IN THIS EPISODE: … Topaz goes for a drive and confronts some buried fears…
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CHAPTER 30 – Driving, Dreams, & Dreads
Topaz Cushing – 1951 Fisher St.
Tuesday: Final Evening of the Waxing Gibbous Moon
Topaz threw her chin back and enjoyed the rush of the wind through her blonde hair. The summer breeze was warm and heady, the air redolent with the smell of trees and green landscape. Driving around Hampstead Heath this way with the boys, it was almost like she and her twin were a million miles from London.
They weren’t, of course. The park was barely five miles from the center of the city, as the crow flies. And, of course, it wasn’t one of the boys who was driving, either; it was Opal behind the wheel of Frank’s precious Bentley.
Topaz did her best to ignore that last fact. Neither she nor her twin had much driving experience, though their father had managed to see that they both obtained licenses using his long-defunct Model-T and vehicles borrowed from his friends (in between his expeditions, of course).
Most of the driving the sisters had done recently had been in Barry’s Ford Phaeton. Barry was much more casual about letting other people drive, and seemed to take positive delight in giving over the wheel to one of the girls. But Barry wasn’t with them this evening—he and Frank were having some sort of spat (over Jekyll and Hyde again?). Nor had Naveen been able to make the trip (a social occasion with his parents).
That left a very skittish Frank in the front with Opal, and Topaz enjoying the breeze in the back with Charlie. Frank’s Blue Label Bentley 3 Litre was a convertible, like Barry’s Ford, but it was probably worth three times as much. Thus, Frank’s nerves.
“Woo! Look at us go!” Opal called from the front. Her mood had improved considerably since her encounter with Paul on Saturday, three days ago. Apparently, she no longer considered him Public Enemy Number One. “He really does think he’s cursed,” she’d explained to Topaz, and she now seemed to have a great deal of sympathy for the man who had so recently broken her heart.
Topaz remained cautious. Paul may indeed have believed that a curse drove him to do dastardly deeds, but he’d still treated the whole Cushing family, not just Opal, pretty shabbily.
He did seem to be working hard to make up for that, though, and Topaz had sensed no deception in him currently, other than the fact that he was carrying on with Victoria (which Topaz still hadn’t told Opal about), plus the usual black cloud of his mysterious past, and what this supposed curse really was.
Maybe I’m being too hard on him, Topaz thought.
Certainly, having one’s wife and child murdered by crazed villagers, which is what he’d told Opal, would be enough to drive most anyone to desperate, even half-mad measures.
Her sister now wished that they could help him, and Topaz supposed that she did, too, but they could do nothing unless he opened up about what was really going on. Until then, they could only be patient. And wary.
We can’t break a curse we know nothing about—if it even is a curse.
Oh, well. No use thinking about such mood-killers now. Not on this glorious evening, driving with the top down, and with handsome “Bonnie Prince” Charlie beside her.
“Yes, we certainly are going fast,” Frank commented, glancing between Opal and the speedometer.
“B-better watch it,” Charlie said jovially. “We wouldn’t want to get pulled over.”
“Oh, what does it matter?” Opal replied, shaking her head and letting her dark hair fly in the wind. “Suspend my driver’s license, officer! See what I care! It’s not like I get to use it most of the time, anyway.”
“I think that’s exactly what Frank is worried about,” Charlie confided to Topaz.
She laughed quietly.
“Well, it may be your license, but it’s my car,” Frank replied, trying to appear casual (though Topaz wasn’t buying it, and she doubted Opal was, either). “And I’d hate to have it impounded.”
“You bet,” Charlie joked. “What would your p-parents say?”
Frank shot him a stern look that seemed to say: “If I’d wanted clever banter at my expense, I would have invited Barry.”
Charlie shrunk into the back seat just a little more. “Do you mind if I move c-closer to you?” he whispered to Topaz, a twinkle in his grey eyes. “Between you sister’s driving and Frank’s moods… I’m terrified.”
Again, Topaz laughed, and she happily sidled closer to him. Charlie put his arm around her shoulders, affectionately, but casually.
Truth to confess, she liked Barry a bit more, but it was still nice to have a warm boy to snuggle up to in a breezy car.
They drove through the English countryside for the better part of two hours, though Frank (looking very relieved) took over again after the first half hour.
As they cruised and chatted, and Topaz enjoyed the warmth of the young man beside her, the stars twinkled to light and the moon poked its pale head above the eastern horizon.
“Full moon tonight,” Frank observed.
“Not really,” Opal corrected. “The full moon’s not until Thursday, two days from now.”
“Tomorrow will look full enough to the naked eye, though,” Topaz added, “as will Friday. Tonight, it’s only a ‘waxing gibbous moon.’”
“Seriously?” Frank asked. “How do you know that? Did you twins take up astronomy, recently?”
“It’s our job,” both girls replied simultaneously, and then broke into giggles.
“F-full moons bring out the wolves—even in young aristocrats,” Charlie noted.
Frank shook his head. “The supernatural! I should have known. If it has to do with the Dark Arts, you two and your dad are bound to have your fingers into it—in a good way, I mean.”
On the way back to the city, the four of them stopped at a little shop for ice cream, which proved excellent. (Frank was kind enough to not show off, and let Charlie pay.)
All too soon, though, the evening drew to a close.
“Should we come up for a night cap?” Frank asked as they pulled up outside 1951 Fisher. Then he backpedaled. “Or perhaps a spot of tea?”
He doesn’t want us thinking he’s trying to get us drunk, Topaz surmised, reading just the surface of his emotions.
“Not tonight, Frank, sorry,” Opal said, giving him a chaste kiss on the cheek as she got out of the car.
“We have to work tomorrow, remember,” Topaz added. She gave Charlie a peck on the cheek as well. Part of her longed for a bit more, but she didn’t want to put her sister into a compromising situation. If Charlie really got kissed, Frank might expect that, too.
So, rather than linger, Topaz hopped up the front steps to where her sister was already opening the door.
“See you tomorrow?” Frank asked.
“Call us,” Opal replied as she stepped inside.
“We want to make sure you haven’t turned into a wolf,” Topaz added playfully.
“Wolves, you mean,” replied Charlie.
“Too late,” added Frank.
Both girls laughed and shut the door behind them. The Bentley’s powerful 3-liter engine rumbled off down the street.
“Well,” Opal said with a sigh. “That was fun. I’m beat.”
“I’m not surprised, with all the driving you did,” Topaz replied.
“It was a bit nerve-wracking,” her twin admitted. “Frank clutching tightly to the seat beside me didn’t help. You’d think he expected me to wreck his precious Blue Label!”
“Even if he did, you didn’t,” Topaz noted.
“Nope. I’m a good driver, I am!” This in Opal’s best cockney accent.
Topaz laughed. It felt good to see her twin so buoyant.
But she still doesn’t know about Paul and Victoria.
Should Topaz tell her?
No. Not tonight. Not after things have gone so well.
“Are you coming?” Opal asked, as they lingered at the entryway. She opened the door leading up to the apartments on the second and third floors.
“You go ahead,” Topaz said. “I think I’ll check the exhibits one last time.”
“Wanting to say ‘Goodnight’ to your Ice Man?” Opal joked. “And here I thought you were falling for Bonnie Prince Charlie!”
The jibe hurt—just a bit. “No,” Topaz shot back, a little too quickly and a little too strongly.
“Seriously, sis,” Opal said. “You look just as tired as I feel. It’s been a long day. Why don’t you come up to bed?”
“I will,” Topaz replied evenly. (No sense giving her sister more ammunition.) “In a little while.”
Opal rolled her blue-green eyes. “Okay,” she said. “Be that way. You could have asked Charlie up for tea—or drinks—but instead you’d rather read a bedtime story to your frozen beau. Honestly, with you mooning over that thing constantly, I’m surprised you don’t have nightmares!”
Topaz’s heart pounded in her chest as she ran for her life.
The unfamiliar woods became a blur around her. The full moon blazed down through the trees, but instead of illuminating her way, it made the forest a tangle of confusing shadows.
Danger lurked in those shadows; each one could be concealing the thing; the beast stalking her could be anywhere!
Through the twisting darkness, she spotted light up ahead—a clearing, and could that be a fire?
Fire will keep me safe. It’s afraid of fire.
She dashed out of the forest and into the open—not into a clearing, as she’d expected, but onto the frozen surface of a vast lake. In the middle of that lake, a bonfire burned, its bright orange and yellow flames licking toward the moonlit sky.
Topaz glanced behind.
Furtive red eyes lurked at the edge of the words, peering at her.
She hurried toward the fire, going as fast as she could without losing her footing on the ice.
Why would anyone build a bonfire on a lake? she wondered.
But as she drew near the blaze, she stopped, and her blood ran cold.
It wasn’t a bonfire… It was a man! A huge man standing amid the flames.
His arms were outstretched, as if begging for mercy, but no words escaped his blackened lips.
Topaz wanted desperately to help him, and for a moment, she forgot all thoughts of the animal stalking her.
She reached out, but the heat of the conflagration proved too great. She pulled her hand back, the fingers red and blistered.
And as she watched in horror, with a sound like crashing thunder, the ice beneath the man shattered and he plunged into the inky waters below.
“No!” Topaz screamed, but it was far too late to do anything else.
Worse, the ice breaking didn’t extinguish the blaze. Instead, as if the lake below were made of gasoline, the fire began spreading across the cold white surface.
Topaz turned back the way she’d come, but a dark shape now loped across the ice between her and the forest—a huge doglike shape with glowing red eyes and shaggy black fur that seemed to absorb the moonlight.
Topaz ran the other way, skirting around the growing blaze, heading for the far shore. Woods covered that shore as well, but she thought she’d spotted a building amid the leafless trees.
Yes! Now that she’d gotten clear of the fire, she could see it clearly: a tall Victorian house, sitting on the shore of the lake.
She ran, redoubling her efforts as the ice behind her moaned and snapped and the crackle of the conflagration grew behind her.
At least the fire will stop the beast, she thought.
But a glance back revealed that not to be true. Somehow, the dark, wolfish shape had passed through the inferno and remained patiently stalking her trail.
Fear surging through her veins, Topaz focused on the manse ahead.
Home! she realized. It’s home!
1951 Fisher St. And in one of the topmost windows stood Opal, watching, waiting for her twin.
“I’m coming, Opal!” Topaz cried.
Sweat drenched her skin now, and soaked the light summer dress she’d foolishly worn out into the woods. Her heartbeat drummed in her ears, almost drowning out the roar of the fire behind her.
In the high window, Opal nodded and began to turn, to head for the door three stories below.
As she turned though, a dark shadow with blazing red eyes rose up behind her.
The wolf! Topaz thought.
But how could the beast be in the house? It was still behind her—at least, she thought it was, though she didn’t dare look, lest she break her stride and fall.
Lungs aching, she sprinted the last few yards and crashed hard against the door of the Duprix mansion.
It was locked.
“Opal!” she cried, pounding on the weathered wood. “Opal!”
She looked up, but she could no longer see her sister in the window high above; only darkness remained.
It got her! It GOT her!
And then, adding to the horror, flames sprang up on the roof.
The blaze quickly consumed the topmost floor, while Topaz pounded futilely on the door.
The fire was all around her now. It howled and roared, cutting off her escape in every direction.
And worse, even amid the wheezing crackle and hiss, she could still make out the guttural, rumbling growl of the approaching beast.
It was still coming for her!
With one last surge of strength, Opal threw all her weight against the door—and the aged portal finally gave way.
She found herself not standing in the foyer, though, but in the Chamber of Horrors. It, too, was burning.
“Opal!” Topaz screamed. “Opal!”
But her twin didn’t reply. Had the beast really gotten her before it came for Topaz? Was her sister already dead?
Topaz listened as hard as she could, trying to sort the roar of the fire from any human-made reply.
All she heard, though, was bells—fire bells, ringing.
The fire brigade was coming! But would they be in time?
The heat building around her…
The flames closing in…
A shaggy black hand reaching toward her through the flames…
They won’t arrive in time!
And red eyes, burning even brighter than the fire…
Wednesday: Evening of the First Night of the Full Moon
The ringing of the telephone startled Topaz awake. It took every ounce of effort she could muster to stifle the scream building in her throat.
She looked around, heart pounding.
Where am I?!
No forest. No lake. No burning house.
She was sitting in her father’s favorite chair, by the ice man exhibit, drenched in sweat.
I must have dozed off.
Topaz took a deep breath, and forced her heart to stop hammering.
Business at the chamber had been slow today, after a brief flurry just after opening. In fact, they hadn’t had anyone stop in since lunchtime.
What time is it now? she wondered.
“Oh, shoot! The phone!”
Topaz jumped out of the chair and rushed up to the pay phone, near the entrance to the chamber.
Why hadn’t Opal gotten the phone? The only people who ever called this number were…
“Hello?” she said, picking up the receiver.
“Oh, hi. It’s Frank. Is that you, Topaz?”
“Yes. It’s me.” She knew that people often had trouble telling her from her sister on the phone. Frank seemed to have figured it out though—or made a lucky guess.
“Can I talk to Opal?”
“Sure.” She put the receiver to her chest to muffle the sound and shouted: “Opal! Phone for you?”
When her twin didn’t reply, she called again.
But no answer came from the Chamber of Horrors.
“I’m sorry, Frank,” she said into the phone. “I’m not sure where she is right now. Did you try our apartment?”
“Yeah. I called there first.”
“Did you want to leave a message?”
“Nothing much,” he said. “Just tell your sister that I was thinking of her. Hey, if she’s free tonight, maybe we could take in a movie or something.”
“Just the two of you? Or would the other boys be coming?”
“You could come and bring someone along, if you like.”
“Not all four of you, then?”
Frank laughed. “Sometimes, four is definitely a crowd.”
“Okay. I’ll tell her. Bye, Frank. See you later, maybe.”
“So long, Topaz.”
Topaz returned the receiver to its cradle.
Where was Opal? It wasn’t like her to duck out in the middle of the day.
Of course, it wasn’t like Topaz to fall asleep on the job, either.
Opal was probably right, Topaz thought. I shouldn’t have stayed up so late reading to the Ice Man. It’s not like he can really hear me. And she was right about me having nightmares, too!
Not that Topaz actually blamed the Ice Man for her bad dream. She felt sure it was just life in general stressing her—and Opal—out. Their lives had been so jumbled lately.
Ever since Paul arrived…
Some of that drama was bound to work itself out through their unconscious, wasn’t it?
And was Topaz actually avoiding the real world, as her sister had suggested? Was she spending time with the Ice Man rather than with living boys, like Charlie and Barry and the rest?
It had felt so nice with Charlie snuggled close to her in the car yesterday. And yet…
What am I afraid of?
Was she afraid of getting hurt, the way Paul had hurt her sister?
If she looked at the situation rationally, Topaz supposed that must be it.
That and the fact that having so many boys around all the time was still something new to both her and her sister. And unlike Opal, Topaz didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by saying “yes” to one and “no” to all the others.
That very idea was irrational, though.
Life involved making choices.
And then paying the consequences.
Like her sister had.
But where was her sister?
Maybe she went to the bathroom upstairs. There wasn’t a loo in either the chamber or the waxworks, but…
She’s been gone an awful long time.
Long enough to miss Frank calling both in their apartments and at the pay phone, anyway.
A cold chill ran up Topaz’s spine, and she remembered the shadow looming over her sister in her dream. Had something really happened to her?
I better check, Topaz decided.
She closed and locked the door to the chamber, hanging the “Back in Fifteen Minutes” sign on the doorknob—not that any customers seemed likely at this point. The wall clock by the calendar near the entrance told her it was quarter to seven, nearly closing time on a Wednesday evening.
I slept the entire afternoon away!
Shaking her head at her own indolence, Topaz mounted the stairway and hurried up to their quarters.
She paused on the second-floor landing (where she thought she heard voices echoing from the servants’ hallway), but only long enough to determine whether either voice belonged to Opal. Neither did, so she continued on to the Cushing residence on the third floor.
“Opal?” she called as she entered and closed the door behind her. But she spoke quietly, as she didn’t hear anyone moving about.
Maybe she fell asleep, too.
She could hardly blame Opal if she had. Both of them had been under quite a bit of stress, and though the sky had been clear and sunny today—a warm summer afternoon—with no customers coming through the turnstiles, it was the perfect time for a nap. (As Topaz had found out herself, despite her nightmare.)
Cautiously, so as not to wake her twin, she peeked into the bedroom they shared.
“Hmm…” she mused.
Not in the loo, either, and neither sister ever went into Father’s bedroom, which left only the kitchen.
But she didn’t find Opal there, either.
Topaz frowned, puzzled… Until she noticed that the doorway connecting to the back stairs—the servants’ stairs—stood ajar.
She could sense her sister now, on the other side of the door, near the top of the stairway. Topaz didn’t like what she felt.
Carefully, quietly, Topaz opened the door and crept to the edge of the third-floor landing behind Opal.
Her twin was just standing there, trembling, clutching the railing and peering down toward the second floor.
Topaz didn’t need to see what Opal was looking at; the image came to her as clearly as if she were seeing it herself:
Paul and Victoria, below, standing at the edge of the second-floor landing, engaged in a passionate embrace—kissing.
Opal’s mind seethed with emotions so powerful—anger… sadness… heartache… betrayal…—that Topaz had to remind herself that the feelings were not her own.
Silently, she put her hand over Opal’s mouth, so her sister wouldn’t cry out, and whispered with her mind: “Come away.”
Numbly, Opal obeyed, and the two of them backed from the landing into the Cushings’ kitchen, where Topaz closed and locked the door to the servants’ stairs.
Then Opal turned and ran, weeping, into their bedroom.
She almost slammed the door, but Topaz caught it in time, and slipped in behind her twin.
Opal threw herself on the bed, disconsolate.
Topaz put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Darling,” Topaz whispered softly, “we knew what kind of man Paul was. We knew we couldn’t trust him. I know that you’d begun to think that maybe he could change, but…”
Suddenly, Opal sprang erect on the bed. Her tear-stained blue-green eyes peered furiously into those of her sister.
“You knew?” Opal accused, her voice hoarse and low. “You knew!”
“I…” Topaz began, but it was no use. She realized that, in this moment, her sister could read her mind clearly. “I didn’t know, precisely… I’d never seen them… together. I just…”
“Why didn’t you tell me?!”
“I didn’t see the point…”
“I didn’t want to cause you any more pain…”
“So, you just thought you’d wait until I found out myself?”
“I thought maybe you wouldn’t find out. I thought maybe he’d leave, and then it wouldn’t matter anymore.”
“And that would make everything better, then, would it?” Opal shot back bitterly.
“Get out!” Opal said, pointing toward the door.
“Get out! You’re as bad as the rest of them! You’re as bad as Paul, with your damn secrets and lies!”
“You don’t mean that…”
The shriek convinced Topaz there was nothing she could do right now. She’d have to wait until Opal settled down. “All right…” She backed toward the door, tears brimming in her eyes. “I’ll give you some time.”
“I don’t care if I never see you again!” Opal wailed.
Topaz left. She had no other options.
She closed the door behind her as she left, heading downstairs, to the chamber.
She paused at the second floor, in front of the servants’ door. Should she go in and confront Paul? Lambaste him about what he’d done, how he’d broken her sister’s heart—again?
No. What good would that do? He wouldn’t change.
She only hoped that Opal wouldn’t confront him either, that her sister would cry herself to sleep. Then maybe they could sort everything out in the morning.
Topaz descended the winding stairs once more.
Only when she reached the first-floor landing did she finally burst into tears.
Sobbing, she opened the door to Dr. Cushing’s Chamber of Horrors and then flipped the sign on the door so that it read: CLOSED. Come back tomorrow.
Tomorrow… Would there even be a tomorrow for them? For the business? For their family?
Topaz felt as though her entire world had crashed down around her.
Normally, in a situation like this (though there never really had been anything as bad as this before), she would have turned to her sister, but…
Right now, that was entirely out of the question.
I can’t really blame her, Topaz thought. I should have told her what I suspected.
But she hadn’t, and—at least for the moment—that mistake had cost Topaz her oldest, dearest friend, the friend who was like the second part of her soul.
Weeping bitterly, she went to the deepest, darkest corner of the chamber and plopped down on the floor, next to the Ice Man exhibit.
Sniffling and wiping away the tears, she told the frozen giant: “You are my only friend in the world.”
And in her mind, the word echoed…
TO BE CONTINUED…!
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