by Bekah See
Emptiness. Behind, ahead, around, above. Darkness. In her mind, her soul, her spirit. Fear. Pervading her essence, her core, her very being. Desire. Scoring her body, her thoughts, her heart.
Dr. Helen Magnus flashed awake, sitting up abruptly in her bed. She quickly looked around her room, now softly lit by sunshine lazing in through filmy drapes, and took a deep breath, trying to quiet the racing of her heart. A dream. It had been a dream. She ran a long fingered hand through her black hair, noting the perspiration, then rolled her shoulders, trying to ease the ache that had lodged in her back. Quietly, she took another deep breath and swung her legs over the side of her bed. She let them hang above the floor for a moment, studying the ruby satin sheets beneath her hands before slipping to the floor and heading for the privy to take care of her morning ablations. She took her time, deliberately slowing the drumming of her pulse, and allowing the downpour of hot water in her shower to calm her jangling nerves. Once she had finished, she felt much more human and ready to face the world. This was fortunate since the world of Helen Magnus was more arduous than most.
Moving into her sitting room, Helen grimaced as the strident tones of her daughter's stereo reached her ears. The doctor liked it quiet in the mornings, but Ashley evidently had other ideas. She looked at the door as it opened to admit her manservant with her morning tea and scones, and hid a grimace. Bigfoot was many things, but a decent cook was not one of them. He did, however, know that she did not enjoy speaking in the morning, and so he set down the tray beside the chair where she had curled herself, and departed, closing the door gently behind him.
Helen picked at her breakfast and stared down into the depths of the rich carpeting under her chair as if she could divine the meaning of her nightmare if she just stared hard enough. That dream had unsettled her more than she liked to admit. Of course, she'd had nightmares before, plenty of them. Terrors such as these were part and parcel to her line of work. But this one had been different. There was an element of something…other… that she just couldn't identify.
Footsteps outside her door and a loud crack of a knock pulled her from her deliberations as Ashley strode into the room. Helen's daughter was nothing if not confident.
"Hi Mom." The young woman said, helping herself to a scone.
"Good Morning, my darling. You're up early. Sleep well?"
"Not bad, I guess. You?"
Helen's mind flashed back to the horrible emptiness pervading her dream, and quickly set down her saucer to hid the sudden shaking of her hand. "Never better. What's on your agenda for today?"
"Oh, you know, the usual. We got that tip about a slimy something or other oozing around in the sewers under the city, and I thought I'd go check it out. Then I'm meeting up with Ernie to stock up on some supplies. After that, I don't really have anything set in concrete. Want to do lunch?"
Helen set her cup down. "I would love to, but I have a rendezvous with a doctor friend scheduled for the lunch hour."
Ashley looked interested. "A rendezvous, huh? Is this friend of the male type?"
Helen gave her daughter a look. "No. And I'll thank you to mind your own business, young lady."
Ashley smirked, not the least bit daunted by her mother's tone.
"Actually, my meeting is with Dr. Susan Fryes." Helen went on, sipping her tea and frowning. The bigfoot-made beverage was barely palatable when scalding hot, which it no longer was. "You remember her, don't you?"
Ashley looked mildly disgusted. "Yeah, I remember. Isn't she locked up in the loony bin?" She bit her lip and put on a look of concentration in a perfect, albeit exaggerated, mockup of her mother's usual pose when faced with a wayward memory. "Let's see, I believe she was caught doing something rather distasteful with certain multilegged insects. Am I right?"
"Yes, that is true." Helen ceded. "And yet, despite her…unusual…state of mind, she is still one of the century's foremost experts in exobiological psychology."
"Which means she thinks she's the bug whisperer, right?"
"I'm sure have no idea what you're talking about, Ashley."
"Of course you don't." Ashley stood up and leaned over to kiss her mother on the cheek. "Well, I'm off to seek the ooze. See ya later, Mom."
"Good-bye, Ashley. And please don't neglect to check in this time."
Ashley waved her acknowledgement and was gone, the door slamming behind her.
An hour later, Dr. Magnus entered her lab to find her associate, Dr. Will Zimmerman in deep conversation with Henry, her tech expert. The heat of their argument told her they were probably still engaging in the same debate that they had done for the past month: whether or not the safety protocols should be voice printed to those of the Sanctuary team. Henry seemed to think it a good idea, which was understandable considering how close he had come to having his mind taken over by the Three Sisters. Will did not agree, arguing that there were probably ghouls out there who would be able to match their voices using some gift they hadn't discovered yet, and so would be able to wreak havoc on the entire mansion if given the opportunity.
Helen smiled to herself. Will had come a long way in the short time he'd been with them, to be able to foresee things like that. She settled herself at her workstation and began catching up on her morning duties. She glanced over at the clock. It was almost exercise hour, she must have spent more time over her breakfast than she'd meant to. Abruptly, the numbers in front of her began to swim dizzily and she closed her eyes to avoid the vertigo. She put a hand to her head, then pulled it quickly away, not wanting the men standing in the front of the room to notice.
Unfortunately, the ploy didn't work.
"You okay?" Will had walked over to her, looking concerned.
"Of course. I'm fine." she said, glancing up at him and firmly telling her head to stay on her shoulders.
The young man eyed her closely. "You sure? You look a little pale. Even for you."
Helen pierced him with her sternest gaze. "I'm fine, Dr Zimmerman. Thank you for your concern. Now, we should probably continue going over the material we began last night…"
The rest of the day passed without incident, and Helen soon forgot about the dizzy spell of the morning as she buried herself in her work. Her meeting with the doctor in the asylum went well, and she came away with several new insights concerning some of her more insectoid abnormals. Soon enough, the sun began to set and Bigfoot called them all for the evening meal.
Supper in the Sanctuary mansion was a somewhat tense affair at the best of times, although it almost always stayed civil. Ashley and Will invariably got into an argument of some kind over the nuances of how to catch an abnormal, with Bigfoot interjecting grunts of affirmation or negation every so often. Helen usually stayed quiet during these "discussions", content to listen to the young people express their rather strong opinions and to see what they were learning. For some reason, the two could never see eye to eye on anything. They're like siblings Helen thought to herself. They bounce ideas off of one another to see if they like the way they sound. And their personalities are so different that they rarely agree, which gives them both a chance to look at the other side of the topic. It was a fair arrangement, and, as Will settled in and became less intimidated by Ashley's rather strong personality and of Bigfoot's general presence, he was much more inclined to say exactly what was on his mind.
Helen's thoughts continued in this vein for some time, until she became aware of Ashley's voice saying her name, rather more stridently than was needed.
"Ashley, there is no need to raise your voice. I can hear you just fine."
"Um, Magnus, she's been saying your name for the past thirty seconds." Will informed her.
Helen looked at her daughter who was staring at her, concern in her eyes. "Have you?"
Ashley nodded and Helen turned her gaze to her butler, who had frozen in the process of clearing the table and was studying her. She looked back at her child.
"Forgive me, darling. It's been a long day and I'm afraid I am tired. Why don't we go over the plan to catch our sewer friend, and then I willl retire for the night."
Ashley continued to look at her mother for a moment, then nodded and outlined her ideas.
Evidently the abnormal in question had been content to snack on stray animals up to this point, but now was gearing toward humans as its size grew and small dogs and cats could no longer sustain it.
"It can squelch through almost anything and then re-form on the other side without missing a beat. And projectiles seem to go right through it."
Helen's head snapped up. "You shot it?"
"Just with a tranq gun, mom. It was coming at me pretty quick. But, like I said, the dart just went right through it and hit the wall on the other side."
"So how are we going to catch it?" Will asked.
"What would you recommend, Doctor?" Helen looked at him expectantly.
"Uh, well, I guess we could gas it."
"You're assuming it has a respiratory system."
"Oh. Right. Well, maybe we could come up with some kind of compound that willl neutralize its viscous nature long enough to bag it and get it back here."
"Very good, Doctor Zimmerman. You're thinking in the right direction. And I believe we have just the thing." Helen outlined what she needed to her butler, who assured her that he would have everything ready for her in the morning. Then the doctor stood and put her napkin on the table, surreptitiously leaning on it as the room swayed. "Now if you all will excuse me, I will say good-night." Thankfully, the room righted itself in time for her to be able to move away without disgracing herself.
Her back being turned, she didn't see the look of concern that passed between the three people behind her.