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A Letter to Dr. Williams
25th of September 1837
How are you? I am dreadfully sorry to have to bother you, but I feel that you are a man one could consult in order to find answers, at least of a physical nature. That is, after all (I hope), how you became a doctor. I have a problem. You see,
Zebediah paused for thought, before tearing up the beginnings of his letter and tossing it over his shoulder. He wasn’t sure he could explain, reasonably, the troubles he’d been having since he’d awoken, or that he’d really qualify as ill if he could. His movements felt strange to him, as if he was half asleep, but he certainly wasn’t tired. He didn’t feel… unwell. Just… incorrect. Which, of course, was relative. He was more right in a lot of ways then he’d been the last time he’d checked. He wasn’t being stabbed in the back, for one.
It had hurt like the dickens, yes, but he’d been more surprised then anything. He was still a bit shaken, but clearly no harm had been done. His panic had quickly cooled to confused relief, which in turn congealed into puzzled anger. Who would do such a thing? Who did he know that he had annoyed that badly? It probably was somebody he knew. It had after all, been right here, right in his own attic. Did people need to lock their attics now, for heaven’s sake? There he’d been, alone in his house aside from the cat (the cat hadn’t done, it, though he had sometimes wondered if she wouldn’t like to). He’d been putting away one of his Mother’s (frankly awful) upholstered chairs, and- quick as anything- something where it ought not be, tickling his spine and forcing it’s way into his lungs from behind.
The memory of blood surging up his windpipe and out his gasping mouth was disturbing, to say the least. Yet that wasn’t the problem. After all, he felt fine now. He felt around his chin, just to be sure. The blood was gone. The chair was gone, too, which wasn’t any sort of problem, as far as Zebediah was concerned. In fact, if his would-be assassin had taken it, he’d almost forgive him the deed. The knife was gone as well; that wasn’t the problem either.
Zebediah nudged the sheet of stationary where it lay, whole and clean, where he’d thrown it. His pen had made no mark, and neither had his frustrated hands. This was a problem worth mentioning. He shook his head, running his fingers through his hair. He pushed open the door and stepped out into the hall. It was dark outside, he realized. Had he been dreaming? It had been noontime when whatever had happened… well, happened. He’d had an appointment that day to have his teeth looked at, which, he realized with a groan, he must have missed. He worried about his teeth. His brother Erasmus only had one left, and was forced to wear an unfortunate set of lead dentures, which puffed out his lips and garbled his speech. Teeth were a good thing to have, without a doubt. He’d have to write to Dr. Williams, apologizing. And about that… other problem he had. He realized he’d forgotten what exactly the problem was. He shrugged. It couldn’t have been that important, then.
He reached the landing, and realized that there was more dust here then he’d ever thought he’d allowed. He’d have to dust tomorrow. It was woman’s work, yes, but Zebediah lived alone, and usually allowed his pride to bend enough for the household chores to get done. He reached the bottom of the stairs, and was about to open the front door when he was overcome with a feeling that he shouldn’t leave. After all, he had to dust. Or write a letter. Or dust. He felt a vague sense of déjà vu, his thoughts pacing the same corridor over and over again, as if bound to it as surely as he found himself bound here. He was struck by an image of a sudden realization, that someone (maybe he?) had once been jotted down in passing, and then misplaced, and that he was now reading over and over again, forgetting by the time he reached the period at the end how it had started out in the first place. He blinked, reaching up to brush away a spider’s web in the corner. He was a scattered sort of man, and had learned by now to trust that he’d eventually come up with his misplaced awareness, if given his own good time.
Where had the cat gone to? He hadn’t seen it anywhere. The silly thing must have gotten herself stuck in the chimney again. He made his way into the sitting room to check.
He froze in surprise as he heard a voice from the porch. He gasped in panic, before silencing himself. With a careful exhale, he put a hand over his thundering heart and stood absolutely still. He’d had entirely too much of intruders for one day. From what he could make out, the voice was young, female, and whispering in a way that sounded like a shout.
“Sam, don’t be such a child. If there’s nothing there, then what’s the matter? Prove me wrong.”
“It’s just creepy, that’s all. Why are we even doing this?”
“Don’t be an idiot. Are you scared?”
The boy sighed.
“Fine. But this is stupid.”
There was a shriek of wood in pain as the door was pushed open. Zebediah could see a concentrated beam of light pierce the hallway, as if from a powerful lantern, lighting up dust motes and a couple of flies. Zebediah, unable to think of a better course of action, gave a pronounced cough. Maybe they’d lose their nerve and leave before he sustained another near-fatal injury.
The light paused, and the cautious footsteps stopped dead.
The boy spoke first, and Zebediah was proud to hear that the voice had risen an octave or so in fright.
“Di… Did you hear that?”
“What?” the girl sounded shaken, too. “I didn’t hear anything. Nothing.”
“It was... like… like a moan or something. Let’s get out of here. Come on, we can go watch a movie or something instead.”
“Shut up.” The light moved again, making a sweep of the hall and the doorway, barely missing the tip of Zebediah’s boot. Zebediah steeled himself, and stepped out into the hall, arms crossed and head high.
“Kindly,” he said in what he hoped was a stern and steady voice, “Remove yourselves from my property, before I have to run for the watchman.” The night watchman was, in fact, a drunk, and probably wandered into some inn or another by this time of night, but perhaps these two wouldn’t know that. He couldn’t see their faces, with their light shining in his, but they had gone silent, and he was encouraged.
“Has nobody ever told you how rude it is to enter a home at this hour of the night, especially when I can’t seem to recall offering any word of invitation?!”
The light dropped and rolled, and Zebediah cursed, hoping to God that nothing would catch fire. “Get out!” he yelled, his panic finally betraying him as he moved to stamp out the light. The two youths screamed in abject terror as the light bounced around the walls.
“Crap! Oh, crap, it’s real!”
They ran out, stumbling with fear as they rushed out into the night. The light went out as Zebediah’s foot met glass.
“And if I find,” he shouted after them, “That you were involved in my assault earlier today, then there will be consequences!” he shook his fist, forgetting for a moment that they couldn’t see him, being across the road by now, and chuckled weakly, impressed with himself. That would show them. He shut the door and locked it. The clouds of dust settled on him in silence, and he waited until his breathing had evened before straightening up.
Now. He had a letter to write. Zebediah made his way up to the attic, not realizing that the suffocating carpets of dust did not stir for him.
Born May 29th 1818
Died September 24th 1837