Dr. Cushing’s Chamber of Horrors – Chapter 11

May 17, 2017 No Comments »
Dr. Cushing’s Chamber of Horrors – Chapter 11

IN THIS EPISODE: …Not only is there a werewolf in the Chamber of Horrors now, but there’s another unexpected arrival as well…

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CHAPTER 11 – New Arrivals

Opal Cushing – 1951 Fisher St.

Several Days Later

Paul Shaw’s sudden appearance as a new employee at the waxworks had taken both twins by surprise, though only Opal seemed to be thrilled with this new development:

“Having a handsome young man around the place every day?” she’d remarked the day after he started.  “How can that be bad?  Besides, he’s only working for the old witch part time.  Maybe he can help us in his free time.”  She grinned in anticipation, and not just about moving boxes and rearranging displays.

“It depends on what kind of ‘help’ you want, I guess,” Topaz had replied, as usual seeming to sense her sister’s inner thoughts.  “Besides, he’s not that young.  I bet he’s at least five or six years older than you and me.”

“Young enough,” Opal had said with a wink.  “Besides, I’m a little tired of boys, and it’ll nice to have a man on hand if you need one.”

“You?  Tired of boys?” her sister had countered.  “Not bloody likely!’

And maybe—Opal had to grudgingly admit—her sister had been right.

For while she’d found numerous occasions to test Paul’s handiness in the days that followed, she’d certainly never turned away Frank Browning when he showed up, either.  And Frank seemed to be dropping by more and more frequently “Just to check in.”

Sometimes he came with the others—who still seemed determined to win her sister’s favor (though Topaz remained largely aloof)—and other times he came by himself.  Often, he brought flowers, and once even a small box of chocolates.  (Though he brought one for Topaz as well, seeming not to want to incite any sibling jealousy.)

Opal wondered if, perhaps, this surge in teenage attentiveness was due to Paul’s presence.  Were the young wolves responding to an older one encroaching on “their territory”?

She grinned.  If so, so much the better for her!

Paul, for his part, almost seemed eager to spend time in the Chamber of Horrors with the twins.  He helped them with various minor tasks, which basically consisted of any small thing that Opal could devise for him to do.  Occasionally, Topaz would (reluctantly) make a request as well.

Despite his helpfulness with the chamber, Paul still spent far more time working for Victoria—which was only right, as she was paying him (if only a pittance).

It did seem to Opal, though, that Madame Duprix’s chores were largely make-work, as well.

Did she just hire him to have a handsome man around the waxworks? Opal wondered.  It certainly seemed possible.  She and Topaz had both noticed the older woman’s eyes wandering over “their” young men—and pretty much any handsome hunk of manhood that ambled in or around 1951 Fisher.

Topaz remained more cautious, so it didn’t surprise Opal when, while tidying up the chamber for opening on the Sunday after Paul started working for Victoria, her twin said:

“I’m still not sure about Mr. Shaw.”  Topaz’s blue-green eyes, mirrors to Opal’s own, narrowed.  “There’s something I don’t trust about him—something he’s not telling us.”

“I’m sure there’s a lot he’s not telling us,” Opal replied.  “We’ve only known him a little while, and Victoria monopolizes most of his time.  She’s even got him working today—and this is supposed to be his day off.”

“I’m certain he needs the money,” Topaz noted.  “She’s not paying him very well.  We could almost pay him that much.”

For a moment, the thought of paying Paul, at having him at her beck and call all the time, glittered in Opal’s thoughts like a brass ring dangling just out of reach—so tantalizing.  Then she sighed, the fantasy vanishing.

“We could, if we weren’t behind on the rent,” she said, “and all our other bills.”

“Again,” Topaz moped, plopping down on a mid-exhibit settee and resting her chin on her hands.

The sensation of the new mummy display hadn’t carried over for very long.  Probably because of the depression, now, less than a week later, the chamber’s attractions had barely more paid attendances than they’d had before the arrival of the trio of bandage-wrapped Egyptians.  The opening day surge had only caught the bills up a bit.

Opal found it frustrating, and she knew that her sister did, too.  Their father could travel the world and discover amazing artifacts that no one had even known about before, but what did it matter if no one came to see them?

We’d probably make more money if we went into fortune telling, Opal thought.  Her mind went to the nightstand upstairs that held her tarot deck.  She hadn’t consulted it in ages, not since asking about their father.  Most of that day’s predictions seemed to have come true, save for the last.  But how long were they to be wary against impending danger?

For some reason, that train of thought brought her back to Paul.

“You don’t still think he’s the ‘doomed man’ that brushed by on opening day, do you?” Opal asked her sister.

Topaz shrugged and shook her head.  “Maybe.  I don’t know.  There was so much that happening that day, and it all went by so fast…  There’s a deep melancholy in him, though, even if he hides it well.”

Opal nodded.  She’d sensed it, too, though her sister’s insights about such things were usually clearer and more reliable.

“Paul may not be perfect,” Opal agreed, “but at least he’s not as creepy as Victoria.  What’s with her lately?”

“Jealous?” Topaz offered.

That certainly seemed possible.  Madame Duprix’s hazel eyes had always been on the greenish side when looking at the twins, and they seemed even greener when Paul spent time with the girls.

Opal was used to her envious gaze by now, though, and Paul’s friendly, flirting presence more than made up for any chill in Cushing-Duprix relations.

“Jealous, sure,” Opal said.  “But I feel like there’s something more…”

“Me, too,” Topaz agreed.  “Something’s changed.  There’s something almost… sinister about her nowadays.”

“Maybe she’s sex starved,” Opal whispered as she sat down next to her sister.

Topaz laughed.  “Aren’t we all?”

The bell on the front door chimed, and a heavy knock sounded on the chamber’s front door.

Opal rolled her eyes.  She’d just sat down!  “We’re closed!” she called.

“We’ll be open in an hour,” Topaz added.  “Please come back then.”

“Delivery!” a deep voice bellowed.

Both girls looked at each other, puzzled.

“On Sunday?” Topaz called.

“Won’t wait!” the voice called.  “’Less you want it to melt!”

“Melt?!” the twins said in unison.  Both were on their feet and flying to the door in an instant.

“What is it?” Opal said breathlessly as she flung open the door.

“Is it from Father?” Topaz asked.

The bull-like man at the entryway shrugged.   “Beats me.  ’S from Norwegia, or someplace cold like ’at.”  He held out a clipboard.  “Sign ’ere.”

Opal took it and signed, reading the paper as she did so.  “It is from Father!”

Behind the man, on the sidewalk, stood a huge crate, at least ten feet tall and five feet wide and deep, covered in insulating blankets.  Topaz pushed past him and ran to the box, pressing her face up against the side.

“Do you think…?” she asked, her breath coming out as a cloud of steam.  “Could it be…?”  Her face beamed with delight and anticipation.

“We won’t know until we open it,” Opal said, and then, to the man, added: “Help us get it inside.”

The bull-like man shook his head.  “Sorry,” he said.  “It’s me day off.  Boss said I ’ad to deliver it, but ’e didn’t say nothin’ about luggin’ and ’aulin’.  I got it off the lorry.  Now it’s your problem.”

“We could pa—” Opal began, but then she saw her sister vigorously shaking her head.

Topaz was right; they couldn’t afford to pay the man, not with Victoria breathing down their necks and other bill collectors starting to sniff around.

“All right, thank you,” Opal said.  “Have a nice Sunday.”

The man tipped his cap, got back into his lorry, and drove away.

Topaz snapped her fingers. “I know!  We’ll call the boys!”

“But it’s Sunday morning, they’re probably still in services,” Opal countered.  Which was true; all of their suitors’ families were devout churchgoers.  “And by the time they get out, we get word to them, and they come to help, it may melt!”

“Do you have a better idea?” Topaz asked.

Opal grinned.  As a matter of fact, she did.

In less than two minutes, Victoria Duprix was looking down her long nose at Paul Shaw, scowling.  Opal and Topaz stood nearby, hopeful.

“That’s not what I’m paying you for,” Madame Duprix said.  “You work for me and the waxworks, remember?  Not these… tenants.”

“This is my day off, remember?” Paul replied amiably.  “And I’ve pretty much finished everything you asked me to do.  And I won’t need to do any cleaning until after you’ve closed tonight.  Besides, if I don’t help the girls now, whatever is in that box will melt.”

“Please, Madame Duprix,” Topaz pleaded, “won’t you let him help us?”

“Yes, please?” Opal added, playing more for Paul’s sympathy than Victoria’s.

The older woman’s eyes narrowed.  “They can’t pay you, you know.  They can’t even pay their own rent.”

“I’ll just put it on account then,” Paul said with a smile.

“And we will pay you just as soon as we can,” Topaz put in.

“This new exhibit might even help,” Opal suggested.

Victoria pursed her lips, fuming.  “It didn’t help much with those accursed mummies,” she muttered.  “Very well.  Waste your time, for all I care, Mr. Shaw.  But if you end up dog tired, don’t ask me for a day off tomorrow.”

“Don’t worry,” he replied.  “I won’t.”  Then smiling, he turned to the twins.  “Come on, girls, let’s see about this problem you’ve got…”

It took the better part of an hour for the three of them, using ropes and two dollies borrowed from the Vincent’s studio, to wrestle the box up the entry stairs and down into the chamber.  (Naturally, Vincent wasn’t on hand to assist, and Victoria refused to.)

Frank showed up near the end of the process (flowers in hand) and got in the way as much as he helped, but Opal appreciated him trying.

“Well, that was quite a chore!” Frank said, wiping the sweat from his brow when they’d finished.

“You’re lucky there was that disused walk-in freezer down here,” Paul said.  “And lucky the box fits inside.”

“I’m sure Father took that into account when renting the place, way back when,” Topaz said.  “And when he was shipping this… artifact.”

“He does like to think ahead,” Opal noted.

“Too bad the freezer’s not working,” Paul continued, “but I can get you some blocks of ice, and that ought to keep things chilly enough in there for a while.”

“I can help get the ice,” Frank offered, and Opal noticed he flexed his muscles just a bit, showing off.  She managed not to giggle.

“Sure, that’d be great,” Paul said.  “We could do that now.”

“Before we see what’s in the box?” Frank blurted.

All the others laughed.

“Of course not before we open our ‘present,’ Frank,” Opal teased.

“But maybe right after,” Paul added.  “Once the box is open, whatever is inside will start to melt more quickly.”

It only took them a few minutes to remove the insulating blankets.  When they did, they found a note attached to the front of the crate.

Topaz read it, her blue-green eyes going wide as she did.  “It’s from Father,” she said.  “And… Oh!  Opal!  It is!  It is!”

Opal knew just what she meant.  Her heart pounded at the thrill of it—though both girls refused to elaborate what was inside for the boys.

“Wait and see!” Opal told them, beaming.

Working under the spell of the girls’ enthusiasm, and using a couple of crowbars, the men quickly pried off the front of the crate.

A great billow of chilly mist filled the freezer room as the big wooden panel fell away.  An icy, vaguely salty smell—an odor coming directly from the arctic wastes—filled the room.  It took a few moments before any of them could see anything through the fog.

Then slowly, a blue-white slab of ice emerged from the mist, and frozen inside that ice… the figure of a man.

He was huge, far larger than even Paul (who was quite tall), and looked somewhat ghastly in appearance, with long limbs and pale, distorted features.

“Behold the newest exhibit in Dr. Cushing’s museum,” Opal said quietly, “the fabled Ice Man!”

Frank loosened his collar.  “Rather creepy, if you ask me,” he said.  “Those murderous eyes…!  It’s almost like he’s alive… like he’s staring right at us!”

Topaz reached out and laid her hand on the surface of the ice.  “He seems almost… sad to me.”

Paul laughed.  “Well, sad or creepy, he sure should bring in the rubes—customers, I mean!  This might be a turning point for you girls—”

“Let’s hope!” Opal put in.

“—assuming he doesn’t melt first,” Paul finished.

“We should get that ice,” Frank said, still sweaty and looking a bit nervous.

“Yes.  Let’s,” agreed Paul.

“I’ll go with you,” Opal offered.

“That’s fine,” said Topaz.  “I want to stay here and… study this chap for a while.  Then I’ll open up the exhibits.”

“Great,” Opal said.  “We’ll be back before you know it.”

But as she looked at her sister staring intently at the frozen man, she couldn’t help but think:

All of the boys in the world to choose from, and my sister wants to hang around with one frozen in a block of ice!

TO BE CONTINUED…

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