The Daughter of Deep Silence
I’m listening to a serial killer, which is not a scenario that usually goes to a good place. Currently he’s just a voice on the intercom but the fact that I’m talking with him means that things have gone wrong.
Flashback, yesterday. I’m in my bathroom popping a pimple. This pimple is right inside my knee and it hurts every step I take. I have no health insurance but it’s not a big or deep pimple.
Glamorous life of a supervillain. (Also, it’s satisfying to pop pimples. Do not judge me.)
Anyway, I’m twisted up with a leg on the sink trying to get a good pinching grip and I look up at the mirror on the medicine cabinet.
I am looking at a fleshless skull.
I shriek once because I do not expect this. The skull opens its mouth and in that instant the horrifying image becomes a science experiment.
I open my mouth, it opens its mouth. I close, it closes. I turn my head, it turns. I count teeth on the lower jaw, trying to see of the wisdom teeth are still there, when I notice it doesn’t have my filling.
Then the filling appears.
The conclusion is clear: Someone is messing with my mind. In real-time.
So I finish with the pimple (at least I hope I do; when someone is messing with your mind, anything is possible) and then look up at the mirror again.
A shrouded woman in Victorian funeral clothes is looking at my skull in the mirror. She has empty sockets instead of eyes and is crying blood. Total unreasoning fear floods me and I am stuck there with one leg up on the sink.
I can’t help checking over my shoulder. Nope. Nothing there.
I nod to the figure in the mirror. Professional courtesy. “Red Mary,” I say, as politely as I can without any spit in my mouth.
And she is gone.
I was so freaked that I grabbed my dog, Slobberkin, and left, slowing down only to put on pants and shoes. I have practiced getting out fast and I set records that day. I was a block away before I could even think. All jittery from adrenaline, I jogged Slobberkin to the nearest dog park, which made him happy, and I spent a little bit of time not-thinking on purpose.
After I let Slobberkin loose to run like a maniac, I walked slowly, trying to marshal what I knew of Red Mary.
Look, a lot of people see superfolk as evidence of magic without rules. But if there are no rules, how can you plan anything? How can you exploit the rules? So I chose to believe that she was some kind of mutant or dimensional extrusion. Even if she was magical, the magic must have rules, somehow.
Her mission was vengeance: she was no hero. She preyed on those who prey on women. A typical vengeance saw the man (usually a man) flayed, killed, and his corpse reanimated to deal with his enablers. She wasn’t effective in a systemic way: men still abused women. But if you were the man she targeted, well, you weren’t doing it again.
Back in high school, girls said you could invoke her with blood and an invocation, but you couldn’t put her down or control her. We learned the invocation but I don’t know that she ever showed up.
She had been doing this for…a decade? A century? A millennium?
My fear slowly went away and was replaced by anger and indignation. I hadn’t hurt any women. I hadn’t tried to summon her. I had been minding my own business.
I sat on the bench and did some searching with my phone. When you put “Protection from Red Mary” into a search engine, you don’t get directed to nice places.
I thought the gist of it was going to be “So long, you’re done” but unpleasant people had ideas. There were some things I just wasn’t going to do (the thigh bones of a virgin?) and some I didn’t have access to (like the remains of a Catholic Saint) but that left something to try.
That night I put Slobberkin in his crate (I’m crate-training him) and surrounded the crate and the bed with a thick ring of kosher salt.
It took twelve boxes.
It also didn’t work.
Air thick and sooty with something industrial. Leaving a child—a little girl, the only source of joy. The girl had a doll as long as my hand, and she showed it to…me? Her mother. The viewpoint. Like going to see Shakespeare, I missed most of what was being said but I got the feeling.
Adjust the dress and out into a smoky awful world. Cobblestone streets, brick houses jammed together and interspersed with wooden shacks like rotten teeth in a hillbilly’s mouth. Fog or smog or industrial fumes. Standing on a corner near a…theatre of some kind?
The one that sucked, without Oscar Wilde-like parties and witticisms.
A man—no, the man—approached. When he had her alone, he said that she was special. Gorgeous, he said. He wanted her. He wanted…he wanted her blood? A vampire? No, a doctor or something. Had a syringe. He wanted to inject her with something.
He offered meus—her—money. No. Rinse, lather, repeat. Eventually it became obvious to us, her, that she wasn’t getting out without saying yes.
He was nice about it, at first; then insistent. She was beautiful, he said; he couldn’t bear to be without her, he said. He didn’t want to lose her again.
I didn’t feel that she knew him. The “again” was just nonsense. I wanted to scream, to tell her that he was obviously a psycho, but I was just a passenger in this dream.
Injection. Burning sensation, a hot itch that spread from the site. He counted five minutes. She was restless, but the payment had included the time.
“Now,” he said sweatily, “now you are immortal. I’ll show you.”
He had a knife.
They say you die if you die in your dreams.
I jerked awake, like when you have a leg spasm. I wasn’t in my bed any more—I was in front of my computer in my underwear.
The web browser was open to a picture of a man in front of a wall of dolls, which was creepy enough. In the guy’s arms was was the doll, the kid’s doll, because it was the one hundredth Victorian doll this guy had gathered.
One guess who it was.
The caption read, “If you keep looking, you’ll find it. John Q. Alias holds up a rare Victorian doll.”
But it was dated three years ago.
Why me? Why now? She wasn’t there to ask.
If any of it was true: she was in my head. She could be messing with me. For all I knew, my life-long fondness for Super Crisp cereal actually started last night.
I had an hour until it would be safe to take Slobberkin to the park. I switched to the anonymous account and started researching this guy.
The picture was in soft focus, probably to make that damn wall of dolls less creepy. He looked like he was in his fifties, about ten years older than the dream.
His name was as contrived as H. H. Holmes’: Todd Brandon. Widowed (of course). Inherited wealth from his “father.”
There are clues to being long-lived; three people have been revealed since 1980. Still, having money is its own superpower and nobody really looks. But: mysterious inheritance, check; long-held property, check; reclusive or multiple residences, check; collector of antiquities of some sort, check. Contrived or symbolic name, like A. Lucard or Jack L. N. Hyde, optional.
Apparently immortality comes with a love of wordplay and callbacks.
Brandon’s local house, the one with the doll collection, was in the Maryhill district. Maryhill was where the rich folk lived but the city crept up on it. I knew the area because there were a couple of houses there on my to-burgle list.
It was dawn. I stretched, brushed my teeth and dressed, and took my dog out to Maryhill to look at the house and area.
Supervillainy isn’t all superpowers and big fights. To case the house itself, I got a briefcase with glossy stock info, had Shelley put business makeup on me and dressed in a power suit. Drove up in a posh (stolen) car and rang the doorbell. Mr. Brandon wasn’t in, said the lady, but he was expected. I wasn’t on the list, but I could wait in the office?
I left the briefcase there and asked to use the powder room. No escort, so I made sure I wasn’t being watched and headed for the second floor.
The bastard had rooms of dolls. Each doll room I saw had a pattern inlaid in the floor that looked, in a word, mystical. Clever: couldn’t be erased that way. And every second I was there increased chance of discovery.
Finding the doll would have been great. Being caught by staff wouldn’t have been terrible: I’d have been reprimanded and thrown out, but at least I would have cased the place.
Being knocked unconscious and tied up was not on my list.
If you live, you learn.
“I don’t suppose you’re a virgin, hmm?” was the phrase that woke me up. He had a mushy British accent and some kind of speech defect. “Not in these days, more’s the pity.”
White tile and overhead lamps made the room look like a surgery from the turn of the century. What I saw next was the neatly labeled jars of chemicals and organs. I was fastened to a big padded chair, like a dentist’s chair. He had his back to me as he fussed over a tray of syringes and ugly stainless-steel instruments.
He turned around…and the flesh above his mask was yellow, cracked, and peeling. Along with the light on his head, he had some contraption to drip fluid on his eye because there was no eyelid there.
“It’s been a long game, with Mary.” He chuckled. “She wants that doll. She sends someone, I catch them. Letting her select the victims turns out to be much more…effective. The whores she picks are so rarely missed.”
I found my voice. “You’re working together?”
He shook his head. “She’d kill me, if she could. Not that it would get her the doll; every room is warded.” He tapped the syringe once to get the air bubbles out. “Now, there might be…well, a lot of pain, but when I’m done, part of you will live on. And it’s to let me continue to do my scientific work, which is the most noble purpose someone like you could have.”
I nodded and swallowed the fear in my voice. He mustn’t hear the fear.
“Doctor!” I called in the lady’s voice from behind him. “Sorry to interrupt you. At the door. A policeman says he must talk to you.”
“I can’t be disturbed. Not until I’m done.”
The Doctor slipped on heavy wraparound sunglasses and adjusted his wig.
No sooner was his back to me than I was tugging at the restraints. They were metal and I couldn’t get free. Maybe someone with more time could, but I only had a minute, maybe three. He shut the door behind him. I heard the bolt slide shut. Distantly I heard him on stairs, but the door muffled everything.
Sometimes metal has a resonant frequency, like the Tacoma Narrows disaster. I sang at the restraints. I started with a low note, increased pitch until I found the right frequency. The restraints started to throb against my wrists and ankles, through the padding. I added to volume just like pushing a kid on a swing to make her go higher. Ten seconds. Twenty. A minute. More.
My wrists and ankles started to go numb from the vibration.
I heard the bolt slide again.
The restraints exploded. I fumbled on the table for a scalpel, lurched forward on numb feet.
He came in, locked the door behind him…
…and I stabbed him in the throat. He crumpled.
Stabbing him was the only way I could buy time. I wasn’t a fighter, and I knew that killing him wasn’t permanent.
He was still moving so I pulled the scalpel out and drove it in again, then slashed across the back of one knee. If a pimple there made me walk funny, cutting his tendons had to do more.
Scalpels are not made for cutting through cloth; under the pants I left a red line but didn’t cut tendons. I sank the scalpel into what I could reach, his belly, and twisted. It had to hurt. He stopped moving. He might have been faking it, or dead but getting better.
All I wanted to do was get out, with the doll if I could. Three steps got me to the door.
In clear violation of fire codes, the door had a combination lock. It didn’t move when I tried it. Locked.
Hinges on the inside, so I could remove the hinges. Would it be faster?
No: the pins were held in with some kind of welded flange.
I quickly glanced over to the air vents. Not big enough for a person.
Like he expected people to try to escape.
I had waited almost too long: Before I tried unlocking the door I ran over to a shelf and grabbed a bottle labeled Muriatic Acid in neat handwriting, dumped it onto the Doctor’s head. He had to stay dead while I worked on the door. The sound was awful and the smell was worse—and the Doctor’s scream bubbled on until he died again.
Memo: In future, try to carry gear even in a disguise.
I huffed on the buttons. Some must have been used more than others and they might be detectable. Breath condensed differently on 1 and 8 than the rest of them.
The Jack the Ripper murders were in 1888. I tried that, because see comment about immortals and wordplay.
The door pulled open…and behind me I saw the Doctor was no longer on the floor.
I didn’t know where or how he was hiding, so I left and made sure the door locked. Then I broke the lock, but that ruined the scalpel.
I was in a hallway. Through doorways I saw windows and night time beyond. Floodlights illuminated the middles of trees. The building had four storeys, and I was near the top. The doll was on the second floor; I could even use a window from there, but at four floors, chances of survival from the fall are fifty-fifty.
He said from the room beside me, “I’ve dealt with murderous sluts before, of course.”
How did he get there—? Ah. He was talking to every room on the intercom.
Sounded like a lot of his mouth had grown back. (Too bad.)
“I have people guarding the doll and the exits.”
I’m sure “people” was defined loosely.
“Unfortunately, forcing that kind of…regrowth…makes my need for you more urgent, so you are not be allowed to leave alive.” There was the tuneless hum. I’d heard it before, in the dream. “I’m coming for you, you wicked little tramp.”
Moving fast down the hallway, glancing in rooms. Please let one be an old timey drawing room with weapons. Please, please, please.
I was out of hall. There was a bedroom left and probably a stairwell right, and a view of the lit driveway in front of me.
Options: Stay on this floor and have him catch up again. All I had to do was lose that fight once. Go down the stairs to the second floor (doll) or ground floor (exits). Open a window and leap for the trees.
I heard a shuffling noise behind me. I looked up: lights were going out along the length of the hall and there was a dark figure heading for me.
I ducked into the bedroom and realized that I should have ducked into the stairwell but he said he had people waiting on the ground and second floors. There I might have had a chance; here I could only pillow-fight him to death.
I wasn’t going to turn on the light, but I could hear his ragged breathing.
He was waiting there, with a knife.
The only thing he might not expect was an attack. I dove for his legs, because they were away from the knife.
He didn’t fall but at least he missed.
I rammed into him at frenzied speed and he didn’t fall.
My arm ached from the impact. I rolled to one side and grabbed a chair leg. It didn’t move either, so I pulled myself away from him as he lunged.
I pulled myself up and heaved on the chair—
It was bolted to the floor.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, right?
He lunged again but I kept the chair between us. The room was dappled from the outside lights but I could see a blackness behind him, between the bookcases. I ran for it.
Yeah, if there’d been something there I would have gotten a broken nose or worse but it was a door, and I shut him out.
As the door—wall?—shut silently, soft lights came on, near the floor, like theatre lighting. Enough to get around.
A secret passage. Very Scooby-Doo.
He could get anywhere in the house. And the lights automatically turned off when you opened the door, to keep victims unaware.
This was his murder castle.
He’d be back in the passage as soon as he got to another secret door. As I reached the railing for a circular stairwell, the stairs the lights went out again.
I started running down the stairwell. The metal stairs were carpeted for silence but I realized he could feel my movements down the stairs. He’d know when I left.
I descended to the bottom of the stairwell. Maybe the people on the ground floor wouldn’t expect me to come up.
The lights went out when I opened the door, and I couldn’t see a damned thing.
The basement was a terrible idea.
I slipped off my business blazer and used it to prop open the secret door. Let him stay in the dark.
(Maybe he’d trip and break his neck. That might slow him down.)
I groped for the door, slipped out. Found a light switch.
No, he wasn’t waiting for me. Instead there was a wine cooler of sorts. The whole wall was a refrigeration unit full of…bottles, face and label out. They were medicine bottles, like cough syrup bottles. The ones near the bottom had hand-written labels but farther up they were laser printed. Most of them seemed empty, but the top few were turbid.
There was something…cloudy…moving in them.
The floor was wooden, with more of those probably-mystic sigils.
“Ah, you’ve found my wine cellar.” A phlegmy chuckle. “My vault of ages, as it were.”
He was behind me. Dr. McStabby.
“I have a gun. Please don’t be foolish. I have three bottles of life left so while my need is urgent, it is not that urgent.”
I could hear the shrug. “Eternal life. What one loses, another gains. Before my methods were crude but now I can extract life essence—vril or whatever you want to call it—and store it. Mass production is the next step. Men will pay handsomely.”
“I thought you were in this for science?”
“Factories made Britain great.” He waved me away from the wall of bottles. “Obviously you are some kind of mutant, to affect the chair as you did. That makes the estimate rough but you might have a good fifty years left.” He edged past me, covering me, and opened the door. “Together these have only twenty-seven years left. I use it at my accelerated rate and they made poor life choices.” He grabbed a bottle.
“You have pushed my abilities to the limit, you little tart,” he hissed. “I’ll need everything here and more to recover fully, and you’re going to give me the ‘more.’”
I screamed, but not in the terrified way. I screamed in the sonic-powers-breaking-every-bottle kind of way. Dr. McStabby screamed too and fired, but the shattering glass, including the bottle in his hand spoiled the shot.
I switched to the other sound, the one that sometimes makes people sick…
It had no effect on him.
He fired again. His hand was shaking but I had no idea how many shots he had left and when he would stop missing.
I thrust the neck of a bottle into his chest. (I was aiming for his throat.) I kept shoving and I pushed him back onto the pegs of the rack.
Couldn’t lock him in; I had shattered the door—
He roared and hit me, hard.
He was a lot stronger than I was. I slid across the broken glass to the open door. Sparks flew as I knocked it off its hinges.
If I was going to die, I was going to take him down too. I grabbed the wires that ran to the thermostat and jabbed them in him.
He actually paused. And laughed as he backhanded me across the floor.
“There’s a transformer, silly girl,” he said. “It’s a few volts, nothing more. Now I’m going to make this painful.”
I jammed the broken glass into the crevices in the floor, as if I were trying to pull myself up, and pulled. He was going to hit me again.
He did. Fire in one of my kidneys.
“Let’s let your life force out.” I could feel it.
I tugged at the flooring inlay again.
He knelt over the wound, inhaling my life. My life force.
I tossed aside the piece of flooring. Mystic sigil un-mysticised.
I said the words I had learned in high school: “Red Mary, defender of women, destroyer of men, I call you.”
I blacked out.
A gift: The wound was gone. I collected the doll and my personal belongings, cleaned off my fingerprints. In the kitchen I lit a candle and put it on top of the refrigerator.
I opened all the gas vents before left for home, closing the door carefully behind me.
They ruled the fire to be an accident.
The doll disappeared from my apartment that night.
And I haven't heard of Red Mary since.