IN THIS EPISODE: …Welcome to the world of Dr. Cushing and his twin daughters…
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In the time between the two Great Wars…
Nina Ashton – Lancashire, England – The Night of the Full Moon
Nina Ashton ran for her life.
She ran as if all the hounds of hell were baying at her heels because for all she knew, that was literally true.
The familiar forest around her became a blur—no longer the sheltering woodland of childhood walks with her family, but a fear-filled nightmare of tripping roots and scraping branches.
She tried not to think of the thing’s claws—gleaming in the light of the full moon—or its pointed teeth, bared and dripping with hot saliva, or its eyes… like twin torches, blazing in the darkness. Those feral eyes wanted Nina…
They wanted her dead!
The creature chasing her was no ordinary animal. It leered at her like a man—and it ran upright, too! Yet, it was covered with shaggy dark fur. How was that possible?
Nina’s family hunted. She’d known how to work a gun since the time she was seven, but she had never seen—or even heard of—any type of beast that ran upright.
Oh, yes, a bear might blunder around on its hind legs for a time, as might a chimp or a gorilla. But bears had long ago been vanquished from the wilds of England, even here in the outer reaches of Lancashire. The only places that you found bears nowadays were in zoos or traveling shows. The same went for the great apes.
Could one of those creatures have escaped from a local circus?
The fear twisting in her gut told Nina that this brute was something worse than any natural beast—something far more terrible, some abomination, part animal, part man.
The thing’s piercing howl filled the chilly spring air.
The cry echoed through the forest, assaulting Nina from all sides at once.
She was weaponless; she hadn’t even thought to bring a pocket knife. Why would she, taking a midnight walk in the family woods she knew so well?
Without any defense, all she could do was run, run from the beast that was not a beast—run to preserve both her life and her sanity.
Never in all her nineteen years had Nina felt so terrified. Her heart pounded in her chest; her skin tingled as if on fire. The odor of her own fear assaulted her, as rivers of sweat ran down her smooth, pale face and drenched her supple body.
Please, God… Please! she pleaded silently, though it had been ages since she’d set foot in church.
If she died un-confessed, would she go to heaven, or…?
She didn’t want to die! Not here! Not now!
All the sins of her short life rushed back to Nina in an instant.
She regretted every one.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…!
Why had she choosen to sneak out tonight? Why hadn’t she at least told someone where she was going?!
In her mind, Nina imagined her family and their servants, all snug in their beds, dreaming pleasant dreams, while she was being pursued by this living nightmare.
How long would it take them to find her—to find her body—if…?
No! She wouldn’t think about that!
Nina crushed her fears into the darkest recesses of her mind and concentrated on running.
Her limbs ached, and her head throbbed. Her skin dripped with sweat.
The smell of dry leaves and soft earth wafted up around her. But beneath that wholesome redolence lay something else… something bestial.
How long had she been running? It seemed like hours, though it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes.
The gatehouse must be nearby now!
You can make it!
The howl again. That unearthly baying!
Terror shot down Nina’s spine like ice water.
Just keep running!
Despite herself, she glanced back.
As she did, she tripped over the hem of her fur-lined cloak and pitched face-first toward the forest floor.
She stuck out her hands, trying to stop the fall.
It didn’t work. The rocks and grit of the game trail scraped the pale skin off of her palms.
Nina gasped, “Jesus…!” and gazed at her ruined hands, covered in blood. “Sweet Jesus, help me!”
Pain shot through her as she pushed herself to her knees.
She looked up.
The beast loomed over her.
It grinned down at Nina, fangs dripping, clouds of hot breath billowing white in the moonlight. Its eyes blazed bright red.
Nina felt the heat of the thing’s body burning into her; its reek—like decaying meat—made her retch.
She wanted to get to her feet, wanted to run, but fear held her tight in its grip. She gazed up at the monster, paralyzed.
A low growl—like the purr of a hungry cat—emanated from the creature’s massive throat.
To Nina, the werewolf almost seemed to be smiling.
Opal Cushing – London, England – That Same Night
Opal Selene Cushing sat bolt upright in bed, screaming.
Her eyes shot wide; her heart pounded in terror; sweat poured down her eighteen-year-old body. She looked around, frantic.
Her sister, who shared the same bed, appeared beside her in an instant. “What is it?!” Topaz asked. “Opal, what’s wrong?!”
“He killed me!” Opal wailed. “He killed me! I’m dead!”
“No, darling, no,” Topaz said softly, putting her arms around her twin. “Everything’s all right.”
“I was walking through the forest,” Opal blubbered, “and he chased me down. I tried to escape but…!”
“It was just a dream,” Topaz assured her. “You’re safe at home, in our own bed. And I’m here. There’s nothing to be afraid of when we’re together. I promise!”
Her sister’s calm voice pierced the veil of panic that had descended over Opal. The forest surrounding her melted away, and she saw the papered walls of their third-story bedroom. The soothing odor of worn sheets and down pillows filled her nostrils, along with the familiar aroma of her sister. The pale light of the full moon filtered in through the open window next to their rickety four-poster bed. A cool breeze tugged at the window’s flimsy curtains.
Everything seemed so… normal.
“Oh, thank God!” Opal muttered, crumpling into her twin’s arms. “Thank God…!”
“It’s all right now,” Topaz said, running her fingers over her sister’s dark hair. “Everything’s all right.”
The pair hugged each other tight.
Suddenly, the door to the bedroom burst inward, and a slender, middle-aged man barged inside.
“What’s going on? I heard a scream. Is everything all right?”
Both girls jumped slightly, but it was only their father, Leigh Cushing—Doctor Cushing, as he often styled himself.
Father looked almost comical in his paisley nightgown, bare feet padding across the worn wooden floor, skinny arms and legs flailing, his glasses perched crookedly on his hawkish nose, and his nightcap half falling off his greying head. He brandished an umbrella as though it were a sword.
Topaz actually giggled, and Opal couldn’t help but smile.
Our knight in satin armor!
Such a dashing figure he tried to be! But even in his nightclothes, their father smelled of fine tobacco and well-worn tweed. Opal found the scent comforting.
“It’s all right, Father,” Topaz assured him.
“I just had a nightmare,” Opal added. “That’s all.”
“Oh,” said their father, letting the umbrella droop in his hand. “I was afraid it might be a tad more serious—a prowler, or something of that nature.” He patted his chest and then mopped his forehead with his nightcap. “Well, thank heaven it wasn’t!”
“What is all the commotion up here?!” demanded a deep, feminine voice.
“Is everyone all right?” asked a similar, but more nasal, masculine voice.
It was their landlords—Victoria and Vincent Duprix—who lived on the floor below. The couple stood framed in the doorway, adorned in matching dressing gowns: burgundy with white trim and collars. Improbably, Vincent was carrying a lit candelabra.
Opal suppressed a giggle. The Duprixes always looked so dapper. Even in the middle of the night, it appeared as though they’d just left some posh dinner party—or maybe a romantic rendezvous. Perhaps that was why Vincent had brought the candles, when switching on the electric lights would have worked much better.
“The girls just had a bad dream,” Dr. Cushing explained.
Opal’s temper spiked a tiny bit. She didn’t like it when people—even their father—lumped her and her twin together.
“Both of them?” Vincent asked wryly, studying the sisters carefully with his bright blue eyes.
If he hadn’t been an artist, Opal might have found his scrutiny unsettling. But since he was—in fact—a very fine sculptor and owner of the Duprix Waxworks, Opal found his gaze… flattering.
Her sister blushed and adjusted her nightgown where it had slipped a bit low on her bosom. Topaz was definitely the more modest twin.
“It was Opal who had the nightmare,” Topaz informed their landlord. “Not me.”
“Young girls often have trouble sleeping—or so I’m told,” their father added.
“Especially when around young men,” suggested Victoria Duprix, her hazel eyes betraying just a glimmer of a smile.
Opal tried not to frown. There was something about Victoria that she found creepy. Mrs. Duprix was still good looking for her age, with very little grey showing in her deep brown hair, and she behaved like a Grande Damme. But every time the two met, Opal sensed a feeling of envy radiating from the older woman.
“Young men?” Dr. Cushing asked. “Have there been young men in the exhibit lately? I hadn’t noticed.”
Vincent’s handsome face broke into a sly smile. “I have remarked one or two fetching young fellows lurking around your Chamber of Horrors, Dr. Cushing—when your daughters are working, of course.”
Opal’s father looked slightly surprised.
Again, Topaz blushed. “I’m sure Mr. Duprix just means Barry and Francis. We met them in the park over Easter Holiday. We told you all about them, Father. Remember?”
“And we are eighteen now,” Opal added. Thought they’d celebrated their birthdays just last month, boys had been hanging around the twins for at least the past three years. How like their father not to have noticed!
Now it was Dr. Cushing’s turn to blush. “Well, yes… Of course,” he said. “I suppose we must have a talk about that sometime soon.”
Victoria mimicked her husband’s sly grin. “Perhaps we had better retire,” she said to him.
“Yes. Perhaps we’d better. Glad it turned out only to be bad dreams. Goodnight, all.” He and his wife turned and swept down the hall leading to the second-floor stairway.
Dr. Cushing closed the door behind them.
“Now, about those boys…” he began.
“Oh, Father, it’s nothing to worry about,” Opal said, slipping off the bed and putting an arm around his shoulder. “Topaz and I know all about the birds and bees!”
“Well, yes, my dear,” he replied, “but knowing is one thing… Putting it into practice, though, can be entirely…”
“Father, it’s nothing serious, I swear—we swear,” Topaz said. She slipped off the bed as well, and flanked their father on the other side.
The girls called this ganging up against a common opponent “twinning”—and it was a tactic they’d frequently used over the years on their beleaguered remaining parent.
“If it becomes serious, you’ll be the first to know.” Opal assured him.
“Well,” he said, looking from one girl to the other, “I certainly hope so. I mean, this may be the ‘Jazz Era’ and all, but we Cushings still have standards to uphold, you know.”
“We know, Father,” both girls chimed.
“Good,” he said. “Because I still have a lot to do to get ready for my trip tomorrow.”
“Must you go, Father?” Topaz asked.
Opal couldn’t be sure if her sister was kidding or not. (Topaz had always been the more clingy of the two.)
“Of course I must!” Dr. Cushing replied. “I don’t want this lead on the fabled Arctic Ice Man to grow cold! Er… You know what I mean.”
Both twins laughed. “Yes, Father.”
“In any case, you have nothing to worry about while I’m gone,” their father continued. “Everything in the Chamber of Horrors is well in order… Though you do remember that I’m expecting that shipment of mummies from my Egyptian expedition while I’m gone, don’t you?”
Opal rolled her eyes. “Yes, Father.”
“How could we forget,” Topaz added—though Opal sensed that her sister had forgotten. And, truth to tell, so had Opal.
If the twins shared an uncanny ability to read each other’s thoughts at times—and they did—they also seemed to share an ability to have things completely drift out of their minds.
Must be the boys, Opal thought. Though she’d be damned if she’d give up spending time with young men just to improve her memory!
Dr. Cushing looked from one to the other, from blonde Topaz to brunette Opal, seeming to sense the truth, as he often did.
“I’m sure you’ll be able to handle it,” he said.
“I’m sure we will,” Opal replied.
“If we get some rest,” Topaz added, guiding their father toward the door.
“Yes,” he said. “You two get back to sleep. Let’s have no more nightmares tonight, shall we?”
“No, Father,” both replied.
Though Opal couldn’t help but worry. Sometimes the dreams the twins had weren’t exactly dreams. Sometimes they seemed more like portents of things to come—premonitions.
But, if that were true, had Opal just experienced something that had happened, or something that was about to happen?
Somewhere in England, was a girl really lying in the forest, horribly wounded, her lifeblood bleeding away?
Gazing out the bedroom window at the full moon, Opal couldn’t be sure. The nightmare had certainly felt real. She hugged herself to ward off a shiver.
She and Topaz could talk about it once their father had gone. The twins had grown apart—each asserting her independence—in the past few years, but only slightly. Aside from a few physical differences—like hair color—and subtle choices of temperament, they remained as alike as any two people could be.
Fraternal twins were still twins, after all!
Opal watched the back of her sister’s blond head as Topaz escorted their father to the door.
He paused at the threshold.
“Don’t worry, my dears,” he said. “Mr. and Mrs. Duprix will help you look after the business while I’m gone. But don’t forget to unpack those mummies and get them properly displayed, when they arrive!”
“And please look after each other.”
“We will, Father.”
Dr. Cushing straightened his nightgown. “Very good,” he said. “Thank you, my dears. I hope you have a jolly good time while I’m tramping around the frozen tundra. Don’t you worry about me. I’ll be back in a week or two. A month at most!”
To Be Continued…
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