Erik trudged home, heavy pack slung across his sore shoulders. The hour was late—or early—whichever way you stood on the clock’s hands. This evening had been disastrous, but it was a welcome bit of drama to his rather dull life. He spent his days apprenticing at the blacksmith shop with Firenze, a man he’d grown to respect and admire over the course of his time in Paris. Firenze had even been so kind as to let Erik and Anna stay in the apartment above the shop for a small fee. It wasn’t much, but it was a roof over their heads and a warm fireplace, which was more than he could say for the beggars who crouched in doorways, shying away as he stalked past.
He hadn’t run into much trouble in Paris, for which he was grateful. He knew his looks had something to do with it. Most were just fascinated that a Norwegian had ventured so far south and so far inland; Erik belonged to the fjords, the midnight sun and the sea. Not in some overflowing city. He’d often wondered when he could convince Anna they should return home. Not to father’s, of course, but at least the next town over, so they could be surrounded by their own people, and their own food.
His stomach have a hearty growl as he turned onto their street, and he prayed that Anna had made lefse. The lutefisk, though, he could do without. It just didn’t taste the same here.
His mind exhausted and wandering as it was, it returned like a scampering rabbit to the Irish woman, her ocean blue eyes so very entrancing to Erik. If she hadn’t been a prostitute, she may have been the type of woman he chose to court and marry. She was stunning, with her pale skin and dark hair, her features all petite, but her tongue fiery and strong. He smirked to himself as he recalled her vehement words, so unladylike. His smile fell, though, when he realized he’d never be graced with her beauty again.
As he’d left the brothel, he could hear her angry, muffled screams from the back of the barred carriage as a few laughing men stood about, poking sticks through the window to antagonize her as though she were nothing but a beast. His English was decent, his French bit worse, but he’d known the name that was painted in black across the grainy wood: Pitié-Salpêtrière. The infamous asylum in the heart of Paris.
He was close now, the shop within sight, and his fatigued mind had been too distracted to hear the quiet, tiny footsteps behind him along the wet cobblestone. He stopped a few paces from the shop, standing straight and rolling his shoulders out, readying himself. He whirled, reaching into his belt, the hilt of his dagger a familiar, comforting feeling in his grasp.
The boy jumped back, a coward to his core. Erik snorted, turning away from his annoying face, hatred pulsing through his veins at the torture he’d caused the poor young woman tonight. He deserved a trip to the asylum, not her.
“What do you want?” Erik asked, voice deep and grating in his drained demeanor.
“I wanted to give you a warning, Norsky,” the boy spat. So, he’d followed Erik home, only to berate him and challenge him. It was comical to Erik, too, the name he’d thrown at him, meant to be an insult. However, it reminded Erik of home, brought a small smile to his face when he heard it. He sighed and turned to glance at the boy over his robust shoulder. What could this child do to him besides throw idle threats his way? Erik had feared losing his job for the Duke after the mess this evening, but the man had been more preoccupied with his meeting and had told him to return to his home the following night as scheduled.
“And what would that be?” he chuckled, dropping his heavy pack. The Duke’s wife had given him a slab of meat, always showering him with gifts. He knew what she desired for her perceived selflessness. Erik, though, would never give her that satisfaction.
“I’ll come for you, when you least expect it. You will pay, chien, for the pain you’ve caused me.”
Erik snorted again, sizing up the small lad. He could crush him in a second, if he wanted to. He doubted the Duke would mind. But he was a young boy, one who’s ego was larger than his capabilities, and Erik felt some pity for him. He jerked his chin down the deserted, misty street.
“Go on home, boy, before you hurt yourself.”
Simon’s eyes flashed upward, to the apartment window above the shop. Erik turned to follow his gaze, frowning when he saw Anna, clutching a blanket about herself, stifling a yawn. He glared at her, and she answered with a roll of her eyes before leaving their sight. He turned back to Simon, who stared with a maniacal glint in his eye. Erik’s blood simmered.
“If I catch you near my sister, I’ll cut off your tiny cock and feed it to the crows.”
With his final warning, Erik unlocked the shop door and slammed it in the boy’s satisfied face.
Screams pierced the darkness and echoed off the stone walls of the haunting fortress. They weren’t petrified screams, or even pained screams; they were maniacal screams, the likes of which deranged laughter would follow. Brigid prided herself on not fearing anything this world could throw at her, but this was chilling to her very core.
Her bare feet slid along the wet stone floor, her body flanked by two large men, her head pressed down and her arms pulled up behind her. They ensured their prisoners had no hope for escape, and quite enjoyed taunting and torturing the weaker sex. She bit her cheek, wishing—not for the first or the last time—that she’d been born a boy, and that she could plunge a dagger into their hearts with ease.
Her head pounded still in her skull, and her lips and tongue craved a sip of water, but she knew better than to speak up; she was at their mercy, until she figured out how to end her own life. She’d be damned if they made that decision for her.
Down the long, dank corridor they went, torches lighting the darkness every so often but offering little in the way of warmth or comfort. Her bare legs prickled, her feet bruised and battered by the time they halted in front of a grand oak door. All she could see was the stone beneath her and the light that seeped through the jagged cracks at the bottom of the wood. Two knocks sounded before a high, male voice told them to enter.
The door grated open, and she was forced inside and into a chair. She wasn’t expecting to be seated. She kept her hands in her lap, rubbing life back into them, her long dark hair falling across her face to shield her from whoever sat behind the desk in front of her.
He cleared his throat, waiting. She glanced up at the bespectacled man, his watery blue eyes appraising her, his grizzled grey brows lengthy and wild. She shied away, for he exuded a sense of calm kindness, but there was also a strange glint to his gaze, as though she were a fascinating bug under a scope.
“Welcome to Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital,” he said, motioning wide with his soft, wrinkled hands. Brigid knew just by glancing at them that they were cold. She glared.
“I’m no’ insane.”
He sat back, pushing his glasses up his nose as the men shifted closer behind her, sensing an outburst was forthcoming.
“Many that are believe they are not,” he said, a small smile on his wet, red lips. She set her jaw, unwilling to argue further. He sighed.
“What is your name and age, ma cherie?” said the small doctor. He appraised the woman, excitement growing in the pit of his stomach. Never before had his patients been so beautiful. She would need her own private chambers, and he’d instruct his goons to not shave her head of gorgeous dark locks.
Brigid grit her teeth together in a show of defiance. The doctor raised his bushy brow.
“If your speech fails you, I assure you that my men can help you find it.”
A threat. And not an idle one. The fire in the hearth crackled, but Brigid felt no warmth. A man moved a step closer behind her.
“Brigid.” She hissed. The man sighed again, taking off his glasses and tossing them to his empty desk. She wondered what he’d been pretending to work on before they’d entered, but a sickness brought on by her intuition told her she didn’t want to know.
“Your full name.”
“Brigid Riona MacDonald…O’Sullivan.” She tacked on her deceased husband’s name with a sneer, wondering if she could use him to spring her from this miserable place. Another scream pierced the night, but none in the room seemed to notice.
“Age?” He asked, plucking his quill from his ink pot and reaching for his glasses as he jotted down her information.
“Nineteen.” She grit out, wanting to plunge the end of that quill into his revolting blue eye.
“Good girl,” he said, dipping the feather back into the ink and glancing at his work before leaning back once more.
“A prostitute?” He asked to one of the men behind Brigid.
“Yes, sir.” A deep voice answered.
“I’m a widow.” Brigid burst forth, praying that would be enough to give her a social standing. The doctor was unperturbed as he smiled, his teeth pointed like fangs.
“Dear, you were found at a brothel. Many women are prone to bouts of hysteria accompanied by…hallucinations and delusions of grandeur.”
“I am not lying, ye sick bastard!” She yelled, lurching forward. A heavy hand on her shoulder pulled her back. The doctor’s eyes clouded over. Beautiful, yes, but she’d need to be tamed. He would succeed, in time. Doctor Moreau always wore them down to nothingness. Mental illness or not, by the time he was done with them, they would suffer severe brain damage. Most died, though some lived, staring off into space, echoes of their former selves. Either way, he counted all his experiments a success in the scientific field.
“Take her to her own cell, do not shave her. There is someone I’d very much like for her to meet, before we begin our testing.”
With a twisted smile as Brigid’s enraged screams met his ears, he returned to his secretive work, pulling it from under his desk. It would have been bad taste to put something like this on display for a newcomer. He wanted her tainted with some fear, but not overwhelmed to the point where it would effect his results. The door slammed closed, leaving him and his fetid jar alone.
There, in the clear solution, was his latest excavation; a whore’s brain, fresh plucked this afternoon. His grin broadened as he dipped his quill once more, jotting down his observations.