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I suppose it began when I entered into the service of Dr Reginald Whitcomb. His name is in all the papers now, of course, but at the time I had never heard of him: I thought him a physician, though his practice was small and poorly signposted, consisting more or less of a dark cellar (despite all our best work, his and mine both, with gaslights and mirrors) off a little alley in Shadwell. It did not entirely inspire trust, I must admit, but I was not in much of a position to be choosy: any employment is better than none.

“I shall require three things of you,” Dr Whitcomb said to me when I first presented myself. “Firstly: your assistance. My work is a tricky business, and may often require a second pair of hands, unskilled though they be. That will be in addition to keeping the place clean, of course, and seeing to errands when I ask it. Secondly: your silence. I will not have you distracting me with questions or uneducated opinions; you are here to assist me, not to involve yourself. Thirdly: your complete and utter discretion. You will speak no word of anything you see here to anyone at all beyond these walls: I deal with science not yet published, and I will not have my secrets stolen. Do I have your agreement?”

“You have it, sir,” I answered, and with that my service was sealed.

In the service of Dr Whitcomb I made every effort to appear as a shadow, silent and watchful, ever present, ever ready. I had sworn away my voice; and so he gave no thought to what I witnessed, and though I confess I did not understand much of what he did, I saw near everything.

I had thought him a physician, but it soon became clear that Dr Whitcomb’s art was not for healing. He did bring in patients – where he found them I do not know – but they left his practice in a worse state than when they came; and that, I must say, took some doing. Many of them were dead to start with – freshly dead, by the look of them. Most others were brought in in a stupor: laudanum, no doubt, and quite probably beyond the usual dose. One sees enough of it, after all.

Living or dead, Dr Whitcomb’s patients were strapped tightly into the chair at the centre of the cellar, and if living were given a strip of leather to bite on; whereupon Dr Whitcomb fitted their head into a device of his own design and, by vigorously turning a crank, provided it with an electrical current. This was a task he trusted to no hands but his own. The crank must be turned steadily, without the slightest pause to disrupt the current’s flow.

The device itself fitted neatly around the patient’s head, so that I could not see what was done within it. I did see the sparks, however, and I saw what was extracted and distilled from them, though I could give it no name. Each patient’s session with the device provided Dr Whitcomb with a vial of effervescent fluid, of every conceivable colour: from gold to crimson to violet to rose; and each was carefully labelled – though Dr Whitcomb never explained his shorthand to me, and I did not ask – and stored within a mahogany vitrine, to which no one but Dr Whitcomb was in possession of a key.

The patients, if they had been living to start with, very often were not after it was done. Those who still breathed gave every sign that they would not do so for very much longer: they occupied every position of insanity from gibbering to catatonic to stark raving mad, and could be found to be bleeding from every orifice. They must have died quite near the practice, as often as not – Dr Whitcomb, having finished with them, simply turned them out onto the street – but this was Shadwell, after all, and it was quite some time before the police took note.

I would have protested, but I did not dare. As I have said, I was in no position to be choosy.

What precisely the fluids were I cannot say, but I was witness to other experiments which shewed at least what they did. Dr Whitcomb brought in some of Shadwell’s finest – urchins and dollymops and men without work, all of them desperate for halfpennies – and injected them with variously coloured fluids in order to observe their effects. I was able to see for myself that the crimson fluid turned a man to rage, the dark rose to lust, the gold to an over-joyful mania. There was nuance for every shade, and complex effects when the colours were mixed before injection.

As he had warned me when he first took me into his employ, Dr Whitcomb would not allow rumours of this yet-unpublished science to escape his practice. When he had finished these experiments he disposed of his patients – if, indeed, they can be called such – in the usual fashion.

Again, I did not dare to raise protest.

Though my conscience plagued me, I was not truly frightened of Dr Reginald Whitcomb until quite near the end, mere days before the police came to his door. I had come to his practice a few minutes earlier than was usual, on account of a particularly strong rain, and found him sitting at his mixing table; before him was a vial of fluid which shifted in colour from bloody to golden to pale cerulean, the colour of cold immoral cleverness, and a silver needle syringe. His shirtsleeves were rolled up past his elbows, revealing a forearm blue with bruises and sporting a number of tiny round wounds.

I made some small noise, and the doctor turned to face me: eyes cruel and cunning, mouth twisted in furious laughter.

I ran then, not looking behind me. I did not return to the practice again.
Written for THE GAUNTLET. First challenge: ZOMBIES OF THE VICTORIAN AGE (1000 words or less.) Make clear to the reader without explicitly stating the year or place that the story is, indeed, taking place in England under Queen Victoria.

If you've yet to hear of the Gauntlet, you should definitely check it out. This is going to be awesome.

Clearly, I didn't follow the instructions as well as I should have here. The zombies are there if you squint a bit, but the explicit mentions of place are there to stay; I am suitably ashamed of myself, but at this point this is what I've got and I'll just have to accept whatever judgement falls upon me.

Wordcount: 1000.

Scrapped 26.05.2018
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neurotype Featured By Owner Edited Oct 31, 2017  Hobbyist General Artist
Have you seen Penny Dreadful? I feel like this would fit right in. You nailed the Gothic-horror (prooobably not the right term, but who's keeping score) tone.
GDeyke Featured By Owner Nov 1, 2017   Writer
I haven't, but it sounds like it draws from a lot of the same influences I used for this. Glad to hear the tone worked!
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Oct 5, 2017
The narration is perfect. :thumbsup: Put me in mind of the first time I read Dracula, but with enough modern tilt that it wasn't difficult to follow. :) Nice work! 
GDeyke Featured By Owner Oct 5, 2017   Writer
Glad to hear it. :D Thank you!
BATTLEFAIRIES Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2017
This was cool. Very lovecraftian feel to it, if I may say so - even without elder evils, hehe.
GDeyke Featured By Owner Oct 3, 2017   Writer
Thank you! :D And hey - thanks for going through and commenting on entries. All too often, contest judges feel a bit like a black hole. ;)
BATTLEFAIRIES Featured By Owner Oct 3, 2017
Well, I try - it's not easy writing something for all the entries, and I'd rather write nothing at all than a vague sentiment that can be taken the wrong way. The good stuff at least make it hard for me to stay quiet, so you can be sure to know I mean it when I express my appreciation!
jes6ica Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2017
Ooooh, so great, and I'd love to include this in Myths, Monsters, Mutations. If you wanted to expand on it a bit, that would be awesome too. Would you be interested?
GDeyke Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2017   Writer
Very probably! How much of an expansion would you be looking for?
jes6ica Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2017
I'm not picky! :)  But I suppose I was thinking along the lines of just drawing it out a bit. Expanding the first meeting where the narrator is hired. Adding more details/events to the work itself--maybe some specific incidents or something that the narrator sees. Potentially something where s/he grows suspicious about the doctor, or notices something that s/he brushes off, until the final discovery is made.

Just generally a bit...more. :) Wouldn't have to be tons. Just if you felt like there were things you could consider expanding upon, that'd be most excellent! :)
GDeyke Featured By Owner Sep 27, 2017   Writer
I'll see what I can do. :)
jes6ica Featured By Owner Sep 27, 2017
SCFrankles Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2017  Hobbyist Writer
Whether you've followed the instructions or not (you don't actually say England so I assume you're fine ^^) this is beautifully done. So atmospheric and great use of description - I particularly liked before him was a vial of fluid which shifted in colour from bloody to golden to pale cerulean, the colour of cold immoral cleverness...
GDeyke Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2017   Writer
Thank you! :D
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September 5, 2017


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