A plume of dust rose into the air as I plopped down on the long-neglected living space couch. Throwing a package down the basement stairs, Mr. Winston began to recount the conversation he had with the Lady Dupont. After almost an hour of mindless banter, he finally got to the meat of the matter.
“So anyway, after tea and crumpets, she invites me to sit with her husband Reginald. As soon as my fanny hit the seat, he slid a piece of paper across the table with a number marked upon it. Turning it over, I nearly inhaled my earl grey! In exchange for some…specified ingredients, they will be handing over every cent this lab could ever need!”
“What wonderful news Dr, Winston!” Maybe now you can hire someone else to rifle through jars of waste. “What does this mean for our research?”
Before answering, he poured a glass of brandy and took a seat in the armchair across from me. “Well, for one thing it means I can finally afford the compounds needed for my latest project.”
Hm, perhaps I can utilize some of that funding for my own endeavors. Out here, I lack the access I once had to the vast realms of scrap I use in my works. Village folk don’t exactly have piles of usable material lying about in the open.
“Dr. Winston, how might I go about acquiring parts for my own projects? I have several inventions placed on hold for lack of gear wheels.”
“Ah, doing a bit of tinkering are we, my insatiable apprentice? There is a closet full of old bits and bobbles I have no use for in the basement. Feel free to rummage around to your hearts content.”
An entire closet full of mechanical components! I could hardly have asked for more! “Thank you, Dr. Winston!”
“I do have a word of warning for you lad. Please stay out of the room down the hall from the scrap closet. I am working on a very sensitive project for the Lady Dupont and cannot afford for the materials to be compromised”
‘Telling me to stay away only guaranteed I shan’t.’ “Of course, good doctor. Think nothing of it.”
“Very good, Mr. Taylor. Now, onto the next matter. I’m afraid you will be needing to exchange your lab coat this evening for a more becoming manner of dress. The good lady has invited me, and by extension you, to a ball at her mountain villa.”
Ball, mountain villa, fancy attire, could such a source of pomp really exist in this cultural wasteland? “A ball you say. I shall don my finest suit for the occasion.”
Standing up, Dr. Winston finished his drink and slammed the empty glass down on the coffee table. “Very good. I must admit, I am not overly fond of these social events. Nevertheless, it is an evil I shall endure for the sake of scientific progress!”
I watched him run up the stairs, mumbling to himself as he searched through his wardrobe closet. What could the good doctor possible have against interacting with the upper class? Surely, he doesn’t prefer the mud caked faces of the locals to the powdered cheeks of the counts and countesses.
It matters little, what does matter is that I look my best. After washing and shaving, I ran a comb through my brown, curly hair, daydreaming about the marble floors and chiseled columns awaiting me at the Lady Dupont’s Mountain home.
“Are you ready to depart Mr. Taylor?”
“Indeed, good doctor, I shall be out shortly.”
“There is a carriage waiting outside, try not to terry.”
A carriage escort, this is more my speed. Perhaps being the lowly apprentice to an unstable, albeit brilliant scientist comes with more perks than I realized.
After hopping in the carriage, Mr. Winston began to elaborate his expectations for the evening.
“Now, Mr. Taylor, this event is merely a formality of dealing with these socialites. I would prefer you not do anything to cause undue attention to be placed on our work. If necessary, make light, frivolous conversation.”
“No need to worry good doctor. Back home in England, I attended countless galas, balls, and art shows with the most pretentious lords and ladies of London. Surely, my father made mention of my credentials when communicating my transfer?”
“Afraid not Mr. Taylor, in fact, I had no idea you would be arriving until you made your way upstairs and we met at the tip of a spear.”
My goodness father, did you sent me out here without making even the slightest arrangements? Is this a punishment or a death sentence?
Time dragged as the carriage made its way up the winding roads leading to Miss Dupont’s estate. Things were going smoothly until the horses began to whinny, jumping around and causing the carriage to shake.
Dr. Winston grabbed onto his top hat to keep it from flying off and began to berate the driver. “Woah there my good man, what’s all the trouble?”
“It’s the horses!” he cried out. “Something’s has them spooked!”
“Well do calm them! We can’t keep the good lady waiting all night, can we?”
“Yes sir, sorry sir.” Stroking the horse’s mane, the driver whispered to them in a soothing tone, calming them until we again started moving.
Dr. Winston glared at me with a devious smile. “You know my young apprentice; I imagine in the course of a few decades’ society will outgrow the use of these skittish creatures and rely on mechanical means for transportation.”
That would certainly save my boots from needing a constant scrub. The times I have stepped in horse droppings on my way to the university have been too numerous to recount.
“What causes a horse to be spooked?” I asked Dr. Winston, hoping to find a subtle way to inquire about the local folk legends.
“Oh, a number of things, the glowing of animal eyes in the dead of night, the haunting calls of predators lurking through the trees.”
Predators huh, that will do just nicely. “What kind of predators call these woods home?”
He began to look at me with concern, his brow rising. “Bears and wolves I would imagine. Why the sudden interest in the local fauna?”
“Curiosity is all, having found some…unique tracks in the path along the river, I wondered if I couldn’t put an animal to the print.”
“Strange prints you say? Hm, most intriguing. Unfortunately, we must put this topic on hold. We are approaching the good lady’s villa and I must steel my nerves.”
The carriage came to a stop outside the villa’s main doors. Taking a deep breath in, I marveled at the craftmanship of this fine estate. A marble fountain sat in the middle of the roundabout spurting jets of water into the air in timed sequences. The hedges and gardens were pruned to perfection, lending the grounds a pampered presentation. Tall windows, high ceilings, a façade that screams rich, yes indeed this was a slice of home.
I made my way through the grand doors, letting out faint gasps as I admired the décor. Now exiting the foyer, a steward approached, bowing lightly as he said, “Greetings young master, by what name and title do you wish to be announced?”
“Good evening to you good sir, the name is Benjamin Taylor, I am an apprentice under the charge of Dr. Oliver Winston.”
Turning to face the room, he announced, “Now welcoming Sir Benjamin Taylor, apprentice to Dr. Oliver Winston.”
Once he was finished, and everyone returned their conversations, an eccentric looking woman in a fox shawl approached, her footwear clacking against the polished floor.
“Ah,” she cooed. “You are the good doctors apprentice, are you? I am the lady Dupont, a pleasure to have to at my estate.”
She then reached out her hand, prompting me to kiss it. After doing so I replied, “The pleasure is all mine, Miss Dupont. I am grateful the doctor invited me along.”
“And where is Dr. Winston?” she asked while scanning though the crowd. “I have an urgent matter to discuss.”
I pointed to the carriage outside and said, “He is…freshening up a bit. It shouldn’t be much longer my lady.”
“Very good, have him meet me upstairs as soon as he arrives.”
“Yes, my lady,” I remarked as she walked away, clomping up the stairs dramatically.
Fanning out, I explored the estates rooms, mingling with the myriad party guests filling the halls. Oh look, a work by Van Gogh, I wonder if its authentic? As I walked closer to the work, so too did a young woman, beautiful in all respects.
“A tragedy what happened to him,” she remarked, swirling the champagne within her glass.
For a moment, her eyes met mine, causing me to grow tense. Wow, those are some of the brightest blue peepers iv ever beheld. Well, don’t just stand there like a fool Benjamin, say something back.
“Indeed, to maim oneself, even for love, is a tragedy.”
Turning to face me, she asked, “And you are an expert in the field of love, are you?”
“Afraid not good lady, merely an expert when it comes to the scientific realm.”
As I spoke, she began to smirk, causing me to fix my attention on her bright red lips. “Ah, I thought you looked the science type Mr.?” she paused, giving me time to fill in the blank.
“Mr. Taylor,” I replied. “Benjamin Taylor being my full name. And you are?”
“Annamarie Fontaine, although, you may call me Anna for simplicities sake.”
“Very well then Anna, what brings you to this fine reception?”
“My father, John Worthington, is a very prominent physician. The Dupont’s, as well as many other socialites, call on him when they fall ill. I dare say, there isn’t a rich man’s disease my father hasn’t treated.”
She began to giggle, causing me to giggle as well. As she tucked a strand of copper hair behind her ear, my heart skipped a beat. I hope your father is close by Miss Fontaine because your beauty is intoxicating.
After engaging in a lively conversation with Miss, Fontaine, exchanging backgrounds, goals, and the occasional compliment, she asked me if I had ever seen the hedge maze running through the estate grounds.
“I cannot say I have but would gladly accompany you should you feel the desire to go running through the gardens.”
“I would love nothing more Mr. Taylor. Follow me and I shall lead us to the entrance.”
First, I followed her through the library, then through the arboretum until we finally made our way out a back door.
“He we are,” she announced, her hand outstretched.
“Very impressive, I wonder how long it took to sculpt such an intricate design.”
“With the number of servants, they have at their disposal less time than one might think,” she replied. “Now, into the maze we go.”
Gripping my arm, she pulled me along, smiling in wonder as she examined the vertical walls of green. First, we went right, then left, then…left? Which way did we come from? This may have been a mistake.
“Have you ever completed this maze, Miss Fontaine?”
“No,” she whimpered, letting go of my arm. “This is the first I’ve walked these halls.”
Turning around, I contemplated my options. “I think we should go back.”
Wait a minute, where did she go? She was right next to me not a second ago. Uh-oh, you lost her. Not only are you both wandering around, but now your separated. Okay Ben just don’t panic, panic will only make things worse. Try calling out her name, then you can follow her voice until you reunite.
“Anna! Anna! Where are you?”
For a moment, I received no response other than the chirping of crickets hiding among the bushes. Then, with a blood-chilling effect, a scream rang out, shattering the soothing silence.
“Anna, is that you? Stay where you are! I will find you!”
Sprinting out through the endless labyrinth, I tried my hardest to locate her. Left, right, left, left, how many more corners must I round? Now entering the center of the maze, Anna came into clear view.
“Thank goodness I found you miss Fontaine. I’m sorry if my absence gave you reason to shout.”
She stood motionless; her eyes fixed on something in the fountain. I walked to her, peering over into the odd colored waters as they came into view. What is that? Is that a…body?
“Good Heavens!” I cried aloud. “Miss Fontaine please avert your gaze! This is no sight for a lady!”
She spun around and took hold of me, weeping as her face became buried in my chest.
“There, there, its alright miss.” I’m trying to console you good lady but am at a loss for words. Why is there a heavily mauled body floating in the pond? And why is it covered in such large lacerations?
Taking her to a stone bench, I sat her down and lent her my jacket. “Stay here good lady. I will return in just a moment.”
Pulling the body from the fountain, I laid the poor soul on the ground, closing his eyelids with my fingers so as not to further alarm Miss Fontaine. Now then, lets find out what may have caused your untimely demise.
Hm, deep slashes across his chest and back, all in sets of 3. Bite marks on the head and arms suggest feeding. And what’s this clinging to the man’s bald head? Little bits of thick, black fur, a pungent odor exuding off every strand. It seems rather obvious it was an animal attack. The only question is what kind of animal matches such a description? A bear would be the most logical assumption, only, bears have 5 claws, not 3. Neither a mountain lion, nor a bobcat match this picture either. Perhaps the surroundings will offer more insight into this horrific discovery.
Muddy footprints peppered the smooth stone slabs surrounding the fountain. Most of the tracks were human in their nature, save for a few deer, raccoon, and duck prints scattered about. But what’s this? A much larger print, one of unknown origin, stood out. A closer look revealed the track contained three fingers. Come to think of it, these prints are exactly like the ones I saw by the river not twelve hours ago! Could the death of this man be the work of a prankster?
Following the tracks, I saw a sight that seemed to dash my theory to pieces. A pathway was torn through the maze, chunks of shrubbery had been ripped from the ground or simply trampled down. Walking atop the freshly flattened vegetation, I followed this raw path until it led me outside. Now at the back end, the only thing in sight was an endless forest, the outline of long dead trees peeking through the moonlight.
The feeling of being watched was palpable, reading that Mary Shelly book was a huge mistake. Now all I can imagine is monsters lurking about in the dark, waiting to strike. Adding to the eeriness was a faint howling emanating from the mountains. Okay Ben, time to head back and check on Miss Fontaine, in fact, lets sprint back, no need to linger.
By the time I had returned, Anna was no longer alone. Miss Dupont, Mr. Winston, and several other guests had made their way out to the fountain, all now staring upon the body.
Looking to me, Mr. Winston asked, “What in good heavens happened!”
“I don’t know…”ns18.104.22.168da2