6. A Man of a Thousand Pieces

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Following Viola's chilling revelations I left at once to find Frederic

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Following Viola's chilling revelations I left at once to find Frederic.

I was adamant that I must tell the boy of the whole intensifying ordeal with this wraith in order for him to help me come to terms with it. I could count on his austere view on the matter, as it was not the first and last time he and I had investigated Glasten's unexplainable.

The difference then was that we often had little to do, and patiently waited for those particularly hair-raising newspaper articles, inconclusive scientific or medical reports, or even the town's hearsay, if our studies grew stagnant.

From these we explored routine sightings: shadows that moved of their own accord; creaking floorboards and knocks on piping; the Devil's rasping voice in one's head, commanding deeds so foul ... And yet where common sense faltered, theoretical science made bounds in explaining away most of these symptoms of the paranormal. But Heavens! I am not so proud a man that I cannot tip my hat to the scholars and medical doctors who have solved these so-called encounters where I could not.

But rarely, and so sparse in number that I would deem one per annum fortunate, were the cases that science could not yet rationally define.

I yearned for these; I went out of my way to seek them. I clung to these accounts as one would the tree roots grown forth from the face of a cliff. It was these that fed my yearning to understand those that others failed to. It was not for recognition or reputation, and certainly not so I might crow in the face of psychological and scientific research, but a private, quiet pursuit that set Dr Jonathan Corgaine and I simultaneously apart and united in our endeavours.

Again, however, one thing about this so-called wraith was peculiar.

In my four years of research, never before had I been anxious for my own safety. Never before had something become sinister, personally investigating me long before I investigated it. I had seldom experienced any form of intelligence in the paranormal, but this thing, this wraith we had so heinously christened a vicche, was a ghastly and wicked entity, fully capable of forethought.

How, I did not know.

This alarming epiphany was the reason I longed for young Frederic's intuition more than I was willing to admit to him, for the boy was indeed prone to welcoming compliments from his many humbled seniors. There was a reason he'd become Corgaine's assistant at a mere eighteen years where other university men had altogether failed to impress. Frederic was brilliant ... and terrifyingly so. His mental prowess remained unchallenged in recall and conjunction, and I rather suspected neither myself or Corgaine had yet begun to scratch the surface of it.

Though the aspiring young chemist may or may not have realised it, it went unsaid that Corgaine chose him too for his malleability. University men had pre-established methods, ideas, and morals – a thrice used and crumpled leaf of parchment upon whose soiled surface the ink of Corgaine's teachings would not abide. Frederic was a white, pristine sheet of paper, and whatever unspeakable and unethical practices Corgaine wished to imprint on him would be, in his eyes, sublime ... Though this meant that Frederic, by the time he was his gifted, adult self, would not know any differently.

It was these two young men with whom I sought consultation that same night, though neither invited or particularly welcome. Still, as Corgaine swung open the wooden door of his secluded lab, he greeted me with that broad, overbearing grin he so often bore; any wider still and I might have secured the means to inspect his wisdom teeth. I half suspected he knew not how he looked to others when he greeted them this way, although I might have begun to unravel why Corgaine was predominantly friendless.

He ushered me inside out of the cool, dank evening air, took my hat for the stand by the door and continued busying about his lab, adjusting temperature dials and various pressures without sparing me a word.

Jonathan Corgaine was a lofty man whose eyes levelled with my own. If asked for his description at a moment's notice I would not have been able to say either way if his hair was blonde or brown. I imagined he began his day with his hair elegant, orderly, combed forehead to crown, and gradually as the hours wore on and he stopped infrequently to rest, the strands worked free of their desired style. Tonight, as I studied him, loose locks of deep gold escaped as he bent down or leant over, but he seemed not to notice. His rounded doe-brown eyes and clean-shaven face gave him the characteristic lustre of youth, though in truth he and I were of the same age.

Frederic sat with his back to me at the far end of the cramped laboratory and did not react when Corgaine allowed me inside. This reception was not unique, as the boy was so often engrossed in his tasks that he could seldom declare noon from morning, though as I neared him I saw that his head was oddly tilted. I found the poor boy half asleep at his work station. I did not alert Corgaine to his apprentice's evident fatigue as I didn't wish to embarrass either of them. Instead I rested a palm on Frederic's small shoulder and he woke with a start.

"Welcome back, Frederic," I said so that Corgaine would not overhear. "I am to assume you've not slept so well since last we met."

Frederic sagged. "You would be right," he replied in a similarly low voice. I took the seat beside him and asked him how he fared. "I've been better," he replied. "I'm hardly myself of late. I'm exhausted, irritable. I even dream when awake."

"And you still feel..." I peered around the room, unsure of what I was expecting to see. "You still feel watched?"

He nodded gravely. "I live in fear of the shadows; in fear that whatever is watching me will seize the opportunity to ... I don't know what. Redding." He inspected Corgaine's distance and then locked his gaze with mine with such a haunted, hopeless expression that I will never forget it. His eyes reminded me of the North Sea then – grey, bleak, with no glimmer of light to be seen on the surface. "No matter what I try," he whispered, "I cannot shake this dread. I fear no physical thing, yet fear everything at the same time. Help me, Joseph. I ... I beg of you. Make this nightmare end."

I closed in on his personal space, careful to angle my back so that Corgaine understood our conversation was private. It was then that I told Frederic everything in detail from start to finish; from the horrific creature I'd seen outside his home, to my apparent loss of memory, to Viola also being stricken with the same, merciless sense of foreboding. Frederic absorbed my tale without muttering a single word, glancing away on occasion to give the events some deliberation, as he was often wont to do. In the end he posed the question I had hoped he could help me understand: "Why you?" he asked. "Why me?"

At first I'd had my suspicions this wraith had marked me because of who I was, perhaps even what had become of me, but Frederic and Viola had so far not seen nor contacted the vicche, and they were by far the more affected. It seemed, however, that their strange circumstances were but mild when measured against that of the poor soul in the alley who had lain in a thousand parts. How did it correlate, if at all?

"Frederic," I asked finally, "tell me what you meant that day in the teahouse." His eyes glazed, sweeping him out of the room. "You said this wraith and the girl in the alley were not isolated incidents."

What little colour remained in Frederic's freckled cheeks drained as I uncorked that particular grisly topic. "I cannot tell you," he breathed, stealing another glance at Corgaine. It seemed to me by the way the doctor adjusted and readjusted nearby gauges for no apparent reason that he had been eavesdropping the whole time. "If I told you ... you would never look me in the eye again."

"

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