Sunday, April 20, 2008

Italy or England?

Here's the low down: at Paradigm, a group goes on educational tours once a year. This year they're going to England for a fortnight and then to Paris for a couple days. I'm supremely jealous because I want to travel! Like my literary counterpart, I ache to explore Europe and old edifices from the past.

I'm having a hard time deciding what I want to do. Next spring they're going to Italy and Greece, which I've heard is a gorgeous tour, and the weather is supposed to be divine. It's roughly $2400, not including passports and spending money.

On the other hand, the year after that they're going to England during the summer. I've always wanted to go to England and see Bath and London and Stratford upon Avon. It's $3600, not including passports and spending money.

I think I want to go to Italy next spring with my Paradigm comrades, and then go to England for a study abroad program in college. I wish I could do both trips, but I need to save money for college. Plus, if I saved $2400 for the Italy trip, I'd need to make $3600 for the England trip the very next summer, and I'd have to get three jobs to do that.

Anyway, I'm an indecisive person like nobody would believe, so please give your input! Also, if anyone has any ideas of how I can make some extra moola, that would also be appreciated.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Little Cleaning Girl: Part the Last

Dr. Kisset stared moodily into the tankard in his hand. The past month had been perfectly horrendous: ten failed operations in a month. The bodies had been few and far between and all he had received were a couple of old tramps with nothing wrong with them. The Runners had arrested another doctor, whom Robert admired, for body snatching. The man had been humiliated, stripped of all his possessions, and jailed, all for trying to make medical advances. Robert hoped that the men from Bow Street would understand what they were interfering with, especially when they got shot on duty and no one could save them, because all the pioneering doctors had been unable to practise removing bullets without killing the victim. No, all the pioneering doctors would be in jail.

He took a drink. And then there was that girl, the one who cleaned the operating theatre, silent as the furniture, week after week. She had seen more than even Dr. Castleton. What truly unnerved Robert, however, was that she always seemed to be whispering to herself, but never responded with a “Yes, sir” or “If it pleases you, sir” if he told her to do something. Tricky demons always talk when your back is turned, but they never open their mouths even to breathe when you’re standing right in front of them. Her dark eyes always shone with satisfaction after each encounter, which the young doctor always took to be the satisfaction of having evidence against him, although it could easily have been the satisfaction of finally getting that rust spot off a knife or some such nonsense. Robert lamented inwardly that servants could never be trusted.

A large hand clapped Dr. Kisset on the back, causing him to choke on his drink.

“Rough toimes, doctor?” inquired the chubby constable in a friendly manner.

“Comparatively so,” he muttered, not looking up.

“Cheer up, eh wot? Toimes could be worse. Yeh could be in jail like that other bloke what got done in for illegal practises.” He put significant emphasis on the last two words in a rather important tone.

Robert jerked up suddenly, surveying the portly man next to him. He was talking to the bartender and ordering his usual. There was neither shrewdness nor any particular intelligence in his face, but he grinned perhaps a bit too widely at Robert when he turned back around.

“Yes,” said the doctor carefully. “Yes, I suppose it could be worse, couldn’t it?”

“I’ll say. Jest stay away from illegal practises and yeh’ll be oll roight.” He winked.

Dr. Kisset’s heart began to race, pounding, pounding, pounding in his head, directly behind his eyes. A warning? Was he being warned to quit while he was ahead? He took a drink to calm his nerves, but to no avail. A threat? It was a threat. A threat because someone had sold him out. Only three people knew about it: himself, Dr. Castleton, and the little cleaning girl. The little cleaning girl. She had informed the Runners, and now they were hot on his trail. They would take away his license; take away everything he had ever worked for. They would take away his tools, his livelihood, the pleasure of seeing the joy in the face of a cured patient, everything!

Stumbling from the counter after paying for his drink, Robert staggered out the door, leaving behind a very bewildered bobby.

“Poor chap,” he said, shaking his bald head, half to himself and half to anyone within earshot. “He’s so good that even the mere mention of illegal practises upsets him. Nah, he’s a good ‘un. No one’d ever accuse him of such atrocities.”

Dr. Castleton’s house was still as the cool night, a few lights shining through the windows. Dr. Kisset didn’t bother with the front door. He went straight to the unlocked operating theatre in the back. She was there, cleaning the table, a wince on her face. Upon hearing the door shut, she turned around. In the middle of a shy smile and wave, her brows lifted when she saw who it was.

“You’re surprised to see me,” he said dangerously. “You thought I’d be in jail by now, didn’t you, you minx?”

The little girl shook her head, obviously confused. This made Robert even angrier and agitated. The impudence!

“How dare you!” he yelled. “How dare you act innocently when you have caused the downfall of a noble doctor? Think! Think how many people will die when I’m locked up, thanks to you! HUNDREDS!”

Robert was quite close by this time, and she began creeping away slowly. He was so infuriated by her attempt to escape that his hand shot out to stop her and grabbed her slender neck.

“STAY!” he screamed. “Stay and explain yourself! Tell me WHY! Why did you do it? What could have POSSIBLY motivated you to do such a thing? Was it money?! Was it hate?! WHY DID YOU TELL THE RUNNERS?!”

The little cleaning girl’s throat emitted strange gurgling, gasping noises, and, although she made no effort to pry his hands away, her eyes widened, pleading him to let go. Her tiny lips formed the word “please.” Dr. Kisset paid no mind, for he was too far gone. With his hands — doctor’s hands, healing hands, life-preserving hands, merciful hands — he strangled the child until she was limp and her small heart stopped fluttering.

“Good heavens, man, what on earth is g…”

Dr. Castleton froze after he entered the theatre. His eyes went from Robert’s frame to his crazed expression to the lifeless girl at his feet.

“What have you done?” He gasped, positively aghast.

“She informed the police of my activities,” stated Robert calmly enough. “I had to silence her.”

The elderly doctor looked as though he’d like nothing better than to thunder angrily at Dr. Kisset, but the sight of his murdered servant took all the gusto out of him.

“She’s a mute!” he managed to moan indignantly. “She hasn’t said a blessed word in her life.”

“I saw her! I saw her talking to herself. She said ‘please’ before she died.”

Dr. Castleton was disgusted and frightened by Robert’s open admission of denying the child any mercy, but nevertheless replied.

“But you never heard her. She liked to pretend that she could talk.” He glanced sadly at the girl. “It’s what kept her happy.”

Never one for sentimentality outside of the realm of care given to his patients, Robert scowled, his eyes wild. “Then who did it?”

“Pardon?” asked the doctor, scared by Dr. Kisset’s expression and showing it openly.

Robert misinterpreted Dr. Castleton’s fear as guilt and pounced. Of course! He was the only other person who knew. Dr. Castleton had always been jealous of his success. It was he who had never fully agreed his work. It was he who was scared of new frontiers. It was he who wanted to hinder all medical progress.

“You,” seethed Dr. Kisset. “It was you, you jealous, pompous scum!”

He lunged forward and clasped his stained hand around the gentleman’s neck. Dr. Castleton was too stunned by the sudden action to move. He snapped out of it, though, and began to fight back. The two men struggled for a time, but just when it seemed like the elderly doctor would come out on top, he gasped suddenly, clutching his chest,

battling for breath. He slumped onto the operating table then slid to the floor, his eyes shutting for a final time.

Robert panted, leaning on the operation table. What now? He had eliminated his two threats, but at what cost? Suddenly a wave of nausea washed over him. What had he done? He was a doctor! He had willfully taken lives when he had sworn to save them. Body snatching was controversial, yes, but he would never get away with cold-blooded murder. There was nothing he could do now. He was condemned forever.

Moaning, he ran his hands through his brown hair and tugged his earlobe. The scalpel, shining on the tray next to him, caught his eye. He picked it up tenderly, remembering brighter days. An idea came upon him as he fiddled with the knife and looked at the bodies. The Bodies.

“Number Thirty-Four and Number Thirty-Five,” he muttered, kneeling down and rolling up his sleeves.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Little Cleaning Girl: Part II

For a while it all worked out miraculously. Nearly every week Dr. Castleton sent word to Dr. Kisset that a delivery had come. They were good bodies, too. Numbers Twenty-Five, Twenty-Six, Twenty-Seven, and Twenty-Eight all had similar problems that had benefited Robert’s work greatly. He had been able to stop a broken rib from puncturing Mr. Hall’s lung after studying the same sort of wound in Number Twenty-Seven, which had caused the subject’s death. He had received a higher status and therefore more patients and more referrals.

After mending a broken leg one evening, Dr. Kisset left his office to find a footman of Dr. Castleton’s holding a hastily scrawled note.

Dear sir,” it read. “One of your blasted deliveries has arrived, and the men who brought it are refusing to leave my home until they talk to you. Yours &c, Dr. J. Castleton.”

Cursing under his breath, Robert stuffed the paper into his breast pocket and asked the footman if he could use the good doctor’s carriage. The footman answered that it had been sent expressly for that purpose, so the two of them all but dashed to the street and climbed in.

The streets and buildings flipped by quickly in the darkness, the occasional gas lamp causing a flash of light, but Robert’s mind was far from his ride. What on earth could they want? And yet, even as he asked himself the question, his mind formulated the answer. Money. They were, after all, risking their lives to help him. Why not get some compensation for it? He sighed, the truth paining him. He couldn’t afford not to pay them more. He needed those bodies, and an extra shilling or two ought to close their mouths just a stitch more.

The carriage jerked to a stop, and the young doctor flew out the door and into the house, where he set his path to the operating theatre. The elderly doctor was standing next to the door, looking at the men as though they had been found in his rubbish heap. They were leaning casually on the operating table, their hands mere inches from the corpse laying on it. Number Twenty-Nine. It was fresh, too. The stench of death did not permeate the room. Robert’s hands itched.

“’Lo, chum.” The bigger one showed his rotting teeth in what he must’ve imagined was a smile. “Nice of yeh to stop by.”

“What do you want?” demanded Dr. Kisset, skipping the laborious formalities.

“Jest a little chat, that’s all,” drawled the other. “We wos thinkin’ it’s about time yeh upped the paycheck, eh?”

“Upped it to what?”

“Ten pounds.”
Robert choked. “Each?”

“Each.”

“Gentlemen,” said Robert, still surprised by their huge price, “gentlemen, let’s be reasonable. Twenty pounds for the both of you? That’s as much as I make in a week, and I work every day. Three pounds to each of you.”

“The way we sees it,” said the bigger man, “if we’s willin’ to risk gettin’ carted off by the Runners, yeh ought to shuck out a couple more pounds.”

“Four.”

“Five, and yeh shall have the comfort of knowin’ we won’t turn yeh in.”

“Four.” Dr. Kisset felt that he had gained the upper hand and was cool and collected. “The way I see it, there’s no way that you can turn me in without getting taken down yourselves.”

“Five,” growled the second man, “and we’ll forget yeh said that.”

No longer calm, Robert handed each man five pounds and sent them on their way. The first man doffed the rag on his head and said,

“Our lips is sealed, guvnah.”

“A fine specimen you’ve taken to dealing with, doctor,” remarked Dr. Castleton somewhat sarcastically, when they had gone.

Robert wasn’t paying attention. He had immediately started poking and prodding Number Twenty-Nine, inspecting bruises and peering under the eyelids. He took a scalpel from the tray next to the table and tapped it gently on his leg, murmuring to himself and deciding where to cut. Dr. Castleton repeated his statement.

“Mmm? They get the job done. It isn’t as though I’d go out and have a drink with them.” Something caught his eye. “Hello! It’s a gimp! Look, doctor, the leg is completely distorted.”

Dr. Castleton shook his head in disbelief and motioned for the little cleaning girl to stop sterilizing instruments. She did so, unfortunately dropping one on the ground and causing Dr. Kisset to jump. He gave her a steely glare because now the incision was longer than it needed to be. The little girl’s eyes widened as if to say she was terribly sorry. She curtseyed, and then followed her master away.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Little Cleaning Girl: Part I

(A beginning note: This is my story. My baby. My blood child. If I catch so much as a breath of someone else claiming it as their own, I shall hire the blackest of cybervillans to crash your site, destroy your computer, and kidnap your grandmother. You have been warned.)

Dr. Robert Kisset’s shoulders rolled and his cane tapped the pavement as he made his way down the dusky street. The surrounding factories had only just stopped belching scum into the sky and were closing for the night. He heard a worker hacking and wheezing and allowed his thoughts to wander to Number Thirteen. Number Thirteen’s lungs had been covered and nearly filled with black gunk. Of course, all of London was covered in gunk nowadays, Dr. Kisset reflected disgustedly, stepping around a pile of refuse. Not that he was complaining. The gunk created patients and bodies, and he got a little bit closer to finding cures. That alone was why he was paying a visit to Dr. Castleton.

“Good evening, miss. Is the good doctor at home?” he asked, politely enough, at Castleton’s front door.

“He might be, guvnah. Shall I ask if he’ll see yeh?” asked the coarse, middle-aged maid.

Trying to hide his impatience with the ill-educated servant, Dr. Kisset replied, “Yes. Tell him that Dr. Kisset has an urgent matter to discuss with him.”
“All roight. Come inside. Yeh can wait in the hall.”

She tromped off to find Dr. Castleton, leaving Dr. Kisset to stew in the vestibule of the fine house. He went over what he was going to say in his head until he was quite sure that the doctor would be swayed, and then turned his attention to a movement that caught his eye.

A slight girl, perhaps no more than twelve, was scrubbing the floor by the staircase. She was of a tiny build, but her small muscles attested to hard labor. Her hands went back and forth, her body swaying to the rhythm of the brush. She paused every so often to sweep her long, dark hair out of her brown eyes or rub her forehead tiredly. Her little lips were puckered in concentration and only relaxed when she seemed to be speaking to herself and smiling. Some girlish fantasy, Dr. Kisset supposed. He wondered if she was at all sick. She had a frail constitution like Number Five had had, which had resulted in some heart problems. As far as he could tell, Number Five’s heart started beating irregularly and then stopped altogether. If he could just look at someone else with the same complication, but alas…

“Dr. Castleton is ready for yeh,” a vulgar voice interrupted his thoughts. The dumpy woman had returned.
“Thank you,” he muttered distractedly.

The doctor was in his study, lying down after another particularly painful pressure in his chest. He frowned slightly when Dr. Kisset came in, not only because of his recent episode, but because his associate’s expression was strangely determined.

“Hello, Robert.”

“Dr. Castleton.” Robert nodded respectfully. “How goes your practise?”

“Not nearly as well as yours, I hear. Seventeen successful operations in a row is quite an accomplishment for a lad only three years out of medical school.”

“Yes.” Robert’s eyes fairly glowed with ambition. “Seventeen lives saved and with your help that number will increase a hundredfold, at the very least. Doctor, I am in dire need of your help.”

The elderly gentleman sighed. “What is it?”

“I need your operating theatre.”

“Pray, what for? Does not the institution have a fine one that is always open to a man of success such as yourself?”

“Yes…” he said slowly. “However, I need yours for some… private studies.”

“You don’t mean to say,” cried Dr. Castleton, “that you are involved in the abominable practise of body snatching!”

“This is the Age of Discovery, doctor,” argued Robert. “Leaps must be taken. Risks must be chanced.”

“Bodies — no, people — must be torn from their resting places to further science and vanity?” The doctor was incredulously scandalized.

“To save lives! To learn more about the human body! Do you remember when we would stitch people up, only to have the stitching come apart and invite infection? I have learned that there is more than one layer of skin to bind in some cases. The benefits to the whole human race far outweigh old-fashioned taboos.”

“You cannot be content with the one body of a hanged criminal the government allots?”

“One body yearly? No! Besides,” wheedled Robert, “those deaths are hardly natural. If I can find out what kills people naturally, perhaps I can prevent it.”

The doctor covered his eyes wearily, blocking out all other thoughts and influences. He automatically invited in the person who tapped timidly on the door to dust his bookshelves, never once looking up. The little cleaning girl glided silently into the room and noiselessly began working in a corner.

“All right, Robert,” said the doctor at last, “tell me what you need.”

“Full access to your theatre and tools, and your complete silence. I daresay that you know as well as I the consequences of what I am pursuing.” Robert tugged his earlobe nervously, in spite of himself. “Loss of license, reputation, and possibly life. One of my delivery men has already been caught and killed by the Bow Street Runners, no questions asked.”

“And how will I know when to expect your… deliveries?”

“Leave the back door to the theatre open on Wednesdays. They will either come then or not at all. If a body does come, send word to me immediately.”

Dr. Castleton sighed reluctantly, but agreed to the younger man’s terms. Dr. Kisset left feeling satisfied at his success and rejoiced at the prospect of having more bodies to study. Before striding out of the room, however, the little cleaning girl sneezed. That brought Dr. Kisset around faster than he could make an incision.

“One more thing,” he said, almost casually. “You are aware that servants have eyes and ears, correct?”

“No one but the child shall know,” stated Dr. Castleton calmly. “I suppose that you are aware that servants have mouths as well, but that the mouth won’t say a word as long as it knows where its food is coming from.”

“A fair point. Good night, sir.”

With that, he turned back around, scrutinizing the little cleaning girl suspiciously. Her mouth was slightly agape, and her eyes were wide in awe. She had the normal ability that servants have to blend in among large vases, couches, and important guests. He noticed that, under the dirt and grime the London air had gifted her with, her skin was oddly fair. He hadn’t seen such delicate skin since Number Two.

Uncomfortable with Dr. Kisset’s examination, the girl smiled lopsidedly at him and tilted her head to the side. The young doctor shook himself to regain his composure then marched out of the study.