The discussions in Lucille’s office weren’t as private as they had believed. A man, perched outside, beneath the windowsill, listened in. He had a metal funnel pressed up against the wall to amplify their words. If he’d been the one to chase down Rosamin instead of the two inept belt buckles Dilcourt had sent, things never would’ve gotten this far. The future ambassador to Transylvania would be dead and her research would have mysteriously vanished. Instead Dilcourt had decided his most talented agent should gather information and report back to him.
The man beneath the window was the same one who had refused to remove his back from the wall during Dilcourt’s initial meeting with Dr. Nielson. He was around the same age as Wallace, with a long face and fat spotty lips like knockwurst. His thin hair was hidden under a dark gray rancher hat. Where most people wore clothes out of the code of common decency, he wore them as concealment. His hat hid his eyes so people couldn’t see all his sins reflected in them. His shirt hid the ragged battle scars across his chest and arms, souvenirs from the Illinois Crusade of 1884. The scars were a reddish color because of the dirt and clay the Natural Americans had rubbed in his wounds.
His posture and his round gut hid the muscles at his core and on his arms. He looked like a man aged by countless years of pretending he was greater than he was, like someone who had given up sucking his stomach in about three years ago.
His belt helped hide the six-shooter tucked into his pants, a gun with a long thin barrel and silvery patina. His name was engraved on the barrel; once he was done hiding his intentions he would let you know exactly who he was, and it would be the last thing you’d ever get to learn. When Rosamin and the ape departed he tucked the funnel away and walked around the building so he could go in the front doors. First he stopped to buy a bottle of water moccasin oil from the Chinese vendor; his scars were itching like fire ants in the summer heat. His pain didn’t show on his face; he didn’t let anything show there. It was just a face and nothing behind it was anybody else’s business.
Nearly everyone who hadn’t left after the symposium collapsed was crowded around Dilcourt’s office. They were holding a small celebration and pretending nothing had gone wrong. The remaining photographers were lining up to take pictures of Dr. Nielson shaking hands with the members of the board. The scientists discussed a thousand trivial things, their proximity to the calm chairman of the board being the only thing that kept the group from dissolving.
The scarred man waded through them. When he found an actual organized line leading up to Dilcourt’s desk, he cut through it like a machete through jungle vines. Nobody protested because Dilcourt waved the man forward. On his way to the desk he instinctively tried to step over the putting holes he was used to seeing before he remembered that was the other office, the one Dilcourt pretended he did nothing in but relax and drink scotch.
“We need some privacy,” he growled in Dilcourt’s ear. The chairman excused himself from the office, leaving those in line to awkwardly rub their necks and pretend they hadn’t been waiting several minutes to ask him questions. The two men slipped behind the photograph-absorbing Nielson and found an empty hallway beside a glass case full of small woodland critter skulls. The scarred man’s face was reflected in it, just over the eye sockets of a jackalope. Dilcourt’s was spread over the long thin beak of a snipe.
“What is it Wacław?” Dilcourt asked, distracted by how jowly he looked in comparison to the bird skull’s silvery cracked beak.
“Stop butchering my name,” he grumbled. “Just call me Warclaw.”
“Fine. From now on you’re Warclaw Majewski to me. I’d think you’d hate having an Indian-sounding name like that, but whatever you want.”
“There aren’t no Indians with the name Warclaw. They only use that stuff for last names now: broken tree or diving frog or other shit like that.”
“Watch your language. I suppose you’re right though. I think that Indian with Miss Bluff-Polk is named Dancing Stones.”
“That’s why I have you gathering the information.”
“I’ve gathered some alright. The rest of your board isn’t too happy with the game you’re playing. They just passed a vote of their own to send Polk, Goodmoss, Nimble, and Dancing Rocks to Vania.”
“What? In what capacity?”
“Official academy ambassadors. You have those?”
“We do. They’re not supposed to do anything but stretch threads of communication across the sea. What else did they say?”
“They said they intend to fight you every step of the way. She gave her research to the oil men to confirm. When they get to Vania they’re going to try and talk their academy into coming out against you.”
“That can’t be allowed to happen.”
“I know that. Just tell me who, what, where, and how sternly I need to deliver the message,” Warclaw said. He sounded like a bull terrier choking itself on its own leash.
“I’ve got a plan already. I think the police can do most of our work for us. If they can’t… that’s when I’ll need you to pursue.”
“Let me tail them now. The law always finds a way to make anything simple screwy. I can be there the second they fail.”
“Fine,” Dilcourt agreed. “I’ll go send a message while you track them down. If they’re not in irons by sundown you do what you have to. They absolutely must not cross the sea. Is that clear?”
“As crystal,” Majewski said. He turned and was surprised to find Dr. Nielson leaning one shoulder against the glass case.
“I couldn’t help but overhear,” he said.
“It’s best you stay near the cameras Doctor,” Dilcourt warned.
“I’ve enjoyed the soft swaddle of the shadows every now and then,” Simon assured. “I thought I could offer my assistance.” He pulled his tear catcher from around his neck and held it in front of them. “Warclaw you sound like you’ve got a lot ahead of you. I can make it easier. A trance doesn’t have to weaken faculties; it can strengthen them. I can put you in a trance of valor. I can take away any fear or uncertainties you might have about what you have to do. I could make you, at least for a little while, twice the man you are now. You just have to listen to what Simon says.”
“Why involve yourself Simon? You’re already doing plenty,” Dilcourt queried.
“I told you I was in it for the challenge,” he reminded. “I can see the city’s dream forming now. I won’t be just an audience member. I want to step into the dream. Control it and live it at the same time. I’ll direct myself on the stage and everyone will love it. What do you say Warclaw? Do you want to dream too?” Warclaw grabbed the front of Simon’s shirt, stuck his leg behind Simon’s, and tripped him. He held the doctor a few feet off the floor the way he might hold a wet hide he’d just cut from a stag.
“Confound it man! He didn’t mean anything by it,” Dilcourt insisted in a hoarse whisper. “Pick him back up before someone snaps a picture!” Warclaw drew his pistol and stuck the barrel nearly an inch up Simon’s left nostril. Simon’s eyes lost the confidence he’d glued over them years ago. He threw his hands in the air, the tear catcher trembling at the end of its black twine. Warclaw extracted the gun and then slowly moved the black circle of its tip back and forth in front of Simon. His eyes followed it. The tiny dot of indecisive death moved from ear to ear and back again, like a mosquito unsure if his blood would taste sweet or foul.
“You listen to me you pillow tassel,” Warclaw growled. “I’m already the best man I can be. You offer to mesmerize me again and I’ll put you in the kind of trance that never ends; I’ll lobotomize you with a bullet and leave you drooling into that tear catcher of yours on a cot in some loony bin. I don’t want you talking to me again. You got that?”
“Yes,” Simon said, almost as unsettled by his inability to concoct a quip as by the shimmer of his snot on the gun barrel. Warclaw pulled him back to his feet and slapped at his shirt to undo the wrinkling. Then he tucked the pistol out of sight and left without a word. Simon couldn’t take the sight of the animal skulls, so he leaned the back of his head on the case while he caught his breath. “Where on this flat Earth did you find a man like that?” the hypnotist asked Dilcourt.
“I found him in a cage,” Dilcourt said. “That cage is called the United Colonies of America.”
“What do you mean?”
“Warclaw Majewski was a ranger in God’s Westward Sweep. His parents didn’t raise him with a bible; they gave him a journal with one page about Manifest Destiny and then a thousand blank pages. He told me it was a symbol of his and his country’s infinite potential. He was supposed to fill the pages as their families and their armies marched across the west and claimed new colonies. The problem of course was that the Indians didn’t see those pages as empty.”
“I thought the N.T.A. had all the sweepers imprisoned,” Simon said.
“Most of them. After their own country denounced them and the borders were finalized it marked them as invaders. Mongols pillaging villages. Warclaw was held captive in Illinois for three years. He hasn’t told me how he escaped but I imagine it’s one of several excuses for that temper of his. It would be best if you did not show your face around him again. He doesn’t think there’s much to the ideas of constructive criticism or self-improvement.”
“There’s only one reason to keep a man like that around. Are you sending him after Rosamin? He’ll kill her.”
“No,” Dilcourt said, as if someone was accusing his kid nephew of pulling a girl’s pigtails. “He’s more of a bodyguard for our goals than anything else. If any of this gives you pause Doctor, just remember you don’t have to trouble yourself with the details.”
Warclaw immediately began his pursuit. As a child he’d hunted the lightning-fast snipes his mother would then roast for dinner. He’d pulled catfish out of invisible submerged mud holes by letting them choke on his probing arm. He’d tracked a Natural American who’d slain some sweeper kin of his across half a territory and pulled him out of the hidden basement under a beaver dam. Tracking Rosamin was easier than following a rainbow.
He’d already gathered that she was staying at the World’s Fair Hotel, so he went there first. When she exited with the ape he tailed them across town as they shopped for travel supplies. Warclaw had similar provisions stored in a bag in his own hotel room. It was starting to look like he wouldn’t get to use them after all. He didn’t know what lie Dilcourt was feeding the cops to get an arrest warrant, but if Rosamin tried to board a ship she’d spring the simple trap.
Warclaw hid himself in a line at a popcorn stand just outside the fairgrounds when Rosamin caught up with Wallace and Bill. Both men carried travel bags. The meteorologist wore a ridiculous blue hat with a brim like a map that had been rolled up so long it couldn’t lay flat anymore; he overheard him say it was supposed to be a very popular style in Europe. Warclaw eyed Wallace’s smaller brown bag. Clearly the Indian was more used to a life on the road. He also saw Wallace’s shotgun in a long holster over his shoulder. Rosamin was the target, but he had no problem throwing the Indian in for free. As long as he got to keep the scalp.
He watched the three of them embrace each other and exchange bouts of enthusiasm over the trip. Once she learned from them that Bolo, whose real name was Richard, was fine, Rosamin mentioned she had never crossed the pond and asked the other two about their travels. Bill had visited Belgium once, and Wallace, without bragging, let them know he’d visited enough countries to fill half an atlas. Never Transylvania though. Most countries weren’t invitation only.
They moved so slowly that Warclaw finished waiting in line, got his popcorn, and locked himself in place a hundred feet behind them before they even made it back to the university to reunite with Janet. Some of the board members had helped her get her bags together as well. Warclaw snorted. They think they’re off on vacation, he thought. He stopped chewing his popcorn whenever they spoke so he could hear. He could read their lips if he needed to, but his nonchalance was so believable that he was easily able to stay in hearing range without raising suspicions. He was just your average potbellied fool who’d come to the fair for the show and stayed for the sugar-coated dough balls.
They learned someone from the academy had gone ahead to the port and purchased the tickets for their passage to Portugal. From there they were to take various trains and ships through Spain, across Italy, and finally into Transylvania where they would be greeted by representatives of the government and their academy of sciences. The only place you’re going is a cell. You’ll shake hands with the proud representatives of petty theft and public pissing.
He was getting more curious about the ‘crime’ they had committed, so he was happy they didn’t dawdle at the university for more than a few minutes. The ape picked up Janet and led the way. From there the party took another horse-drawn carriage to the port. Warclaw was behind them every step of the way, crushing their footprints underneath his own. The party of scientists was stopped before they could even see the ships by the academy member that had bought their tickets for them. He refused to hand them over.
“I’m sorry, but something is terribly wrong,” the man said. He was sweating profusely; the tickets wiggled in his hand so much that Warclaw could hear them from his post around the corner. Fwip fwip fwip. “There are police here! They’re asking about you Rosamin. They say they have a warrant for your arrest!”
“What! What for?” Rosamin exploded. “Are they upset I fought off two attackers without them?”
“They said the mechanical Vanian has gone missing from the fair. They think you stole it. Apparently someone saw you fleeing from its building.”
“I highly doubt they saw me running and carrying a man-sized automaton attached to a cabinet!”
“Keep your voices down,” Wallace advised. He scanned the crowd behind them for the officers. “When we checked on Richard I tried to find the Vanian. It wasn’t where you’d seen it Rosamin.”
“Well what happened to it?” Rosamin asked. “He’s a witness to the crime! So is Richard! I need to get one of them down here.”
“Something’s not right here. There’s a lot being aimed at you Rosamin,” Wallace warned.
“I agree,” Janet said. She told Tycho to stand with his back to the port so his body would block them from view. “We’ll need to forego the tickets and leave the city another way. If you’re arrested this will be over before it starts.”
“We can’t flee from the police! That’ll make us all fugitives,” Bill squeaked. He took off his silly hat and crumpled it in his hands. “Let’s just go over and explain the situation to them.”
“Bill’s right. Dilcourt doesn’t own the police. That’s absurd,” Rosamin flouted.
“No, but look at the elements,” Wallace went on. “Dilcourt has big plans involving your research going away. He has powerful investors, most likely foreign. You’ve already been attacked. The Vanian is now missing and you’re supposedly the thief despite the fact you were seen leaving without it. That doesn’t sound like grounds for arrest to me.”
Warclaw was at an impasse. He could round the corner whenever he wanted, walk to the police, and tell them where the four scientists were. They would be arrested and someone would be along shortly to buy their silence or force it. There would be no more room for Warclaw. No hunt. No payments that swelled with Dilcourt’s desperation. I’m here to do a job, he thought. He wanted a sweeper and he got one. We like to move. The best treasures are always just out of sight. He’ll be happy to hear they’ve been captured now, but he’ll be ecstatic to hear I gutted them and dumped them in a ditch a week from now. Warclaw didn’t move. Dilcourt had only ordered him to follow after all. He wasn’t supposed to interfere with the police. They were busy staying put and waiting for their prey to come to them. He reached the last kernel of popcorn in his bag. Did I really eat all that?
“Janet… you think we should get out of the city?” Rosamin asked. She’d never steered her in the wrong direction before.
“We can get on a train and head west. After that we’ll head north or south and find a port where police aren’t looking for you. Once we’re in open water they’ll stop caring,” Janet schemed.
“Did you not hear me use the word fugitives?” Bill asked.
“There’s a way around that too,” Wallace said. “While I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting Transylvania, I’ve done plenty of… research. My employers are always looking for ways to mimic their techniques. I know they keep very close tabs on all their machines, even the ones that live in the U.C.A and the N.T.A. A machine like the mechanical Vanian operates by constantly taking photographs. If the people monitoring the Vanian recover it and get their hands on some of those crucial pictures, Rosamin would be exonerated. But she needs to stay out of custody until they take care of it. I guarantee harm will come to you if they put you in a cell.”
“This town is rapidly falling out of love with you anyway Bill,” Janet argued. “The sooner you help solve the combustion issue the sooner you can go back to being Two York’s darling.”
“The police could be at the train station too,” Bill suggested. He had at least four more reasons he shouldn’t be required to be brave.
“They could,” Janet said, “but they’ll be expecting us to take a ship given our destination.”
“We can ride the rails west to the border,” Wallace elaborated. “Then there are several options for heading north or south by rail or river. If we stick to the border as long as possible we can cross it and leave the jurisdiction of any law that might chase us.”
“Plus we have deniability,” Janet calmed Bill. “As far as anyone else knows, we don’t even know we’re wanted. We’ve all just decided to take an impromptu trip together to celebrate our new ambassador status. It’ll be a lovely few days.”
“I think they’re coming this way,” the academy man warned them. He pushed their shoulders and started them walking away from the port.
It must be fate, Warclaw thought. He let his cover slip and smiled for the first time in a few weeks. I’m heading west again. He listened to Janet and Wallace convince the other two all the way to the train station. By the time they stepped foot on the platforms they were united enough that Bill had at least stopped wringing his hat. Janet and Tycho left and returned five minutes later with a fresh set of tickets. They were green, prompting Wallace to take one and read the name of the line. He grimaced.
“Oh no,” he said. “Janet what have you done to us?”
“I know Wallace; I’m sorry,” she said. “This is the only line that allows pets. Unfortunately most people count Tycho in that group.”
“What’s the problem?” Rosamin asked.
“This is the Ecto Express,” Wallace said. “It’s one of those lines where they think the raw beauty of American land isn’t enough to entertain you during your travels. They do séances on this one. Once night comes they jam you into the dining cars, put green glass over the lamps, and parade mystics around who speak in tongues until the spirits show up and tell them to keep the noise down.”
“Spirits? Do we honestly think ghosts are better than the police?” Bill asked.
“Capitalism is a powerful force, but it can’t make the afterlife more tangible. The show’s a fraud. I’ve had to suffer through it a few times.”
“This time you’ll have better company,” Janet said. “This is our train over here.” The four of them walked up to the doors of a long train. Ecto Express was written on its side in wavy green lettering. Rosamin stepped up to the doors with her bags. She stared at the doorway for a long second before entering the train. The others followed, Tycho bending forward to fit.
Warclaw went to the counter to purchase a ticket of his own. He couldn’t shake the smile he’d found at the bottom of the popcorn bag. They’re starting off heading in the wrong direction for them and the right direction for me. I know you’re watching me god. I know you don’t like to admit your mistakes; you like to wash them away. I’m going to prove you were wrong this time though. You’ll see a sweeper can shape the world and you’ll have to admit we deserved that endless bounty out there past the savages. I know they have to die. That’s why this line is called what it is. They’ll be ghosts by the time we hit the hollow.
A Modest Proposal
For preventing the children of poor people in Ireland,
from being a burden on their parents or country,
and for making them beneficial to the publick.
By Dr. Jonathan Swift
It is a melancholy object to those, who walk through this great town, or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads and cabbin-doors crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags, and importuning every passenger for an alms. These mothers instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in strolling to beg sustenance for their helpless infants who, as they grow up, either turn thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native country, to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to the Barbadoes.
I think it is agreed by all parties, that this prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their fathers, is in the present deplorable state of the kingdom, a very great additional grievance; and therefore whoever could find out a fair, cheap and easy method of making these children sound and useful members of the common-wealth, would deserve so well of the publick, as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation.
But my intention is very far from being confined to provide only for the children of professed beggars: it is of a much greater extent, and shall take in the whole number of infants at a certain age, who are born of parents in effect as little able to support them, as those who demand our charity in the streets.
As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years, upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of our projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in their computation. It is true, a child just dropt from its dam, may be supported by her milk, for a solar year, with little other nourishment: at most not above the value of two shillings, which the mother may certainly get, or the value in scraps, by her lawful occupation of begging; and it is exactly at one year old that I propose to provide for them in such a manner, as, instead of being a charge upon their parents, or the parish, or wanting food and raiment for the rest of their lives, they shall, on the contrary, contribute to the feeding, and partly to the cloathing of many thousands.
There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas! Too frequent among us, sacrificing the poor innocent babes, I doubt, more to avoid the expence than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast.
The number of souls in this kingdom being usually reckoned one million and a half, of these I calculate there may be about two hundred thousand couple whose wives are breeders; from which number I subtract thirty thousand couple, who are able to maintain their own children, (although I apprehend there cannot be so many, under the present distresses of the kingdom) but this being granted, there will remain an hundred and seventy thousand breeders. I again subtract fifty thousand, for those women who miscarry, or whose children die by accident or disease within the year. There only remain an hundred and twenty thousand children of poor parents annually born. The question therefore is, How this number shall be reared, and provided for? Which, as I have already said, under the present situation of affairs, is utterly impossible by all the methods hitherto proposed. For we can neither employ them in handicraft or agriculture; we neither build houses, (I mean in the country) nor cultivate land: they can very seldom pick up a livelihood by stealing till they arrive at six years old; except where they are of towardly parts, although I confess they learn the rudiments much earlier; during which time they can however be properly looked upon only as probationers: As I have been informed by a principal gentleman in the county of Cavan, who protested to me, that he never knew above one or two instances under the age of six, even in a part of the kingdom so renowned for the quickest proficiency in that art.
I am assured by our merchants, that a boy or a girl before twelve years old, is no saleable commodity, and even when they come to this age, they will not yield above three pounds, or three pounds and half a crown at most, on the exchange; which cannot turn to account either to the parents or kingdom, the charge of nutriments and rags having been at least four times that value.
I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.
I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust.
I do therefore humbly offer it to publick consideration, that of the hundred and twenty thousand children, already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed, whereof only one fourth part to be males; which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle, or swine, and my reason is, that these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much regarded by our savages, therefore, one male will be sufficient to serve four females. That the remaining hundred thousand may, at a year old, be offered in sale to the persons of quality and fortune, through the kingdom, always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump, and fat for a good table. A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends, and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt, will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.
I have reckoned upon a medium, that a child just born will weigh 12 pounds, and in a solar year, if tolerably nursed, encreaseth to 28 pounds.
I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.
Infant’s flesh will be in season throughout the year, but more plentiful in March, and a little before and after; for we are told by a grave author, an eminent French physician, that fish being a prolifick dyet, there are more children born in Roman Catholick countries about nine months after Lent, the markets will be more glutted than usual, because the number of Popish infants, is at least three to one in this kingdom, and therefore it will have one other collateral advantage, by lessening the number of Papists among us.
I have already computed the charge of nursing a beggar’s child (in which list I reckon all cottagers, labourers, and four-fifths of the farmers) to be about two shillings per annum, rags included; and I believe no gentleman would repine to give ten shillings for the carcass of a good fat child, which, as I have said, will make four dishes of excellent nutritive meat, when he hath only some particular friend, or his own family to dine with him. Thus the squire will learn to be a good landlord, and grow popular among his tenants, the mother will have eight shillings neat profit, and be fit for work till she produces another child.
Those who are more thrifty (as I must confess the times require) may flea the carcass; the skin of which, artificially dressed, will make admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen.
As to our City of Dublin, shambles may be appointed for this purpose, in the most convenient parts of it, and butchers we may be assured will not be wanting; although I rather recommend buying the children alive, and dressing them hot from the knife, as we do roasting pigs.
A very worthy person, a true lover of his country, and whose virtues I highly esteem, was lately pleased, in discoursing on this matter, to offer a refinement upon my scheme. He said, that many gentlemen of this kingdom, having of late destroyed their deer, he conceived that the want of venison might be well supply’d by the bodies of young lads and maidens, not exceeding fourteen years of age, nor under twelve; so great a number of both sexes in every country being now ready to starve for want of work and service: And these to be disposed of by their parents if alive, or otherwise by their nearest relations. But with due deference to so excellent a friend, and so deserving a patriot, I cannot be altogether in his sentiments; for as to the males, my American acquaintance assured me from frequent experience, that their flesh was generally tough and lean, like that of our school-boys, by continual exercise, and their taste disagreeable, and to fatten them would not answer the charge. Then as to the females, it would, I think, with humble submission, be a loss to the publick, because they soon would become breeders themselves: And besides, it is not improbable that some scrupulous people might be apt to censure such a practice, (although indeed very unjustly) as a little bordering upon cruelty, which, I confess, hath always been with me the strongest objection against any project, how well soever intended.
But in order to justify my friend, he confessed, that this expedient was put into his head by the famous Salmanaazor, a native of the island Formosa, who came from thence to London, above twenty years ago, and in conversation told my friend, that in his country, when any young person happened to be put to death, the executioner sold the carcass to persons of quality, as a prime dainty; and that, in his time, the body of a plump girl of fifteen, who was crucified for an attempt to poison the Emperor, was sold to his imperial majesty’s prime minister of state, and other great mandarins of the court in joints from the gibbet, at four hundred crowns. Neither indeed can I deny, that if the same use were made of several plump young girls in this town, who without one single groat to their fortunes, cannot stir abroad without a chair, and appear at a play-house and assemblies in foreign fineries which they never will pay for; the kingdom would not be the worse.
Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great concern about that vast number of poor people, who are aged, diseased, or maimed; and I have been desired to employ my thoughts what course may be taken, to ease the nation of so grievous an incumbrance. But I am not in the least pain upon that matter, because it is very well known, that they are every day dying, and rotting, by cold and famine, and filth, and vermin, as fast as can be reasonably expected. And as to the young labourers, they are now in almost as hopeful a condition. They cannot get work, and consequently pine away from want of nourishment, to a degree, that if at any time they are accidentally hired to common labour, they have not strength to perform it, and thus the country and themselves are happily delivered from the evils to come.
I have too long digressed, and therefore shall return to my subject. I think the advantages by the proposal which I have made are obvious and many, as well as of the highest importance.
For first, as I have already observed, it would greatly lessen the number of Papists, with whom we are yearly over-run, being the principal breeders of the nation, as well as our most dangerous enemies, and who stay at home on purpose with a design to deliver the kingdom to the Pretender, hoping to take their advantage by the absence of so many good Protestants, who have chosen rather to leave their country, than stay at home and pay tithes against their conscience to an episcopal curate.
Secondly, The poorer tenants will have something valuable of their own, which by law may be made liable to a distress, and help to pay their landlord’s rent, their corn and cattle being already seized, and money a thing unknown.
Thirdly, Whereas the maintainance of an hundred thousand children, from two years old, and upwards, cannot be computed at less than ten shillings a piece per annum, the nation’s stock will be thereby increased fifty thousand pounds per annum, besides the profit of a new dish, introduced to the tables of all gentlemen of fortune in the kingdom, who have any refinement in taste. And the money will circulate among our selves, the goods being entirely of our own growth and manufacture.
Fourthly, The constant breeders, besides the gain of eight shillings sterling per annum by the sale of their children, will be rid of the charge of maintaining them after the first year.
Fifthly, This food would likewise bring great custom to taverns, where the vintners will certainly be so prudent as to procure the best receipts for dressing it to perfection; and consequently have their houses frequented by all the fine gentlemen, who justly value themselves upon their knowledge in good eating; and a skilful cook, who understands how to oblige his guests, will contrive to make it as expensive as they please.
Sixthly, This would be a great inducement to marriage, which all wise nations have either encouraged by rewards, or enforced by laws and penalties. It would increase the care and tenderness of mothers towards their children, when they were sure of a settlement for life to the poor babes, provided in some sort by the publick, to their annual profit instead of expence. We should soon see an honest emulation among the married women, which of them could bring the fattest child to the market. Men would become as fond of their wives, during the time of their pregnancy, as they are now of their mares in foal, their cows in calf, or sow when they are ready to farrow; nor offer to beat or kick them (as is too frequent a practice) for fear of a miscarriage.
Many other advantages might be enumerated. For instance, the addition of some thousand carcasses in our exportation of barrel’d beef: the propagation of swine’s flesh, and improvement in the art of making good bacon, so much wanted among us by the great destruction of pigs, too frequent at our tables; which are no way comparable in taste or magnificence to a well grown, fat yearly child, which roasted whole will make a considerable figure at a Lord Mayor’s feast, or any other publick entertainment. But this, and many others, I omit, being studious of brevity.
Supposing that one thousand families in this city, would be constant customers for infants flesh, besides others who might have it at merry meetings, particularly at weddings and christenings, I compute that Dublin would take off annually about twenty thousand carcasses; and the rest of the kingdom (where probably they will be sold somewhat cheaper) the remaining eighty thousand.
I can think of no one objection, that will possibly be raised against this proposal, unless it should be urged, that the number of people will be thereby much lessened in the kingdom. This I freely own, and ‘twas indeed one principal design in offering it to the world. I desire the reader will observe, that I calculate my remedy for this one individual Kingdom of Ireland, and for no other that ever was, is, or, I think, ever can be upon Earth. Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: Of taxing our absentees at five shillings a pound: Of using neither cloaths, nor houshold furniture, except what is of our own growth and manufacture: Of utterly rejecting the materials and instruments that promote foreign luxury: Of curing the expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming in our women: Of introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence and temperance: Of learning to love our country, wherein we differ even from Laplanders, and the inhabitants of Topinamboo: Of quitting our animosities and factions, nor acting any longer like the Jews, who were murdering one another at the very moment their city was taken: Of being a little cautious not to sell our country and consciences for nothing: Of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants. Lastly, of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill into our shop-keepers, who, if a resolution could now be taken to buy only our native goods, would immediately unite to cheat and exact upon us in the price, the measure, and the goodness, nor could ever yet be brought to make one fair proposal of just dealing, though often and earnestly invited to it.
Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, ‘till he hath at least some glympse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.
But, as to my self, having been wearied out for many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at length utterly despairing of success, I fortunately fell upon this proposal, which, as it is wholly new, so it hath something solid and real, of no expence and little trouble, full in our own power, and whereby we can incur no danger in disobliging England. For this kind of commodity will not bear exportation, and flesh being of too tender a consistence, to admit a long continuance in salt, although perhaps I could name a country, which would be glad to eat up our whole nation without it.
After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion, as to reject any offer, proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent, cheap, easy, and effectual. But before something of that kind shall be advanced in contradiction to my scheme, and offering a better, I desire the author or authors will be pleased maturely to consider two points. First, As things now stand, how they will be able to find food and raiment for a hundred thousand useless mouths and backs. And secondly, There being a round million of creatures in humane figure throughout this kingdom, whose whole subsistence put into a common stock, would leave them in debt two million of pounds sterling, adding those who are beggars by profession, to the bulk of farmers, cottagers and labourers, with their wives and children, who are beggars in effect; I desire those politicians who dislike my overture, and may perhaps be so bold to attempt an answer, that they will first ask the parents of these mortals, whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness to have been sold for food at a year old, in the manner I prescribe, and thereby have avoided such a perpetual scene of misfortunes, as they have since gone through, by the oppression of landlords, the impossibility of paying rent without money or trade, the want of common sustenance, with neither house nor cloaths to cover them from the inclemencies of the weather, and the most inevitable prospect of intailing the like, or greater miseries, upon their breed for ever.
I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavouring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the publick good of my country, by advancing our trade, providing for infants, relieving the poor, and giving some pleasure to the rich. I have no children, by which I can propose to get a single penny; the youngest being nine years old, and my wife past child-bearing.
Phantoms of the Proserpine Party
The four had hoped it would not be necessary to go as far as the Proserpine Hollow. Wallace, an expert at maintaining communication during travel, was able to arrange a short telephone call with Lucille Roquin during the Ecto Express’ first scheduled stop. The exchange was quick and morose: the warrant had been sent not just to the police in Two York City, but to every department in the Second York colony. No port there would be safe. Suddenly their best option became the fastest route south: the tracks laid through the Proserpine Hollow that would take them through the entirety of Pennsylvania and eventually offer alternate transportation by a separate train line or passage on the Allegheny River.
They all stared out the windows when they knew the hollow was approaching. They weren’t excited to have to flee down a hole like gophers, but even experienced travelers like Janet and Wallace couldn’t help but indulge in the whimsy of entering a hollow. It was an experience that never grew old, characterized by a sense of transition no still photo could ever capture. One moment you were staring at the sun and seeing the blank blue firmament in the distance and the next you were surrounded on all sides by towering walls of stone. When the stone opened up you were safe inside a cavern so great that it operated under its own rules, often completely separate from the rules above.
Though the Earth is often described and depicted as a disk, the educated know it is more like a cake baked in a shallow pan. Its flat bed of rock is hundreds of miles thick and hides massive pools of magmatic rock. On occasion in Earth’s long history these pools had emptied into new chambers formed by seismic activity, leaving behind incredible hollows. Once cracked and exposed to the surface, the elements of rain and wind that streamed in, over the course of thousands of years, transformed much of the rock in the hollows into a layer of soil as fertile as any volcanic island.
Even with such a bed of nutrients it would be difficult for life to take hold in any hollow without more light than the paltry trickle that came in through the cracks in the ground above. Mother Nature abhors a vacuum though, and a natural source of light did arise in most of the larger caverns. Residual magma from the emptying often had a high concentration of metals swirling within it that responded to the magnetic fields produced by the lowest layers of the Earthly disk. These forces caused the remaining liquid rock to spiral and rise off the cavern floor. A violent chemical reaction resulted in a very slow conversion of the rock into simpler compounds, which gave off both caloric and light in massive amounts. The result was a miniature sun quite different from the hole in the firmament most men and women saw each morning. The hollow suns were engines existing at the edges of power and efficiency. Eventually they would use up their fuel and die, but the best alchemists and geologists in the world put the nearest sun death at about 43,000 years in the future.
The hollow they rode through now was named after its sun, Proserpine, which was named after the female Reman deity who was snatched by the ruler of the underworld to be his wife. The sun was a strong one, with a slight greenish tinge to its light that made plants look riper and people look seasick. Their route did not take them particularly close to the incandescent subterranean body, but its light was a constant regardless. The Ecto Express, and indeed all those who lived in the Proserpine Hollow, used thick black curtains to simulate night and make sleeping easier. Every twelve hours the train attendants went through the cars and darkened the windows one by one. Ironically, it wasn’t until they’d shut out Proserpine that the nonsense utilizing its name began.
Before the colonies were united, before settlers had fully explored the hollow, it was a dangerous place full of wild animals and uneven terrain. The Natural Americans who lived there before European settlers arrived never lived so far into the hollow that they couldn’t see the entrance. It was part of their spiritual beliefs that the light of Proserpine, while a gift to plants and animals, was toxic to man. They thought the greenish light weakened fertility and caused birth defects; some myths went so far as to claim women impregnated under its light could give birth only to earthworms, burrowing crickets, and moles.
When the Natural Americans were driven out by the Europeans, before peace between them was achieved, a party of nine explorers set out to map the entire hollow. They were known as the Proserpine Party; unfortunately for them, they became better known as a cautionary tale than discoverers of the deep. Early on in their trip their hunter, Reggie Saltpeter, broke his leg while trying to pick fruit. He had to be carried the rest of the way. Their most experienced navigator, a woman who’d helped map three other hollows named Georgette Talcott, came down with an animalcule infection from contaminated drinking water. She passed away. Nature continued to hound them in waves, plucking members of the party from the mortal vine one by one. Only one made it out alive. Surely their underground deaths meant they were trapped by a ceiling of stone and could not ascend to heaven. Surely their ghosts remained in the hollow. At least, that’s what the staff aboard the Ecto Express insisted.
Wallace managed to make excuses the first night: the day of running from police had been too stressful, he’d seen the show before, and he needed to gather his thoughts. On their second night rushing through the hollow he wasn’t able to overcome his friends’ insistence that they all go to the séance car together and make an enjoyable night of it. Even if it was utter nonsense they could at least enjoy a few drinks and giggle under their breath at the showmen begging ghosts to join them for some chitchat.
The four of them took their seats in a booth about ten minutes before the curtains were due to close. Bill examined his reflection in the window; he played with his hair and tried on a few different smiles. He thought the greenish light affected his appearance more negatively than the rest and was trying to find an expression to fix it. Janet was regaling them with the story of how she left a typewriter in a room with three orangutans she’d taught sign language and basic writing to see what they could produce.
“It wasn’t quite coherent, but the backbone of a beautiful story was there,” she insisted. She turned to see if Tycho recalled the story, but then remembered he was back in her sleeping room. The sasquatch made the other passengers uncomfortable and it was impossible to overlook the ape when, even in a seated position, his furry head was a foot taller than the backs of all the booths. “The three of them, their names were Roo, Poe, and Ray, instead of collaborating on the story, assumed the proper way to do it was to divide the labor evenly between them. Roo wrote the first act, Poe, the second, and Ray the climax and conclusion.”
“What did they come up with?” Rosamin asked. An attendant came by and apologized politely as he reached over them to close their curtain. Janet continued with her story in the near-complete darkness.
“They wrote what they knew: monkey business. Roo’s beginning had a young orangutan, the daughter of the group’s leader, climb a tree so tall that its heights and fruit were forbidden as the property of the rainmaker. That was his opening.” Two attendants moved down the car, lighting candles. The train took on the glow of a campfire, perfect for ghost stories.
“Do they serve dinner during the show?” Bill asked giddily.
“No they do not,” Wallace said. “I even remember why, on account of the reason being the silliest thing I’ve ever heard., and I grew up with a grandmother who insisted my grandfather was Coyote. When I asked that same question the last time I was on this line, they told me it was because spirits were drawn to unoccupied flesh. If a ghost was summoned in the presence of my medium-rare steak it would dive into the innocent sirloin and possess it. Then the meat would fly about the car and make a mess of things.” Rosamin burst out laughing. The other passengers, who were busy taking deep breaths and preparing to commune with the spirit world, glared at her until she coughed her way back to a more appropriate volume.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered to her friends. “I couldn’t stop picturing that steak… and then I saw a pair of roast quail doing a waltz. Janet, please finish your story. I’m sure whatever the apes came up with was less absurd.”
“Poe’s middle,” Janet resumed in a whisper, “was of course unrelated to Roo’s beginning. He wrote about two groups at war over a stone bowl that made whatever water was poured into it good to drink. The fights often turned deadly and blood poured into the bowl. Even that was cleansed from it by the magic. A wandering old orangutan, wise beyond his years so he could live forever, entered the story and told them they should try letting the bowl sink to the bottom of a lake. That might mean all the water was in the bowl, it would become clean, and they could each take a shore of the lake as their own.”
The attendants returned. They dropped wavy bumpy shades of green glass over the candle flames. The car went from orange and yellow to green, revealing trails of a lazy green gas around everyone’s mouths and pooled on the floor.
“Ray’s finale, again unrelated to the other two stories, had an ape who, after a lifetime of digging, finally reached the underworld and was reunited with the soul of his lost lover.”
“So they gave you these three disparate sections, thinking they’d accomplished your task?” Wallace asked.
“No actually,” Janet went on. “When the three of them came together and examined what the others had done they realized there was something essentially wrong with their story. They recognized that the elements did not mesh in a way that made sense. This is where they disappointed me. I hoped that, faced with an unexpected challenge like this, they would collaborate with each other and modify their work to a point where each event had a logical conclusion. I thought the integrity of the narrative would take priority over their selfish insistence that their own stories were the ones that needed to be presented.” Janet stopped for a moment and exhaled a thin green cloud. “Instead what they presented was a hodgepodge of conflict, each set of characters turning from their real problems to battle the encroaching narratives of the next part. They made it about themselves rather than the fiction. It didn’t matter that they’d made a mess, as long as each individual didn’t have to admit they were wrong or that they needed to improve.” She leaned back. “That was in the beginning though. The trio has made quite a bit of progress since then. I think one day I will produce one of their works for the stage.” Bill breathed into his palms and tried to hold onto the green vapor, but it slipped between his fingers.
“I’ve never seen ectoplasm this concentrated before,” he said. “Why does it look so bright and luminous in here?”
“It’s those glass shades,” Wallace dismissed. “Ectoplasm is just another byproduct of respiration, but once you make it shine a little people become convinced its supernatural. Add to that frequent sightings of it rising from graves and presto, perfect bait for a tourist trap.” A woman popped her head over the back of their booth and scrutinized them. Her expression suggested the four scientists were piles of dog waste on her lawn.
“You people should stop trying to explain everything,” she snapped. “You’re ruining it for the rest of us. I’m here to talk to my dear departed sister and I would appreciate it if you’d stop dispersing the ectoplasm with all your hand waving.” She disappeared back to whence she came. The scientists pursed their lips and smiled at each other. They silently decided it would be best to wait until the show was over to ridicule it. Wallace had to give them one last warning before things got started though.
“You’ll see small holes in the walls next to the lights,” he whispered and pointed to the nearest lamp. There was in fact a tiny circular hole aimed up into the glass. “When the show is at its peak and the most frightening spirit on our doorstep, a burst of air from those holes will blow out all the lights. In the darkness you may feel a hand on your shoulder or a handkerchief gliding by your ear, but it’s just the attendants taking advantage of the opportunity.”
A middle-aged woman appeared at the end of the car. She walked forward, silently at first, gently pushing her way through the trails of ectoplasm. Her headwear might have been the height of fashion in the afterlife, but on Earth, on that subterranean locomotive, it looked very strange indeed. Somewhere between a turban, a top hat, and a second head, the mess of purple and red fabric was decorated with a jeweled plate resembling the front of a skull. Every time she took a step she rang a small silver bell. When she heard the bell she opened her mouth, gasped a little, and looked about as if she had no idea where the sound had come from. Her eyelashes were long and heavy, giving her very sleepy eyes that were counteracted by the constant twitching and puckering of her full lips.
“Welcome everyone,” she said, her voice sounding like dust blown from the surface of a crystal ball. “We are here to help you communicate with the hereafter. Any spirits may visit us tonight, but our guides will be seven members of the Proserpine Party, the ill-fated explorers of this treacherous hollow.” She exhaled slowly. A stream of ectoplasm flowed from her mouth. Its shape separated into five strands until it resembled a human hand hovering in the air. “The spirits are waving hello,” the mystic purred.
“How did she do that?” Bill asked quietly. Janet breathed deeply and produced a perfect circle of ectoplasm when she exhaled. It sailed forward and dissipated when it struck Bill’s face.
“It’s just like blowing smoke rings,” the primatologist said with a green smile. “Imagine what I could make with a little practice.”
“The first to join us will be Georgette Talcott,” the mystic said. She blew into the air and produced the green phantom of a woman’s face. “She spent her life navigating, keeping people from getting lost, and now she does it in the most incredible way. She guides souls back here so they can commune with us.” She blew a bouquet of ten pale green hands up towards the ceiling. The other passengers watched in awe. A few of them cried because they couldn’t wait to speak with someone they’d lost. “We must join together and call out to her. Link hands with the others in your booths. Form circles of life.” The passengers did as they were told. Janet took Rosamin’s hand, who took Bill’s, who took Wallace’s, who took Janet’s. They used their linked hands to help stifle their laughter. When one of them smiled the others squeezed their hands to remind them to stay collected.
“Are you there Georgette?” the mystic asked the ceiling. Fump fump. Footsteps on the roof. The audience gasped again, sucking in all the nearby ectoplasm. “If that’s you Georgette, tap five times.” Fump fump fump fump… fump. Another collective gasp. “It’s good to hear from you again Georgette. Can you open the portal for us? We wish to speak with some lost souls.” The mystic moved to one end of the train car. The footsteps followed her. Fump fump fump fump fump fump. “Together… Together we will open the portal!” She opened her mouth so wide that her soul nearly fell out. She blew a ring of ectoplasm that stopped in the air about five feet in front of her and stretched toward the ceiling and floor. “Would everyone here who wants to speak with a specific spirit now stand?” Three passengers rose to their feet, including Janet. The others looked at her.
“What? There was a gorilla in my care a decade ago. I want to know if she’s in the same heaven as everyone else,” Janet said with a mischievous smile.
“Quickly now,” the mystic encouraged. “Step through the portal. Let the other side feel your spirit. Make sure to step over the edge of the portal and not through.” The three passengers lined up. They held their hands close to their sides so as to not disturb the circle. The first one held his breath and passed through the portal. The mystic breathed and twisted like a thin hollow tree in the wind. She emitted a deep moan and expelled another green phantom that broke over the passenger’s body. He sat down and started sobbing emerald tears. The second passenger passed the threshold. “Oooouhwaaaaauuuhhhaaaahhhhh!” the mystic moaned before spitting out another phantom. It broke over the passenger and she moaned right back and hugged herself.
“I think these people need a night of romance rather than a ghostly rendezvous,” Wallace muttered.
“When was the last time you had a night of romance?” Rosamin chided.
“It’s Janet’s turn,” he deflected. The primatologist gingerly stepped over the ectoplasmic barrier.
“Waaaauuuuhhhoooh… ohhhh… oooaauhhh!” the mystic cried. A third phantom, that did not resemble a gorilla any more than the other two, drifted towards Janet and then over her. She took her seat with the others. They all looked to the other two passengers who had passed through the barrier. They had their hands clasped in prayer and they were whispering questions to themselves. One smiled and laughed. The other reached out and hugged someone who wasn’t there.
“Are they really getting something out of this?” Bill asked Wallace in a hushed tone, as if he could know for sure.
“There must be some kind of catharsis,” Rosamin suggested. “For their sake I hope it’s not just temporary.”
“I’ve seen people get off this line and immediately buy another ticket going back,” Wallace said. “It only lasts as long as the lights are out.”
“What an odd coincidence that the ghost she coughed on me smells like her lunch,” Janet said. “Someone enjoys pickled ramps.”
“No visitation from your gorilla friend?” Rosamin asked.
“I’m afraid not,” Janet said, clearly not expecting anything else. “Perhaps she was naughty and wound up in the other place.”
“That’s a dreadful thought.”
“Not as much as it sounds. She was very aggressive. If she is in gorilla hell she’s probably the queen of it by now.”
“Is someone going to explain to me who’s on the roof?” Bill asked.
“Nobody,” Wallace said. “It’s just a machine on a track. Two hammers.”
The mystic continued with her shenanigans for another hour. She painted fifty pictures in the air with her exhaled ectoplasm: the party marching up a hill, a spinning Proserpine, someone dragging a stretcher, a bison hunt, and many more. Whenever in the story a gun was fired she spat out green bullets that seemed to cut through the air itself. Even Wallace had to admit her talent was impressive.
As the show dragged on the four scientists started to get bored and quietly converse about their plans once the train cleared the hollow. The Ecto Express would take them to the cavern’s eastern exit in Virginia. Janet told them she had a close friend they could stay with for a night or two who would never, she was quite adamant about it, never, turn them over to the authorities. If all went well it would then be a straight shot to the coast where they could board a liner to Spain and merge with their originally intended route.
Warclaw listened in from two booths down. He sipped at a glass of clear liquor, the surface of which held a lingering skin of his ectoplasm that stretched between his mouth and the glass like a rope of snot. When the sweepers planned on ambushing Natural Americans who actively denied them westerly progress, Warclaw had sat at the edge of their camps and learned how to dissect a cloud of conversations and only extract the one he wanted. He used that technique now as he separated the whispers and prayers of the tourists from the planning of his targets. You’re not getting off at Virginia, he vowed. I won’t give up the advantage of having you trapped underground. I’ll run you into a corner. Put your back up against the stone. Then you can rot in a deep part of the Earth where cameras never go.
“Now it is time to end our journey,” the mystic declared. “Everyone please separate your hands. Say goodbye to the spirits. I know it is difficult but if they stay in our world too long they risk becoming trapped. We just need to…. Ohhh,” she suddenly groaned. She held the back of her hand to her head and stumbled backward into one of her own hovering ectoplasmic portraits. “What is this?” Her eyes darted about in feigned confusion. “Oh no! It’s Reggie Saltpeter! The hunter of the expedition. As foul in death as he was in life. We have no quarrel with you Reggie! Leave us!” The mystic doubled over. She vomited a river of ectoplasm onto the floor of the car. She wretched. Her bracelets jangled as she squeezed the fabric at the edge of two booths. Her head turned up and the river of green vapor became a fountain. It splashed over and obscured her body, hiding it under the image of a masculine phantom. Furious green eyes obscured her own.
“Here comes the darkness,” Wallace warned.
“I shall drag this train to hell with me,” the mystic bellowed in her best impression of a demonic Reggie. The phantom raised its ethereal claws. They swiped over the booths. The lamps went out one by one. The more delicate constitutions in the car cried out in the blackness. Two attendants wearing large furry slippers moved into the car and quickly went to work. They grabbed random shoulders. They waved handkerchiefs just close enough to ears that their owners could feel the breeze. The mystic gurgled and laughed and screamed to simulate two spirits warring over the same body. Reggie Saltpeter would lose this day as he had lost a thousand others aboard the Ecto Express.
Janet instantly smacked away the hand that touched her shoulder. After that the attendants didn’t bother with their booth. Some people just couldn’t accept the forces at work, so they left them to their bitter skepticism. It was up to Warclaw to convince them there was a malevolent presence aboard the train.
The sweeper silently stood on the cushion of his booth; even the two tourists sitting across from him heard nothing. He stepped onto the back of the seat and stretched his leg across the next booth. Even with the extra weight around his middle he had the agility of a lynx. Warclaw walked across the top of the booths until he was perched on the wood between Janet and Wallace. If they sensed any nearness at all they assumed it was an attendant about to blow in their ear. Warclaw stuck one hand on their table and leaned forward. He’d spent years honing his night vision; he could just make out the most obvious lines of Wallace’s face. He pulled a knife from his belt and held it an inch from the scientist’s throat. Their conversation continued.
“How long does this go on for?” Bill asked.
“Until she decides Reggie’s efforts are no match for her determination,” Wallace said. The skin of his throat moved toward and away from the blade as he spoke. The mystic pulled her body out of the green cocoon, leaving a hollow phantom with claws stretched toward the ceiling, not that anyone could see it quite yet.
“I hope she vanquishes him soon then,” Janet said through a yawn. “This darkness is making me yearn for a nap.” Wallace noticed something strange about her voice. It sounded too soft, and not just because of the yawn. It sounded like there was something in the way, but he didn’t quite reach the conclusion that it was a wall of flesh, bone, and fat currently holding a knife to his throat. The train hit a tiny bump in the tracks. The edges of the curtains flapped outward for a split second and allowed the tiniest amount of light in. Wallace saw the outline of a grim flabby face that startled him. He reached out to touch it, but there was nothing there. He decided it was just another ectoplasmic illusion, shaking the sensation that the green creases he’d seen were just a little too detailed.
“Be gone foul presence!” the mystic shouted. A male attendant hacked and gurgled as he backed out of the car and silently pulled the door shut. The other attendant moved to the first of the black curtains and started bringing fresh light into the train.
Before the first curtain was up Warclaw was back where he was supposed to be, smiling at the silly people across from him as they talked about how they just knew the spirit that brushed their leg was their old herding dog named Tremaine. Warclaw had succeeded in testing Wallace’s instincts. They were good, but he foresaw plenty of situations in which they wouldn’t trigger until ten seconds after he’d cut the Indian’s throat. He had to remind himself Rosamin was his primary target. Rosamin had to be dead for him to get paid. The Indian was just a personal bonus.
The four scientists looked out the window, once their curtain was raised, like it was their first breath after an hour underwater. The owners of the Ecto Express had planned their shows so they ended exactly at that point on the tracks, because it was the closest the route came to Proserpine. After escaping an infinite pit of darkness their passengers were rewarded by the brightest light they’d ever seen. They could only just make out the giant fences that kept people from getting too close to the subterranean sun. Past that it was just lances of brilliant green light. Wallace shielded his eyes and looked down, where he saw a cliff. At the bottom of it was a river that positively glowed in the emerald light. He got the feeling that, at this distance from Proserpine, the water would be very warm. Perhaps they would have time for a swim.
Dogs, Cats, and Generous Hosts
The fair was over and most of the pretty young women were gone. The few remaining guests in the World’s Fair Hotel were mostly traveling businessmen. They didn’t excite Dr. H.H. Holmes as much, but they were his bread and butter. Men who weren’t on holiday examined their rooms less carefully. Holmes had lost count of how many of the insured corpses and teaching skeletons he’d sold were traveling salesmen.
He walked through one of the corridors of the hotel to check on the guest in room twenty-six. It was another trick room he’d flooded with gas, but instead of sticking around to watch him twitch the doctor had instead gone downstairs for ten minutes to get a pastry. He was brushing crumbs out of his moustache when he saw something horrifying. The door to room twenty-six was wide open. Splinters of the area around the lock were all over the carpet. He’d miscalculated. It seemed like there was no way the man he’d put in there, a man barely five feet and seven inches tall, could’ve burst through the door. He did have a room with a reinforced door, but his personal protocol of only using it for specimens of six feet or more had never failed him before.
Holmes collected himself. The castle was built with such situations in mind. An escapee was most likely to flee the way he had entered, so Holmes headed for the stairs. The stairs had a split railing that curved imperceptibly, which had no effect heading up the stairs but convinced people going down to divert into a different stairwell. That one was a dead end marked by a dummy door and an employees only sign. The Doctor walked calmly to the top of the stairs. If the man had escaped a week earlier the area would be bustling with fairgoers, but now it was deader than a graveyard after midnight.
He heard somebody scrambling against the dummy door. He banged on the metal railing, vibrating the entire thing with an ominous sound. He descended two steps and banged on the railing harder. It warbled louder. Holmes was not an intimidating figure physically. What he did now was the equivalent of a housecat roaring like a lion. He needed the man to keep choosing flight rather than fight.
He descended two more stairs and banged on the railing so hard that the end of it shook. There was one door left down there he needed to take. Holmes banged again. Kwung! He heard a door close. Excellent. It led to a thin maintenance hallway between two rows of rooms. Holmes walked briskly to the wall alongside the rooms in question. He listened and heard the man’s fingers running along the narrow walls. He followed alongside the sounds like he was tracking a mouse through the wall.
Holmes scanned the layout in his head, his indecision more a result of too many options than too few. There was a valve hidden in the drawer of an end table in that hallway that could cut off the maintenance corridor from any fresh air. The man would suffocate within twenty-four hours. That would be his last resort, as everything else was quicker.
He could grab his injection gun, a massive needle initially used to draw blood from livestock but modified by Holmes to fire sedative darts, turn on the noisemaker to drive him back to the door, and then shoot him when he opened it. That would be the second-to-last resort because it involved him having to, at some point, drag a body.
All things considered the best option was probably the trap door. Holmes took several steps backward and stopped in front of a dumbwaiter that was padlocked shut. He reached into his pocket and grabbed the correct key. He knew it by the tiny sharp edge that poked his index finger and the wide circle where it joined the keyring. He slid the dumbwaiter’s cover up into the wall. The only reason to lock the dumbwaiter was its complete inability to transport anything. The compartment in the wall actually contained a series of switches and valves to many of the castle’s secret mechanisms and passages. He put his hand on the switch for the trapdoor. Once the man found the next dead end he would turn back. When his footsteps were in the right place Holmes just needed to pull the switch; it would open the trapdoor under the man and he would fall into the basement where he would likely break his legs and pass out.
“Dr. Holmes!” someone called to him from down the hall. Holmes slammed the dumbwaiter shut, crushing four of his fingertips on their way out. They instantly started to bruise. The doctor shoved his hands into his pockets without making a sound. He put all the pain in the pockets with them. He needed to speak, and he did so like someone who had never felt pain before.
“Can I help you gentlemen?” he asked. Three men walked down the hallway towards him. They held out their hands. Holmes’s shook them one by one, using a big smile to keep them from looking at his swollen fingers.
“We’re not interrupting anything are we?” the middle man asked.
“Not at all,” the doctor said. “I was just repairing this dumbwaiter. I have a repairman for these things but his grandfather combusted last week so he’s out,” he lied.
“A hands-on man, I like that,” the middle man said. “Anyway, we’ve come up here to make you a proposal doctor. My name is Strom Dilcourt; I’m the chairman of the board of the Two York Academy of Sciences.” He gestured to a pale stork-faced man on his left. “This is my real estate man Enoch Rhodes.” He gestured to the bald man with purple-pouched eyes on his right. “And this is The Lord Leckie from Britain. He’s visiting to help oversee some projects that his government and Two York are cooperating on.”
“I’m always happy to meet the planners and molders of a great city such as this, but what could such important men want from a lowly bed maker like me?”
“Don’t sell yourself short doctor! As it happens you are uniquely qualified to help us. We’ve been searching for a building for more than a week that could suit one of our projects. We want to build a high-end restaurant. It’ll be a dining experience like none other in the colonies and an environment where members of high society from both the U.C. and Europe can come together and, as you said, plan and mold over fine wine and exceptional food. Our problem was that we couldn’t find a building of the appropriate size. It’s supposed to be a symbol of friendship between nations, so it needs to be big!”
“You’re eyeing my hotel for the project?” Holmes correctly guessed.
“Yes indeed!” Strom said gleefully. “We were just admiring its structure; it’s so full of character doctor! You could keep your hotel in operation of course. We were just thinking about clearing the shops out of the ground floor, knocking out the walls, and making that the resta…” He stopped when they all heard a frantic scratching sound coming from inside the wall. The Lord Leckie wandered over to the wall and stuck his ear up against it. “Good heavens man, you don’t have rats do you?”
“Goodness no,” Dr. Holmes laughed. “There’s an Irishman in one of my rooms. Normally I don’t allow pets in the hotel but he started getting red in the face when he defended his desperate need to have his Scottish Terrier with him at all times. He said it was his only true friend. I saw no point in denying the fool his happiness or risking that his anger might send the hotel up in flames.” Holmes knew what kind of men he was talking too. Even if the dog in the walls screamed for help they would just comment on what a strange bark it was. Still, Holmes casually lifted the dumbwaiter’s cover several inches and inserted his hand again. He kept the conversation going while he pretended to fix it. “Then he tells me the beastie has escaped. Somehow it has found its way into the walls and as soon as I’m done here I’ll have to play dogcatcher.”
“There’s another reason we’ve picked you doctor. Your medical experience could come in handy,” Strom said while he followed the sounds of scratching with his eyes.
“Oh?” Holmes fiddled with the switch. The scratching wasn’t in quite the right place yet. Just a little to the left…
“Yes. We’re planning a very exciting menu with some unusual preparation techniques. There will be lots of roasting on the bone and that sort of thing. We’ve lined up a chef, but he’s never worked with these animals before and he might need an anatomy lesson before he can take them apart properly.”
“I’d be happy to help any way I could,” Holmes said. He was listening intently, but that was only half the focus he had in most situations. The other half of his brain calculated the movement of the scratching sounds.
“This dog has far too much energy,” the Lord Leckie insisted, his ear still to the wall. “I keep hunting dogs and I know that scratch. He’s saying he’s not getting enough fresh air; he needs to be allowed out so he can chase squirrels and finches for a while.”
“All we have to offer in the city are pigeons,” Holmes said.
“Dreadful,” the Lord muttered. He tapped on the wall. Holmes, beneath his stoically-still moustache hairs, was terrified the man would call out for help, but the captive must have assumed the tapping was a taunt from the doctor because the scratching swooped to the left and stopped. Holmes pulled the switch and coughed to cover the sound. Then he dropped the dumbwaiter’s cover once again and waited. There was no more scratching. “He’s tired himself out,” the Lord said. He knocked on the wall. There was no answer, so he returned to the conversation.
“So you’re telling us you’re interested Doctor?”
“Oh yes,” Holmes said. Now that the dog had been put down his mind was free to actually pore over what had been discussed. An elite restaurant meant there would be a steady stream of beautiful young woman on the first floor. The ones with money could not be touched, they would draw far too much attention, but the ones who came to apply for a job as a waitress or stewardess would have to submit to his requests.
Dilcourt had mentioned knocking down the walls. That would mean no more squabbles with a dozen different shop owners. No more people coming to him to complain about ventilation or scuffed floors. There would just be one business that prided itself on cleanliness.
“Excellent!” Dilcourt clapped him on the shoulder. “Should we meet for lunch tomorrow to discuss the details? I can have a wagon pick you up.”
“That would be splendid,” Holmes said. “I wonder though… would it be possible to be more than just the building owner? Your idea has grabbed me so much I’m wondering if I could invest… or possibly do some management work for this restaurant. I have significant experience with finance.”
“I’d be happy to discuss it tomorrow,” Dilcourt said, “but I don’t see why not. We’re always looking for good people. Once the work is done I’ll only be showing up for dinner and drinks anyway.” The four men laughed together, shook hands again, and said their goodbyes. When Holmes was alone he examined his injured hand and wondered if the restaurant business was his ticket out of his obsessive scheming. Perhaps, with enough money coming into the castle, he wouldn’t have to take people’s bodies from them. If they saw his wealth they might throw themselves at his feet as a sacrifice in the hopes to get his attention. He discarded the more fanciful part of the daydream. The restaurant would simplify things, but it wouldn’t get him what he wanted most.
Holmes went to the basement, dispatched his unconscious victim, and then moved to his office. There was a sketchbook on his desk. He sat down and picked up his charcoal pencil to continue working. There was a zoology textbook, Greatest Apes of the Americas by Trellgehen and Goodmoss, open to the side of the sketchbook for reference. Holmes was attempting to recreate the image of a skeleton of an adult male Magnapithecus sásq’ets: the sasquatch.
He hadn’t used the sketchbook in ages, not since he’d completed the castle and settled into his regular routine of skeletal preparation. The pages prior to the current one were filled with images of human and animal bones. He never posed the drawings like he did the teaching skeletons; they were always active. Cat skeletons were coiled like springs, ready to pounce on the collections of rat bones scurrying by. A bull skeleton gored the absent guts of a bony matador. The imaginary bone structure of a gargoyle perched on the precipice of a building and watched fleshless women in sunhats leaving church below him.
Holmes wasn’t making the sasquatch do much as he drew it. He just wanted to see it, in all its ivory glory. Something about it… There were far bigger skeletons in the animal kingdom: elephants, sea cows, and whales mostly. The infrastructure of those animals had its appeal, but they lacked intent. A whale was a passive creature; its only action was swimming. If he’d been locked in a closet with whale bones, there would never have been any fear. It couldn’t take up arms or tilt its head in a way that suggested a predatory stare. The sasquatch was very much like a man. Holmes felt a bit of a rush thinking of all the ways he could instill such a skeleton with purpose. He could pose it like Rodin’s The Thinker. He could make it take up arms.
The sasquatch’s canines were animal. Its large skull was surely the treasure chest of a genius. Its giant hands were a thing of stunning beauty. Its fingertips looked like they could instill clay with life. Ever since he’d seen that young woman leave so hastily with her ape companion, Holmes was hardly able to think about anything else. The creature had gently moved him aside with its massive hand. He didn’t understand how something so huge and human-like could move so stoically, could act so calm.
He’d already visited several local museums to learn if they had any sasquatch bones on display or for sale. That was when he learned that the North American sasquatch used to live across the land, but the U.C.A’s development had pushed it entirely into the N.T.A. The tribes placed more value on books and traveling exhibits than on rooted museums, so if he wanted to see a complete skeleton he would have to abandon his business for a few weeks to chase one down a nation away. The closest thing the colonies had in any abundance was skunk ape skeletons. They were troglodytes by comparison, hunched over like arthritic chimps. All their muscle was in the shoulders. They were hooting bullies compared to the graceful sasquatch.
For now he settled for the drawings. When he noticed the best illustrations in the volume were done by one Janet Goodmoss, he felt a flush of jealousy he was not accustomed to. Here was a woman who had no doubt encountered the work of natural art whose image he struggled to copy. He regretted not working with animals. They were far easier to acquire than men in most circumstances, but also worth far less. He wondered if there was anyone else in the world that would pay for a ticket to a skeletal zoo. He knew it would be peaceful and he knew others would find it horrifying.
He flipped to a new page in the sketchbook. This time those magnificent bones would be rowing a boat.
Dilcourt and the Lord parted ways with Dilcourt’s real estate man and made their way to Earthly Arts, a high-end art gallery where the Lord had dropped his daughter while they attended to their business with Holmes and a few others. They found the girl staring intently at a wood-framed farm scene with a girl milking a goat. The Lord’s daughter had not moved from that spot the entire time she was left alone. Her eyes had not left a saucer of goat’s milk in a corner of the frame. A gray painted kitten lapped at its edge.
Strom stared at the girl’s back before she noticed their approach. She was extremely thin, as if she too had been painted into existence with just three or four strokes of a small brush. Her green dress could not hide her oddly protuberant shoulder blades. Her fingers were short and her nails long and translucent. She was Catterine Elizabeth Melk Leckie: daughter of the Lord Leckie, modeler of exquisite fashion, plaything of the elite, and Lamarckian extremity.
“Catterine my dear,” the Lord Leckie called to her. Strom braced himself. European money he could handle. Customs he could tolerate. The cat women of England were a different matter. “Have you not looked at any of the other paintings?” The girl silently turned to look at them. Strom swallowed. He’d already kissed her hand once and he was glad to not have to do it again. Her skin was white as bone, but without the blueness of visible veins. Her shoulders and arms hung limply like she was trying to shed them. Strangest of all was Catterine’s face.
Her eyes were nearly as green as her dress, the iris split by a tall pupil. Her smile at the sight of them was nothing but a tiny reflex. Her stare communicated everything and nothing about her mood. She certainly saw the two men, but it wasn’t clear if she recognized them or understood what they said. Her cheekbones were prominent and high, like the lip of a birdbath. There wasn’t a hair out of place on her head and it looked slick with saliva. Strom had not seen her teeth because she had not spoken at all during their first meeting. As she stood there silently, not answering her father, he began to think she was incapable of speech.
The girl, Strom guessed her age as eighteen despite the difficulties of such estimates when Lamarckian refinement is involved, moved lithely to her father’s side without answering his question. The Lord told her she could stay a while longer if she wanted, but the girl shook her head. Leckie had told Dilcourt that he’d brought Catterine because of her boundless enthusiasm for visiting America, but that enthusiasm did not show. She looked as if the presence of real enthusiasm in her breast would make her split down the middle like a sunflower seed and sprout.
When they concluded the last of their business for the day Strom left the two of them behind and returned to his home and his wife, a doting woman whose frustration with his late work was a gift compared to the jagged porcelain of Catterine’s face. He’d been working his way through a few large books on European customs to accommodate the investors, but after one day around the Lord’s daughter he decided to skip straight to the section of Lords and Ladies Across the Lake that explained the strange customs which had given birth to the creature named Catterine.
Feline Grooming in the House of Lords
If one is to navigate the upper strata of England’s social circles, it is important to understand the living works of art that are the feline-groomed. In the colonies they may commonly be referred to as ‘cat women’, ‘hissers’, or ‘mousers’, but these are all considered highly insulting.
The history of feline grooming is a long and fascinating one dating back to 1815 and the line of the Spanish aristocrat Chantala of the windowsill, a woman who dreamed of her poems as her daughters and vice versa. It was her family who began the techniques of behavioral and environmental molding that define modern Lamarckian investment.
In order to see significant returns from any Lamarckian efforts, a line must come to a conclusion that can be upheld by at least two or three generations; it must be a simple elegant idea unlikely to shift with popular politics and fashion. For Chantala it was the image of the cat, an animal revered as far back as the Egyptians who took the time to mummify their pets and bury them with the pharaohs who kept them.
The cat was deemed sufficiently timeless and, more importantly, sufficiently organic. The roots of the idea harbored many discussions over whether the goals of such grooming should instill a sense of artistic style instead of animal grace. Evidence of this line of thinking can be seen in the daughters and sons of the criminal czar Fedoro Toranova, who through two generations of grooming came to resemble bronze statuettes of the Greek pantheon.
The first generation in feline theories, as with most initial experiments, was marked by near-complete failure. If you remember your school lessons about the stretching of the giraffe’s neck, you will remember the Lamarckian principal of inherited experience. In high society a woman’s role is to act as a symbol of the chastity, honor, and dignity of her family. This requires obedience and a still nature. While many housecats present the second characteristic, they are not known for the first. This is not a problem because while the image of the cat was being sought, its behavior was not.
To promote stillness in their offspring, many committed women spent the majority of their waking time seated or resting in bed. Many admire the devotion of the mothers who sacrificed their mobility for the benefit of their line. Unfortunately the stillness’ effect upon their offspring did not take the desired form; it created lethargy rather than calm. The children had difficulty keeping their eyes open and slept for an average of fourteen hours a day. In the most extreme case of Amily Roland, who remained seated in the same chair for thirteen years before eventually giving birth to her daughter, the child was born with legs and posterior misshapen to the point that walking at all was difficult.
Efforts from that point on became more nuanced and diverse. Women groomed their eventual progeny by constructing an elaborate regimen for nearly every moment of their existence. Days were spent indoors or in carriages. Face shapers of cloth and leather were employed to raise the cheekbones of the future. A strict diet of fresh raw meats and fishes promoted the sharp eyesight of the cat as well as its elegant predatory posture. Many pet felines were kept around to inspire them.
The effects on the first generation after that were small, but encouraging. There still remained the problem of separating male heirs from the effects of the Lamarckian conditioning. As one can imagine, the grooming created utterly worthless boys, feminine in demeanor and prone to cowardice. Eventually the assistance of the first physicians to specialize in the treatment of women and children in grooming led to a schedule called the cold egg plan. The plan allows women to focus on producing male offspring in their earlier breeding years, when caloric is higher. As a woman ages her caloric is reduced and her chance of having a girl increases. Once a boy is produced, virile and masculine, the woman begins grooming measures for the more timid girls. Should a boy be born significantly after grooming measures, he is usually declared sickly by medical professionals and denied adulthood.
One might guess that items like face-shapers and finger-stunts would be the most effective in modifying the next generation, but science has roundly proven that to be false. Such devices have their uses, especially in livestock and other animals, but with the human animal and the boundless possibilities of its imagination, it is the patterns of thought that exert the most influence as long as they are kept consistent.
Mothers of such children (it is always the mothers who engage in grooming rather than the fathers because the woman’s incubation of the child offers far more opportunities of trait-transference) have a number of thought patterns to choose from. These patterns consist of a daily regimen of poetry, philosophy, and painted imagery or photography that a woman in grooming must view, memorize, or repeat several hundred times a day, especially during gestation. These are the most popular in England currently:
The Warmth Trapper Pattern: This pattern was equally created by the Dutch-English poet Dunne Rittask and his partially-groomed wife Annabelle. Their collection of poetry, mostly limericks to aid in memorization, puts emphasis on the seeking of warmth, drawing inspiration from the oft-humorous habit of cats to be found napping in dark but warm enclosed places like laundry bins. Children gestated under this pattern are the least likely to stray from the warmth of company and are believed to be the most affectionate of the feline-groomed.
The Clock Cleaner Pattern: This pattern shares numerous authors and has undergone significant modification over the years but the central premise is one of rigorous hygiene and tidiness. When a woman pictures the act of cleaning with fresh water, be it clothing, scrubbing floors, or anything else, the recommended two thousand times for each day of gestation, the result is often a child that will never lapse in their duties. Clock Cleaner children are always on time, always properly dressed, and excellent musicians and dancers thanks to their rigid awareness of rhythm that acts almost as a sixth sense. They may become frustrated with individuals who don’t match their standard of cleanliness and attempt to remedy the issue at inappropriate times.
The Windowsill Pattern: This pattern is one of observation that has a heavy focus on artwork. Often every surface in a woman’s bedroom will be decorated with a famous image: curtains, walls, bedsheets, handkerchiefs, dinner plates, and so on. They are trained to see into a work of art rather than letting their eyes simply glide across them like oil over water. If there is a man walking through grass in a watercolor, they are encouraged to spend their time picturing the grass underneath the man’s foot. They are taught to see the unpainted things like trees behind trees, fish under the reflection of the sun, and the beating of a heart under a ball gown. Children of this pattern make excellent accompaniment to art galleries and dramatic readings.
The Delicate Palate Pattern: This pattern is one of the few to rely on more negative reinforcement. It is also based more on the performing of rote actions rather than the repetition of key phrases or an abundance of themed images. Women of this pattern are taught to reject most things as inadequate reflexively, regardless of their quality. They must turn their nose up at even their most favorite foods. When sipping wine they are taught to identify the low points of the year’s grapes rather than the high. Satisfaction is taught as an admirable but unattainable goal. This refines the palate of their children and makes them extremely discerning when it comes to the quality and authenticity of luxury goods.
A properly feline-groomed daughter of the third, fourth, or fifth generation will be immediately recognizable by the rich color in her eyes and their almond-shaped pupils, immaculate bone structure, flawless skin, thin build, and placid demeanor. They are attentive and docile if occasionally absent-minded. A feline-groomed woman is considered excellent material for marriage in most circles, especially given their propensity to further the extent of the cat-like appearance and personality when they eventually breed…
Strom closed the book. He was glad the restaurant, closed off from the rabble in the streets, would be the first foothold for the new Two York. If the people saw too many of the cat women out in the open they might think monstrous things about his plans. They might see an altar of human sacrifice rather than a respectable eatery. It would be disastrous if they believed such things.
Continued in Part Four