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Returning to London February 28. –E.D.
Edward Dunning’s sudden departure from England came as a surprise to the members of the __________ Association. “He didn’t seem like an adventurer,” the secretary told his wife at the breakfast table in an injured tone. “Not the type who longed to hunt elephants on safari or slide across the tundra behind a pack of dogs, that sort of thing.”

“Perhaps he’d got tired of the solitary life,” his wife suggested.

“He’s as solitary as ever,” Secretary Gayton replied. “Traveling alone to God knows where. No one’s heard from him at all. Might have fallen of the edge of the earth for all anyone could say. To be honest, I would have expected him to take Henry Harrington with him if he had to run away. The two of them had become quite inseparable…”

“Hmmm,” his wife said. “He’s not married either.”

“What’s that to do with anything?”

“Just that he’s free to travel, dear.”

“Yes, he is that.”


Despite all the mystery there was not much gossip surrounding Edward Dunning’s disappearance. It seemed the rest of London shared Gayton’s view that he lacked the spirit for adventure. Even after a sudden flight from civilization it was hard to imagine him doing anything other than what he had always done in town. That is, studying something ancient and occult about which no one wanted to hear details. Some men simply did not mix comfortably with scandal, much the way that milder cheeses did not compliment a tawny port wine.

Henry Harrington, however, did wonder about it. Wondered and worried what might become of his friend out in the world. When he finally received, after seventeen months, Dunning’s telegraph announcing his return it was with a sense of profound relief and tragedy narrowly avoided.

They met at the Burlington to celebrate. Henry arrived early and sat facing the door so as to see Dunning as soon as he came in. Not until then, he thought, would he feel completely safe. Though safe from what, Henry would be the first to admit, he could not say.

As the minutes ticked by he began to regret his early arrival. With nothing to read and no one he cared to speak to, he passed the time thinking of the days before Edward’s departure. The two had dined together shortly after the annual __________ Society dinner. Edward had said nothing of his plans to leave the country that night, thought he must have been planning it for some time by then, perhaps even bought his steamer tickets. He gave no sign of restlessness either. The only thing out of the ordinary that evening that Henry could recall was a short altercation with a diner at a nearby table over a pouch of tobacco Edward had dropped on the floor. The man had tried to give it back to him and Edward had become quite rude in refusing it.

Though that, Henry thought, was understandable given his history.

When Edward arrived he looked rested and well-fed. He'd even lost a certain skittishness Henry only now realized had developed in the weeks before his departure.

“Sorry for rushing of like that,” Edward said, pressing a warm hand in Henry’s. “It was all very sudden. I’m not sure I can explain…”

“No need,” said Henry, feeling ashamed of his vague fears. “It certainly did you good.”

He found it was difficult to take his eyes off Edward Dunning now he was finally here. The minutes that had dragged interminably while he waited now flew forward in a rush. In no time they had reached the coffee and savory course and Henry still hadn’t heard much in the way of details about Edward’s trip.

“Gayton tells me you attended several meetings at the Society while I was gone,” said Edward, spreading Gentleman’s Relish on a slice of toast. “Don’t tell me you’ve developed an interest?”

“Not exactly,” Henry admitted. “To be honest I mostly went hoping to hear news about you. But I did attend one interesting lecture about…. Oh, don’t look now, but Gerald Cartwright is approaching.”

Henry had met Cartwright at a Society meeting and assumed, correctly, that Edward found him as tiresome as he did.

“My God, Dunning,” Cartwright bellowed—he was a bellower, was Cartwright. “We all thought you’d been eaten by pygmies by now.” He strode up to the table, extended a meaty hand in greeting. “Oh, good. You’ve found Harrington. He was quite frantic about you while you were gone.”

“Hardly frantic,” Henry muttered, avoiding Edward’s eye.

“So, tell us all about it. I hope you went off in search of something valuable. Bertie Chadwick suggested you were hunting a virility potion, but I said that wasn’t your style. Psychic attacks were more your line, as I recall.”

“I beg your pardon?” Edward said. “If you’re accusing me of some sort of hex…”

“Magical protections then,” said Cartwright, taking no notice of the offense he’d caused. “Wards, good luck charms and so forth. This must be one of them, is it?” Cartwright leaned over to peer at a ring on Edward’s left hand. He was a large man with broad shoulders, but neither seemed to justify the size and depth of the shadow he cast over the table. It was big and black enough to make Henry glance up to the lamp hanging above to see if it had gone out.

The ring had a thick, brassy band and a red stone, probably a garnet, surrounded by tiny symbols that reminded Henry, unhappily, of Karswell’s blasted runes. Henry had been trying not to look at it since he’d noticed the details over his cucumber soup.

“Isn’t it hideous,” Cartwright said, snatching up Edward’s hand in his own. “Looks like something one might have cut it off a mummy!” He peered at it closely, screwing up his eyes and snorting with frustration at the dim light. “Give it here a moment, won’t you?”

Cartwright leaned down over the table, that much was clear. Henry distinctly saw him reaching for the ring. He did not see what caused him to suddenly cry out and double over. It looked for all the world as if he’d been kicked in the shin. Henry even glanced under the table to see what might have done it, and found nothing. Of course there was nothing.

“Bloody Christ!” Cartwright roared. “Is this some native trick you’ve brought back with you, Dunning? What have you got under there?”

“I don’t believe I did anything,” Edward said smoothly. “But what I did learn from the natives, Cartwright, is that it’s unwise to touch things that aren’t yours.”

Cartwright looked ready to give an angry response. Henry braced himself for it. Instead Cartwright shook himself suddenly like a dog come in from the rain. He glanced warily up at the hanging light, just as Henry had. It was still burning brightly, though the table before them seemed to have gone cold as well as dark.

“Oh, do go on, Cartwright,” Henry muttered. “You’ll hear all about it at the meeting.”

Cartwright backed away and left the restaurant muttering to himself. He seemed to take the strange shadow with him. Of course he has, thought Henry. It was him who cast it. “Traveling has sharpened your skills,” he said. “I’ve never been able to get rid of Cartwright so neatly. Should I be on my guard now you’re back?”

“Not you, Henry,” said Edward. And although he spoke softly, Henry heard the words as clearly as if Edward had leaned across the table and whispered them into his ear. “Never you.”


Edward Dunning was not a man to collect souvenirs. He preferred his home uncluttered, objects d’art being a thing he associated with certain maiden aunts he was made to visit as a child. So Henry was surprised when, visiting Edward at home a few days later, he spotted as many as a dozen strange artifacts in the drawing room alone. These were not, to Henry’s eye, conversational folk art. There was an air of the occult about them that made his scalp tingle unpleasantly.

“You’re not….dabbling in anything, are you?” he asked. “Nothing…Karswellian?”

Edward’s shoulders hunched at the mention of the man’s name and Henry felt ashamed to have spoken it aloud.

“The truth is it’s just the opposite,” Edward said. “Most of these are charms to ward against the stuff.” He laid a hand on a bronze idol sitting on the windowsill, a hunchbacked woman with a monkey face—or perhaps a hunchbacked monkey with an old woman’s face. Henry would not have wanted either in his window, but according to Edward it was meant to watch out for supernatural threats. “Once I might have called this kind of thing primitive superstition,” he said. “But, well…I know differently now, don’t I?”

“That we do, Eddie,” said Henry, laying a warm hand on his shoulder. “I say, what’s that?” He’d spotted a small cauldron on a flat stone sitting on the mantel. It reminded Henry of the bird feeders one sometimes saw in public parks, though instead of birdseed inside the little bowl, there were bits of something else. “Did you get a pet? One of those clever birds that talk, maybe?”

“Not quite,” Edward said. “Quite interesting story behind that little object, actually. Perhaps I’ll tell you about it one day.”

The meaning behind the object on Edward’s mantel was not a subject Henry was particularly eager to explore. He’d got enough of that sort of thing at the Society meetings. For the next few months, as late winter turned to spring, the two men were again, in Secretary’s Gayton’s words, inseparable. Henry became quite familiar with the area of London around the library, where he often met his friend at the end of the day. Henry stood waiting there at dusk one evening in June, admiring the streaks of pink and blue in the sky overhead, when someone called his name. It was a friend of his late brother’s, a fellow music lover called Foxe. He’d gotten married recently and Henry congratulated him for it. They’d been chatting five minutes or so when Henry happened to mention Mr. Dunning.

“Edward Dunning you mean?” said Foxe, his face contorting into a sort of polite grimace. “Most unpleasant fellow.”

“Unpleasant?” said Henry. “I think you must be mistaken.”

“Don’t think so,” said Foxe. “He’s the chap just got back from occult safari, isn’t he? Egypt or India or darkest Peru? Said he studied native customs and that sort of thing. Margot and I met him at a reception for Major Crewes. He gave a little talk about his travels.”

“And you found him unpleasant?”

“Not at first,” Foxe said. “Seemed a perfectly amiable chap. That is, until one of the young ladies started teasing him. Young, silly girl, perfectly harmless, fancied herself a wit. Seems she’d done a lot of fortune-telling with playing cards at school and insisted on trying to read his. Well, you would have thought the child had offered to lay a curse on his bloodline he was that horrified.”

“Oh, well,” Henry said, apologizing automatically. “Dunning’s got good reason to avoid that sort of thing, as it happens.”

“Had he simply avoided it no one would have minded,” Foxe declared with some warmth. “There were a thousand ways to let the girl down easy. Instead, he left the poor thing in tears—frightened her half to death, according to Margot. She took it on herself to calm the girl down. Margot’s marvelous at that kind of thing. She wouldn’t tell me exactly what the girl said but I got the distinct impression it was she who got cursed. Or believed herself so, which amounts to the same thing. Don’t believe in the stuff, myself. Primitive nonsense, if you ask me. Now Margot…”

Henry did not pay strict attention to what Foxe said next, the general point of which being that Margot Foxe was quite a girl. Henry was thinking about Edward. He had mentioned attending Major Crewe’s reception but said nothing about any fortune-tellers or curses. It disturbed Henry to think of Foxe holding such an impression of his friend. He resolved to ask Edward about it directly when they met.

“He made you seem like quite an ogre, if you want to know,” he admitted when the tale was done. “If I didn’t know better I might have thought he wasn’t talking about you at all. I might have thought he was talking about…well…”

He broke off, unwilling to injure his friend’s feelings by saying the man’s name again. But Edward simply laughed and pronounced Foxe a fool. “He didn’t like me going over so well with the major, that’s all. And that new wife of his is a gossip,” he said. “As for the girl, I simply warned her where that sort of thing would lead, didn’t I? I believe I did her good. Would you rather she continue dabbling in the stuff?”

No, Henry didn’t. And yet, he still didn’t like it, somehow. It wasn’t like Edward to go scaring young ladies like that, he thought. Not like Edward to even know how to scare someone. Not the Edward he knew.

It was difficult to get the thing out of his mind. He began to find himself, when speaking to others, wondering about their opinion of his friend. Occasionally he steered the conversation in such a way that Edward’s name might come up naturally, just to see the reaction it inspired. This method proving unsatisfying, he dared to ask, when he felt he could do so without being too forward, just what others thought of the man. Most of the time the answers he received were in keeping with what he himself might have said about Edward. That he was intelligent, kind-hearted, a little stuck in his ways, but in an endearing fashion; quite handsome, especially his eyes. Still, there were isolated incidents, always connected to those who had seen him recently, that disturbed him.

Those troubling moments were far from his mind one afternoon in July when he and Edward took a basket lunch to the banks of the River Wey. It was Edward who suggested they go bathing. An excellent idea, as it turned out. Henry floated on his back on the surface, gazing up at the sun as it winked through the leaves overhead, listening to the gentle splashes of Edward nearby. He rolled over lazily to watch him swim. One arm, then another, floating up and over the water and disappearing beneath the surface. Edward’s face was tilted upwards, and Henry remembered some poetry he’d learnt at school: His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d.

The chap in the poem had coal-black curls, he remembered, while Edward’s hair was silky, rich brown. Still, the droplets of water that showered down at every stroke upon his bare chest caught the sun and sparkled bright as any ringing armor or gemmy bridle that Sir Lancelot might wear. Edward tucked and rolled elegantly over himself, his body smooth and strong and pale--.

“What’s that?”

The spell was broken—the mirror crack’d, as it were. Edward pulled upright and shook a sheet of hair out of his eyes. “What is what?”

Henry swam closer. Just above the waterline the thing was visible, like a brand on Edward’s skin. In fact, that was exactly what it was.

“Tattoo,” said Edward casually. “Standard custom in many cultures.”

Henry couldn’t stop himself from running his finger over the black ink. He expected it to feel cold, somehow, or hot or pebbled like gooseflesh. But the stain felt exactly as warm and strong as the flesh around it. “What does it mean?” Henry asked.

It was the runes again. Not Karswell’s runes. There were no words printed on Edward’s chest in any alphabet. Just a simple shape, like a star gone lopsided. Or perhaps an animal of some kind. Or perhaps—this, to Henry’s mind came closest to it—the print of some animal that had stalked across Edward Dunning and left its mark.

Henry realized, suddenly, that he was still running a hand over the bare skin. He pulled himself away, embarrassed.

Edward simply shrugged. “It’s a kind of protection,” he said carefully. “Physical, but also mental. A protection of the spirit. I found the concept quite fascinating. I didn’t mention it in the talk I gave to the Society. Didn’t think they’d go for it, somehow. You know how nervous those types are against one going native.”

He tried to laugh it off, but Henry couldn’t join him. The water around him had gone uncomfortably cold. “Have you?” he said. “Gone native, I mean? It’s just…a tattoo, Edward? It’s a bit mad. A bit…”

“A bit like Karswell, you mean? Go on, say his name. It's been on your lips for months!” snapped Edward. He seemed to grow larger, looming out of the water like some creature from the deep. “If your brother had had a tattoo like this one Karswell wouldn’t have got within ten feet of him. I suppose you think that’s a fine price to pay for politeness sake?”

He dove under the surface and came up a few feet away, cutting like a shark through the water. Henry was too shocked to speak. He would never have imagined Edward would say such a thing to anyone, much less Henry. Edward did not look back when he reached land, simply stood there in the slanting afternoon sun, glaring around him as if searching for more threats, the sun glowing on his skin.

Henry paddled meekly to shore, feeling foolish. Why did he feel as if he should apologize when he’d only asked what any civilized man would? And the remark about John was a step too far. There was something strange about all this. There was no point denying it. Edward had fallen under some unwholesome influence on his travels. Maybe even before then. Damn Karswell and his runes and his demons. He thought with cold satisfaction about Karswell destroyed by his own monster and imagined doing the same to whatever forces were surrounding Edward now. He might start with getting that ring off his finger.

Henry picked up speed as he swam toward shore where Edward was waiting. He was halfway there when something latched onto his foot.

“Oi!”

He jerked to a stop, swallowing a mouthful of water as another a sharp pain pierced his foot, above the ankle. “What…”

Water closed up over his head. Teeth—sharp teeth--sunk into his hip, sending a shock down his right leg, which went immediately numb. He flailed his arms wildly and kicked with his left leg but the surface of the water receded further away as the thing dragged him under towards icier waters. Something slimy and muscular wrapped around his body and squeezed until purple and pink spots exploded before his eyes.

His flailing arms slowed, weakened and drooped.

Then Henry felt the squeeze of something else, the reassuring grasp of a strong, male, human hand that pulled him surely to the surface. The thing in the water loosened its grip. With one final kick Henry sent it falling back into the deep before he crashed through the surface, gasping, with Edward’s arms wrapped around him.

“Friend! Friend!” Edward shouted, oddly, past Henry’s ear. “Dear God, Henry, breathe now. You’re safe now. Deep breaths. That’s it.”

Henry did as he was told, letting Edward bear him gently toward the shore and lay him finally on the grass. His eyes fluttered, his vision filling with sunspots, green leaves and Edward, glancing wildly from the shore to the water and back.

“Edward?” he murmured. “What was it? Did you see the thing?” Feeling was slowly returning to his right leg, and with it a tingling pain. He propped himself on his elbows and saw blood, quite livid in the sunshine, running down it. He would certainly need a doctor. “What on earth could it have been?”

Edward had turned away and was packing up the lunch plates so furiously that for a moment Henry thought he was still angry. But then he saw that Edward’s shoulders were shaking and his breath was coming in sharp, quick pants. “Terribly sorry, Henry,” he managed to croak. “I shouldn’t have said what I did. It was careless. Terribly careless. I won’t do it again. I swear it. I swear it.”

There was something odd in what Edward was saying, but Henry was in no state to focus on it. He concentrated instead on the warm concern in Edward’s voice.


The doctor likened the marks on Henry’s leg to the bite of a snakehead which, he was quick to point out, was not native to the country. “You probably caught it on something under the water,” he said as Henry stepped back into his trousers. “You’d be amazed the things people toss into lakes. No respect for those of us who might want to fish in it. Do come back if you feel any stiffness in the jaw. That would be tetanus. Bad luck, if so. But it’s hard to tell, not knowing what the thing was.”

Lockjaw was the least of Henry’s worries as he contemplated his wound. He had the disturbing impression that his friend knew more about the injury than any doctor, if only Henry could formulate the right way to put the question to him.

He did not get the chance. After the outing on the Wey Edward became withdrawn. He cancelled appointments, was too busy for dinners. The one day Henry found him at home when he called, he was concerned at what he saw.

“You look as if you haven’t slept in weeks,” he said bluntly.

“I have tired myself out,” Edward said, rubbing his chest as if he felt a chill there. “Nothing to harm you, Henry. I swear it.”

“It’s not myself I’m worried about, old man,” said Henry, with an uneasy laugh. “Here’s an idea. Let’s take a walk to the park. Not too far. Just to get some fresh air in you.”

Edward appeared to like the idea, Henry thought, but just a few steps away from the front door changed his mind. “No. No, I tell you,” he muttered.

“Sorry?” Henry said. He had barely heard him. Edward had turned his back to his friend and appeared to be engaged in a whispered argument with himself. “Are you all right?”

“Quite all right, Henry. Quite all right. I just don’t think I’ll go out. Not a good idea. No.”

“All right,” said Henry. “We’ll stay in.”

“No, you go on. Please.” Edward took several steps backwards, away from the door and Henry felt strangely as if he were watching Edward drift out to sea beyond his reach.

He was determined not to leave Edward alone after that, but this proved more easily said than done. He came by the house several times, only to be turned away at the door by the charwoman. She seemed to have been instructed to put Henry’s fears at ease, but she was poorly equipped for it. Anyone could see that the woman was hiding something. She repeated her rehearsed reassurances well enough, but all the while her eyes darted back and forth as if searching for help. These signs of distress were enough to bring Henry back to the house again and again, but they could not get him past the front door.

He knew Edward had been seen by others. He’d had attended a luncheon with a few fellows he’d known at Oxford, and a young scholar doing interesting work in electromagnetism. He’d accepted his invitation to the annual ________ Society dinner. One afternoon Henry resolved to surprise him in the reading room at the library and insist on taking him to lunch.

In this way he’d hoped to get to the bottom of things, but this, too, proved difficult. Henry could not say that Edward looked well, exactly, yet there was nothing obviously wrong about him either. Other than that peculiar skittishness Henry had noticed before he went abroad. A hollow look about the eyes like a creature hunted. Haunted.

After that Edward became more reclusive than ever. Henry sent him a letter, but this, too, went unanswered.

He held out hope for the Society dinner, at which he and Edward had previously planned to meet. But Edward did not attend.

“I thought he was going to give a speech,” said Cartwright, who had written off the unpleasantness of their previous meeting as being the result of Edward having picked up a parasite on his travels. “I do hope old Scripp won’t be a replacement. I can’t bear listening to him bang on about archangels all night. Well, Harrington, where is he? Where is Dunning?”

“He’s not feeling well,” said Henry.

“He certainly isn’t,” Cartwright said almost smugly. “I would say he’s going mad.”

“I beg your pardon?” cried Henry. “What could you mean by that?”

“Only what I’ve heard,” Cartwright said. “About that day at Birch’s.”

Henry was almost frightened enough to beg Cartwright to go on but this being Cartwright, it wasn’t necessary.

“It was some kind of reunion of old friends, I heard. Friends he knew at Oxford. It started out well enough. But one of the other fellows—came down from Lincolnshire, I think—apparently he and Dunning had been rivals back then. At least Dunning thought so. There was some girl they fought over, or some rowing incident. Anyway, not the type of thing a gentleman would remember all these years later. But Dunning kept needling the fellow over it, making everyone uncomfortable, and all the while behaving as if it was the other fellow who was attacking him!”

Henry couldn’t help but think back to his own altercation with Edward on the Wey when it was Henry who was accused of, if only by implication, wishing Edward ill.

“Anyway, the whole thing got quite out of hand and the fellow wound up in hospital.”

“Hospital?” Henry cried. “I can’t believe Mr. Dunning would…”

“Oh, it wasn’t Dunning who did it,” Cartwright said. “At least not that anyone could prove. All I know is what Barrow told me. That’s Tim Barrow, a great friend of mine, excellent golfer; superlative eyesight. Well, according to Barrow the Lincolnshire fellow was knocked flat. Like a gazelle on the plains, he said, dropped by a big cat. He let out a horrible yell. The soup had tipped over in the confusion and Barrow thought the man had been scalded but when he pushed his way closer he said the man was…well…”

“Well?” Henry repeated. “Well what?”

Cartwright hesitated not out of delicacy, Henry could tell, but as if he’d reached a point in the story that even he himself couldn’t believe. “’Torn open’ was the phrase he used if you must know,” he said. “Quite gruesome, really. A bit bizarre, I know. But it did make me remember…well, do you recall the evening we dined at the Burlington? It did seem as if there was something under the table that night. I thought Dunning had kicked me but the truth was the thing felt more like an animal of some kind. Like a dog or something sleeping under the table. Though it was quite large for a dog…” He trailed off and shook himself much as he’d done that night. He barely seemed to notice when Henry excused himself from the table.


The train took him to within a mile or two of Edward’s house and the electric train a stage farther. Over the last few yards Henry walked smartly, briskly and then rapidly, with a feeling of disaster driving him on faster and faster. Such a fool, he thought, unsure if he meant himself or Edward. It was all falling into place now. It was only natural Edward would be attracted to guards against magic after what he’d been through. But protection, once invoked, would be hard to control. Karswell should have taught you that, he thought, running the last steps to Edward’s door. Those runes were meant to destroy his enemies, weren’t they?

There was no answer at the door. Not even the servant.

“They’ve gone away,” a passing lamplighter informed him. “The servants, that is. The gentlemen sent them away. I reckon he’d have gone too.”

“Sent them away?” Henry said. “How long have they been gone?”

“I’d say about two days now,” the man said. “Two days the house has been empty.”

Henry watched the man disappear round the corner before applying himself with studious violence to the door. The house was not empty, of that he was sure. Edward was in there and with him something else.

The door gave way. Henry stumbled into a dim corridor, lit only by the glowing streetlamps outside. “Edward? It’s Henry. I know what you’ve done. I’ve guessed everything. I’m here to help.”

No answer. Lighting a match, Henry crept his way through the house. The strange artifacts Edward had brought back from his travels seemed to watch him like gargoyles on a cathedral. He wondered which one of them might be the creature under the river? The monkey in the window? Henry kept his distance from it, knocking against the cauldron on the mantle. He dropped his match, which snuffed out, just as something else tumbled out of the cauldron and hit the rug with a series of soft thumps.

“Edward!” Henry called. “Answer me, man! I’m not leaving!”

He heard a movement upstairs and followed it. The rooms on the second floor of the house were as dark as the first. Only one room—Edward’s bedroom—showed the barest flickering under the door. Henry pushed it open gently. “Edward?” he said. “Edward, I’ve…”

“Stop right there, Henry,” Edward said. Henry could hear a trace of the old humor in his voice, but this only made the evident distress more clear. The words had come from the corner, behind a single candle on the floor. Henry lowered himself down to sit opposite. “I’ve been a fool, Henry,” said Edward. “Have you worked that out already? Like you worked out the runes?”

“Afraid so,” Henry said shakily.

Something rustled in the opposite corner and Henry almost jumped to his feet. His eye fell on the ring on Edward’s finger, whose deep red stone reflected the candle like a black mirror.

“It’s harmless,” Edward said, regarding the ring. “Nothing magical at all. Just hideous, as Cartwright said. It’s the tattoo, you see, Henry. It’s the tattoo that binds it to me. Binds it too well.”

Another soft noise came from the dark corner, like a large animal stretching in its sleep, its claws scratching lightly across the floor.

“It protects me from my enemies,” Edward went on, his voice on the edge of either laughing or crying. “Trouble is, it’s not very good at telling who my enemies are.”

“Mmm. Cartwright. The girl at the major’s reception. Me.”

“Yes! Even you, Henry. I had to let the servants go. I can feel the thing wanting to tear out Maria’s throat every time I find a bit of shell in my egg at breakfast.” A sob escaped him. “What shall I do, Henry? Stay here forever? I can’t risk it attacking someone else.”

“No, you can’t,” Henry said. “I’ve come here to help you.”

“Good old Henry,” said Edward. “Have you remembered something out of Karswell’s book that will save me? Again?”

“Wish I had, but no. Afraid I’m improvising this time. But together I thought we could come up with something to get rid of it.”

From the corner there came a hollow clatter, something between the growl of a tiger and the rattle of a snake, followed by a thump and a rustle.

Edward also thumped and rustled, and Henry had an unpleasant memory of a rabbit he’d seen once that was caught in a snare. No matter how it kicked and twisted, the poor thing couldn’t get away.

“You don’t understand, Henry,” Edward whispered. “The thing sees no difference between itself and I. My enemies are its enemies and its enemies…well.”

This presented a problem. Henry had assumed that as long as Edward was feeling kindly toward him, the creature would too. He could catch it off guard. But now…

The growling quieted, replaced by a ragged breathing that gradually got closer until Henry could actually feel it on his skin.

“Well,” he said. “I’ll have to show it we’re all friends here, then, won’t I?”

He considered picking up the candle, but did he really want to see the thing closely? Seeing its face—if it had a face—might make him lose his nerve. So he simply angled himself more in its direction. “Friend,” he said, remembering Edward at the river. “I’m a friend.”

He reached a trembling hand into the darkness. He did not know what he was expecting. Fur, perhaps, like an old bear skin rug? An icy cold? Perhaps the thing had no physical form at all. He felt nothing in the dark.

He felt nothing.

Then all at once the darkness seemed to shrivel and harden into something solid but spongy like old fruit. Not just around his hand but everywhere. He tried to scream but his mouth was full of the stuff. He could not raise his arms to beat against it. The growl rumbled against his chest and something sharp and pointed like teeth took shape around his throat.


Gradually, Henry became aware of discomfort. He was lying on something cold and hard, and a brief investigation revealed it was the floor. The single candle had blown out, but the weak light of dawn was at the window.

Henry sat up and gasped. His chest felt as if it had been squeezed in an olive press. Edward, he thought.

There was something in the corner, slumped against the wall. Henry’s chest squeezed tight again so for a moment he couldn’t breathe. “Edward?”

The figure moved. Henry crawled quickly to the window and lifted the shade to let more light in. The room was in quite a shambles. The chair by the bed lay on its side, having lost one of its legs. The bedclothes were piled in a heap. The pillow feathers were everywhere. The mirror above the bureau was cracked in three large pieces, one of which was smashed on the floor.

“The charwoman will be not be pleased,” Edward said hoarsely. “I shall have to give her a large bonus this Christmas.”

“Edward!” Henry dropped to his side and looked him over. Edward’s face was pale, his eyes hollow. Worst of all was an ugly, dark red stain where his heart should have been, and his shirt hanging in tatters. “Edward, did it…?”

“I did it,” he said. “I shall be all right, though. The wound’s not deep.” He moved the shirt aside. It looked as if the thing had ripped a chunk out of his flesh and Henry had visions of Edward being eaten alive.

“The tattoo,” he said. “You got rid of it.”

Edward’s eyes cut sideways to the knife that lay on the floor beside him. “Horrid thing. You were right, Henry. It was mad.”

“Not so mad,” Henry said kindly, tearing a sheet to make a bandage. There was a doctor nearby, he remembered. He would bring him here right away. “You only wanted protection. Understandable under the circumstances. You had no idea the thing would be quite so…enthusiastic.”

Edward laughed and then coughed. “Dear Henry. I shall rely solely on you for protection from now on. Where would I be without you?”

Henry tried to think of a light-hearted answer, but the horrible possibilities were too obvious to ignore. So he simply brushed a lock of Edward’s hair from his broad—currently troubled, but it would be clear soon enough—brow and promised to be back in just a moment with the doctor.