Content warning: On-page drug use
Johann Faust slammed his hands on the table, and screamed, because the table was metal and it hurt. Ishmael Carter, who liked to be called Monty for some reason, looked up from where he was pinning up a sheet to close off part of the basement they lived in now, and grinned.
“That hurt, didn’t it?” Monty said.
Johann snarled at him, and he grinned and shrugged. Johann turned back to his makeshift table, where his medical tools were spread out. He was taking inventory, making sure that he had plenty of clean, usable tools, chemicals to last him through any problem that might come up, bandages, and any store-bought medicines that he had deemed safe to use. There wasn’t enough of anything, of course, and he didn’t currently have the money to buy more. He should have asked Duke Mephisto for money!
Monty looked around the sheet he was pinning up, and went to the door. Johann heard him open it and start talking with someone, but he was too focused on ways to make quick money for medical supplies to try to identify who it was. He was already selling his services as a doctor, but he could start charging more, or even get a job as an actual doctor, at a hospital. That seemed like a good idea until he thought about the \ time Mr Lister was having getting hospitals to institute hand washing. Johann would never work for an establishment like that. What other skills did he have? He’d been in seminary for a long time when he was younger, and his father had been a pastor, so he still knew how to give sermons and speeches. Could he do something with that? There were a lot of illicit operations he could perform that he hadn’t been, and he could charge more for those. He could get a factory job, but the mere idea of a man such as him, who was destined for so much more, working as a simple factory worker, made his blood boil.
“My good doctor,” Monty said. “There’s someone here to see you.”
“Did they send a calling card ahead?” Johann’s words dripped with sarcasm.
“I don’t think so. Oh, there’s a few people, actually. Say, sir, where did you get that cane? I could use one.”
“At a shop down the street from a drugstore near my house,” Richard Golson said. “Here, let me write down the address for you.”
Johann put down the instruments he was fiddling with and stepped out from behind the curtain. He wasn’t sure if Richard, also known as the Ghoul, also known as the man who delivered him bodies to operate on, would recognize him these days. Johann had grown a neat beard and had started styling his hair differently, not brushing it at all so that it gave him a wild but intelligent look. He had also found his old spectacles, and he wore them now even though Duke Mephisto had fixed his eyes. It made him look more learned.
“Ah, Dr Faust,” Richard Golson said. “That’s you, isn’t it? You look different.”
“Yes,” said Johann. “I’m aware.”
“I’m so sorry that your building burnt down. Truly. If there’s anything I can do to help you, you need only ask.”
Johann hesitated. “I need connections.”
“Connections of what kind?”
“Connections to criminals. Do you know anyone who needs illicit surgeries performed? Anyone who might need the services of a man who knows all there is to know about medicine?”
Golson shook his head. “No one can know all there is to know about anything.” He sat down at the small table.
“Actually, that’s where you’re wrong. I do know everything there is to know about medicine.” Johann sat down next to him.
“Oh? Well, do you know anything about drowned ghosts, Dr Faust?”
Johann laughed, and remembered how he’d declined to go to the afterlife. “No, I don’t.”
Golson looked disappointed. “What about people who give apocalyptic tidings? People I’ve known from a long time ago, some people who are already dead. They tell me that you have to stop whatever it is you’re doing, and that there’s some kind of god up there that’s sleeping and wants to wake up. They say you’re waking it up.”
A chill went through Johann’s body. Richard Golson didn’t know what he was saying. He couldn’t. This had to be a coincidence. Golson was mad, he had to be, he had to be a madman who had in his madness accidentally made connections that most sane people couldn’t. Johann smiled nervously, and reassured himself that whatever Golson might think, he was wrong, he was stupid, he had no idea what he was talking about. Nothing that Johann did would have lasting consequences for the human race. In fact, it was progress, and progress was always a good thing. “No, Mr Golson, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Are you feeling alright? You know, if you’re seeing things you should-”
Golson sighed and rubbed his temple. “You know, maybe you’re right.”
There was his chance to get Golson to leave. “As a doctor, I know I am.”
“Alright, thank you. I’m sorry for bothering you, Dr Faust, it looks like you have quite a lot of work to do today.” He took a wad of money out of his pocket and put it on the table. “Here, take this. It’s to find somewhere better to live. I’ll contact you in a few days with news about connections, alright?”
Johann was staring at the money. That was an obscene amount for Golson to be simply carrying around. He managed to tear himself away from looking at it, and look Golson in the eyes. “Yes, that’s alright. Do get some more sleep, Mr Golson, I think it would be beneficial to stop your hallucinations.”
Golson tipped his hat and left through the front door. Johann let out a shaky sigh, and stood up. “Monty.”
Monty bounced out from behind the curtain. “Right here!”
“I’m going to inject myself with something.”
“No, not morphine. It’s… erm… something else.”
“What is it? Can I try it, too?”
Johann paused. Should he let someone else come to the place beyond death with him? Was that a good idea, or a bad one? Monty looked hopeful and excited, and Johann felt a little bad telling him that he wasn’t allowed to try the drug that took him beyond. He sighed, and took out the bottle that held the drug itself. There was probably enough in there for two doses. “Alright, fine.”
“Oh boy! What drug?”
How to answer that question? “Um… it’s something I developed myself.”
“Very well. Hand it over.”
Johann prepared the syringes, and handed one to Monty. He took a moment to unwind the bandages around his arm which didn’t seem to cover any visible wound.
Johann disinfected his arm, and would have done Monty’s as well, had he not shied away from the cloth. He then sat down in a chair at the table and injected himself. Johann closed his eyes, but not before seeing Monty doing the same across the room.
When he opened his eyes he was sitting on a golden throne in a cavernous medieval throne room. The roof was of glass, and the walls of gilded tan stone that were painted with murals of great battles. The wooden floor was carpeted with red silk leading up to the throne. Bells rang a pleasant music, the seat was very comfortable, and the air smelled of rose petals. A heavy crown rested on Johann’s head, and he held a scepter. His throne was on a raised dais with stairs leading up to it, and Monty, dressed as a fool in motley, sat on the steps.
There were mobs of people standing all around the room, from the guards that stood next to the dias, to the courtiers crowded on either side of the carpet, to the servants who scattered rose petals on the floor. Johann shifted in his seat, feeling like something important was about to happen.
Two women blew a pair of trumpets in unison, drowning out all the other commotion with the thunderous noise of their instruments. Monty stood up and danced over to the carpet in front of Johann.
“My good king,” Monty said. “Hark, a visitor at the door, announced by trumpets and fanfare! Do you care to let them in? They come bearing gifts and change!”
“Should I let them in?” Johann asked. “Would that be wise?”
Monty’s smile was more sinister than it should have been. “Why, a man is no one to curse and deny them.”
Well, if they came bringing gifts, that was a good thing, right? An advisor with Leonard’s face tapped his cane. “My good King. Remember when I gave you the throne, and you promised to listen to me? Do not let these visitors in.”
Johann pointed at the man. “You can’t control me now. Off with his head!”
Leonard screamed and struggled as a group of guards pulled him to his knees and took his head off right then and there. His black blood pooled on the ground and soaked through the carpet, but no one seemed to care.
“What kind of methods did he use to get you on the throne?” The question was asked by a child with Richard Golson’s voice. “Perhaps if you don’t know their nature, or the nature of the visitors, don’t let them in.”
“I say go ahead and do it,” said another advisor, with the face of Duke Janson. “Let them in. This power is yours to wield.”
“You monster,” said his daughter, Clarissa Janson. “You can only ever make the situation worse.”
“Quiet, woman,” Duke Janson snarled.
Deirdre walked out of the crowd, Sylvia trailing behind her. “Don’t do it, Johann, please. I know that this is a bad idea because- well, because-” she wrung her hands and disappeared back into the crowd.
Sylvia shrugged and chugged a bottle of laudanum. “Whatever.”
Johann surveyed the crowd, and saw a smirking Jean Gévaudan standing next to an equally smug Albert Janson. Edmond Oberon and Helen Titania glared at him, vines twisting threateningly under their feet. An emotionless little ghost girl he vaguely recognized from a trip to Nantucket many years earlier grinned at him, then up at her fierce, defiant mother. A woman he knew as Camilla Chambers was nodding eagerly for him to let them in.
It was a hard decision on who to listen to, but eventually Johann stood up and pointed his scepter at the door. “Let the visitors in!”
The doors opened, and the hall instantly became black and white. The throne dias disappeared beneath his feet, and Johann fell backwards into an inky void. He struggled to breathe, clawing at his throat desperately to try to escape the horror he had just willingly let in. It wasn’t his fault, was it? He had been led into it by Leonard and Monty and Camilla, right? Right?
Johann fell without an answer, and when he looked up he realized he could see stars above him. He reflected on his choices in the past year. He had gambled away his soul, he had reversed death, he had gone beyond and talked to incomprehensible godlike beings… and he had ruined a marvelous dreamland by his own bad decisions. Hopefully this wasn’t a premonition of anything. He wouldn’t make any decision so blatantly bad in real life, would he? He’d be able to see the signs there, right?
There were no answers here. Johann reached up, and realized he could scoop the stars from the sky in the palm of his hand. He smiled. That was some relief, at least, that was some beauty.
And then he was still falling, but this time out of his chair and onto the ground of his basement home, onto the hard packed-dirt floor. Johann hit his nose when he hit the ground, and it started bleeding almost instantly. He pressed a handkerchief to his face and eased his aching body back into his chair. That seemed like it had been a lot less time than before, but when Johann went to the door he saw that it was dark outside. If he had taken the drug at noon, then hours and hours must have slipped through his fingers.
Monty was lying on the floor with his distinctive hat pulled over his face, either still in a trance or fast asleep. Johann went to his workbench and started cleaning his scalpels again. They didn’t need cleaning, but he did it anyway, if only to get his hands moving. He thought about the marvellous court he’d ruined and told himself over and over that it wasn’t really his fault. He’d been pushed into it, he told himself. He hadn’t known the consequences.
There was a knock at the door that startled Johann out of his frantic cleaning. He went to see who it was, and was horrified to see Camilla Chambers.
“Where’s Monty?” She asked.
“Monty?” Johann gestured to where the man was in a heap on the floor.
Camilla pushed past him, another woman he’d seen but never been introduced to trailing behind her. Granted, he’d only ever met Camilla once, at the dinner where Leonard had challenged Duke Janson, but after the dream he felt like he’d known her his whole life.
Camilla and the other woman pulled Monty to his feet. He groaned, and they shoved him forward so that he had to support himself.
“Really?” Monty asked. He was standing on his own now, but hunched over significantly, and rubbing his arms like they were sore. “Couldn’t you have waited? Let me sleep just a little little bit more?”
“You’re going to be late to the meeting,” Camilla said.
“I don’t care. Let me sleep.”
“No, you have to come with us. We need you there for support.”
“What would you need me there to support? What can I do?”
“You’re good at public speaking and making things up on the fly. Come on, Monty, we need to get to the meeting or we’ll be late.”
Johann tapped her shoulder. “Excuse me, but what kind of meeting?”
“A meeting of the Faceless.”
Johann had heard that name whispered before in the shadows. It was some kind of society of people who wanted to radically change the world, how, he didn’t know. They were dangerous, he’d heard, and would bring about the downfall of society. Those facts only intrigued Johann more, and made him want to find out more about them, even join them if he could. He nodded excitedly when Camilla mentioned them, and said, “ah, the Faceless. You’re part of this group?”
“Would you let me come to your meeting? Please? I’ve been so curious for so long.”
Camilla looked at the other woman, who shrugged. She looked back at Johann. “Listen, you come to this meeting, you don’t repeat a word of what you hear there. Do you understand?”
“Yes, yes, I understand.”
“Good.” She hauled Monty out the door, Daisy trailing behind. Johann followed them more slowly, so that he could lock the door behind him. They went down an alleyway, across a street, into another alley, over a wall, out onto another street, down that street, made several more turns, and finally went into a club called The Winded Bird.
The club was dimly lit and smelled of smoke. Johann followed Camilla into a back room, where a group of people were clustered around a large oval table.
Johann was surprised by how many of the people he recognized. There was Jean Gévaudan, and Emma Janson, sitting next to Tate Johnson and Hai Daiyu. There were more people who he didn’t recognize, too, such as a tall African man with sharp, intelligent features and yellow eyes, and a young woman with blonde hair and big, watery blue eyes.
Camilla took her place at the head of the table, with Monty and Daisy on each side of her. Johann sat next to Monty, fascinated and ready for anything.
“People in attendance?” Camilla asked.
Daisy read off a list. “Camilla Chambers, Daisy Pickman, Alice Egerton, Jean Gévaudan, Emma Janson, Tate Johnson, Hai Daiyu, Barrorah, Johann Faust, and Ishmael Carter.”
“My name is Monty, not Ishmael!” Monty shouted.
“It’s for official records,” said Daisy.
“Yeah, a secret anarchist meeting in the back of a club, really official.”
Monty shot out of his chair. “My name is Monty!”
“God, sorry. Calm down and sit, Monty.”
Monty slowly sank back down into his seat.
Daisy looked around for any more dissenters, and saw none. “Good, now, can someone tell Faust what we’re doing here? I don’t think he knows.”
Johann was glad they were finally paying attention to him again. “I’m content to sit and watch.”
Daisy ignored him. “This is a meeting of Faceless, the underground society who seek the radical change of society and government at the current day… as well as the return of the Things Without Faces. Do you know what those are, Dr Faust?”
“Not really.” Something in the back of his mind told him that he had met them before, in some place that he had forgotten, but he wasn’t sure how to tell her that without sounding like a lunatic.
Daisy smiled. “Would you like to learn?”
Johann shrugged. What could they teach him that he didn’t already know?
Camilla Chambers grabbed his arm and straightened it out. Daisy approached with a needle. Johann sighed and let her inject him for the second time today. He closed his eyes and sat back in his chair, waiting to slip away.
“Just relax.” Camilla’s voice sounded distant and hollow. “You’ll see something eventually.”
Johann opened his eyes, despite them still being closed in real life, and saw that he was standing in the middle of a pitch black void. There was something here, something dark that knew his name. He swallowed hard and boldly reached his hand into the void, absolutely sure that nothing could hurt him in this dream. He smiled triumphantly, and held his hand up to see the black gunk dripping off it. Johann flicked his fingers, and some of the stuff splashed into his eyes.
There was no describing what he saw next, and no remembering it. It was gone in an instant, but it was the most terrifying thing he had ever seen in his life.
Johann tried to open his real eyes, but found it impossible. He was trapped here, inside his mind or in whatever place he was at the moment. There was no escape until he had learned what they wanted him to.
I accidentally published this on Monday because I thought that Monday was Tuesday (it wasn’t, unfortunately). The publication schedule will stay the same.