Chapter 22: I'm In The Dark
Oooooh, my head. . .what – what happened? Where am I?
One thing was for certain – this was the coldest floor he'd ever touched. Victor eased himself into a sitting position, wincing as stiff muscles protested. How long had he been lying there, utterly insensible? Can't be that long – my skull still feels as if Bumby cracked it in two. He touched the back of his head gingerly and hissed as his fingers found the bruise. Nope – not a good idea to move too much yet. At least I can be sure I'm not in Rutledge, he thought. David and Lum would have never passed up the chance for a rude comment. Small mercy. . .but then where has Dr. Bumby dragged me off to? Ignoring his brain's objections, he opened his eyes –
Only to be confronted with the same blackness he'd seen when he'd had them closed.
Victor blinked, then blinked again to confirm that yes, his eyelids were working as normal. He twisted his head left and right, heedless of how seasick the action made him. Darkness yawned up on either side, all-consuming, like the deepest, most remote corners of the ocean. No – no no no – His hand shot up before his face, but only the fact that he could feel it attached to him let him know it was actually there. It took pressing the appendage against his nose to discern even the slightest outline of his fingers – and Victor wasn't entirely sure he wasn't imagining them. If someone were to come along and lop his arm off at the elbow – oh God he could almost feel the blade against his skin already. . .he jerked his hand against his chest as his breathing quickened. How can it be this dark? Have I gone blind? Please not that please I'll be completely mad before an hour's up. . .calm down, Victor. You have to figure out where you are. You have to stand up and – and maybe there isn't something lurking in the dark, I can't see it but I know it's here for me – no! Don't panic, it's going to be all right. . .maybe. . .oh God, light, I need light –
"You're afraid of the dark, aren't you?"
Victor nearly jumped right out of his skin. Oh damn – that was the last voice he wanted to hear right now. Especially when he didn't know where it was coming from. He curled up protectively, pressing his legs into his chest. "Hardly," he lied, doing his best to project an air of nonchalance. "After that joke of a session you forced me through, I–"
"I remember that appointment as well as you do, Master Van Dort," Bumby cut him off. "You shot out of my office faster than a human cannonball – and with far less composure. I suppose I can't blame you, though – we did plumb the absolute depths of your fears that day, didn't we? Or, at least, I did. You tried to fight me off – and failed, as usual. That's how I know you're terrified. You know there's no protection from the dark – nothing you can use to defend yourself, no words to soothe it, no way to run from it. Nothing you can go and hide behind, you sniveling coward."
Anger welled up in him, providing a brief shield against the panic nipping at his brain. "I'm not a coward!" Victor protested, eyebrows low. Nearly taking a sword through the ribcage for Victoria had to disqualify him from that title. "I–"
"You are indeed a coward," Bumby interrupted again, unruffled. "Always running off, hiding away, leaving others to deal with your mistakes. . .it's hardly surprising that no one likes you."
"That's not true!"
"Oh yes it is," Bumby replied, tone darkly pleased. "You know deep down that no one really gives a damn about you. Certainly not your parents. They were only too happy to put you in my care, weren't they? Absolutely relieved to be free of their mad disappointment of a son. They're probably hoping you never come home."
"They do no–"
"Sometimes I think the real reason I'm here is because they wanted to get r-rid of me. . . ."
The words died in Victor's mouth. How often had Mother and Father actually written to him while he was here? How often had they asked how he was, what he was up to, if he was happy? How many letters had been nothing but threats and cajoling to accept Bumby's therapy and stop being nonsensical – stop being him? I know we live in the middle of nowhere, but. . .they didn't even get one out in time for my birthday. . . .
But he couldn't let Bumby think he'd gained the upper hand already. "You don't know that for sure," he replied at last, voice as firm as he could make it.
"Master Van Dort, I'm a psychiatrist," Bumby said, voice smooth as silk. "It's my job to read people – to understand them better than they understand themselves. And you forget we had a nice little chat before you moved in. I didn't see much desire to actually have you cured. They just wanted you out of the way – particularly your mother. The way she spoke of your failures on the social stage. . .she's never been proud of you, not once. I'd venture to say she hates you, but that would imply she cares about you at all. It's more accurate to state she's utterly apathetic to your existence unless you're helping her or hindering her. And you seem to hinder her quite a lot, don't you? Always ruining her grand plans. . . it's a wonder she hasn't disowned you long before now. And your father. . . ." He chuckled softly. "Well, there's nothing on his mind but fish. I'm surprised he remembers he has a son. And every time you remind him, he's so disappointed that that son is you. . . ."
"Stop it!" Victor cried, jerking his head around almost in a full circle before the pain forced him to stop. Where was the bastard? His voice kept moving, and it was impossible to see in this encircling, choking, suffocating dark. . . . Victor closed his eyes again and forced himself to take a couple of deep breaths. Relax. Relax. It's not like you've been dropped off the edge of the world, with your lungs shriveling from lack of – you are breathing right now, you idiot, and it's probably masking his footsteps and he's going to tear your throat open with the cleaver he borrowed from Splatter –
"They never loved you," Bumby continued, and Victor was almost relieved to hear him speak. "Never cared enough about you to even properly hate you. Well, except when you foiled their attempts to get into high society. For that I'm sure they loathe you. Not like you would have lasted long in those circles, though. Everyone would have despised you on sight."
"Then. . .then it's a good thing I've never cared about high society," Victor responded, massaging his temples to relieve the ache. Don't let him see he's getting to you. Stay strong.
"Don't you? You cared about one person from it. But she didn't care about you, did she? Oh no – she left you."
"Victoria? That wasn't her fault, her parents–"
"Oh, I'm sure she told you some sob story to spare your feelings," Bumby said carelessly. "A waste, in my opinion – what feelings do you have to spare? But I'm positive she was happy to leave you behind. Someone like you wasn't worthy of her attentions in the first place."
"That's not true!" Victor snapped, hackles rising. Good, anger was a good thing, anger would defend him against the fangs and claws lurking in this eternal shadow –
"She got married again awfully quick, didn't she?" Bumby shot back. "After she left – or was taken away, as you insist on putting it. Foolish boy, to ignore the evidence of your own senses. But the fact remains that you lost her to someone else. Someone older, wiser, handsomer, braver, kinder, smarter. . . ."
"Stop! She thought I was dead!" Victor snarled, although some tiny part of him whispered, and didn't do much to confirm or deny that, did she? "She moved on, just as I did when I thought I'd lost her! There's nothing wrong with Mr. White! Victoria loves him!"
"Indeed!" Bumby cried, triumphant. "She loves him. She never loved you."
"I – she–" "And Christopher. . .he and I. . .we can talk, we can laugh. . .he's my dearest friend on top of being my husband. . .I can't say I'm sorry to have married him. . . ." All those shared smiles, casual touches, easy laughs. . .could he have ever coaxed those out of her? They'd had a nice moment at the piano, but – that had been before a three-hour mess of a rehearsal, and a dead woman claiming to be his wife. And what had she said when he'd asked her why she hadn't run away from Barkis? "I didn't want – my parents so desperately needed the money. . . ." More than he'd needed someone looking for him? "She cared. . . ." he insisted, though it felt like he was trying to convince himself more than Bumby.
"No she didn't. She was just trying to make the best of a bad situation," Bumby said, pure confidence. "Look at you. She must have hated you on sight. You weak, whining, loathsome little maggot of a – no, you're not a man. You're barely a boy."
"You – you have no right to say such things," Victor growled, starting to get to his feet. His head was still killing him, but damn it, he wasn't going to just sit here and listen to this litany of his faults. He was the swell who'd slugged Jack Splatter! He had to be better than this! If I can just find a wall, or a piece of furniture, or anything. . .I'll probably run right into it and bark my shins, but that would be a small price to pay for – for not feeling like I'm stuck in this vast endless void squeezing me empty with no one here except that voice. . .easy, Victor, easy. If I can find him maybe I can shut him up and then – then I'll be all alone for sure lost in the black just waiting for the next voice to take his place – no, Victor, don't think about that, think about how there has to be an exit that I'll never see I'll be ripped to pieces first – stop! You've survived far worse than this! It's just darkness, it – it can't – oh God I don't want to be here anymore. . .which is why you have to get up and get moving, have to get away from this beast –
"I have every right. I know you all too well, Victor Van Dort. I know just how weak and worthless you really are."
The word hit him like a slap to the face. Victor froze halfway up. "I'm – I'm not worthless!"
"Oh?" Bumby's tone turned questioning. "Then why did even a dead woman reject you?"
"She left, didn't she?" Bumby interjected. "You were prepared to die for her, to give up whatever passes for a life with you, and she stopped you. Told you no. Said you weren't hers. Doesn't it hurt to know she never loved you in the first place?"
"She tried to drag me straight into her grave when we first met!"
"True – but she would have done the same to anyone else whom she'd thought proposed," Bumby countered. "You yourself told me the song – 'Always waiting for someone to ask for her hand.' Not any specific someone, just someone. And after all that time, who comes along? Poor dear – she must have been horrified to rise and find you looking back at her."
"That's – she – we–" Victor stopped, at a loss. Bumby had a point – Emily had been willing to accept any offer that sounded right, not just his – no! The doctor was twisting things around on him! Just like he had with Victoria (who left me anyway)! "She cared, I know she did. . . ."
"She hated you like everyone else," Bumby replied casually. "Wondering what she had done to deserve such an awful husband after who knows how long dead. Turning into butterflies, losing whatever remained of her soul, was a preferable fate to marrying you, after all."
"We'd just avenged her murder!" Victor snapped. "She was ready to move on!"
Victor didn't have an answer to that. Bumby chuckled. "She killed herself – suffered death a second, more final time – just to get away from you."
"N-no. . . ." Victor swallowed down the tremor in his voice. He'd faced Barkis without stuttering; he could do the same with Bumby, even in this – this devouring, tearing black – He shook his head hard, letting the pain center him. "No," he repeated, stronger. "She's gone on to something better. I know it. And the only reason she left was because she couldn't bear to steal Victoria's dreams from her. She wanted us to be happy together!"
"But you're not, are you? Pity her sacrifice meant nothing in the end. Of course, I doubt it was a sacrifice at all. She must have seen foisting you back on poor Miss Everglot as the best way of getting rid of you."
"That's not true!"
"How do you know, Master Van Dort? How do you know for sure?"
Victor sank back down onto the floor, stomach churning. He could feel an audience of invisible eyes boring into him, nodding along with Bumby's words, whispering comments like You know you're not good enough for anyone and They all run away in the end. He pressed his fingers against his eyes, trying desperately to ignore them. God, if only he could see. . . . "Because – because she was enthusiastic, and welcoming, and kind," he whispered, remembering a spirited duet at a coffin piano, a wedding present of an old dead friend dumped in his lap, a glowing smile marching up the church aisle. "She would never hurt anyone like that. She saved us both from Barkis!"
"Only because it was preferable to spending her afterlife with you. Didn't you tell me during a session that she rejected the idea of marrying you for good when it was first brought up?"
"Because it involved drinking poison! She didn't want to murder me!"
"So?" Bumby snorted. "She was the corpse bride, wasn't she? Didn't she drag you down to the underworld against your will? Shouldn't she have been jumping for joy at the prospect of killing you so you could be together forever?"
A click of bone against metal. . .teary eyes looking up at him. . .a whisper from one of the left pews: "She's having second thoughts. . ." And then the words "I can't," and – and why would she do this to him, why push him away so soon after Victoria had thrown him over – not even the dead wanted him?
Victor stared into the endless black as the invisible crowd snickered. When he'd overheard her and Elder Gutknecht in the kitchen. . .why hadn't she wanted him to stay with her forever? All of the dead had seemed so happy and carefree. . . .Why couldn't she ask him to drink the Wine of Ages?
Because she didn't want to be the same as the monster who killed her! an inner voice shouted. He's getting to you, Victor! You know damn well Emily could have never borne the guilt of stealing your life! She wanted you to move on – to enjoy all the things she couldn't! And Victoria wants the same – don't you remember how happy she was when you told her how you felt about Alice? Yes, because I was most definitely not her problem anymore after that – no! Don't listen to him! Fight back! He pressed hard on his temples, trying to find his anger again. "It – it doesn't matter," he said. "It doesn't matter in the slightest. Emily's ascended, and Victoria is happy with someone else, and I'm f-fine with that!" Damn it, why did I have to stutter there. . . .
"Are you? It doesn't hurt to know you were rejected by the first two women you ever loved? Two women you could have had a happy, fulfilling life – or afterlife – with? One right after the other?"
"Stop it!" Victor turned on his spot, squinting into the gloom in a desperate bid to find the psychiatrist's form. For a split-second, he thought he made out something like an arm – but then it transformed into a foot-long fang, and then the mouth closed over him, and he was in the creature's belly, acid washing at his flesh, skin sloughing off muscle, muscle sloughing off bone. . . . He choked back his scream and pressed his hands against his face. You're fine, you're fine, focus, focus. . . . "If you're trying to get me to forget what I saw in that a-appalling journal of yours, it's not working!"
"She'll never love you, you know."
Bumby's voice came from behind him this time, right by his ear. Victor whirled and lunged for where he guessed the man's head was, but the doctor was faster and stepped out of range. The audience snickered again as he landed hard on the boards. "What–"
"Alice will never love you," Bumby continued, and now he sounded amused. "She's incapable of loving anyone. Ever since her family died, she's become as cold as ice."
"Flam and slum!" There was his rage! Victor wrapped it around himself, snarling into the void. "She's been nothing but kind to me!"
"That's just part of her job, Master Van Dort," Bumby replied, false pity dripping off his words. "She doesn't actually care the slightest bit about you. It's pathetic, really, that you've fallen in love with her. Perhaps it's a habit of yours, falling in love with women who will never return your affections. A psychological disorder of sorts. Oh, but how can it be a disorder when no woman on this earth – or below it – could possibly love you?"
They all leave they all leave they all leave, the invisible chorus chanted, each word like another knife in his heart. "It d-doesn't matter if she loves me or not!" Victor declared, remembering the diary and pulling the rage even tighter against him. "I won't let you have her!"
"You won't let me?" Another snort. "Be serious, Master Van Dort. What could you do to stop me? She'll come to me or go back to the asylum. And you won't be able to act either way. Because I am a respected doctor, and you – you're nothing. You're worthless."
Swell madman necrophiliac – Victor shoved the words away. "I'm someone with very rich parents–"
"Who don't give a damn about you. Who do you think they're going to believe? The lunatic spouting stories of the afterlife or the respected social scientist? It'll be the same with the police. The same with Alice herself. Everyone will just laugh at you – if they even pay you that much attention. No one cares about you, Master Van Dort. No one wants to be bothered with you. No one loves you, or even likes you. You are alone in the world." Bumby leaned in again. "You are a bad boy."
Victor knew he should be trying to grab Bumby, trying to escape, trying to do something – but he couldn't bring himself to move. If he moved, the monsters would get him, the audience kick him back into place, jeering all the while. . . Bad boy bad boy bad boy – He swallowed again, but this time it didn't help the tremor in his voice at all. "I'm n-not. . . ."
"Yes you are. You are weak, and cowardly, and without any redeeming qualities. You barely qualify as human. Everyone who has been afflicted with your presence has hated every moment, and praised God for His deliverance the instant you left. You do nothing but cause others misery and pain." Bumby's breath fell hot in his ear. "Did you ever think that maybe it's you who is causing Alice to slip back into her insanity?" the psychiatrist whispered. "Your tales of the afterlife muddling her mind, making it harder for her to tell the difference between reality and fantasy?"
Victor's breath caught in horror. Oh God, was that true? Had he been hurting Alice all along? Had he made her life even more – he lies he lies don't listen to him–
"You repulse her," Bumby added with relish. "All those times you've grabbed her shoulder, held her hand, dared even to hug her. . .you know she hates to be touched, and yet you practically force yourself on her! She must consider the feel of your papery skin to be the worst of all. And all those moments praising Victoria and Emily, trying to buy her affection with gifts, interrupting her work and encouraging her madness. . .did you ever really think you had a chance with her?"
"Because she'd never feel the same way. I made a horrible first impression on her – I'm still a bit surprised we ended up being such good friends. And – and she's so strong, so determined, so – so vital – Why would she ever want someone like me?"
Victor squeezed his eyes closed, trying to hold back the tears. Already he could imagine the shocked, maybe even disgusted look on her face, those brilliant green eyes burning with hate: "You what? Oh no no no – this is what I get for thinking you might not be like the others! For thinking that maybe you were interested in something other than my body! Get away from me, you trasseno!"And then she'd turn on her heel and walk off in a huff, vanishing back into the streets, never to be seen again and he'd swear that his heart was ripping in two. . . .
But he'd be damned if he told Bumby that (except he already seemed to know. . .). "Y-you're going to hurt her," he whispered, moving his head away from that cloying breath. "Like you hurt those p-poor children. . . ."
"You actually care about the brats? They don't care about you, I can assure you of that. But as nothing in this world does, I don't think that's much of a surprise, is it? As for what I'm doing with them. . . ." Bumby walked away again. "I'm giving them a purpose. I'm giving them a roof over their heads, food in their bellies, and a way to earn their keep. Is that really so wrong?"
"Yes!" Victor shouted, the rage returning and bolstering him up. "You're – you're s-selling them to these–"
"I provide a service," Bumby said smoothly. "In the great and awful metropolis appetites of all sorts must be gratified. And those children aren't doing anyone any good just lazing around. You should know that better than most. You're certainly not doing anyone any good."
"It's wrong! Sick! And – and w-what you want to do to Alice–"
"I'm aware pursuing that route means the loss of a decent maid, but. . . ." The bastard had the audacity to snicker. "Well, I think Alice can earn her keep much better in that profession, don't you? Not to mention provide me with some small gratification. Or large gratification, depending on how well she learns her role." He sighed. "She looks so much like her lovely sister. . .you remind me of her too, actually."
Victor blinked, confusion conquering both fear and anger for a moment. ". . .Beg pardon?"
"Elizabeth Liddell. I was acquainted with her during my university days. She was a horrid tease, flaunting herself at me while simultaneously rejecting my affections. Like the way you continually rejected my attempts to reshape your mind." Bumby growled, low and dangerous, like a pit-fighting dog. "I dislike being rejected, Master Van Dort. I dislike it quite a bit."
Ice filled Victor's stomach. Oh no. . .could – could it be? "What did you do to her sister?" he whispered.
"Nothing that concerns you," Bumby snapped. "Of course, nothing in general concerns you. Do you really think you can help anyone, Master Van Dort? Do you honestly believe you can play the hero?" Cruel laughter echoed around him. "A more ridiculous notion I've never heard. You're a wreck, Van Dort. A bumbling, sniveling, disgusting accident waiting to happen. You couldn't help anyone even if they wanted your help. And they don't, because they know that. Because they know you fail at whatever you set out to do. Three hours without learning a few simple vows, a month to fail at retrieving your bride-to-be, half a year and still stuck in the depths of Whitechapel. The slightest tasks are beyond your grasp. You're nothing – nothing but an abject failure, a mistake, a blot upon the surface of the earth."
Should never have been let out of his room, the onlookers hidden in the black agreed. Should have dashed his head open on the floor when he was born. Would have been better for everyone. "No. . .no, I'm–"
"A bad boy, Victor. You know deep in your heart that's all you are – all you'll ever be. A bad boy loved by no one. Rejected by all. Left to rot in the dark like you deserve."
Victor made another weak attempt to stand, but his legs were trembling too badly to support him. Useless, the invisible chorus hissed. Useless stupid worthless bad – don't deserve happiness don't deserve anything – He tried to turn away, but the nightmares nipped at his heels, ready to tear him apart once he was ripe – Shut up shut up wake up wake up – "It's n-not true. . . ." he got out, trying to cling to the last shreds of his fury. They slipped through his fingers – yet another thing he'd failed at. . . .
"It is true," Bumby insisted, putting all the weight of his degree, his will, behind the words. "You are a waste of space. Utterly unneeded – and unlovable. No one can stand you, least of all the women you profess to love. Why, I'm sure that if you told Alice that you loved her, she'd laugh in your face. And then slap you, for daring to think you could possibly earn her affections. And you'd deserve it too. You're not even worthy of the love of a madwoman." He stepped closer, a king ready to tread on an ant. "You. Are. Worthless. You. Are. Bad."
Bad bad BAD – Victor wrapped his arms around himself, water pricking at his eyes. Why wouldn't Bumby be still? He – he already knew all of this, the doctor didn't have to keep harping on it. . . . "S-stop. . .p-please. . ."
"How dare you think you have the right to be around humans as an equal?" Bumby continued, the adoring audience cheering him on. "You're not an equal. You're not even subordinate. You are nothing. Absolutely and totally nothing. Not even worth the time I'm spending on you."
"N-no. . .I–"
"Why try to deny it? Everyone leaves you, don't they? Your parents, your fiancee, your corpse bride. . .even Alice. Everyone leaves. You're not good enough for anyone. You're trash. Only there to be thrown away."
"P-p-please stop. . .n-not true. . . ." Victor whispered, but he didn't really believe it anymore. The words just kept pounding on his mind, his heart, a heavy tide of inevitability. . . . Stay strong. Stay strong for Alice. She needs you – no she doesn't you're a weak ninny and you don't deserve her – no no don't listen –
"Oh, but it is, Master Van – no. Someone, something so utterly without value doesn't deserve to be called that. You don't deserve a name."
"YOU DON'T DESERVE A NAME. You don't deserve anything. You're weak – worthless – nothing. A being without purpose. A failure in the eyes of everyone." A candle suddenly flared into light, revealing Bumby's face not far from his own, glasses shining eerily as he looked at Victor with utter disdain. "Who could love this? Who could love you?"
Victor dropped his head, tears trickling down his face. The hounds were baying in hellish glee while the chorus drew the dark even tighter around, crushing him, choking him. . .weak worthless unloved unneeded should have killed himself should have rotted away to nothing she'll never love you. . . . He bit back a sob. Why had he bothered, why did he ever bother, no one wanted him around. . . . "P-please. . . ."
"LOOK AT ME." Victor's head snapped back up, and suddenly he couldn't take his eyes away from those blank white lenses. He was paralyzed, a mouse before the snake. "You are NOTHING," Bumby reiterated. "Nothing – without me. I'll give you a purpose. I'll take care of you. You're going to be mine – Thirteen."
It was so hard to think now, so hard to get his mind around anything but Bumby's words, but somehow he managed to say, "My n-name's Victor. . . ."
"Bad boy," Bumby hissed, and that was the verbal equivalent of being shoved face-first into a brick wall. "How many times must I tell you you don't deserve a name? You are nothing – nothing but a toy. The only things of use on you are those lips and that arse. I'd add your cock to the list, but I prefer to do the buggering if there's any to be done. Besides, toys don't need to feel pleasure. They're just there to be used. You're just here to be used."
"No." The sound was so little, Victor wasn't sure if he'd said it or not. He wasn't just here to be used, he wasn't, he wasn't –
"Yes. If you want to be a good boy, you'll do as I say. You'll be who I say. And I say you're a toy."
No – no, he wasn't –
"You are nothing. No one will miss you. No one will care that you're gone. It'll be like you never existed. You only exist for me. You are only here for my pleasure."
He w-wasn't –
"You don't deserve a name. Say it."
He – he w-w-wa–
"Say it. 'I don't deserve a name.'"
"I – I–"
He – he just wanted the pain to stop.
"I don't deserve a name. . . ."