There are certain benefits of residing in an allegedly haunted home. Most important, especially for the needs of my friend and myself, is the protection it affords from prying eyes and unwanted guests. The perceived apparitions of No. 33 Rue Dunôt, Faubourg St. Germain functioned as our invisible guard dogs, holding the rest of the world at bay. Our pet ghosts, I termed them affectionately.
The comment brought a small smile to the lips of the Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin. I felt a hint of relief slacken my shoulders, as I always did when I managed to say something to my friend that didn’t make me seem a complete fool by comparison.
It was our landlady who first informed us of No. 33’s folklore. She tried strenuously to dissuade us from renting the rooms. She pled and cajoled and told us that the amount of money we would save renting these rooms would be far from the worth of our lives.
Dupin watched with detached interest, as it fell to me to assure the woman that such things did not bother us and we would hate so to see the rooms go unoccupied and any other argument that I could conjure up, short of actually calling her superstitions ridiculous.
Eventually, she relented. Shaking her head and grasping the crucifix around her neck, she signed the papers, then handed us our key. With perhaps undue extravagance, she muttered under her breath and crossed her self as she walked away. Despite her consent to rent us the rooms, she still refused to enter our home under any circumstances. Thus, we hardly ever saw the woman, much to our satisfaction.
One drawback—perhaps the only drawback, to my mind—of this isolation was the necessity to forgo normal housekeeping services. Thankfully, the two of us did not generate an unmanageable amount of mess. I learned to fight back the encroaching dust and to take an odd, quiet pleasure in the sight of the Chevalier frowning thoughtfully to himself as he scrubbed dishes.
As is often the case with such stories, we had difficulty divining the exact source of No. 33’s macabre reputation. The landlady’s story told of two women, close friends, torn apart by a common love for a man, ending in a grisly murder-suicide.
Another neighbor’s variation had one woman killing herself out of sadness for the death of her beloved father, and her friend subsequently taking her own life upon finding the body.
An irritatingly garrulous man we met in a local café insisted that the former inhabitants of the rooms were a pair of sisters, entirely devoted to each other. When their family forced one sister into an engagement, both young women took their lives at once, to stay together always.
The one common thread through all of the tales, save for the sex and number of the deceased renters, was the repeated image of the pair of lifeless bodies, hanging cold and pale from the ceiling.
“I suppose,” Dupin commented serenely, reposing in his chair, steepling his fingers in front of his shadowed face, “slashed throats or wrists would provide a more dramatic image. However, such a story could be easily disproved by the lack of any blood spots under the rugs.”
I smiled. “You’re quite the cynic, Dupin.”
“Oh?” His teeth flashed in the weak light from the fireplace, as he softly echoed my expression. “Then, do you believe in our pet ghosts, my friend?”
“Certainly not,” I answered. “But, I like not to dismiss anything—even something as ridiculous as this—so entirely out of hand.”
“I have done no such thing.” He seemed genuinely hurt, leaning forward, his long hands resting on the arms of the chair. “Clearly, I had to look under the rugs, at the very least, to confirm my statement that there were no such stains. You are entirely correct when you say that nothing should be dismissed without a modicum of logical consideration.”
As was common in my conversations with the Chevalier, I was left at a loss for words. Thankfully, the whistle of a kettle from the other room proved my salvation. With a quiet explanation, I rose to my feet and walked to the door of our book closet, already our favorite room after only a few weeks of life at No. 33.
“Please mind your feet,” Dupin said gently.
I stopped just short of the door and looked down to see a corner of the rug flipped up, in such a way that I certainly would have tripped over it, had Dupin not warned me in time.
Slowly, I tucked the rug back with my shoe. “Do you ever sleep?” I said, my voice as low as his had been.
“Not terribly often,” he answered, in perfect earnestness. “A flaw of mine, perhaps. I try to put it to good use nonetheless.”
I shook my head at the idea of Dupin having any faults, especially any he would admit to so frankly. “I’ll fix your coffee.” For a moment, I considered asking him how he would like it prepared, but I had to stop myself, realizing that I already knew well enough. Dupin would think nothing of my not asking, I was certain, as he knew I was already aware of his preference. On a larger scale, I believe that the Chevalier’s brilliance lays not so much in what he knows, but in his knowing what others know.
I laid down the tray on the table and passed Dupin his cup, black with three spoonfuls of sugar. His eyes followed me as I brought my own cup to my lips and took a tentative sip.
“I thought you preferred milk,” he said softly, rippling the ebony surface of the coffee with his breath.
“I believe it goes back to all of this talk of death,” I answered lightly, rolling the strong, sweet taste around my mouth. “I must be of a dark mind.”
Dupin smiled, and I could see the genuine cheer in his eyes through the thin veil of steam. “You’re endlessly fascinating, my friend.” His eyes remained affixed to mine as he tipped the cup forward and drank deeply.
Dark clouds rolled over the teeming expanse of Paris, until the entire sky was turned preternaturally black. Rain poured down, swelling up the Seine, turning the streets to shallow rivers, and clattering against the windows of No. 33, like millions of tiny shards of metal.
Late into the night, Dupin and I were still awake, engrossed in our reading and our shared, silent companionship. My own concentration was continuing to slip away from the book of history I was attempting—a recommendation from Dupin—and to the tempest outside. On a few occasions, I felt Dupin’s gaze, and quickly turned back to the page.
As night began to press into morning, I felt a knot of exhaustion developing between my shoulder blades and an ache behind my eyes. As hard as I labored to accustom myself to Dupin’s peculiar schedule, the urge still remained to sleep at night and live during the day. A yawn tugged at my throat and struggled to escape.
I needn’t have bothered with the deception, however, as Dupin noticed my state immediately. “You’re tired.”
“I suppose.” I continued to read, though the words blurred and squirmed into unintelligible shapes on the page.
“And you’re not going to your room. I assume you’re not afraid of our pet ghosts. And I believe they have rain and thunder in America. You don’t seem the type to find them frightening.”
As if he had planned it as such, a clap of thunder rattled our windows. I sighed and shut the book, rising to my tired feet and feeling my head swim.
“I think I’ll just rest a few hours on the divan,” I said quietly, as I moved towards the low and softly upholstered sofa. “You should sleep yourself.”
“Ah.” Dupin half-closed his own book, still holding his place deep in the pages with his long, thin index finger. His eyes glimmered in the faint light of the dying flames. “That’s your motivation, then.” He watched me lay supine on the divan, shifting until I could fit entirely on the sofa, my arm curled under my neck as a makeshift pillow. A moment later, he opened the volume once again, and sank back into the softness of the chair. “I shall wake you in a few hours, if you would like.”
I smiled, even as sleep pulled my eyelids shut. “Thank you.” A thought sprang to the front of my mind, and I had to speak it quickly before consciousness left me. “Dupin?”
“You said you looked under the rug. Did you find anything?”
I head Dupin chuckle faintly, a sound barely conquering the low crackle and spit of the fire. “No, not a thing.”
I smiled to myself and closed my eyes, submitting to the encroachment of sleep.
“And,” Dupin continued, “if you were at all curious, the beams in the main room weren’t bent either. I believe that leaves poison as the most likely cause of death for our pet ghosts. I wonder how we could test to determine the reality of that possibility…”
I was about to warn him not to stay awake all night pondering the question, but I couldn’t summon up the energy for such an effort.
As sleep lowered like heavy curtains around my mind, I heard the rain batter against the windows and Dupin’s breathing gradually slow into a rhythm as gentle as the rustle of wind by the fireplace.
If our ghosts were moving around in the night, then they chose not to disturb either of us, until I woke with bright sunlight on my cheek.