Dr. Cushing’s Chamber of Horrors – Chapter 22

November 1, 2017 No Comments »
Dr. Cushing’s Chamber of Horrors – Chapter 22

IN THIS EPISODE: …The twins go on a date and someone turns from Jekyll to Hyde…

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CHAPTER 22 – Dr. Jekyll in Hyde Park

Opal Cushing – The Next Day

First Night of the Waxing Crescent Moon

“I just don’t buy it,” Frank Browning opined, looking down his aristocratic nose at the rest of the group as they walked down a dimly lit path in Hyde Park.

“Buy what—that a man can change into a monster by drinking a scientific potion?” Barry Ripper asked.

Frank scowled and shook his head.  “Not any of it.”

Four of his five companions laughed, amused by his discomfiture.

Opal did not laugh; she didn’t even smile.  She’d known it was a mistake to let her sister and their friends drag her out to a show tonight—though seeing a theatrical production under the summer stars at Hyde Park had seemed a charming idea.  But if she’d known it was this show—a modern adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—she’d never have agreed to come along.  At the moment, for her, too many elements of that story struck too close to home.

Did Topaz know this was where we were coming? Opal wondered.  She couldn’t believe her sister had known.

Topaz had never said “I told you so,” about the end of Opal’s love affair with Paul Shaw, but it was easy enough to read that admonition in her twin’s expressions, despite Topaz being very careful to shield her thoughts.

As Opal and her sister walked with their four suitors beneath the shadowed boughs of the park, Opal caught a flash of sympathy in Topaz’s blue-green eyes.  “Sorry!” the glance seemed to say.

Apparently, she hadn’t known what the play would be.

Charlie Bates pushed a stray blond lock away from his round glasses.  “Surely you s-see that the play is a metaphor, Frank,” Charlie said.

“I heard it was based on a true story,” put in Naveen Patil.

Frank rolled his eyes.  Normally, Opal might have found this amusing, but tonight, it just made her want to grit her teeth.  How could the rest of them yammer on like this?  Couldn’t they sense the vast, empty aching inside of her?

“Not, you, too, Patil!” Frank said.  “You’re still studying to be a chemist, aren’t you?  What would your father say if he heard you spouting this pseudoscientific claptrap?”

“He’d probably say we should consult an expert,” Naveen replied.  “So… What about it, girls?”

Frank seemed to suddenly realize that his skepticism of the paranormal might be treading dangerously close to how the twins’ family made their living.  “Right,” he said.  “Sorry about that Opal… Topaz.  I didn’t mean anything by it.  I’m sure not everything that can’t be explained rationally is rubbish.  What do the two of you think?  About the play, I mean.”

“And about the idea of a m-man transforming into monster,” put in Charlie.

“Is the Stevenson novella that Thomas Sullivan’s play is adapted from based on a true story?” Naveen pressed.  “Do you know?”

Topaz glanced at her sister, but Opal’s head was pounding now, so she didn’t say anything.

The blonde twin shrugged.  “I think I heard Father mention something about a Dr. Jekyll once,” Topaz said.  “But you’d really have to ask him.  He’s the expert on such things.  Opal and I have picked up a lot of what we know by osmosis.”

“Too bad your dad didn’t stick around longer during his visit,” Barry said.  “I’d have liked to actually meet him.”

“All of us would,” agreed Naveen.

“Some people don’t like to stay in one place very long,” Opal muttered.

The rest probably thought she was talking about her father, but in her mind she saw Paul.  He’d drifted into her life seemingly at random—but it had really been part of some bizarre robbery plot.  Now that his scheme had been foiled, why didn’t he move on and find some other naive girl to deceive?   Now that he’d broken her heart, why didn’t he leave?!

Even thinking briefly about Paul made her soul ache.

“What did you say, Opal?” Frank asked, his tone kind and attentive.

She shook her head and it throbbed.  “Nothing.”

“Come out,” her sister had said.  “It will be fun seeing a play under the stars.  Besides, the opening of the combined exhibit went really well today; we both deserve a break—and some personable companionship.  All the boys are coming, so it won’t really be like a date…”

Why had Opal listened?  Why hadn’t she just stayed home and wept, like she had for most of the past week?

“Not only is performing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in Hyde Park clever on a word-play level,” Charlie noted, “I think the proposition that Stevenson and the playwright pose is f-fascinating: that each of us has a repressed b-beast inside, waiting to take control and run wild.”

“I’m not sure I’d want to see your beastly side, Charlie,” Frank joked.  “I mean, you’re so mild normally, if your inner beast came out, you’d probably tear us all to pieces!”

“Like that maniac in the news lately,” Barry added jovially—though Opal didn’t find that series of grisly murders any laughing matter.

Charlie curled his fingers into claws and snarled.  “Rahrrr!”

Everyone laughed.  Except Opal.  Her headache had become almost blinding.

Oh, Paul…  Why did you deceive us?  What inner beast drove you?

“There are plenty of examples in supernatural myth of people turning into other creatures, revealing their animal natures,” Topaz elaborated, almost as if reading her sister’s thoughts.  “The werewolf of eastern Europe, the fox-women of Japan, the leopard-men of South America, the fish-wives of the Philippines, America’s Indian skinwalkers…  So, why not a good man changing into a bad one?”

“Or vise-versa,” offered Charlie.

“Charlie, me boy,” Frank said with a wink, “there may be some hope for you yet.”

“I certainly think it’s true that all of us have baser impulses as well as more altruistic ones,” Barry noted.

“Most of us battle with such temptations every day,” Charlie confessed.

Topaz pretended to be shocked.  “Even you, my Bonnie Prince?”

“Bonnie Prince Charlie,” as Opal had dubbed him, grinned.  “Even m-me.”

Topaz smiled, and the others all laughed, save Opal.

Did Paul struggle with his inner beast before he betrayed us—betrayed me? Opal wondered.  He’d told their father that he was cursed, though he certainly seemed normal enough.  More than normal… charming… handsome…

But… Why?

Opal vaguely remembered that he’d tried to explain, tried to talk to her through the door of her room.  She hadn’t listened that night, and he hadn’t tried again since—not that Topaz or the Duprixes gave him the chance to be alone with Opal.  Everyone seemed determined to not let Paul get close to her again.

Should she have listened?  Could he have explained?

Barry pressed on with this thesis: “But could those baser instincts be set loose—or suppressed—by a drug?”

“With science, almost anything is possible,” Naveen said.  “Just a few years ago, actually seeing a broken bone inside someone’s body was impossible…”

“And now they use fluoroscopes to fit your shoes!” Frank interjected.

Naveen looked abashed.  “Well… yes.  I’ll admit, science isn’t always put to the best uses.”

“If you could take a pill,” Charlie mused, “separate your good impulses from your evil ones… Would you do it?”

“If Frank did it, how would anyone tell?” Barry jibed.

“Can I help it if I live my inside life on the outside?” Frank replied genially.  “If you could develop that pill, though, Naveen, the world would beat a path to your door.  Maybe you should work on it.”

“Maybe I will,” Naveen agreed.

Opal couldn’t tell whether they were joking or not.  Bleak darkness had settled on her like a smothering cloak.  In the depths of her soul, she felt a scream building…

“Please make sure you develop the Jekyll pill, not the Hyde one,” added Charlie.

“I somehow doubt such a pill could ever work,” Frank said, growing serious once more.  “People can’t deny who they are inside.  A man may conceal his baser instincts for a while, but when it comes right down to it, his true nature will come out.  As in the play, the bad man inside a seemingly good man will always resurface.”

“So you don’t believe in Dr. Freud, then?” Charlie asked.  “You don’t believe that people can put their p-pasts behind them and mend their ways?”

Frank shook his head.  “People can’t change.  If you think they can, you’re fooling yourself.”

“I guess the trick then,” Barry suggested, “is to find out who the true person is lurking beneath the civilized veneer, before committing oneself to anyone or anything.  Find the truth before it’s too late.”

Naveen shook his head in mock sorrow.  “If only Dr. Jekyll’s fiancée had realized that.”

“Stop it!” Opal screamed.  “Can’t you see that all this stuff about men and monsters is nonsense?  Can’t you see that it’s just a silly play?  It doesn’t matter.  None of it matters!”

As everyone, even her sister, stood in shocked silence, Opal broke into tears and ran away from her friends, hurrying off the well-groomed park path and into the comforting darkness beneath Hyde Park’s sheltering trees.

Topaz Cushing

Opal’s sudden outburst took Topaz almost completely by surprise.  She’d sensed that her sister was growing more tense by the minute, but…

Barry, Frank, Naveen, and Charlie stood mutely alongside Topaz, gobsmacked, as Opal sprinted into the night-dark forest of Hyde Park.

With a glance to his fellows, Frank started to go after her, but Topaz put her hand on his elbow.

“No, Frank,” Topaz said.  “I don’t think this is something you can help with.  Let me go after her.”

Opal’s tall suitor pursed his lips and rubbed one long-fingered hand through his auburn hair.  “Well, if you think that’s best,” Frank said.  The other three boys exchanged puzzled glances.

Topaz nodded.  “I’m sure of it.  My sister hasn’t been feeling… well, lately.”

Naturally, neither she nor Opal had told their quartet of suitors about the Cushings’ problem with Paul—nor about Opal’s far-more-personal stake in the handyman’s betrayal.

“Do you want an escort?” offered Barry, always the most gallant of the bunch.  “I know this is a fairly civilized part of the city, but there have been those murders…”

The thought of the recent sensational killings sent a shiver down Topaz’s spine, but she said: “No.  We’ll be all right.  We can look after ourselves.”

“We can help you search for her, though,” said Charlie.

Topaz shook her head.  “Sorry,” she told the group.  “In the mood she’s in, I think I’d best approach my sister alone.  I’ll turn her up soon enough on my own.  We have this… twin thing.”

“Ah,” Barry said.  “One of those supernatural connections that our tall compatriot doesn’t believe in.”

“I didn’t say everything could be explained rationally…” Frank began.  “It’s just that…”

Topaz cut him off.  “You four can continue your debate on your way home,” she said.  “I’m going to find my sister.”  She hurried off into the darkness, following the direction Opal had taken.

“At least let us walk you home!” Naveen shouted after her.

“No need!” she hollered back.  “We’ll be fine!  I’ll telephone you later!”

“Nothing to worry about,” Frank joked as Topaz disappeared beneath the trees.  “She’s probably just having her monthlies.”  The other boys chuckled indulgently.

Topaz caught the words an instant before she ran out of earshot.  She resisted the urge to turn around and lay into Frank.  Dressing him down wouldn’t help her sister, but the tall aristocrat could be such a lunkhead sometimes.

As predicted, without the boys tagging along, it didn’t take Topaz long to find her twin.

Opal was sitting with her back against a tall willow by the bank of the Serpentine, weeping.

Topaz settled down next to her.

“Go away!” said Opal.  The command came out muffled because her head was buried in her hands.

“Why?” asked Topaz.  “So your anguish can torture me psychically from a distance?”  Often, one sister felt what the other did, especially in times of distress.  Though she couldn’t precisely read her twin’s mind at the moment, Opal’s agony shone like a bright red light behind Topaz’s eyes.

Besides, she didn’t need to be a psychic to know what this little tirade was about.  “At least you didn’t sleep with him,” Topaz said.

“Ha!” Opal barked.  “That’s cold comfort!”

“At least it makes things a little less complicated.”

“For you maybe.”

“And for you, too—and for Father, certainly.”

“Oh, God, Topaz… If you knew how close I’d come… If Father did…”  Opal picked up her head and stared at her sister with fierce, tear-stained eyes.  “Sometimes I wish that Father had gone ahead and shot Paul when he found him prowling around the chamber.  Then at least…”

She buried her face in her hands once more.  “Then at least I would never have found out why he was really making love to me.”

Topaz shook her head and put a sympathetic arm around her sister’s shoulders.

“I thought he loved me, but he betrayed me…” Opal sobbed, “…betrayed all of us.”

“I know,” Topaz said quietly.  “It was a terrible thing he did—a terrible thing he planned to do.  But…”

“But, what?”

“You know that I’m pretty good at reading people…”

Opal looked up at her.  “Yeah…?”

“Paul’s a tortured soul, no doubt about it,” Topaz continued.  “There are things in his past that hang like dark shadows over his present—I can sense that.  But, even though he intended to steal from Father—from us—I don’t think he really intended to hurt you.”

Opal laughed bitterly.  “And that’s supposed to make it better?”

“I thought it might comfort you to know that he does feel something for you.  It wasn’t all a sham.”  Topaz drew a deep breath.  “Of course, that doesn’t mean you should forgive him.”

Opal wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeve and shook her head.  “And I never will.”

“Good for you,” Topaz said.

Opal put her arm around her sister, and the two of them sat silently for a while, embracing as they gazed at the stars reflecting in the glassy waters of the Serpentine.  The murmur and thrum of the bustling city—London’s living pulse—echoed to them across the serenity of the park.

Opal sighed.  “Why can’t we love things that are good for us?” she asked.  “Why can’t we love the Jekyll instead of the Hyde?”

Topaz shrugged.  “Often, they come in the same package, I’m afraid.  Everyone has their Hyde, I suppose—even you and me.”

“I guess I let mine show a little too much tonight.  Do you think the boys will ever forgive me?”

“Oh, sure,” Topaz said.  “They probably just think we’re having our periods.”

Opal chuckled, but it was a good clean laugh, not bitter or ironic.

“A fine pair we are,” she mused.  “Here we sit, you and I, with four handsome, well-to-do young men practically beating down the doors to court us… And I fall for a vagabond thief while you moon over a frozen giant.”

Something inside Topaz prickled at the mention of the Ice Man.  “I don’t love him,” she replied—perhaps a bit too quickly.  “But I feel… sympathetic for his situation.  Who knows how long he’s been in that ice… alone.”

“Topaz… He’s dead.”

“I know.  But even though we’ve put him on display, that doesn’t mean we can’t treat him with dignity—like he is… I mean, was a real human being… once.”

“He hardly looks human at all.  He’s some kind of freakish giant.”

Again, something inside Topaz bristled.  “All the more reason we should treat him like a person.  If we don’t… if we start treating him like all our other exhibits… how long will it be before we start treating other people—real, living people—like objects?”

“The way Victoria treats us,” noted Opal.

“She treats everyone that way, even her husband.”

Especially her husband.”

Opal buried her head in her hands again.  “Why can’t we be like other people?  Why can’t we just be… normal?”

Topaz hugged her.  “Because we’re not like other people.  Most people don’t have twins, for one thing.  But we’ll make do.  We Cushings always have.”

“Does that mean we can never be happy?” Opal asked miserably.

“I don’t think so,” Topaz said.  “I think it only means we have to find our own way—like everybody else on God’s green earth.”  And despite her sister’s current sadness, Topaz felt confident that, like their father, they, too, would find their own oddball place in the world.

“I’ve been dreaming about him,” Opal said.  “Paul, I mean.”

Worry prickled at Topaz again, washing away her confidence.   “Oh?”  Often, the twins’ dreams seemed to predict the future.

“Last night, I dreamed our house was burning down, and it was Paul’s fault,” Opal confided.  “We were trapped… calling to him for help, but… He left.  He never came back.  Everything burned to the ground.”

Topaz let out a relieved sigh.  “Well, even Charlie, without the help of Dr. Freud, could easily explain that dream.  Paul’s certainly made a shambles of our lives—especially yours.  And even if he wanted to come back, we won’t let him.”

“So, you don’t think it’s a prophecy?”

“Nope,” Topaz said.  “I think it’s a sign that you need to get some better sleep.”  She stood and offered her twin a hand up.  “Both of us do.  Come on.  It’s late.  We need to go home—and get to bed.”

Opal took her hand, and Topaz pulled her to her feet.

“I guess you’re right,” Opal said.  “My head is splitting.  I could use some rest.  But I hope to God that I don’t dream!”

TO BE CONTINUED…

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