… Is that all?"
"That's all. Of course, if you wanted me to entertain guests, I'd be happy to oblige, but you can not transfer me to anyone outside of your own blood."
"… Again, is that all?"
"Yes. If it sounds easy, that's because it is. This is beneficial to me because so long as I am working for you, the effects of another, far worse agreement I am bound to are nullified. The only real challenge for you comes in the form of not getting either of us lynched. In most cases, I can take care of myself, but if anyone links me to you, you'll be accused of witchcraft or necromancy, regardless of whether or not you actually have been."
"And why would they do that? You make yourself sound monstrous, but I'm not seeing it. You may have your eyes and… ears? But regardless, I'd imagine those would be very simple things to hide."
"It's more than those. Do you see this terrible outfit I've adorned myself with? I've worn this for you, so I wouldn't make a horrifying first impression, but I do not plan on wearing it forever. I'm not ashamed of my appearance, but I do understand that it's something to fear."
"Show me."
Mildly surprised, Clovis responded "Oh, well, there's little I can do to prepare you for it. Are you sure?"
"Yes. If we are to work together, I should at least know what you truly look like."
She paused for a moment, and sighed "If you insist."
She detached her face mask and stood up to untie the waist belt to her robe, letting it fall to the ground, revealing a near-fleshless figure. While what skin Clovis had appeared beautifully preserved, the lower Stuart looked, the less of it she had. She had no flesh around her mouth, leaving only a skeletal grin. Her chest and neck were mostly preserved, with the exception of the cluster of large, dried holes, giving a clear view of her inner workings. Just below the rib cage, her body seemed to have forsaken flesh entirely, leaving only a clean white skeleton behind.
After Stuart was able to process that he was currently looking at a living, breathing skeleton, he began to recognize her other features. She had not hands, but two long, sharp bones, shaped in such a way reminiscent of a praying mantis. Her neck had a deep scar across it, as if it had been all but decapitated years ago, but then expertly stitched together.
She looked to Stuart, and said "I am sorry, Mr. Hayward, I'll just put this back on," donning her coat.
Stuart sat dumbfounded. If there was any doubt about her being the devil she had claimed to be, it had just been eradicated. And yet he wasn't scared. Startled, perhaps, but scared, no. It was more like he didn't know what to think. This creature, presenting herself in all her terrifying glory, seemed to come straight out the very urban legends that the town so eagerly spread. Then a thought came to him.
"Are those stories true?"
"Stories?" Clovis tilted her head "What do you mean? Oh. I assume you are referring to whatever the residents were saying about the original tenants of the building I previously lived in, yes?"


"Yes, in fact I am."
"Well, if those stories involve me killing them, no. A couple used to live there long before you were conceived. I knew they traveled a lot. Unfortunately though, the husband died of a sort of heart disease while the widow left behind had long since moved away… Poor dear. she was childless too. She probably couldn't stand to even look at the place, let alone go through the processes of selling it. Ever since, I've been living there, keeping it clean, hiding from public view. I knew how much you love books; it was only a matter of time before it at least caught your eye. I admit, I had to push the odds in my favor to get you in the door regularly. At least until…"
"… Acacia and I were separated."
"… Yes… Acacia asked me to help make your settling into the orphanage a more bearable one."
"That I will not do." Stuart snapped. "I'm not going there. Inattentive caretakers and budding thugs do not make-"
"And that's why I'm coming with you." Clovis interrupted. "I'm here so I can teach you how to change that. You do realize what I'm capable of, yes? What you are capable of? Your entire experience there will be radically different than what you think it'll be. Can you think of one alternative that doesn't involve you becoming a vagabond?"
Stuart felt unable to give a proper response.
"You need a roof over your head, and you need to inherit what Acacia left for you. The orphanage is the only reasonable option that grants both. You were never intended to live in the estate forever."
"… And Acacia?"
"I've… had her arranged to be picked up in the morning," she said, looking down. "I've left a letter for Dr. Unsworth. He'll come by as soon as he can."
"… Fine. I'll go."
"That's… That's good to hear. I know you've tried preventing this moment for so long, but for all it's worth, I know that you have made the right choice." She looked down at the floor. "Allow me to change the subject; did you enjoy your breakfast?"
"Oh. No, I didn't eat it yet."
"You should hurry. It might get cold before you even have the chance to enjoy them."
"Right. Thanks."
"You're very welcome," said Clovis, now sounding more relieved. "You just enjoy your breakfast and come visit me when you're done. I'll help you get everything settled. We only have a few days after all."
As soon as Stuart reached for the knob to leave, he turned to ask "… Do you think I could I see her?"
"Of course sweetie; you can do anything you want to, I'll just get started without you then."
He couldn't manage anything beyond an "Alright. Thank you." to end the conversation.

Chapter 4


The large man felt an array of emotions: annoyance for the presence in front of him, sadness for the loss of one of his beloved patients, and, probably the most prevalent, concern of the child that shouldn't be.
"Why did I even agree to this?" he groaned.
"You did it because it's the right thing to do."
Clovis was no longer in her shoddy bath robe, but into a sleeveless, pink day dress, heavily contrasting her originally grim look. Rather than disguise her appearance, her outfit seemed to gild it. She made no attempt to disguise her skeletal form, leaving her boney grin uncovered by a mask, and her ribcage obscured by a corset or undershirt. It would have been a shameful outfit to wear in public if there were any flesh to show, but on her, it was beautiful, if a bit on the macabre side.
She continued. "We were lucky to get him in time in the first place, be happy that this is the end of it from your end."
He shrugged. "Yes, yes, but this was a very unpleasant experience, especially his… conception, if you can even call it that."
"She wanted a child more than anyone, and I needed one of the protectors. I regret what became of Acacia, but she was happy with her choice."
"Well I'm not. How do I know I didn't help you raise a monster?"
"You didn't."
"How can I be sure?"
"Well, black cats were actually meant to give good luck, and cats in general are guardians against the weird. They were what were holding back the plague, for example. "
"… Is that it? They're also the friends of witches."


"And why do you think that is? There is a difference between legend and rumor you know. Look to the child himself."
"He may be polite, but that doesn't change anything. You're polite too, and you've probably done numerous things." He shifted in his seat uncomfortably.
"Against my will, eons ago, and even then, it's debatable whether or not those things were truly evil or not. Look, aside from my word, that's all I can give. I don't know how the Mother and Father will act, but if push comes to shove, at least someone will have a chance to stop them. They may just want their voices to be heard, which I can support, but I can not promise a particular outcome. This is simply necessary to fend against the worst. You have done good Unsworth; act the part. The only thing left to do on your end is have your brother deliver her will to the proper channel, as it should be done anyway. You don't have to worry, as I doubt even your grandkids will live to see the end. You'll never have to hear from me again."
The doctor sighed. "Then I suppose I will just have to pray for the best."
"If it helps you sleep at night I suppose. This will be the last time I see you privately, so let me offer you a very sincere thank you. We may not have agreed on everything, but this would have been a very difficult process without you."
"I'd be lying if I said it was my pleasure, but you are welcome."
"It wasn't too great for me either. I didn't like opening her womb to get a proper vessel in, and I hated what a toll it had on her, but your needlework and care were greatly appreciated."
"It helped that she couldn't die from your wounds. I suppose it was worse for you than I; I know how much you liked her."
Clovis paused, her gaze drifting off to the side"I did. I more than liked her even… Though, I think I'm over grieving. The shell may have passed recently, but the woman truly died when we began… I have to check on Stuart, he's still in her room. Would you like to accompany me?"
"I'll meet you there. I need a minute."
"Of course, I understand," she finished, reaching for her parasol and making her way towards the door. "Enjoy your retirement doctor, that tree house isn't going to build itself after all."


Stepping out of the house, she checked her watch, knowing how late it was already. 6 o' clock. Sunrise was coming. The path to Dr. Unsworth's abode to the estate was a brief one, perhaps three kilometers or so. While many were up at this time, virtually no one walked down this path but Dr. Unsworth and her. She planned it that way, 'tipping the odds' so that no one wanted to even look at it, at least at night.
It was something she had done everywhere around the town, strategically turning streets into forgotten paths or buildings into infamous 'haunted houses'. The town made up their own context about the places she wanted quiet, pinning it on demons or crazed murderers that probably don't exist. Let them; anything to let her walk undisturbed by a drunk or hysteric onlooker.
She would have had the townspeople avoid the areas entirely, but the routes she needed to walk were so widespread, it would have raised suspicion if everyone were suddenly afraid to walk down the street in broad daylight. She only needed them to work at night, since Stuart was awake at that time, so now it only appears that everyone is simply very conscious of curfew. After all, who isn't already disturbed by the prospect of walking down a shady road at night?
It was this reason why she was surprised to see a large figure in the distance.
Her first instinct was to retreat to the shrubbery, but she failed to move anywhere but backwards. It seemed to have already noticed her, beginning to dash toward her. It was not a person, but a large, black, wolfish figure.
"You're… You aren't really here."
As it barreled towards her, she realized who this figure was meant to be. It lunged towards her, bursting into a cloud of grey flame, disappearing as soon as it arrived. Still tense from what she had seen, she scanned her surroundings. She had put together that it was simply a figment long before it lunged towards her.
It was never going to hurt her, it couldn't, but that was never what she truly feared about it. Clovis readjusted herself and looked down to see a message scrawled into the dirt, presumably left behind by the presence. "I suppose it had to happen sooner or later once they came to," she thought to herself. "It appears that we are going to have to jump right in."


Chapter 5


"This is silly."
"No it's not, trust me. These are the most important components to any kind of special action you need to perform. You're fortunate that you don't actually need to gather them like so many others. You could go mad from some of the components alone."
The two sat at a table, a worksheet Clovis had drawn out for the occasion depicting a large chart of 'components' sprawled out in front of Stuart. It had been several days since Acacia's funeral, and Stuart had become used to Clovis' presence. Dr. Unsworth had said he would look after Stuart until a representative had been arranged to deliver him to the 'Haven Harbor' orphanage, which was located somewhere just off the river Mersey. He was expected to come by in the morning.
She continued. "You're pretty much done anyway, why not be safe and cover your bases?"
"Fine, but when you told me that I was basically going to be casting spells, I was not expecting so much busy work."
This isn't good. He should be getting excited over practicing, not tired of it, Clovis thought to herself. Maybe he'll be better behaved if he tries it for himself to see what he is capable of? After all, he's already memorized the most important parts…
She started "Hmm… You may have a point there. How about we put this away for now, and put you up to the test?"
Stuart's eyes lit up instantly. "Wait, we're getting to the fun parts?"
If she had lips, Clovis would have smiled; that was it. "Yes, but for my own sake of mind, let me make sure you know the common components. Could you please recite them?"
He practically blurted out the answers. "Mercury, sulfur, gold, silver, iron, copper, salt, organics, and tin."
"And what are organics?"
"Mostly sugar, wood, blood, bone, and skin, but it's really anything from plant matter to meat. If it is or was alive, it counts. It is different from the other components in that it isn't so much a single component, but a category. Each component's properties in this category are reliant on the source, and are commonly used to alter living things over generations, conduits, and summoning… Things. It varies. It's most effective in botany and animal breeding. In my case, I'm mostly going to be using it so I can use my hands as an outlet."
"And what are you not going to do with this component?"
He rolled his eyes, and placed his hands in his pockets. "Summon any otherworldly beings, friendly or not, without your permission."
"Good." Clovis gave a sigh of relief. "I'm proud of you Stuart; really, I am. You absorbed this information rather well. One thing though: while it can be very convenient to use your hands to carry out a action, I would not rely on it entirely. The outcome can be crude, and sometimes you'll need something with a greater range or more force, like an instrument or maybe a slingshot or wooden sword. You should keep it simple for now."
Stuart gave her a blank stare.
「いえ、失礼しました。御託はこれで十分でしょう。ただあなたに安全にやって欲しいだけよ。庭に出て、勉強の成果を ―」
"Okay, I'm sorry, I'm done rambling. I just wanted to make sure you're approaching this safely. Let's go out to the garden and see how you fare in pract-"
And with that, Stuart grabbed Clovis's arm and led her out back, who was repeatedly telling Stuart to slow down all the while. The two made their way to a clearing and sat on the lush, green grass.
"So, let's begin with something called 'marking'. To put it into perspective, marking is to the arcane as a quill is to writing. May I see your hands?"
As he presented his hands to her, she turned them over to show his palms. For a brief moment, they felt like pins and needles before turning to a soothing warm.
"Do you know why no one around nowadays is going around throwing spells?"
"It's because no one truly knows how, not even me. Learning how to perform an arcane act is like learning a habit. The best way I can describe it is that each person has their own, wildly different approach to it, and whenever someone tries to teach it to someone else, the teacher's methods almost never agree with the student's. It can get pretty confusing. There are some beings who are just born knowing, or things that are easy to teach with a little push. This is because they were meant to. But then there're people who need to actively learn, because they don't really need to to survive. What I've just done for you is give you the arcane equivalent of training wheels… You aren't keeping it by the way, this is just here for the next half-hour."
Clovis looked over to the side. "Actually, speaking of, I have a present for you. Look behind the tree!" she said playfully, pointing towards the large willow tree a short distance away. "Well go on!" she said encouragingly.
Curious, Stuart stood up to retrieve it. He peered around the tree, and found a tall, thin gift box, roughly the size of his arm propped up against it.
"Don't open it from there! I want to see you open it!" Clovis said from afar. He grabbed the box and hurried over, genuinely happy for once in a long while.
She continued as he began to open the box: "Remember when I said that using a sort of… Phylactery? Well… I got one for you!"


As the lid slowly slid off and released its vacuum, he looked inside to see an ornate wood sword lying on top of a leather sheath. There was a satisfying weight to the toy as he picked it up by the hilt and turned it over, inspecting it.
"I picked it out for you, I really hope you like it! I was thinking I could teach you how to mark it, then how to use it, and then when we're done, I'll render it inert. That way, you can get a feel for it, and just come to me and ask whenever you want to practice."
"I- I'm at a loss for words," he said, clearly overwhelmed.
"Think nothing of it, sweetie," she said cheerfully.
"No, this i- this is the first toy anyone's ever given me. It's the only…" There was a brief pause, then suddenly, Clovis felt a tight squeeze around her midsection. She didn't even process that Stuart was hugging her until she looked down towards him.
It was a long time before either of them let go.
"Ahem… Thank you. I love it; I absolutely love it," Stuart said as he composed himself.
「それは ― 良かったわ。」
"I- I'm glad."
"You, um… wanted to teach me how to mark it?"
"Oh, right. Um. All you have to do is apply pressure to the spot your want to mark, then focus on the symbol you want to place on that spot. That mark I put on your hands should take care of the rest."
"Using a mark to place a mark?"
"That's the gist of it, though you won't be using that forever. Now, I already placed a spell on this so you can practice with it, so, if we place a trigger on it…"
"It'll go off?"
"When you press it to, yes. So, be careful where you point it. Actually, let me stand behind you so I can show you how to aim," she said, positioning herself.
"Alright. Like this?"
"Yes. Do you need help with setting up the trigger?"
"No, I think I got it… there. What now?"
「両手で持って、刃を空に向けて。準備が出来たら、柄をきつく握って、打ちたい方向に集中する。それが出来たら ―」
"Hold it with both hands, and keep the blade pointed towards the sky. When you're ready, grip the handle tightly, and focus on where you want to shoot. When you're ready, s-"
Then, a loud boom, followed by streams of multicolored lights erupted from the sword like ribbons, filling the night sky with an array of colors from blue to green to purple.


"It's called the 'aurora borealis'," she began. "Or at least my recreation of it. I figured this would be a huge improvement over some fireworks or whatnot."
"I've only read about this… It's more amazing in person."
"Yes… I thought that too when I first saw it. I thought that this would be a nice experience to share… You know what sweetie? I think we can end the lesson for tonight. This is really is a huge accomplishment."
"Really? It was rather easy."
"Precisely. It takes people years to even learn how to do that. You'll fly through these lessons in no time at this rate. We just need to teach you how to use it responsibly."
"Well, on that note, the Haven Harbor representative should be coming soon now. We should see about getting your bags ready… Don't worry, I'll do it for you. They're already packed so it shouldn't take long."
"Alright. Thank you mother."
"Think nothing of it," she said cheerfully. "It'll be done as soon as possible. Let's get you inside then."
As the two prepared to head back inside, unmarking everything involved, bringing down the replication of the northern lights, and not forgetting the wooden sword, Stuart had realized what he had said. He had hoped that he had perhaps misheard himself, or that, if he did call her what he thought he had, she hadn't heard it.
Clovis would have been wondering if Stuart was aware of it as well, but the blush on his embarrassed expression made that answer very clear.

Chapter 6


He had been told that the representative would be there an hour ago from now. With most of his belongings packed, Stuart had very few things to do now but lie on the sofa and read. However, he found that reading for pleasure was far more enjoyable than reading for the sake of killing time. Dr. Unsworth had arrived hours ago to oversee Stuart's transfer while Clovis occasionally stuck her head out from upstairs to see what was going on and question why the representative was so late.
Stuart had begun to wonder if he had been forgotten about just before the man actually appeared on his doorstep. The guest pounded on the door. Hard. Worried that the man would break down the door if left to himself for long enough, Dr. Unsworth hurriedly opened the door for him.
The tall man loomed over Unsworth, towering over the already large doctor. "Is this where I might find the Hayward boy?" he asked the doctor in a steep, rough voice.
The man looked over Unsworth's head to find the child getting up to address the man, but it wasn't until the man motioned the doctor out of the way of the door before he could get a good look at him. His attire seemed more appropriate of a funeral; a black and dark grey pinstripe three piece suit, black tie, and a black hat, all of which emphasized his pale face and clammy, wrinkled hands.
As the man stepped toward he began to introduce himself. "Am I to presume that you are Stuart Hayward?"
"Oh, yes sir."
"Then my name is Father Harold Morgan. You are to accompany me to Haven Harbor, and remain silent throughout the trip unless spoken to. Is that clear?"


This person shows up an hour late, and has the gall to barge in to give me orders? I can already tell this'll be fun.// "Yes sir." There was no sense making a scene, it'll be better to have him think better of him than worse, especially if the two will be living together. He'd probably be sleeping most of the trip anyways.
"It's bad enough that I had to come to fetch you from Halton; it's even worse that I had to ride one of those awful iron horses to get here; unnatural things… I see you have your bags packed. Is that all you're bringing?"
He didn't have many belongings to begin with; just a few sets of clothes, his one toy, and books, mostly books. He managed to fit everything he owned in two bags.
"Well, whatever you're bringing, you're carrying. Keep that in mind."
"That's fine."
"Uh, Father Morgan? May I pull Stuart aside for a minute?" Dr. Unsworth interjected. "We have to discuss some things."
The Preacher glared at him. "Fine. Get on with it then."
Unsworth grabbed Stuart and led him into the kitchen.
Stuart began. "Well, I suppose this is goodbye then."
"I suppose so. Stuart, if you have any problems that Clovis or yourself can't handle, I want you to talk to my brother. He doesn't live very far from you, and Clovis knows where he lives, so he can help you with anything you might need. He'll get into contact with me, and the four of us will fix whatever it is. Alright?"
"I will, don't worry. He's not exactly the most well-mannered, is he?"
"The father? No, he's not. Do try to go easy on him though: he may just be having a bad day."
"I was planning on it, even though I find him rather… disgusting. No sense in making enemies so early on, right?"
The doctor began to smile. "Heh, no there isn't, and I'm glad you see it that way. Do remember though, you shouldn't let him walk all over you either, or let anyone else for that matter. Do what you think is right, and it'll all work out, alright?"
"Thank you doctor, I will. I'm sorry that our last meeting went the way it did, and I appreciate your help through all of this; I really do. You didn't even have to get this involved."
"Oh hush now. You've been a friend for as long as I care to remember… Do visit when you can though, it'll be very quiet without you around."
Stuart brightened up slightly. "I will if I can, I promise."
"Alright, now go on; Morgan's probably been kicking up a fit since we left."
The doctor patted the boy's head and the two walked to meet the preacher. "I'm ready to go Mr. Morgan," Stuart said hesitantly, grabbing his bags.
"That's Father Morgan. Manners boy, manners. You would do well to remember them, else I beat them into you." He snapped, glaring at Stuart. "… Well come on then, let's get a move on."
Stuart was hardly able to look back to Unsworth waving goodbye as the preacher pushed the poor child out the door. The preacher practically shoved Stuart into his coach, and rode off, leaving Stuart's old life, his home, far behind. During the journey, Stuart could not help but think to himself that hopefully, Clovis will meet with him again at Haven soon.
At least he would have one friend in all of this.
The ride to the station was brief, but uncomfortable. Stuart sat next to the preacher as they rode in the backseat. Father Morgan folded his arms into his lap as Stuart tried to manage his bags within the confined space. Throughout the trip, he could not help but think that if the preacher took a bag, or gave up a quarter meter his extra space, he'd be able to sit as comfortably as Morgan. The phrase "holier than thou" came to Stuart's mind throughout the whole ordeal.


Thankfully, the coach was only a means of getting to the Train Station. Stuart hopped off the coach and to the station, but the train wasn't quite there yet. He was just about to start searching for a bench when a loud wail echoed through the air, making him jump.
The sound was high-pitched, but had a very deep presence, as if someone had blown a whistle the size of a person. Stuart flinched to search for the source of the noise to see a giant steel beast speed around the bend, approaching closer to the station, car after car following. It was at this moment that Stuart realized he had never even seen a train before, only read brief references to them.
He had always heard of them referred to as 'iron horses' or similar, so he had assumed they were a newer type of carriage, maybe traveling on iron rails, or equipped with a loud whistle. This changed things. While it may have served a similar purpose, it didn't look at all like a horse. It reminded him more of an iron snake with the way it twists around corners, keeping to its rails. With the cranks, eccentrics, and side rods circulating around its many wheels in a hypnotic dance, perhaps an 'iron centipede' would have been a better descriptive. Regardless, Stuart was in awe as he entered the spacious cabin.
Despite his circumstances, he found himself enjoying the ride. Stuart loved watching the scenery rush past him, the towns they passed, the preacher's misery; even listening to the train's whistle became a thrill to him.
It was a very literal example of the journey being superior to the destination.