- Enjoy our Halloween episode, which mixes a bit of paranormal in with our science fiction. Hey, it’s a special holiday, and we’re apt to get a little crazy around here.
- If listeners want some lighter Halloween fun, “Horrorworld,” DK’s short story collaboration with Kevin David Anderson, is running as a two-part special at Drabblecast this Halloween. If people have ever had a desire to see Yul Brynner fight zombies, that’s the story for them.
- Feedback for Episode 256: The Mermaids Singing Each to Each.
- Next week… A special election day episode!
St. Darwin’s Spirituals by D.K. Thompson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at escapepod.org.
Saint Darwin’s Spirituals
By D.K. Thompson
The ghosts wanted a threesome – the two of them in Lucy’s body. It wasn’t an unheard of proposition, or so Lucy had been told. Prostitutes considered psychic whoring one of the safest tricks on the streets. All the pleasures of intimacy without the messy clean-up.
Ghosts had a nasty reputation for vanishing the moment after, though, no matter the talisman around your neck or the potion drunk before sunset, and so payments were usually collected up front. Not that Lucy was worried about the money. Her husband was the only thing that concerned her.
She adjusted her brass and leather goggles, peering through the ethereal tinted lenses to examine the ghosts.
They looked like the average apparitions. Both female. One spiraled around Lucy, long and curly hair obscuring her face. Large black blotches covered her body, causing her skin to peel off in patches. The other hovered several feet above the cobblestones in front of Lucy. She had a noose around her throat and her neck was bent so her head hung to the left side. She crossed her arms and took several breaths. Or whatever passed for breaths in the afterlife.
How long had it been since they’d felt someone’s touch? Lucy wondered. She remembered something her husband had told her long ago, before the murders, before he’d disappeared. “Spirits linger in this world longing to be a part of it, to reconnect, to have some kind of physical, sensual experience,” Thomas had said. “Only a host can provide them that.”
Ghosts aren’t the only creatures haunted by the memory of a touch, my love, Lucy thought. And yet, despite being a devout spiritualist, she shuddered at the idea of the cadaverous spirits making love inside her. She’d never had a ghostgasm before, much less been paid for one. The ghosts looked sincere in their desire, not like dangerous murderers. Certainly not monsters. Still, lonely as she was, a ghostgasm wouldn’t help her find Thomas.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea, Rose,” said the ghost spinning around Lucy. The air trailing behind her churned like water in a boat’s wake.
“What’s the matter, love?” Rose asked, winding the noose’s end around her wrist. “She look a bit too practiced for your tastes, Ethel?”
Lucy felt her cheeks flush. She pulled her shawl over her shoulders and took several small breaths, all her tight corset allowed. “To be honest, I don’t service the dead.” It sounded so insulting, but she couldn’t tell them the truth.
Ethel came to a halt an arm’s-length from Lucy’s face. “I’ve never heard of a whore who had much use for honesty.”
“A whore’s a whore,” said Rose. “We need a rental and our money’s honest, if nothing else is.”
“I’m sorry,” Lucy said. “I meant no offense. But you should find someone else. I’m not quite ready for that kind of…spiritual
“Well,” said Ethel. “We’ll just have to find a more enlightened whore, then.”
Before Lucy could respond, Ethel turned and shot down the street, passing through a carriage, and eliciting a curse from the coachman as his horses bucked and whinnied.
“You might as well have walked over her grave,” said Rose, fingers clenching the frayed rope. “Sorry we wasted your time.”
“I am sorry,” Lucy sighed. “But I’m really not the one you want to make love to.”
“Too true. I don’t think she fancied the thought of using you, anyway,” said Rose. “Listen, you seem like a nice girl. Why don’t you look me up in Westminster some time? After you’re dead, of course.”
“I’ll consider it,” Lucy said politely, trying not to stare at the noose. “Although I don’t think you’re my type.”
“Oh, you never know, love. Death can be very liberating,” Rose said with a wink. “But I’d rather you live a long life before becoming familiar with it. Best get off the streets. It’s getting late and it’s a nasty night. I don’t want to see you ‘round my area in the near future.” The ghost zoomed off in the direction Ethel had gone, the air shimmering behind her.
Lucy glanced down the dark, empty cobblestone streets. The carriage Ethel had flown through started moving again, clattering hooves echoing in the night air. She flipped out her pocket watch and eyed the time. Still early.
No one else propositioned Lucy for the next half-hour as she wandered Whitechapel, which suited her just fine. There were several prostitutes working, some stood alone under the hissing gas-lit street lamps, others talked with prospective clients, and one Lucy saw contorting on the alleyway floor in the thralls of a ghostgasm. Through the dark glass of her goggles, she could see the spirits twisting inside the prostitute, making love as the host writhed and moaned on the ground. The prostitute’s goggles magnified her blank stare. Had Ethel and Rose found an acceptable host?
Lucy peeled off her goggles. Everything looked the same as it had before, except she could no longer see the ghosts, just the squirming prostitute who looked like she was having a seizure. Lucy quickened her pace, her footfalls drowning out the groans behind her. She rounded the corner and bumped into a golem deputy, its solid clay frame knocking her off balance. It glanced at her, yellow eyes dancing from the flames lit inside his mouth, then continued to trudge down the street.
When the church bells struck midnight, Lucy sat on a bench, kicked off her shoes to rub her feet, and stared at the statue of Saint Charles Darwin in the center of the courtyard. His trademark invention, a pair of goggles, covered his eyes. He sat in his chair and seemed to look down at her, clutching his _Origin of the Species_ essay in one hand and his _Origin of the Spirits_ in the other, as if pondering their implications.
Don’t look at me like that, she thought. Sometimes I wish you hadn’t invented these damned things. Sometimes I feel so small and insignificant when I see through your lenses.
The bells finished ringing with a hollow sound. Lucy twisted her goggles in her hands and thought about how alone she was, how alone they all seemed to be. She wondered what had happened to Thomas.
It stayed quiet and dark for a long time. Finally, Lucy began toward home. She considered a different route to avoid the prostitute but decided her business must have surely concluded.
No moans echoed from the same alley so Lucy glanced down it. She stopped at what she saw, rooted to the ground.
The prostitute floated in the air, shuddering. The front of her emerald corset wet. The woman’s empty gaze stared past Lucy. Her goggles had shattered on the cobblestones.
Lucy tried to steady her breathing and pulled her goggles back on, looking for a sign of the ghost clients.
Something flickered inside the prostitute’s body. Her eyes and nostrils and mouth seemed to glow. Transfixed, Lucy continued to stare. She’d never seen anything like this before.
High-pitched clattering filled the alley, like the blades of hundreds of knives screeching across metal plates. Then a pair of tentacles jutted through the woman’s chest, splitting it open and streaking her clothes with blood and gore and that same pale, flickering light.
Lucy staggered backwards, covered her mouth with her hands, and looked up. A dark shape hung above the prostitute, perched on a windowsill, wrapping its tentacles around the dead girl’s body.
The monster, Lucy thought. Jesus God, at last. She’d played this scene out over and over in her imagination since Thomas had disappeared. But watching it splatter blood and entrails across the alley, Lucy went cold. She took a deep breath, lifted her dress, and unstrapped the single-chamber pistol from her thigh. Swallowed. Tried to steady her trembling, sweating hand.
Light pulsed inside the prostitute. Tentacles dug inside her. Then a sick, wet sound of something being pulped, and a shimmering form was yanked out. A woman. A moaning, eviscerated woman, clutching her wounds.
Lucy caught her breath, said a prayer for the prostitute’s spirit, then fired.
In the flare of the shot, the creature’s body was illuminated, a thorax, covered with hundreds of gleaming mouths. Not a rogue vampire, as the papers had speculated. At least not like any Lucy had seen. Then what the devil was it?
The creature shrieked, so loud, Lucy almost dropped her pistol to cover her ears. The prostitute’s body fell headfirst to the ground, her skull cracking open across the pavement, dashing blood and bits of brain over Lucy.
She took a step back and pulled another round from her pocket. The bullet slipped through her fingers and slid between the cobblestones. She reached for another. Slid it into the chamber and shoved it closed. Aimed.
The monster had vanished into the night. Lucy panted and knelt beside the dead prostitute, looked for her spirit. Nothing.
She covered her face with her hands, panting and blinking back tears. She’d seen it. She’d come so close. And she’d let it escape.
Bells sounded in the distance, higher-pitched than the church’s. The Paranormal Patrol.
Lucy wiped her palms on her dress, drying the sweat.
The patrol rounded the corner, bells ringing fast and loud. A pair of golems trotted beside the carriage, their dull gleaming eyes surveying the street. They hadn’t seen her, not yet. Lucy sprang to her feet and into the alley.
A shrill whistle sounded and heavy footsteps pounded behind her – the golems, picking up speed. The lenses of her goggles fogged. She pulled them down where they bounced against her neck as she ran, pistol clutched in hand. She wouldn’t kill a human constable, she’d rather turn herself in and face the consequences. But she had no qualms shooting a golem. They weren’t alive to begin with.
Steam poured from ventilation shafts on the walls, blinding her. More than once, she glanced up at the rooftops, hoping to get a trace of the creature.
A golem lurched out at her through the steam curtain, arms opened wide. She bounced off its chest and hit the ground.
The constable picked her up, its massive grey arms damp and sweating from the heat, and flung her against the brick wall. She landed in a puddle that smelled of piss and vomit, bits of clay sticking to her skin and clothes where the golem had touched her. Lucy rolled to her side, leveled her pistol at the golem and fired. Clay exploded around its chest and the golem flinched from the force of the shot, but its eyes maintained that yellow gleam as it lumbered toward her.
She reached for another bullet. The golem stretched out its giant, wet hands toward her.
“That’s enough!” shouted someone above her. “Stand down, constable!”
The golem froze. Lucy fell back against the wall, tugged her goggles back on to see a pair of spirits descend through the night air toward them.
“Police!” shouted one of the ghosts. “Stay where you are!”
Lucy caught her breath as Ethel and Rose descended beside her, feet hovering over the ground, both of them frowning.
Rose crossed her arms. “You again?”
“You two are police?” Lucy asked. “But you solicited me! You wanted to have sex with me!”
“Not with you, with each other,” Rose said. “You were just a warm body.”
“We’re paranormal officers,” Ethel explained. “We’ve been trying to find this monster before it killed again.”
Lucy blinked. She hadn’t heard of any police involvement.
“And instead of it, we found you, assaulting an officer of the law,” said Rose. “Right after fleeing a murder scene. What’s a whore like you doing walking the streets this late with a pistol?”
“Working,” Lucy said. “It’s become something of a dangerous profession.”
“Come off it,” Rose said. “You’re no prostitute. What are you doing dressed like one? Don’t you realize something’s out there killing girls?”
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
“What are you?” Ethel asked. “A nutter? A vigilante?”
She looked down at her clothes and the pistol in her hand, biting her lip. The ghosts and the golem continued to watch her, but she didn’t know how to answer them. What was she doing? Was she any closer to finding out what happened to Thomas?
Lucy closed her eyes, took a breath, then spoke through gritted teeth. “I’m a widow and a spiritualist. That’s all you need to know. Now, get out of my way.”
“I’m afraid that won’t do,” said Rose. “We’re short on time. If you won’t provide us with answers, we’ll have to find other ways of asking our questions.” And before Lucy could mutter any incantations or use a talisman against her, Rose dove into her body.
Lucy staggered, saw images from her past being splayed out and dissected in her mind’s eye, felt Rose’s thin, transparent fingers smudging her thoughts and memories, sifting through anything that looked significant to her.
Thomas was there. Telling her about the reports he’d received: prostitutes whose deaths didn’t concern the police. He took the matter into his own hands, like a good spiritualist, hoping to learn about and document this new creature, hoping to save lives by understanding it. He started spending nights on the streets, armed with goggles, talismans, enchantments, and a pistol. He questioned prostitutes and their pimps, tried to figure out what was killing the girls and why.
Lucy saw herself sitting in the kitchen, waiting for him to return. He’d walk in the door, dark circles sagging under his eyes, and talk for hours about the monster roaming the streets. How it stayed in the shadows, eviscerated its victims in a mess of blood and pulp, their ghosts never appearing.
He was out every night in the company of prostitutes. They argued. So often, so long, and hard, they eventually stopped talking. Thomas went days between coming home.
Then, after a week-long absence, Lucy realized he wasn’t coming home.
Rose trampled through it all, clouding Lucy’s memories. Every moment with Thomas, every argument they had, every time they made love. In that lifetime of seconds, Thomas seemed closer than ever, and yet Rose hovered above every instance, staring. Prying.
Lucy wanted to scream.
They stood in the alley watching the prostitute’s ghostgasm (Do I look like that now? Lucy wondered), saw her dead eyes as she floated. Tentacles tearing her open. Blood and gore. A gunshot.
When Rose vanished, a cold emptiness filled Lucy, leaving her alone with memories that didn’t feel like her own anymore. Hollow and violated, a stranger in her own skin.
She opened her eyes and fell to the ground, gagging.
Ethel was shouting about abuse and the law. Lucy pulled one of Thomas’s talismans from around her neck.
“Sweet Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” Rose told Ethel. “She saw it. She saw the thing.”
“What?” Ethel asked, rounding on her, just as Lucy slammed her fist through Rose’s incorporeal body.
Rose shrieked in pain, flickering in and out of existence. She spun out of control into the night sky.
“You bitch!” Lucy screamed. “You had no right! If you weren’t dead, I’d kill you myself!”
Ethel phased against Lucy, slammed her back onto the ground. “Where’d you get a grounder?”
“Ask your friend.” Lucy replied. “My husband was a spiritualist. He taught me a thing or two before that monster got him.”
Ethel’s eyes widened. “Your husband? But that’s – that’s impossible. All the victims have been women.”
“Don’t argue with her, Ethel,” Rose said. She still flickered, although it came more sporadically. She narrowed her eyes at Lucy. “Not now. We need to get up to the roof. That’s where it disappeared to. We’ll deal with her later. The constable will watch her.”
The golem stepped forward.
“I’m going with you,” Lucy said.
“No,” Ethel said. “You’ll only slow us down.”
And without another word, the two ghosts shot upward, disappearing into the wall.
Lucy sighed, stuffed her hands into her pockets, and watched the golem.
Something cried out above them. Lucy glanced up, saw a spirit twisting in the air, entrails spilling out of her.
The dead prostitute.
A window shattered behind the spirit, punctured by a tentacle. The appendage pierced the ghost, hooked her like a fish on a line, and then reeled the screaming, writing spirit back into the building.
“Do something!” Lucy shouted. The golem didn’t respond, just stared at her with a blank, flickering expression.
“Dammit!” Lucy shoved another round into the pistol’s chamber and fired point-black at the golem’s face. It stumbled backward, clay spraying the wall behind it. Without waiting to see if the fire went out of its mouth, Lucy turned and dashed into the building, reloading her pistol.
Halfway up the stairs, she found the creature in an empty, bedroom reeking of mildew and rotten meat, yellow paper peeling from the walls. It was a bloated, misshapen abomination sprouting claws and tentacles, covered by hundreds of cavernous mouths filled with teeth like straight razors.
Lucy staggered back, hiding behind the wall. Hail Mary full of grace, she thought. What is it?
The chattering sound echoed in the room. The mouths, Lucy realized.
A tentacle burst through the wall, showering Lucy with cement shards and powdering her dress with pale dust. The tentacle coiled around Lucy’s waist, smashing her against the wall.
It dragged her into the room. Lucy gripped her pistol, dragging her heels against the floorboards.
“My name’s Lucy Stone. You’re acquainted with my husband,” she said, the practiced speech coming easy despite her terror.
The creature paused at her voice. Hissed.
“I will be your undoing.” Lucy pushed her pistol against the tentacle that held her and fired.
The creature roared, dropping her. Black phlegm spurted from the wounded tentacle. It whipped through the air, smashing her to the floor.
Other tentacles lashed out in a blur, knocking the pistol off the stairs, coiling around Lucy’s neck. Her skin burned where it touched her. In the distance, she heard a thumping sound. Just my pulse, she thought.
It slammed her back into the hallway, against the banister. Wood splintered and cut into her back. She kicked again, managed to look down. Saw the ground several stories below. The creature pulled her close to its thorax and its many mouths opened, flashing jagged white teeth. Thin, serpentine tongues flicked out of each mouth, like miniature tentacles. Foul breath filled the air, stinking of blood and decay. Lucy felt the tongues’ bristles touch her, stinging. It was smelling her through those bristles. Somehow, she knew that.
“Why did you take Thomas?” She couldn’t bring herself to ask if he was still alive. Rose’s invasion of her body and memories had brought everything back to the surface, swimming just before her eyes. “Goddamn you, why?”
The mouths grinned back at her, their teeth dripping with saliva and blood. Moans and growls bellowed from the monster. Voices echoed inside Lucy’s head, growing louder instead of fading. So loud she screamed. Some of the voices matched the mouths. They weren’t united; instead they drowned each other out, hollow whispers filling her thoughts. Then one of the voices surfaced above the others.
“Thomas?” it hissed, the voice wet and fleshy. For a moment, the mouths kept moving but went silent. The laughter spilled from several, until the rest joined in, mocking her in chorus.
Lucy gasped, pulling at the tentacle. The pounding rhythm in her ears grew.
“You are alone.” The tentacle tightened around Lucy’s neck. “Thomas was alone, too.”
It flung her against the wall. She fell, rolling down the wooden stairs. Cracked her forehead on a step, a trickle of warm blood blurring her vision. But she was alive. It hadn’t killed her.
Why? She gritted her teeth. Why hadn’t it killed her?
The thumping grew louder, closer. The whole staircase shuddered. Lucy wiped the blood from her eyes as the golem constable turned the corner, thudding up the steps, gaping holes in its chest and head. The monster lashed at the constable with its tentacles. The golem brushed them off with ease and leapt at the creature. Together, golem and monster fell into the stairwell’s void.
Lucy scrambled to her feet and looked over the ledge. She couldn’t see the creature but the golem had crashed onto the floor, its soft clay skin misshapen. It didn’t move, although its yellow eyes stared up at her with that dull gaze. Then they dimmed, flickering out, and Lucy huddled against the wall.
Alone, it had said. And it had been right. She was certainly alone.
“Someone must’ve been watching out for you, Mrs. Stone,” Ethel said.
The two ghosts had flown over Whitechapel’s rooftops searching for the beast, they’d explained. Eventually, they found the trail of thick, dark blood leading back to the building and Lucy.
“Do you think so?” Lucy asked. She stood on the clay speckled tile floor. Goggled constables bustled in and out the door. The building residents stood on the stairwell, discussing what they’d seen. “I wonder why he wasn’t watching out for the other poor girls as well, then? Or your constable?”
“Christ,” muttered Rose. “Are you one of those fashionable Darwin-slandering cultists, trying to deny spirituality?”
“Of course not. I can’t deny it’s there,” she said and tapped her goggles. “But sometimes when I’m tired, I take off my goggles. And I can’t see. And that’s when I think I’m able to believe the most: when I’m almost able to deny it.”
“Yeah, that’s rational,” Rose said, twisting her crooked neck. “That why you believe your husband’s dead? Because you never saw the body?”
“What?” Lucy asked. “You saw what happened. That thing killed my husband.”
“I didn’t see any such thing,” Rose said.
“Mrs. Stone,” Ethel said. “Have you considered that maybe your husband isn’t dead? He spent a significant amount of time in the company of prostitutes. It’s possible he’s still alive.”
“No, he wouldn’t do that,” Lucy said. “We argued a lot before he left, but he loved me. He wouldn’t just leave. He must be dead.”
“And that’s why you’ll help us?” Rose asked.
“What are you suggesting?” Ethel demanded. “That we endanger the life of an innocent, of a civilian?”
“We need a host to catch this thing,” Rose said. “You know that. There’s no other way. She wants to help. I say let her.”
“A host?” asked Lucy. “Why?”
“Lucy, we’ve been on the streets looking for this thing, or for a spirit it’s disembodied. We’ve never found one. In fact you’re the first thing, living or dead, that’s been able to tell us what it looks like.”
“But how can that be? I’ve studied Darwin,” Lucy said. “A person leaves some kind of imprint on this world when they die, even if they end up moving on to the next plane of existence.”
“Yes,” Ethel said. “But what about ghosts? Do they leave anything behind?”
“Ghosts can’t die,” Lucy replied.
“We don’t linger forever, either,” said Ethel. “Some choose to pass onto whatever’s next as soon as they become disembodied. Others stay until everything we’ve known and loved fades away. But when we move on is a choice we make.”
“You saw what happened to that poor ghost,” said Rose. When the monster said you were alone, it was talking about spirits inside of you. You only had your own. Whatever this thing is, it’s only killing prostitutes having ghostgasms. It’s killing _ghosts_.”
“So you want to use me?” Lucy asked. “You want to come inside me and make me bait?”
“Out of the question,” Ethel said. “Absolutely not.”
“You were already trying to bait it earlier,” Rose said. “For God’s sake, you even shot it.”
“That’s why you tried to solicit me tonight, isn’t it?” Lucy asked. “You didn’t want sex, you were trying to catch that thing.”
“Not exactly. A little companionship is always welcome,” Rose said, pulling the slack out of the noose around her neck.
“That’s enough, Rose,” Ethel said. Lucy thought if Ethel had been flesh and blood, she would’ve blushed.
“So what do you say, Lucy?” Rose asked. “Can we have sex with you, for queen and country?”
“What will it feel like?” Lucy asked them the following night. She’d met Ethel and Rose only several blocks from where she’d found the dead prostitute.
“I don’t know, do I?” Rose said. “Never experienced it from your end.”
Ethel peeled a flap of her skin back and forth. “Aren’t you a spiritualist?”
Lucy didn’t reply. She’d been married to Thomas since she was seventeen and the idea of sharing that part of herself with someone else, physical or spiritual, made her feel unfaithful. She’d spent hours of the day researching what Darwin had written about the experience in preparation of the deed. An out-of-body experience was how the saint had described it. Looking at Ethel and Rose’s decrepit forms, the idea struck her as less than romantic.
“Lucy,” said Ethel, “You should know ghosts lose control when they’re inside a host. We’ll try and be mindful but we’ll need you to be on the lookout, too.”
Lucy thought of the ghostgasm she’d witnessed, how the host looked like she’d had less control of her body than the ghosts. “I understand.”
“Are you ready?” Ethel asked.
“Enough wasting time, then,” said Rose. And with that,
The two ghosts flew into her body, exploding inside her.
St. Darwin had been right: it _was_ like an out-of-body experience. She glided over her own body and saw Rose and Ethel moving inside her, against one another, clutching each other close. And yet she could feel every touch.
Wet kisses peppered her neck, sending a shock down her spine. A tongue filled her mouth and hands cupped her breasts while another pair traced her hips, pulling her tight. Fingers slid between her legs, tender, exploring inside her. Lucy’s breath quickened as she felt the growing warmth there. Whoever had told her this wasn’t messy hadn’t been completely honest.
She closed her eyes, tried to imagine Thomas. It worked for a little while. She felt it all happening to her, even though she was no longer inside her. Then she saw herself alone, twitching on the ground, her back arching.
She tried to swallow back tears, tasted their salty warmth as the joy spilled over her, rushing between her legs, throbbing. From her strange perspective, Lucy watched her own body glow as the ghosts moaned and cried out. She cried with them, saw the tears streaking her own face.
“Thomas,” she sobbed. “Thomas.”
In the distance, bells began to ring. Everything went cold. Lucy looked up and saw it slithering forward, toward them. Its mouths open and tentacles stretching out.
“It’s here!” cried Lucy. “Ethel! Rose!” She felt the ghosts disentangling themselves, trying to exit her body.
“Police! We’ve got golems surrounding you!” Ethel shouted. “Lucy? Lucy what are you doing!”
But Lucy ignored her and swooped toward the monster. She dodged the tentacles and spikes whipping about, and dove inside the beast.
It was the opposite of having Ethel and Rose in her. All the bliss fled, replaced by a humid, sticky sensation. She wasn’t alone. Spirits surrounded her, their forms as destroyed as the physical victims. Lucy felt their hands grab at her dress, her hair, pulling her down further into darkness.
“Thomas!” she cried, trying to free herself. “Where are you?”
One of the spirits gripped Lucy. Her insides hung out, squishing against Lucy. The prostitute. “Help me!” she wailed.
Lucy yanked her arm away. “Thomas! Thomas, where are you?”
An arm wrapped around Lucy’s neck, pulled her up. “What the hell are you doing?” Rose shouted.
“I can’t find Thomas!”
“He’s not here. He was _never_ here!”
“He has to be!”
“Thomas?” The eviscerated spirit floated close to them but this time didn’t touch her. “Spiritualist? It – it didn’t kill him.”
A deeper sense of dread filled Lucy. “How do you know?”
Something cold and wet dripped on Lucy before the ghost could answer. She looked up and saw Rose’s spirit melting.
“Go,” the prostitute said. “Hurry!”
Around her, the faces and spirits closed in. The other spirits’ screams built in her mind the way the voices had on the stairwell.
Rose pulled once more. This time, Lucy let her.
She sat up, gagging, the scent of stale sex clinging to her clothes.
The golem deputies had pinned the creature’s tentacles down, securing its body. One of the tentacles had impaled something shimmering. As the glow faded, Lucy realized what it was.
“Ethel?” she coughed.
The ghost twisted on the tentacle, chunks of her missing. The monster’s many mouths opened and closed.
Rose flashed beside the monster, prying at its thorax as the golems held it. It twitched and turned, going through its own ghostgasm. Then a howl broke out from all the mouths, and the creature split open. A blinding light washed out the dark street. The ghosts fluttered into the air, shimmering in all their dead glory.
She watched each of them fly out of the monster’s body, praying Thomas would appear, even though something inside her knew he would not.
Rose descended beside Ethel’s flickering, tried to cradle what was left of her lover in her arms, but instead slid right through her. She wailed.
Lucy stumbled toward them. “Rose?”
The ghost said nothing.
“What happened? How’d we get out when the others were trapped?”
“Maybe because it didn’t kill us, because we invaded it. I didn’t think much of it, I was following you.”
Ethel flickered one last time, and then disappeared. The monster’s tentacle stopped twitching.
“I don’t understand,” Lucy said. “You’re already dead.”
“You saw what almost happened when you used the grounder on me.”
“What did almost happen?”
Rose shook her head. “The beginning? The end? I don’t know. You’re the spiritualist.” Then Rose looked up, stared past her.
Lucy looked behind her, saw the spirit of the dead prostitute hovering there, trying to cover up the way her insides were spilling out. “I don’t have long,” she said. “Moving on, I guess. You freed us, so I thought you should know.” The prostitute shook her head. “My pimp reckoned the spiritualist should’ve paid for his research. Didn’t realize he was trying to help us girls.”
“Do you know where he is?” Lucy asked.
“He’s dead,” the spirit said. “Stabbed.”
“What?” Lucy said, blinking back tears. “Where is he? Where’s his spirit?”
“I don’t know that. Only his body. It’s in the cellar of a public house off Berners Street. I’m very sorry,” she said. Then the spirit faded until there was nothing left but wisps of steam.
Lucy staggered back, sobbing. Behind her, the golems pulled at the creature’s empty husk.
“I’ll send a patrol,” Rose said. “See what there is to see.”
Lucy nodded, trying to choke back the tears. Then she pulled off her goggles and shut her eyes. Rose vanished but suddenly, Lucy felt as though she could sense Thomas’s invisible spirit hovering just beyond her reach, lingering close beside her.
She did not feel alone.
About the Author
Dave Thompson aka the Easter Werewolf aka the California King is still uncomfortable with the notion of pumpkin beer, but don’t hold that against him. He lives outside Los Angeles with his wife and three children. Together with co-editor Anna Schwind, he ran PodCastle for five years, stepping down to focus on his own writing in 2015. You can find two of his audiobook narrations on Amazon: Norse Code by Greg Van Eekhout and Briarpatch by Tim Pratt. Dave is an Escape Artists’ Worldwalker and Storyteller, having been published in, and narrated for, all four EA podcasts.
About the Narrator
Mur Lafferty is the co-editor and sometime-host of Escape Pod.
She is an American podcaster and writer based in Durham, North Carolina. She is the host and creator of the podcasts I Should Be Writing and Ditch Diggers. Her books have been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, and Scribe Awards. In the past decade she has been the co-founder/co-editor of PseudoPod, founding editor of Mothership Zeta, and the editor or co-editor of Escape Pod (where she is currently).
She is fond of Escape Artists, in other words.
Mur won the 2013 Astounding Award for Best New Writer (formerly the John W. Campbell Award), and the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Fancast for Ditch Diggers. She’s been nominated for numerous other awards and is always doing new things, so check her website for the latest.