Essex Shipping News, 7 August 1893:
Lost in high seas: “Demeter” Russian flag sloop, last sailed from Varna, Bulgaria. Was observed by HMS “Trent” to be running without lights, rigging in poor order; gave no response to signals. “Demeter” broached to when cross-sea developed as “Trent” moved to offer assistance. Sank quickly, no sign of survivors. No debris of any consequence.
“I had a dream, Doctor.” The patient looks at me through the bars, the mild expression I had been used to returned, after days of rage. “It upset me greatly.”
I asked him to elaborate.
“I dreamed that I was servant to a great man,” he told me. “Not a good one, oh, no. But a powerful member of nobility. He promised to reward me, if I served him faithfully.”
I suggested to him that this did not seem upsetting. He tutted at me, in an interesting inversion of our relationship, then explained.
“Oh, Doctor, the services he required, and the awful inducements! I could not name them to you, for fear that you would think me irredeemable.” At this point, he looked about his cell, apparently quite sensible of the meaning of his surrounding. “A patient may hope to be cured one day, I should think.”
Knowing this ‘dream’ of his to be the recent period of mania, I asked him if he knew what brought on the state. He shrugged.
“I sleep, as all men must. Are not all men susceptible to dreams as they sleep?”
I then asked how the dream came to end.
“Oh, it was quite terrible, Doctor. The Master sat in a sumptuous bed, explaining his…” The patient gave a furtive glance around the cell, as if not certain we were alone. “His designs. His desires for my service.” He looked straight at me, then asked with great earnestness, “Your fiancée is quite well, I hope?”
I was somewhat taken aback. I do not discuss my personal life with the patients, of course, but he must have learned of my engagement from one of the attendants. I merely nodded as a response.
“I am so glad.” He nodded, apparently very relieved, then returned to his previous thought. “While the Master spoke, there was a sudden roar outside, and then he was tumbled from the bed, as if his apartments had been upended.” He smiled, and I could not decide if it was a quite wholesome expression. “I thought I saw a fish fly through the room, even as darkness filled it. The Master was silenced, and I awoke.”
I congratulated him on escaping from the unpleasant ‘dream’ but I was not entirely satisfied. I asked him about the request he had made the day previous, and he looked very blankly at me.
“A kitten? Oh, no. Oh, no.” He shuddered, without any appearance of putting on. “You are mistaking me for one of the other patients, Dr. Seward, my salvation depends upon it. I am a humble man, and I keep to my humble appetites.”
At this, he wet the end of his finger, dabbed up several ants from the line which runs perpetually from his window to the little pile of bait he restores out of his daily meals, then licked them up with every evidence of enjoyment. He dabbed up a few more, and extended the finger to me so I could see the creatures wriggling there. “Are you sure I cannot tempt you, Doctor? They’re ever so nutritious!”
What am I to make of my own hesitation before declining his offer?
“Inktober 2019 – Tasty” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.