In The Land of the Dead
"Eugh. . .what are we doing over here again?"
"Searching out a man with a tray and a smile a mile wide," Bonejangles informed her, stepping over a puddle of some unidentifiable substance in the street with nary a flinch. "You haven't lived until you've tried real London street food, Liz."
"I lived very well without doing so, thank you," Lizzie retorted, wrinkling her nose as the foulest smell she'd ever encountered crawled out of a nearby sewer. Twelve years should have been enough to take care of my sinuses once and for all! "I feel like I've just stepped into Fagan's rat-hole in Oliver Twist. Or one of those charity pamphlets the Progressive Women's Club left around our house after meetings."
"Ethel belonged to one of those," Teddy said from her other side. He kicked a can out of his way, sending it clattering across the grimy cobbles. "She and her friends called themselves the Poor's Crusaders. They always seemed to be making sandwiches."
"The Progressive Women's Club preferred soup," Lizzie told him with a small smile. "Mother only helped with deliveries once, though – they unfortunately happened to pass a Punch and Judy show on the way to someone's house, and she's always had strong opinions on those."
"What's wrong with Punch and Judy?" Raymond asked, pulling down his sunglasses (though to less effect than if he'd had actual eyes behind them).
"They're nothing but 'vulgar domestic arguments' to her," Lizzie explained. "Granted, I don't think I'd take seeing Punch chasing Judy with his stick very well these days. . .they should have given her more chances to fight back."
"Have her steal the stick and smack him around for a change?" Bonejangles mused, then snickered. "Yeah, that woulda been good for a laugh or two. . . ."
"I was thinking more along the lines of getting Mr. Policeman to do his duty, but considering how useless he – was. . . ."
Lizzie trailed off as she caught sight of a man in a laborer's flat cap and suspenders, muscles worm-eaten but still bulging fairly impressively, giving her a much-too-interested grin. She scooted a little closer to Bonejangles, an anxious stirring in her stomach. Stop that stop that stop that. . . .
Bonejangles spotted the problem immediately. "Oi, go bother someone else!" he called, hitting the man with his best glare.
The laborer grunted and wandered off to the other side of the street. Lizzie relaxed a fraction. "God. . . ."
"We wouldn't let anything happen to you, Liz," Bonejangles reassured her, tightening his grip on her arm briefly. "Besides, he was probably just gonna look."
"Looking's quite enough, trust me," Lizzie muttered, keeping a suspicious eye on the man as they passed. "The way they stare, as if you were a piece of meat. . .it was bad enough getting it from the undergraduates."
"I thought all those upper-class boys had to woo a girl with flowers and poetry and all that," Danny commented from the rear.
"Don't think they didn't try. One of them even attempted to recite his poem in Latin. He was quite miffed when I corrected his pronunciation and a few of his conjugations."
Bonejangles snickered again. "You never let any of 'em have an inch, did you?"
"Well, they were all so – fake," Lizzie said, screwing up her face in old disgust. "They put on airs when they came over, and fawned over Papa like he was the Second Coming. 'Might I hold the tea cozy, sir? Might I pour, sir?' As if he wasn't smart enough to see right through them! If they'd just been themselves, maybe all those tea parties would have been more tolerable."
"Never had a tea party in my life," Teddy commented. "Just swigged it out of a mug before it was quittin' time."
"You're not missing much, believe me."
"Wooo! Can't catch me!"
Lizzie, glad for any distraction from the topic of undergraduates, turned her head to see a hoop bouncing its way along the opposite side of the street. Hard on its heels was a gaggle of blue-skinned children, armed with rotten sticks or lost bones and whooping and hollering to their hearts' content. "Hey, I remember doin' that," Bonejangles commented as the band stopped to watch for a minute. "Pop the wood frame off a carriage wheel and it could keep you busy for hours. You have one of those growing up, Liz?"
"No, I was never much interested – Alice did, though," Lizzie told him as the boy in front was overtaken by another. He promptly started hitting his usurper about the head and shoulders with his bone. "She'd chase it all over the garden – and once she showed me how you could spin it around your hips if you wiggled fast enough."
"Huh, really? I was happy enough throwin' it at the wall."
"Oh, she did plenty of that too. Drove Mother to distraction when it happened during my piano lessons." Lizzie sighed as the two lead boys abandoned the chase in favor of throwing each other to the ground and wrestling. "Poor things. I wonder if they miss their parents much."
"Depends on if they knew 'em," Chauncey commented as a girl with a ragged skirt and bones showing through her stockings caught up with the flagging hoop and sent it clattering off in a different direction. The rest of the crowd turned hard to keep up, resulting in most crashing into their neighbors and ending up in a wild tangle of limbs. A few hardy souls managed to avoid said fate, keeping up the pursuit and playfully threatening each other with their sticks. "My pop walked out on us when I was five, and I ain't forgiven him yet. Besides, it's tough as nails Upstairs. They're probably happier dead."
Lizzie glared at him. "What a thing to say!"
"No offense, Liz, but you grew up with money," Chauncey replied, unruffled. "I was fetching scraps in a clothing factory as soon as I could walk! I can still hear the looms and sewing machines and scissors all workin' away above my head. Lemme tell ya, doesn't make for much of a childhood."
"I got sent down a coal mine," Danny put in. "Only twice though – I came up coughin' so hard that they were honestly scared I was gonna die. So they had me sort what came back up instead. Never could get my hands clean afterward."
"I ever tell you about the guy who tried to stick me with a dart back when I was workin' in the local pub?" Bonejangles asked her. "Drunk as a skunk and thought it'd be funny to aim for my rear instead of the board."
"Was this the same man who attempted to brain you with a mug of beer?" Lizzie replied, horrified.
"Nope. We hadda lot of mean drunks around those parts."
"I just sold whatever old scrap I could find on the street," Raymond said, running his fingers over his skull. "Would have killed to have all the free time I wanted to chase hoops and have tea parties."
"Certainly puts my lessons into perspective," Lizzie mumbled, then looked back at the children. "I suppose you're right – they're certainly making the best of things. I guess it's just. . .well. You all had dreams about what you wanted to be when you grew up, right?"
"Who doesn't?" Bonejangles grinned. "I was gonna be the best musician this crummy old patch of England had ever seen."
"Get a real house with more than two rooms and eat meat every night," Danny said with a chuckle. "Managed the first one, at least!"
"I was gonna be a judge and sentence old Moldy Carson to hang," Chauncey said, laughing. "God, I was a little stinker."
"We all were," Lizzie assured him with a smile. Then she sighed. "I was going to travel the world – either with a husband or without. I was hoping to talk my parents into a trip to America for a special Christmas present before. . . ."
Bonejangles slipped his arm out of hers and looped it around her shoulders instead. "Yeah. We've all missed out on a lot," he said sympathetically.
"That's just my point – so have they," Lizzie said, nodding at the raggedy girl and the old lead boy, who'd won his fight and now was racing the girl to regain control of the hoop. "Maybe they haven't realized it yet, but. . .it was bad enough for Emily when she got murdered on the eve of her wedding. How do you think a little girl of eight or nine will feel when she realizes she'll never even get old enough to get that far? Or a boy who was looking forward to following in his father's footsteps one day? I know they get the advantage of permanent childhood, but – still. Is there anyone out there who doesn't really want to grow up?"
"Er – well, there was this one pair down in Kensington I knew who always said they were never ever gonna grow up," Teddy commented, scratching his chin thoughtfully. "Wonder whatever happened to Peter and Wendy. . . ."
"Got a point, Liz," Bonejangles said, slumping. "Most of the boys I knew back home were all gung-ho about growin' up and gettin' out of the village. Hell, I was one of 'em. Guess it is kinda bad that they end up stuck down here."
"Doubt most of them see it that way, though," Chauncey argued. "How often do you think about the future when you're a nipper? Bet most of them will be dust before they know they've missed out on anything."
"Mmmm. . .maybe I'm actually just jealous that they can live in ignorance but I can't," Lizzie admitted, picking at the loose skin on her wrist. "Cassandra – she was the daughter of one of the other deans – once declared how romantic it was when ladies died young in books, and that she hoped she went before anyone could remember her as old and ugly. Wish I could go back and give her a good shake. I had so many plans for my life, and now. . . ."
"You ain't gonna go waiting under any oak trees for somebody to propose to you, are ya?" Raymond joked, though Lizzie detected a genuine note of concern in his rough voice.
"No – it's not like I'm miserable down here," she told him as they finally started to move on. "There's plenty to do, and I certainly don't miss some of the messier parts of being alive. I – I guess I'm just saying, I understand when people call this more of a 'waiting room' than anything else."
"And you're getting a little tired of waiting?" Bonejangles asked, squeezing her shoulders.
Lizzie looked at him. "Don't you ever?"
Bonejangles shrugged. "Maybe – right after Emily." Then he lifted his head, grinning shining in the yellow-green glow of a nearby streetlamp. "But I ain't done here yet. I can wait a little longer."
Lizzie thought of her sister, Upstairs and alone, and set her jaw. "Yes. So can I."
"Hah! You can't catch me! You can't – ooof!"
Lizzie yelped as something collided with the back of her legs, sending her sprawling forward. Bonejangles managed to catch her before she hit the pavement. "Whoa! Liz, you okay?"
"Fine," Lizzie said, stumbling briefly before managing to regain her balance. She turned to see a little boy, not more than ten, picking himself up off the cobbles. "Hello there," she greeted him sternly, brushing off her skirts. "Would you please mind where you're going?"
"Sorry, sorry," the boy said, wiping off his ragged shorts. "I was – Alice?"
Her undrawn breath caught in her throat. "I – you – I b-beg your pardon?"
The boy squinted at her. "Oh, you're not Alice," he said, shaking his head. "You got different eyes. You look a lot like her, though." He leaned his head to one side, tapping his stick against his thigh. "You're Lizzie, aren't you? From that photograph she's got?"
"She's Lizzie and I'm Alice. We're twins, you know! Just she was born ten years early." Lizzie gripped Bonejangles's arm so tight she'd swear she was leaving dents. He knows Alice. This little boy in the middle of Whitechapel knows Alice. How does he know Alice? Was he a patient at the asylum with her? Is she his adopted sister? Or perhaps he was her – no, he wouldn't call his mother by her first name! And he knows about me? Photograph, what photograph – the one Father took of us all together? But that had pride of place in the library, it couldn't have survived. . .oh, but she remembers me, she still talks about me. . .does she still think she. . .we spent all day yesterday hunting down every newspaper we could get our hands on with not a word about her, and today when I'm not even looking I bump into some random stranger who knew her personally? What kind of – no, no, Lizzie, ask him how she is before he thinks you're simple and runs away! "Y-yes, that's me," she said, finally regaining control over her tongue. "Elizabeth Liddell."
"And we're the Bone Boys," Raymond put in, the other members of the band waving.
"Farley," the boy returned, sticking out his hand to whoever was closest. "Don't have a last name – Mum tossed me out, so I ain't gonna use hers, and I never knew my pa."
"Oh – I'm sorry to hear that. . . ." Lizzie shook his hand, crouching down in front of him. "Excuse me for prying, but – you know my sister? Or, well, knew my sister?"
Farley nodded, grinning. "Uh-huh. She used to take care of me at Houndsditch! Mad as a hatter, but she told nice stories. Do you know about Wonderland?"
The memory came back in a rush – an unusually warm May 4th, a seventh birthday party held near the banks of the Isis, a white rabbit doll hugged enthusiastically and dubbed "Mr. Bunny," and a sleepy little girl resting her head on her lap and looking up at her with bright eyes: "Oh, what a curious dream I had, Lizzie! There was a white rabbit with a waistcoat and a watch, much like Mr. Bunny here, and a Hatter and a Hare and a Dormouse having tea – all completely mad of course – and a Caterpillar smoking a hookah, and a very ugly Duchess who scolded me about morals, and a Cheshire Cat that grinned just like the cheeses, and this awful Queen of Hearts who tried to have me beheaded for absolutely no reason!" A nostalgic smile spread across Lizzie's face. Oh, to have those happy days back again. . . . "I think I was the first person she ever told about it," she told Farley proudly. "In fact, I might be the reason it exists. Is she still dragging Mr. Bunny everywhere with her?"
"Mister – oh, yeah, that's the one they stole off her in Rutledge!" Farley said, tapping his temple with his stick. "I remember now! She'd just came in and was in her room unpacking when she screamed and we all came running and she was flinging clothes all over the place saying she had to have put it in there! Doctor took her back to Rutledge after a couple of days of whining, but it'd already gone missin'. Alice was grumpy for days."
"What?!" Lizzie's hands tightened on her skirt in a fury. "I gave that to her on her birthday! It was probably the only thing to survive the fire with her! Who steals from a poor orphaned child in an asylum?"
Farley shrugged. "She ain't got it now, that's all I know."
"Barbaric," Lizzie growled, glaring off down the street. "She loved that bunny like her own child. . . ." She turned back to Farley. "Speaking of which, how did she know you? What's Houndsditch?"
"The Houndsditch Home For Wayward Youth," Farley recited, as if reading it off a sign. "You get dropped there if you don't got no family left, or the one you got don't want you no more. That's what happened to me – Ma dumped me on the doorstep and told me not to come runnin' back." He huffed. "Like I wanted to, she was a mean old cow."
"That's simply awful," Lizzie said, anger fading into sympathy for this poor abandoned child. "And I assume you died before you were adopted."
Farley dropped his head, as if suddenly unable to look her in the eye. "I – I kinda wish I had," he mumbled, poking at a crack in the sidewalk with his toe. "I don't – the bloke who took me in. . .I d-don't like to talk about it. Don't remember much of it, anyway."
"What, he knock you over the head?" Raymond asked, all empathy. "That's how I ended up down here, and some shit's still scrambled."
"Raymond," Lizzie scolded.
"What, I've bet he's heard worse."
"No, it's – Doctor likes to tell everybody that he gives us new 'purpose,'" Farley explained, glancing up briefly. "With me, that was makin' me forget stuff 'til I didn't even know my own name. Then he sent me to that man, and. . . ." He started fidgeting again. "He – wasn't really a new dad."
Lizzie was completely lost by this point – Chauncey, however, seemed to have guessed the meaning behind Farley's story. "Oh hell," he growled, tone suggesting his eye sockets would be mere slits if they could move. "Asshole's selling you guys to the highest bidder, ain't he?"
"Selling?!" Lizzie shot back up with a gasp. "What – why would he sell children? Are the factories so desperate for workers that–"
"Oh, no, not for labor, Miss Liddell," Chauncey interrupted, clenching his jaw. "My uncle was in this shit, and I swear to God I would have killed him for it if some copper hadn't caught him first." He sucked in a breath, the air hissing through his ribs. "You see, some guys – and maybe a few gals – they don't – they think kids are – older than they are."
Lizzie shook her head. "I'm not following."
Chauncey looked around the group, then sighed and leaned forward, whispering in her ear. Lizzie listened for a moment – then her eyes went wide. "What – no! Never!" she cried, shoving the skeleton away from her with such force that his big toe broke off. "Not with – my sister would never work in a place like that! Never! She wouldn't stand for this – this – disgusting–"
"She don't know!" Farley cried, holding up his stick as protection against Lizzie's vehemence. "She makes beds and sweeps the floor and yells at the teapots for movin' even though they aren't and then gets all pink and won't talk to anybody for the rest of the day! She aint' the one bringing us those places!"
"I should hope not! My sister is the sweetest little girl in the world and – and why is she there?" Lizzie demanded of no one in particular. "Isn't she a bit – old for the people you mentioned, Chauncey?"
"Rutledge didn't want her anymore," Farley said in a small voice as Chauncey shrugged from a safe distance. "So Dr. Bumby said he'd take her in and help her forget too."
The city fell dead silent for Lizzie. She stared at Farley from the center of a black void, the rest of the world too far away to see. No. . .it couldn't be. . .it simply couldn't be. . . "If he ever qualifies, his bedside manner will require improvement!" "Dr. Bumby?" she repeated, trying to keep her voice from raising to a hysterical shriek. She didn't quite succeed. "Angus Bumby?!"
"Uh – I think so?" Farley squeaked, shuffling behind Teddy's leg. "P-pretty sure that's what's on the sign. . . ."
Lizzie clutched at her chest. No – no no no. This can't be. He – I – I knew he qualified, but he's supposed to be far away, treating adults in some high class hospital. Being arrogant and rude but not – He's not supposed to be around children, he's not supposed to be – be wiping their minds clean and selling them to the highest bidder for – and my sister is – "But she should recognize him," she whispered, barely aware she was speaking aloud. "He barged into our house often enough – she was the one to complain to Papa! I can't blame her for not knowing he burnt the house down, but–"
"She said she didn't want to remember the fire anymore," Farley told her softly. "She's had lots and lots of sessions with him and his key. Betcha the first thing he did was make her forget him."
Oh God. Lizzie's hands moved down to her stomach, which was lurching despite probably having dissolved long ago. She was going to be ill. Her darling little sister, trapped with the monster who'd murdered her family. . .praising him as a savior, delivering her from her pain. . .helping him to destroy more lives out of ignorance. . .staining her hands and not even realizing –
She looks like you, the imp suddenly reminded her, its voice sad instead of angry for once. And he's making her forget her life, just like he does with those poor children. Do you really think he'll stop at just keeping himself safe from the police?
It was too much. It was all too much. Lizzie whirled and bolted down the street, needing to put as much distance between her and this horrible truth as possible. Bonejangles called after her, but she ignored him. She couldn't stand to be there one second longer. She had to run.
She had no idea where or how long she ran – the world was a blur around her, and without the limits of breathlessness and exhaustion, there was no way to mark the time. But, eventually, she smacked into a wall at the end of some mold-heavy alley. She beat her fists against the stained bricks, then collapsed to the ground, sobbing so hard her eyes almost popped from their sockets. This wasn't right. For ten years she'd held onto the hope that Alice's stay in the asylum had been brief. That she'd moved on and started a new life for herself. That she'd found a family who loved and cherished her as she deserved. That her future was one worth looking forward to. And instead. . . . "Why?" she croaked out between the sobs. "Why do this to us? Why take everything away from me and my family and give it all to him? What possible crime could we have committed to warrant such punishment?"
The cold bricks were silent. "My father was a good man, and helped educate many. My mother did everything she could to help others! I wasn't perfect, I admit, but I tried! I did my best to be friendly and kind! And Alice – what cause is there for ruining the life of a girl who hadn't even reached ten yet at the time?!" Sorrow boiled away on the flames of anger as she hoisted herself to her feet, glaring at the eternal twilight sky. "You can't tell me Bumby deserves happiness more than any of us! Not after what he did! Where's the justice everyone tells me is supposed to exist? Where's the balancing of the books I always heard about from Reverend Dodgson and his ilk?" She gritted her teeth, tears still streaming down her cheeks. "Tell me what's the point, God! Answer me!"
"Ain't no use, Liz. If He's up there, He don't feel like talkin'."
Lizzie spun. Bonejangles stood at the mouth of the alley, hat in his hands. "You sound like me on my way out," he continued, turning the bowler around and around. "I was pissed as hell that something so stupid was gonna take me away from my family. I asked one of the old village pastors what he thought of it after I'd settled in Downstairs. All he could give me was that old bull about 'He works in mysterious ways.' Me, I'm startin' to think He buggered off a while back. Abandoned us to whatever the hell it is we do. Makes more sense than Him lettin' shit like this happen."
". . .Reverend Dodgson would call you quite blasphemous for that," Lizzie said, wiping her cheeks with her sleeve.
"No lightning yet, so I ain't gonna worry about it." He sighed and looked away, plopping his hat back on his head. "Look, I'm sorry for interruptin' – I know you probably wanna be alone. I just – I couldn't forgive myself if you ran into trouble out here and I wasn't around ta help. Know your parents would definitely find a way to kill me again." He scratched the back of his skull. "But if you want me to skedaddle now, give you a little breathin' room–"
"No," Lizzie said immediately, hurrying toward him. "No, stay, I – oh, Sam. . . ." She flung her arms around him, pressing her face into his ribs as the tears started anew. "My sister, he's got my sister. . . ."
"I know," Bonejangles whispered, sounding sick to his nonexistent stomach. One hand patted her back. "I'm so sorry, Liz. I was hopin' for a better ending too."
"There are no happy endings. Not for us."
There was a moment's silence, broken only by her sniffles. Then Bonejangles said firmly, "That's bullshit, Liz, and you know it."
Lizzie looked up, startled. "You can look at my life and say that," she said, annoyance flickering on the edges of her grief.
"Yeah, because we ain't at an ending yet," Bonejangles replied, frowning down at her. "Crow's got your sister – that's bad and you won't hear me saying different. But it sounds like her head ain't gone yet. And this whole trip's about gettin' you Upstairs. Won't be that hard to turn it from just seein' how she is into a rescue mission."
Lizzie squinted at him. "I thought we weren't supposed to interfere with living affairs."
"You tell me what you think of that."
Lizzie's jaw clenched. "I think you summed it up very well with 'bullshit.'" She let go of him and scrubbed her face with her hands. "You're right – it's not over yet. I can't sit here and wallow in self-pity – not if there's any chance at all of saving my sister. He may have destroyed me, but I swear to – to myself that he won't do the same to her!" She stood up as straight as she could. "I'll have to pass on the street food, Sam. We've got to get back to Mama and Papa – do you think they're still in our hotel room?"
"Now that's the Liz I know," Bonejangles grinned, tipping his hat to the side. "And I don't see why not – your dad's still probably practicin' that speech he's tryin' to write for Alice when he sees her again. Better pick up the Boys first, though, they're waitin'."
"And probably thinking I'm hysterical for just bolting like that. . .well, I feel hysterical," Lizzie said as they exited the alley. "Just have to put it to good use." She smiled over at him. "Thank you for coming after me. You're the best friend a girl could ask for."
"Besides another girl, you mean?"
Lizzie snickered. "Well, I didn't always get on with the ladies around Oxford, so I wouldn't know for sure." She took his hand, wishing – not for the first time – that she could actually feel those bony fingers. "Right now, I'm just glad that I didn't let my temper get the better of me that first day in the park."
"Me too," Bonejangles said, giving her fingers a squeeze. "Thanks for givin' me a chance. You're a hell of a gal, Liz. Damn shame I couldn't have met ya when we were both breathin'."
"To be fair, the age gap might have been a bit of a problem then," Lizzie reminded him, glad of the chance to tease him. It helped settle her nerves. "You think I make jokes about you being ancient now. . . ."
"Yeah, yeah, I'm a dinosaur, I've heard it all before," he said, nudging her. "You need to come up with some new material, Liz." His tone turned more serious. "So, ready to head back?"
Lizzie looked up the street, then back at her friend. Part of her wanted to get started right away, but the other part – the part that remembered chilly hands and shining glasses and pain – was still feeling a bit wobbly. She pulled him close against her, resting her head on his sternum. "In a minute. I'm – I'm not quite ready yet."
Bonejangles nodded, wrapping his arms around her. "Take your time."