Cradles the Brain: A Book of Short Tales

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Vitality Episode 1

“Two drops rose oil,” she murmurs, staring at the yellowed page. “Would three be too much or would it add passion?” Three drops fall into the mortar. Long fingers wrap around a pestle. She grinds the ingredients into a paste. “Where is my strainer?” she asks under her breath. Using a flat disk of metal, she scrapes out the paste and scoops it into the strainer where she strains it into a glass. From here she sets the glass over a burner. She wafts the smell to her pointed nose and inhales. “Perfect.” With tongs, she picks up the glass and pours it into a funnel, which leads to a small vial. The pink fluid fills the vial, leaving plenty of excess. “And I will be saving this for future use.” She smiles, exposing tea-stained teeth. She retrieves a jar from her large wooden desk and dumps the remainder in. She screws on the lid and walks across her lab.

Lit only by candle light, the room has an orange aura. Rough bookcases with failing shelves full of leather bound books and skulls of different species line the walls. Tables find themselves scattered about the room. Various glass tubes and containers of all sorts sit on these tables, some teeming with liquids and ooze. She gets to a large shelf full of jars and picks up a quill. Dipping it in the ink bottle, she scrawls, “Love Potion,” across the jar. On her tip-toes she places the jar on the top shelf.

Walking back to her work station, she peers at the elephant in the room. A body lay on a steel table, its abdomen flayed open, exposing its organs. She lightly pokes the man on the nose and walks on. Corking the vial, she places it in her coat pocket.

“Tristan!” she calls to the body. “I’m off to see my patient.” She smiles and slips on her mask and gloves. She inhales the smell of the herbs within the mask’s beak. The round, glass eyes conceal her observing green eyes behind blue tint. Snatching up her satchel and throwing it over her shoulder, she runs out of the lab, her dark coat billowing behind her. Bounding up the stairs almost silently, she faintly hums. Swinging open the door, grey light meets her anxious eyes. She closes the large wooden door behind herself and produces a large, iron key. She locks the door with a click of finality and nods her head.

People on the street walk with their heads down. Melanie admires the grey sky as she walks along. Rats skitter around her feet, delicately squeaking. A small bounce can be noticed in her step. A woman sobs from a window above her as she passes an apartment building. Melanie hums a tune and bobs her head with it. Walking past brick buildings with large, arched, wooden doors, she admires the craftsmanship.

“Doctor! Doctor!” a man yells from behind Melanie, his voice booming through the narrow street.

Melanie stops and spins around. She turns her head sideways to peer through the glass. A man runs towards her. She steps back once, allowing the man space to stop without colliding with her.

“Doctor,” he bends over, out of breath.

Melanie looks down at him in silence.

He looks up at her. “Doctor,” he places a hand on her shoulder, “please help. My daughter is ill.” His dark eyes plead.

“I’m sorry, sir, but I’m on my way to another patient’s home for an appointment. You’ll have to schedule an appointment.” Melanie turns to leave when he tightens his grip on her shoulder.

“Ma’am, Doctor, you must help.”

Melanie angles her mask so she may see the man correctly. “I must attend to a patient. I may have time this afternoon or evening but—”

“She is very sick!”

“And so is this man!” Her voice comes out gruff, not at all in the sweet manner it had been in a few seconds before.

The man is taken aback. He loosens his grip on Melanie. “Alright, if you—”

Melanie sighs. She grabs the man’s hand with both of hers. “I am truly sorry, sir. I lost my temper. It has been but a stressful morning and I have many patients to attend to. Where do you and your daughter reside?”

The man’s eyes light up. “Just ’round the corner!”

“Please take me to see her.” Melanie nods and the man takes her hand in his and shakes it. He leads her down the street and around a corner.

“We are up on the second floor.” The man opens a door, letting Melanie walk ahead of him. The stairway is dark and damp, but she makes it up to the second floor. The man follows close behind, closer than Melanie would prefer.

“This door on your left,” he says.

Melanie stops a few paces past the door and lets him open it for her. She steps through the doorway into a filthy apartment. Plates with half eaten food sit on the sofa and on the table. Water leaks from the roof and into a chipped teapot with an incessant drip. Crumbs and soiled linens scatter the floor. Melanie holds her head at an odd angle to take it all in from behind her mask.

“Is the mask necessary?” he asks, startling Melanie from her thoughts.

“Yes, yes it is,” she curtly answers.

“Ah, alright. I was just afraid it may scare poor Annalise, but if it is for safety, I understand.”

“What symptoms is Annalise having?” she asks, now tilting her head towards him .

“She’s had a cough and a pain in her chest she says. The cough sounds nasty, but she’s been ill before with a similar cough.”

“So why am I here?”

“Well, this cough has been around much longer than the other coughs. I’m afraid it may be something serious.”

Melanie nods. “Yes, how old is the child?”

“She’s eight.”

“Well, why don’t I go speak with Annalise?”

“Right this way.” He leads her through the small parlor and into a bedroom.

A girl lies in the bed, a blanket all the way up to her chin. Her sallow face frames two swollen eyes. Melanie steps further into the room and the eyes pop open. They swivel over to Melanie and widen.

“Father!” her voice is hoarse yet faint.

“Annalise, she’s a doctor.” The man rushes out from behind Melanie and kneels at her bed. She slips her hands from under the blanket and grasps his.

“Is she going to help me?” she asks, her eyes searching his face.

Her father nods.

“Mr.,” Melanie pauses, “well I do not know your name and you do not know mine.” She holds out her hand.

The man stands up and meets Melanie’s handshake. “My apologies. I am Jonathan Liverpool. This is my daughter, Annalise Liverpool.” Annalise gives her best effort at a smile.

Melanie smiles back, quickly realizing no one can see her face. “Nice to meet you. I am Doctor Melanie Poe.”

From Annalise’s perspective, this is the strangest looking doctor she has ever seen. She holds her head at odd angles, casting the beak of her mask around to and fro. The heavy, black coat obscures all human shape, leaving Annalise to wonder if this doctor isn’t altogether just a pile of cloth.

“Let me have a look at the young lady,” Melanie says as she approaches the bed.

Annalise shrinks back into her bed. Melanie lightly sets her hand on the girl’s head and strokes her light blonde hair. “You have such beautiful hair.”

Annalise relaxes a bit and feebly smiles. “Thank you. I’ve been told it looks like my mother’s.”

Melanie frowns from inside the mask, thankful the girl cannot see her expression. “Well, it’s gorgeous.”

Annalise keeps the light smile. She finds the doctor’s voice comforting, even with it being so muffled. She faintly smells the herbs Melanie is wearing and thinks of the past.

“What are you having trouble with, Annalise?” Melanie sits on the edge of the bed and pulls her satchel off, setting it on the ground. She digs through, clinking glass around as Annalise answers.

“I’ve had a cough.”

“Yes, and what does it feel like?”

“I don’t see what you mean.”

“Does it hurt? Or sting? Or feel like something is stuck in here?” Melanie lightly pokes the girl’s chest through the blanket.

Annalise nods. “It stings a bit, as well as it feels like something is in here.” She points to her chest.

“Aright, well I have just the thing.” Melanie produces a bottle of brown liquid. Annalise looks at it with wide eyes. “A few sips of this once in the morning and once before bed and you should be healed soon.” Melanie stands and uncorks the bottle. She gently places it to Annalise’s lips and lets the girl take a sip. Her face contorts as she swallows. “Not the greatest tasting!” Melanie laughs and Annalise follows suit. She spins around and hands the bottle off to Jonathan. “Make sure you administer this to her. I will be back in a week to see how she is doing.” She turns back to Annalise. “Goodbye, dear. I will see you in a week.” She waves a gloved hand and leaves the room with a flap of her coat.

Jonathan rushes to keep up. “How much do I owe you?”

Melanie laughs. “You owe me nothing. I made that with a few herbs from my garden and a gift from my neighbor.”

“But—”

“Please. If I asked for something in return, then I would be greedy. The ingredients were generously given to me, so I made them into something. Now I am giving it to you and expecting you to give it to someone else.” Melanie points to his daughter’s bedroom. “I am counting on you as much as she is.” She nods. “Now, I must be getting to my next patient before the bell tolls. Good day.” Melanie opens the door and rushes out and down the stairs, thankful to be alleviated from the stuffy apartment.

As Melanie rounds the corner, a dog barks from down the street, echoing off of the stone buildings. The cold air bites into her coat. Putting haste into her step, Melanie thinks of her patient. A smile creeps across her face under the mask. With each breath, her glass eyes briefly fog up. She watches as a scrawny cat scurries across the street, a lean killer one moment, and with an exhale, a quick ghost.

She turns the corner, almost bumping into a tall man in a coat much like hers. He quickly moves aside and tips his hat to her. She nods and continues on. Passing shops, she peers into the dark windows. Through her mask she cannot smell the smoke that flows from the chimneys of nearby buildings or the sewage in the street.

She rushes, knowing she will be late if she does not. Her boots click on the brick below her in quick time, keeping with the beating of her heart. Teeth find her lip and begin to gnash on the tender flesh.

As she continues her journey, the buildings around her change. The streets are cleaner. The buildings have decorative elements. The sky seems a less dull shade of grey here, like the sun is just about to peek through the clouds. Melanie sighs, knowing she is within minutes of her patient. From her satchel, her fingers pull free a leather bound notebook. She peers down at it in intervals, being careful of her step. She reads over the patient’s information once, even though she has every tidbit memorized. In thick cursive, the pages read:

“Clint complains of

~ Heavy fatigue

~ Pains of the stomach

~ Chills

I have surveyed him many times, staying by his bedside when need be. Despite his chills, his temperature is generally above average. Will continue treatment. He is priority as of now.”

She stops reading as she crosses the street, finally on his block. Stuffing the notebook in her satchel, she runs up to his building’s door. Turning the doorknob, her body fills with excitement. She slams the door behind herself and looks up the dimly lit staircase.

“Clint!” she calls from outside his door, her chest heaving from running up the stairs. She hears movement from inside. “Be careful now, you’re supposed to be resting!’’ She tries the doorknob, finding it locked.

A click and the door opens.

“Doctor Poe, how nice to see you!” a man with dark circles around bright blue eyes exclaims. He smiles, exposing pale gums. “Come in, please!”

Melanie enters, and he closes the door behind her.

“I had to start locking the door. I think someone was coming in at night! I felt as if I were being watched in my sleep!” He locks the door with a key as he speaks. “Just in case the poor fellow decides to enter while I am waking.” He flashes her another grin.

Melanie nods and laughs anxiously. “Please, sit down, Clint. I wouldn’t want you to strain yourself.” She gestures to the sofa.

“Alright, if you say so, Doctor.” He laughs and plops down on a cushion.

Melanie hesitantly sits down next to him. She retrieves her notebook, a quill, and a small bottle of ink. Setting these out on the table, she takes a deep breath, thinking of the usual questions she must ask him.

“How are you doing today?” He catches her off guard, pulling her from her concentration, and her hand bumps the ink. She snatches it before it falls over and slams it into place, thankful she hadn’t taken the cork out yet.

“I’m quite fine,” she curtly answers.

“Are you sure?”

Melanie nods and sets out her notebook. “Any new symptoms?” She writes the questions as she says them.

“No.” He laughs. “Unless you count attraction as a symptom.”

Melanie’s heart flutters and she looks up to him through her mask. “Why, I don’t believe I do.”

“Ah, good. Scratch that then.” He smiles and Melanie’s eyes take in every bit of his face. They sit in silence for a good moment until he speaks up. “Continuing.” He gestures towards her notebook.

“Ah, yes.” She nods. Setting her pen down, she stops. “Isn’t it humorous that you’ve never seen my face before?” She lightly giggles.

Clint’s eyebrows lift. “Uh, quite a strange statement, after all, you are my doctor and it is for safety.”

Melanie nods. “Right.” Her chest fills with a burning pain. She sighs as she writes the next question. “How would you say your energy has been?”

“I’ve been feeling much better, so good, that I may not need treatment anymore.” He smiles. “I’ll be happy to finally leave this apartment.” His eyes look about the room.

“Ah. Good to hear. I am pleased that my treatments are working.” She feebly smiles under the mask. Thoughts spiral through her mind. She clears her throat. “Well, I do have a new formula that may clear everything up.” Her voice shakes.

“What do you mean?” he asks with urgency.

“I did some extensive research and,” she pauses to reach into her bag, “I have concocted this.” She presents the vial of pink liquid. His eyes widen. “It is supposed to be a cure-all.”

Clint licks his lips. “I am not sure that is necessary. I feel ten times better than I did last time I saw you!”

Melanie huffs a breath out. “And patients with similar symptoms have said the same.” She looks to her feet. “And that’s when their symptoms doubled, killing most of them.” He gasps. Looking up to him, she says, “That is, through the research I have done. I have been able to cure my patients of similar ailments with slow procedures.” He nods. “But this may be able to cure you within days, completely preventing a relapse.”

He sighs. “I have no recollection of you stating these facts of relapses.”

She eyes him through the mask. “I kept it secret. Any stress to you could have been fatal, but it is your choice. Cure now, or continue slow treatments.”

He leans back, looking from the vial to Melanie’s mask and back to the vial. “Give it here.” He reaches a pale hand outwards and Melanie’s heart skips a beat. She hands him the vial, sure to press her gloved hand against his. He uncorks the vial, and Melanie breathlessly watches as he puts it to his lips. He tips it back, swallowing it in full. A look of disgust passes his face. “Oh, goodness, what is in that?”

Melanie laughs, more a nervous outburst than a response to his reaction. “Ingredients that are sure to help you.” She nods and takes the empty vial from him. “I should be on my way.” Melanie picks up her satchel when he grasps her arm.

“Wait.”

She stops and looks back to him.

“Please stay. I’d like some company, even if it’s just for a while.”

Melanie’s heart melts and she sits back down. “Are you sure?” He nods. “Alright. I guess I’ll stay for a bit.”

He smiles and starts conversation. From his ailments, to her studies, to more personal topics, the two find themselves lost in conversation for hours.

“Now that we have spoken a while, it is odd that I have never seen your face, although I do find the mask,” he pauses, pursing his lips to the side, “alluring.”

Melanie giggles. “Shall I take it off?”

“What of my illness? Surely you can’t risk your health.”

“Ah, with the cure you took hours ago, I’m sure it is safe.”

Melanie retracts her hood, exposing brown hair tied in a bun. She stands and removes her hooded coat, placing it on the armrest of the sofa. Sitting down, she unties her hair, letting it fall down past her waist. From under her hair, she unbuckles the straps around her head. With a click, she is free of her mask. She pulls it off, setting it into her lap.

He stares into her now exposed green eyes. Her light pink lips tremble in the slightest.

With a sudden flash, Clint bares his teeth as color flushes into his face. He rears back and shoves Melanie’s shoulders, throwing her to the ground. Melanie gasps. Her satchel falls to the ground. Glasses roll free onto the hardwood floor. Her mask falls from her lap, striking the table and inevitably leaving a scratch on one of the lenses.

His face jarringly falls flat. His eyes look forward as if he sees nothing. Melanie lies on her back, supported by her elbows. She watches him, shaking. His faces gains back animation, and he looks to Melanie.

“What happened?” His voice is sad. He gets up and kneels beside Melanie. “I’m terribly sorry. Are you okay?” Melanie nods. He gently takes her hand in his. He slips off the glove with care. “Such soft hands.” He looks into Melanie’s eyes and leans towards her.

Unsure of what to do, Melanie lets him kiss her, the butterflies overtaking the fear. She finds his lips soft, and his breath is sweet with the potion. He parts from her, gazing into her eyes. His hand reaches to the back of her head and gently grasps her hair. He tightens his grip. Melanie gasps. Anger flushes his face again as tears flood his eyes. He twists his grip. Melanie is sure he has torn some of her hair free. She whimpers. He pulls her head back and throws her down. She smacks her head onto the floor. Her brain swims through pain, reaching for the surface of consciousness.

She hears him scream, an animal sound. Placing her hands on the floor, she pushes herself up through the dizziness. She turns to look at him, finding him in spasms on the floor. She crawls to his side. His arm shoots out and his hand clutches the collar of her shirt. He pulls her close.

You should be ashamed.” The words fight through his clenched teeth.

Melanie looks at him with wide eyes. His grip loosens and his spasms slow. His eyes look to the ceiling as one large sigh escapes his body.

Melanie shakes her head. “No. No. No.” She leans her head against his chest, placing her hand above his gaping mouth. No breath or chest movement. She places two fingers on his wrist and two fingers on his neck. No pulse. “No!” She slams her fists onto the hardwood floor.

Quickly, she rises. She ties her hair up, buckles on her mask, and slips on her coat. Picking up her things and locating his key, she gets to the door. She locks it behind herself and runs down the stairs two at a time. Yanking on the door, she exposes herself to dim light. Clouds have moved in, obscuring the sunlight.

She rushes down the street, afraid to run might she see someone she is acquainted with. The street and buildings move by at an alarming rate. Everything blurs in her vision.

Her door finally approaches her after what feels like an eternity. She produces her own key and unlocks the door. She slips in, locking it behind herself. Bounding down the stairs, she enters her laboratory.

“Tristan! We have a problem!” she yells to the dead body on its table. It does not stir, despite the work she has been doing to make it do so. Onto her work table, she throws down her satchel. She empties it of its contents and looks around.

Bolting across her lab, she stops in front of a bookcase. Her eyes scan the titles. They stop upon it.

The Dark Arts.”

Her fingers grip the spine and pull it free. The large book pulls her down, catching her off guard. She stops herself from falling with a hand on the bookshelf. With a grunt, she hauls the book over to her work table. She unbuckles her mask and strips it from her face.

Opening the book, the smell of dust hits her in the face. She reads the table of contents, finding, “Necromancy.” Her heart pounds as she flips through the pages.

Raising the Dead: Spells and Rituals.

Her eyes work around the page, locating the perfect ritual for her situation.

“Rosemary,” she whispers. Melanie spins around and rushes to her cabinet. She swings open the doors and snatches up a jar of rosemary. She slams this down next to the book.

“Mugwort.” Off to the cabinet again. She grunts, only having a quarter jar of the leaves. With this in hand, she reads on. “I don’t have time to boil water!” She reads on. “I have to ingest it? Before the ritual?!” She sighs. “Ugh.” Opening the jar, she shoves her hand in. She pinches the remaining leaves and pulls them free. Opening her mouth wide, she shoves them in. The bitter taste contorts her face. She chews with much effort as she continues to read.

“Human skull,” she says with a full mouth. She nods and reaches over to her left. She swallows, feeling the leaves scratch down her throat. “Riggs! I finally get to use you!” She snatches the skull by the back of its head and turns it to face her. She looks into its empty eye sockets. Cobwebs stare back at her. She places it with the rest of her materials.

“And the final piece needed is… a dagger!” She walks over to her desk and opens a drawer. It clangs with shifting metal. She digs through the many, many knives inside and finds a suitable knife. The blade is as long as her face and curves upwards; the handle is made of bone and brass. She holds it up, inspecting it, and smiles.

She snatches her satchel on the way back to the work table. In a hurry, she stuffs in the tools in and grabs her mask. She slips it on and pulls her hood over.

Crossing what feels like miles of brick streets, Melanie makes it to his apartment. She opens the door and quickly closes it behind herself. A chill has set itself in the room. Stepping over Clint’s body, she goes to the living room, where she has sat many a night, and peers into the hearth. The fire is almost out. She drops her bag, slips her mask off, and kneels by the fire, gently tending to it.

With the fire crackling, she stands. In the parlor, she grabs her bag and begins. The mugwort sits funny in her stomach, but she tries to keep it down. Pulling the rosemary from her bag, she locates a few candles. She lights the candles by the fire. In the parlor, she sets them about and closes the shades, not wishing any of the neighbors to see. She rushes back to the fire in the orange glow and lights a rosemary bundle.

With a steady hand, she takes the smoking rosemary about the room, swirling the smoke around. She clears her mind and focuses on positive energy. She imagines a white light, all that is pure, and asks for protection. Kneeling over Clint’s body, she casts smoke over him. She stands and places this on a plate, leaving it to trickle smoke into the room.

She pulls the rest of her tools out. With the dagger, she carves a large circle around Clint into the wood floor. She gouges a deep and thick line to ensure completion. As she gouges, she thinks of the white light entering the circle. At Clint’s head, she sets the skull, facing him.

“Riggs, I ask you of protection and communication.” She picks up the rosemary and places the smoking bundle into the skull’s mouth. Smoke curls from its eyes and nose and tumbles out of its mouth.

Melanie moves Clint’s body so his palms are facing upward at his sides. She turns his face upwards so he may stare at the ceiling. She separates his legs and arms out so he takes shape of a five pointed star.

She sighs and retrieves the book. Opening it to the ribbon she had placed inside, she reads it over one last time. She stands over his body.

Closing her eyes, her lips part. “Heavenly Fa—”

Her eyes open wide. She looks down: Clint’s hand grips her ankle with tremendous force. His eyes bore into hers as his entire body tenses.

You.

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